Bullish began as some notes on the back of an airline napkin for a book I wanted to write, entitled “How to Make Money Without Becoming a Republican.”
I was pretty successful in my career (in test prep, coaching adults and writing manuals for the GMAT and GRE) and wanted to pass on some advice to other women, especially from a feminist POV – and right around that time I met a women’s blog editor who needed a career columnist! I called the column “Bullish” because I was living in a 25th-floor apartment right off Wall Street and near the famous Wall Street bull, and I thought it was ridiculous that people think success in business has much to do with a snorting, charging macho animal (also, tourists are obsessed with rubbing its balls). So I stuck a unicorn horn on a bull, called it a “bullicorn,” and the bullicorn is whatever gender it wants to be. Yay!
I started the annual Bullish Conference in 2013, and with it a tiny online retail store – originally we had a t-shirt, a tote bag, and some bull-themed jewelry.
We now sell over 1,800 items, some of which are just pretty jewelry or funny socks – but many of which are, for instance, a trophy that says “We only look pretty to distract boys while we plan the revolution,” or a necklace that says “Empowered women empower women but also meet in the dead of night to sharpen the wooden stakes they will stab into the heart of the patriarchy.”
I do a lot of buying from small makers on Etsy Wholesale, and also decide which lines to carry from the NY Now trade show. About 30 of our items are exclusive to GetBullish, and those are items I personally designed (or at least wrote slogans for) -- for instance, my SHUT UP pencil set, featuring pencils that say SHUT UP, STFU, JUMP INTO THE SEA, MY LISTENING FACE IS A LIE….
Originally, nearly everything we sold was sort of woman-power themed, but then came the 2015 holiday shopping season when we were selling a lot of gift items, and I thought to myself, “Well, women do buy gifts … for men, so ….".
I then introduced a bunch of men’s socks, and they did very well! But then it got a little confusing that a feminist-themed web store sells men’s socks.
You know, we put postcards in all our packages -- for our store, for the conference, for The Bullish Society, our membership site/app for women and careers. But then sometimes we’d be sending a pair of men’s socks to a customer named, say, Mike, and we were like … do we have anything we want to put in this package? So I bought the domain name cussingsocks.com (very proud of that one!) and redirected it to our men’s socks, as well as some other cussing-themed products, and printed postcards for our packages.
I also use the store to sell tickets to live webinars, webinar recordings, ebooks and digital downloads, and even tickets to and sponsorships of our annual conference.
I think we’re a little different from most stores in that the content came way before the store – and for the first couple years, it was ALL content marketing. So people come to read an article about feminism and careers and then they see products below the article, or a FOMO popup (that’s a Shopify app that tells people what other customers are buying), and they buy some socks or pencils or maybe even a conference ticket.
I think we’ve all seen stores that have a blog that doesn’t really fit – you kind of wonder, do I really need to read a blog about closets when I buy these boot shapers? So it’s nice that I’ve done things backwards.
In the last year or two I’ve done a lot more with Facebook and other ads, but it was great to build out the business with “true fans” – I could write really quirky product descriptions that maybe only someone into Bullish would even “get.” And I didn’t bother to put the word “women’s” in the titles of, say, women’s socks. It’s the store of a feminist blog, of course the default socks are women’s (note to retailers, we do notice when you mark things “women’s” and, you know … “regular”).
I had a rough period where I tried expanding into larger products – wine racks, work totes / laptop bags – and they just didn’t move, and they took up way more space than made sense. I don’t like to do really deep clearance sales – we already have a lot of very low price-point items, and you have to think before you train your customers to only buy when there’s a discount.
I haven’t had any trouble with payment processors, and I’m currently using Helpscout (at the free level, even!) for customer service, which is working great. I think some early customer service issues I took a little personally (like the first time someone wanted to return products for literally no reason?), but now I have an in-house employee taking care of those, which I should have done a long time ago (I really didn’t need to read the emails before forwarding them to the person who would solve the problem).
We had some growing pains from selling on multiple platforms – we have products on Amazon and Etsy, as well as on eBay through the inkfrog app. We’ve now started using ShippingEasy to pull all our orders into one place and be able to print batch postage.
Oh, and holiday gift wrapping! It can REALLY slow down your packing queue. We invested in some metallic gift bags, gifty gift boxes, crinkle-cut paper, and other tricks of the trade that let us gift wrap most items very quickly.
I am often amazed at how there’s a Shopify app for anything. I’ve used Retargetapp and Kit to run ads, FOMO for social proof, inkFrog to duplicate nearly my entire store to eBay, Order Printer to print attractive gift message slips, Pinterest’s integration to automatically publish pins with buy buttons, and the Wanelo app to automatically publish products to Wanelo – these are all apps that just immediately created sales.
We’re averaging about $11,000/mo of physical products from the store over about 550 orders, not including conference tickets (which we process through the store) – so average order size around $20. (Although, interestingly, there’s a high standard deviation in order size, with small, one-item orders for socks or pencils, and then larger orders that take advantage of our free shipping over $35).
We’ve slowly ramped up to $2-3K/mo on Amazon, and maybe $800/mo on Etsy (where we are only permitted to sell a small subset of our products). Wanelo feeds maybe an order a day straight into Shopify – can’t complain!
We’re actually installing a monthly subscription app (looking at a couple of them) to be able to offer ongoing subscriptions – for instance, right now enamel pins are very popular! Look out for a pin club, sock club, and more.
Check us out at shop.getbullish.com! Send your feminist friends!