Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at West End Kids and how you got started?
I am originally from Montreal, Quebec. I am a graduate from McGill University with a B.A in Child Psychology and a Graduate Degree in Education.
In 1980 I married my husband, Gordie. I taught in the Montreal public school system until 1982 when we moved to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. I decided to leave teaching and I join my husband’s sales agency for the clothing brand, ESPRIT.
In 1993, we resigned from ESPRIT and decided to do a lifestyle change. Our son was young enough to take him out of school. We travelled throughout the USA and also spent 3 months in the Middle East.
On our return, we thought about moving back to Montreal but we loved Ottawa too much to leave. In the fall of 1994, I thought it would be fun to open a children’s clothing boutique. I opened West End Kids on August 15,1995.
By 2005, new independent retailers began popping up in our retail area, that specialized in outdoor apparel, footwear and hard goods like skis, ski boots, bicycles. We thought we would try doing the same, but in the kids’ marketplace. It was an instant success. Today, our retail area called Westboro, has become a well known hub of outdoor retailers.
What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?
I did a lot of research before I opened my store. Stats Canada was able to give me excellent statistics on family, age of children, along with demographic information that helped me make a decision on where to open my store.
I also travelled to various trade shows in Canada and the USA that were specific to retailers.
Once my finances were all in place, I then placed purchase orders with set delivery dates to arrive. Along with the purchase orders, I needed to decide on what method of transportation to deliver the products once it was time to ship. I also needed to have the proper displays and racking system to showcase the merchandise, along with where to put excessive inventory.
I believe all this would be the same today if one is wanting to open a physical retail store. The more information, knowledge and reading one can do, the more beneficial it will be in the long run. Other retailers with ecommerce experience are the best to reach out to, especially if they are with Shopify.
How did you get your first sale?
It was not until 2007 that I opened the West End Kids website. I began by advertising in local newspapers throughout Ottawa and surroundings. I had a substantial email list that I used to send out the announcement of my new website.
Almost immediately I go my first online order! The feeling was empowering and I became obsessed with marketing my site and getting more online orders.
As well, my in-store customers also helped me spread the word.
This summer, Shopify asked me to be part of a series called: My First Sale.
That’s fantastic - congrats! What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?
This is a complex question. With each failure and with each success came knowledge for the do’s and don’ts for ecommerce. However, I discovered very quickly that what I thought I knew was no longer relevant. I began signing up for other ecommerce stores to see how they go about marketing their sites.
I learned very quickly that what is successful in marketing this week is not the same next week. This has not changed today except it has gotten even move competitive. I find reading different blogs, articles and attending workshops has helped my greatly along the way. This is never ending, so be prepared.
What influenced your decision to use Shopify?
From 2007- 2013 I continually had issues with my custom site. Links were breaking or not working at all. It was becoming expensive to just have the site maintained, particularly due to the additional cost associated with having a secure website.
I had heard that a company called Shopify had made Ottawa their home and was the most up-and-coming company specializing in ecommerce platforms. The graphic designer I was using had already moved over to Shopify when they were in their infancy stage. We had stayed in contact so I was able to pick his brain to see if Shopify would be a good move for me to make.
I was then put in contact with a recommended Shopify Expert. The rest of the story is what has happened once my website became powered by Shopify. My online sales skyrocketed! I was so excited and began reading whatever Shopify had posted, whether it was in a blog, a digest, YouTube, etc. I signed up for everything!
What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?
It was really simple. I contacted support and I was given the necessary steps to move forward. They suggested I hire a Shopify Expert, which I did. It was the best thing I could have done, especially since I had a website that was doing online sales. The only thing that I wish I had known is the success of online shopping. I learn everyday and naturally it would be good to have known then what I now know!
What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business and why?
Mailchimp for Shopify
What theme did you choose for your site and why?
I change the theme everything 18 months. We are currently using Vantage.
What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow West End Kids?
I read lots of articles and get a tip here and there. I have been successful with Facebook for Business. It is the only paid advertising I am currently using. I am happy with the return I am getting.
I like to engage my followers and have them get involved in some way. For example, after the winter season is more or less done and spring is around the corner, I run an online event called WEK PHOTO SEARCH.
Through which we invite our shoppers to submit photos showcasing their WEK winter attire. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends send in photos or action shots (skiing, playing in the snow, hockey, skating, tobogganing etc) of their kids in any of WEK’s winter gear!
In appreciation, submissions receive a $10 Gift Card. Additionally, all photo submissions are entered to win a $100 WEK Gift Card. All submissions receive a photo collage once the event is over.
Our 2018 WEK PHOTO SEARCH was a huge success! 3 photo collages had to be created!
You mentioned having decent success with Facebook ads. Any words of wisdom that might help others in this area?
I happen to love Facebook! Especially my Business FB account. As does Shopify, Facebook for Business offers fabulous readings, including case studies, the do’s and don’ts, a “how to advertise” guide, and much more.
Having the Ad Manager for Facebook keeps all my promotional campaigns together. I can analyze all the metrics per campaign and see which audience was a good and whether or not the promotion was successful in terms of conversions. There is so much more I can share, but this is a good start.
What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?
This is a two-part answer.
The In Store experience: Our staff is trained in a certain fashion that allows them to interact with the parents and their children by giving them information about each products’ strengths, and in some cases, weaknesses. Of course, this is all dependent on the required purchase. We also offer confidential email sign up for in-store customers. This gives the customer a pre-notification of sales or events.
Having my brick and mortar store for almost 24 years has given me the experience through mistakes and accomplishments when sending promotional emails for in-store email recipients. However, it is constantly changing.
The ONLINE Experience: We handle each online purchase as if the customer was in-store. For example, if we feel that the item they ordered does not match with the snowsuit purchase, we contact them. We encourage communication through messenger, email and Facebook. We are diligent in answering questions/concerns as quickly as possible.
That’s great! Any additional insight or advice to share based on all of your experience?
The better the service we offer, the better the results! The main goal is to have happy customers, even if that sometimes comes at a cost.
As in most retail businesses there are always issues, no matter if the customer is right or wrong, or wants to break store policies because they feel they have the right to. It is definitely easier to say “NO”, but what will be the consequence?
How I deal with this, for both in-store and online purchases, is each issue is individually handled and analyzed. There are exceptions to the rules, dependent on the circumstances. I have two managers that deal with this, but they do reach out to me when it is a complicated problem or if the customer is standing their ground and demanding to speak to the owner. When this happens, I usually back my manager’s decision.
I find some customers have this sense of entitlement and tend to bully my staff. I do not accept this kind of behavior, therefore in those cases, I am not compassionate to their request to break store policy.
Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?
Currently we are at a 300% growth rate since migrating to Shopify in 2014! We are growing month over month, however the percentage of growth is slowing a bit, as we continue to grow.
What are you working towards now?
Growth, growth and more growth! Continued growth, both online as well as at my Ottawa location, allows me to continue doing what I love.
Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?
Oh my goodness! Yes! I learn everyday! Shopify has amazing resources to help with struggles you may be experiencing. They have recommended reading material sent to your inbox (you will need to sign up) and fabulous YouTube videos to show the newest additions. Their Help Center is a must go to when you have a concern. Others usually will have a similar problem.
If all fails, I love calling Shopify Support. They not only help in answering the questions you have, they also send you information to read.
Additional resources include:
I recently joined a FB closed group called Shopify Entrepreneurs. This is a group by Storetasker - Shopify Experts. I just discovered this group and what I love to do is read the various questions put forth and reading the many responses by Shopify entrepreneurs like myself.
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)?
Prepare a business plan. Have a realistic timeline and understand what costs will be. Keep a journal of the necessary tasks that need to get done and prioritize. Be open-minded but try not to get overwhelmed. Once you are close to going live, test and test, over and over.
Once you go live, take a deep breath and stay focused. READ and NETWORK with others that have a Shopify website, and even better if they a physical store. It’s exciting and invigorating but at the same time it can be frustrating and exhausting.
Roll with the punches. If you have a physical store, you know the pains and gains. You have done the majority of the legwork to get that store open and running. Opening a website powered by Shopify will be definitely easier! Good luck!
Where can we learn more?
~ Sheba Schmidt, Founder of West End Kids