Shopify is proud to empower ecommerce entrepreneurs. We’re always happy to read about how entrepreneurs have found success selling online.
That’s why we’ve put up a page dedicated to featuring ecommerce success stories. And sometimes we get submissions so good that we have to feature it on this blog. So we reached out to one merchant to tell us more of her story.
Meet Raw Generation, a raw juice company based in Middletown, New Jersey. The entrepreneur behind it is 30-year-old Jessica Geier, a certified health coach.
Jessica started Raw Generation in 2012 with her dad, Bill. After initial struggles, she experimented with new sales channels – and took revenues from $8,000 in May, 2013 to $96,000 in July, 2013.
Here’s how she did it.
Describe your business and products in 1 to 3 sentences.
Raw Generation makes drinking raw, unpasteurized juice from fresh fruits and vegetables more convenient. We make it easier to get the right nutrition every day to benefit from greater health, happiness, and vitality. We wanted to start a business that would provide truly healthy and convenient foods to busy people, since there are so few easy options out there.
How did you create, manufacture or source your product? What were some key lessons you learned during this process?
My father and I started in his kitchen. We spent the first 3 days mixing different juices to come up with our signature green juice. I left on Day 1 nauseous and nervous. "How could we open a juice company if we couldn't even come up with 1 juice that tastes good?" Day 2 we refined until we got a semi-decent recipe, and by the middle of Day 3 we hit a home run.
We decided early on that I would focus on the marketing and he would focus on developing the production end of the business. This was key for us because we both focused on the parts of the business that we had skills for and we both had clear objectives and boundaries. However, even though we worked on separate parts of the business, we still did a lot of discussing. There are so many details to be hashed out in the beginning.
How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from? Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?
Initially we promoted through social media and that was not going anywhere fast. About 6 months after we launched I rebranded the business and we were introduced to Lifebooker, one of the many deal sites out there. Up until very recently, the majority of sales came from sites like Groupon, Gilt, and Rue La La. Now we promote heavily to our customer base to encourage repeat business.
We are very adamant about picking carefully how we promote our business – especially in the beginning. Deal sites are great because you are paying for sales, not the possibility of sales. Sales are key. Problems are easier to fix (or go away) when money is coming in.
Now we are branching out slowly to see if we can find other ways to promote that are not necessarily paying for sales but paying for the possibility of sales – Google Adwords, magazine ads, and in-person events to name a few. To this date, we have not found a marketing avenue that has been as successful as selling on deal sites.
How did your sales pick up?
I rebranded Raw Generation at the beginning of this year (2013) after being in business for 6 months making virtually no money. The product we originally introduced had very little appeal because it was made for a small niche market and we hadn't figured out how to tap into it yet.
I decided to jump on the juice cleanse bandwagon since it was becoming very popular. It was right up our alley anyway since all it was fresh juices packaged together and marketed as a weightloss product. This was Major Lesson #1: if it isn't selling, change it.
Right around the same time I was introduced to using deal sites as marketing avenues (Living Social, Groupon, Gilt, etc). We started with one of the smaller sites, Lifebooker, and found that it worked well. Instead of spending money on marketing that didn't guarantee sales, we were paying for sales. After a few months, we hit a lull with sales from Lifebooker, weren't getting anywhere with generating sales through social media and decided in order to increase sales we needed to try focusing our attention on one marketing avenue.
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So here's Major Lesson #2: figure out your options, make an educated guess as to what the most effective way is to generate more sales, and focus all of your attention on it.
We had a few options as to what we could focus on: deal sites, health fairs, social media & Adwords. We decided that based on our history with social media, it wasn't the place to focus; we hadn't tried health fairs yet so that was a crap shoot; Google Adwords can get really expensive really fast; our brief experience with selling on a deal site had proven to be a small success.
I gave myself two weeks and focused 100% of my time on getting our products selling on as many deal sites as possible. After two weeks, I had several deals scheduled and decided that this was a marketing avenue worth continuously exploring. It has been my major focus for the past three months.
What someone can accomplish in any given workday is limited to the resources available. When you are starting out in business, resources are often very limited. This is precisely why it is that much more imperative that you create a goal with a deadline and focus every waking moment on achieving that goal. If at the end of the deadline, you feel you need more time, extend the deadline. If at the end of that deadline, you are not seeing results (or the possibility of results) change your goal and refocus.
How do you handle shipping and fulfilment and organize the back-end of your business? Can you share some key lessons and tips on doing this successfully?
Set up systems. This is one of the principles we use throughout our business any time we can. You set up the systems that your employees run. It takes any guesswork out and makes the backend of any business easier to manage. The book my father and I both read and follow is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber. I recommend it to anyone building a business.
What software, tools, and resources are crucial to your business?
1. Cash. Cash makes everything easier. You have options when you have cash.
2. Our employees. The team you build is just as important as the product you sell – if not more important. I am always educating myself on aspects of my business, and building businesses in general. Lately I've been extremely interested in how to build successful teams. I was recently introduced to the Kolbe Index which is a way to measure what a person will instinctively do if given a choice. This explains the differences between someone who is more inclined to start a business vs. someone who is comfortable doing the same thing day in and day out, the differences between someone who is happy to spend hours building something with his or her hands vs. someone who spends hours reading and researching.
Learning these differences is key to placing someone in a job that they will excel at. This has nothing to do with IQ or personality. It has everything to do with how a person will act.
3. Shopify. I'm not just saying this because I'm writing for Shopify. I have been creating websites for years and have used several different platforms. Shopify is by far the easiest to use and the most "with the times" for lack of a better term. The best feature is the Shopify app store. We have been using Shopify for two years now and just in that time the amount of apps that have been developed and launched has amazed me and made our website better – which is #1 for us since we only sell online.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
1. Pick a marketing/sales avenue and focus all of your time on generating more sales. Do not worry about the little things that seem important. Many of them will naturally go away and you will find they were not really so important.
2. If a product isn't selling, change it!
3. Do not spend a lot of time developing products. Go out with a minimum viable product and make small adjustments as you get feedback from customers (or lack there of). Once I get an idea for a new product, my goal is to get it up on our website within a week.
4. Set measurable quarterly and yearly goals. It is not as important that you achieve your goals every time, but more important that you are always striving for something better.
5. Failure only happens when you accept it as failure. If you can learn from something that doesn't work and use that knowledge to create something else, you have not failed. Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 "failed" experiments before he completed the one successful experiment that created the light bulb. Keep moving!
Everything seems simple when you are just getting started. But as soon as you get one foot in the door, reality starts to unravel all of the little details that will determine whether your business survives and thrives. Pay attention to the details, they will make or break you. The beginning of any business isn't sexy. It's sitting in your bedroom in yoga pants, working 12 hour days, figuring out which shipping provider to go with, what your hard costs are, and how you are going to actually get people to buy your product. Find the balance between your day to day tasks and seeing the forest through the trees.