Using Life Savings To Kickstart A Planner Business
by Felix Thea Podcasts Sep 8, 2020 26 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Combining style with function, Marissa Groots created STIL, a collection of planners that’s purposeful and design focused. In this episode of Shopify Masters, we chat with Marissa on how to scale a side hustle, working with large retailers, and how to stay creative with marketing strategies.
For the full transcript of this episode, click here
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Identifying a gap in the market from a personal need
Felix: The idea behind the business started because you were looking for a planner?
Marissa: I’ve been a planner girl for a pretty long time. I used planners when I was in elementary school, and then all the way through high school. I remember even back then, I would alter my planners to fit my needs and to fit my style, and to make them look a certain way that made me feel good about using them. At the time, I had a full-time job. I also had a side gig. I was actually doing Stella & Dot. I was a stylist for them, so I was doing these jewelry parties because I was looking for a side gig. And then, I was also going to school for three nights a week in design. So I had these three different schedules that I had to organize. It was a lot going on, I knew that I needed a good planner to get me through that year. I went to Indigo Chapters here in Canada and got myself a planner. I felt really good about it. I was excited to use it. But then when I actually got into using it, I realized very quickly that it wasn’t very functional. The aesthetic itself also wasn’t something that I fully identified with. But I thought if it was going to serve the purpose, then I was okay with having something that didn’t look as pretty on my desk. After realizing that the planner I had purchased – that I spent $40 on – really wasn’t very functional, I decided to do a little bit of research into what planners existed out on the market that was maybe a bit of a higher price point, but that had some of the things that I really need in a planner. Which was being able to separate all of my tasks and to-do lists from my actual scheduling and time-based activities every day. What I ended up coming across – this was 2014 – I noticed that a ton of planners were targeted towards moms or new moms who were doing activity planning, meal planning, a lot of scheduling for their kids, grocery lists. All things that I necessarily didn’t need at the time because I was 24. So I didn’t necessarily want those things, a lot of the cover designs were floral or they had different colored stripes or it was a lot of polka dot type of things. I just wanted something that was clean looking, beautifully designed, and the inside pages were just a nice layout, really good typography. I just couldn’t find anything that was like that. So I set out on this mission to just design my own planner for myself. Not necessarily with the intention of starting a business. Just with a necessity for something that I needed in my life.
Felix: So how did you actually design your specific planner? How did you start looking for ideas to make your own planner?
Marissa: Initially I spoke to a lot of my friends and my colleagues about different ways that they organize their schedules because everyone does it in one way or another. Some people use their Google calendar. Other people have different types of organizational apps, like Asana and things like that. I just did a bit of research into what different types of people are using, and what makes them enjoy using these apps, and these other books. What I ended up realizing is a lot of the best ways you can organize in your mind, is just by being able to get everything you need to get done on the page. Having a section that is specifically dedicated to your daily to-do list. The things you need to get done that you want to just physically check off because there’s nothing better than the feeling of being able to cross out a task or check it off. But then having a separate section entirely for anything that is time-based. Being able to put your lunch meetings, your Skype calls, your Zoom calls, your activities, your yoga, your exercise. And then even something as simple as having dinner plans or meal planning for your dinner, especially if you’re working all day and being able to write that all out into a planner, and having it completely separate. What it allows you to do is look at your schedule for the week and decide, “Here’s how many things I can realistically get done in a day.” Then you end up writing that into your task lists, and not feeling like you’re constantly underperforming because you’re actually getting the right amount of things done, and you feel good about it.
Felix: How did you manage your time while running this new business you’re starting and having to go to work during the day?
Marissa: I was running the business and eventually obviously got into selling the planners, I still had my job, I was still doing design work. What helped me above all else was knowing my schedule and putting every single thing into my schedule that I was doing in a day. I had my hours planned out versus loosely being like, “Okay, well, maybe now I should probably be working on my business.” No. What’s really important is scheduling that time into your planner. If you decide you’re going to dedicate three hours a week or four hours a week to your business, schedule that into your planner. Whether that’s every night from 7:00 – 10:00, or Saturday mornings from 8:00 AM until noon, you’re working on your business. Make sure you’re actually putting that physically into your planner. Because not only is it then in your schedule, but it also allows you to remember better, and your mind feels more at ease knowing that you have this on paper.
The key to juggling a 9-5 job, a start-up, and school
Felix: How do you prioritize the tasks in your to-do list, when a lot of your time is being consumed by your day-job?
Marissa: What we often get confused with is importance and urgency. We often focus on urgency more than we focus on importance. It’s a really good activity to look at your tasks and think about, “Okay. Is this important or is it just urgent?” Whereas usually when we get up, we’re like, “Oh, I really just need to get this done. This needs to get out of the way.” But is it thinking actively about whether or not this is actually important is a really defining productive task to do. Oftentimes, you can get so overwhelmed with feeling like you have all these crazy things to do. But if you actually look at your tasks, and you start separating yourself from them, and you decide, “Okay. Maybe today I’m just going to focus on something that’s really important that maybe I’ve been putting off.” And then, spend whatever time you have to get that done because you’re going to feel so great at the end of the day like, “Wow. I actually did this, and I didn’t put it off any longer.”
Felix: What was the process like, going from the design to actually getting those first prototypes created?
Marissa: The first planner I made was actually handmade because, for some strange reason, I decided to get into bookbinding. I know how to make books, hardcover books. I know how to sew the pages together, make a spine, glue it all together, and make an entire book. So I made a few planner books for some girlfriends for Christmas. I thought they would be the perfect gift to give to someone, getting into the new year, and obviously it was something that was handmade and I was really proud of. The feedback I ended up receiving was that obviously it was an amazing gift, but also like, “Hey, this is really working for me. I’ve never used a planner this way, and I’m finding myself so much more organized.” Like, “Are you going to keep making them because I’ll probably need one next year?” And then I realized, “Oh, maybe there’s actually a lot more women that would need this type of planner in their life.” So I decided to go out on a limb. I ended up quitting my 9-5 job, basically cold turkey. I decided to give it up because I wanted to dedicate 100% of my time to run this thing, and making this work. What a lot of entrepreneurs forget, especially early on, is if you’re not spending 100% of your time on your business, you end up not moving as quickly as you would like to. There’s also not that incredible, scary, fire under you to be like, “Wow. I need to make this work, otherwise I can’t pay my bills.” I think that the scariness of feeling like you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from is actually a really great place to be mentally when you’re running a business because it allows for innovation and new ideas to come. You’re pressured to come up with ways to get creative for making income.
Felix: What were the first things you did? How did you actually set the business up?
Marissa: I didn’t even have an Instagram account. I had an Etsy Store. That’s all I had. I had an Etsy Store. I was handwriting all the shipping labels. Hand-wrapping everything. I launched the Shopify store in August 2015, so for a while, I was just on Etsy because it was handmade. Between that period of time, I ended up taking all of my savings, I had about $30,000 in savings that I had from birthday money, working my summer jobs, and all of those things. I ended up putting all of that money into my first production run of 1,000 units. 1,000 planners that I produced overseas, which I think was the craziest and scariest thing that I’ve ever done. To this day, I think a lot of people in my family still didn’t fully understand what I was doing. But I just felt like I had an idea and I felt like I had something that I wanted to explore. I was willing to take the risk of losing it all in order to give it a try.
Felix: Where did you get your first sales from?
Marissa: I did have orders from Etsy. I probably sold about 100 units on Etsy at that time, maybe 150. Not a lot. Definitely not 1,000. I wasn’t selling thousands of units. But in terms of going and manufacturing overseas, that’s what made sense. It made sense to do a larger run of books. Obviously, I was very naïve to the whole experience, but that was actually the amazing part of it because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I had never done it before, but I learned so much in that process. And when those 1,000 planners arrived, I was so fired up about selling them because I was like, “Oh my God. Now I need to sell these, and guess what? I only have four months to do it because January starts in four months.” That’s the thing about having a dated planner product, is there’s a certain buying period where people buy these planners for their new year because they like to be able to set up their year. They like to be able to have it ahead of time. And then, when January starts, everyone is set and ready to go.
Felix: Tell us about how you found your manufacturer? How did you find the manufacturer to produce these planners for you?
Marissa: I ended up connecting with a friend of mine here in Vancouver, that knew somebody that worked overseas at a printing place. When I was in design school, I did a lot of print projects and I had a lot of printing experience through working with printers here locally. So I knew what I wanted in terms of paper, finishing, foiling, and I knew all of the lingo. I knew how to create dyes. I knew how to do all of that. So for me, it was just a matter of finding a connection overseas and being able to communicate what I wanted. In the end, I learned a lot in terms of how to communicate correctly with overseas partners, and how to get across what you’re trying to do. It took three or four samples back and forth for us to be able to come up with a planner that actually worked. Initially, I had this idea of having this pocket inside the planner every single month. But it ended up making it five inches thick. I was like, “Oh, this is definitely not going to work.” And so, it was a matter of trying different things and figuring out what makes sense. And having to go back into design and maybe redesign some layouts to make them fit nicely. That process took a lot longer in the initial stages of my first production run. I was decently happy with our first run, but I definitely didn’t feel 110% ecstatic about it. So I really was excited to get into 2016, to really try and focus on making it better. Every year, it’s been more of a focus on like, “How can we make this better this year?” And now that we have such a huge platform of women, we go to them directly to get feedback. So it’s so much different now than it was back then when I was just making decisions on a whim because I didn’t have that huge network of customers to fall back on.
The evolution of marketing with micro-influencers
Felix: Looking back, how accurate were you with your guesses on what kind of planner your ideal customers wanted?
Marissa: I was pretty much dead on. That was the funny part. This was the most hilarious part about this whole thing, is I got these planners. I started selling them in August. I remember the day that I launched my Shopify Store, I got one order and I was panicking. I was like, “Oh, my God. If I sell one planner all month, or in the next four months, what am I going to do?” It was that moment when I was like, “Okay. I need to figure this out.” I got creative with getting my product out there. I started my business in the heyday of Instagram. When Instagram was just becoming this thing what now brands were using, and bloggers were using, and people were using to get influencer status. There were no influencers back then. So reaching out to bloggers who all had blogs, who were writing blogs, was a lot easier because a lot of them at the time we’re looking for content because they didn’t have these big brands gifting them things. It was more so a new thing where you would reach out to someone and be like, “Hey, I’ll give you free product if you write a blog post.” When this whole heyday of Instagram was happening, I was sending out product to these people that were bloggers at the time. Basically, what I did is I would strategically send out two or three a month. And then there was a chance that a customer or somebody would see the same planner on maybe two or three different platforms a few weeks apart. Maybe they followed blogger X, blogger Y, and blogger Z. Maybe they see it on blogger X and Z’s posts. The second or third time that you see something you’re like, “Oh, I’ve seen this before. I think I should get this.” That’s basically what ended up happening. I set myself up in this way where people just kept seeing it here and there, a couple of weeks apart. It was quite easy for me to reach out to people that I was following whose content I really cherished myself and that I enjoyed reading. So it was easy for me to reach out and say, “I’ve been following you for a year. I’ve been reading your posts, and here’s what I love about your style, whatever. I feel like you could benefit from using this planner.” At the time, it was just so easy to send out a gift. The other thing that I did was I really wanted to get my planner onto a big retailer shelf. And so, I ended up reaching out multiple times to Chapters Indigo, which is our biggest bookseller in Canada. They rejected me I think eight or nine times. And then the 10th time, somebody was like, “Okay. Well, send us a sample, and then we’ll see what happens.” Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, they ended up placing an order for 200 units that they sold in three days. During those three days, I sold out of everything in my own store. Before the year ended – 2015 – I was completely sold out of the product, and I had nothing to sell.
Felix: That’s amazing that you stayed persistent. Is that something that you still do today, or something that you still recommend other people do today?
Marissa: It’s changed so much in the last couple of years. Every year had a new wave of something different that we were doing. Nowadays, we focus so much more on our customers’ Instagram, than we do on influencers. We do work with influencers, but we don’t have contracts with ambassadors, or anything like that, that promote our products for payment. We really just focus on people. We focus on everyday women who actually use our product. We reach out to them and say, “Hey, we’ll give you a $250 gift card if you become an ambassador for us because you enjoy the products, and you actually use it every single day. So we want to hear from you because you’re an accurate account of what it’s like to actually use the product and benefit from it.”
Felix: Do you think that these smaller, micro-influencers have been more effective for you than these bigger influencers in your space?
Marissa: A couple of years ago, things were a lot different, and we were definitely focusing more on the bigger influencers. It’s what everybody wanted. And then, what ended up happening, and I think a lot of people probably resonate with this, is the market just got so saturated. So it was really difficult to figure out, “Okay. Is this person talking about this because they actually really like it, or just because they’re getting paid $2,000 to talk about it.” The authenticity is a really, really big part. That’s the reason why I got into what I’m doing. I want to be able to have an impact on a person’s life through my planner. I want it to be an authentic experience. I really appreciate it when people reach out to me and say, “Hey, I think that I would really benefit from this planner. I think it would be really fun to work together.” That, I am absolutely super ecstatic about. But it becomes hard to discern like, “Okay, is this person talking about this because they’re getting paid to talk about it, or are they talking about it because it actually has a big impact on their life?” Because it would be heartbreaking for me to send a product to somebody that is then just going to end up in the trash.
Felix: I can see why the authenticity and the trust are not as clear when it’s a bigger influencer versus a smaller influencer.
Marissa: Yeah. It’s also quite challenging to reach out to some of those bigger bloggers. It’s not to say that I don’t respect them and that I don’t agree with what they’re doing. It’s incredible and amazing. It’s just difficult for a smaller business to get to those people, and to feel like you’re on the same level as some of those bigger brands who can pay top dollar for something. You end up feeling a little bit lost, and feeling a little bit discouraged.
Felix: Do you spend a lot of time educating your customers, your prospective customers on how to use a planner? Is this something that you focus on?
Marissa: Over the years, we’ve updated our website pretty much quite consistently and constantly. We do have videos and ways of using the planners, but I think that they are pretty straightforward. Each planner has its own planner guide in the beginning pages, that you can read about how the planner is intended on being used, and the system that it follows. We have lots of different types of planners now, so each one has its own unique feature point. So many women do their planning so differently, so over the years, we had to come up with new solutions for other things that women would want to plan their days with rather than just the one product. Generally speaking, the people who purchase our product are people who already use planners, and who’ve already done their research. They already know the competitors. They may have used the competitor’s planner, and they’re looking for something different. Or they’ve been searching for something different, and now they finally found it. The market that we’re in, they understand exactly what they’re looking for, and when they see it, they know that it’s the right thing.
Felix: What’s the main area of focus that you use to differentiate yourself from competitors?
Marissa: The number one thing is the aesthetic. I was born in Switzerland. I grew up in Switzerland. I lived there for 14 years. I was always around very minimalist design and modern looking things. I carry that forward in my design work. From the feedback that I’ve gotten, that’s the number one thing that women like the most, is having something that is aesthetically beautiful that can sit on your desk that you can look at, that almost becomes an accessory in your life. You can put it in your purse. You can feel good about pulling it out in a meeting and taking notes. It becomes this symbol of power in your every day that is helping you keep it all together, and do all these things.
Felix: So you credit a lot of your success to word of mouth, and having a beautiful and visual product certainly is critical to that. Do you do anything else to encourage your customers to share your product?
Marissa: The beautiful thing is that it’s happening organically. We handwrite every person’s name on our order. We include really personalized notes to them. We ask them to leave a product review. All of those things are actually happening organically when the person receives the parcel in the mail. They feel inclined because of the aesthetic to share about it on social media and talk about the different benefits that they’re experiencing from having this planner in their life. Obviously, that goes out to all of their friends. We don’t even have to say, “Hey, do you mind posting this on Instagram?” It ends up happening organically, which is really, really quite beautiful. Obviously, in the age of eCommerce, that is a huge, huge thing. Having nice packaging, and having something that makes people feel good that they actually want to talk about can be such a huge selling point for your brand. And obviously, such a great social share benefit where you don’t even have to ask them to promote it. They will just do it themselves because it’s something that they resonate with.
The benefits and drawbacks of working with a big retailer
Felix: How were you able to partner with a big retailer? What is the process behind that?
Marissa: Honestly, I think I was getting really annoying. So they were just like, “Screw it. We’ll just deal with this.” What ended up being the defining factor is that they requested three copies that they were going to send to a few different people to review. The overall feedback had been that this is a trend that they’ve been seeing in the planner community, maybe a bit of a niche of something that they haven’t seen before. This was in the age of when Kate Spade was really big, and everyone wanted everything, Kate Spade. So, my planner fit in with that aesthetic. It’s not an aesthetic that I identify with anymore. But when I was 24, it made sense. It aesthetically fit really well into the lifestyle that their customer, or at least their female customer, was experiencing at the time. And obviously, it ended up working out really well. They only sold online. We ended up being on their shelves two years later. We did a limited edition series of planners for Indigo two years after that. We were physically on the shelf then. However, I’m going to put a disclaimer here. I do not recommend working with a big retailer like that. It was not a good experience for me. It was a really incredible learning experience for me. But I do not recommend small businesses to get involved with companies like that.
Felix: What were the problems that you encountered when working with a big retailer?
Marissa: It can give you exposure to new customers. But the thing that was the most difficult is that they took 70%. Which at that point, my margin is so small that I’m barely making a profit. I was so small at the time, that I was open to taking anything. I think about this now, and I think about, “Wow, I was losing 70% of my margin. What if I had taken all of that money, and put it into Facebook ads instead?” What could’ve happened then? I could’ve been driving all this traffic to my own site, and I could’ve been selling at full margin instead of just giving up that money and hoping for people to reorder. The other problem that you face with these big retailers is that if they notice that your product is selling really well, they’re just going to go and make it themselves, and that’s what happened. So they ended up actually taking a lot of my designs and a lot of my work, and basically putting it on anything and everything that they were selling that would go along with my planners. At the time, I was getting Snapchat messages and photos of people being like, “Oh, I didn’t know that you made this. I didn’t know that you made that.” None of that was my product.
Felix: That must’ve been super frustrating that you spent all this time designing and creating your product, and then they just copy you like that.
Marissa: Very. Especially if you’re small, and you have all these cool ideas. And then you see this company who’s taking it and ripping you off. There’s nothing you can do. I just think about if you’re going to leave money on the table, take that money and put it online, and drive all of that traffic to your own site versus relying on this big retail chain to drive your business. Because the other thing is at the drop of a hat they could just say, “We’re out. We don’t want this anymore.” And then a large part of your business is gone.
Felix: What are some ways that you get feedback from your customers on new product designs or ideas?
Marissa: We’re very active on Instagram. We do a lot of polls. We send out questionnaires through email. We basically reach out to everyone who purchased the planner last year, and we ask them specifically, “What did you love? What didn’t you love? What suggestions do you have, like what can we improve?” People are really actively happy to give that feedback. Certain people write entire essays about certain things that they love, or really, really didn’t like. It’s always funny because the comment at the end is always like, “It’s not that I’m not going to buy the planner again. It’s just that I really didn’t like this part about it. But I’m still going to go and buy it again next year, so I just wanted to give you my feedback.” Which is kind of funny, and also obviously amazing.
Felix: What has been the most successful digital marketing channel for you?
Marissa: The most successful thing that we’re doing right now is through email capture. What we do that a lot of people don’t do is give away a free product for email subscriptions. So when people sign up for our email newsletter with their first order they get a free sticker pack. A lot of other companies do like, “Get 10% off.” But there’s so much more value in giving somebody a $13 value product. That doesn’t mean that product has to cost you $13. But the value of getting a free product with your first order is just something people don’t like to pass up. As a small business, you don’t want to train your customer to expect a discount all the time. That’s a really bad plan of action because then if you come out with something new, they’ll just be like, “Oh, I’m just going to wait two weeks because it’s just going to be on sale.” So you want to find ways that you can bring sales in without actually doing a sale. And that maybe sounds a little bit funny, but there are so many different ways that you can create a secret sale without actually being like, “Here’s 30% off.” Because we do that, we do that once a year on Black Friday, Cyber Monday. But throughout the year, we find secret ways of giving people value, by doing a sale without actually saying, “Here’s 25% off,” kind of thing. We have an email automation sequence set up that first they get a welcome email. They get sent a blog post about productivity, about how to get productive. That blog post includes one or two of our planners, of how to crush your to-do list, and how to be better with your to-do list, and different tips and tricks that you can use to cross more things off. They’ve got a video that they get. In the third or fourth email, they do get a little discount if they haven’t purchased at that point. But we really focus a lot on valuable content and making sure that people feel like they want to be a part of this experience of feeling productive, feeling motivated, and feeling like they have their life together.
Felix: You have a very seasonal product where you get most of the sales during a certain time of the year. How do you manage a business with a product like that?
Marissa: Over the last two years we’ve actually been able to have extremely consistent revenue throughout the year. There aren’t any downtimes anymore. We do have our big product, our big dated product at the end of the year, but that’s the only dated product that we sell now. We have a quarterly planner that renews every three months, that is undated. We also have a six-month planner that renews every six months, that’s also undated. That has a slightly different layout. We have an 18-month planner. We have an academic planner that starts in September. And people are always ordering these before they actually need them because they want to be able to put in the dates. They want to be able to add their appointments, add their anniversaries, their birthdays, all of those things so that when they’re ready to use it, they have it ready to go. Having a product that has a shelf life is incredible, but it also can be really challenging because if you don’t sell within a certain timeframe, it starts to devalue, and then you have to discount, you’re being forced to discount because there’s just so much less demand for it. Right now we’re coming up to 2021 planner. People will pre-order as early as July for the new year. Because of the market that we’re in, a lot of our customers want to be very organized, and they want to make sure that they have their planner for the new year. Also, because we tend to sell out, people from the previous year feel inclined to pre-order to make sure that they don’t miss out this year. So we always do a pre-order period of two months before we actually send the planners out.
Injecting constant creativity within your marketing strategy
Felix: You mentioned that your most successful and noteworthy marketing strategy so far has been your mystery boxes. Tell us more about these mystery boxes.
Marissa: The way that it works is we come up with a series of items. Maybe that’s four to five items that we have in our store that we can pull together to make sure that we still have just enough margin to sell these online without having to be like, “Oh, everything’s 30% off.” We just send out an email saying, “We have a certain, limited amount of mystery boxes available. You get five items for $55 instead of $90 or $110. And there’s only 100 available.” What ends up being the alluring thing is like, “Oh, I’m getting all of these items that I’m going to need at some point anyway.” Whether that’s a pen, or a desk pad, or a notepad, or a journal, or a planner. The people who are into organizing and who are into getting their lives together, they’re going to want and use these things at some point anyway. To them, it just feels so exciting to be like, “Ooh, what am I going to get? What am I going to get in my box?” We usually add in random little things. We’ll put in a hair clip or something else that maybe they wouldn’t necessarily expect. There’s so much room to do a fun thing by giving people something where they don’t necessarily know what’s going to come in the mail. I would say 99% of the time, people are really happy with what they get. But there’s always one or two customers that are like, “I hated everything.” But they might’ve not purchased anything in the past, so they might’ve not necessarily known what they were getting into. But generally speaking, the customers that are champions for your brand who support you anyway love this because they feel like it was personalized for them. They feel like it was curated and put together. It’s something that is really unique that you can do especially as a small business. We do all of our own packing and shipping because we also do customization. We do monogramming. It’s something that you can easily do if you decide to like, “Oh, maybe I have this journal that’s been sitting, that’s not selling on our website. Okay. Well, let’s throw it into a mystery box.” I think that’s a really great way to get rid of old stock that maybe you aren’t selling anymore.
Felix: How much again for these mystery boxes?
Marissa: $55 has been the sweet spot.
Felix: You also mentioned Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a critical time for your business, tell us about your strategies for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Marissa: For Black Friday, our strategy is a lot different than it would be throughout the year. Our Black Friday planning starts in September. There are probably 20 or 30 or even 40 different emails that are all scheduled out. We really segment all of our lists. So it’s a pretty intricate process. But for example, let’s say we do one for Easter. We do an Easter mystery box. Usually what we’ll do is we’ll email the subscribers a week before. We give them a heads up like, “Hey, mystery boxes are coming. There’s only going to be 100 available.” The same thing goes for social media on our Instagram. And then we’ll say, “They launch 9:00 AM, PST, Monday.” We send out the email. We have the listing up. It exists as a product on the Shopify page. And then, we just sell through them. If we don’t sell through them in the day, we continue promoting throughout the week. And then eventually, they’re gone.
Felix: You also have something super cool on your website which is these Easter egg hunts. Tell us more about how these Easter egg hunts work.
Marissa: I had this idea when I was driving in traffic two years ago. I was thinking about how we had the mystery boxes, but how can we do this even better, and different in a way that nobody else is doing? Easter was coming up, so I decided to do an Easter egg hunt. What we do is create these unique mystery boxes that all have different items. Some of them have the same items. We usually do two different-sized eggs. One egg is $98 and the other is $55. And then we hide them throughout the website. People have to go and search for them. We only have one of each egg, so whether you get egg number one, or egg number eight. If you notice that the egg is sold out, that means that somebody else has already grabbed it. That means that you have to continue hunting for an egg that’s still available. We usually launch these at 8:00 AM, and we’re sold out by 9:00 AM. It’s one of the only things that we do that sells out immediately. But it’s also something that we can’t do all the time. The reason that it works so well is that we only do it once a year, maybe twice a year.
Felix: What about any apps or products or services that you rely on to run your business?
Marissa: Our biggest thing over the last year has been switching to what I was talking about earlier, switching to product for email sign up versus discount for email sign up. We were using a different app last year that allowed you to put in your email and once you clicked to submit your email, a discount code immediately pops up versus having to send a discount code to the person’s email first, where they have to go and check the email. But what we ended up deciding is to use Klaviyo for our email newsletter software. And Klaviyo now has popups, so we’re actually using a Klaviyo popup that directly connects to our email. It’s performing really, really well even though somebody has to go and check their email to get the code. That has been the biggest defining thing that we tweaked last year on the website that has made a huge difference. We use Recharge for our subscription products. We use Stamped for reviews. We also use meta fields within the product pages to customize certain things. Add in your Instagram feed, or people sharing your product kind of thing. We’re able to add YouTube videos and things like that. Those are probably the three biggest ones. Back in Stock is a really good one too, if you know something is out of stock, people are able to put their email in, and then you can email them once the item is back in stock. And also we use Infinite Options for the monogram feature.
Felix: What do you think has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned this past year that you want to apply moving forward?
Marissa: Recently what I’ve learned is that there is a multitude of things that can happen that are completely out of your control. What’s important to remember is that you continue to stay on your feet, and reinvent whenever there’s a difficult time. Especially when you’re going through difficult times there is so much room for innovation.
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.