When I built my house in 2009 I knew I wanted to have an exposed timber frame roof with steel connectors joining the timbers. (The picture on my Shopify home page is of the ceiling in my house.) Unfortunately, I couldn't find any online - everything involved custom work, design fees, talking with drafters, etc. I just wanted a shopping cart experience where I could buy online with a few clicks.

I eventually had to have mine custom made and that's when I realized there was a little niche market here - stock-design timber connector plates that could be purchased online and shipped anywhere in the continental US. It actually took a couple of years to get things to the point where I could calculate production and shipping costs automatically to enable that shopping cart experience, but I finally did and that's when I opened my Shopify store.

How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?

I opened my Shopify store on a Sunday and had my first sale that Tuesday. All of my customers find me through search engines. My store is page one on Google for virtually every relevant search term for my product. So, while there aren't a lot of people buying plates like these, if they are using the web to find vendors, they're finding me.

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 subcontract all procurement, production, packaging, and shipping of my product to the same company that made the plates for my house. So my backend is very simple - I designed my plates using the free Sketchup tool and I use Google Sheets to track my P&L. When I get an order from Shopify I forward the order details to my production partner and they do everything else.

I have calculated pricing and shipping that allows me and my partner to both make money while also providing competitive pricing for my customers. So after who knows how many attempts at building a source of passive revenue I finally have done it. I'm not retiring on it, but it's like a little money tree that every week or so I go pluck one or two hundred dollar bills from. Who knows, maybe some day it will be something more.

What are your top recommendations for new ecommerce entrepreneurs?

Find ways to automate as much as you can so the store enables your lifestyle without becoming a ball and chain.

Also, pick a product/space you love. I never tire of talking to customers and prospective customers about their projects.

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