Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
I have had an interior decorating blog for over 4 years and wanted to find another way to provide value to my readers. They were asking me where I found my treasures, and I would refer them to other online businesses and local stores. Then I did a survey which I received over 500 responses. Over 90% said they would be interested in buying products I curated for them. People could not find quality Farmhouse French (TM) products. I looked for products similar to what I already had in my home that I knew readers loved. I found an intersection between my passion, my talent, and what my readers wanted. That is where the gold is. I have heard the quote, "If you are not embarrassed by the first product you ship, you waited too long." I took that to heart. I did not wait until everything was perfect. I threw up my Shopify store, linked it to my blog, then set up a few wholesale accounts so I could purchase products that I personally loved. Since my style incorporates a lot of vintage items, I also went to junk shops, cleaned things up, painted them, and added those things to the shop. For the artwork, I went to my artist friends and asked if I could license their work. Then I went to a wood shop and asked them to make some products I designed. Lastly I designed some pillows and soft products, then handed a few patterns and a stack of fabric to a friend who is a talented seamstress. I also went to Summer House, a place for people with disabilities and asked them to help me assemble some of the products. They are beginning to make some products for me.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
I made an announcement on my blog that I was opening a shop on June 15, 2015. I did not have stamps.com set up on my Shopify store yet. I thought I would just leisurely carry the 3 or so things I sold that day to the post office and figure out how to integrate the shipping function later. That morning my shop went live and I had my first sale. By the end of the day, I had over 40 orders. I had no boxes, no shipping account, and no way to get the 40+ boxes to the post office. Before the day was over, I had set up a stamps.com account, and ordered all of my shipping supplies. My blog by far is the biggest referral for my Shopify shop. I also have been building my email list for 2 years, so that is my second biggest source of traffic. When you have access to over 16,000 people interested in your stuff, it helps. In August my home was featured on the cover of Country French magazine, and we've been featured in 10 national magazines, on Houzz.com, Better Homes and Gardens, Country Living Magazine, Apartment Therapy, and SheKnows. Finally, let's not forget what an incredible resource bloggers are. I have the most wonderful blogger friends who also have been helping me get the word out about my new book, French Accents, Farmhouse French Style for Today's Home.
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?
Refersion is an affiliate app that I love. When I asked my blogger friends to help me get the word out about my book, I offered a referral program to them, so they can make a percentage off any sales they send my way. Stamps.com also has been invaluable. The scale and label printer connect to my laptop. Stamps.com imports my orders, I weigh them, select type of postage, then print a label. The software notifies my shop that the item has shipped, and sends an email with tracking number to the customer. I have been doing it myself, also hiring my daughter and my babysitter's daughter to help me pack boxes. I am hoping to get someone on board to do this for me in a week or two.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Fully develop your brand before the launch your store if possible. Make sure people know who YOU are and what YOU believe in. I blogged for over 4 years before opening my shop, so people knew exactly who I was before I ever had a shop. Readers know I have a daughter with down syndrome and I have a heart for people with disabilities. They know I give a dollar for every item sold to Summer House, a place for people with disabilities. They know I have a collie and a farm. Make sure you are not a faceless shop. Make sure you have a photo of yourself and tell your story somewhere. I even share my personal ups and downs, and my WHY in my story. Customers buy from people they know, like and trust. If they don't know you, then they can't like or trust you. Another recommendation I have is to connect with bloggers in your niche. They are an incredible resource and they typically have very loyal followers. Just be sure that you are offering something of value in return to the bloggers. Finally invest in your business. When researching the different online store platforms, Shopify was not the cheapest but had the best reviews. I am so glad I chose Shopify. The software is well thought out, and the service is excellent. I don't have time to figure things out and to fix things that aren't working correctly.