Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?

I started Hotmaple in July of 2013, as a result of my friends telling me “you need to bottle your hot sauce.” I have been perfecting my recipe over the course of 10 years, and have made numerous changes to get the flavor just right. Maple syrup is very difficult to work with in a recipe… as it can easily overwhelm the flavor, or disappear all together. I finally developed a cooking process and ingredient list that pairs well with the subtleties of maple syrup, and created a very unique hot sauce. Sustainability was the key focus for me. My goal was to stay local and sustainable, so I worked with local food suppliers to find the right mix of ingredients to use in my sauce. I wanted to prove that great products can always be made locally.

How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?

Social media was key. The biggest "leap" in traffic for me came from I posted information about my company in sub-reddits that fit my target demographic (/r/spicy, /r/hotsauce, /r/portland) and responded to any questions people were asking. Being very open, honest, and responsive to questions & concerns ended up earning a lot of trust from that community. Now that we've developed a foothold into local brick & mortar (grocers), we've stopped pushing online as much as in the past. However, we know that when we spend the time and effort monetizing a channel - the best return for us is Facebook.

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?

Shippo for shipping is a MUST. Mailchimp's app is also a must have for keeping commucations to your customers really simple. Most recently Order Printer & Order Printer Templates have become critical as I am using Shopify's new ability to create and manage invoices on my grocery accounts that we physically deliver product to. This had been an extremely important addition, as it allows me to use Shopify as my CRM / Vendor Management solution as well. We currently pick / pack internally. I have setup a nice workstation to make the process go smoothly. We even made a video showing our packing technique for our customers. This created a lot of interest, and positive feedback from our customers

What are your top recommendations for new store owners?

My biggest recommendation is: Focus on your BRAND & personality. There are so many ways to obtain great products these days, and any market you think of is not highly competitive. Our customers - YOUR customers...they are bombarded constantly by information. So you need to focus on what makes your product stand out over the competition. Being a brand also means being PERSONABLE. Customers are showing that they genuinely care about who they are buying their products from. They are turning away from the faceless online entities and looking to really make a personal connection with their product supplier. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and share your story. However, when you do it -- do it with style, and an identity that people will understand, remember, and cherish.

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