Wholesale: Approaching Store Owners to Carry Your Product

Giselle Gyalzen is the owner of the San Francisco store Rare Device.  She joined us in the Aeolidia Facebook group for a Q&A about wholesale, answering questions about getting into stores and approaching store owners/buyers. Creative product-based businesses, come join us! There will be more of these.

As the owner of Rare Device, a design-focused gift and home shop in San Francisco, Giselle is an expert at curating a selection of products that her customers will love. She gets many pitches from business owners who want to sell their work in her store. She answered questions for us from designers and makers about how they should best approach shop owners to pitch their products.

We’ve tidied up the Facebook back and forth into something readable so we won’t lose this great info, and you can see Giselle’s thoughts on approaching store owners to sell your product here. All quoted text below is from Giselle, and all bold text is from our Facebook community.

Giselle Gyalzen, Rare Device

I’m wondering what is the best way via email to approach store owners and buyers – how many images, links, etc.

I would say 1-2 attachments at the most. When you email them, have everything ready – your website is a great way to show them who you are vs. sending a lot of attachments. Linesheets/catalog, wholesale terms, product descriptions and images are key.

What do you like and not like about being approached from vendors?

If you are going in person to the store without an appointment, do not expect the person behind the counter to look through your products. They are usually in the middle of something, even if it doesn’t look like it. Instead, have a packet or sample ready and leave it with them, then follow-up via email in a few days or a week.

Do you prefer to become acquainted with a new designer via email with a pdf/few images or snail mail with samples and a printed catalog? Is snail mail (a nice packet of info, maybe even samples) welcome, or is that too much?

Either way is great as long as it has all the information. The easier you make it for us, the better!

I’d be interested to know what your personal preferred method of first contact for a pitch would be: email with nice photos, snail mail with brochure or a spontaneous personal visit with promo material and real product samples?

For our store, we actually have an online submission form. This is so that we can stay organized and have all of our submissions in one place. What I like – I like when you are ready with all the information I need to see and I can see that you took the time to compile it together – linesheets/catalog, a website, great images of your product, wholesale terms. Also say something about why you think your product is a good fit for the store that you are approaching.

What works for the subject title? I imagine that store get a large volume of email.

Subject line could just be: Product Submission + Name of Your Company

I’d love to know your stance on keeping contact with buyers you already have. I go through Etsy Wholesale right now, so I’m not sure how to go about keeping in contact. When I should ask them if they want to reorder (or if I should at all), since they usually just find me right through that platform without an email exchange first? And often, my buyers currently seem to order fairly often, when it’s right for them, without me needing to contact.

I think the most efficient way is to have a wholesale only newsletter where you update us with new products every season. If you want it to be a bit more personal, then a personal email addressed to me with an updated catalog of links to your new line on your website.

Would you recommend then, for the wholesale newsletter, that once I get an inquiry or new order, I ask if they’d like to join my newsletter list for future info/product releases? Just trying to figure out the best way to let them know it’s available (I do currently have a wholesale newsletter, haven’t used it yet since it’s brand new, but it’s there for them to join).

Yes, you should ask and make sure to let them know that the purpose of it is so that they won’t think it’s just another thing on their inbox.

How about the tricky business of negotiating consignment vs. outright purchase of goods with shop owners? And, of course, the shop/artist percentage split if goods are consigned? 50/50 seems to be the only choice? 

Depending on what your product is, I would approach them with wholesale in mind. If the store wants to go consignment, they will ask you. Then you have to ask what their policies are, get something in writing so that everything is clear and you won’t have to go chasing that payment around.

Are phone calls (to follow up on a new release snail mailing) a no-no or a good way to remind buyers about your new goods?

For me personally, I would say no phone calls. I am usually working up front and cannot chat for too long when there are customers. Email or snail mail is best. If you are a stationery company, definitely do the snail mail route, or both!

How do you feel when asked to check out a makers wholesalecrafts.com or etsy wholesale page? 

I love looking at wholesale sites that have your pictures, policies and something about you and your company.

How often do you prefer your vendors to check in with you (especially not the ‘regular’ vendors you reorder from all the time)? 

Depending on what your product is, I would say once every season or whenever you have a new line/new group of designs coming out. We always want to see the latest from brands that we already carry. In general, it’s really important to keep in contact with your buyers. For us at least, we have hundreds of brands we buy from so if you are fresh on our mind, then we will likely order from you more regularly.

I have had several stores say something similar to “I like your cards but we aren’t buying right now. We will keep you on file” How sincere of a response do you think this is or are they just too nice to say no? Also how long should I wait to approach them again? 

This is true in my case! We have 2 small stores and don’t always have room for all the brands we want to buy. I would reply to them and say, great I’ll follow-up with you in a month (or 2) and then do follow-up.

How long would you say it takes for you to go from receiving snail mail from a new brand to actually ordering from them?

This all depends on how full the store is, so it’s a case by case. But I have to tell you we got this pretty package from a stationery line a few days ago and I was just wowed by their presentation – a box gift wrapped, tied with a bow with the most wonderful holiday cards inside, and they’re on our buying list now. See how you can stand out without being too much. The National Stationery Show is also a great time to send mail to buyers because we get a ton of them around that time of year and we are paying attention. We get so many pretty packages then, it’s my favorite time of year!

What is the best way to approach a store that you feel your products would be the perfect fit for?

Look through their site to see if they have submission guidelines. For us, we have an online submission form that we ask you to fill out. If they don’t have one, email or snail mail is best. Or both. Also, tell them why you think it’s a great fit!

Do most stores have a policy or restrictions about a company selling to other stores in their area or within a certain number of miles?

Yes, we don’t want every store in our city to carry the same products that we do. IMHO, it also keeps your products special if you are not everywhere – it really depends on your business plan, though, and what you are selling. But I respect my neighbor stores’ area and will not carry a brand if it’s carried 2 blocks away.

Meet Giselle: Giselle is the owner of Rare Device, a brick and mortar store in San Francisco which is filled with lovely, approachably designed items for your home, yourself, and your family.  Every object in the store has its own story, and has been chosen because it is either handmade, well-designed, useful, beautiful or all of the above. The aesthetic is modern and whimsical while remaining warm and inviting. The gallery within the storefront hosts monthly art shows and community events, including book signings, workshops, our monthly kids’ event, and trunk shows.  For the gallery and in the shop, Giselle looks to showcase independent artists with great talent who are trying to say something bold in the world.

PS – Go read our interview with Giselle about her rebranding and website project with us!

PPS – If you are interested in learning more about wholesale, here is our archive of wholesale blog posts.

How We Thrived For a Decade Without a Real Logo

I shared some advice about your Unique Selling Proposition and storytelling for your brand at the Maker Mentors conference, and here on the blog. While I was putting that blog post and talk together, a problem with my advice kept nagging at me.

Let me tell you about one thing I did wrong, and how storytelling saved my business.

For years, I have been telling clients that they need to start with a strong brand identity before creating a custom website.

I believe that a solid brand identity is a wise investment and will make most everything else you do easier – except I’d been puttering along with a non-logo on a website design that didn’t speak to our clients for nearly a decade.


Our “logo” was our name in a font I liked. I knew just enough about graphic design to be dangerous. There was nothing to go with that logo to make it a full brand identity except the suggestion of an oceanic theme.

Our website looked nothing like what our clients wanted for themselves. Sometimes new clients would specifically mention that they didn’t want their website to be as whimsical as ours was. I often felt that people were signing on to work with us despite our website, not because of it.

According to my own advice, all this should make it difficult to grow and to attract the people who would value our service. But we charge five figures for a custom website, and at most times we have been so busy that we regularly would turn projects away.

Is a logo not so important after all? Why was everything working fine without one? How can I insist that businesses need a brand identity when we had been doing so well without one?

On further reflection, I realized: I had built a strong brand.
I had done it by telling our story to the right people and in the right places.

People know who we are, who we serve, what we stand for, how they’ll be treated by us. Our graphical look didn’t match up with our story, is all. Which turns out not to be a dealbreaker if you can show what substance lies below your hasty DIY logo.

Your brand is more than the surface. Read why your logo is just the very tippy tip of your brand’s iceberg.

So a strong graphical brand identity is not required. It is just more work when all parts aren’t working together. You might be fine without a real logo at the start. You may feel too busy to worry about this detail when business is booming. But there will be a point where your homemade logo will not feel right anymore. You will grow out of it and be ready to bust out of your chrysalis and transform into the beautiful butterfly you know you are on the inside.

We corrected our problem last September, and it’s notably easier to tell my story now, with the design backup.

Here is our before:


Oh dear.

Here is our NOW:

Aeolidia business stationery design

So, so right.

Read blog posts about the Aeolidia redesign.

What does this mean for you?

I’m sure you can think of inspiring small businesses out there with no logo, or a not-so-good logo. They seem to be doing well! I’m sure you’ve also seen businesses that just don’t seem very special, despite their super polished, professional, well-designed brand identity. The logo helps them look legitimate, but they won’t stand the test of time or attract loyal customers.

This tells you that you can’t look to graphic design as a quick fix for a failing business. You can’t build something special and lasting without putting time into its story and its personality. If you work hard, you can successfully share that story with the world without a fitting logo. But let me tell you, it’s much much easier to be doing the work you want when your outsides match up with your insides.

If we can help your successful business tell its story better, we would be overjoyed to hear from you – get in touch.

Launch and Sell a Product to Brick & Mortar Stores: HipCity

Raise your hand if you’re ready to launch and sell a product and dream of seeing it stocked in brick and mortar stores. And not just any store: an iconic boutique with an amazing eye for design, a lovingly curated specialty shop that hearts its indie makers, a nationwide chain with a brand that rocks your socks off. The possibilities are endless.

Sherry Buechner was in this exact place when she hired Aeolidia to conceptualize her brand—everything from the logo to the packaging to collateral—for her hands-free travel bags for girls called HipCity Sak. She wanted an identity that would not only help her get into stores, but help her completely stand out.

During initial talks about the brand and mission, Sherry expressed how her bags were created to help little girls be adventurous, dream big, and be independent. Her passion played a huge role in how Aeolidia designer, Mariah, envisioned the initial logo concepts:

“The idea of reaching for the ‘stars’ was such a passionate point for you and I thought it was really such a beautiful sentiment to us as women, to the women you’ll employ one day soon, but especially to our daughters—the very ones who will be loving their new bag and running their fingers over it in admiration & love.”


Tip #1: Be clear, confident and passionate about your mission. It’ll often lead you to your target audience.

Inspired by all things twinkly and sparkly, Mariah’s three logo concepts included HipCity’s name paired with a launching rocket ship, the letters arranged like a cityscape, and a custom-lettering option that she envisioned in gold embossing. Option 3 won Sherry over almost immediately because it was on point with her branding goals to embrace girliness in a way that was sophisticated and empowering. Mariah took this initial concept and developed it into a full brand guide:

“The lettering is gorgeous, girly—I love the sparkle and its simplicity. It is so polished and really is great for our target audience.”

With the logo now freshly pressed, it was time to move on to packaging. Sherry had really done her homework by interviewing shop owners who were interested in her product. Many mentioned an aversion to items that have a logo all over the product, and customers echoed similar sentiments. Mariah agreed a less is more approach would be better: the logo’s placement on the product would be discreet and not overpowering.
Tip #2: Remember retailers are customers, too, and consider how best to reach them. 
And what about the packaging itself? Sherry had suggested using a turquoise color scheme, and after some thought (and field trips to stores where Mariah could imagine HipCity being stocked) Mariah had a few alternate ideas. She’d been listening to Sherry’s input but was also reading between the lines, identifying ways that she could improve upon each idea:
“When you’re coming into the market with a brand new, innovative idea like yours, I really like to encourage you to be brave & innovative with your packaging as well, where possible. Be a leader, not a follower. Don’t let the innovation stop with your product, carry it through your entire brand!”
Tip #3: Shift from “I want to fit in with the competition” to “I choose to stand out from the rest.” Then use your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) to help you do that.
As she fined-tuned the packaging, Mariah also worked on collateral like postcards, ribbons, buttons, stickers, and business cards, so that HipCity could have a complete package ready for their launch. The results were magical (those were actually Sherry’s words, not ours)!
“I mean again..tears…You worked so so hard (not for me) but WITH me. I think we had this beautiful communication that allowed magic to happen.”

Tip #4: Work with designers who will not only listen to your vision, but will take it to places you’d never even imagined. After all, we believe it’s called a launch for a reason. We can’t wait to help you with yours.

Contact us for take-off.

I Talk Website Essentials On the Create & Thrive Podcast

I have a podcast for you to listen to. Jess Van Den of Create & Thrive helps people turn their hobby into a thriving business. It was fun to speak to her about blogging, content, and design. We covered a lot of the website essentials you need to have for your creative business. If you’re putting together your own site, or would like to improve what you have, this conversation is sure to spark some ideas for you!

You can listen to this podcast by searching for “create & thrive” in your podcast program, or read more about it and download or listen to it here on Jess’ website.

You know that there is going to be a big focus on storytelling, since that’s what we’re all about here at Aeolidia. We also talk about learning how to send traffic to your own site, the benefits of having a blog,

Podcast interview with Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia on Create & Thrive

Listen to the podcast

Aeolidia’s Creative Biz Crushes on Instagram

We’ve been enjoying #followfriday on Instagram by featuring some of our favorite shops, designers, and makers. I’ve started including a quick business tip on each #aeolidiabizcrush post, so you can get some insight into why each biz is so popular.

Here are a few of our favorites. The like/comment links will take you to the page on Instagram. If you don’t see these pics in your feed reader, please click over to our site! You won’t regret it.







See all #aeolidiabizcrush posts here!

Visit @aeolidia here! We share sneak peeks of projects we’re working on, businesses we love, and stunning branding and design.

Do you think we would love your products? Mention @aeolidia in a comment on a photo of yours and I’ll take a look!

How to Create Content that Connects: Using Testimonials for Easy Marketing

Hello! I’m continuing on in my series around how to create website content that connects to your dream customer! If you’ve missed the prior ones, catch up here:

Today we’re talking about one of the most effective tools you have to create a relationship of trust between you and the customer – the ever important testimonial!

Whether you’re selling a product or service, using testimonials is one of the best, and easiest, forms of marketing because they allow you to sit back while others to do the talking for you.

So many of us worry about coming off as annoying or salesy when we talk about our business, and it can be hard to find the words to describe exactly what we have to offer, but quotes from your happy past customers speak volumes more than anything you could say anyway, because they speak directly from the customer’s perspective.

And, they speak the truth, about everything from the products you sell to your awesome customer service, which helps build trust in your brand.

Testimonials are the best way to convey to potential customers what their experience with you might be like!

Here are answers to some questions you might have about how to use testimonials, product reviews and other customer feedback most effectively around your site, to help you convert those visitors and sell more!

What makes a good testimonial?

You already know you want a great quote from a customer that addresses their experience with your products, but aim for a variety of testimonials that reflect not only the awesomeness of what you’re selling, but other important things customers are looking for – your excellent customer service, how you handle a customer’s problems or issues, reassurance for their worries or fears, etc.

The more of these sorts of details you can pull out from your customer feedback, the better. And the more you can find that will engage people emotionally, the better.

For example, which sounds more compelling or engaging to you as a potential customer?

  • “Your consulting sessions were great! I learned so much, thank you!”
  • OR “Some amazing things have happened for my biz since I spoke to you – you were the spark for a lot of change!” (<- an actual testimonial I received from a wonderful client)

Which one connects to you more on an emotional level? Which one makes you want to know more about their story? Which one sounds like the kind of results you’d hope to experience?

When you get specific about what your customer will receive, what they might feel like after buying from you, what their experience as a whole might feel like, that’s what makes for a compelling, converting testimonial, one that actually speaks for your brand and helps you sell what you do!

The best way to get a good testimonial like that is to ask! And to ask specific questions that will pull out those details that your site visitors will connect with.

Questions like:

  • What was your experience like working with me?
  • How did you feel after you worked with me/received the item/wore it for the first time?
  • How did you feel opening the package?
  • Did you have any problems or issues checking out – if so, how were they resolved?
  • What are the results you’ve had from {your product}?
  • Would you recommend us to your friends?
  • How have things changed since using our product?
  • Anything else you’d like to share?
  • Etc…

Great testimonials are specific and emotional, and you can get great ones just by asking! By following up with your customers! (More on that a couple paragraphs on down… keep reading :)

And one last important tip (that I see a lot of people forget!) – be sure to include the customer’s name and location, to help validate that these words are from real people, not just some quotes you made up.

You can also include images of the customer’s face, or of the products they bought, their business logo, etc. to add some visual interest and further the “proof” that these folks are real people with real opinions!

What are the best ways to share your testimonials?

The most obvious, and definitely an effective, approach is to create a testimonial page which shares many different ones and can be linked to from your main navigation, elsewhere in the homepage, in your footer, or whenever you mention it in a blog post or social media update.

You can also include a quote or two on your homepage, or create a graphic that scrolls through multiple quotes from different people. You could include product specific feedback on the product page itself, or share testimonials regularly to your newsletter list, or on social media.

There are many awesome ways to incorporate product reviews, feedback or other testimonials on your website. Feel free to get creative and think outside the box in how you use them!

Display wise, to make the testimonial eye-catching, you don’t want just a big blob of text. Pull out one of the main points in the quote to use as an attention grabbing headline, or bold or italicize the points you want to emphasize most in the text for the visitors who are just scanning it.

And if you have them on a rotating graphic, make sure you’re displaying them long enough for people to actually read it! A good rule of thumb to remember: If you, who are familiar with the words, can read the whole thing quickly twice, someone who’s seeing it for the first time will have enough time to read it once (an old trick I learned from video editing in college about how long to display text on the screen :)

How do you get more good testimonials?

Echoing what I mentioned above, cause it’s worth repeating, you ask for them!

Plain and simple, you need to be asking your customers for feedback directly, no matter how or where you sell.

On Etsy and the like, feedback is followed up for you and customers are sent emails asking for reviews of their recent order. There’s no reason you can’t replicate this if you sell in a different avenue online, on your own dot-com.

Set up a mailing, perhaps an auto responder, that emails people asking for feedback on their recent order (using specific Qs like I talked about above.) You could set it up to go out with their shipping notification, or send it, say, 2 weeks after it’s ordered to make sure it has arrived first.

If you’re a brick and mortar owner, have a feedback form right there at the register that they can fill out and enter into a fishbowl for a monthly raffle, or something – you get valuable feedback, they get the chance to win a little discount from your shop or something free from a monthly drawing.

Ask directly on social media for any past customers who can share a pic of them using your product.

Create a hashtag for your work out “in the wild” where customers can share it.

Send an email to your list asking for people to share feedback, and offer something in return.

Create a survey to send out to your newsletter and social followers where they’ll be entered into a giveaway to win a gift card to your shop. Have fun with it!

If you haven’t had any customers yet, get your products into the hands of some real people (for free) in exchange for valuable feedback! These can be friends and family to begin with, sure! They can be anyone who’s expressed interest in your brand who you’ve had contact with. If you’re at the very very beginning stages of your business, turn to the people who’ve encouraged you to turn your hobby into a real business – get their feedback to share, and it’ll help you attract your first paying customers down the road!

Should I change the testimonials up on my site sometimes?

Yes! Keep the best ones up, but I think it’s good to also add new, better ones, whenever you have ‘em! You don’t want repeat visitors over the span of many months starting to wonder, how recent is this feedback? Have they had any new customers since?

Whenever I receive a nice email with great feedback on my Pitch Kit, or from a recent marketing consulting session I had, I first reply to the sender and say thank you, and be sure to ask their permission if I may use their words on my site as a testimonial, and that I’ll link back to their site if I do. They always say yes.

I then save those emails in my “kind words” folder in my email account, where I can find them again easily, and as I revamp my site and update my product pages, I can integrate the newer ones in different ways. That way, people can see I don’t have the same ol’ testimonials as I did 5 years ago and then wonder if I’ve had any more clients since!

Changing up your reviews and feedback on your site is just another part of keeping things fresh and engaging to better draw and keep people’s attention.

As you can see, if you don’t have testimonials yet on your site, you’re missing out on an easy, FREE, and super effective form of marketing! It’s one of the quickest, easiest things to do for your site, so it’s something I’m going to challenge you to do TODAY!

Take one step from wherever you’re at. It could be writing a recent client with some Qs to get feedback, or creating a hashtag for your goods out in the wild to share on social media, creating a survey, setting up an auto responder, adding a great quote to your homepage, etc!

What’s one thing you’re going to do TODAY to incorporate BETTER testimonials on your site that will really engage your customers?

Let us know in the comments below! Or, if you have any questions we can help answer!

Now, get out there and go get some great customer feedback! (And remember to take a little time to bask in the glow of it :)

Begin with your Brand: The Paper Seahorse

The Paper Seahorse shop

The Paper Seahorse offers luscious paper goods and crafts to passionate creative folks by curating handwritten and handmade experiences. Tona, the owner of the company, wrote to us when she was ready to have a professional new logo and identity created for The Paper Seahorse. She told us:

We created a logo two years ago to test the waters by walking the NSS and hosting some classes. Our goal is to have a logo and branding guidelines we can use for business cards, letterhead, envelopes, stickers, flyers, web site, etc. We would hope people see the logo and have a sense of the organic, classic yet modern, friendly, unusual and edgy feel [of our shop].

Margot on our team got to work creating a new seahorse! Tona wanted a more simplified version of what she began with, and Margot found the perfect balance of simplifying the mark, while including slightly irregular, pointy bits and details, plus a little twinkle in his eye, to add a touch of character! Once the seahorse was finalized, she rounded out the brand identity by choosing fonts and colors which Tona can use on both the web and print materials.

The Paper Seahorse logo before and after

We asked Tona what made her decide it was time to make the leap to having a professional logo created. She shared with us:

Officially opening an online store and physical shop was the trigger to get a professional logo done. Not one that I made myself! I also know that there are so many mediums and channels of communications that you need to have many variations in many sizes and formats. Only true design professionals can do this and help you think through all the nuances of social media and marketing.

We have a more cohesive brand and identity because we have so many different elements to work with, we can be really fun and creative. Before we only had a logo (a mark and type).

It was totally worth the investment and I am probably a bad client from a design perspective and wanting to micromanage the process, however Margot never let on and guided me gently through the process and I had to learn to let go and trust her. I am so glad I did!

The additional resources that Arianne shared with me were super helpful too. I also love that your own packaging and experience along the way (all the touch points) were very well branded and professional. I wish I could find every partner/vendor experience to be like this one. I highly recommend you all to everyone!


Tona used her new brand identity to create store signs, stickers, bags, tags, and all of the other print collateral that she needs to provide a fantastic customer experience. Tona was also able to take her new logo, brand identity and the brand guidelines Margot created and use them to set up a simple website, which is a perfect first step! When The Paper Seahorse hits its next phase of growth, we’ll be here to create a beautiful, functional custom website.

the paper seahorse storefront

the paper seahorse print materials

Does Your Business Need a new Brand Identity?

If you can afford just one thing, and the rest will have to wait, begin with your brand! You’ve done the thinking about what’s unique about your brand, what it stands for, and what its story is. Now tell that story to an Aeolidia designer, and let her create a graphic design that will communicate this and show that your business is legitimate, interesting, and worth learning more about. Talk to us!

Announcement: Get on Aeolidia’s Schedule for 2016

Thinking of hiring us next year?

ANNOUNCEMENT! Aeolidia is going to start pre-booking client projects through 2016. We have a few spots left in January, so don’t delay if you have big plans for the new year.

This is a big change. Historically we’ve always been ready to start a project right away.

No more. If we’re in your short or long-range plans, please email me to get on our schedule before it gets booked solid!

If you would like to begin working on your brand identity or website with us any time in the next twelve months, I want to hear from you right away. First come, first served, and I’ve already announced this to my lovely newsletter subscribers.

What we do: brands and custom Shopify websites

We want our work for you to be the best we can make it, so we have focused tightly on two specialties for creative businesses.

Logo and brand identity design

When we create your brand identity, we take care of everything – including print materials, online graphics, packaging, and product presentation. We will get you retail-ready!

Here is an example of a new brand:

Tickled Teal Brand Identity

Here are examples of print and packaging design:

Posie's brand collateral

Erica Weiner product packaging

Mockingbird print collateral

For more examples, see:

Aeolidia brand identity portfolio
Aeolidia print & packaging portfolio

Custom Shopify website creation

We create custom ecommerce website design, tailored to your business. We don’t adjust an existing theme. We learn all about your business, start with a blank white page, and make something that will sell your products specifically.

Here are some examples of custom Shopify websites:

Bel Kai website on Shopify

Bel Kai website on Shopify

Project Life website on Shopify

Project Life website on Shopify

Aheirloom site on Shopify

Aheirloom website on Shopify

For more examples of custom Shopify sites, see:

Aeolidia website portfolio

When to hire us

Are you wondering when the right time to hire us is? I have put together a lot of information that will help you evaluate.

Getting started

If you have big plans to launch or rebrand your business in the new year, or to get a site up before your next big tradeshow, TODAY is the day you need to email me. Let’s talk.

Get that date locked in now, spend some time preparing (with our guidance), and we’ll be ready to leap into action to take your business to the next level.

I can’t wait to hear about your business and to make a plan to help you meet your goals!

Maybe later?

If now is not the right time to commit to a design project with us, no worries! You may join our brand new “schedule openings” email list. When we have openings in the future, we will send a brief email to let you know what our schedule is looking like. We won’t mail again until spring 2016 at the earliest, as we’re booking January right now. These emails will go out, at the very most, four times a year.

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If we’re in your long-range plans, I’d love to keep in touch.

Sourcing and Creating Products: Shop Sweet Lulu

This is an interview with one of our clients, Jessie Senese, who runs Shop Sweet Lulu, a shop selling high-quality, on-trend partyware sourced from around the globe. Jessie shares her insights on sourcing and creating products, managing inventory and growing a company that is as fun to work in as it is to shop from.

Interview with Jessie Senese of Shop Sweet Lulu

jessie senese of shop sweet lulu

How did you your business start? Did you do any kind of market research or business planning?

I opened Shop Sweet Lulu in the summer of 2010, but I really started my business in 2001, the year my daughter Olivia turned one. Being the daughter of an entrepreneur, I always knew I would work for myself, too, but up until that point, I was never certain what that would look like. I had planned to go to law school but instead I got married and had a baby right out of college. Planning that first birthday was exactly the creative outlet I needed. I had so much fun sourcing and creating products for her first birthday that I thought I could make a business out of it. I attended gift shows, sourced and photographed products, and pored over books on guerrilla marketing and following your passion. I cobbled together a little paper catalog in Photoshop… and fell flat on my face. This was before Etsy and Pinterest and blogs; I was a new mom living in the suburbs and had no social network to speak of. I had no one to share my little paper catalog with. So I moved on. But I kept crafting and making things.

When Etsy launched in 2005, I fell madly in love with the idea of selling my handmade wares online. I opened a shop selling little things I sewed for babies and children. I also started a blog, where I showcased the things I made and my “adventures in craft, thrifting, motherhood and life.” I never had very many blog followers, but I was actively involved in writing it – so along the way, I took classes in photography and later Illustrator, and learned how to style photos a little better. These skills would prove to be quite useful later on!

In 2010, I had a repeat client on Etsy that ordered custom fabric garlands for some elaborate parties she was styling. Candy tables and party stylists were a brand new concept, even though they were essentially what I had wanted to do so many years ago. After seeing photos of the events she styled, I fell back into the daydreams of party planning. Living even deeper in the suburbs this time, but armed with the internet, I decided to open up an online party store. I wanted to call the business Sweet Lulu (Lulu being a nickname for my daughter, Olivia), but that domain name was taken – so I added ‘shop’ to the beginning of it. I still planned on calling the business Sweet Lulu, but Shop kind of became part of the name itself… and thus, Shop Sweet Lulu was born. I remember being terrified at the prospect of getting ‘stuck’ with hundreds of dollars worth of striped candy bags from England, a few boxes of paper straws, and 15 spools of cotton twine… my first offerings in the shop!

shop sweet lulu at work

How many people currently work with you, and what do they do?

There are eleven amazing “Lulus” working behind the scenes to help me run the business. Dana is in charge of shipping and customer service; Stevie runs all aspects of social media and the blog; Jena, Lisa, Pam, Melinda, and Jill fulfill orders and pack them up all pretty; Anna, Anneli, Suzanne and Amy work in our production room making custom items and packaging bulk products. All of the ladies are able to switch roles and help out where needed, so we’ve always got a rotating cast of characters here at the office. Finally, my husband isn’t technically on staff, but he’s the one unloading heavy pallets, sweeping the warehouse, and driving to FedEx after hours with last minute shipments – I absolutely couldn’t run the business without his help at this point.

shop sweet lulu toast

How long did it take before your business started making a profit?

I started out with very little inventory and working out of my home office, so the business was profitable almost immediately. Instead of cashing out, however, I kept rolling the profits back into the business to amass more inventory – this is how I was able to scale up the business.

How are your products created? What have you learned about this along the way?

Most of our products are purchased wholesale through various vendors around the world. I try to source unique and hard to find products, as well as simple items that can be reimagined and used a million different ways. I also like to source products from handmade vendors. I attend gift shows in New York and Atlanta every few months to source new products. And I’m a pretty good googler.

shop sweet lulu products

shop sweet lulu balloons

How do you handle shipping and customer service and organize the back-end of your business? What tips do you have for newbies?

When I started the business, I handled every aspect of it, including customer service and shipping. Now I have Dana to take care of it, but the basic principles remain the same. We strive to handle customer service in the same way that we’d like to be treated, get orders out within one business day, and send out each package like a little present to its recipient. We use a custom blend of pretty pink and gold crinkle shreds and send a piece or two of taffy with every order to make our customers feel like they’re opening a gift when they receive their package.

For newbies, I would say that customer service needs to be your number one priority. It doesn’t matter how fabulous your product is if it arrives too late, gets lost in the mail, or arrives damaged. Your customer doesn’t care WHY, they just want you to fix it. They can be very demanding and unreasonable at times, but you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes and ask how you would like the issue resolved if the situation was reversed.

shop sweet lulu festive backdrop

How does a standard day of running Shop Sweet Lulu go?

Either my husband or I will leave for the office around 8:00, before the first Lulus arrive for the day, and print orders from the night before. I try to catch up on my emails, which is a never-ending task. I’ve heard of the inbox zero phenomenon, but I’m at more like inbox 3700. We get tons of requests for product donations, sponsorship opportunities, and product submissions daily. I think people think we’re a much larger company that we actually are!

Throughout the course of the day, I may text Stevie, the social media director, 18 times – we go back and forth all day. If we’re really busy or understaffed, I will pack orders, answer the phones, or do customer service emails. I could be taking product photos, working on a postcard design, or ordering products – I spend a large chunk of every day just trying to maintain our inventory. I can hear the ladies packing orders from my office, so whenever they have a question about anything, I pop out and help them.

I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful bunch of women working for me – we laugh and sing and take the occasional dance break throughout the day. We work “mommy hours” since all of us have kids in school, so the office closes by 4pm to get back home to our families. If the kids are occupied, I usually work another hour or two in the evening or after they’re in bed. I basically live my job, so it’s a good thing I love it.

jessie senese family

What mistakes or setbacks have you weathered?

My biggest mistakes have been related to ordering more inventory that we can sell. On occasion, we thought we were on to the “next best thing” and ordered it heavily. I’m still sitting on pallets of some of these products, which I will have to sell for less than I paid. It would have been wiser to order a small amount of the product first to test the waters before diving in.

shop sweet lulu shipment

How did you promote your business initially, and how has that changed?

Remember that blog I used to write, and all the women I ‘met’ through the blogosphere? I first started posting about the shop on the blog, and then I reached out to several of my blog acquantainces, for whom I thought my products would be a good fit (the young moms who could use party supplies for their children’s birthdays, etc). I offered several of them products to give away on their blogs. I also started joining social media groups. The one that had the most impact for me was group called Martha Stewart Dreamers Into Doers. I remember filling out their profile questionnaire and one of the questions asked “is this endeavor your full time job?” And I answered YES. And it was almost like my answering yes willed it to be so, because the next year was a whirlwind for my business!

How do you distinguish your business from other party stores in your niche?

When I opened Shop Sweet Lulu, boutique party stores were a concept that didn’t really exist yet. I’ve always just followed my gut when curating products the shop – so there will never be another store exactly like mine, because everything is very much my taste. However, now that there are so many party stores online, I try to differentiate us from other shops by the level of service we offer. I try to carry a lovely selection of products, ship superfast, and offer the best customer service we can.

shop sweet lulu photo shoot

How did you know it was time for a new website? What were you nervous about?

I’ve actually needed a new website not once, but three times! As my business has grown, we’ve needed more and more functionality. There were times, on really crazy busy days, that we were CTRL+P printing each and every order one by one, because that’s how we had to manage with that platform. We would try to jerry-rig the site to make it last as long as we could, but eventually we would have to call in the big guns at Aeolidia and upgrade to a new platform. My concern was always “am I going to have to re-create all of these product listings?” We now have over 4,000 different SKUs, so if we ever had to start over from scratch, it would be a disaster. Luckily, everyone I’ve ever worked with at Aeolidia has been skilled enough to write code to transfer my products over with a lot less work involved on our end.

What were the three biggest differences the Aeolidia-designed website made to your business?

When I first opened my Etsy shop, all those years ago, I remember an online store called Mahar Drygoods that I browsed with admiration. I knew if I ever had an online store of my own, I would email the developer of that site, Aeolidia, even though I wasn’t sure how to pronounce their name. And when I did open my online store, they were the only developer I contacted. I knew they “got” me right from the beginning, because they took the time to ask me pointed questions and to understand my brand – possibly even before I did. I think the reason people assume we’re such a large company (instead of the mom-and-pop shop that we really are) is because we look like it. We have an incredibly designed, functional website to greet our customers, which contributes greatly to the success of our business. Being an online store, our website is our everything!

See this project in our portfolio.

Can we help you grow your business with a professional website?

Sometimes it is just time to start over with a smart and modern website. Come tell us more about your business.

How to Better Your Business With Aeolidia

Today we’re going to talk about when and how to hire a web designer. I have heard from a few people lately that we’re in their long-term plans, or they are preparing to hire us next year. I love this! I’ve been sharing some tips with them, and thought I’d share with you, in case you’re thinking about it.

The businesses we work with start small. One person filling orders from a makeshift shipping station in the garage isn’t unusual. They keep at the challenging work of growing a business with persistence and good cheer. One day they notice that the original way they ran the business no longer seems to fit. They need new systems in place and need to hire help; they need a cost-effective way of increasing production that stays true to their business. And – this is where we come in – that handmade website is not cutting it anymore, and the amateur packaging is making it hard for them to move forward.


Bamboletta, an example of a “big little” business. Read their story.

In the earliest days of Aeolidia, a decade ago, we worked exclusively with people at the beginning of that timeline. Our clients were the sole proprietors in their garages, making everything by hand. Our business has grown up along with these designers, and we now serve them in the second phase of their business. This is the tipping point where they can become a “big little” business, making more money without overworking themselves.

Who should hire a web designer like Aeolidia?

If you don’t understand your brand, or haven’t found your customer base, it won’t make sense to hire us …yet!

In the early days and years of a business, things can and should change a lot. You may rethink who your audience is, what belongs in your product line, and how to structure your business. This is a great time for experimentation and learning by trial and error. It’s not such a great time to invest in a custom website design or a professional brand identity.

If you use a free Shopify theme and change your mind about it later, no loss, right? If you hire a lower-priced web designer, that site may serve you well during this phase of growth.

growing a handmade business with queen bee creations

Queen Bee Creations, growing their handmade business. Read more.

When you hit the next phase of growth, we are here for you! Our area of expertise is with businesses at the tipping point who need a push away from their DIY efforts and over to where they can make much bigger sales. Think Shark Tank, Oprah, Martha Stewart features. After working with us, you’ll be ready for whoever knocks at your door.

You’re in the right place if you have a great product and a growing customer base, but feel held back from reaching the next step for your business. The stand-out product packaging and high-converting website you work on with us will knock down what’s holding you back from reaching your potential.

Our work is an investment intended to pay for itself quickly, and we have seen this happen over and over. No one else knows your creative business as well as we do, has the combined team to help with each stage of the project, or can turn around a website project as quickly and effectively as we can.

Read more about the right time to hire Aeolidia.

How should I prepare long-term?

If you don’t feel like your business is at that tipping point, but you want to be there (who wouldn’t?), make that your goal and work backwards to figure out what you should be doing right now. I recommend reading the book, The ONE ThingHere is my post on how to apply this to your business.

If now isn’t the time, I would suggest focusing on building your brand, increasing profit, and planning for us to build an online home for your business that will take you to the next level.

In the meantime, please sign up for our newsletter, where I provide all kinds of help and ideas for improving your business and website.

How should I prepare for a project next year?

If you feel ready, how exciting! We would love to help. Making your little business into a “big little” business is our favorite thing. Our work is transformative, and you won’t believe how legit you’ll be when we’re done.

Class in progress: Circa15 - from Etsy to brick and mortar

Circa15 Fabric Studio moves from Etsy to brick and mortar. Read more.

1) Understand what to expect from the site

Our work is not a magic bullet that can make a failing business succeed. Our websites don’t come with built-in traffic. Aeolidia is here to provide a faster car to people who are already great drivers. Learn what a custom website will and won’t do for you.

2) Get in touch with us

We are often booked many months in advance, so make sure you talk to us early on. We will make a plan for you, get you on our schedule, and give you homework to ensure that your project is as successful as it can be.

3) Prepare for a marketing strategy

Your new brand identity and website will give you new opportunities. You can confidently reach out to publications and stores that you may have been intimidated about approaching in the past. You need to make the most of your professional new look by knowing how to reach out and making a sustainable plan for doing so regularly. If you don’t have someone on your team to do this, we offer marketing consultations as part of our service.

4) Prepare your content

Homework, we say? You want this website to sell! We don’t do the “silk purse out of a sow’s ear” thing. Meaning, we can’t build an effective website with poor photography or boring product descriptions. The most successful website projects are work for us and work for you, too. This isn’t a task you can hand off, put out of your mind, and return to find a perfect website waiting for you.

Here is what we need before beginning our work:

  • The text and photography you would like to see on the homepage of your site. We will help you with strategy here, and you can hire our copywriter and our product photographer to take care of both of these.
  • Text and photography for the information pages of your site. This is your “about” page, your “stores” page, your “contact” page, even boring but necessary pages such as your returns/exchanges policy and terms and conditions. Our copywriter is great at turning your lists of information into flowing paragraphs that will sell your work.
  • list of your shop collections. These are the categories your products fall into, which allow customers to browse your offerings. These don’t need to be final, and we will help with user-friendliness.
  • list of informational pages and links. What pages will you want on your site? What information do you need to share, and how will you break it up? Our article about creating a site map is helpful here.
  • Your product photography. This needs to do the job of selling your work when people can’t pick your product up in person and get a good look at it. Poor product photography is going to kill your site. If you’re in doubt about your photographs, Jen on our team will style and photograph your items for you. She can do the white background shots you want for your product detail page as well as the hero shots showing your products off for the home page.
  • Your product descriptions. In the same way that your photos are the next best stand-in for holding your products in person, your product descriptions are your next best stand-in for you getting to talk to your customer about your products. Make these interesting! Jena has some tips for you here, and our copywriter is excellent at this.
  • Plans for payment, shipping methods, inventory management, and accounting. We can help with the details, but you’ll need a good idea of your broad plans for each of these things. Do you need a merchant account? Are you all set to start shipping orders yourself, or have you hired a fulfillment company? What about a POS system to link your ecommerce shop with your brick and mortar? Do you need to sync your online orders with an existing accounting software or are you in the market for something new?

A prepared business is a happy business!

How can we help you get to your goal? We have an announcement going out to our newsletter subscribers next week. Join the newsletter for tips for building your business, access to our free downloadable resources, and get our news before we post it to the blog.