An ecommerce brick and mortar business is the best of both worlds: you can build your brand and a loyal customer following in person at your location, while not restricting yourself to just the customers in your vicinity. When your brick and mortar shop is successful, focusing on your online sales is a smart next step to take. We used Shopify to take Debbe’s online business from ho-hum to wowza!
Founded in 2006 by Debbe Hamada, Tilde is a place where you’ll find treasures for yourself and your surroundings, and gifts made with extra thought and love. You’ll find bursts of color, clean lines, and a story behind every item. This is an interview with Debbe Hamada, who runs Tilde. Learn about the day to day work of running a brick and mortar business, and how Debbe balances running a shop both online and in person.
Interview with Debbe of Tilde
How did you your business start? Did you do any kind of market research or business planning?
I originally opened my business with a partner who was a buyer/merchandiser with a women’s clothing retailer. She was working as a buyer of women’s clothing at that time and had access to reports showing sales statistics on various categories in the fashion market. They were predicting the strongest area of future growth was women’s accessories and gifts. This was in 2005. Meaning jewelry and handbags and other items that I loved! We worked with SCORE through the Small Business Administration and took a free course and talked to an adviser in our field to write a business plan. Then we talked to a credit union about getting a line of credit. This was in 2005 when it was much easier to get money from banks. We opened the business with our own money, but used the credit line to buy our first round of opening inventory. We opened with a quiet bang. My partner left within 3 months to go back to a ‘real job’ and I’ve continued to operate this growing business solo for the last 9 years.
How do you balance running a brick and mortar store and an online store? Is one significantly more profitable than the other?
Right now our brick & mortar is bringing in 98% of the revenue. We bring in only 2-3% through our online store. Rebuilding our website through Aeolidia and investing more in Google ads and other online drivers to our website is our focus for these last months of 2015. We are already seeing a much stronger visit/click through rate to our website. Regardless of online or not – our balance comes through a division of tasks within Tilde between myself and my shop manager. We each have areas we supervise and assist each other as needed. We overlap when working the desk and assisting customers and trade off who is working the floor or the office to get all the work done that goes into running a busy shop.
Is adding an ecommerce shop twice as much work as a brick and mortar, or is it easy to add once your have your business running in your retail location?
Again – see question #2. I believe it’s much easier since my brick & mortar is running smoothly. We have the storage, packing and office space to sell our inventory online without increasing costs of space or staffing.
How does a standard day of running Tilde go?
After 9 years I have a bit of a handle on the busy/slow cycles of this business which allows me to staff our 7 day-a-week operation pretty accurately.
I work 5 days a week within the shop. I usually wake up and check my email and respond only to issues needed – usually someone rescheduling a morning appt. Once in the shop I try to deal with what I feel are more office tasks for the first half of the day. That would be vendor issues, writing purchase orders, vendor visits to show a line, bill paying, email, writing social media and taking pictures, writing the newsletters, advertisements, payroll, facility specifics (alarm systems, lighting, heating, windows, leaks) for at least 6 hours when I have a staff person working the front desk. Then I spend at least 2 hours on the floor so customers can interact with me – and me with them – to see what is selling. Two days a week I’m the main person on the floor for half the day and try to work on office issues the rest of the day. Though if it’s busy I end up working the floor the entire day. I’ve been very good at taking two days a week away from the store (2 days off!). I hired a bookkeeper two years ago which has been invaluable for clearing tasks off of one of these days away from the shop. But I still spend at least 4-6 hours on one day off dealing with a problem or task that requires more concentration. My goal every year is to try to not work on the business on my day off – but I haven’t cleared that goal year.
A big challenge for a small shop owner is that customers expect to see you in the shop or on the floor. To the average customer they have no idea why you would not be just hanging out to talk to them whenever they come in. And this is a big perk of shopping at a small store – the idea that you can personally know the owner and have their ear. Yet adversely – this is what increases the hours we all work each day on the nuts and bolts of what keeps a shop stocked and running. I’m still trying to figure out how I can be off the floor more often so I can work less on my time off. I have a great staff that has been there for years. But customers truly want to speak just to the owner.
What mistakes or setbacks have you weathered?
The biggest setback was having my partner leave the business right at the beginning of opening the shop. It would have been great to have had someone to ponder over business decision and a shoulder to lean on. It did show me how much I can shoulder on and make things happen on my own. I have skills! I’ve been fortunate to have a great shop manager who works full time and two amazing part-time employees who have worked with me almost as long as the store has been in business. So I feel we have a solid team.
How did you promote your business initially, and how has that changed?
When we opened in 2006 print advertising was still a happening thing. We placed ads in our neighborhood and city-wide papers. We also pitched these newspapers and local magazines for editorials more often – which did draw people in the door. Though we still have editorial mentions – it doesn’t have the same immediate result. And ads in papers do nothing for us.
Today we advertise on one key blog and then almost exclusively on social media. We just started doing Google ads and are on a few other online websites that don’t help us much. In this new year our plan is to pitch more online national blogs for editorial which has shown an immediate click through to our online shop.
How did you know it was time for a new website? What were you nervous about?
Our last website was built on a platform that required much maintenance. Its back-end SEO had failed so we found ourselves re-coding products that we had entered multiple times. And for a shop with over 500 products online that is a huge hassle! It also was not mobile friendly and visually looked outdated.
We knew we needed a new website built that had strong SEO and was mobile friendly. And with one of our top goals being to build our online business – a new website was an obvious must-do.
What were the three biggest differences the Aeolidia-designed website made to your business?
I feel that a business’s website is part of the one-two punch needed to represent your business to the public. I feel completely confident that our new website tells the story of Tilde exactly the way we would describe it to someone we met on the street.
A. I feel confident pitching our products to national bloggers and press with a link to our website as it looks both professional and tells our story from the homepage.
B. It’s mobile friendly and we are seeing the majority of our click throughs coming from mobile devices.
C. The SEO works again! We are showing up on search engines and we know that as long as we hold up our end – our web sales are going to start growing again.
Thanks so much Debbe for the inside look at running your business!
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