The more products you offer, the better it is for your customers—right?
But while it might seem like you're doing them a favor at first with more options, it can actually have the opposite effect on visitors as they get bogged down by too many choices.
Vanessa Stofenmacher is the founder of Vrai & Oro, a fine jewelry brand without the retail markups.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn why she believes that removing products from your store can lead to more sales.
- What a "brand identity" is and how to develop your own.
- How you can create a story to successfully launch new products (and why it's important).
- When to use Instagram Stories.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Like this podcast? Leave a review on iTunes!
- Store: Vrai And Oro
- Social Profiles: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Recommended: Affirm
Felix: In this episode, you’ll learn what is brand identity, how to develop your companies brand identity, why it’s important, how you can create a story to successfully launch new products, and when you should be using Instagram rather than posting directly to your feed. Today I’m joined by Vanessa Stofenmacher from vraiandoro.com. That’s V-R-A-I A-N-D O-R-O dot com, which is a fine jewelry brand without the retail markups, was started in 2014, and based out of Los Angeles, California.
Vanessa: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Felix: Excited to have you here. Tell us a bit more about your store, your brand. What are some of the most popular products that you sell?
Vanessa: Definitely our most popular piece is our Solitaire Diamond Necklace. It’s just a very simple, minimal, round diamond. We use only solid gold, high grade diamonds. It’s our essential staple space that you just can go wrong with.
Felix: Nice. Cool. How did you get involved in this business? What’s your background like?
Vanessa: Yeah. I actually don’t have a background in jewelry, which is interesting. I have a background in graphic design, communication arts. I studied design at Otis College of Art and Design. After school I started a design studio where I helped small businesses and startups create brand identities or logos, websites, marketing materials. It started to feel a little stale like I was just doing the same thing over and over. I was really excited with what was happening in technology and decided to go back to school and study user experience.
User experience for me was a great interception of design, business, marketing and technology. With that, my sister at the time had just graduated from business school. We put our two skillsets together, tried to brainstorm what a pain point we had in the market, and realized that both of our husbands were really terrible at buying us gifts. They’re great guys, but not so good in the gifting department.
We created a learning algorithm that helped men find the perfect gift for women using shopping behaviors and technology that connected personality types. The number one gift that men buy women is fine jewelry. We quickly became a marketplace for fine jewelry and worked with fine jewelers all over the US. It was here that I realized the crazy markups that were involved in fine jewelry. I didn’t know much about fine jewelry before. Pieces were being marked up eight to ten times. Things were being made overseas in China. Designers are just taking a catalog and picking out designs that were already pre-made.
It was little shocking to me. Obviously this is a generalization. There’s some great designers out there. For the most part in the the mass market, this was what I was seeing. No one is really taking a stance and doing anything about this and bringing essential fine jewelry, high quality jewelry at an attainable price.
The company with my sister didn’t work out. After that, I decided to launch into [Vrai and Oro 00:04:06] to help make fine jewelry more attainable.
Felix: Very cool. It sounds like very much an evolution of business, business models, products, and everything. It started originally [it sounded like 00:04:16] gift buying from men to women. You learn about jewelry through that experience. Then you focus specifically on jewelry. I think those evolutions are important to talk about because a lot of entrepreneurs go through this where they start off with one idea and then pivot, pivot, pivot, and eventually, hopefully land on something that really fits with what matches their skillset, matches their interest.
It’s also sometimes not everyone gets there because they always [inaudible 00:04:45] trying to hang on to what already existed and don’t focus down and niche down like you did. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? How did you know not to hang on to the original vision that you had with the previous companies and knew to focus specifically on fine jewelry in your case?
Vanessa: I was always excited about the ideas of startups. Startups, it was just becoming a buzzword in a sense. I was really excited to be a part of it. What we were doing before, helping men find gifts for women, it never felt exactly like me. My core values weren’t really established [in it 00:05:20]. It wasn’t a hard transition because I felt so, so strongly towards bringing transparency to the jewelry industry. It really for me felt very natural to progress that way.
I think one piece of advice that I would have for entrepreneurs is just not be afraid of failing. I know a lot that think of failure as the end all be all, but I think it’s necessary, and we need it to get to a better place.
Felix: Yeah, I think it’s all a step towards the direction of success. Sometimes a failure may seem like devastating at that time, but it’s something that you could always take away and learn from so that you can apply these lessons into your next [venture 00:06:02].
You mentioned that you didn’t have a background in jewelry, but you came across it during your experience with these companies and these startups that you helped start. When you don’t know much about an industry, tell us a little about your experience of learning about it, not just learning about the industry, but then learning enough to actually start a business to compete in the industry. What was that process like?
Vanessa: It’s definitely a long process. It’s a lot of work. It’s really just being curious and asking a lot of questions and talking to a lot of people. We worked with so many different types of people from diamond dealers to the gold maker, the people that are melting down gold, the polishers. Every step of the process, you learn something different. Having that hands on tactile process and not just outsourcing your work was really beneficial to us. All of our jewelry is made two and a half blocks from our studio downtown. It’s really, really valuable for us to be able to meet with the manufacturers, just see the process form start to finish, and learn as much as we can.
Felix: You find to learn, to dive and to immerse yourself into an industry, you should not outsource too much, but actually be a part of that process, be able to walk into the manufacturer and actually see things being made, and that’s what helped you learn as quickly as possible about the industry.
Vanessa: Definitely, [yes 00:07:33].
Felix: You knew you wanted to star a fine jewelry brand. What were the first steps? Because when you think about something like this, it sounds like a pretty capitol intensive business at least just from looking at it from the outside. What were the first initial steps towards developing a brand, developing a company that competes in this space?
Vanessa: One of my philosophies is never make excuses for anything. We definitely did not have a budget starting this. We launched with eight thousand dollars. We met with a lot of manufacturers. They were telling us there were all these quantities we needed to get, all this MOQs. We were like I don’t know how we’re even going to have one piece in our collection. We finally found a manufacturer that was willing to take a chance on us. He was really excited about the opportunity to be online and was willing to work with us.
He made one offs of each of our designs. We were able take pictures of those ourselves, and then put them online. I Photoshopped the color so we had rose, yellow, and white gold. We didn’t even need three versions of the piece to have that. We took modeled shots ourselves and just put up a site that I designed myself. It was pretty scrappy. Then for the whole first year that we were in business, all of our jewelry was made to order. We had a two to three day turnaround time with our manufacturer. Soon as an order was placed, we sent the order to our manufacturer and he was able to get it ready in two days so we could ship it out within the week. Our customers didn’t even know that it was made to order, but that’s how we were able to start.
Felix: I can see that approach working very well especially when you don’t have a large budget to work with. You were able to do because you found a manufacturer that didn’t just want you to meet certain minimal order quantities. They actually wanted something more out of that, which was something you could have provided which is they wanted to be able to start selling online.
You found this manufacturer. They want to work with any other brands that were helping them go online at the time.
Vanessa: They weren’t. He wasn’t even really a manufacturer. He was just someone that had a jewelry business and knew a lot about it. We were partners in that we were both helping each other out and both learning along the way.
Felix: Yeah I think that’s important. You were saying you didn’t make excuses and all of a sudden think that because so many manufacturers are saying no or setting high minimal order quantities that you would not be able to meet with your budget. You didn’t just turn around and say we can’t do this. You find a way to partner with somebody that would essentially … I [inaudible 00:10:16] want to say you paid them with your expertise, but you traded and your partnered with them because you had that experience, had the knowledge, had the ability to take them online. In exchange, they would help you create the products.
How were you able to identify a manufacturer like this? How did that conversation I guess get started?
Vanessa: Literally by walking around the jewelry district of LA. We just went to [inaudible 00:10:42] large jewelry district in downtown. We walked around and talked to people that were working at the booths. He’s not actually a manufacturer, but the jewelry dealer that we ended up working with he was the first one. He was open in the morning, and no one else was open. We struck up a conversation with him. He just was really excited about what we were doing and wanted to prove himself. He tested out our first collection and was able to work with us on the revisions, and really take our sketches and turn them into [life 00:11:19]. Definitely got lucky finding someone that was willing to take a chance on us.
Felix: Very cool. One of the articles that I had read about you guys was about the direct consumer model. How is that it’s different than the way jewelry is typically sold today?
Vanessa: Typically jewelry has a lot of markups like I was mentioning. One of the main markups comes from having a wholesale to retail traditional model. With direct to consumer, you’re cutting that entire basically half of the price out of the markup because you’re selling direct to consumer. You’re being online only. You’re not really relying on that other retailer to sell for you.
Being online you have more opportunities. There’s really no need for that additional step in the process.
Felix: Did you run into any issues by going direct to consumers or were certain channels not available to you because you had this business model or any other obstacles that came in your way because of this approach to the way that you were selling.
Vanessa: Yeah, definitely. Once we became a little more popular, a lot of stores would reach out and see if they could hold our collection. We had to decline a lot of that even knowing that it would be a great opportunity, and we’d make a lot of sales. We definitely wanted to stay focused on being direct to consumer and send out a very clear message to what we value and what our idea is founded through.
Early on it was definitely enticing to go that route because it’s tough when every single one of your orders has to come from individual customers and you can’t have any bulk orders. It’s tough, but I think if you can push through it, it’s definitely worth it.
Felix: Yeah. I can definitely see that being a very hard decision to make especially for a new company where all of a sudden people want to place large orders from you, but then by saying yes, it goes against initial values, initial vision that you had for the business. You don’t want to just start moving that line because who knows where it could lead. You might completely dilute your original brand, and that might alienate your original customers.
When you first started with the initial product, like you were saying you took your own product shots, it was made to order, did you have to validate the product in any way? How did you know that there was a market not so much a market for direct to consumer, but for the particular product you were selling? How did you know that there was a market for it?
Vanessa: I myself, it was something that I wanted. That was enough validation for me. We didn’t really have much to lose. We put eight thousand dollars into this as first investment. It was really just about trying it out and seeing where it went. We didn’t lofty goals. We had actually really low goals. We want to sell five pieces in the first month. When we exceeded that in the first day, it was shocking to all of us.
I think just having realistic goals, taking a change, and trying it out.
Felix: Yeah, it makes sense. When you first put the products online, how did you get those initial customers? How were you driving those sales to [inaudible 00:14:39] traffic to your site in sales early on when you just started the business?
Vanessa: It was a lot of hustle. We reached out to all sorts of bloggers and influencers that were in the smaller range of followers. We gave them early access to our website. We didn’t even have enough money to send free pieces for them to photograph, shoot, and style. We just gave them early access to the website, asked for their opinions, and involved them in the process.
From there, they just felt very connected to it, and really loved the idea. They shared it organically on social media, on their blogs. It created this really authentic and organic approach.
Felix: What did you find that the influencers were most attracted to about your company? Was it this new business model? Was it the products themselves? What really caught their attention?
Vanessa: I think it was a combination. I think we’re grounded through our values of quality, simplicity, and transparency. Bringing those three things together in a piece of jewelry I think really spoke to a lot of what’s happening in our culture today and what people are looking for. I think definitely our values is what people definitely gravitated towards the most.
Felix: At that time, were there many companies or brands following this model of direct to consumer?
Vanessa: We were very inspired business companies like Everlane and Warby Parker that are cutting out the markups, direct to consumer, but also focusing on a very simple minimalist product. That was definitely what we were looking up to.
Felix: Did you find that there were more competitors specifically in your space, the jewelry space that came out after seeing your success like the direct to consumer fine jewelry business?
Vanessa: Yeah. We have seen a bunch pop up recently, which is super interesting. I don’t really see anyone that’s a competitor necessarily. Everyone’s doing something a little different, but glad that it opened the doors so we can all change the industry for the better.
Felix: Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of listeners out there might be selling in this space as well whether it be the kind of jewelry you’re selling specifically or just other types of jewelry. What about a jewelry brand do you have to market differently compared to other apparel or other types of consumer to [facing 00:17:10] brands?
Vanessa: For us since our jewelry is so tiny, it was a struggle early on because everything has to be shot so close up. You really have to focus in on these tiny, tiny little details. You can’t really get an overall picture of anything. Everything is very, very zoomed in, focused and detailed oriented, which is a little hard to get used to at first. Then those constraints turn into more creative ways to display things. I think it goes both ways.
Felix: Cool. You were mentioning before that your previous I guess experience was in [brand identity 00:17:51] space, then following with the user experience work that you’re doing. I want to talk a little bit about this. I think this is important I guess skillsets for other entrepreneurs. When you were working in developing brand identity, tell us a little more about that. What does brand identity mean? What were you doing to help other companies development there’s?
Vanessa: Brand identity to me is a form of communication. For [Vrai and Oro 00:18:15], selling jewelry is secondary for me. It’s more about creating a connection to explain our values and communicate our values. Doing that for other brands is really exciting for me because I was able to take what I saw as founder’s values and translate it into a visual communication source in a sense. It was a great for a little bit, but at some point I wanted to create my own. I wanted to infuse my own values into something. This gave me that outlet to do that.
Felix: For any store out there that may be already in business or anyone out there that’s thinking about starting a business, and they want to really nail down their brand identity, so they can tie everything back to it. How do you begin to create one? If you’re saying you’re sitting down today, anyone out there is listening sitting down today and wants to go down this process of creating their brand’s identity, how do you begin that process?
Vanessa: I think a misconception in brand identity is that it’s about the visual identity, and people start to think what’s my logo, what’s my typeface, what are our colors? I think way before that you have to establish what your core values are as founders and what you’re trying to say, and why you’re trying to say it. What is the reason for why you’re doing this? It’s usually not just about the product. It’s about something deeper than that, so really honing in on that. I think everything else is secondary.
Felix: I think that’s a great point. [It’s 00:19:47] the idea that a lot of people focus on, the logo, the business cards. It’s not core enough I guess is what I’m getting at. You mentioned that you first had to identify what these core values are for you. I think an issue that a lot of entrepreneurs run into is that they almost start adopting other core values. They’re not really looking inside to identify what actually resonates to them. Do you have a practice or exercise that you go through to identify what is truly your own core values and not just something that maybe you like or looks interesting from another brand?
Vanessa: Oh man. That’s a good question. I’m an introverted person. I’m always thinking, and I’m always analyzing myself and my thoughts. For me it was [inaudible 00:20:42] what my core values were. I always like to question traditions. I’m never really settled with how things are. It made sense to me for what I believed in.
Felix: One thing I’ve heard other entrepreneurs talk about is to ask others especially your close friends for them to describe you because sometimes you have maybe a vision of yourself that doesn’t necessarily match. [That doesn’t really 00:21:08] match, but it might be a little bit bias I guess if you were to describe yourself. If you asked a bunch of different people how they would describe you, you might see some themes pop up that might validate what your saying or it might open your eyes to something that you never even thought about in terms of your core values.
Once you identify these values, what do with it? How does it actually end up on your site, in your designs? What does it mean to translate these core values into the look and feel of your site of your brand?
Vanessa: We settled on three words: the quality, simplicity, and transparency. That had to spread through every single thing, every word, every image, every product. Quality, if it wasn’t high quality then obviously there’s an issue to being with there. That also just meant having sustainability and creating for quality over quantity, and educating consumers on the fact that we use solid gold and high grade diamonds and not plated and [vermeil 00:22:13] or all these other terms that people use.
Then simplicity, that’s huge for our jewelry designs. We’re always saying what can we remove, not what can we add. We come up as a team with interesting designs that we’re really excited about, but they didn’t really fit into our idea of simplicity, so we decided to not move forward with them. A lot of the times it’s about editing down and no adding, but taking away.
Transparency is huge in everything we do. It’s about being honest and open, [inaudible 00:22:47] just try and be an open book, and explain where our materials come from, where our costs come from, be open as a team, and as open as we can with our customers.
Felix: Do you ever feel compelled to change or add to you core values, to your brand’s identity? Should it always be evolving or is it something that you need to really, not necessarily set in stone, but stick to as much as possible?
Vanessa: I think it can definitely always be evolving, but for us it has stayed the same since day one. I didn’t even realize it until probably reflecting back a few months ago that these three things are really the core of what we’re doing, so I think they can definitely evolve especially if you’re idea of the business evolves. For us it’s definitely rooted pretty deep.
Felix: Makes sense. Now I want to talk about your user experience work. How is what you’ve learned in that field impacted the design or the overall customer experience on your site?
Vanessa: I think it’s been an advantage because we look at our website as an experience and not just an end goal. It’s a journey that we want people to take. We really think through each aspect of it, just simplifying the navigation, and really trying to clarify as much as we can without distracting and having three different gold colors, having only a certain amount of products that people don’t feel overwhelmed. Thinking through all these little nuances that we think the customer would experience without them even noticing.
Felix: Yeah, I want to talk about all that a little bit more. What are some things that maybe you’ve noticed that other e-commerce stores are missing out on that they haven’t added I guess to their store that you think would be beneficial to the experience from the customer’s perspective?
Vanessa: I think again it’s about subtracting more than adding. I think a lot of online stores tend to overdo it. They have their small shop, so they think they have to overcompensate. They have a lot of products. It can seem confusing. I think consistency is a huge thing. People get a little scared of consistency because it can come off as boring. For me, consistency is key and just always keeping a very clean, simple look across everything that you do.
It doesn’t even have to be clean if that’s not your brand, but just a consistent voice, look, and identity, so people can identity with your brand.
Felix: Yeah, this consistency thing I think is important to talk about too because I think it needs to … When you’re a customer or when you design something for a customer, for a user, you don’t want them to think too much about how to navigate how to use your site. You mentioned that one of the key things to be consistent about is the voice. For example, a product description should be written from the same voice. Are there any other things that you’ve noticed other stores not being consistent about that you think has a big impact on their brand or on their conversions even?
Vanessa: I don’t know on that one. There’s a lot of places that people aren’t very consistent. A lot of the times it’s with their marketing and just their Instagram account, their social media. You go from their website to their Instagram, and it’s like whole disconnect. You’re like I feel like I’m on a completely different brands site here. Definitely across all your channels being consistent. Then even just how you talk about the brand, that just had to come through on your site, through your marketing materials, through your Instagram, through your Pinterest, all of your marketing channels.
Felix: In order to make it easier to be consistent, you have to be able to either know your brands identity very well or document it very well. Do you do any kind of documentation? Is this something that’s just in your head? What are some tips there on making sure that you have I guess almost like a bible to refer back to for your brands identity?
Vanessa: I should probably be better about documenting. I’m really not that great at it. My team has been asking for [inaudible 00:27:10] brand guide that definitely I will get there. As of right now, it’s mostly in my head. It’s very natural to me. It’s not something that I need to write down for myself, but as our team grows, it is something I want to develop, so we can keep consistency. It’s not just in my head.
Felix: Yeah. No, that definitely a challenge for all entrepreneurs when you don’t have that much time in the day. How do you spend you time between moving the business along versus documenting everything and creating systems around everything?
You mentioned also that again subtraction, you said this a couple times now, is that sometimes stores and brands just have too much. You really need to start removing things more than adding more things to it. One of the key things that you mentioned was about number of products. You don’t want to have too many products because you don’t want to overwhelm and give too many options to customers.
When you do want to introduce a new product line, maybe in your experience actually because it sound like you just started with one product, and when you add more products like what’s that process? How do you make sure that it doesn’t interrupt the experience of customers that are used to coming to your store for a specific products or maybe how do you even introduce a new product to your product line to existing customers?
Vanessa: We don’t have seasons basically. We don’t have to feel the pressure to release a new collection every few months. We really take the approach of releasing a new piece when we have a new piece to release. That can be once a month. It can be once every three months or once every six months. It’s just the timing of everything.
When we release a new piece, we tend to pull one of our pieces that hasn’t been working so well. It’s just an editing process. We never want to overwhelm people with too many products. When we release new product, we always like to create a story around it, so it doesn’t feel like a piece of jewelry again. It feels like something that people can connect with and there’s a meaning behind it.
Creating that story that people can really see themselves in is really important for us.
Felix: Yeah. I want to touch on that whole story aspect for product launches in a second. I want to talk as well about how you actually do remove products from your catalog especially when you add new ones. Like you were saying, it’s an editing process I think is important for a lot of stores to do this just because you have a product in your inventory or just because you’ve had a product in the past or even if you had sales in the past, it doesn’t always make sense to keep it around because it could be impacting you overall sales because it might confuse enough customers that they just don’t convert at all because of it being too overwhelming.
Now I want to talk about your product launches. You mentioned that you don’t just want to introduce a product out of the blue without someway to tie it back to I guess something more meaningful or tie it back to the brand itself. You mentioned [a story 00:30:15]. Tell us a little bit more about this. What do you mean by a story that you create around a product?
Vanessa: Each product has a little personality of its own, and we try and bring out that personality in it. [They 00:30:29] create a little persona. If it was a person, who would this person be? I think that gives it a little life of its own. People are really able to identify with it. It’s [our 00:30:43] story.
Felix: Cool. When you create these stories, how do you share these stories? Is it just in the product descriptions? How do you make sure the story gets out?
Vanessa: It’s mainly for our internal team to know how we’re talking about it. It’s on our product description. We share it on Instagram, Pinterest, and all of our social media, email campaigns, marketing. It’s really just more of an organic way to reach consumers.
Felix: Cool. It’s a story that you [have for 00:31:20] your internal team and the idea is that if the entire team understands the story, [inaudible 00:31:27] the content that comes out from it, there’s social media or through ads or just through product descriptions will match that internal story that you guys have created.
Vanessa: Yeah, exactly.
Felix: I want to talk about the marketing you do [today 00:31:40]. I know mentioned earlier that to get those first sales you worked off influencers and bloggers. Is that the key marketing strategy today as well?
Vanessa: It has shifted a lot in the past two months. We don’t really rely on influencers and bloggers. It’s a great outlet, but for us it was feeling a little forced. As soon as bloggers started approaching us that they wanted to get paid, and they wanted all of these free things, that just seemed not so authentic anymore. We’ve been moving away from that direction. We still have great relationships that we’ve built with some of these girls. We definitely still want to work with them, but for now we’re moving just towards our own channels. I guess concentrating a little more on editorial, PR, and telling our story through other outlets.
Felix: When you say your own channels, you mean like your own social media channels or what do you mean by that?
Vanessa: Yeah. Our own social media channels. A lot through Instagram. We were using Snapchat for a while, but I think we’re switching over to Instagram Stories now, Pinterest, and yeah, I think that’s about it.
Felix: Oh cool. Instagram Stories is something that you guys are using pretty heavily.
Vanessa: Yeah. We are using it. We haven’t made it a routine yet, but we definitely try and post a few times a week, and want to definitely get more structured with that.
Felix: Yeah, I think this a challenge that a lot of brands are going through, specifically on Instagram. What do you post to your actually Instagram I guess [feed 00:33:18]? What do you post to the stories? How do you differentiate between what makes it into a story versus what just goes up on the I guess the permanent wall for your Instagram profile?
Vanessa: Stories is really a way to be transparent. The wall for lack of a better word is more curated I would say. It’s definitely a little more polished, a little more curated. The stories feature is definitely where we can be more open and transparent, and give a little peak of what we’re actually doing on a day to day basis. It’s a little more real I guess.
Felix: I see. You’re using the stories to show like a behind the scenes and show what the company is about, put some faces to the name. Is that what you’re using the stories for?
Vanessa: Yeah. We’ll go over to our manufacturer and shoot some shots over there. We’ll interview one of the team members. We’ll give you a close up of one of our jewelry pieces and explain the story behind it and show you different ways to style it. It gives us a lot of different ranges to work with.
Felix: I can definitely see now that I’m on your Instagram profile. A lot of beautiful product shots in the permanent I guess section of photos. Like you were saying, it’s much more curated. I’m sure much more I guess mindful on what you’re putting out there versus the stories gives you more the opportunity to be transparent and be so curated through the stories.
You mentioned the editorials and PR as another marketing channel that’s worked well for you. How does that work? Are you writing articles yourselves? Are you reaching out to PR outlets to cover the brand? What’s the approach there?
Vanessa: Yeah. For us it’s less about having our jewelry be featured in a roundup of jewelry styles. It’s more about telling our story and having people connect to our story. I think these news outlets are a great way to tell that and reach new customers. We try and reach companies that are interested in our story, the background, and the concepts behind it rather than just the jewelry itself.
Felix: What’s the angle when you’re pitching to these PR outlets? Is it about the direct to consumer approach?
Vanessa: Yeah. Depending on the outlets, some are very interested in the direct to consumer approach. Some are interested in the quality approach. Some are interested in the design or the fact they were made in LA. There’s a lot of different aspects that we can talk about depending on the outlet.
Felix: I see. How do you identify which angle to use when you are pitching to a PR outlet?
Vanessa: They’ll usually come to us and just ask a few questions of what they’re mainly interested in. Then from there, I can get a feel for where their mindset is at and what they would like to talk about.
Felix: Even if you are the one who is reaching out to these outlets, I think a great way is just look at what they’re already putting out there and to see what they’re most interested in covering. You can always find a way to create a similar angle that matches what they’re already trying to do when you approach them. You definitely don’t want to just [inaudible 00:36:30] shotgun approach to send in the same kind of pitch or approach to each PR outlet the same exact way.
One interesting thing I saw on the site was it says here for one of the products says “Starting at twenty-three dollars a month with Affirm or I guess you can just buy it outright for two hundred and sixty dollars.” Tell us a little bit more about this. What is Affirm? What does it do for your customers?
Vanessa: Affirm is a finance option. It’s a plug in that we just recently added to our site that allows customers to check out with low monthly payments to buy the piece over time. Affirm takes on all of the risk there. We get paid up front. It’s really a great option. It allows people to not overly commit to something that they can’t afford at that moment. They can pay it off over a few months.
Felix: Yeah, I like this. I haven’t seen this on too many sites. I’ve seen this of course on the big box retailers and the much larger companies, but I haven’t seen this yet on a more independent shop. I think it’s a cool approach that you’re giving, that there’s a company out there that helps you help your customers finance a purchase.
Have you seen a lift in customers using this option since you’ve added it to your store?
Vanessa: Yeah, it’s been very popular. We have higher priced items. It definitely helps for those five hundred dollar purchases that you want something special, but it’s definitely hard to fit that within the budget at one time. I think it’s a great resource for people.
Felix: Does this affect anything with like returns or exchanges? Does it make it more complicated? How does that work with a company like Affirm?
Vanessa: It really hasn’t made it very complicated at all. It seamlessly plugs into our Shopify shop. They have a dashboard that we can check everything and see all the analytics. Returns are super easy. Really no complaints on our end.
Felix: Yeah. It sounds like it adds a lot, doesn’t take much away at all. When you do sign up for a company like this is there a review process, an approval process that you have to go through?
Vanessa: They reached out to us, and we were excited about it. We had heard of Affirm before. They were very helpful setting everything up, great customer service. They walked us through the whole thing. It took one or two days to get it all set up and running.
Felix: Cool. One of the thing I do like as well I guess on the product page is this option right here. It says, “Send a hint.” Tells us a little bit more about this. What does send a hint do, and how did you come up with the idea of having something like this?
Vanessa: We wanted something where women can go and instead of just sending a guy or whoever might be buying jewelry for them a link, we wanted to created something a little more personal that you can go in. You can find your favorites, and send someone that you love a little hint. A cute way to get someone involved in the process without being blatant about it.
Felix: I feel like if I got this from I guess my fiance in this case, I would definitely feel like I could take a little bit more credit for the purchase than if she just send me a link in the email. I think this is definitely a cool way to encourage people to check out, to share products that might be gifted to them.
Tell us a little bit more about your day to day. You’ve been running the business for I guess for two years now. How does your involvement in the business change over that time.
Vanessa: It started as day to day operations. Everyday packaging, shipping, delivering, picking up from manufacturers, designing everything. As we’ve grown, we’ve hired people to do the day to day part. I’ve taken on the role as Creative Director, and really my role is about having this visions that the whole team understands and hiring the right people to execute that vision.
My role has turned into a lot more of a managerial role for now. I definitely like to get in there and get my hands dirty, take some photos whenever I can, and update the website, create the email marketing. I know someday I’ll have to pass all that off.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve heard other businesses, other entrepreneurs take this approach where they are very much the executor at first like doing everything, making sure their hands are in everything, and then their true value is in the creative side. In your case, you’re the Creative Director, which means you have to separate yourself from the day to day execution aspect otherwise you’re so bogged down that you don’t have this mind space to be creative.
It’s a big thing to give up because you’ve been so used to managing everything. It’s comfortable when you know what’s going on every single step along the way. Be able to give that up so that you can free up your time, free up your mind to do what’s most valuable for the business. Tell us about the process that you had to go through to separate yourself from the business in that regard.
Vanessa: I’m definitely still going through that process. It is tough. I used take every Instagram photo myself. It’s all my hands, things that I saw that I loved. Now it’s training other people to see that, but be respectful of their own visions as well. It’s definitely giving up a lot of control, which I’m still learning how to do. I think it’s been really good for me. I’ve been able to just grow and create a team that I really trust. I think just having those trusted people around you is really what can make it successful.
Felix: What was your fist hire, and how did you know to hire them?
Vanessa: Our first hire was actually an intern that we’re trying to get back on our team actually. She was intern, and then she turned into fulfillment and then she turned into operations. She grew really quickly with the company, and she was just doing a little bit of everything since we were all doing a little bit of everything. For us, it wasn’t about her background, her experience, or her education. It was really about her mindset. She was super eager. She wanted to learn everything. She really wanted to get to know every part of the business and that curiosity was really what we loved about her.
Felix: In the two years that have gone by with the business, can you give us an idea of the growth or the success of the business today?
Vanessa: Yeah, we’re currently on track to reach two million in revenue this year. Again, we started with eight thousand dollars. We bootstrapped the company, so we didn’t raise any money. We just been growing off of profits.
Felix: That’s amazing. Two million dollars a year, bootstrapping, growing off of profits. Did you ever envision that it would come to this size of a business in 2014?
Vanessa: Nope, not at all.
Felix: What do you think the tipping point was when you started realizing wow this could be a legit business that’s turning over millions of dollars a year?
Vanessa: Honestly, it’s just been growing steadily. Even the first month was a shock to me. I thought we would make five sales. We ended up I think with twenty-five sales, which was really awesome for us. It’s just been snowballing. Recently, I think we’ve just been able to streamline our values. We really been able to come together as a team and hone in on what’s important and how to translate that and communicate that with everyone. It’s such a giftable item that people are buying it for their friends and family, so then they’re learning about the brand. It’s just become an organic snowball.
Felix: Yeah, that’s very cool. Speaking of gifts, we’re coming up on a holiday shopping season. When this episode goes live, we’re definitely in it. What are you guys doing in preparation for this holiday shopping season?
Vanessa: It’s going to be crazy. We are ordering a lot of packaging. We’re increasing our inventory a ton, which is tough because our manufacturers are currently almost at their capacity. A lot of our pieces are sold out on our website because our manufacturers are having trouble keeping up with demand. That’s going to be our biggest challenge going into the holiday season is just making sure we have enough inventory to get us through it.
Felix: For your line of business, I think it changes a lot for different industries, but for yours how much of a lead time do you need to prepare for a big buying season?
Vanessa: About six months I would day would be a good amount of lead time. The [POs 00:45:40] that we’re submitting now we can turn around in about four weeks. Again, we’re going through our inventory really quickly. If we had six months of good preparation, that would probably be good for us.
Felix: Very cool. Where do you want to see the brand in the next year?
Vanessa: We’ve [inaudible 00:46:00] really exciting things in the works right now. I won’t give away too much, but we are looking to launch two different [guide shops 00:46:08], one in Soho and one in LA. We are working on a launch for engagement rings. That’s going to be a whole separate brand [that 00:46:19] will live with Vrai and Oro, but it will be a different experience.
Felix: That’s very cool. I’ve heard the term guide shops before, but it’s still something pretty new to me. Can you tell the audience a little bit more like what is a guide shop?
Vanessa: Yeah. We just don’t want to have a traditional retail experience. We want to create a different type of experience that takes our online shop and experience and translates it into a physical location. We won’t necessarily have a bunch of inventory there, and we might have to ship your piece to you, but you’ll at least be able to see everything. It’ll be just a display that you can come and see in person, touch and feel the products before you purchase.
Felix: Very cool. Thanks so much for you time Vanessa. Again, vraiandoro.com is the website, V-R-A-I A-N-D O-R-O dot com. We’ll link all that up in the show notes. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out if they want to follow along with what you guys are up to?
Vanessa: Yeah, definitely check out our Instagram. We’re posting a lot of updates everyday.
Felix: Yeah, definitely excited to see how you guys use stories. I think it’s really going to be a key aspect for a lot of brands [that do want 00:47:30] to offer them openness and transparency that your brand talks a lot about. Yeah, excited to check that out. We’ll link all those in the show notes. Again, thanks so much for your time Vanessa.
Vanessa: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended thirty day free trial.