I started Alial Fital, named after my parents Laila & Latif spelled backwards, after a six year career in the NFL. In the process of deciding what to do as a second career, I started fooling around on my wife Jenny's sewing machine. Having watched numerous youtube videos and read a book on pattern making/sewing a dress shirt, I set out to sew a product that I was interested in but couldn't find in stores. From scratch, I sewed what I called a dress polo, combining a woven dress shirt collar and the knit base of a comfortable polo shirt.
Using Shopify, I taught myself the ins and outs of html, css, and web design and created the website www.alialfital.com. We launched in January of 2011 and haven't looked back. In our first year we had 1 customer in particular who was a big fan of our shirts. His name was Robert Van Pelt. A former teammate Jim Leonhard was visiting me and my wife that year and asked if we could watch The Masters golf tournament seeing as it was the final round. Low and behold a gentleman named Bo Van Pelt was in 8th place & and I said "that's interesting my best customer is a gentleman named Robert Van Pelt". Jim in his infinite wisdom proclaimed "Gibran you know that Bo is short for Robert don't you?". Sure enough I cross referenced our customer in Shopify vs. the PGA Tour golfer and both gentleman were one in the same Mr. Bo Van Pelt.
At the end of 2011 a one line email from the man himself asking if our American Made brand would sponsor him for the 2012 season catapulted us into the golf apparel industry on to TV coverage throughout 2012 as BVP had a career year with 10 Top 10 finishes.
Today we are still making American Made / Limited Edition dress polos and golf polo along with zip ups, hats, pants, and neckties.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
My first sales on Shopify were earned by sending out an email to my friends and family. Those who were kind enough to give us a shot got a product I was proud of shipped directly out of my apartment. A hand written thank you note was included in every order, as it is to this day & that has directly contributed to a 43% customer retention rate of which I am very proud.
While we have now moved into an office in downtown Seattle, I still include a hand written note in each one of our orders to ensure the customers always feel like they are a part of our family and have a tremendous impact on the health of our business.
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?
One of the reasons I love Shopify is the back end of the service. An app like Shipstation is terrific and an efficient tool for our small team to ensure shipments get delivered on time and correctly. After our garments are produced in Los Angeles they make there way to our HQ here in Seattle where we handle all of our fulfillment in house to ensure the most personal and reliable delivery to the customer.
We use apps like Super Reviews, Optimizely, & Curebit to promote our brand and better communicate with our fans.
RetentionGrid and Lumiary have also been terrific additions to help us better focus on targeted marketing and analysis.
What are your top recommendations for new ecommerce entrepreneurs?
#1 Just start. It's never been easier to get a business or an idea off the ground. With a tool like Shopify you can have a professional website and platform for your business within a couple of hours. Till this day I look back and while I've made many mistakes and endured many challenges, one of the most successful things I accomplished was to just go for it and get a website up. You never know?
#2 Treat your customers as you would your family. This can be tough, especially with some customers who can prove to be a headache. For the most part I believe in people and that they care about others. If you promote the idea that you care about them and they can feel it - they will never forget. Ultimately, one of our few advantages over the big companies with whom we are competing for market share is that we can focus more intently on our customers and fans since we have fewer of them