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 29 years old. When I was 24 I got sober off of cocaine, OxyContin and alcohol. I have been passionate about helping young people with their drug problems ever since. Years ago I started a blog called Sober Nation (sobernation.com). It was really just a way for me to express myself because I enjoy writing. Eventually, I connected the dots between creating content and online marketing, so I decided to try and really grow the site. Over time, Sober Nation got to be the largest online community of people in recovery in the world. The longer I did it the more I realized that recovery is more than just sobriety, it is a culture. I thought of other underground cultures like skate boarding, or cross fitters, or hipsters and I realized that fashion plays an important role in identifying who you are and what you believe in. So from that moment New Lyfe Clothing was born. I dove in head first because I knew that building a brand around what I have already done would catch on quick with young people who are in recovery. I just always asked myself "what would I want to wear?"
Addiction is so rampant and so many young people are joining recovery every day that from a market standpoint, I know I have tons of room to grow. But from a personal aspect, I get emails and pictures from kids wearing my shirts telling me that they have 6 months sober off heroin or 2 years sober off meth and it's amazing to know that a simple t-shirt can make a difference in someone's life. Between Sober Nation and New Lyfe Clothing, I will build a brand and culture around the ever-growing recovery community.
I was very lucky to have already worked with a successful entrepreneur in the apparel industry. He gave me some tips about finding quality garments, and about some local screen printers in Ft. Lauderdale who were well established. My products are made in Ft. Lauderdale where they are also poly bagged. I pick up new shirts when I need them and I store them in my office where I personally package and ship them.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
I think it is a combination of social media and word of mouth. Instagram has been helpful, but the most powerful marketing platform has been word of mouth. I was able to use my Sober Nation community to spread the word, but people caught on really quickly. I started getting people calling me asking if they could model for me, I started getting orders from all over the world, all within the first few months. The recovery community is very passionate and that played a big role. Everything I do is online. The website generates 95% of my business. Every now and then someone will see me and I can sell them a shirt on the spot through the POS or the PayPal app, but yes online traffic is my revenue stream. I hope to get into wholesale soon, but there are not a lot of recovery clothing shops in the streets.
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?
Mailchimp is the biggest. I believe in content marketing or native content. Building an audience through content and using the content itself to sell the product is my personal preference. I've never spent a dime on advertising and I don't mess with apps other than Instagram and image editing apps on my phone. Just good old fashion content creation and branding. I do it in the morning before my employees come in. I will say the Shopify platform makes the shipping process very easy. I worked with a few stores on WooCommerce before and Shopify is way better. It is simple and inserting the tracking info is a breeze.
For shipping, I set up a computer with a printer and a small station set up. I ship in the morning when it's quiet and I package everything. I write little notes on the packaging, and then I drop by the post office every day on my way home from the office.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
I wrote an entire blog piece about this. I won't be cheezy and copy and paste the blog but here are my lessons in paraphrase.
1 - Learn how to take good pictures. This is without a doubt the one area that I have learned the most and also what I underestimated the most. One really good high-quality image is worth 5 crappy pictures. It is amazing what photography can do to perceived value. I am by no means an expert photographer, but I have learned enough about lighting and angles and exposure to be able to take pictures where I can represent my brand in a professional manner.
2 - Start small. When I first started doing this I was making t-shirts, tank tops, different cuts for women, caps, beanies, hoodies, long sleeves, etc. I got way over my head and it was very difficult to manage all the SKUs. A few months ago I decided to try and sell out of everything that isn't a t-shirt. I will do only t-shirts until I master that, and then I will add one more product line. I will do that until it is mastered and so on. It's really important because you come out of the gate super excited and you end up with a bunch of stuff that won't sell and takes up space. Start small!
3 - Pay attention to customer experience! I read a book called Delivering Happiness years ago that changed my life. It was written by Tony Hsieh from Zappos and it is all about company culture. Everything I do I try to make the customer say "wow." For instance, writing hand written notes on all the packages. It is such a pain and it takes forever but when I get those Instagram pics of the notes and how happy people are I see how much more this means to people than a t-shirt. People don't buy my shirts because they need them, they buy them because of how it makes them feel.