Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
Deciding what to sell began out of necessity...and a house renovation horror story. As a military wife, we had recently purchased a new house in Washington D.C. I was very pregnant with our third child and, as a hobby, I would spend time sewing bibs. Our newly purchased home was a mess, so we decided to hire a contractor to renovate. After paying him the last amount of money (a sum equaling our life savings plus a bank loan), the FBI called my husband. Our contractor was a conman. The conman had fled, and our house was in ruins. He had been pretending to do renovation work, so our kitchen was stripped, and our HVAC system was in ruins. It was so bad, I was washing dishes in our bathroom sink. Oh, and at that time, baby three was just born. Talk about what seemed to be poor timing!
Over the next year, my husband every day after work, would work little by little doing repairs (with some help from Ikea). Because of all the kitchen work, we ended up eating out a lot with our three young children. To keep them entertained, I decided to sew a chalk place mat to take to the restaurants (one side is a place mat, the other side is a chalk mat). I, then, decided to start selling the bibs and chalk mats to different boutique shops in the D.C. area. After starting to sell the chalk place mats, the Washington Post learned about the product and ran three features. Then, HGTV heard about it and featured it. Sales skyrocketed, and customers were so pleased, we had zero returns. And, amazingly, my little home business funded our renovations. Since then, the brand has continued to grow, the product line has expanded, and we have an international presence. Originally, I was making the products in-house. After picking up steam, I hired one man in D.C. to make them. Since the company has taken off, I now source my products from overseas.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
After starting to sell the chalk place mats to local boutiques and gift shops, the Washington Post learned about the product and ran three features. Then, HGTV heard about it and featured it. Sales went through the roof. We even had zero returns. Currently, most of our sales stem from wholesale. We make a lot of connections through trade shows, such as Atlanta Americasmart and Germany's Kind+Jugend. However, since starting with Shopify a couple years ago, we are transitioning to more of an online presence, wanting to engage directly with the end customer. Online, most of our traffic stems from social media.
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 Mailchimp for Shopify, Plug In SEO, Yotpo Reviews, Stitch Labs, Facebook Store, Formilla, Picreel, Auto Currency Switcher, Receiptful, and Poln. All the apps have been extremely useful as you need a variety to run a store — from the social media tie-ins to the customer service oriented. However, rather than the apps, the amount of resources on Shopify have been the most useful. I consistently read blogs, articles, and the community forums. Through these resources, I've determined which apps to pursue and strategies for marketing. Shipping and fulfillment is done through a fulfillment house. I keep a small amount of products on hand in case I need to make a quick fulfillment.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
For new store owners, I recommend tailoring your product, at first. Start with a focused product line for a focused market. It's too easy to get lost and feel directionless when starting out broad. It's also harder to market. Additionally, read the resources on Shopify. They really helped me find direction, especially when it came to social media tactics.