Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
I was completing an entrepreneurial training programme called the New Entrepreneurs Foundation and was looking for a business opportunity to put that training into action. I noticed two things: it was impossible to buy a decent hip flask for a reasonable price, and it was really difficult to buy men gifts. So, I killed two birds with one stone, and designed a beautiful yet durable hip flask, the perfect canvas for a personalised gift. Men AND women love them. Our products are sourced all around the world, every culture has its traditional crafts and I want to take advantage of the collective human knowledge.
So, the flasks are made in China using a particular method which can't be replicated at a practical cost in the UK, and which no other flask manufacturer uses. The quality of the workmanship is amazing, we're lucky with our factory's work so I'm confident enough to give lifetime guarantees for my products.
My flasks have detachable pouches to change their look, just like mobile phone covers. These pouches are made in various places, one range is produced in a leather-making region of Spain, and two other ranges are brought to life in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland — beautiful British craftsmanship.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
First sales logged were the usual — friends. I have a great friendship network of entrepreneurs in their twenties like me who are keen to help each other out and see a business grow.
My next step of course was to get Shopify set up and running. I'm close to my 5000th order through Shopify and will certainly be toasting the platform with a wee dram when that order comes in.
My early sales weren't purely online though; offline was also vital because I used trade shows and events to sell and raise enough revenue to move to the next stage. Events are incredibly important for getting instant customer feedback. People volunteer answers to questions you would never think to ask. Organic is by far our biggest revenue contributor at the moment, we've learnt a lot about SEO and are constantly updating and implementing new tactics. This has meant that we have to be very careful about our conversion rates, any seemingly minor change to a site can kill conversions and send bounce rates sky-high. Using Shopify means we can easily revert back and undo the mistakes, which is critical to our learning journey, we need that flexibility.
Digital marketing as a whole is our second contributor, in particular Facebook re-targeting has been productive.
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?
We use various apps, from simple ones like Royal Mail Shipping and Instagration, all the way up to Yotpo and ShopPad. We use comparatively few apps to other Shopify stores I believe, partly because we have development resource and can build our own customisations. Having said that, one of Shopify's big bonuses is the apps; the few that we do use are utterly indispensable. We handle fulfilment in-house, and use Royal Mail and couriers for shipping. We are always looking for ways to bring things in-house to cut costs and give more control. Many things can go wrong in a product life cycle and as we pride ourselves on customer loyalty it's very important to me that I can dive in to any step of the lifecycle and solve a problem for a customer. Fantastic though suppliers can be, they're not at the coal face dealing with a distraught customer like I am. The customers can seem remote and intangible to suppliers, so I want to take responsibility for my customers, and bringing things in-house lets me go the extra mile for them.
That approach means I get happy customers, a growing business and the satisfaction from building a company with standards and values."
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Test for the right template exhaustively, there's no such thing as a one size fits all template, and neither is there one perfect template for your business. There will always be pros and cons, so always be testing what's right for your business. My "two Rs: get reviews and make sure the shop is mobile responsive.
For small unknown brands, reviews give credibility, bring the products to life, add to SEO and create referrers, all for a very small price. Unless you're selling cars or houses, mobile will be where your buyers get their first taste of the business. Shops used to have huge window displays with which to impress passers-by, we've got a couple of square inches. Make them count.