How two entrepreneurs turned their side-hustle into a 6-figure business

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at NIU BODY and how you got started?

We (Connie and Laura) founded NIU BODY (pronounced "new body") in March of 2017 after experiencing frustration with the natural beauty products available on the market. Options were limited to either pseudo-natural products, which weren't effective, or high-end brands which cost a fortune. NIU BODY aspires to be a truly natural, approachable brand, at affordable prices so all babes can enjoy everything green beauty has to offer.

Our mission is to support women and help them recognize their worth, beauty, and purpose. We stand for quality, simplicity, and integrity in every interaction with our customers, employees, and community. Our products will be the golden standard of natural and vegan skincare.

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

Laura came up with the initial idea for a coconut oil-based makeup remover wipe. She has a chemical engineering background, so she was the one tinkering around with different natural ingredients. We initially purchased fractionated coconut oil and essential oils from Whole Foods and played with the ingredients in my kitchen! Our first line had four SKU’s, one makeup wipe variety for each skin type (normal, dry, combination and oily).

We’ve definitely gone through a few changes since starting NIU BODY in 2017 as a side-hustle. Laura now works with a chemist, formulator and two manufacturers to produce our products locally in Toronto. We’re also purchasing raw materials in much larger batches from our suppliers and no longer store everything in our condos (thank God!).

How did you get your first sale?

Instagram was (and still is) a huge part of our marketing strategy. Before our soft launch in March, I created an Instagram account (@niu.body) and started posting lifestyle content relating to our brand (e.g. animals, travel, self-love, #girlboss quotes) and educating followers on the benefits of natural beauty. I engaged with those who were followers of similar brands and delved deep into their wants, needs and frustrations. Our first non-friend sale came from these Instagram efforts!

What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?

What haven’t we encountered?! It would take days to list out all the challenges we’ve faced, so I’ll list out our top few. Our biggest obstacle has been cash flow. As we are a bootstrapped business and haven’t taken on outside investment to this point (read our blog post here), managing our cash flow is extremely challenging. We’re very fortunate to be working with large retail partners and subscription boxes, but these partners often have demanding payment terms (e.g. net 60 or net 90).

Imposter syndrome is another challenge we’re still dealing with. Having started this company when we were both 23-years-old, we had to overcome the feeling of being exposed as a “fraud” or not good/smart enough to work in the beauty space. Making it all up as we go (our favourite saying is, “say yes, then figure out how to do it”), we’re learning that most people are also improvising along the way and that we too deserve a seat at the table.

One of our other top challenges is constantly re-evaluating our priorities. As a small team, we always feel like the mountain of work is never-ending. Understanding how to prioritize our list of daunting tasks is definitely a work in progress!

What influenced your decision to use Shopify?

We decided to use Shopify due to the ease of set-up, low cost, and beautiful pre-built templates.

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

We launched really fast (we met on November 15, 2016 and had our soft launch on March 1, 2017). Our strategy was to launch with our minimum viable product (MVP), learn from customer feedback, and iterate from there. As we were working on NIU BODY as a side hustle at the time, we spent evenings and weekends on NIU BODY.

We wish we had known how supportive our networks would be. Starting out, we timidly asked a few friends for their feedback and input, and were blown away by their support, as well as the connections they provided us to guide us in the right direction!

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

Some of the Shopify apps we use, ranked in order of importance, include Tidio Live Chat (great for live customer support), Beautiful Abandoned Cart Recovery (sends customized abandoned cart emails), Order Printer (easily print well-designed invoices), and Hotjar Install & Add-On (view customer actions on your website).

What theme did you choose for your site and why?

Prestige, beautiful clean template with built in pop-up cart page.

What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow NIU BODY?

Instagram has been our #1 growth engine. We post daily on Instagram as well as our Instagram stories, engage directly with followers through comments, likes and DM’s, and regularly run giveaways tied to our #BOSSBABE interview series (see an example here).

We also spent a lot of time at markets and pop-ups in our first 2 years of business, which allowed us to meet customers in person, develop a deeper relationship, and work together on creative product solutions.

Finally, we work a lot of with subscription boxes for marketing purposes. We think of it as a way to guarantee our product gets into thousands of households. It also helps us generate hundreds of customer reviews (we received >565 five-star reviews of our Pina Colada Lip Polish in Petit Vour’s box).

That’s interesting. Can you tell me a little more about the subscription box angle, like how you find companies to work with, how you approach them and some of the logistics behind it?

We started off by creating a list of the different types of subscription boxes we’d want to work with. Our list separated boxes into the categories of vegan/cruelty-free, health/wellness, beauty, and miscellaneous.

We then approached the boxes that would be more willing to work on a higher cost-share percentage and require smaller quantities. As we were making everything by hand, it was important for us to be able to actually fulfill their orders in my kitchen!

Partnering with smaller boxes also gave us great practice to work with the larger boxes. Now that we have outsourced manufacturing, we are able to partner with subscription boxes in the thousands and even hundreds of thousands of units.

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

Definitely Instagram. We also regularly call our most active consumers to get their feedback on everything from pricing to brand messaging to new product ideas.

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

We made six-figures within the first year of us both going full-time!

To what do you attribute those positive metrics?

Dedication (lots of blood, sweat and tears), truly understanding our customers, speaking with an authentic message and offering high-quality products for affordable prices.

What are you working towards now?

We’re launching our new Purify Aloe + Amino Acid Gel Cleanser next week, so that’s definitely been taking up a lot of our time!

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

We love Really Good Emails. It’s a platform that allows you to search for great email examples by category (e.g. Black Friday, product launch, etc.).

We also love Canva - it’s design made easy!

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)?

Be able to distinctly convey what makes your brand different amongst a sea of other ecommerce brands. Also have a compelling story to tell!

Where can we learn more?

You can check out our website at www.niubody.com. We’re also on Instagram @niu.body and Facebook: www.facebook.com/niubodyskincare.

 

~ Laura Burget and Connie Lo, Co-Founders of NIU BODY



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