Getting featured in the press isn't just a way to drive traffic to your store or create interest in your products.
Each PR win builds your business' credibility, which can do a lot for earning a customer's trust if you can incorporate these mentions into your website and marketing.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear from Dave Venn and Praj Karmacharya, the husband and wife entrepreneur team behind Corala Cashmere, a luxury Canadian boutique offering premium quality scarves, shawls and hats handwoven from the world’s finest cashmere.
Find out how they earned coverage in local print publications and promoted their business in the early days.
- How to get factories to invest in you when you are just a small time client.
- How to make sure that you have a strong foundation with your business partner (and romantic partner).
- How to cater your pitch to specific media outlets.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
- Store: Carola Cashmere
- Social Profiles: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Recommended: Mailchimp, Conversio (Shopify app), Shopify Product Reviews (Shopify app)
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Dave and Praj from coralacashmere.com. That’s C-O-R-A-L-A-C-A-S-H-M-E-R-E.com. Corala Cashmere is a luxury Canadian boutique offering premium quality scarves, shawls, and hats handwoven from the world’s finest cashmere. Started 2013 and based in Ottawa, Ontario. Welcome Dave and Praj.
Praj: Oh, thank you very much.
Dave: Hi, how’re you doing?
Felix: Good. Good. Thanks for coming on. Yeah, tell us a bit more about your store. What are some of the more popular products that you sell from the store?
Praj: Yeah, so ours is ecommerce online cashmere, so we basically sell cashmere scarf, cashmere shawls, and cashmere hats. Those are our main products and we want to focus mostly on the cashmere currently so, yeah, we sell cashmere scarves, hats, and shawls at the moment.
Felix: Very cool. How did you guys get into this line of business? Did you have experience in fashion or, I guess, even more specifically in cashmere before?
Praj: No. No, actually it’s quite the opposite. How we started is actually kind of interesting. Dave and I, we met when we were students in Netherlands. I am originally from Nepal and Dave is from Canada. Basically we both wanted to see more of the world, so we ventured out from each of our countries and somehow landed up in Netherlands. We studied together and while studying, both of us, we fell in love, got engaged in Netherlands, and I took Dave back to my home country, Nepal, where we got married.
Right after our marriage then we went to a honeymoon in the mountain side of Nepal. While on our honeymoon then we discovered the cashmere industry. Cashmere basically comes from the mountain goats that roam around about 15,000 feet in the Himalayan areas of Nepal. During our honeymoon we discovered this factory, this fabric, and we were quite intrigued. I was like, “Wow.” We touched it and it was like really soft and really nice and really high quality, but we didn’t think much during that time because we were having fun, we just got married, and we were enjoying.
After our honeymoon Dave had to leave the country to sort of start the immigration process for me and I had to be in Nepal. During that time, we were apart for nine months, but luckily what happened was that Canada and Nepal is really 12 hours ahead of each other, so we used to talk on Skype every day, day and night, and while talking on Skype then we would go back to our honeymoon phase and we were like, “Oh, remember that cashmere burlap that we touched that comes from the Himalayan region?” We thought, “Hey, maybe there’s a business here. We don’t know, right?”
I also wanted to bring something to Canada that is attached to my home country of Nepal. We really liked the product, so that’s how we started thinking. Our thought process was, “Oh, maybe there is something. We don’t know.” That’s actually how the business idea came.
Felix: Yeah, it’s funny, a lot of entrepreneurs, they always have all these ideas and typically the one they end up pursuing is the one that always nags them the longest, right? The one that doesn’t seem to go away no matter where you spend your time. There’s always something in the back of your mind. Are the customers that you’re selling to, are they mostly based in the US and Canada or are you selling … Which part of the world is buying most of the products?
Dave: Well, Canada is a really cold country and so the products certainly do well here. We’re based in Ottawa in sort of Shopify’s headquarters here. We get the majority of our sales from the Canadian market, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, sort of major urban centers, and then as things have grown we’ve seen orders come in from the US and other parts of the world as well, UK, Australia, Germany. We’re just continually surprised at how people find us in other places.
Felix: You guys went on this honeymoon, you were in Nepal, you noticed that there were these amazing fabrics, these amazing products, that there’s an industry around it, like you mentioned there were factories that you discovered. This is a similar, this is a path that I think a lot of other entrepreneurs go down where they are in a different country, they notice a product that they don’t see very often in their home country and want to bring that back home, and realize that maybe there is a business around it. Tell us about the steps that you took to realize, to make this dream a reality, where you found this product in a different part of the world than where you’re currently based out of. How do you begin the process of creating a business with a product that’s not in your part of the world and bringing it to prominence in your part of the world?
Praj: Right. Well, it was not an easy process, but it was kind of interesting. When we were apart, I was in Nepal and Dave was in Canada, so it sort of gave me a bit of a heads up where I could go to the different factories and see the product, talk to the people face-to-face. I think in Nepal particularly it’s important when you talk to a person face-to-face and build that rapport with the factory there, and so that was really helpful when I could go, touch the product, talk about the quality. We really wanted to focus on the quality of the product. I would actually ask for the lab reports as well, whether this quality is really high quality, and make sure that the people who are working there actually are working in good conditions. That was really advantageous that I was in a country for nine months where I could meet with the supplier every day, talk to them what we are looking for, what they have, what they can produce. I think that was really important and that gave us a good supply in the end.
Felix: How did this business relationship with these factories start off? Like how many orders did you … Do you remember how many orders you had to place early on? How much risk was involved on your end to start a business like this?
Dave: It starts very slowly and sometimes very organically. Where we began was actually identifying who were the kind of premier cashmere producers in the country and then meeting with them one-on-one. So it meant going in the factory, as Praj said, touching the different fabrics, and seeing the range of color options and weaves. That can be a time consuming and slow process at the start. Then once you get past that and you have a better understanding of both the industry and the people that you want to work with, we’d kind of narrowed things down to two or three suppliers, and eventually one that we wanted to connect with. Then it was part of building that relationship, deciding on the products that we wanted to order. We started out very small, actually. We placed an order for about 100 cashmere shawls. We didn’t get into the hats and the scarves yet. We selected the shawls. We picked a wide range of colors that we thought might resonate with customers back here in North America and we went from there.
Felix: Right, so it sounds like an approach that was organic and at a comfortable pace, which means probably not a ton of risk on your end. You weren’t ordering thousands or tens of thousands in your first run. Were these factories hesitant to work with you if you were starting off with a smaller batch? Again, which, I think is a much safer and much, I think, wiser approach for starting a business, especially when you cannot or do not want to take on too much risk off the bat. Were these factories ever resistant to working with you because of the smaller scale that you’re coming to them with?
Praj: Right. I think that’s a part of sort of building a rapport with the factory as well. When I would go and visit different factories, I would really look into who I really get along with because it’s a long process. It’s just not one order. We knew that if we worked with them it’s going to be a long process, and I wanted to work with somebody who I really would get along with. In the beginning, I think that building rapport was a really important part, not only for me but also with the factory owner as well. I think maybe, luckily, they were okay with placing 100 orders and they sort of knew our long-term vision, as well, that we wanted to take it farther, it’s just not one time order or two time order, we are looking for a long-term relation with them. I think that actually really helped, even though it was just 100 orders with them. Yeah.
Dave: Yeah, you know, in some ways it wasn’t about the number of the order, it was the relationship that we were building. There were certainly factories there that do cater to much larger businesses and much larger markets and we were lucky to find one that was willing to do it on a small scale knowing that, as we went along, that we would be refining and iterating on the product and hopefully it would lead to larger sales in the future.
Felix: Yeah, I think when we look at factories and we think about manufacturers, sometimes we just look at the numbers. Who can get us the cheapest, the lowest minimum order quantity, but you’re saying the approach that worked the best for you guys to find the best partner was to build a relationship with them first, build some rapport. Can you say more about this? What do you find the factories, I guess, value in a partner if we’re not just talking about the numbers?
Praj: Yeah, I think one of the important … A factor for me was the quality, the quality of the product, because I’ve heard from a few other friends who are starting a business that sometimes they place an order, but when actually it’s imported into, let’s say Canada or anywhere else, the product is not the same quality sometimes. I think for me it was really important to see that actually those are the people that I can trust and vice versa for them to trust us as well. I think quality was really important and I think it’s been really good with them. We have imported many times and not even one product defect so far. Yeah.
Felix: What about from the factory side? What are they looking for in a partner like you guys? Especially like you’re saying because you’re starting off smaller. What are some ways to make you seem like a more attractive partner to them?
Dave: In some ways we didn’t have to do a lot of attraction. I think just the fact that we were serious with the business, we were able to show that we’d registered the business name back in Canada, that we had taken steps to start to build a website and a bit of the brand. If you can come into the conversation with an idea and an understanding of the kind of business that you want to build and the way in which that factory can help you grow over time, that really helps. Then I think having some early stage ideas around how do you want to market the product and who are you trying to target. The other thing with cashmere is that it’s not like producing something that can be mass produced. It’s very specialized. It does take time to weave each cashmere shawl together and each cashmere accessory. Because of the time involved and the commitment and quality, that sometimes these factory owners are more inclined to work with smaller batches as well.
Felix: Okay, you got your first hundred or so orders in that initial production run. What was next? Did you have it shipped to Canada? Did you already have sales? What was the very next step after getting that initial production run?
Praj: Right. Yeah, it was an interesting … Because we both found out … This is our first entrepreneurial gig so we both are not from the entrepreneurial background. In fact, we both are from a nonprofit background. Running a business was something that was very new to us. Once we ordered the products, then the next thing for us is to know how do we import it. We absolutely did not have any ideas. It was going through our border control security booklet, which was like 200 pages, reading those, what are the labeling requirements in Canada, US, and other countries. It was researching and learning a lot of things about how do we import. Right, we have a product, now how do we get this into Canada and US? It was a lot of learning into how do we do our taxes, how do we do it. A lot of the back end of the businesses that we had to learn by ourselves by reading and talking to the people and asking other friends and family who run a business here in Canada. A lot of months and months and months of research went into that.
Dave: A lot of times when you create a product you think it’s just the product that you need to create, but there’s a whole infrastructure that goes around it. For us, we had to think about the labels that went on it. We had to think about the CA number to be able to sell our products wholesale, retail if we decided to do that. We had to understand the customs and importing duty process so our goods didn’t get stuck at the border and we couldn’t access them. For entrepreneurs that are just getting started, certainly the product is core. You need to understand the best parts of that and build the best product. But there’s this whole other side of the business that you need to think about as well.
Felix: Were there any close calls where you might not have been able to get the product in past the import process?
Praj: Yeah, I think one was … We did a lot of research on the import requirement, but there was one paperwork that was missing from the supplier’s side. I didn’t know, I somehow may have skipped while I read the booklet, so that got stuck in the border. We were freaking out, like, “What do we do? How do we get that product?” In the end, the supplier had to supply a simple one-page description of the product and some of the details that the border requirement required. They emailed that page to me and then I had to send it to the border security. In the end, after a week or two, then the product was released to us. That was sort of a lesson learned as well. It was not a big hassle, but even those two weeks of not knowing, the uncertainty if we are doing things correctly. In the end it worked out, but I would suggest to do a bit more diligent research if somebody’s thinking of importing. A lot more goes into what are the requirements for sure.
Felix: Yeah, I was going to ask, what would you do differently to make it more seamless? Could you have relied on the suppliers? Do these suppliers, these manufacturers or these factories that you’re working with, do they have experience in working with others that are trying to import into the country that you’re importing into, Canada at the time? Could you rely on them to give guidance? What are some of the ways to make sure that you don’t get tripped up last minute? Because the last thing you want to do is place a big order and maybe even have sales, people waiting for the products, and all of a sudden you just have inventory sitting at the border you can’t get ahold of.
Dave: Yeah, the best thing you can do is give yourself as much time as possible for the process, knowing that there might be some bumps along the way. For us, we knew that around the Christmas holiday time was always where we needed the most product, and so we would start the process as early as February, March, April to get the paperwork underway. This is where trust comes in, I think, because it’s not only paperwork from your side, but it’s paperwork from the supplier’s side as well. There is a lot of documents that you have to produce properly. The other thing is that, the factory that we were working with had a lot of experience exporting to other countries, but not to Canada. We had to figure out the right customs forms and the right paperwork in order to do that properly.
Felix: Do you have to repeat this importing documents and process each time, or does it become easier subsequent times where you’re bringing in the same products?
Dave: That’s the nice thing is that if you learn the first time around and then each time you do it it becomes easier and easier. We’ve gone through the process now of importing about three or four different batches over the course of the history of the company. You do duplicate in some ways, certainly that quality assurance needs to be there at each stage, but once you’ve gone through once it does become a lot easier.
Praj: Yeah, and we do give a call to our supplier as frequently as possible so that they are aware of the product as well. Because they are not only dealing with us, they are dealing with other customers as well. That’s again building the rapport. I feel it’s really essential to build a rapport and not only see them as somebody who is just shipping the products.
Felix: Right, I see, that makes sense. That you’re not just giving them money and then they give you products, but then there’s value in knowledge that you can exchange as well. That helps build that relationship that you’re talking about. You mentioned before that you both have nonprofit backgrounds. Now, when you started Corala Cashmere, was this the full-time job or something you guys were doing on the side? What was the situation?
Dave: No, we each had full-time jobs. Prajeena worked for the government, I worked in the nonprofit sector. But we both have a background in international development, that’s actually what we were studying when we met. We knew that we wanted to continue those careers, but it was important for us to also think about other sources of income. Just kind of a creative project on the side for us, that’s really how it started.
Felix: Gotcha. So how did you balance the start of a business while having a full-time job? Because again, a scenario that’s very common to a lot of listeners out there, a lot of entrepreneurs, when they’re first starting out, is to start something on the side. What was the process like for you getting a business like this started while both of you were working full-time jobs?
Dave: I think balance is a really kind word. I don’t think when we started there was a lot of balance. Certainly a lot of late night hours and after hours. We would go to work 9–5 and then we would come home in the evenings and start to tinker away on the business and building the website and getting the packaging in order. Then we would spend time on the weekends doing that as well.
Praj: Yeah, and I think I found it really fun because, while working 9–5, you’re sort of working for others. When you back from office and then you work on a business, it’s like your baby project. You want to see it grow and you nurture it. I think as husband and wife we really had fun starting this business. Especially when we see it grow, that’s even more high five between us.
Dave: One of the cons, Felix, is that obviously you don’t have as much time to devote to the business, but in some ways your energy is a little bit higher because you know when you do devote time to it, you’re really concentrated in that energy. Also, by starting something on the side, it lowers your risk. If you’re the type of person where you kind of like your job and it’s good and it’s paying the bills, it allows you to step into another source of income without having to worry about where your bills are getting paid or your rent’s getting paid. In some ways that lowers the risk and just creates a different type of opportunity.
Felix: Yeah, I think lowering that risk that you were talking about gives you much more of a long-term outlook too, where you’re not just desperate for cash or sales right off the bat. You can have these charitable aspects to your business like you guys do, or just make decisions for the long-term that might not bring dollars into the door, dollars into the business the next week or next month or so. If you were to start over, start another business with having a day job, how would you approach it differently to have a little more balance? Because like you were saying, you didn’t have much balance before. Would you change anything about that, or did you enjoy the chaos of it all?
Dave: I think in some ways we kind of enjoyed it. When you’re starting out, everything is fresh and one piece of momentum leads to the next. We were thriving on that a little bit earlier on. After a couple of months or a year down the road, we realized that we did need to devote specific times when we weren’t talking about the business, because what was happening was it was … work and life was bleeding together a little bit too much. We began to set out hours during the day or the evening or the weekends where we would devote specific time to building the business. I think that structure helped a little bit, it felt a little less chaotic then.
Felix: Yeah, this husband and wife team, this business that you guys started together, I think a lot of people want to aspire to this, to have a partner that is their husband or wife working with them. Because neither of you had experience starting businesses in the past, didn’t have experience starting entrepreneurial projects in the past, and this was your first attempt together, looking back on it, how do you know if you would make a good team together or not? For anyone else out there that’s thinking about doing the same thing, are there ways to determine if? Because some teams aren’t going to work well together, right? Even if you guys love each other and everything, just doesn’t mesh well. How do you guys recognize if you guys will be a good team or not back then?
Praj: Right. I think Dave and I, we both are a little bit different personalities. I think it’s knowing what each others strength and weaknesses are, right? When we started, we didn’t know. We didn’t know whether we would be a good business partner or not, it was sort of an experiment. But after we started, we did realize what each of us can bring into the business. Like, for example, Dave has a public relation background, right? So he’s really good in communication and reaching out to the media, content writing. I know that’s Dave’s skills, so I let him be. I let him do those things. Whereas I think my skill is more verbal communication, so when it comes to speaking to the media or when it comes to doing a bit of YouTube video, that’s where I come in. I go to different networking events. I’m more of a public face, and Dave loves to do background work. If I write, it might not be that pretty, but I know if Dave would write content in our business, I know that’ll be fantastic. It’s sort of knowing, again, what each other can bring in, what each other’s strength is, weaknesses are, and realizing that and using that as strength to build business on.
Felix: I’ve heard your advice in the past as well and the question that comes to mind is, does this mean that your strengths, yours and Dave’s strengths or both your strengths combined, do they need to cover all the bases? In a good partnership, doesn’t matter if you’re husband and wife or not, but in your experience, how much of a partnership does everyone’s strength need to cover? Is it okay if there are weaknesses in areas for both of you? What are your thoughts on that?
Dave: I think there’s always going to be gaps in knowledge, there’s going to be gaps in skillset. The best you can do is bring your abilities to the table and then to outsource the areas where you need more improvement. As Praj mentioned, background and communications and marketing, I can help build the website, but my technical knowledge only goes so far. Where we need additional help then we outsource that. Same thing on the design front. For Prajeena, she’s great in building relationships. She’s helped solidify that with our suppliers and that’s really detailed on the importing process. Then, as we need additional help we just hire and outsource it. I don’t think that’s a barrier to entry. You bring as much as you can to the table and then you find out where your weaknesses are through the process. Sometimes a few fights along the way. Then you fill those gaps.
Felix: What tips do you have on laying the groundwork early on to make sure that it is a successful partnership? We already touched on the whole recognizing, identifying strengths and weaknesses, I think that’s very important to have that candid, very honest discussion with each other. Did you guys do anything else? Or if you look back, do you wish you did anything else to make sure that the foundation was solid for a partnership?
Dave: I think it all comes back to communication, and this is not only helpful in business, it’s helpful in relationships too. One of the advantages for us, because we spent nine months apart, Praj in Nepal and me in Canada, as we were thinking about this business, we were actually communicating every single day by Skype. We were talking things through and when you don’t have that sort of face-to-face interaction as we did for those nine months, it really builds the ability for us to talk to one another, to listen to one another. Sometimes we’re so focused on trying to get our point across that we forget to listen to the other’s point of view. The communication, both what you’re trying to say and listening to the other person, is kind of core to that. That’s been a process for us all the way along. We don’t always get it right, and we often have differing points of view, and we can both be kind of stubborn sometimes, but at the end of the day, it really does come down to communication is the foundation for a solid partnership.
Felix: Sometimes communication means having these hard discussions that are not going to be fun, that might result in tension or heated discussions. Are there topics that you think more partners, more business partners or maybe even husband and wife teams, should be discussing?
Dave: I think one of the areas that’s really contentious for a lot of people is around money and finances. When you’re first getting started, especially if you don’t have any outside investors and you’re putting your own money into the business, it’s important to have that discussion up front around how much you’re willing to invest, both in terms of product, but also in terms of advertising and marketing. How much risk are you willing to take on? What’s the vision for the company? What’s the lifestyle that you want to build around it? What do you want the company to allow you to be able to do? Some of the things that were important for us were certainly that we wanted to build in a charitable aspect to the business, and we wanted to be able to travel back and forth to Nepal, meet with suppliers on a regular basis, and we wanted to have a steady source of side income that we could rely upon.
Felix: Given that you are creating a charitable business, how do you think that you approach building a business, marketing a business, growing a business differently than a business that you would start that didn’t have a charitable aspect to it?
Dave: I think it was no question for us because of our backgrounds in the nonprofit and philanthropic and charitable sectors. Praj has experience in international development. We knew that we wanted to build that in right from the start. The way that we’ve done it is just to allocate a portion of every sale into a small separate pool and then we could direct that towards charitable causes that we were really interested in. For us, it was kind of a no-brainer. A lot of people would use it as a marketing tactic I think, but for us, because we just had that background, it was important for us to contribute in some way.
Felix: Given your experience, your background in charitable work, and because your business has this charitable aspect to it, are there any legal considerations that people that don’t have your experience need to keep in mind if they are going down this path?
Dave: Because it’s the business allocating money for charitable purposes, you don’t have to worry about tax receipts or any kind of regulatory systems in that way. As long as you’re transparent in the way that you’re communicating that to customers, that there is a charitable arm to the business and that a portion of all sales are going towards that, I think people are understanding.
Felix: Tell us about your charity that you work with and how did you choose the ones that you do work with?
Praj: Before we started the business I was working in … Before I even went to Netherlands, I was working a nonprofit there for three years, and I was working for children’s education there. Working in a nonprofit there for three years, that was always stuck to my mind, where I would go to villages and see how the projects has impact, right? I think that children’s education was just the core of what we wanted to do in the business, so that sort of came naturally to us. When we went back to Nepal again, we connected with different nonprofits and what they are doing. Finally we choose the one that we really saw the potential in, that that nonprofit will grow over a few years. We saw the really great work that they were doing in different villages, so that’s how we picked the nonprofit, and as where that’s investing in children’s education was something we really believed in.
Felix: Very cool. When you find these charities, how do you even approach them? Or the one that you found, how do you even approach them when you want to work with them and essentially donating these proceeds, or a portion of the proceeds of your sales to them?
Praj: We signed a memorandum of understanding with them. They project that we want to donate the money and where that money would go to. It was more of signing a MOU with a nonprofit.
Felix: Okay, makes sense. When you do identify a charity to work with, is there any other kind of involvement? Do you need to make sure that the money is going to the right places? I think there’s always a concern for a lot of people these days with donating, donations, and working with charities, is are they using the money in the right way? Is there any ways to … You can’t just micromanage everything they do or be too intrusive, but are there ways to guarantee that your dollars are going to the right places?
Praj: I think that’s a great question. For me again it comes to building a relationship. I think I am big on that. We talked to the director of the nonprofit that we donate to. I talk to him on Skype often, and when we go back to Nepal, when we meet our suppliers, then we go and meet with the nonprofit. We go to their offices and we check out all the photos. They give us a financial report as well, where the money is going. They are the grassroot NGO. They are based locally in Nepal. That means that they have a pretty good connection in the country and they know the local people and local culture and local customs. I think that was another important thing for me, was something to donate locally, because I’m from Nepal as well. That’s how we get to know that the money is going to the right place.
I think the biggest … Our attention went to charity when the earthquake hit Nepal in the year 2015, in April. Dave and I, we both were in Canada during that time. It was I think three o’clock at night that I got a phone call from my cousin that there was a big earthquake, 7.9. I tried calling home, nobody pick up the phone. I was in tears, I didn’t know what to do. I saw all the pictures and video in the media, it looked like just alien spaceship came and … It looked like the destruction everywhere. We felt really bad and realized that, after I spoke with my family, they were okay, but we saw the destruction out there. While we were here, we were like, “Oh my god, we need to do something. We can’t just be quiet.” So we got together with our friends and family here in Canada as well and we set up a fundraising site to donate to the earthquake rehabilitation in Nepal. We raised around $17–18,000, and we donated to the local charities. Till now, we get the pictures and we get the financial report, as well as we get all the reports of how that money is being used.
Felix: That’s amazing. I think it also helps a lot when you have all these people that depend on the dollars that you’re donating to them. It helps you stay motivated to grow the business, to focus on staying and competing in the marketplace, because you know that every sale you generate can help someone else out. They might not even know about the products that you’re selling, they might not even know about your business. I think that gives that extra drive for a lot of people. I want to talk about that aspect, growing the business and the marketing challenge that you guys use. I think one of the things you listed in the pre-interview questions was about media outreach as one of the key aspects of growing the business, getting more exposure for it. Tell us about your strategy. What is the approach to getting the media to cover your story, your product, your brand?
Dave: There’s kind of two ways to go about it. You can either do what we did in the beginning, which was a lot of cold calling. It was understanding that you have a story to pitch and that the story is bigger than the products of the business. The more you can think about the why of your story, I think that resonates better with media. In some ways it’s best just to start local. You have a newspaper or a local television station, contact them. You’d be surprised how willing they are to feature local businesses. That’s really an easy way. One of the first hits that we had was a major newspaper in the city here that did a full-page spread in their life and fashion section of the newspaper. It really took off, I think we were really surprised at how much that drove traffic and interest for us. A lot of focus right now on social media and Google campaigns and AdWords, but really those are kind of short quick hits in some ways. When you have a larger story to tell that encompasses both the products, your travel, the founding story, the charitable aspect, sometimes you need a bit more real estate and a little bit more time. Our feeling is that print media has been really, in particular, quite support of that. Doing podcasts like this is also beneficial because you get to tell your story in a much longer format.
Felix: I see, so your approach to media outreach, is it different when it comes to print media versus digital, like a website or a blog that might want to cover you guys? Is the approach different and the results different to that you found by working through those two mediums?
Dave: I think you have to understand the media outlet that you’re pitching. You have to know their audience, you have to know the types of stories that they’re interested in telling, their customers or their base, and to tailor your pitch. It doesn’t help to just create one story and fire it off to 100 media outlets. It really does require sometimes time consuming one-on-one outreach. You need to know who it is that you need to get in touch with. At a newspaper or a television station, there’s usually an editor or producer that really puts the whole show together. They’re really the key contact for you. If you can identify who those people are, really get clear on the story that you want to pitch and the time that you have to do it, I think that really helps.
Felix: How do you learn more about these media outlets so that you can cater the pitch? What have you done to successful do that, and do that at scale?
Dave: I think that’s the next step. You can start local and you can understand the media outlets that are close by, but then eventually you might get to a point where you don’t have the relationships or knowledge of other markets. For us, not having an extensive background in fashion and the accessories world, our knowledge of those media outlets only went so far. More recently we brought on a publicist who can help build some of those relationships, who has those contacts in the industry where we want to be, and can help broker and open the doors to some of those media opportunities.
Felix: Okay, so you brought on a publicist because they have essentially those relationships, that network that you can tap into. When you bring on a publicist, how do you work with them? How do you make sure that they have what they need to do their job well on your behalf?
Dave: Well, part of it is first selecting the right one. Are they in the industry? Do they have the relationships? Have they been part of pitching stories in the past? Then the kinds of things that you need to provide them are certainly your backstory, any details around the products, and the thing that differentiates you from other products. Pulling together a press kit is one example of something that might be really, really helpful. That press kit usually includes photos and a bit of the backstory. Having all of the social media pieces to support all of that is useful as well.
Felix: Are there deliverables? For anyone out there that’s thinking about going down this route of also hiring a publicist, are there deliverables or terms that you expect from a publicist so that they hit the milestones that you want them to hit? Is there a set number of media appearances that you expect from them? What are some of the key things to pay attention to when striking a deal with a publicist?
Praj: I think one, how we dealt with our publicist, we said, “This is our price point and, you know, what you could do in that price point?” Then she told us, “Okay, with that price frame then I can have you in this. For example, the print media here or the TV show here or the online magazines here.” If that works with you and you’re pretty good with what the publicist has said will deliver, if that’s okay with you then you would go for that. Again, it comes to the price point as well, what the publicist would charge to have you in different segments of newspaper or magazines.
Dave: Some of it’s really organic too, Felix. You put a story out there or the publicist will pitch a story to a media outlet and you don’t know what’s going to stick for them. In some ways it’s a bit of a numbers game, but it’s also a relationship game as well. For us, accessing the Rolodex of a publicist, for example, has helped increase the scope and reach of our media coverage.
Felix: In terms of organizing all of this, especially early on when you just work with a publicist for the first time, is there a schedule that you need to or that you want to adhere to? Or do you just get any and all exposure as soon as you can?
Dave: Again, it’s kind of throwing things up and see what sticks. Certainly you want to know the time of year that makes the most sense for you. For us, the holidays are a big one and so starting that process in the lead up to the holidays gives us enough time to both see to that media coverage and then see it come to realization. Especially with things like magazines, the more lead time you can provide, the better. Then there’s all kinds of other things that go along with it. Sometimes we might be asked to provide product to a media outlet or a blogger in order to do product reviews. Or you might be asked for some kinds of compensation as well.
Felix: The product samples, which is another marketing strategy that you listed in the pre-interview questions … Are these the product samples being sent to the media outlets, or are they being sent to influencers? Who are you targeting with these product samples?
Dave: We focused earlier on trying to get coverage in major media outlets. We focus less right now on the bloggers and influencers, although we know that they’re heavily important in the fashion world. When you’re starting out it’s important to build a bit of credibility, the more media outlets that can feature your products, that helps to establish a sense of trust and social proof with your audience.
Felix: Makes sense, so the product samples are usually a request or maybe sometimes a requirement from the media outlets themselves? You’re not reaching out to reviewers that are not in these print media or bigger publications, maybe like a YouTuber or an Instagram influencer, are you reaching out to those people too with product samples?
Dave: We haven’t yet, that’s probably down the road. One of the challenges for us is that the cashmere product is quite expensive. We’re not in the position where we can send out hundreds of different samples. When we give something away, we’re pretty selective in who we give that to and the type of product that we provide.
Felix: Yeah, I was going to say, these product samples would get very expensive very quickly if you were just sending out to anybody and everybody. Speaking of these product samples, especially in the apparel space, you’re selling a product that people want to touch, they want to feel, they want to wear before they buy it typically, right? Because they walk into a store, when someone walks into a retail store, they’re not going to just buy a piece of fabric or clothing without trying it on, without picking it up at first. Do you account for this issue because you’re selling predominantly online? And what are some ways that you’ve found to overcome this gap in the ability for people to touch the fabric itself?
Praj: That’s a great question again. I think because you are an online store you really need to hire a good photographer. Because people can’t come and touch your products, your photo actually needs to speak to the customers. If your photo is really great, that shows the quality of your product. I think that’s really essential, especially if you’re selling a high-end product. Another one that I think customers would look for is the product validity, right? How would they validate that the product that we have actually is of good quality? I think that’s where the customer reviews come in. If you have in your website, customers are really giving you five star reviews and writing great things about you, then the other potential customers will read that and actually think that, “Okay, I think they actually have a great product.” I think those are the two things that is really essential if the people can’t come and touch your product, great photography and social validation like customer reviews.
Dave: The other thing about accessories, Felix, is that they’re kind of unique in that they are sometimes one size fits all. They’re not like a sweater or a dress where you have to try it on and see that it fits. A scarf is pretty easy and fits most people. Same with the shawls and the hats. That was something we were considering early on is how do we create a line of products that makes it easy for customers to buy?
Felix: Right, that makes a lot of sense that it doesn’t have to be tried on, but they still might want to touch it, but then the photography’s where that comes in. Speaking of photography, is this done in-house or did you hire a photographer to take these photos?
Dave: Yeah, no, we hired a photographer. Again, going back to the skills that you have and the skills that you don’t have, photography is one of those that was a bit of a gap for us. We needed somebody who was both professional and understood lighting and could place the products in the right way and then do the post-production work to get rid of any shadows and highlight the color of the cashmere. That’s part of what makes the product stand out. We selected the colors really, really carefully and they really pop. We needed them to pop on screen.
Felix: How did you find this photographer? Did you need to find somebody that has experience shooting your particular fabric? What are you looking for when you’re trying to identify a photographer, especially one that you need to bring in because you need to help your customers get over this touch feel gap that is because you’re selling online?
Dave: Again, there’s lots of sites out there where you can go and pitch your idea and give people product samples and they can create it for you, but for us it was really important to work with somebody that was local, had a foothold into the fashion industry. For us, finding somebody that did a lot of weddings was useful as well. There was a crossover there between shooting beauty for weddings and shooting beauty for luxury products as well. That was part of it, and then having somebody locally allowed us to both give them the products they need and work with them one-on-one to help style those products in the right way.
Praj: And also checking out their webpages and how they have photographed other products. If we see that, oh okay, she has a really good understanding of the lighting and the concept to show the pictures, then that’s … That’s how we chose our photographer as well, because she had great photos of other products and we thought she might be the right person.
Felix: Makes sense. Cool, so now that the store’s up and running and everything, how do you guys spend your days today? What do you do when you first get started to work on this business on a daily basis?
Dave: There’s so many different things you can tackle [crosstalk 00:47:35], the challenge is really just focusing your energy. For us, because we have full-time jobs, we need to be a little selective in what we take on. But really, the core pieces are ensuring that the website functions extremely well, making sure that it has the proper look and feel and design that will capture people’s attention. There’s the ongoing work of building media relationships and pitching your story. Then there’s the things that you need to do to entice your customers. Part of that is driving social media, building an e-newsletter base that you can offer promotions. In addition to all that, of course there’s the growth and future of the business. Giving some more consideration to the next products that we might want to bring online as well.
Felix: Very cool. What tools and apps or services do you both rely on to run the business? Especially when it’s done on the side alongside a day job.
Dave: That’s the beauty of Shopify and the platform is that it can really assist with making the customer experience really seamless and really easy for you to manage it on the back end. Some of the apps that we’ve used, we’ve integrated with MailChimp for newsletters. We’ve got a good app called Conversio that helps with the receipting process, knowing that that’s all digital. We ship here in Canada, so Canada Post is one of our key shipping suppliers. We’ve got an integration through the Shopify back end to help give us a discount on that front as well. Then, some of the other apps that have been helpful are Shopify’s product reviews, really gives social proof and validity to the products. We’ve just started to think about how to integrate with other types of ecommerce platforms as well, so Google Shopping being one of those.
Felix: Very cool. It sounds like expansion is the next big thing for you guys. When you do think about the business in a year from now, what do you want to see it be? Where do you want to see the brand go? Where do you want to see the product being featured in the next year?
Dave: I think we want to keep building the product line, that’s first and foremost for us. That means adding new shawls, new colors, new weaves. There’s a whole other market that we can get into in baby products and blankets for cashmere. That’s a natural next step for us, so that’s something we’re exploring right now. Then, in terms of the rest of the business, certainly more media coverage. You can never have too many people pointing to your website and driving traffic for you. That’s a key focus for us as well now that we’ve laid the foundation and the website and the systems are working really, really well. There’s an ongoing piece around driving traffic to the site. I think the next step for us is to get our products in front of those influencers and bloggers, people who really drive sales on social media.
Felix: Very cool. Thanks so much for your time, Dave and Praj. So coralacashmere.com again is the website, C-O-R-A-L-A-C-A-S-H-M-E-R-E.com. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners go and check out if they want to follow along with the products that you’re putting out?
Dave: Yep, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @coralacashmere.
Felix: Awesome, simple enough, and we’ll link all that in the show notes as well. Again, thank you so much for your time.
Praj: Thank you very much.
Dave: Thanks Felix, take care.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start our store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial.