How an ambitious mom of 2 turned her knack for gift-giving into a profitable business venture

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Clover Lane Crates and how you got started?

Following a career in marketing and media relations at our community college and wedding consultant entrepreneur, I was looking for my next step. I found it when I realized that finding a thoughtful and unique gifts was more than an interest but a passion. As a child, I would even make birthday cards for friends because I wanted to give them that extra touch.

As each life celebration came, I found myself scouring town to compile something useful but well thought out. We don’t have time in our lives to do that with each anniversary, birthday, new baby or new home that comes with family and friends. 

Clover Lane Crates was created to appease my need to create gift combinations and to assist others who could use the help. My gifts help you celebrate life’s moments and the small Canadian boutiques that work hard to create the products that go in them.

What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started? 

When I decided that gift crates were my next step in life, I wanted to focus on what was most important to me. Using products that are better for our bodies and the earth was my first avenue. 

After endless research, I found so much talent across Canada that I wanted to celebrate the small boutique designers most of us don’t get to see in our everyday shopping excursions. 

These shops were small just like me and offered lower order minimums and great customer service. I started ordering samples from these Canadian artisans and designing crates around unique combinations such as colour themes and flavours. I designed my first 15 crates to suit a variety of gift-giving needs.

How did you get your first sale?

My first sale was at a small launch party I had in partnership with another local entrepreneur. My Shopify page went live that afternoon. It was exciting to use my Shopify POS for that and 5 additional sales I made that evening.

What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?

There have been many obstacles along the way, but nothing I felt I couldn’t challenge and overcome. 

Time is a huge obstacle. Although I could have chosen to stay in a Monday to Friday, 9-5 job where my day ends at the same time everyday, it wasn’t going to make me happy. I still have a part time job that I love and two busy boys who want my attention all the hours of the day. So trying to work business time into life has been hard. Have I mentioned I never drank coffee in my life?!?

Finding the right suppliers has also been a challenge. I’ve chosen to work with other small businesses who have higher costs, slower production times and the same tight schedules and family responsibilities. But that has also been their selling feature. I want someone who has a passion for what they sell so I can feel good about what I do. Planning ahead for the next season, always searching for something new and keeping in touch with suppliers who sell well in my crates keeps me on top.

Hiring professionals can be a big financial investment but making sure you get it right the first time saves in the end. I take daily product photos but knew I needed a photographer to do seasonal photos for print and web design. A graphic designer can also help by getting your logo just right.  

What influenced your decision to use Shopify?

With my previous service-based business, there was not nearly as much to learn about sales, SEO, marketing, accounting, shipping and more. This time around, Shopify was a clear winner when it came to the basics and providing access to helpful apps that work within the structure of their system. And when I say ‘basics’ there was so much helpful information, I’m sure I saved countless hours in research and implementing programs.

What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?

Give yourself time! I rushed my first business to be able to showcase in a trade event and was deeply unprepared. This time around I started about a year in advance making sure what I did was truly what I wanted. There were many crate drafts, samples tried and designs redesigned.

Be sure any government regulations or licenses are dealt with sooner rather than later. I have been waiting over 4 months for a liquor delivery license to add small bottles of champagne to my wedding crates and have now lost an entire season of sales as a result.

What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business? 

I use the Intuit Quickbooks Online to link my accounting software. Numbers are not my favourite, so this has been helpful.

Infinite Options is a great way to add menus or drop down boxes to my product pages.

Kit and I are getting along great. Kit will send thank yous to customers for me and prepare quick ads and post them for me.

Mailchimp is still new for me but the template are easy and being able to link my email list from Shopify is nice.

SEO Image Optimizer is doing work for me that I wouldn’t know how to do.

Instafeed keeps new images on my website and shows shoppers what I am up to.

There are more that I use and many more that I’m excited to try as my business develops.  Having an app that can anticipate your needs, save time or do things you didn’t realize were an option is always useful.

What theme did you choose for your site and why?

I am using Grid by Pixel Union. I like to clean look, as well as the masonry photo block, slideshow and the new video option that I haven’t tried yet but excited to.

What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Clover Lane Crates?

I have spent time on Facebook and Instagram ads targeting groups specific to the product and found numerous new followers. New to Clover Lane Crates are Google Adwords Express and the complimentary $100 from Shopify was generous and has helped get many more viewers.

I like to offer online giveaways to find new people and to share the work I am doing. Locally I try some print advertising, trade event and sponsor events with door prizes. Most importantly I want to be open and honest about why I am doing this and how I want to be a part of a cleaner solution.

What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?

Send personal messages through email or send a thank you note. Comment when they post on your Instagram or Facebook so they know you are listening. Post pictures and/or ideas of things that will help them in their daily lives, like how to save time or live in the moment.

Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?

I officially opened my shop in October of 2017, and the first year has been a learning experience. I opened right in the peak of holiday shopping so I had a great start. 

In the past month, my online store sessions have increased by 154%.

There is a 50% returning customer rate.

Although my total number of orders is down slightly, the dollar value of those sales has increased by 10%.

To what do you attribute those positive metrics?

I have a great network of local support and I will further develop.

My online advertising with Facebook, Instagram and Google Adwords has been a great source of new followers and future buyers.

What are you working towards now? 

I am looking towards the next season and trying new products and sales avenues.

I’ve also been receiving more corporate interest recently, so I will develop a template for designing crates for their needs.

I would like to focus on wedding gifts as well. As a former wedding planner, I often had clients at a loss when finding thank you gifts for their wedding party and parents.  

Clover Lane Crates will continue to support and celebrate small boutique Canadian artisans with natural values. 

Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?

Sites like Built With Shopify, and numerous Shopify resources give great suggestions. I also follow any women entrepreneurs I can, to be inspired when days bring you down.

Based on your own success, what advice would you share with others who might be just starting out with Shopify (or with eCommerce in general)? 

Jump in with your eyes open to what you want out of this, your heart full of passion and your mind maxed out on overdrive. Remember to research customers, competitors, market flows, marketing, techniques to try (and techniques to lose) as often as you can. There is a lot of information and you need to find what works for you. 

Take time to experience and keep loving what you do. There will be hardships, maybe even every day, but we are built to learn and persevere. Find someone who can support you, a blog from someone in the same place and a book or place in nature to distract you when needed. 

Where can we learn more?

You can find me at:

807.251.2131

W: https:cloverlanecrates.com

E: [email protected]

I: @cloverlanecrates

F: facebook.com/cloverlanecrates

Or in a little city called Thunder Bay, ON

 

~ Bethanie Kramer, Founder of Clover Lane Crates



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