The Ultimate Guide To Shopify by Jason R. Rich from Entrepreneur Press offers all the tools and guidance you need to start and run your own ecommerce business. With proven marketing strategies that will boost sales, tactics to differentiate your website and advice from industry experts, The Ultimate Guide To Shopify sets you up for success when starting an online business. Read on for an excerpted interview from the book with ecommerce veteran Bob Herman, co-founder of Luv To Laugh. Herman discusses the process of building his business and how it evolved and ultimately thrived using Shopify to expand his brand.
Luv To Laugh is a Shopify-based ecommerce website that sells T-shirts and other apparel printed with graphic designs created by Herman’s brother and business partner Scott. Most of the company’s orders are created and fulfilled by print-on-demand services.
In this interview, you’ll learn more about Herman’s experience creating and managing Luv To Laugh using Shopify.
Q: How did the concept for Luv To Laugh evolve into an ecommerce website?
My brother and I wanted to create something to honor the memory of our grandmother, who we called Bubby. She always loved to laugh, and the graphic designs featured on our apparel are based on her adventures. Once we determined what our goals would be for the company, we conducted research to learn about the ecommerce platforms that could best meet our needs. We wound up choosing Shopify because we felt that the admin console for managing the site was the most intuitive and the third-party apps that can be incorporated into the site to add functionality are expansive. The cost to operate an ecommerce business using Shopify is also very affordable, especially considering that website hosting is included. By providing us with the technological tools needed to easily create and manage the website, this allowed us to focus more on creating the products we wanted to launch.
Q: Part of your company’s brand and philosophy includes supporting the charity Feed the Hungry, and you donate 5 percent of your net profits to this organization. What made you decide to do this?
There are many charities out there that support causes around feeding people who are hungry. As we were first coming up with ideas for Luv To Laugh, we knew that we wanted to support some type of charity. We chose a charity that we believed was important to the world and that our bubby would also have supported and believed in. Ultimately, as we learned about Feed the Hungry, we decided that this was a great cause that we wanted to support.
Q: Why did you decide to use a print-on-demand service to imprint your products?
We actually work with several different print-on-demand services, and we love the fact that they integrate seamlessly with Shopify. Choosing to use a print-on-demand service to create our products and fulfill our orders was purely a financial decision. We simply could not afford to initially create and maintain an inventory. As we grow, we plan to begin having our products manufactured in bulk and carrying our own inventory, because ultimately this would allow us to earn higher profits from each sale.
Q: What was the biggest misconception you initially had about starting an ecommerce business?
We had inaccurate expectations for sales volume. When we were telling our friends and family about the business idea, everyone was incredibly supportive, so we thought that quickly getting a bunch of orders would be easy because everyone would just love the idea once they discovered our website. We did not have the initial marketing budget to generate the traffic and sales we initially expected.
Q: What would you say are some of the key skills someone needs to create and manage a successful ecommerce business?
While much of the Shopify platform relies on an intuitive user interface, there’s still an overall learning curve when it comes to understanding how ecommerce, as well as online sales and marketing, actually works. People need to understand the Shopify platform and learn how to use it before they launch their business on the platform. It’s important to understand how everything works and understand things like shipping rates and how the various online ad platforms work. Most of our paid advertising is done through social media and email marketing, and it’s important to learn how to do this properly, or you can easily wind up misspending your money.
Q: From the time you and your brother came up with the idea for Luv To Laugh to the time your website was launched, how long did the process take?
We spent about six months putting everything together, creating the designs for our products, and developing a business plan we were comfortable with. Initially, we chose to launch the business with a specific number of designs, with the plan to continuously launch new designs. We did not want to provide customers with too many choices initially, so the goal was to create four distinct collections, and then have about 10 different products in each collection.
Q: How did the brand for your business evolve?
We wanted to establish our brand first, before ever launching the website. We came up with the business name and Luv To Laugh brand knowing we wanted something that could have a broad focus and that would allow us to expand in the future. A name like Bubby’s Adventures would have been too narrow a focus. After brainstorming the name, we didn’t finalize it till we knew we could get the domain name and had a logo that could be trademarked. The company name and brand project exactly the message we want to convey. I believe it’s important to establish a brand for a company at the very beginning, and the brand should represent something you’re very passionate about that has a definable and reachable target audience—not too broad or too niche.
Q: What type of research did you do about the competition you’d encounter?
We thought a lot about the competition as we were developing the concept for and focus of the business. When creating our products, we were very careful not to create something that would have to compete directly in the already-crowded marketplace for low-priced T-shirts with imprinted funny sayings. Our focus was on creating unique artwork, for which we hoped people would be willing to pay a premium. It’s very tricky coming up with a price for your products that allows you to earn a profit yet stay in line with the competition. A lot depends on what you’re selling, who you’re selling to, and the perceived value you can create for your products. Creating a premium brand that sells higher-quality products and then differentiating your products from the competition are strategies that allow a company like ours to charge higher prices.
Q: On your website, what are some of the strategies you use to quickly establish your company as a premium-priced brand?
We promote that our products are all custom-made using premium-quality materials, inks, and fabrics, and that we use a higher-quality printing process than most of our competitors. Our printing process does not peel or fade over time. We use our product descriptions to communicate this information to the prospective buyer. When creating product titles and descriptions, it’s important to provide a lot of information in a very concise manner. For example, you want to keep your product titles to 65 characters in length or shorter, especially if you’re integrating your website with advertising platforms. You also want to incorporate SEO-appropriate keywords and phrases into your product titles and descriptions. Of course, you absolutely need to proofread everything before publishing it.
Q: Once you decided to use the Shopify platform, how did you choose the theme for your website?
We had a vision in mind for what we wanted the website to look like. We ultimately chose a free theme called Debut, but now that the website is established, we’re looking at changing the theme. Applying a theme and previewing what your entire site will look like is very easy with Shopify. Choosing the right theme for your business is important. Some themes are only appropriate for specific types of businesses. Regardless of which theme you choose, make sure you understand how to customize it. Otherwise, you need to be willing to hire someone to help you with the customization process.
Q: Between you and your brother, you have professional and creative skills that are very conducive to creating and managing an ecommerce business. As you were getting started, did you need to hire any experts to help you accomplish specific tasks?
We have hired a professional photographer on a freelance basis to help us with product photography, although several print-on-demand services we work with provide us with high-quality mock-ups of the products that can be used online. Keep in mind, the photographer you hire should be able and willing to edit the photos as needed, so they can be incorporated directly onto your website in the appropriate file format and size.
Q: You mentioned that you use social media as an advertising and marketing tool. Which social media services have proved most successful for you?
For us, Facebook has worked well. We have a Facebook page for the company, and we use Facebook advertising as well. Right from Day One, get all your friends and family involved with your company’s social media presence, and get those people to invite their online friends to your company’s Facebook page. I have found that paid Facebook advertising works well for us. Shopify makes it easy to use Facebook advertising in an effective and affordable way. When it comes to online advertising, always start off small and perform tests before investing lots of money. Also try experimenting with different target audiences for your ads. With Facebook, you can get very granular in how you target people. Doing this will allow you to see how your products resonate with various niche audiences. One thing I have learned firsthand is that it’s going to take more online advertising dollars than you think to get your brand out there, build momentum, and drive a steady flow of traffic to your site. One marketing strategy we’re currently looking at is how we can attract social media influencers to help promote our products through paid endorsements. I believe this is something that could work well for us, but it has not yet been within our marketing budget. Cameo is a great service for finding affordable B-list celebrities to record short promotional videos for your brand that can be featured on your website and on social media, for example. The approach you take with your product listings, photography, and videography will depend on what you’re selling, who you’re selling to, and what story you want to communicate with the people who visit your website.
The Ultimate Guide To Shopify offers dozens of resources and experts like Herman who have cracked the code to excel in the ecommerce world. The book teaches you how to get started, the different methods of selling, how to promote your brand and ultimately how to thrive and run your own ecommerce business. Get your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Shopify from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Bookshop.