Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Toile Showroom and how you got started?
The idea for TOILE was sparked with the discovery that while the bedding industry had a lot to offer, Montreal was without. Travels both domestically and overseas provided the momentum in developing a business that would provide designers and consumers with quality, high luxury product and services that would compliment them.
We started off as an in-home service to the Montreal Interior Design trade in 1998. Sourcing unique, high quality linens for bed, bath and table that were not available in Canada. TOILE grew into a booming bed, bath and table showroom for designers, open to the public. Our customer base grew as our designers’ clients returned to freshen up their homes.
Keeping up with the times, we added ecommerce to the mix. Whether it’s in our brick and mortar showroom or online with Shopify, we provide a vast array of products and personal services for outfitting bedrooms from the decorative aspect to the comfort of sleep.
Thanks to our incredible team, we continue to provide services, from concept to installation, that are key to what sets TOILE Showroom apart. In fact, our charm and success directly reflect the strong women who are operating tirelessly behind the scenes.
What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?
We are mostly dropship, as we are a made-to-order shop. While we carry a few basics in limited quantity, we mostly order according to the exact customizations of the client. Some of our suppliers drop ship to our clients, while most of them are repackaged in our showroom for verification as well as the chance to add a personal note of thanks.
How did you get your first sale?
Brick and mortar - friends and family and then a designer took a chance and placed an order.
Shopify - Most of our sales have come from return customers, however we have had the pleasure of adding many “strangers” to our client list, who have either been referred by clients or who have responded to our posts on Instagram.
What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?
Initial obstacles were the fact that TOILE was a non-stocking showroom, selling primarily to designers. We were more of a middle supplier than a storefront retail. Our challenges ended up being our selling points, as we vet and showcase many unique designer brands that aren’t available elsewhere. The fact that we offer a showroom feel and a truly personalized, tailored service has filled an underserved market here in Montreal.
What was the journey like to bring your brick and mortar business online? What advice might you give another store owner who is thinking of venturing into ecommerce?
It was a slow process as we had to adapt our very service-oriented business into a model that would translate online. Also, with a very large selection of products (we offer access to 200+ brands) we had to find a way to trim it down to a small selection that would work online. This is something we revisit yearly, as the needs of our audience change.
The advice I would give to someone starting out is - keep it simple! Determine your bestsellers and build around that. Choose quality over quantity when it comes to social media blogs or newsletters; don’t clutter the site. Give the customer a personal sense of who you are and why your products matter.
What influenced your decision to use Shopify?
The platform was simple to adapt to.
Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?
It was difficult to plan where we wanted to be, without having had experience with ecommerce before. As a result, there was a lot of trial and error. I wish I had known to engage professional help sooner and make immediate use of the various apps that would have enables us to grow more quickly.
When you say “engage professional help,” what do you mean by that? What types of experts do you wish you’d enlisted help from early on and how did you find them?
Vetted SEO experts, as well as advisors when it comes to merchandising help with ecommerce. The way in which the consumer walks through your store and the ease of the customer experience is difficult to replicate online. That process is different from a brick and mortar business plan and requires specific expertise.
We sought references from peers and found great resources from Shopify’s own list of certified professionals. Shop Class was also very enlightening. We attended the one here in Montreal and again in Ottawa.
What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business?
Langify allows us to have an English and French version of our site. It is integral as we are located in Quebec.
We have also enjoyed Privy for pop-ups and Gift Reggie for wedding registries. However, our bilingual site has made them a challenge to use because there are often glitches when it comes to the French side. We are confident that both Shopify and the app developers are continually working hard to iron out the kinks and add services that are desperately needed.
What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Toile Showroom?
We use Klaviyo to send out our newsletters and blogs, while posting the original content on the site itself. Email marketing has been a solid source of organic growth for us. We also value the connection of Facebook / Instagram shopping with Shopify, allowing our audience to choose the method of their choice.
What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?
We walk our customers through their choices, educating them along the way.
We never start with “No.” In fact, it’s always a last resort. We do our absolute best to meet the needs and desires of our clients. We are quick on the customer service, confirming colour choices and making sure they are happy with their experiences.
Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?
We have worked really hard and focused on content and organic growth over the past year. We have seen an increase of 21% in sales, 85% in returning customer rate and 63% in orders. While we have a long way to go yet, we have been extremely happy with our organic growth.
To what do you attribute those positive metrics?
Whether or not numbers are your thing, it’s been extremely beneficial to keep a close eye on metrics. Not solely for the positive results, but the negative results are just as telling and an excellent way to know when it’s time to switch it up.
Staying on top of best practices and increasing our visibility online and within the community have been greatly beneficial as well.
What are you working towards now?
We are looking to grow our daily traffic (through paid marketing) and bringing the online experience closer to the showroom experience.
Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?
We have greatly benefited from following and participating on a Facebook group dedicated to Shopify users. It’s been encouraging to see that we all share in similar struggles and also to hear the opinions and advice of fellow users.
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)?
Inform yourself in all things ecommerce, as it is a completely different and totally separate business. Find an array of marketing tools relevant to your brand and go with it. The more educated you are, and the further you reach, the more successful you will be.
That’s great advice, thanks so much for sharing. Where can we learn more?
~ Ingrid Bryson, Founder of TOILE Showroom