This is a guest post from the team behind Where the Polka Dots Roam. Their e-commerce business is family owned and operated, with a focus on beautiful design and outstanding comfort.
We earned our seat at the e-commerce table in 2012, when we found a product we could love and stand behind, and building a brand has kept us there. Our brand, Where the Polka Dots Roam, specializes in designing fun and affordable bedding. After bringing our first custom designs to the marketplace, we quickly understood that our next step was an important one that would set the tone for the lifetime of our brand. We decided to go deep before going wide. Best decision we ever made.
The sales for their first year were under $50,000. Last year in 2016, we pulled more than $2 million across all the marketplaces we sell on, using Skubana to manage inventory across different platforms.
The e-commerce space is becoming more crowded and competitive every day. The competition is fierce and forcing us to continuously improve. Because we have focused on the quality of our product, the integrity of our business, and continuous improvement, we believe the brand has an opportunity to evolve with increasing demand.
As the game changes, margins are getting tighter and the room for error is getting slimmer. Because of oversaturation, you have to fight to capture your audience’s attention. Our strategy is simple: be so damn good that they can’t ignore us. This is easier said than done and requires constant hustle.
Tools that run an e-commerce empire: Download the tech stack mindmap that enables $8M annual with only 2 full-time employees
As a business owner, it is easy to create a process and just stick to it instead of periodically evaluating it and assessing whether it is still the best way to achieve your goals. Self-evaluation can be very powerful, which is why we are continuously educating ourselves and fine-tuning both our product development process and our operations. By always re-assessing our processes, we are able to stay relevant. The goal is to make ourselves even more indispensable in our category. We want to continue improving, making our business leaner, faster and more in-tune with our target market.
7 E-commerce strategies Where the Polka Dots Roam uses to stay ahead of the game
It is critical that we continue to evaluate ourselves from an unbiased perspective. Here are the top 6 strategies we use to strengthen our brand and ensure our longevity.Get ahead in your #ecommerce game! Check out these awesome #strategies from Where the Polka Dots… Click To Tweet
1) Process over products
Our products do not come first, our process does. We realized early on that products will come and go and you have to be willing to cut ties with them at the right time. However, if built correctly, the process can continue to bring on new products and ensure your survival.
We’re in this business to make money, so we decided we must fall in love with the process first and foremost. We assign a process to everything that can take it. It is too easy to get into this game as a one-person show and then never take the time to organize yourself in a way that you can outsource and scale.
Taking the time to document your processes is the first step. Staying organized provides us extra time to continue to learn and grow as business owners. It also increases efficiency at all stages of development which leads to a happy customer.
2) Outsource non-core competencies
We outsource things that are not our core competencies. This tends to apply to both the low level tasks that we don’t need to be spending our time on and also many of the high level tasks that we simply don’t have the knowledge base to take on.
One of the best lessons we have learned since starting our business is that there is no shame in admitting what you don’t know. We can’t all be experts in all aspects of a business so bringing in the professionals who have the experience and skills that we may lack means a better product and better business-consumer relationship.
3) Listen to customers and evaluate data
We listen to our customers and we evaluate the data. This is where the magic happens. It is easy to become accustomed to running things a certain way but because numbers don’t lie, don’t ignore the data that could be telling you it is time to try something new. Trial and error can be very powerful and as long as you learn a lesson from a strategy that didn’t work, it was worth it.
Not everything will be a winner but when we find one, we repeat and expand. When we find a loser, we study it, try to pinpoint why it didn’t work, and learn from it.
4) Continue educating yourself
We educate ourselves every chance we get on both product development and industry best practices. We cannot stress how important it is to never settle for the status quo. Keep up with new industry trends, as well as upcoming e-commerce best practices. Soak these in and decide how these can be applied to your business. It is easy to become fixated on your product development or on how to play the e-commerce game, but we have found that both areas deserve our time.
5) Treat your brand with respect
E-commerce is a business and we treat it with the respect it deserves. This may seem obvious, but the fact is that many e-commerce sellers start off dabbling in the field, only for it to snowball into a legit business. It can be hard to realize that your position has changed and now you have to shift your strategy to protect the baby you have spent so much time building.
We have accountants, lawyers, insurance agents, compliance experts, and strategic partnerships with many operational vendors. Treating your business, its employees, and external relationships professionally is key to being taken seriously by your competitors and industry influencers. Business owners work hard, so don’t let that go to the wayside by not holding your own business in high esteem.
6) Build it to sell, even if you don’t plan to
We have no plans to sell, but we are building with that in mind. You never know what the future holds, so you need to be prepared for anything.
Even if you are convinced that you would never sell, being prepared for that simply means running your business with integrity, with diligence and setting it up for success. At the end of the day, if no one else would buy it, why do we want to own it?
7) Protect your Income
As our Amazon sales started to grow rapidly, so did our purchase orders and inventory. It was a wonderful thing to watch happen, but as purchase orders and overhead expenses rose so did my anxiety. I was suddenly very aware that a large portion of our business was being built on a platform we do not own.
This isn’t just business. This is personal. This is about the livelihood of my family.
Today there is an option to purchase Loss of Income protection should an Amazon account be suspended. Having an insurance policy for my income gives me the safety net I need to continue to take risks and grow my business. I am a partner with Well Insurance and believe every seller should have an insurance agent that understands all of their insurance needs from general and product liability to loss of income protection.
Bonus: Tips for shipping
Two tips I have for running a profitable e-commerce business is; to negotiate your contracts with carriers and 2) pay attention to your packing dimensions prior to production. Prior to this venture I was a sales representative for FedEx and I was always amazed at how little time business owners put into analyzing their shipping costs and pricing contracts. A simple quarterly review with your account executive could reveal new areas to save costs. Looking at the dimensions of your packaging will help you avoid oversize charges if possible.
Make yourself the customer
We love what we do because our children inspired our brand and it is designed around us. Because our family is so intertwined into each and every product, what we do holds a special place in our hearts.
Starting from scratch? There are two things I would strive for when choosing your products: start with a product that you love and make yourself the customer. We can see our kids in each design, and that keeps us motivated to work harder and make our business more and more successful.
Building a brand is a long uphill road and it requires continuous agility and commitment. If you are part of your target market, you will be able to understand their needs better, and you can reach them in a way that feels authentic and genuine. You will be much more likely to capture your audience and less likely to burn out.
Passion for your product and understanding your target market, combined with a desire to continuously learn and improve your process will set your business up for success and help it stand out in the ever-growing e-commerce world.