From DIY to a Million Dollars: How Alien Outfitters Scaled By Curating Products
by Felix Thea Podcasts Jan 2, 2018 30 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Do-it-yourself entrepreneurs typically start small, making every item they sell with their own two hands. But when they start to see success, it generally snowballs into the same problem:
How do you scale DIY into a business?
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who went from selling homemade products to scaling her business by becoming a reseller.
Ana Dee is the owner of Alien Outfitters: a lifestyle brand that sells a variety of graphic tees, kinky accessories, rainbow knives, and rare specialty items for aliens who are no good at fitting in.
On a daily basis, I like to have one sample come in to see if I like it personally before I put it on the shelves.
Tune in to learn
How to get your first 1,000 Instagram followers.How to run your business on social selling sites.What it means when you have a high engagement but low sales product.
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Store: Alien OutfittersSocial Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, InstagramRecommendations: Authorize.net, LegalZoom, GoDaddy Bookkeeping Software, PoshMark, Depop, Mailchimp, GiftWizard (app), Kit (app), Photo ReSize (app), Cross Sell (app)
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Ana D. from Alien Outfitters. Alien Outfitters is a lifestyle brand that sells a variety of graphic tees, kinky accessories, rainbow knives, and rare specialty items, and was started in 2011 and based out of North Caroline. Welcome Ana.
Felix: Very interesting niche. Interesting products that I just listed there. Tell us a little bit more about the business. Describe your typical customer to us.
Ana: Well, we started the whole online retail store in 2011. I started just like a lot of people, on Etsy and eBay, hand making a lot of my products. Over the past few years, we finally transitioned to Shopify and rebranded into Alien Outfitters. I like to sell that we sell a wide variety of unique items, all catered to girls who aren’t afraid to be themselves. We are the only online destination where you can buy clothing, blades, adult toys, and smoking accessories all in the same place. It’s a very unique website, and I’d like to say our customer is very unique as well.
Felix: Very cool. So all those types of accessories that you mentioned, they are typically ones that a lot of entrepreneurs avoid because it’s harder to advertise. I know you have advertising platforms that don’t allow things like adult toys, or any form of paraphernalia, that could be smoking or whatever else you might have on the store. Has that posed an issue for you in terms of getting the word out, because advertising platforms are, oftentimes tight about those policies?
Ana: Absolutely. It’s been a huge obstacle to overcome. One of the biggest was with our payment processor, because there’s a lot of payment processors that won’t allow that, along with social media platforms, like you suggested. But, I think it also is an advantage for our store, because there are not many online retailers providing the products we provide. As I pack the orders myself, I start to see these patterns of girls who are buying, for example, the adult toys along with the smoking pipes. It’s interesting to see that this customer wants to buy all of these things in one place. For the most part, they don’t want to do it in person, and online retail’s the perfect opportunity to do that. There’s definitely the advantages and disadvantages, but it’s nice to have a product that we can claim is exclusively available at our store, versus most clothing brands who offer similar items. It definitely has its ups and downs, but we have learned over the years that it’s more of an advantage for us than a disadvantage, I’d say.
Felix: Yeah, it certainly helps you stand out, and like you’re saying, there’s not much competition that you have to stand out from because lots of stores do shy away from selling in those industries. Now, when you ran into those issues with the payment processors, or social media platforms, talk to us about how you work your way around those issues.
Like you mentioned before with the social media, you kind of learn when and where you can market these products. Like I said before, it’s a lot harder, particularly with Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, but you figure out along the way little loopholes and different ways to market, depending on your product.
Felix: Right. I think it’s interesting, too, where it’s not just that they are not allowing you to post specific products. It could also just be because you’re selling things like adult toys. Even if you’re not advertising it or posting about, because it exists on your site, sometimes that’s enough for the policies to kick in, and they will shut you down. Or you’ll run into these issues even if you’re not actively promoting the products that they are “banning” from their platforms.
Now, you mentioned that you first started off on Etsy. Was that your first business? What’s your background before getting involved on ecommerce?
Ana: Well, it’s kind of hard to put into words. I like to tell people that my success is built on mistakes. When I was 17, I was hanging with the wrong crowd, and I got a DUI, so I was kind of forced to stay at home. I didn’t have a driver’s license, and my friend had the bright idea of selling some of our stuff in our closet on eBay. So, we started just selling everything we had. It was pretty exciting to see that you could really make a living off of just online retail. I just kind of immersed myself in it. eBay really taught me the ground rules I needed to learn on just how to sell a product, how to ship it, how to make the customer happy.
A lot of people around me where just pushing me in this direction to get on Etsy, and really start making a name for myself. When you’re young, you’re just really open minded to try everything. Just like any 17, 18 year old, I was really into DIY and doing things myself, so I would go to Goodwill and thrift stores and find leather, denim, any really nice material I could find, and I would patch it up. I’d stud it up. I like to call it an up cycling process, to turn something that wasn’t so nice to begin with into a beautiful creation. That’s how my Etsy store started.
When you’re teaching yourself how to build a brand, it’s completely different than what eBay is teaching you. Etsy, essentially, is helping you with marketing and really creating this user experience. I just felt, again, I was so immersed in it, and almost obsessed with this brand, that things just kind of got out of control. A singer, her name’s Ellie Goulding, if you’re familiar with her, she purchased a pair of tights off of my Etsy store, and overnight, our traffic just started going crazy. It was a little nerve wracking to see one girl coming out of high school, not really sure if she should go to college or not, and now a celebrity across the world is buying a product from.
A lot of girls how ask me how to start an online store, I highly recommend just staring with eBay to learn that process. Then training with Etsy to really build that brand, before you have the confidence to move to Shopify and let go of the platform restraint.
Felix: Right, that makes sense. On eBay you mentioned that one of the most important things you learned by starting there was how to make the customer happy. I think this is the key to survival a lot of times, when you’re starting out and you’re just a small company, you’re just one person running this business. What lessons did you learn here? What are some key lessons that you think other entrepreneurs should try to learn on how to make a customer happy?
Ana: Well, I like to see the customer as myself, and someone who does a lot of online shopping, I feel like I know how to be treated as a customer. I follow those rules when I’m treating a customer, and whether they’re spending $5 or $500, each one is so valuable, and you can’t really discriminate between customers because inevitably, they could all come back a week later, a year later, to your store. I really just try to treat them how I would want to be treated, like my friends. That’s what’s kind of cool about our store is that our whole customer base is really this fan base of love and positivity, and we all feel as one based off of our uniqueness, the fact that we are all so different. So, not only is it a place you can shop, but it’s also a place where you can feel very welcome being yourself.
Felix: Can you give examples of how you try to treat customers in a way that you want to be treated?
Ana: I feel a lot of that has to do with customer service. If someone receives the wrong item, or something is damaged, it’s the great opportunity to make it right. Not only do you want to replace their product, but you want to go above and beyond and say, “Hey, here’s a gift card so you can give us another chance.” Or, we’ll add a few stickers or freebies to their replacement order. It’s really just going above and beyond to show that you really care, because I feel that being genuine is what a customer will remember, versus an automated computer responding to them. I handle all the customer service. I respond to every single email. I never let anything just pass me by.
Felix: Makes sense. So, when you transitioned from eBay over to Etsy, you mentioned that there was this introduction of this new process that you had to bring into, which is building a brand. It was no long just listing things on eBay and then not having a real brand presence on there, if people were searching for things and finding a product, but they weren’t associating it with a brand. Now, you’re on Etsy. You have a digital storefront on Etsy. Talk to us about what you had to actually do on a daily basis or a weekly basis to begin this process of building a brand on Etsy.
Ana: There was a few hurdles that, again, were so necessary to the learning experience. I feel like when you find your brand name, you have to all of a sudden trademark it, copyright it, LLC it. Whatever you do, there’s just a long road of legalities ahead. I used legalzoom.com. I felt like they were really affordable for starting small, not having that much money to invest in much. So that was something necessary, and not everyone knows what they’re doing when it comes to legalities or things like accounting. But, you really need to build that strong framework for your business, because without that strong foundation, everything could collapse at any moment.
At the time, I felt like I was digging a hole in my pocket just paying for the domain space, all these trademarks. When, in actuality, I couldn’t be more thankful that I just got it over with. Another thing, like accounting, was pretty difficult. I use now, a system through godaddy.com. It’s a bookkeeping software that they offer. It pretty much categorizes all my expenses for me. It keeps track of everything going in and out, and does a lot of the work that at the time, I didn’t know how to do and wish someone had told me.
Another thing with the storefront is graphic design, which not everyone can just learn at any given moment. I’m pretty proud to say I was part of the Myspace generation, so I knew a little bit of HTML off the top of my head. But that was something at the beginning that was taking up a lot of my time, was designing logos and building this storefront. I’m happy that I spent so much time and was very careful with the choices I made, but I also wish I had reached out to people who specialized in that. Just because it’s a lot more difficult than you think.
Felix: So you had this legal framework. You had everything registered. You had help with the accounting. So a lot of the problems that you didn’t have to worry about on eBay started to pop up on Etsy. What did you do to build that brand so that the brand name of Alien Outfitters stuck in people’s minds? What did you have to do differently now that you’re out on your own, essentially, or at least more out on your own, to make sure that the brand was front and center and not just a place where people came buy and bought products, and didn’t even care to see the brand associated with it?
Ana: I have two answers for that question. One, I think social media, the whole experience with the customer coming from a social media platform to the store, that’s crucial. That’s how our brand was built on, was that. Engaging our customer directly from a platform.
Then, B, the packaging experience was what we felt was keeping our customer around. With Etsy, as your building your brand, or our brand, we felt that it was necessary to have packaging in place that would stand out from the rest. Think about it, when you go into a standalone store, you’re getting the experience from the store, from what you’re seeing, from the customer service in front of you. But when you’re online, all of that is kind of behind a curtain. So I felt that when our customers opened our packages, we wanted confetti literally to jump out at them, so that they would remember how awesome it was to come to our store, and we want them to come back.
So, I think social media is a crucial factor into building that brand. Creating those hashtags for your brand. Having your customers post photos and hashtag those photos. But also, I think the word of mouth about how awesome the unboxing experience is is what really kept our customer coming back, and all of our reviews being extremely positive.
Felix: That makes sense that by having a presence on social media, and having your customers talk about your brands, your products, is one of the best ways to develop some evidence of a brand. I think people do pay attention to that. They will go and check out your Instagram profile to see if you have a presence or not. I think when you’re on a website like eBay, it doesn’t really make sense to have an Instagram right away, because people might not even bother to look you up. But then once you have your own storefront, it certainly makes sense. Not having any presence outside of your Etsy store can certainly hurt you, because people might not think that your legitimate or that you don’t have a strong brand.
So that you had success on Etsy, how much time were you on there before you decided to branch off and then open up your own, own domain through Shopify?
Ana: Well, I was on Etsy, I want to say, for about two years. We still are that way. Our products are on more platforms. But with Etsy, it’s really a handmade market along with vintage items. I started seeing real profits in reselling items that weren’t just handmade by myself. I just had one of those breakdown moments where I was just working way too hard, and I was trying to figure out how to work smarter. There was just a lot of products that I wanted to sell on Etsy that weren’t allowed. The only way that seemed possible was to open a storefront where I could sell my handmade items, along with reselling similar products. So, I think that’s where Etsy kind of, or I guess I surpassed what I wanted to do. Everything just kept growing and growing. I think a lot of people experience that, where you just outgrow where you are, and it just meant that we were ready to open a new door, which was Shopify.
Felix: So, this bottleneck that you experienced by not being able to sell certain products you wanted to sell, and also because on Etsy, you’re forced to sell only handmade products and you weren’t able to sell, or re-sell other vendors’ products, you decided to open up your own store, your Shopify store. Can you give us an idea of how much of an impact this made on your business? Like how much did it grow once you moved from selling handmade products to reselling products as well, on your Shopify store?
Ana: It grew at such light speed that I was able, I want to say, within 90 days to afford the car of my dreams, and to help my mom pay her rent. It was a lot to digest when numbers started coming in like that. I strongly and firmly believe so much had to do with our loyal following. Whether we were on eBay, Etsy, or Shopify, they just stood right by us. I would, particularly myself, go on social media and I would talk to our fans about our transition, where we were going. I think that honesty helped our customer remember that we are real people too, and just engaging with them on that level helped the loyalty when we were bouncing around different platforms.
There was just so much we could finally do when we went over to Shopify, and the help that Shopify gave us with the apps that they have, I can’t even put into words how much that fueled the growth. I had no idea that until I jumped into this new world and I finally realized that I wouldn’t have to go to college because I was creating my career right in front of my eyes, without myself even knowing it. So, I have to say every time we transitioned, every time we grew or rebranded, growth was always [inaudible 00:21:05] to that.
Felix: Now, you, when you transitioned from Etsy over to Shopify, you had this big boost in revenue. Did you already have, at this point, a pretty large Instagram following? How were you able to kick start the success on Shopify, essentially, so easily, or it sounds like, at least, very quickly, for you?
Ana: We definitely had a few hundred thousand followers, so it definitely helped. Snapchat had just started off and was extremely popular, so we just tried to ride the bandwagon of all the new social media platforms, and kind of went on a whirlwind between those. Every time we made a post, we just made sure it was posted on all ten plus avenues, to get as much exposure as we could. But the following definitely helped. It’s hard to tell someone how to generate that large of a following, because we never paid for any of our followers. It’s always been raw, organic, word of mouth. I really don’t have that much advice on how to gain that follower, since it just happened for us. So, it’s hard to explain how to do it, without just give it your all and pouring your heart and soul into. I think that’s what people see in our brand, and they latch onto that, and they relate to that.
Felix: It may be that you didn’t have a grand plan to grow your Instagram following to almost half a million followers at this point, but what did you do on a day-to-day basis back in the early days to get to your first thousand followers?
Ana: Instagram is tricky, and they keep changing it, which makes it even trickier. There are a few things I did. If we did have a competitor, I would go to our competitors page and perhaps follow some of their followers to say, “Hey, you might like what we have, if you like what they have.” Another example would be to go on the popular page and leave comments and likes to pretty much strangers, but just finding your audience and talking to them.
Felix: This is all like a manual approach that you took?
Ana: Yes. 100%. I know it takes time, and I’m sure you could always have a friend hang out and do it with you. Open some wine, and just go on Instagram and talk to strangers. But, anything like that, as far as manual work to get your posts across the board and engaging with the users is the most important thing.
Felix: Do you still do that or have to do that these days, or is the growth pretty much, not automated, but because you have such a large following already, do your current followers just help spread the message? Or do you still use these techniques?
Ana: Yeah, I mean the followers are definitely putting in the work at this point. If we post something and it gets thousands of comments, the comments section is where they are telling their friends about us, etc. So, it’s not as much as me reaching out anymore. It’s more of me deleting people and deleting comments that are hate comments and what not. So the anxiety kind of leans more towards filtering out the bad eggs, versus finding new customers. Because once you reach those numbers, it just generates itself.
Felix: Now, do you remember like an inflection point where that happened, where you were no longer the largest source of followers, and your followers started bringing in more people, I guess, than you were doing yourself?
Ana: Yes, it’s kind of a large gray area, and when you’re immersed in almost every aspect of the business, it’s hard to pinpoint those certain changes. But I feel like when we reached, I want to say, 250,000 followers, I felt like that was the tipping point because you used to get excited about every 50K you would get. Then, I realized our next tipping point’s going to be 500,000 and then it’s going to be a million. So, once you hit those numbers, it’s very nerve wracking and kind of bittersweet.
Felix: Yeah, I do wonder, once you have such a large audience, you have such a huge megaphone, is it more nerve wracking on what you should be posting, how you should be presenting yourself. How have you experienced that?
Ana: I, 100% agree. The more eyes that are on you, the scary it is to stay honest and be yourself. I think that’s lesson that I take upon myself every day to try and continue to follow, is to not filter myself a certain way, just because a certain audience is looking at me. I think, again, that’s something that’s so unique about our brand, is that we aren’t going to change in that way. We’re always going to be loud, and noticed, and crazy, and different. And I think our customer is, and that’s why there is this amazing bond that we have.
Felix: You mentioned that you are on a ton of platforms, and that any new ones that are gaining steam, you guys are trying to be on. What’s been the most successful platforms for you today?
Ana: So, I would have to say my top two right now are Poshmark, and I think it’s called Depop. I think that’s how it’s pronounced, but Poshmark, and Depop, they are two new applications, very similar to Etsy and eBay, kind of like the [inaudible 00:27:11]. But, they’re definitely two of my favorite apps that we’re using right now. You can definitely see the range of user are definitely more of our youth and a lot of Instagram famous models, they go on their page and promote their customers to shop their Depop closet or their Poshmark closet. So are, I’d say, the top two that we’re into right now.
Felix: Oh, so these are like social media platforms, but also you can sell on them?
Ana: Yes. There you go.
Felix: Got it. When you come across these, how do you decide, because there’s so many that pop up all the time and it sounds like what’s worked for you is to get in early. But, how do you know which ones to actually invest your time into? What are you looking at to decide, “Okay, Instagram was working for me for a while, now let me try to devote some time to Depop?” How did you know to divert your attention there?
Ana: I think a lot of it has to do with the inspiration that I follow. If I see that they’re using something, and they are seeing good feedback from it, then I will, perhaps, jump on that bandwagon, and it’s easier if you’re constantly immersed in social media because you get to see what people are liking, what people aren’t. I think a good example was the Periscope app, where you can go live and talk to anyone in the world. Of course, we signed up for it, and it wasn’t really a platform that we needed, so I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t something I would put my time and energy in. But, I wouldn’t had learned that had I not tried it. So, the best thing, I would say, is just to try everything. If it sticks, it sticks. If it doesn’t, move on.
Felix: How do you know how much time to give, because, I think, especially when people are starting out for the first time, they don’t have that confidence in their decision-making. They see everyone say, “Oh, you have to be on Pinterest. You have to be on Depop.” They go on there, and it’s not the best fit. They could be spending their time better elsewhere, but they just think that they’re maybe not doing it right, they need to devote more time to it. I think that’s a challenge for a lot of newer entrepreneurs to decide when to pull out of a time investment and go somewhere else. How do you know when it’s the right time to make that decision?
Ana: Well, there’s a fine line where you figure out what you’re spending too much time on. Time is money, so if you realize you’re spending the majority of your time just listing things on different platforms, then you need to sit down and say, “Hey, is there a friend, or a family, relative that could come over once or twice a week and help me list these certain things.”
That was something very helpful for me in the beginning. If I did a huge thrift store haul, I would have my mom or a friend come over. One of us would take pictures. One of us would list the items. I would oversee and, you know, you can pay people in different ways. Some people just want to hang out and enjoy your company. But, I saw in different circumstances where my time was too important, for one thing. I think listing product is so time consuming, so if you can speak up, make a Facebook post, see if there’s someone who wants to intern for you, put it on their resume, it’s a great way to reach out and get help for things that are just way too time consuming.
Felix: Got it. So, you basically tried to improve your process so that you can test new platforms more quickly, and not spend so much of your time, which can be more valuable elsewhere, doing those tasks. Now, I was going to ask, how do you, at a high level, how do you manage all of these different platforms that you’re on? And, onboarding new platforms, is there a master process for controlling, or keeping an eye on all of these?
Ana: For me, I am really hard on myself when it comes to scheduling. But I’ve also seen other people use different apps, websites, and tools to help with their product inventory across the board. I, myself, I’m pretty good about it, and I definitely have a schedule, Sunday to Saturday. Certain days are list days, certain days can be Poshmark days. As long as you delegate your time fairly, and also allow yourself some free time and some balance, I think that’s key.
But, if you’re going to be your own boss, then you have to set schedule times to do things that aren’t so fun. That will definitely pay dividends in the end.
Felix: So you mentioned listing a couple times, does that mean that a big part of your job today is just testing new products on all of these platforms?
Ana: Yes, and we live in a world where it’s all new, new, new. People wants what’s new, so we’re constantly trying to have new products. Being the first to have this. The first to have that. So, I think the buying process is very important when it comes to having new inventory. It’s a constant struggle of buying, and listing, and selling. Buying, listing, selling.
Felix: How many new products are we talking about? How many a day, a week, was your goal to roll out for your site?
Ana: Honestly, on a daily basis, I like to have one sample come in to see if I like it personally before I even put it on the shelves. I’d say on a daily basis.
Felix: Wow. What’s your process for finding and researching these products? Do you have like a main supplier? Because you have so many new products coming in, I do wonder what is the supply chain like that you’ve built out?
Ana: We get so many different things from so many different people. I think that’s why I could never give the job of buying to someone else besides myself, because it’s all not coming from one place. For example, our in-house brand, we get from one supplier in the US. Everything’s hand printed for our brand. But other things, like accessories, shoes, these are all coming from different manufacturers who constantly are sending us new look books, new products.
But other than that, a lot of my manufacturers, I like to keep on the down low and not give those secrets out, just because it took so long for me to find a lot of them. But, when people say, “Hey, where do you go to buy stuff?”
My first instinct is, “Go to Goodwill, because that is a goldmine.” You know, there’s treasure in the trash.
Felix: Yeah, I mean, you definitely don’t want to give out your suppliers. But when you, let’s say you do go to Goodwill, and you find some interesting products, how do you go from there to finding a supplier to get you a whole inventory full of that product?
Ana: Well, a lot of the times I’m on social media and I’ll see something in my feed. My first instinct is, “Oh my God, I have to have that.” My second instinct is, “No, I have to sell that.” You ask the person who posted it where they got it, or you go on Google and you search for some terms that might help you find the product. It’s as simple as that. There’s so much information on the internet, and all you have to do is search for it, find it, and simply ask if they wholesale, and most of the time they do.
Felix: Got it. What’s that turnaround time, typically, when you do find a product that you like? How quickly have you been able to get that from seeing a product that you like to saying, “I need to buy this. I need to sell this.” To actually having it on your store?
Ana: It depends on how fast the manufacturer can give use the quantity that we need. Another great idea is to put things on pre-order. So if we receive an item that I know that is going to be great, I test it myself first, and then get it listed on the site. We will advertise that it’s up for pre-order, that way you can get an idea of how many people want to order it. It’s also helpful for the manufacturer so they know if they need to make 20 versus 200. It gives you this kind of safe space where you can get the sale from the customer, and also give it to them in an allotted amount of time.
Felix: When you get these samples prior to listing them on your site, if you weren’t going the pre-order route, what are you looking for to determine if it’s a product that’s worthy of you selling it?
Ana: I think that it’s a sixth sense that I have. A lot of people who are in online retail and ecommerce, they can agree with what I mean when you have something and you love it so much that you fully endorse it. For me, a typical process of seeing if a product is good enough is simply by wearing it or using it for even a day or a week’s time. If it’s still in the condition it was, and it still is likable as it was when I first saw it, then in my eyes it’s a winner. Sometimes you hit or miss. Sometimes it’s not as great as you thought it would be, and that’s when you put it on sale.
Felix: Now, when you see others selling that same product … Let’s say that you find a product that you see on Instagram or on Depop, and you’re like, “Wow, that’s something that I want.” Then you starting saying, “This is something that I want to sell,” but you see other people selling it already, do you get encouraged or discouraged when you see that?
Ana: Well, it is the name of the game. I think it’s a positive competitive spirit that also fuels you to keep going and stay passionate. It all depends on the product. If it is a best-selling product, but everyone and their mother is selling it, then I’d say, “Hey, continue selling it, if it’s selling.” But if it’s something everyone has, and it’s not selling very well for you, then I would say, “Dump it and put your energy into something completely new, completely different that people can’t replicated.”
Felix: When you do list a product on your site, what are you looking for to see if it’s going to be successful enough for you to order more, or if it’s not going to do well and you decide to put it on sale? What are you looking at?
Ana: I start with the numbers, starting with the sample item at one. Then I’ll buy four. Then it turns to 12, then to 24, and that is something I’ve just done over the years that has helped so I’m not investing too much, and kind of playing it safe from the beginning stage. It’s very different with every product. Once again, a lot of our items are so novelty that people will rant and rave about them on social media, but they won’t, perhaps, purchase the item for themselves, if it’s along the lines of a gag gift, would you say. But, again, it’s different for every product and there’s been times where we thought something was going to be great, and it didn’t do so good. Again, you just learn and move on.
Felix: Yeah, this is an issue where an entrepreneur will list a product on their Facebook ads, or on Facebook, on their page, or on Instagram or whatever platform they’re using. It gets a ton of engagement, right? A lot of people are interested in it. They’re liking it, they’re commenting on it, and then they end up selling none of it, or selling very little of it. What are you are thought on, why does that happen? Why are there some products that get a lot of engagement, a lot of people interested in it, but no one’s buying it?
Ana: Well, it’s like when you see a girl in the mall and she’s trying on some diamond encrusted shoes that are glorious. But she has nowhere to wear them, so she’s not going to get them. It’s just not practical. Again, it’s so vague and different from product to product, from person to person. You have to try to find this fine line between novelty and practicality I would say.
Felix: Yeah, it’s one of those things that if you put a product out there that’s just super interesting and it generates a lot of conversation, but no one actually wants to use it or wear it, like your saying, it’s not a practical product for them. Might be interesting to look at, interesting to comment on, interesting to share, but no one’s actually going to make use of it. I think that’s a gap that a lot of store owners might fall into. It’s just that interesting product but not something that people would want to use on a daily basis, or use at all.
So you mentioned as well, offline, or off this interview with me, that you use a lot of email marketing to help with the store. Tell us about that. What’s your email marketing strategy?
Ana: We’re using MailChimp right now, and I feel like we like to let our customers know once a week about the new products we have. We typically like to do a sale once a month or every season. Email marketing is one-on-one engagement with our customer, and since we can’t take advantage of social media marketing, for the most part, our email marketing is what we lean on when it comes to getting out new products and getting everyone excited about what’s to come.
We recently have been working with an app called Gift Wizard. They are helping us create these email campaigns that offer gift cards within the campaign. So, for example, you could release a campaign giving out five dollars to everyone on your subscriber list, which is a great way to entice customers to come shop at your store. That’s just a new marketing technique that we’ve been using that we find to be extremely valuable and it lets the customer know, “Hey, we care about your wardrobe. Come in. Here’s some credit. It’s on us,” and I think they really appreciate that.
Felix: Yeah, and I think one of the benefits of the kind of business you have is that you always have new products, so you always have a reason, or I guess an excuse, to reach out to your past customers, get them to come back. Because there’s this constant, almost chase for the next product, for you and for your business, are there some products that are evergreen, that just have been around for the last few years that you have been on your own store?
Ana: Yes, I would say that is our knife section, our weaponry that we have. We have such a wide variety of it, we have a few hundred blades that we offer. They’re all very, I would say rainbow, holographic, titaniums. They’re just super unique knives that are targeted to women, target to help you defend yourself if needed, God forbid. But I feel that a lot of girls are starting these knife collections, which is just really interesting because when I started the store I didn’t even think anything of it. I simply had a knife collection of my own, and all my girlfriends would always ask where I got these things. Down the road, I felt like it was something that would sell. Ironically enough, they have and they are constantly selling, whether it’s a holiday or not. We seem to just be throwing knives in so many of these orders, which is really awesome.
Felix: Do you have to market these kind of products differently? Not because they’re knives, but because they are products that just seem to sell themselves for longer periods of time than your other products, do you try to market them differently?
We encountered a situation where my lawyer said, “Hey, you need to have a popup on your website that says, ‘Are you 18 and up?’ before you enter. Because that would save us a lot of grief down the road, and just certain little things like that, so that you can sell these specialty items.”
Felix: Yeah, it’s funny. When I got that popup going to your site, it actually made me more interested. “Oh man, what kind of stuff are they selling on here?” because of that, “Are you 18 and up?” I actually got a different response to it than you probably necessarily expected. It made me more interested in the products, rather than being worried about what you’re selling. Because you’re putting so many products into your store, do you ever remove products? Like, what the thought process, I guess, behind whether you should keep a product in your store or remove it?
Ana: Well, the great thing about Shopify is they allow you to draw up your own reports. So, I could go into our Sticker and Patch Collection, and I could see over the past year or the past month, how many items in this collection have sold. I’m going to look at the items that aren’t selling and make a mental note that when they sell out, that we need to remove these and make space for newer and better products that are going to sell faster.
Felix: Is there a number of products or number of SKUs that you try to stay under?
Ana: I’ve never really thought about that, but our website, if you go to the “View All Products,” you’re going to see between 5 to 10 pages of products. That’s where we’ve always felt safe, I’d say. But it could change down the road.
Felix: You know, speaking of your site, could you talk to us a little bit about the applications, whether they be Shopify apps, or apps outside of Shopify, that you rely on to help run the business?
Ana: Yes, I’d love to because had I known about these Shopify apps sooner, I would have merged to Shopify way sooner than I had. The first one I’m going to mention is Kit, K-I-T. I refer to her as a female, but she is a wonderful app where you can get your Facebook analytics. You can create re-targeting ads to your customers who might have put stuff in the shopping cart but then never checked out. She’s super affordable. You can text her on your phone to get her to work to create campaigns, etcetera. she has been so helpful for me, someone who has no idea how to use Facebook when it comes to these analytics that they offer for the business side of things. So she’s been very helpful.
I mentioned to you earlier about Gift Wizard. It’s a gifting app, where your customers, instead of checking out for themselves, they can send their purchase as a gift and it has all these customizations for the buyer, versus the receiver. The app is now offering email campaigns to send out gift cards to your customers, which we highly recommend.
There’s two more apps I want to tell you about. One is Photo Resize. Photo Resize is an app that charges pennies to turn all your pictures into a square format. Years ago, I was resizing, I want to say, thousands of photos into this format before I realized that an app could do it in, literally, minutes. So, that was something that saved me a lot of time. Not to mention, on your website, it’s really aesthetically pleasing when all of your photos are the same size, and maybe have a white background as well.
The last one I’d like to tell you about is the Cross Sell application. Cross Sell is an app that allows you to suggest other products on the product page to your customer. That way you can upsell things that are similar that they might not have looked at on the site until the application pretty much does it for you. Those are the ones that I’m really into right now that I would recommend to others.
Felix: Yeah, it certainly sounds like a lot of time saving applications, which I think is, like you mentioned before, time is money. Especially when you are running lean. Now, can you give us an idea of the success, the growth of the business? Any numbers you might be able to share on how successful you’ve been able to grow this business?
Ana: Sure, well, last year we hit a goal of ours, which was to gross a half a million dollars. This year, we are on our way to grossing our first million, which is still unbelievable that that’s even coming out of my mouth. On a good day, we generate at least 50 sales. If we do a big sale over the weekend, we can expect upwards to a thousand orders. So, that’s typically what we go through day-to-day basis.
Felix: Wow, very amazing. So, what’s the goal then? What’s next after you hit this one million this year? Where do you want to see the business next year?
Ana: Honestly, my goal is just to be happy and to make sure my customers happy. I never want money to get to my head in any certain way. I feel like if you lose what you had when you started the business, that magic that you had at the beginning, if you lose that, then your business will fail. So, I think a lot of it is me just continually trying to find this magic within me, and to offer it to the world. I hate to put any restraint or goals on myself, because I don’t want to get disappointed, I’d say. I kind of run the business day-to-day, and it’s hard for me to sit down and look at it year-to-year. I’d rather be really grateful of what we have.
Felix: Amazing. Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, Ana. alienoutfitters.com is the website. A-L-I-E-N-O-U-T-F-I-T-T-E-R-S.com. Thank you so much again.
Ana: Thanks Felix, it was great talking to you.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: We like to think of ourselves as the store that has done all the research for them.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to Shopify.com/blog.
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About the author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.