Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
We are the manufacturers of Aunt Sadie's Candles and wanted to feature them in our own online store. We hand-pour our candles in our 1865 barn in Vermont. All our raw materials are procured in the USA. Our tin can (unique to our design) is sourced in China. We create all our own designs for our candles.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
We already had an existing online presence. Our site went through a major redesign in 2011 and that's when we selected Shopify as the best platform for our online presence. Since we're manufacturers, our biggest source of sales comes from our gift show attendance, sales reps, catalog mailing to existing customers, etc. But, with Shopify we've been able to increase our online revenues substantially. The first month we went online our sales went from an average of $1,500 a month to over $10k.
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?
Online shoppers used to complain that our checkout was bulky and cumbersome to use. So, that's been the biggest impact on our online customers. We use the theme settings in Shopify to regularly change our splash page look and design. We use the discount options to run specials for our online customers regularly as well. We have shipped most orders via UPS since we began our business in 1998. We recently switched shipment of all our online orders of four candles or less to the U.S. Postal Service. All fulfillment is done in house.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
Regardless of your site design, first and foremost make sure that you can control much of the changes that occur on a regular basis (e.g. adding or removing products, changing the splash page, creating discounts). You can spend a fortune if you're married to a website designer who has to do all the internal changes on their own. Keep your investment in product as low as possible. Stagnant inventory costs money. Work with manufacturers to start with small minimum orders and then reorder as you begin to get an idea of what sells and what does not. Use social media like Facebook and Twitter to help promote your online presence, but remember there are far better ways to spend your money and time promoting your site. Be sure to send press releases on your site launch, new product additions, etc. to every magazine and media source who's readership might be interested in your online presence. PR is usually free and a single mention of your website in a major publication can make a huge different in sales.