As a photographer I was tired of paying insane prices for my lighting gear at camera stores for brand name products. I figured there had to be a better option that didn't involve low quality gear from online auction sites. I did a lot of back channel research to source the supply factories in China from some big industry players. A lot of factories produce for multiple brands. I booked a flight and flew from Canada to Shanghai to meet with the factories.
I made some changes to products and put down $25,000 from a line of credit to ship back samples. I gave away and sold some items to local pros to gauge their feedback. After more modifications to products I took a risk and put down $100,000 on an entire 40' container of product created with my own brand. I also rented a small warehouse to store it all in. Since then we've been gathering a solid following for superior customer services and high quality affordable products.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Strobepro only sells products that I would personally use myself. It takes a lot of trust to gain the respect of photographers, especially when you want them to switch gear. I gave about $13,000 of gear away the first year to get it out in the local scene. Pros started using our stuff and realized how good it was at a fraction of the price. Word of mouth exploded.
I'm finally in the process of hiring so I can focus on on more marketing and developing our social media channels further. We do Facebook, Twitter, and most recently, Instagram. Our YouTube channel is growing and I'm hoping to have a video for every product we sell by the end of the year. Yotpo social reviews have also been huge for us. They give real credibility to your product from real customers.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
Right now we mainly use Shopify for our back-end. It allows us to control inventory and shipping. Since we have a retail showroom and warehouse I really depend on Shopify POS. It has been the single greatest addition to our business. Its so easy and customers love it too. It just looks cool plus gives you enterprise technology at a fraction of the cost.
The bar-code app and bluetooth scanner also make things easier. Some other apps we use are Yotpo which is awesome and automates the entire review process. We use Chimpified to integrate our customers to mailing lists. Product discount from Boldapps to easily run deals. Aftership to automate the process for customers to track orders. We're in the process of switching shipping providers to integrate better into Shopify.
What are your top recommendations for new ecommerce entrepreneurs?
Find a personal problem and solve it. It will keep you motivated because you enjoy what you're selling.If you've done your research and believe in your concept, then go for it. How much of your personal money are you willing to lose? That's the true test of how much you believe in the business. Putting up $100,000 secured against your house will certainly motivate you not to fail. Take the business as far as you can by yourself to save money but realize when you're at your limits and then hire to spur the next stage of growth.