Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at The Foodnited States and how you got started?
Hi, I’m Chris, owner of FoodnitedStates.com. Our shop sells U.S. state-related t-shirts, stickers, posters, fridge magnets and coffee mugs.
The Foodnited States all started as an original idea from my eight-year-old son, to create States out of food and rename them with a pun. We then turned the idea into a photo series that went viral on Instagram.
After the overwhelming response from the project, merchandise seemed like a logical next step.
What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?
Our first product was The Foodnited States of America poster -- all fifty food states on one map. The initial challenge was finding an artist to produce it. I then received inventory and fulfilled in-house. When I wanted to turn The Foodnited States into t-shirts, the search was on for an illustrator to convert my photos into t-shirt ready art.
I hold inventory and ship in-house for our tees as well. The only items that we dropship are our coffee mugs.
How did you get your first sale?
Instagram. We were lucky enough to have a built-in audience from the original project. So, promotion was all organic to start. Once we announced that the states were available to purchase, we got a great response from existing Instagram followers.
What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?
Financing for new inventory is often an issue, especially for t-shirts. Since we do not dropship our tees, the challenge is pre-selling new states to hit our minimums. Shopify Capital has been a big help for acquiring new inventory.
What influenced your decision to use Shopify?
I had already been using Shopify for a previous store. But, during my initial research to find a shop platform, it seemed like every site that I was using for inspiration was powered by Shopify. So, I followed through and liked what Shopify had to offer.
I particularly like the turnkey aspect of choosing a theme and launching, as well as Shopify hosting the shop with unlimited traffic. A variety of payment gateway options was another selling point as well.
What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?
Shifting from a content marketing project to a brand was a fun process. I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that I wasn’t the first person to obsess over choosing a Shopify theme. This is often the first challenge a new Shopify store will run into -- unless they’re developing from scratch. Then it was on to quite a bit of trial and error with Shopify apps.
FoodnitedStates.com was actually my second store launch. So, I learned that a theme and app line-up that may work for one store is not necessarily the answer for another.
What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business?
Judge.me for customer reviews. This would be one of the first apps I’d recommend. Even on their free plan, the testimonial and SEO benefit is awesome. The reviews also make for great ads and social media posts.
Privy for email pop-ups.
Preorder Me for when I need to pre-sell items before production.
Printful for our coffee mugs. These are the only items that I don’t fulfill in-house.
PushOwl for push notifications. Just installed, but so far so good.
Shippo for mailing label and invoice creation.
What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow The Foodnited States?
Influencer and content marketing. We’ve started on the organic side there, reaching out to existing customers and friends to be our brand ambassadors, as we slowly build a lookbook. Adding a blog to our shop has been great for increasing traffic, content marketing and improving our SEO.
What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?
Instagram comments and Facebook Messenger work well for our shop. I have an Instagram widget on our homepage, and I’ve opted for a Facebook Messenger option, as opposed to a live chat on-site.
I also like to ask questions in blog posts and emails to encourage conversation and increase engagement.
Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?
FoodnitedStates.com is only six-months old, and growth has been slow, but for good reason. We were fortunate enough to receive good press for the shop early on from the popularity of the original Instagram series. When this buzz wore off, we saw equal to slightly increased revenue for the next few months. Around 2-4% increase each month. It’s slow and steady, but on the rise!
To what do you attribute those positive metrics?
Mostly, our awesome fans and their response to The Foodnited States as a brand. It’s a difficult transition from free content to merchandise, and the response has been great.
Finding quality backlinks and content marketing also played a huge part.
What are you working towards now?
The Foodnited States is expanding and adding more States to the merchandise list. I keep tabs on requests from fans for new States, and I study on-site search requests to figure out which state to produce next.
I also have some ideas for a new state series that food-lovers will really dig.
Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?
Facebook groups have been a great resource for picking the brains of like-minded people in our industry. The Shopify blog has also been beneficial, especially their case studies.
Keeping tabs on competitors is also a great resource. Especially using a backlink checker, to see where other shops are getting mentions and links from.
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)?
Get out there on social media before you press the “launch” button on your shop. Build an audience before you even have anything to sell. Make them fans before they’re customers. Content marketing and nurturing relationships with fans will be key to long-term relationships, and will increase those customers’ lifetime value.
Great advice, thanks! Where can our readers learn more?
~ Chris Durso, Founder of The Foodnited States