Facebook ads in ecommerce are often product focused. And, for the most part, being direct works. But what happens when you focus your ads on your story instead?
On this episode of Shopify Masters, our guest explains how she saw 8 times as many sales when she moved away from canned Facebook ads to more personal ads that resonated with her audience.
Alanna Banks is the founder of Fridays Off, a Canadian online fabric shop based in Toronto, that sells high quality 100% cotton designer fabrics for quilters, home decorators, and the budding sewer.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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“Telling that story really helps resonate with my audience because a lot of people in my audience are also young moms who might have a small hobby business.”
Tune in to learn
- How to refine your Facebook ad copy.
- Why you should use Facebook ads to tell your personal story.
- How to grow your store’s subscription program.
- Store: Fridays Off
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Darn Good Yarn podcast episode
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Alanna Banks from fridaysoff.ca, that’s F-R-I-D-A-Y-S-O-F-F.ca. Friday’s Off is a Canadian online fabric shop based in Toronto, that sells high quality, 100% cotton designer fabrics for quilters, home decorators and the budding sewer and was started in 2013. Welcome Alanna.
Alanna: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Felix: Yeah. Tell us a bit more about your store and what are some of the more popular products that you sell?
Alanna: Sure. As you mentioned, it’s an online fabric store. I primarily just carry 100% quilting cotton, that are premium quality, designer fabrics that you can find in our local fabric land in Canada are kind of the mass produced patterns, so this is more boutique style kind of fabrics. It’s very niche as you can imagine. That’s what the online shop is and I can’t remember the next question you asked me.
Felix: No. I guess that answered my question.
Felix: What’s your background? How did you get into this industry, this space?
Alanna: I wish it was more of a kind of romantic story. It all happened very organically for me. I had a career in public relations for about 10 years and I was just feeling burnt out and uninspired and not really loving my job. I ended up at that time … I was pregnant with my son which was like six years ago now and I really wanted to start thinking of other things that I could do, so I started a blog which was called Fridays Off which was just ramblings about different kinds of hobbies that I had that could … that I would do if I had Fridays off or if I had more free time.
That was like cooking and baking and sewing projects and that type of thing. Then, I literally took that seriously when I was on my maternity leave, and then I went back to work and I was just really not feeling it anymore. I loved being at home with my son and having that quality time with him.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Alanna: I was really looking for outlets to start my own things, and I’ve always kind of had an entrepreneurial drive, so I just kind of started brainstorming stuff and couldn’t think of anything and I got pregnant again and I had another baby. During that pregnancy, with my second son is when I decided that I was just going to start a store. I already had the domain name. I decided I’d stick with that and it just kind of came to me out of the blue.
I was buying fabric online from the US and it was expensive and I wasn’t really qualifying for any kind of discounts or free shipping, promotions, stuff like that. I just thought, “Why don’t I start this in Canada?” Cause we didn’t really have much competition at the time, so I kind of just lept in without even thinking about it. I was working full time, I was pregnant, I was also teaching a course at a community college. I was really, really busy, but I just kind of worked it in here and there, and when I went off on maternity leave that’s when I really started to put more focus on it because I had the time. I wasn’t working. That’s kind of how it all happened.
Felix: Yes, and you mentioned that you were blogging about a bunch of different things at the time about what you would do with your time off if you had Fridays off. What made you choose the fabric industry specifically? If you were dabbling in so many different industries?
Alanna: Yeah. Well, I was sewing at the time and I was taking some courses locally at Quilt Shop. A boutique quilt shop that carried some nicer fabrics, and so I just loved being surrounded by the fabric and I had a really cool concept but didn’t want to actually have a store. My husband is really involved in the online work. He works for Zinga. We’d have conversations at night talking about E-commerce. It was just something that was part of my life, online type of businesses, so we … not we, but I thought, “Why don’t I just start doing this in Canada?” It just sort of was a “Poof” moment. It happened very, very randomly for me.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Now, was the blog generating a good deal of traffic at the time? How much did it help you out when you launched your business?
Alanna: It was mediocre. I had a bit of a following. I can’t even remember now. It feels like such a long time ago, but I definitely had a bit of a presence online to begin with and I had my own Facebook page that was linked to my blog, so I was getting a lot of traction. I don’t know how many of those people read my blogs were strangers versus just my community of people?
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Alanna: It definitely helped in terms of already having a presence and having that Fridays off name out there. Being online and just having my name Alanna Banks out there as well. It helped my search optimization and when you look at a launching platform for me as well. That’s kind of when my blogging days ended because the way my site works out … because I used my domain from my Shopify store, it kind of changed the trajectory of my blog.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Alanna: I also didn’t have time to do the blogging anymore. Which is something that I … I had goals that could include getting back into blogging that would probably focus more on sewing and fabric and textiles and that kind of thing, but right now I don’t. But yeah, definitely having that web presence helped launch things.
Felix: Right, so you were already kind of in the groove of being online already. You already had your name out there for a bid, which helped with the age of the data. Which helps with SEO. Now, do you remember how you launched the store to your blog audience? Did you just kind of have a hard cut-off where the blog no longer existed, now the store exists? Did you have some kind of idea on how you wanted to introduce your small, but definitely a good start audience to your new store?
Alanna: Yeah. It was basically a hard stop with the blog, just because of the domain situation. That was the most difficult part for me, because I didn’t really know what I was doing. In terms of changing all of that over, and it was very stressful for me because I was really into my blog and I was so accustomed to writing several posts a week, that it was scary for me to cut it off and then all of the sudden I have this store that was now the place where people were directed to when they wanted to come to my blog and then it ended up linking to the work, cause it is a word press blog. I ended up linking to it through my Shopify store, but it was very convoluted the way you had to get to it.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Alanna: Yeah. I basically just sort of wrote a blog post about it and then post that on my Facebook and then my Fridays off Facebook and then got friends to blast that out as well. I didn’t really have an outlet where I could broadcast it necessarily loud.
Felix: I like how you weren’t afraid to just kind of essentially cut off what you were doing before and start something new. I think a lot of times entrepreneurs will kind of hold on to whatever they have and be afraid to make this switch, make this transition to something else that could be much better, but we are just so familiar with what we have already that we want to hold on to it. I like that you were able to step up and say, “Hey, I’m going to cut this off, and start something new and launch this store.” What was the first step then toward creating this business, once you had that store live? Did you already have inventory? What was going on at the time that the store launched?
Alanna: Yes. I did have a bit of inventory, so it was a bit of … it was a good six months lead time from actually coming up with the idea and then launching the actual store because I carry all of my inventory. I work out of my home, so all of the stuff that you see on my site, is all in my home. I had to start off by purchasing an inventory, so that … there was a lot of research when I was trying to come up with the idea, so I came up with the idea and then I started researching manufacturers of the type of fabrics that I wanted to carry, and then from there I had to find the Canadian distributors and then I had to find the Ontario sales reps for those distribution centers.
That took a lot of research and then I had to actually email all of these people and pitch myself and say I’m not a legit business yet, but Id love to meet with you. I had to get a GSP number, which is … I don’t know what it would be equivalent to that in the US but it’s basically like you’re a registered business.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative) The EIN in the US.
Alanna: Yeah. I had to go through that whole process to get that number because I’m buying wholesale they required a registered business number and then it was researching what kind of press I’m going to use. I already had a word press blog going, but I didn’t know if the shield on that had the best functionality for an e-commerce site. That’s when I was introduced to Shopify and they seemed like the best option to go with and I’ve always been a bit advocate of Shopify since the beginning of my store and I still love it, so I had to do that research to get into that and then building my site and my theme and figuring all of that out. It was a lot work before I actually did launch. I probably came up with the idea in September of 2012, and then I launched March 1, 2013. At that time, I had tons of … I didn’t have tons, but I had a small inventory of fabric to start selling.
Felix: Nice. Now, you mentioned that you when you were reaching out to distribution centers, that these distributors … you said to them, “Hey, I’m not a legit business yet. I don’t have anything … tons of revenue yet, but Id still like to meet with you.” Was that well received? Were the people willing to meet with you even though you didn’t have anything fully going just yet?
Alanna: Yeah. The response that I got was very positive. I started off small, because I didn’t have a ton of money to invest. Basically I was just using whatever I had extra and putting it on credit cards and stuff like that. I only met with one sales rep to begin with despite going after several other. They all got back to me about setting up the meeting with me, but I just set up the meeting with one person and she almost because my fabric shop mentor for whatever reason we clicked right away.
Alanna: She’s been in the industry for a really long time and she probably … I would now consider her, well … I consider her to be a really great friend and kind of business mentor in a way. It was a bit of a growing process in terms of when I did meet with her finally. She had a lot of questions, like are you sure it is going to work, because she meets with tons of people who are like, “Oh, I want to start a fabric shop online and then it kind of fizzles out, but I don’t know. She must have seen something in me that showed some kind of determination and the rest is history. Yeah. It was a bit nerve wracking at first. I was like, ”Don’t worry, I’m going to make this work." It worked.
Felix: What were you looking to get out of those early meetings? What were you trying to learn or make progress with by meeting with these distributors?
Alanna: Yeah. The fabric industry is like the fashion industry where you’re working months in advance, so for example right now I’m buying all the fabric we’re going to be releasing in the summer. When I had that initial meeting, I was looking for A, things that were current that I would be able to get in right away. That I could start building the inventory and I was also looking for sale items, because I didn’t have a ton of money to invest, so I was looking to get the biggest bang for my buck right out of the gate.
Felix: Yeah. That makes sense. You’ve mentioned to the … one of the motivations for starting the business was because, for you as a consumer of fabric, it was very expensive to buy from the US or buy basically outside of Canada and have it sent to you in Canada. Did that mean that it was expensive for you to start up a business like this? What’s the difference between as a consumer buying it from outside the Canada, versus being a retailer that’s buying this kind of fabric?
Alanna: Yeah. I mean it’s not … it is pretty expensive because you’re putting all of your money up front, before you’re actually getting paid. The wholesale price is better. Unfortunately, the fabric industry works here is I’m buying in Canadian dollars, but the American dollar has a huge impact on the pricing. Obviously right now the Canadian dollar is much lower than the American dollar.
Felix: Can you say more about that? What does the two currencies … how does that affect your business?
Alanna: All of the fabric is manufactured in the United States, so even though I’m buying in Canadian dollars, its still an inflated price because I’m paying an American … I’m paying … I’m not paying in American, but it’s like American prices.
Alanna: When I started, for example, the wholesale price for a meter of fabric was 4.50, and it increased to 8.95 to 9.50 a meter and that’s wholesale. It’s insane how much the prices have gone up in the last five years. Sorry, I cannot remember what the question was.
Felix: No, no, no. You answered my question about the reason why it’s more expensive. Now, you mentioned that you had a career in public relations prior to starting this business. Did that experience help you launch your business or help you get PR for your business?
Alanna: Big time, yeah. That was part of the reason why I think when I met with that first distributor, she had a lot of faith in me because I wasn’t coming to her as someone who was really into selling. I was coming into this as a person with more of a business perspective. Sometimes, what happens is you have a real passion for something, but you don’t have … you might be really into selling, but you don’t have a lot of experience on the business side, whereas my experience in the business side of things, doing communications and public relations campaigns for big companies for a long time had a huge impact on launching the business cause I’ve done lots of launches for different products and companies already. It was sort of … I already knew what I was doing from that perspective. For me, it was more learning about e-commerce that was difficult for me and just like running a business actually. In terms of getting myself out there, I managed early on to get included in the story about online fabric stores in a magazine here in Canada called Style At Home, which is a fairly decent sized home decorating magazine.
That really put me on the map, generally getting me a bit of … legitimize my business. I was among … it was an article called Material Girl, and I was amongst four other girls who also have online fabric stores and it was sort of the growing trend with the story that it was part of, so that worked out.
Felix: Yeah. I think that’s important that the PR is not just important for getting direct traffic to check out your brand, check out your store, check out your site, but also legitimizes your brand which opens up a lot of doors that would probably be closed off to you if there wasn’t some kind of publication cosigning your brand, cosigning your store. How did you identify … in general, how do you identify which publications, which outlets you should be reaching out to?
Alanna: It’s kind of bad, I haven’t done a lot of outreach actively. Doing my own PR. I did work with a couple of sewing bloggers early on and that was really helpful for me. Just getting online traffic. The Style At Home article was great because it was like, oh I’m in a magazine. This is something that I can take a picture of and put on Facebook, but it didn’t come … it didn’t go online for like five months after it appeared in the actual magazine, so that was a bit of a disappointment.
Because, when you have an online store and you read something in a magazine, there’s a bit of a disconnect there, because they can’t just click. While the Style At Home magazine was cool, because I had that on my shelf as like, I was in this great magazine. I really wanted to go after some bloggers, so I did a bit of research in terms of Canadian bloggers that could write stuff about me and that ended up being really helpful. I ended up commenting. Just sort of engaging with other blogs, even in the US. I got put onto a couple of lists of cool online fabric stores or Canadian online fabric store lists, so having my URL in the blogosphere was really helpful in terms of generating more traffic.
In terms of traditional media outlets, I haven’t really pushed that much for that just because I’m more interested in the online world.
Felix: Yeah. That makes sense. I think you touched on something important about how there’s that kind of disconnect because people are reading a physical magazine, they’re not going to always remember to always go check out your site later, but I think one of the biggest benefits which you already touched on is that legitimacy and I think also by getting that feature in a publication it makes it easier to get access or it makes it easier to get featured again in other publications maybe online this time.
Now, basically in your experience, based on what you’ve read what mistakes do you see beginners making when it comes to traditional or online PR?
Alanna: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if I know of any mistakes. Maybe reaching out, I think one mistake I made was I did an interview with kind of like a local news online type of publication and it was a bit too … I felt it was too premature. I should have waited a little bit, because I really didn’t have enough going on with my store when this interview appeared, so I think maybe just … I was really eager. I’m just that way. I’m just kind of fly by the seat of my pants. I get an idea and I want to go for it right away.
Maybe just …
Felix: A timing thing?
Alanna: Yeah. More of a timing thing. Wait a little bit and I feel like if you wait a bit you may reap better rewards.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Alanna: When it comes to doing PR early on.
Felix: Could you lose out on those opportunities though if you don’t take them right away, based on your experience?
Alanna: I don’t know. I really can’t say if you’re going to lose out. Maybe just saying, not completely saying no to it, but just saying I don’t know if I’m ready now, can we talk in like six months of something like that? Right? I certainly would never have … the podcast is one that I’ve listened to basically from the beginning of the launch of my store and I definitely would have never reached out to you if I see you ask questions on Facebook, but when you just recently asked a question and then I responded to you on Facebook, I would never have done that a year ago. Just because I feel like you need to have a little bit more experience.
Alanna: If the opportunity comes up then and you think that it’s good for you at the time, then yeah. One thing that I realized when I did my Style At Home, when I was included in the Style At Home they showed a picture of a fabric with my URL beside it and I went through so many bulks of that fabric, but I wasn’t prepared for that sort of onslaught of orders coming through and that led me to order a ton more than I was expecting to so that was my … it was a good problem to have, but it was logistically kind of a nightmare for me because I was constantly having to order this bulk and then I had to get customers to wait because it wasn’t available. That was a bit of a downside to that.
Felix: Maybe the balance that you’ll have to strike here is if someone or an outlet reaches out to you, and wants to feature you then maybe it makes sense to do it even if you don’t feel like you’re ready, but it might not be the best use of your time to be going out actively trying to get PR essentially early on. You should probably focus on you’re saying, building up the store first, have a system in place to be ready for that kind of traffic, ready for the kind of sales that might result from this kind of feature.
You know, if you feature once, they might not want to feature you again. Not because the business doesn’t make sense but because there’s nothing new. No new angle that they want you to talk about. I think there’s definitely a value in timing it right and not jumping the gun and getting featured too early. Especially on the publications that you definitely want to be in and especially from the bloggers that you definitely want to be worked with. Maybe save those for a time when it makes more sense. I think that makes a lot of sense what you’re saying.
Now, talking about your reaching out on Facebook. One of the reasons why we connected was because you’ve had a lot of success on Facebook as … This was one of the reasons why, at least based on what you told me, was one of the reasons why your business has become much more successful. Tell us a little bit more about it. Tell us about what business/life was like prior to you spending much investment into Facebook ads and now what is it like today?
Alanna: Sure. Yeah. When I started out in 2013, I really didn’t have a ton of sales. In fact, I launched on March 1 and my first sale didn’t happen until March 30th, so I went a whole month without really anything. I think my best friend bought from me and my mother in law bought something, but then my first sale came from a woman in New Brunswick and I’ll never forget her name was Margaret.
I was so excited, so … and she was actually part of my Facebook group. She had somehow found me on Facebook and then from there went to my store, so in 2013 I didn’t focus too much on my store because I had another baby. I was kind of busy with that, but then 2014 went by and I was still not getting many sales. It was a celebration every time I got a sale, so in 2015 I started actively doing Facebook ads and Id actually listened to a podcast on your show with Darn Good Yarn and she had talked about how she spent, I think it was like five bucks a day on Facebook ads and that had really been a successful thing for her. I was like, “Hey, that’s simple. I spend five bucks a day on coffee.”
I started doing the same thing and it was amazing how much that generated just awareness about my store and how that automatically started translating into sales. Its basically … my sales went … it was four times … my sales were four times what they were the previous few months. It just … it was crazy. My first year, I started out with … I think it was 12,000 in sales for the year and after I did my Facebook ads, my sales jumped up to 44,000. It was a pretty big jump for me which was really exciting and every time I stopped the ad, my sales would sort of dry up, so it really … there was really no method to it, I would just basically set a budget five bucks a day and created the ad using the Facebook ad creator and then away I would go.
Then, from there my sales just kept creeping up higher, and higher, and higher, and higher and just today it increased to six dollars a day.
Alanna: It’s like super helpful in terms of keeping my sales going and it’s also given me an outlet to launch new products, when I have new stuff coming in I have over 12,000 people that are part of my Facebook page now and I’ve played around with pointing them to my store or pointing them to like my page. I’ve just played around with different things to get them to go to different places, so yeah it’s been super helpful. Yeah, my sales went doubled right away and then they … by the end of the year, they had quadrupled and now I’ve doubled my sales from last year, so it’s really one of the things I can’t afford not to do anymore.
Felix: Nice, so you said about 40,000 after running the ads and no double that by end of this past year.
Alanna: Yes, doubled that by 2016. Yeah. I’m hoping to double it again by 2017 if possible.
Felix: Let’s break this down a little bit, so you listened to this podcast episode, Darn Good Yarn, good episode, I highly recommend anybody go check it out and you decide, let me go give this a shot. What was the … did you just click any random ad and do any random targeting? How did you go about finding a winning ad for your business?
Alanna: Yeah, so it took a lot of tweaking and it’s something that I continuously am tweaking. I had a pretty good idea who my demo was, and Facebook is great with that. You can target really anybody you want so I targeted women between the ages of 20 and 65, and I’m kind of lucky just because my customer is on Facebook. My customers are very crafty people who love sewing. A lot of them are Etsy store owners who are buying fabric to make whatever they make, but they sell on Etsy. Little small business type of people. People who work at craft shows. Who also have small hobby businesses on the side making stuff, so I definitely knew my demo was on Facebook and I knew the age group, so I focused on just women between those ages and then put in keywords that I knew would go with that group.
Felix: When you say keywords, just talk about words in the copy of the ad itself or you mean when you’re targeting … choosing your targeting?
Alanna: Yeah. When I was choosing my targeting you can choose tag words. I think they’re called key words, but they’re kind of like tags that are within the Facebook targeting, so I just chose around eight or ten tags that are … would sort of represent who my demo are. Quilting, or quilts, or small business, mom bloggers, I was just trying to reach as many people as I could. Mom printers, those tag words seemed to really help me and yeah, that was basically all the targeting I did and then it was choosing images that were pleasing to the eye and I would pick fabrics that I knew were popular. Overtime, even since I started doing this which was only two years ago, the Facebook advertising. The Facebook ads now are much better. I’ve got a video one going that has generated tons of shares and likes and people are coming to my site and converting, so … yeah, it’s sort of been an evolution of the ads that I basically kept the same one going for the last couple of years.
Felix: You haven’t changed up the … I guess you haven’t had to refine the advertising that you’re doing at all? You set it up once two years ago and it hasn’t needed to be changed much since?
Alanna: Not really. Not really the targeting, but the copy I’ve sort of refined over the years and then the images as well. I’ll swap new ones in and out just to keep it fresh. Then, I’ve added in different copy here and there. If I’ve got something new going on, in addition to that ad which is sort of my general ad I’ll also do ads here and there if I’m trying to push things. If I have new fabric coming in or a really hot fabric that I know people are going to be into, I’ll do an ad for that or around Christmastime I’ll do a separate ad that is promoting gift cards, or promoting certain things that I want to push or if I’m having special sale or something like that. I always kind of have my general ad which is like the six dollar a day ad on Darn Good Yarn, but then I also have more targeted ads to whatever I have going on at the time.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Now, how do you refine the copy? How have you done that overtime? What do you … what have you learned about the copy since you first started versus almost two years later?
Alanna: I think it’s just sort of experience looking at other peoples ads. Just being more experienced with the business and what resonates with people, even changing things up on my own site and then wanted to reflect that in my Facebook ads. I just feel like when you have an online store its this evolutionary thing that just continues, just an organic being that is constantly changing.
Yeah. I think that’s what I mean by refining it. How I explain what my store is to people.
Felix: Can you give an example? How did you talk about your business or talk about the ad or talk about the product when you first started versus how you talk about it today?
Alanna: I think at the beginning, I was probably a lot more salesy and had maybe less of a personality behind the ad copy, or just way more straightforward about it? The way I used to explain myself online was like I’m a Canadian online fabric store offering designer fabrics. I still kind of explain myself that way buy I dropped the Canadian, because I just feel that I’m an online store so really I’m not … I don’t need to be pigeon holed into being a Canadian online store and just an online store. I don’t know, just removing some words that just would stand out and bothered me later on. Just having a lot more fun with the copy and having more of a brand or personality behind it. I think that just comes with experience and feeling more comfortable with the platform.
Felix: Yeah. I think it makes a lot of sense to me because whenever you’re on Facebook you’re reading personal comments, personal messages from your friends and acquaintances and you come across something that breaks that … events that break that pattern, its very clear that it’s an ad and people won’t take the … people might kind of gloss over, but when you have some kind of personality and approach it from a much more personable way. I guess a more intimate way. Then it flows much more nicely into the context of the ad. Where the ad is actually being placed which is on Facebook.
Alanna: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Exactly.
Felix: Now, what about the images? How do you choose what images to place in your ads?
Alanna: Well, I do a lot of curated fabric bundles, so … and I take a lot of those kind of photos just for my … I take all my photos myself of my fabric and the fabric bundles that I put together and I have a pretty decent following on Instagram as well where I post a lot of these photos so I mostly use my bundles, and then Ill throw in a couple of photos that I … I’ve taken some photos of myself as part of the brand, because even though my fabric is very much the store,
I’ve created the brand a little bit around myself and just who I am. I’ve been very personal with how I tell my story and who I am, so I feel like I am very much the brand as well. people just based on experience on Facebook and engaging with the people who are part of my page, and because its just me running this business, it’s a very personal thing and I feel like people know who I am. If that makes any sense?
They know that I’m a mom and I have two kids and that this is a small business and I built it from the ground up by myself and so telling that story really helps resonate with my audience, because a lot of my audience are also young moms who might have a small hobby business and they’re working full time or they’re stay at home moms and they have a small Etsy shop or something like that, or they’re just hobby sellers that have a thing for fabric just like I do, so I feel like we just … It’s a really easy way to get in touch with the customer and be really personal and so back to your question about the Facebook ads, I really try to bring that piece into the ads as well to just make it more personal and easy to engage with rather than boring and more canned … more of a canned message.
Felix: Now, when you’re testing … no, that makes a lot of sense really.
Alanna: I feel like I went off on a bit of a tangent, I’m sorry.
Felix: No, no, no. It goes into your … to the theme about why you want to be personal in your ads. Not just in the copy, but also apparently in the images too. I never considered that, but that makes a lot of sense because again, people aren’t posting corporate looking photos from their personal Facebook pages, so you shouldn’t try to do that either because then it becomes very evident that it’s an ad and people might have a negative reaction to that versus if you saw a personal … much more personalized, much more intimate photo that you might be posting of you, what your life is like as an entrepreneur, and then also a mom.
Alanna: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Felix: When you are running these ads and you’re trying new copy our or new images out do you test them out? Do you run some and then … run ten and then turn off like half of them if they don’t perform? Do you have a testing process for this?
Alanna: You know what? I really don’t.
Felix: Sounds like everything has just been very successful for you?
Alanna: No, I mean it very well could be, but there’s some images running that aren’t working, but I don’t … I’m really not looking to analytics kind of person, so it’s kind of like … I just go with it and hope it works.
Alanna: If I don’t feel like it’s working, I’ll just stop it and do something else. I don’t really analyze the data and I feel like I could probably be more successful if I did. I just A, don’t really have time for it and B, I’m just not interested in that aspect of the business, you know what I mean? I’ll run things and based on what I’m seeing, I’ll think that they’re going well. My numbers are continuously going up, so if I all of a sudden saw a dramatic decrease then I would think somethings going on. I just kind of go with it and then I’ll change it up when I feel like I’m sick of seeing those images.
Felix: Right. You mentioned video ads is something you’re doing new. What do you include in these video ads?
Alanna: The video ads are basically a slide show. That’s what I’ve got running now, but it’s cool because Facebook integrates it all with music so you can pick the song that you want to play which is a canned song within Facebook, but … then you pick your own images and then you manipulate them around to show how you want them to move through the carousel. Those ads have been doing really well for me. That one I don’t plan on changing anytime soon. I’ll probably have to change it in a few months because of pictures of the fabric I’m going to get for sale. people seem to really love that moving ad and it shows up in the newsfeed as well. It doesn’t just show up on the sidebar. It shows up in the actual feed. I’m getting all new customers and new likes from that. Those ones are really good. I highly recommend working with the video ads if you can.
Felix: All right. Makes sense. You mentioned that you increased from five dollars to six dollars really. What makes you not just say throw 10, 20, 30 ,50 dollars a day at this if it appears to be obviously correlated with the sales that happen from you running these Facebook ads?
Alanna: Yeah. I just have to be really careful with how much money I spend, that’s all. I really bootstrap this business because I ended up quitting my actual job that I was working in before, so I just had to be really careful with how much I’m spending because I’m buying fabric, plus how much money I’m going to spend on advertising, plus how much money I’m spending on apps, plus the store, plus shipping, so there’s a lot of things variable that I have to consider when it comes to spending money.
Right now six dollars a day to me is worth it, and chances are if I doubled that, they’re always … Facebook is always pushing you to be like, “If you spend 12 dollars a day, you’ll reach X amount of people.” You should try that. Sometimes, sure it’s a really enticing to do that but for now I need to stick with it and I feel like it is working for me and because I’m spending it everyday, it comes out to be 300 and something bucks a month. Then, it is a cheap way of generating interest for sure and getting people to know about you and all that stuff.
Felix: Makes sense. Thanks so much for your time Alanna, again Fridaysoff.ca is the website and you would also recommend that listeners go and check out they want to follow along with what you’re up to?
Alanna: Well, yeah. You can follow me on Facebook at Fridays off fabric shop. I’m also on Instagram at Friday’s off, and I have an email newsletter that you can sign up for on my website. Those are my main areas to find me.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much for your time Alanna.
Alanna: Okay. No problem. Thank you.
Felix: Before we end this episode we actually have a bonus segment. Alanna and I spoke a bit after the podcast and she wanted to share some more of her experience with growing the subscription program and using Facebook groups for her subscription program. We hit the record button and spoke some more. Enjoy.
Tell us a little bit more about this subscription program you have running for your store.
Alanna: Sure. I started a subscription program where I curate fat quarter bundles of fabric every month for subscribers. Fat quarters are just cuts of fabric that quilters typically use to cut out to make quilts. I started off with two products where I give a six piece bundle and a 12 piece bundle on a month basis to subscribers. I started that in September of 2015, with a goal of off-loading fabric because I wasn’t getting the kind of traffic an sales that I needed to move through my inventory quickly. I started it as a way to off-load stuff and it became pretty successful right off the start and now three years later, I’m … actually two years later, I’m actually having to order fabric specifically for my club. Whereas before it was like … the whole thing has kind of turned on it’s head a little bit, which is a good problem to have but it requires a little more planning on my part for purchasing inventory and stuff like that.
Felix: Now, when you’re launching your subscriptioning, growing your subscription program, do you have to change up your marketing to attract subscribers versus more of the one-off a la carte customers?
Alanna: Yeah. I do … I kind of have a running ad, Facebook ad, so like I mentioned before I did the six dollars a day Facebook ad on an ongoing basis. Just for my regular store, but then I also will periodically put out ads that just focus on my club. That’s when I’m trying to get new subscribers. Another marketing tactic that I use is once a year and throughout the month of December, I open up a gift subscription. It’s only one time a year that I allow people to do this, but they can purchase a three month, six month or 12 month gift subscription for themselves or for a loved one or whatever.
Then, that gives people a taste of … if it’s something that they’ve been eyeing they can get a taste of it and then subscribe once the subscription is over. I only run that once a year because I find it difficult to logistically have it to give to subscribers. I need a start date for them or else I think it could be really confusing on a monthly basis. Those are the ways that I market that, but I always include it in a monthly newsletter like a reminder. I have a banner on my site that specifically talks about the club, so it’s pretty … it’s pretty much all over the place in terms of my own site and what I do in terms of creating content.
Then I also post the bundles, the photos of the bundles that are going out on my Facebook page so when I put the bundles together and ship it out, I’ll post a bundle as sort of, “Get ready for your happy mail is coming.” These items have been shipped. That’s really cool too, because that creates a lot of excitement among my Facebook group and the people in it and I find that encourages people to sign up if it’s something that they’re into.
Then, just recently I started a fabric attic Facebook group which is completely separate from this Fridays off Facebook page, but it’s just exclusively for people who are part of the club which is what the subscription group is called. My goal with this is to have them engage amongst themselves, because I was having a lot of people emailing me asking, “What are people doing with this fabric? What are people making?”
I’d love to see photos and people will send me photos of stuff sometimes and I don’t get it up on the site so I thought this would be a great arena for people who are part of the club to share photos and talk amongst themselves about the kinds of projects that they’re making. It’s fairly successful, I’ve got, I think, about a third of my subscribers in the group, but it’s growing and I’m hoping that eventually they’ll start engaging amongst themselves and I won’t have to administer a lot of questions and get people talking. That’s kind of exciting too.
Felix: Yeah. I definitely want to talk about the Facebook group in a second. One of the great things you’re doing with this subscription program is that you’re building this anticipation for the program and by doing that it attracts new member to join because they feel like they’re missing out by not being part of the program, and also it keeps existing subscribers excited to continue to pay, to continue to see what’s coming in the upcoming month.
You can’t just lock the customers into a subscription program and expect them to stick around. You have to actively keep them excited about the program. The other thing is the community. It’s not just about getting the product to the customer. It’s not just about getting the physical product to them, because they can just get that a la carte. You have to add some additional benefits to being part of the subscription program to be part of this club as you call it, by building this community. Definitely want to talk about that in a second, but back to the subscription program, do you offer different types of products or do the subscribers want different products than the a la carte customers?
Alanna: Well, these … the subscribers that I have are primarily quilters, so they do like the smaller cuts and I don’t really offer fat quarters in my store, so unless you email me separately saying I really want this fabric but now half a meter’s too much for me, can you create a custom bundle? I do one-off stuff, but this year just a regular person going into my store is hard for you to buy the fat quarters, so I think that’s the benefit of being part of the club is you get access to my entire inventory and then I create these bundles on a monthly basis, so chances are you’re going to end up with almost … not everything, but a lot of the stuff that I carry in my stores going to end up in your fabric stash.
That’s definitely one of the benefits. Just this month I created a half meter club. I don’t have any subscribers yet, because I literally put it up on the site this week. It is something that people have been asking me because I do have some subscribers who aren’t necessarily quilting with it but they’re Etsy story owners who are making doll clothing or little makeup bags or pouches or stuff like that and they just need more fabric than the small 18 by 22 inch cuts which is the fat quarter. We’ll see how that goes. I haven’t added anything new yet, since I started this so I’m excited to see if that grows. You never know what’s going to happen. You just have to try it and see what happens.
Felix: What’s the breakdown between the revenue generator between the subscription program versus your a la carte customers?
Alanna: I’ve got over 100 subscribers right now and so it represents about a quarter of my monthly sales, so right now the lion’s share of my sales comes from the a la carte orders which is just people buying fabric, but having that quarter percent of my sales on a monthly basis is awesome just for generating … you know what’s the word I’m looking for?
Felix: That’s guaranteed cash-flow? Right?
Alanna: Yeah. Exactly. That’s super helpful for me because as I’ve mentioned before I carry a pretty large inventory so I have a lot of expenses on a monthly basis, so knowing I’m going to get that money every month is really huge for me because I need that recurring income to stay afloat.
Felix: How do you stay on top of all of this? What kind of apps, tools, services, or processes do you use?
Alanna: Yeah. It’s getting to be a very difficult process. I do use recharge which is an app which you can buy in the Shopify app store and it’s a seamless transaction, so when you’re the customer signing up for the club it’s just like you’re making an order on the site. Then, on the backend for me, I receive the order but recharge does everything. They put it into an excel spreadsheet so all I have to do is look at an excel spreadsheet, do a mail merge, print my label and then I have to cut and fold and stash all of the envelopes which is the lions share of the work, but I have someone that helps me with that so the two of use get together and we just hammer it all out and they go for shipping. Its a pretty giant process, because I have 120 subscribers.
Felix: How do you curate your subscription program, because it’s a little bit harder than the a la carte customers, right? Because the a la carte customers they’re actively picking the products they want, adding it to their cart, they’re buying it. Talk to us about your thought process when you are curating a subscription.
Alanna: Right now, it’s basically what I have in stock so if I’ve got tons of these particular fabrics in stock, I just match them up as best I can. It’s becoming a little bit more daunting and I just kind of curate based on my own artistic eye and how I’m feeling. They’re usually color coordinated or coordinated by designer, but so far so good. I think partly the reason why my club is so successful is that I just have an eye for putting fabrics together and colors together and different patterns so sometimes I think people are part of a club because they just like the bundles that I put together.
Usually if people aren’t into it, they’ll subscribe for a couple of months and then they’ll just write me a not and just say can’t be … I don’t like it or something like that, but I rarely get somebody complaining about what I’ve sent them, so that’s good. Most recently I’ve had to start buying specifically for the club, so if I see stuff that I know is popular then ill just buy extra of that and say okay I’m going to save half of this for the club and put the rest of it in the store.
I’ve also been doing it for two years, so I kind of know what people are looking for just by trends and going on blogs and being part of sewing Facebook groups and stuff like that so I know what people want. I also make a big point of using new products as part of the subscription because I want it to be a premium club feeling. There’s a lot of these kind of fabric clubs out there, but people are stuffing it with sale items, old fabric lines. Yeah. I think part of the reason why mine has been successful too is that you made that a bundle in March, that has a fabric collection that released two months ago, so I think you’re really getting the feeling that the person behind the fabric, the person creating the product cares about what you’re getting. You don’t want to get old ugly colors, you want to get the good stuff.
That’s what I’ve really put forward through my site and just through my Instagram feed and Facebook and people look forward to their bundles and look forward to getting those pictures. I think in the long version that’s how I put everything together.
Felix: Yes. That exclusivity is definitely a selling point for access to a subscription program like this. Terms entrepreneurs have is it’s kind of a desert to start with. There’s nobody in there just yet. Talk to us about your process to kick off your Facebook group and how you filled it up with content.
Alanna: Well, I put out … I put out a comment on my Friday’s off Facebook page with a link to the group just saying if you’re a member of the club, here’s an area where you can swap fabrics, talk about the projects that you’re working on, compare projects you’re working on with fabrics in the club, so I put a comment through that and that generated a pretty decent response. Then, I have an email list that’s just specifically for the club, so I put it out to them as well.
Those are two ways that I was able to generate people coming in and signing up to be part of the club and then I had a lot of people who were trying to get in who were not subscribers. That’s a kind of difficult situation too, because you don’t want to turn people away and make it seem so exclusive, so some of the people who are part of the group are just former customers, but I thought maybe its a good way to get them excited about the club and maybe they’re joining because they’re thinking about it and they’re on the fence.
Felix: One thing that I’ve seen be successful is that by having your load customers, people who are part of the subscription program, and mingling with people who are maybe just one time buyers, that haven’t bought at all yet, very curious, or very excited to buy the products from you or even enrolled in the subscription program for the first time.
Alanna: Yeah. Definitely and even recently when I decided I wanted to do this half stash subscription, I went to the group which only has I think 30 members right now, but I kind of look at them as my focus group and people that I can confide in about what should I bring in? What do you think of this? What do you think of these colors? What did you think of last month’s full stash? Did you like the colors? I get a pretty decent feedback from them and when I wanted to launch the half stash, I was kind of on the fence on how many pieces should I put in this half stash, so I went to the group and asked them how many you would want and they gave me some great feedback that I ended up using when I went ahead and launched this new product, so I’m definitely excited. It’s a very new group still, so it’s super fresh, but I’m excited to see where they take me and the kinds of stuff that we can do together.
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.