Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
Hard to track this one down. Shoreline Music was the first online musical instrument seller ever, but I bought the store several years into its existence. The original owner was at a guitar camp with a guitar pickup manufacturer, and they were shooting the breeze, and happened on the idea of selling guitars online. This was before Amazon, eBay, Google. I think they kind of just fell into it, and had early success because the concept did not even exist yet. I started out trying to stick with his product line, but quickly found that there was other music gear I liked a lot better, and within 6 months had migrated to a product mix of stuff that I just liked. I didn't do any market research, I didn't look at margins, I didn't beat the bushes looking for people willing to do business with me. I just looked for stuff I liked, knowing that I could sell it honestly and passionately. We source our products direct from manufacturers, for the most part.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Interesting question. For the original online store, it was word of mouth pretty much exclusively, and that translated into rapid growth. But by the time I bought the store, that word of mouth had waned, and I was starting from scratch. I spent a TON on advertising in the early days, but most of that was wasted. Social media did not exist at the time; this was years before YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter launched. So, all I really did was start focusing on gear I really liked—I knew I could be passionate about it, and figured other folks would eventually start liking it, too. This is exactly what happened (that, and we started treating folks well, which they responded to enthusiastically). This approach—a highly curated selection of musical instruments and stage gear, built entirely on passion and not on raw commerce—would never be able to launch in today's market. There are simply too many players in the same market space now. Our Shopify store is doing a pretty good job at bringing in traffic and sales.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
I've been managing Shoreline's shipping, purchasing, sales, finances, etc, with a Filemaker database I built 2 months after purchasing the business. I've improved the scripting to adapt to new formats of file exchange from various marketplaces, but at it's core it's been the same from the very start. That is the single most productive app I use. On the Shopify platform, I use a variety of apps—a metafield manager, a tiered pricing app, an email manager, a loyalty app, and an analytics app. That last app, Lucky Orange, is the single most useful app in the Shopify Marketplace. It is what Google Analytics dreams it could be. We ship nearly everything out of our retail storefront. We do have a third party fulfill some of our heavier items, simply because their rates are so much better than we can get.</>
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
It's really, really hard, and your success or failure will depend almost entirely on forces outside of your control. You should have at least two years of income—preferably three or four—sitting in savings before you even think about diving in. But if you get lucky, and can make a legitimate go of things, running a business can be truly rewarding....and very profitable.