Even though IT manager Mark Casquero had a comfortable life working for a multinational corporation in the Philippines, he wanted to sell guitars to fellow passionate musicians. He loved guitars so much that he tried to make selling them work side-by-side with his day job.
Eventually, Casquero realized that he’d had had enough trying to juggle both ventures and designed a plan to make a living through his passion. Four years after setting up his shop on Shopify, Guitar Pusher transformed from a mere hobby into a bonafide business, allowing him to quit his job and manage his store full-time.
We caught up with Mark to find out just how he did it and what his secrets for eCommerce success are:
What’s your background?
I'm an engineer by title: I graduated in electronic engineering. Right after college, I worked in the IT sector for 18 years. I was doing a lot of IT management roles, from operations manager to project manager. I was doing that for 18 years in both finance and accounting systems.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
My passion is guitars, so it made sense to build a business from this passion.
What motivated you to take the leap and start the business?
There was an opportunity that came in 2012, where I found an excellent brand of guitars to sell. That's when I started to become a reseller, and I was doing it in parallel with my day job. During weekends, in the evenings, I would be selling guitars online on Facebook.
When I got a bit bigger, some of our products got more traction and following, so I thought maybe this is something I can do seriously — allowing me to leave my day job and focus on selling guitars. So, in 2016, I made a four-year plan to reach a specific revenue goal so that Guitar Pusher could replace my day job.
In the end, I was able to leave my corporate job to manage Guitar Pusher full-time.
What was the motivation for you to replace your day job with this business?
I know it’s a cliché but it's always exciting to dream about your passion being your full-time job.
I think the turning point for me was running an IT career. I was doing well, working on critical projects, but it was hard having a very hectic day job, and in the evening, having to work on my side business. Sometimes, during the day, I also had to work on Guitar Pusher, and I felt guilty about doing that during my day job.
While the company was getting bigger, it was getting more stressful, and I couldn't continue living like that (essentially having two full-time jobs) — something had to change.
What's your team like right now?
Right now, there are 30 people. Back in 2016, we started with only four. We have a branch in Makati, we have a branch in Cubao, Quezon City, and we also have dealers nationwide, so we have a team focused on that. Then we have the central team that takes care of marketing, finance, and accounting. I also have HR and work development, who are outsourced. We also have an external tax team.
What would you say separates Guitar Pusher from other music stores?
One of our distinct advantages is that we were online during the pandemic. Our customers tell us that we are easy to buy from: they can chat to us on Facebook and buy guitars on our website.
Before the pandemic, the bigger, more established stores had the advantage. But because of the pandemic, many of them were forced to strengthen their website and their digital efforts. In contrast Guitar Pusher has been online from the start.
Being online definitely helped us survive the pandemic because we were the only ones open during that time. We were able to deliver record sales because big stores in the malls were closed.
What do your customers have to say about you?
We continually hear that they feel more comfortable with us — like they're buying from their friends. We encourage them to try the guitar, regardless of how expensive the guitar is. But if you go to a bigger store in the mall, they might feel a little shy to do this because if you don't look like you're going to buy, the staff might not make the effort to help you.
They also feel like we know our stuff compared to other stores, who might not be able to answer technical questions. I think the experience of being right at home really sets us apart.
Historically, you don’t get too many people buying guitars online, but interestingly, during the pandemic, our sales on Shopify tripled, and it became a central channel.
I’d say the revenue we're getting from the website is equivalent to that of one branch in the mall.
How did their use of your Shopify site triple your sales?
Well, the website has been there for a long time. It's naturally able to get SEO equity just for being there. But the tripling of the sales didn’t take too much effort: it's just the nature of the business – malls closed due to COVID-19 and more people learned how to buy online.
That, and we have a fully functional website with an up-to-date inventory. Had we not maintained our stock levels, we would not have captured the opportunity and jumped on the consumer trend when the pandemic hit.
Does the Shopify website provide your customers with a different shopping experience? Or is it really because it was just there?
Recently, we learned that there were still some opportunities to improve our website. I invested in a search plugin to improve the site’s search function. As a result of this, we got more sales. Last year, 50% of all the website sales came from the search function.
The other Shopify plugin we're using is called Social Proof. Every three seconds, it shows pictures of famous artists using the products our customers are interested in buying and products other people on the site are checking out. They're then a bit pressured to buy because they think the stock will sell out.
That’s one of the challenges: most of the time, products go out of stock. By the time it's back in stock, customers may have already forgotten about it. So, we have another plugin called Back In Stock where people can click on the out-of-stock product, type in their mobile number, and receive an SMS message when the product is back in stock. Last month, we got 51 orders because the website texted them – we didn't have to do anything!
Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
No. Everything worked out perfectly.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially during the pandemic?
Now is the best time to start an online business because everyone now knows how to buy online, and people are shifting to online shopping more and more.
I would also say that if you want to start a business, do something that you love.
People sometimes ask me how we became so big, and I tell them it takes ten years to be an ‘overnight success’. You don't suddenly get big!
Become your own boss: start an online business todayCasquero and Guitar Pusher’s success should serve as an inspiration for you to pursue your passions and start your own online store. Shopify makes it easier than ever – for a monthly fee, you can start, market, and manage your business on a platform that helps you do everything you need to build your own brand online. Sign up for a free trial today to see what you can do!