Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
The inspiration for our initial product came out of nowhere. We were on a boat and my mom and her friend commented that a fish we saw moving through the water looked like a sneaker. When we got to shore, she hand-painted a few white canvas shoes to mimic the colors of the fish. Those initial shoes looked cool, but we didn't really envision pursuing a whole business around them until we looked around and noticed that nearly everyone on the beach was wearing black or brown flip-flops. We saw an opportunity to interject some color and fun into the vacation shoe market.
We had this prototype of a hand-painted shoe and we took it around to everyone we knew until we started getting introduced to suppliers. Our first real samples were made with a cobbler here in San Francisco. Having those samples helped us get in the door with an overseas factory who was able to produce enough shoes for us to start selling online.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Our first sales came via word of mouth. Since we had been working on the concept for a while, there was some demand for the products right when we launched. From there we started building out our blog and Facebook presence, which started to get us momentum. But, over the long-term, our biggest sales successes have been almost entirely due to press and bloggers. Our product is unique in the way it looks and we've always been willing to send out free samples to writers/bloggers/influencers. That has made a big difference. Getting covered in both online and offline media outlets really drives traffic and ultimately sales.
We opened a pop-up shop this summer which has been our best sales outlet this summer. Our wholesale business has steadily grown since we started, but right now our best channels are online and our pop-up.
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've been using ShipStation since we launched to handle all of our shipments – wholesale, online, samples, international. We also use Shopify’s QuickBooks Online integration, which makes running the accounting side painless and easy. The other app we really like is Delighted; it automates the process for collecting customer feedback and knowing your Net Promoter Score. It takes almost zero work to set up and manage and it is a great way to understand what customers are thinking and saying about your products.
We still handle all fulfillment and shipping internally. Early on I think it's important to do some of that in-house since it gives you a sense of what you're going to be asking for down the line. Also, handling fulfillment allows us to talk to our customers whenever they have an issue or need to exchange for a different size. Being able to communicate directly with the people who are buying and interested in your product is really invaluable.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
One of the main things we've learned is to keep things as simple as possible. In the beginning it's better to do one or two things really well than many things poorly. Part of that is finding places where you can leverage tools and software to free up time to focus on growing the business.