Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at St. Frank and how you got started?
My name is Stephanie Peng, and I’m the COO and Co-Founder of St. Frank. I started my career in finance, before moving out to CA to get my MBA at Stanford. I was exploring the concept of social impact meets business when I connected with my Co-Founder, Christina Bryant.
Christina’s background is in art history and international development, having started her career at the MoMA in NYC before moving to rural Rwanda for two years working in global health.
While working in Rwanda, Christina discovered beautiful textiles, but realized they wouldn’t work when she got back home. So she started designing products for her own home. That’s how St. Frank got started.
We partner with artisans and small businesses in over two dozen countries across Africa, South America, and Asia, working in traditional crafts to design and produce our line of home and lifestyle products.
What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?
Our first products were three framed textiles that we designed and produced with artisan partners in Senegal, Mexico, and Laos. Using traditional techniques and motifs from those countries, we worked closely with the artisans to customize them for St. Frank. For example, with our Biddew Noir - Sublime Framed Textile, we crafted the proportions of the panels, while showcasing the traditional hexagon motifs of Senegalese weaving. We still continue to work with artisans in this way across all of our product categories.
What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?
Because of the way we source, we’ve built an expansive network of artisan partners around the world. We don’t have one or two factories that can do everything. To introduce new product categories based on new artisan techniques, we have to find new partners.
Because our team is too small to be on the ground with all our partners, these partners need to be able to communicate remotely to produce at the level of quality that our brand promises to our customers, and to fit our social impact criteria. So every new product introduction takes a lot of time and care.
Building a great team has been both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. We’ve learned to take our time and look for a great fit, both in culture and in skill set. We now have a wonderful team that really believes in St. Frank and is putting in the hard work to build this business.
What influenced your decision to use Shopify?
It was easy to get started and seemed like the standard for a young ecommerce company.
What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?
We worked with a developer who built our site on a combination of Wordpress and Shopify. This caused problems with tracking and analytics. We later had to migrate the whole site to Shopify.
What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business and why?
Cross Sell - Because we are a design driven brand, our customers often look to us for guidance on styling and building a comprehensive look. Of course, they can always come into a store or email us for personalized recommendations. However, the Cross Sell app allows us to make our best recommendations as an integrated part of the shopping process.
Privy - Our Collectors’ Circle email list is one of the best ways for us to stay connected to and engage our current and prospective customers with fresh content, including events, new product releases, styling guides, and travel guides. Privy allows us to collect email addresses through a popup window on our website for new visitors.
Rewind - Backups for Shopify - We learned this the hard way! Always have a backup.
What theme did you choose for your site and why?
Our website is built off a proprietary theme that our developers built.
What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow St. Frank?
Of course, for any new brand, acquiring new customers is an ongoing problem to solve. We were very lucky to receive amazing press coverage when we launched and to have supportive friends and family that spread the word.
We opened our first store in San Francisco at the end of 2015, followed by a series of pop-ups and permanent stores around the country (we now have four brick and mortar locations).
In the last year, we’ve gotten into the catalog business as a natural format to tell the story of our brand and our products and also boosted our paid digital spend.
Interesting. Any advice on expanding from strictly ecommerce to physical stores? Anything you wish you’d known then?
Stores add a ton of complexity. Now, you’re managing inventory across a bunch of locations around the country, rather than having one centralized warehouse. Having the right systems and processes to handle multi-location is important. But nothing is more crucial than your store teams. They are the face of the brand for every customer that walks into the shop. So it’s important to hire and train well.
What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?
Visual channels are strongest for us. Email is one of them. Catalog is not only a great way to find new customers, it’s also a powerful way to engage with our existing customers by telling our story more deeply. Finally, Instagram has been our strongest social media channel since day one.
Stores offer an unparalleled opportunity to interact with our customers one-on-one. Our store teams are knowledgeable both about our brand and our products, and are always excited to share those stories with our visitors.
Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?
We’ve doubled or tripled our revenue every year since launch based on organic social media, word of mouth referrals, press, and our stores. As we invest into catalog and digital marketing, we should see that accelerate.
What are you working towards now?
We are continuing to build out our product line and expand into even more areas of the home. Bedding, bath, and tabletop are our top priorities. We are also expanding our catalog and paid digital marketing programs. Finally, we are just kicking off a UX deep dive on our website, leading to a redesign to boost conversion rate.
Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?
While we have a small team, we’ve found that working with consultants and outside partners has given us access to expertise beyond what we have in house. In addition, having friends who are also building ecommerce companies has been invaluable in sharing what does and doesn’t work.
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)?
Apps can be great, but can quickly get messy if you start adding them left and right. Be systematic about only adding what you need and removing what you don’t. Also, Shopify has become quite sophisticated with their built-in reports, so you can learn a lot about your visitors and your customers through their analytics.
Where can we learn more?
Stephanie Peng, Co-Founder and COO of St. Frank Textiles