Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Ville Motogear and how you got started?
Sure! My name is Mathieu Rainville and I’ve been working on the web in one way or another since the first dotcom bubble popped around the year 2000. I’ve worked as an editor, content producer and translator, sometimes for myself but mostly as a salaried employee within large-ish corporations. It wasn’t until 2016 that I felt like I had the chops to launch and run my own businesses. The first one is a content marketing firm that I’ve co-founded with two partners.
The second one is Ville Motogear, which so far designs, manufactures and sells premium leather motorcycle gloves. I just launched a third one that deals with electric guitars, which is another passion of mine along with motorcycling. The long-term goal with Ville Motogear is to offer full head-to-toe protection using premium materials and no-nonsense designs, to keep the price point within the reach of most consumers within this niche market.
What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?
I knew from the start that I wanted to design my own products. So my first idea was to create a prototype glove myself - mind you, with no prior sewing or leatherwork experience. Yeah. Several trips to the leathercraft store and one week later, I had managed to sort-of sew two pieces of pigskin together. It looked and performed like a stiff oven mitt.
Clearly I was going to need outside help, so I started firing emails at potential suppliers on Alibaba. That was a long, tedious and somewhat expensive step, but one that proved crucial. That’s when I truly started geeking out on leather types and grades, comparing established products to my own prototypes and working out the math to see if I could slot my own products into their own little niche.
How did you get your first sale?
Amazingly, my first sale came the very same day I took delivery of the first shipment of gloves. I had prepared the Shopify store with photos of the final prototype and had pre-written an introductory bit of copy for posting on two of the largest motorcycle forums. The first few hours after I opened the store felt like an eternity. I was convinced I’d failed within the first half-day (!)
Then a sale notification popped up on my phone and I instantly threw both arms up in the air, Rocky style. I ended up making 20 sales the first month. Not bad for a brand new outfit with only one product on offer, I thought.
What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?
Because I’m dealing with an overseas manufacturer who is 10 time zones away, all communication takes place via email. I wake up when they’re ready to go home and they wake up when I’m going to bed.
There is also the language barrier - neither I nor the manufacturer are native English speakers - so I have to be extra careful that nothing can be misinterpreted when I craft my messages to them, otherwise that’s an entire day gone to waste.
I quickly found out that taking high-resolution photos and photoshopping in big red arrows towards critical areas of the product is often the most foolproof way of getting my point across.
What influenced your decision to use Shopify?
I signed up for trials on all the major eCommerce platforms. I ended up choosing Shopify because everything just worked right out of the box. From adding apps to setting up the payment gateway, there were no hiccups.
That’s key when you’re in charge of all operations. With two other business ventures including another online store, I can’t afford any downtime, messing with custom installation scripts or anything of the like. Shopify was the only true turnkey platform for me.
What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?
Even though I’m based in Toronto, Canada, over 90% of my sales come from the US. That took me by surprise. In hindsight, it makes total sense - the motorcycling crowd is a lot larger in the US because of the milder climate (and because of the sheer headcount, obviously.)
Still, I thought I’d be more successful selling locally at first, then branch out internationally. I originally had everything set up in Canadian dollars, and Americans don’t necessarily care to buy from outside their own country, so I had to quickly remedy that. I found a great reshipper that lets me ship through the US Postal Service as though I’m in the US myself, so the experience is totally seamless for US customers.
What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Ville Motogear?
Interestingly enough, word of mouth is proving to be more successful than any online strategy I’ve tried. SEO and paid ads are a great way to get eyeballs, but not necessarily sales. When you’re starting out with a limited budget, moving product and rolling over your bankroll is more important than building online notoriety, and the best conversion tactic for me was to keep engaging potential customers on motorcycle forums.
What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?
For a niche product like motorcycle gloves, forums are where it’s at. People are increasingly allergic to traditional advertising, so being a genuine, responsive and forthcoming ambassador for your brand is key. People call and message as well.
Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?
We got ~250 sales of our first product in the first year @ an average of $65 per sale.
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)?
What worked for me was to find something I truly cared about. Then I geeked out and spent a lot of time researching what was already out there to figure out my own position in the market. I’m also a big believer in eating your own dog food - I won’t sell anything I wouldn’t use myself. I’m proud of what I make and sell and can talk at length about my products. I don’t have to fake it.
I think you shouldn’t have to work too hard on crafting your sales pitch - it kind of has to ooze out of you, otherwise people will know that they’re being actively sold to, instead of being offered something they didn’t know they needed. That might sound like semantics, but to me it’s the difference between merely moving product and truly selling something you’re willing to stand behind.
As for the “e” part of eCommerce, maybe it’s because I’ve worked on the web for so long, but I’m amazed by how simple it’s become to take an idea to market thanks to companies like Shopify. If you’re really averse to technology, I guarantee you there’s someone in your social circle who can help out.
That’s awesome perspective! Thanks for sharing. Where can we learn more about Ville Motogear?