Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Local Pantry Co. and how you got started?
I am based in Melbourne and started my business whilst still working a full time job in events. Before launching the website, we attended markets as ‘pop-up’ opportunities and got feedback from customers on the range we had in stock and gathered feedback on other products that they loved and had trouble sourcing.
Our product range is centred on gourmet food products which are made locally in Australia, are packaged beautifully for gifting and are shelf stable for easy shipping across the country. We have also expanded the range to include gift cards, recipe books, linen tea towels and handcrafted wooden boards and spoons crafted from Australian timbers to name a few.
What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?
I was really nervous at first, not thinking that the more established products would be keen to have us wholesale from them. The first major brand that we spoke to were really excited about the concept, and did a lot to help us on our feet. It helps that the producers we stock are also passionate about local food and their support has been invaluable.
Once the first handful of brands were onboard two things happened; my confidence was up and other products started coming to us. I had to say no to quite a few product lines at that stage, but am excited to be bringing them on board now that we’re expanding.
How did you get your first sale?
Our first online sale came to our store via a Facebook post which was shared by a friend, and seen by a friend of hers. Facebook still is our best lead magnet.
What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?
Balancing the business with full time employment had its moments. With the online store though I was able to pack orders at night and place them on the doorstep for collection by the courier the next morning. Weekends were filled with administrative business bits and pieces, and research for the next feature for the website, product for the range, or marketing concept. There were countless unpaid hours, but when you really love it, it is easy to get dragged down the rabbit hole finding a new solution for your project.
What influenced your decision to use Shopify?
Definitely ease of use. Setting up the business alongside a full time job, and not being a designer or a particularly tech savvy person, I needed a platform that worked without hours of troubleshooting. Being lean on our set up costs in the early days has proven to be the best option for us. I am all for outsourcing your weaknesses to the professionals, but in the first year every single cent counted.
The second largest factor for the decision was probably security. I wanted our store to be trusted with the personal and financial details of our customers, and I felt Shopify was the best option for that.
What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?
Slow! Haha - not really in the scheme of things, the total hours to get going wasn’t terrible, but when you're stealing an hour here and a few hours on a weekend to build something and you have no idea what you’re doing it took a few months.
It also was a bit lonely, as at that stage I didn’t know anyone else with an online store (or start up business actually). I wish I’d found the Shopify Facebook groups sooner. I’ve met some wonderfully helpful store owners in these groups who have been more than happy to assist and send me in the right direction to find an answer if they haven’t experienced it themselves.
Again, an invaluable resource when you are starting out and don’t have the capacity to be paying the experts to resize a logo or change the colour of something in your stylesheet. I’ve learned so much over the past two years.
What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business?
Sendle integration for shipping. We only ship within Australia at this stage, but are looking forward to them launching their international network to get our hampers abroad.
Mailchimp because I’m terrible when it comes to keeping our eDM regular.
To be honest, we don't make very much use of the apps at this stage, but we intend to make better use of them in the future.
What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Local Pantry Co.?
Competitions and collaborations with other brands that appeal to the same target audience as us have proven to be really effective. The more time we invest in collaboration the better results we have seen from it. We have also continued the ‘pop-ups,’ especially for Christmas, which has helped us to grow our local following and recognition here in Melbourne.
Now that we have opened our first brick and mortar store in Preston we skipped the pop ups this past Christmas, but hope to take part in other festivals, markets and pop-up opportunities in 2018 which help us grow our brand and drive more traffic back to our website.
What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?
Instagram is definitely where we get the most interaction with our customers. We have begun using Instagram stories recently and are getting some great comments and interaction via DM on Instagram which I didn’t expect. We also get great feedback in our reviews about our handwritten postcards that we put in each order that we ship.
Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?
This is only our second year in trading so we’re only just now able to compare our data to last year. For the first quarter of this FY we have more than doubled our traffic and our sales online. Our average cart value is up, which I’m sure is directly linked to us implementing a free shipping with a minimum cart value.
Also our returning customers now make up approximately one third of our online sales, which is reassuring for the longer term future of the business.
To what do you attribute those positive metrics?
* A well curated range of products, if we don’t love it we don't stock it.
* Also, genuine online community engagement - we don’t automate or outsource any of our communication.
What are you working towards now? Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?
Our next challenge is definitely reaching international customers. We currently get interest from Canada, the UK and of course NZ, but with the physical store opening this year it’s a step that has been put on hold for a bit.
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)?
Start now. Progress now is better than waiting endlessly for perfection. Put it out there and see what happens. We’re always more critical of ourselves and what we create than others, and the response that we’ve had from suppliers and customers alike has been so encouraging that I only wish I’d had started sooner.
Where can we learn more?
Our website is www.localpantryco.com.au.
~ Melanie Hercus, Founder of Local Pantry Co.