Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
It was a combination of passion as well as seeing a need in the market. After years in engineering school I decided I wanted to do something more creative than a 9-5 desk job and revisited my original passion of creating things with fabric and thread. July Nine started with a canvas bag but took a new direction when Eugene, my hometown, instituted a bag ban. I found myself at the GAP stuffing newly purchased socks into my pockets because I had forgotten to bring a bag. It sparked the question “Why don’t I carry a bag?” which ultimately I decided was because most of them, are pretty ugly and not something you *want* to carry. So after a late night session I came up with “ The Sushi Sack," a modern take on a reusable bag, that rolls up into itself. It has since transformed and evolved into new styles, sizes, colors and designs. Ultimately though, which we’re very proud of, it has turned into more than a “re-usable bag” you bring with you to get groceries; it’s a bag people carry daily for whatever their needs are.
Our brand is built on the foundation of being made in America. We literally brand it on the items we make. I knew when I started a business this was a non-negotiable. It is definitely more difficult at times but we’re very proud of it. We started as a one-man show, then when it grew we moved manufacturing out-of-house to a production facility in Oregon. When it grew again we pulled all of the production back in-house with a team of sewers under one roof.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Other than friends and family, our first memorable sales were through blogs and write ups directing them to our site. One was a custom project for Diet Coke through Wieden and Kennedy in Portland. They found July Nine's first bag, the Moresby, on an American made blog and contacted us about creating a custom bag.
Being listed on notable gear, design and product sites or blogs seems to drive a large percentage of our online sales. Kickstarter has also been a great resource to get our brand in front of a large volume of people. Currently we are seeing growth in our Instagram profile and have received store placements from followers as well as established connections for collaboration. We also have reps domestically and internationally that have really helped drive our brand and our sales. We realized what we're good at (design and production) and brought others on board to help with areas we're not as strong in (sales and distribution).
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?
Shopify has been a huge help to our customer experience and web presence. We can easily update a page with new products, offer sales, and track inventory. We are really proud of the items we manufacture and having an easy to use web store front that conveys our quality and professionalism gives us a strong platform to grow our business with customers and wholesale clients. We are constantly getting comments like "I checked out your website, it's awesome." It really helps to give us validation from outsiders. For apps, we use Shippo, Receiptful, Mailchimp and Order Printer. It's great to have tools that help our processes look professional and save time. We handle all fulfillment and packaging internally. We use the shippo app which has been very efficient and easy to use.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
I would say my biggest tip for new startups is keep your expenses as low as possible. July Nine worked for over a year out of a garage. This savings allowed us to invest more money into our brand and production process. Another tip is always be looking 6 months out. Whether that is for new products launches, marketing, or cash flow. Only focusing on what is right in front of you will bury you and the business. Problems are a daily and sometimes hourly occurrence. Always make decisions that allow for some flexibility and back up plans.