Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
We make things that we want but can't find in the marketplace, starting with a leather u-lock holster to carry a u-lock on my bike in a stylish, rattle-free, dedicated place. We started on Etsy in 2009 as a crafter, and used Shopify to graduate to our own brand with our own site in 2012. Shopify has allowed us to grow from one of a sea of crafters to our own brand of unique, handcrafted leather goods. We make everything in-house in our workshop in Portland, Oregon, with a heavy emphasis on sustainable and American sourcing.
We had social media accounts and followers in place from our Etsy activities from 2009-2012, so we announced our Shopify site with press release, an email newsletter, and social media postings at the very beginning. From there, we began to promote our own website exclusively, and allow Etsy sales to happen when a customer happens to find us through Etsy. Our Shopify site allows us to offer better shipping options, so it was a no-brainer that our first sale on Shopify was a pair of one of our best selling products — a pair of leather sew-on handlebar wraps to a customer in Switzerland. Our own site via Shopify is generating the most sales for us — approximately 50%. Etsy sales have been sharply declining since 2012 and this year only comprise 25% of our sales.
I would be lost without ShipStation for shipping. It syncs all my channels in one place, and automates so many shipping and fulfillment tasks. Likewise, InXpress's DHL plug-in to Shopify and ShipStation was a breakthrough for us in offering reliable, reasonably-priced international shipping. I also rely heavily on Mailchimp to automate email signups, Product Options to facilitate our monogramming options, and Shopify's reviews app, and Yotpo's reviews app for the mail-after-purchase feature. We handle everything internally using ShipStation. We ship using mostly USPS, and secondarily DHL, and when needed FedEx. We hired a Shipping Associate in 2014 to help us with our shipping.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Invest in terrific lifestyle photography that tells the story of your products. With online stores, it is worth every penny. We found an amazing photographer by chance in 2010, and she has done all of our work since then. Together, by using the same photographer throughout our site on all our products, it creates a cohesive look that ties our brand together, and her art is as much a part of our brand as our products. And have great customer service. We ascribe to L.L. Bean's business philosophy: "Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they'll always come back for more."