Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
Several years ago, the railcar plant that Trevor managed closed down. Trevor had to make a decision between taking a higher position with the company which would keep him traveling, or start doing something we'd always wanted to do - start our own business. He chose the latter.
Initially we decided to start a parking lot maintenance service, but the economy was so poor at the time that we could never quite get it off the ground. Finances were extremely tight and we needed to think of a way to make some extra money. We lived in a rural lakeside community, but we had always dreamed of moving to a farm to raise our family. We weren't in a position to make that move, but we began doing as much as we could on our tiny 1/4 acre. We began gardening, raising rabbits and chickens, keeping honey bees, and anything else we could manage on such a small piece of land. This led us to begin taking baked goods, garden plants and honey from our beehives to local Farmer's Markets in hopes of creating a small revenue stream. We were delighted to see that our farm products sold well and it encouraged us to try new things. It's like all of a sudden we realized that we had resources at our fingertips to turn into cash.
Slowly, we began to catch a vision of making handcrafted, old world style products and selling them to a broader market. Trevor had always wanted to work with wood, and he had made a large, rustic wooden spoon as a gift for Angela once, years before. He decided to begin making wooden spoons for us to sell at our booth at the Farmer's Market. He didn't have the proper tools, and the first spoons were much more rustic than the wares we create now, but much to our delight, they sold! People really loved them. Several of the older teenaged children began carving as well, and it became a friendly competition to see who's designs sold the best. We called our little cottage industry Polder's Old World Market. Really, we had planned to sell a wide variety of heritage style crafts... leatherwork, hand forged housewares, baskets, etc. But over time, we found we had a passion for making fine wooden kitchenware and eventually we changed our name to Old World Kitchen by Polder's Old World Market. Wooden kitchenware (we call it dreamware, because it's the kitchenware of your dreams) is now our specialty. Each item we sell is handcrafted right on our farm, by our family. We use fallen hardwoods that we salvage from the woods around our farm to make our products. (Yes! We were finally able to move onto a farm!)
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Our first sales were made at local farmer's markets and festivals. We did try to start up a website on VistaPrint but it was a huge fail for us, since it looked very unprofessional and we had no idea how to drive traffic to it. Shopify is hands down our biggest revenue producer. We actually get more traffic on Etsy, but Shopify blows Etsy out of the water in terms of conversions.
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?
Since Trevor was involved in upper management for most of his career life, he is able to manage all of our bookkeeping and stats with Microsoft Excel, which is a huge help for us. For shipping we manage everything with ShippingEasy. It is by far the easiest program to use, and we are able to seamlessly integrate it with all of our shops. Apart from a few basic free apps that we have integrated with Shopify, we do not require any other fancy tools to manage our business. We pack every order right in our farmhouse. I think the way our business is such a part of our daily life is a huge appeal factor for our customers. We honestly feel like every order we pack and ship is a special gift we're sending to a friend.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Our top advice for new store owners would be the following: #1. Make it a priority to learn to take excellent pictures of your products, or pay someone else to do it for you. This is paramount. #2. Learn to harness the power of social media for your business. For us, Instagram has been our major traffic and sale producer. For others it's Facebook or Twitter. Figure out what works for you and USE IT! We have brought in so many thousands of dollars of sales through social media. #3. Unless you are really savvy with web design, use a platform like Shopify to host your website. As far as we know, Shopify is THE BEST option out there. We have tried so many platforms and our customers simply didn't respond well to them. Until we discovered Shopify, Etsy was our only significant income producer. Once we moved our website to Shopify and began driving traffic to it instead of our other shops, we were shocked and delighted to see that our customers responded so well to the platform. I think the degree of professionalism that we were able to achieve established a lot of trust with our customers and it also gave us the tools we needed to express our brand properly.