once a month, I get an email from someone asking how they can start
their own business with our products. Starting a new business can
be an exciting, challenging experience. Probably the most important
thing is to get to know your products. Of course this will be an
ongoing process, because the more you work with the product, the
more you get to know it. Doing the legwork will allow you to speak
intelligently about what you are selling and will give you more
confidence that what you have chosen to sell is the right fit for
Once you have
decided what items to carry, decide how you will sell them: online,
flea market, home parties, in coffee shops, brick and mortar storefront,
etc. I have found that selling face to face in a casual environment
can be very effective, especially as you are getting started. Home
parties or doing "shows" at local venues like coffee shops
or at craft fairs limits the amount of competition you face while
making your products seem special and personal.
venue retailing is also great because it creates a "no pressure"
atmosphere, provides you freedom (it's usually only a few days a
week), and gives you immediate feedback on what your customers like
or don't like about your product. It's also a great way to find
out more about your customers' preferences and what they are looking
for (but not finding) in other retail establishments.
Best of all,
these smaller shows are very cost effective. Usually a "table-fee"
is all that is required, and even that is often a nominal amount.
We suggest tripling the price of everything you buy from indiasilver.com,
but some items may allow for a higher margin. Look for comparable
items at other retailers in your area and get a feel for price levels.
This scouting will also give you some ideas for merchandising your
products-- both what works and what doesn't work.
As for selling
online, this can be successful but it does require some technical
expertise. Taking photos of jewelry is one of the most difficult
assignments a professional photographer can face. There are many
online solutions to help with this task, ranging from using items
purchased at your local craft store to professional lightboxes costing
online, it is absolutely critical that you get nice photos of your
products from several angles so your customer can see what they
look like. You cannot count on them to fill in the blanks and just
know that the pieces are nice. Have friends or family look at the
photos you have taken with a pair of fresh eyes for feedback. Finding
a way to convey a sense of scale is also of great importance. When
we first started, we used really tight shots that showed every detail
of a piece. This often misrepresented the product, since the enhanced
detail led the customer to believe the product was larger than it
truly was. Now we give detailed measurements and try to show each
piece on a model, if possible.
can be the prospect of getting traffic to your site. There are millions
of sites and billions of pages all vying for eyeballs. How will
a potential customer find your site? There are several ways to drive
visitors to your online store. The easiest and (I think) least efficient
way is to use Google Adwords or Yahoo Sponsored Search. Paying for
visitors can cost thousands of dollars per month, and conversion
from casual visitor to paying customer is a crapshoot.
A better way
to drive traffic to your site is by using the small venue retailing
at coffee shops and craft fairs as a spring board. Hand out nice
business cards and flyers with your website and email address on
them. Chat your site up. Anytime you advertise, make sure to include
your website address. Finally, register your site with directories
that will link back to it. One of the top values in search engine
algorithms is determined by number of quality links pointing to
the site. There are lots of "link farms" out there that
promise five links back to your site for each link pointing to theirs.
These types of low-quality links can actually have a negative effect
on your ranking.
Sites will link
back to you for several reasons. Index sites like searchpixie.com will list you if you complete a simple registration form. Other
sites related to yours will link to you if they feel your site is
valuable for one reason or another. Having lots of information,
background story, history, and resources is usually the best way
to get noticed and linked to. Blogs are also a great way to create
buzz. One idea would be to blog your start up. Talking candidly
about the successes and challenges of the process can be a very
The big search
engines like Yahoo! and Google will find your site if there are
links pointing back to it. Otherwise you will need to submit your
URL to them via their standard procedure. It will take months for
you to appear in their rankings. There is a whole science devoted
to search engine marketing. A good primer can be found at searchenginewatch.com.
There are also many sites and newsletters devoted entirely to ranking
highly in organic search engine results.
Along this same
line, you can pay a company to do search engine optimization (SEO)
for you. These SEO companies vary in quality and performance. Many
make promises they cannot and do not deliver. Look for a guarantee
to back up the hype. Money back guarantees are only good if they
actually refund the money, so check references. There are lots of
bait and switch deals out there, so buyer beware.
My own experience
has run the gamut of these sales channels. We started selling at
coffee shops and to friends. We made a color catalog and website
almost immediately, but I had a background in graphic design so
the costs associated with doing this were minimal. Also, in 1996,
the web was a much smaller place, so getting found was a lot easier.
Retail on today's internet is a tough act. There is lots of competition
and much of it is being done by deep pockets.
We have had
to adapt endlessly over the years, constantly improving product,
website layout, website copy, marketing strategies and even changing
target markets. In addition to our wholesale site we now have two
brick and mortar retail stores. Venturing into retail has required
a whole different set of skills and concepts. There is a big difference
between having one or two employees and having ten.
The best advice
is to start simple, see how it goes, and adapt as necessary given
the feedback you get from customers and from your bank account.
Article by Mike McGinnis
Whirled Planet, Inc.
wholesale silver jewelry specialist!