Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
I am an accidential entrepreneur. I saw a mannequin on Craigslist and was going to buy it for an art project. When I discovered that the person selling the mannequin operated the only mannequin rental company in town and was leaving the state, I bought his entire inventory of 50 mannequins. I was planning on running the mannequin rental company on the side while keeping my day job. I did that for 9 months and then two things happened. First I realized the retail chains would throw mannequin in the trash when they remodeled or closed stores. Mannequins are made out of materials that do not biodegrade so I offered to recycle their unwanted mannequins for free. My inventory then went from 50 to 500 mannequins in a 4 month period, so this caused me to start selling mannequins in addition to only renting them. Then 9/11 happened and my day job at a .com went bust. I didn't want to look for a regular job, so I decided to make the mannequin business a full time venture
We source them two ways. We acquire used mannequeins by recycling them for retail chains like Nike, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Saks, Ralph Lauren - when they close or remodel stores. And we work with dropshippers to source brand new mannequins that are imported from China.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Since I worked for a .com WAAY back in 2000, I knew early on the importance of an online presence. Although my first sales were a result of word of mouth, referrals from department stores and media coverage, I was one of the first in my industry to put of a website. The first week our website went live I received a request from a customer in Canada. Although I wasn't set up to handle online orders or international orders, this allowed me to change my focus from being a local vendor to an international vendor. I made online sales a priority and did things like SEO, accepting Paypal and then turning my website into an ecommerce one.
Shopify! I also use Shopify POS for local customers who come to our warehouse. But 80% of our sales come through our website.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
Yopto! Love it for the product reviews, which makes customers more confident in their purchase.
The QuickBooks integration has cut down signficiantly on the time I need to pay my bookeeper, so while this isn't as exciting as generating new sales, it has made a huge difference in our efficiency.
LOVE LOVE LOVE the Shopify mobile reader and POS because it integrates with our inventory. When I used Square, I would have to remember to update the inventory or remove an out-of-stock item on our website. Time consuming to say the least. Don't have to do that know with the Shopify POS!
Also like the digital downloads because, just this year, we released a line of DIY tutorials. Our Dress Form Christmas Tree tutorial sells throughout the year! We just integrated FourSixty for our Instagram posts. Can't wait to FINALLY get approved for the Buy Button with Pinterest, because the majority of our social media referrals come from that site.
The orders that we ship ourselves have been a little challenging since we switched to QuickBooks Online. The desktop version included integration with Fedex, so the process is more manual for us now.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Don't try to be on all social media outlets at once. While social media is critical it can be overwhelming to learn the distinctions between them, and to post relevant content consistently. Pick one that you think your audience is most likely on, master that, and then add another one. Over time you will see which outlets are most relevant to you.
For example, with us Pinterest and Facebook, with their visual focus, are much better than Twitter and Linkedin. We just got in Instagram this month.
Generating sales is only 1/2 of the battle. Shopify and QuickBooks gave us a chance to look more closely at our COGS. We found that on some items are margins were too narrow and we either increased the price or deleted the items. It made a difference in our profitability.
Technology is a necessary, but often overwheleming tool for business. It is important not to get to wedded to something because enchancements or new products are always being released. While it was daunting to think about switching ecommerce providers when I was with Big Commerce, I couldn't be happier for making the switch. Same thing when I went from the desktop version to the mobile version of QuickBooks. When I started my business I thought all I had to do was be the "master of mannequins" but instead I had to become the "master of many things" in order for my business to succeed. While it is exhausting sometimes, I couldn't be happier.