Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
My ski helmet saved my life during a serious ski accident. At the time, very few people wore ski helmets on the slopes. I incorporated my costume design and teaching skills to create a FUN product that encourages children and adults to actually wear their sports helmets. Over the past 10 years, my product line has expanded to include helmet covers for ALL sports including bike, skate, toboggan, equestrian, as well as ski and snowboard. We've also introduced our Nite Brite helmet covers that are night-time reflective and Sun Lidz that combine helmet safety and sun safety. Originally I made all of my helmet covers in my basement and my dining room table served as my cutting table. Today, I'm proud to say that all of my products are still made locally in Toronto. It's a real cottage industry that employs other local moms who sew.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Ten years ago I approached two ski retailers in Collingwood, Ontario and they purchased my products. I'm happy to say they are still active wholesale accounts. But I found there's more profit per unit when selling my products online and direct to customers. Over the years, I tried a few different e-commerce sites with moderate success. A year ago, I switched to Shopify and have been delighted with the simplicity of the system. I'm extremely creative but lack strong technical skills - I'm happy to say Shopify is user friendly even for technically unsophisticated people like me. Consumer shows such as the Toronto One of a Kind are still my highest source of income but back-to-back shows across Canada are exhausting. In the future, I'd like e-commerce to become my main source of income because Shopify has a worldwide reach and my online shop can be managed from the comfort of my own home.
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?
I currently use several social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn to drive traffic to our site. We are also working to expand our affiliate and fundraising programs as ways to draw more sales. Facebook has been our most successful platform to date because Facebook fans love sharing their customer photos as well as testimonials. We also frequently run giveaways and contests that generate a "buzz" and an increase in our fan base. All orders are handled and shipped in-house because a quick turn-around (within 24 hours) and accurately fulfilled orders is essential to customer satisfaction.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Potential customers can't buy your products if they don't know they exist. Most new store owners don't have a lot of money to spend on advertising so the key to generating more publicity is engagement with consumers. In my opinion, social media channels are still the most effective and affordable ways to spread the word about your products.