Lasting businesses aren't built overnight.
It takes consistent action to grow a sustainable venture, so it's important to find and focus on what you have the skills, time and resources to do on a regular basis.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who believes consistency is the key to building a successful long-term business—that's it's better to be consistently good than just occasionally great.
Meet Dafina Smith of Sunny's Hair and Wigs: the source to "change your hair, change your life" for all textures and tones of hair.
The benefits of having a brick and mortar presence.
Why you have to have the perception that you have everything in stock when owning a physical store and how it’s different when you’re running an online store.
How to grow an email list by running and promoting giveaways.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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Store: Sunny's Hair
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Felix: Today we’re joined by Dafina Smith from SunnysHair.com. Sunny’s Hair and Wigs is the source to change your hair, change your life, for all textures and tones. It was started in 2007 and based out of New York and Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome, Dafina.
Dafina: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. Tell us a bit more about your store and the products that you sell.
Dafina: Sunny’s Hair is literally we really aim to change your hair, change your life. We do that primarily through hair extensions. What is unique about us is I almost think of us as the Nordstrom of hair extension world. We really lead with our knowledge, we really know our products and we really carry a really great assortment of products. We have our own line, just like a lot of department stores will have their own private line. That’s one of our top sellers. That is hair that we import directly from India. Then we also sell some really quality brands that I would say are like the Gucci and Louis of hair extensions. That is our business. It’s an extension of my family’s business that I brought online. We’re really excited because next year we’re going to be celebrating 25 years in business and 10 years online. It’s really exciting.
Felix: Yeah, that’s amazing. It’s funny because we’re just talking before about … I just got married recently and …
Felix: Thanks. My wife and I, or I guess my fiance at the time, we were going around and I didn’t realize how many varieties of hair extensions there were and how expensive they could get. I was completely blown away. I didn’t know that there was just whole aisles in some stores just filled with extensions. It’s a whole new world to me. I think it’s very timely that you come on and talk to me about this. I have a little bit of understanding of what it’s like as a consumer, at least.
Dafina: That’s so funny. A lot of guys will say that, is that usually through weddings, for a lot times, for women, that’s the first time that they’ll tiptoe and think about it. They really want to have these impactful photos. Hair extensions always adds volume and length. That’s funny.
Felix: Yeah, exactly. You were mentioning a little bit about the family business that’s going to celebrate the 25 years. That’s amazing. That’s a long time in business and obviously very successful. At the time when you decided to take the business, or at least start the online aspect, online, I guess, department of the business, was it a hard transition to come online? What was the experience like?
Dafina: That’s a really good question. After graduating from Georgetown University, I came up to New York. I always had a love for retail and branding and sales. I had a background. I started my career at the Buying Program in Bloomingdale’s. I hate to say it, this was in 2000. A lot of brands were just coming online. E-commerce was something that was more propelled by E-bay. It was new. I loved the idea but I just didn’t know … I dreamed of maybe doing a denim store, or something. Through building and cultivating a lot of great brands at Bloomingdale’s, it was during the time of a lot of urban brands were growing. Sean John and Diesel and a lot of street wear. It was just a really exciting time. You learned so much. You really learned the numbers of retail. I was able to pivot back to my parents business. I knew a lot about forecasting and open and buy and gross profit margins and just looking at it through that lens, I was like, “You know what? This is a pretty good solid business.”
I recognized that you had a lot of women who once they start using this, it becomes a part of the way they present themselves. They’re coming back, they’re spending a lot of money. That was one thing that really was exciting to me was that you had a high average order value, but not a lot of ceremony and celebration around the purchase. To bring it online, my parents had a store and I was wanting to do something in the online world. I had flirted with maybe doing jewelry, or denim, as I had mentioned. Then one night my sister and I were on a phone call and we were like, “Well, what if we approach Mom and Dad about bringing their store online and we would run it? This way they would have an online presence to direct traffic to their store.” I think at first my parents were like, “Sure, whatever.” I don’t even think they were really processing where people would put their credit cards, etc., but I think they were really open. There wasn’t a lot of struggle or convincing. It just felt very organic.
Felix: Makes sense. Obviously, starting a business, or starting an online business with an existing offline store is completely different than just starting straight off the bat with an online store. What parts of the offline business, the brick and mortar business, did you feel helped you get a head start? What parts were you, not necessarily reuse, but did you already have in place that helped you get that online store going?
Dafina: That’s a excellent question. I think what is amazing opportunity if you do have a chance to do brick and mortar. For me, I really grew up working occasionally on weekends and in summers occasionally behind the counter selling hair and talking to the customer and really being able to identify common questions and recognizing … I think one of the biggest things is that you start to really see that in a store you have to give the perception that you’re very big and that you have a lot in stock. Really, for a lot of people, you typically sell probably 20 percent of your stock is responsible for 80 percent of your sales. The rest is just [jah-jing 00:07:50], I guess. Online, you don’t have to fill the shelves with all of the stuff that may or may not sell. You can curate a lot more.
It was just really a great thing to be able to bring the customer … You know your customer. You’ve been talking to them. You don’t have to draw a customer avatar. You know these people in your mind. That’s what’s great about a brick and mortar and I think it can be a good and bad thing. I think one of the bad things that it can be is that, and I think that e-commerce is just starting to evolve away from this, is that it does sometimes bring you into this mindset of making it like, “I’m taking my store and I’m doing an online catalog and I am just …” You’re not talking the way you would talk to your customers on your e-commerce site. You put up your product description but it’s not conversational, it’s not engaging. Those can be some of the challenges but we knew our customer.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve heard that time and time again about one of the benefits of starting offline first is that you actually get to talk to your customers and understand what kind of questions that they might have that they probably wouldn’t ask if you only communicated with them online. You just don’t have that opportunity to engage the customer that way. That’s a great point. You mentioned that one of the negative sides of having an offline store, brick and mortar, is that you have to have this perception that you have everything in stock. Why do you feel like you can’t curate it the way that you would curate an online store?
Dafina: I think people don’t like to go into a store that feels empty and that’s changing as people approach more of a boutique. For instance, if you go to the store, and most of the time, I just know this even with retail, most of the time it’s basics kind of sell, but you have to draw people in with the shiny object. You have to have on the mannequin something that most people are not really going to buy. You’re telling a story and you’re creating an experience. Retail is very experiential. You’re selling not who you actually are, but the potential of who you could be. That’s what retail really does and engages people in. I like in New York and 90 percent of what I wear is black. It just happens. I moved here three years ago, I had all these great colors. I don’t want to go into a store that’s all black everything. I want to believe that I could go out one night and wear sequin shorts, this and that. I usually leave with a black t-shirt. That’s what I think you get caught up in when you have a actual brick and mortar.
Felix: That makes sense. Do you feel like this is a experience that you need to replicate for your customers online? Give this, sell them the story, sell them of the potential, give them the flashy stuff up front and then they might end up getting something in between flashy and I guess boring, somewhere in between, when they actually leave?
Dafina: I think that online that it isn’t the case. I think that because you’re missing that visceral element of touching and trusting, you don’t … I think that people really want to see what’s going to arrive in the mail and not so much … Lifestyle is important in e-commerce, but I think the things that really convert are really seeing for … What is a color going to look like on me? Really seeing a close up of what we call in hair extensions the weft or the tip. Really seeing the details and dimensions, how they actually are, are really important. I think sometimes you can see a lot of the sites that are just gorgeous. They’re engaging and these just visually dynamic things, but they don’t necessarily convert as well. I think there’s just a lot of noise when you’re shopping online. You just need to know like, “I’m going to go through all of this. Give you my credit card, wait for it to come in the mail. I need to know what to expect.”
Felix: Right. There’s a little bit less trust when you’re buying online, even today, that people don’t have type for that kind of, I don’t want to call it BS, but they don’t have time for the fluff. They want to know exactly what they’re getting. I think that’s a great point.
Dafina: I think content marketing can help give you the lifestyle, but in terms of your product pages, your site, the meat involved, it needs to not be so aspirational.
Felix: Makes sense. You said something earlier that really caught my attention which was that your particular products have high order average value, but not a lot of ceremonious celebration around the purchase. Can you say more about this? Why is that a advantage?
Dafina: When I was at Bloomingdale’s and we would have shopping nights and you would have celebrities come and you would put things in tissue paper and bags and walk it around the counter. It was just all this ceremony around … When you buy something from Gucci, the box is a little bit heavier than it should be, the tissue paper is a little bit thicker than it should … It’s just, everything is just A plus. What’s surprising is is that a lot of our customers are spending more than what you would spend for a pair of Gucci shoes or even a bag. I think because hair extensions were seen, especially when I was growing up, as your dirty little secret, it was something that you were hiding from people, you didn’t want people to know.
It had a stigma attached to it. It wasn’t a boutique experience. It was just not necessarily the greatest customer experience. For a long time, it wasn’t sold to you by people who were actually wearing the extensions. It’s just the nature of this industry. When I looked at that, I was like, “You know, if we could treat women with the same ceremony and luxurious experience around something that they’re already spending money on and educate them and be really helpful, we really could build a brand around that.” That was really important to me was just … It was a challenge online bringing that experience to someone’s … Especially ten years ago. Right now there’s so many amazing options to really have a beautiful unboxing experience in an affordable, incremental and scalable way. That’s what, I think, where the opportunity was, is that our customers were already spending the money. Let’s treat them like they’re at Gucci. They’re not expecting it.
Felix: That makes sense. You saw this opportunity that other companies, other stores, were not elevating the customer experience, the customer service, and you came in and offered that as a competitive advantage to offer this customer service, offer this delightful surprises for your customers. Can you say a little bit more about that? What are some ways that you found to create more ceremony and celebration around a purchase?
Dafina: That’s a really great question. I’ll speak in two ways, since I do have a background in the brick and mortar as well as online. When we did our store in Atlanta, instead of having the hair just out everywhere, we found these really adorable hangers and we had them hung. They were in an order. It looked like a boutique. It was done in a order in length, just like you would jeans, by size and by color. When you would go into our stores, every Saturday we had champagne and cupcakes. Whenever you would come in, we had water bottles with our logo on it. It didn’t matter if you came in to buy $10 pair of lashes or you were spending $1,500 on a wig, you had your bag with the logo, we had a pink bag with zebra tissue paper and every single person we would walk around the counter to hand you your bag.
It was really just regardless of what you’re spending. Online, we did the same thing with our bags are pink. We try to keep them discreet. I always struggle with that, of doing a lot of branding of like, “Hey, your new hair is here.” I don’t know if people necessarily want that for everybody to know, so I like to think that when people see our pink bags they’re excited and they know there’s a little treat in there. Around the holidays, we’ll put in seasonal candy. They’re just little surprises in there. We really put time into our packaging, our inserts, they’re informative, they’re helpful and they’re branded. You strike a balance as well. I don’t want to do it in a way where it’s so expensive that people are paying that markup and it’s not being directed into the product quality. I don’t want to compromise. I still want to keep it at the best price but in a way that is thoughtful and affordable.
Felix: Right. It sounds like you don’t actually have to spend too much money to delight your customers. Did you find that this celebration and ceremony that you’ve added to the purchase process and them receiving the orders and unboxing, did you find it was quickly accepted, or because like you were saying, there was a stigma attached to a product like this for a long time and it almost seems very similar to the story like Victoria Secret, right? Where it started off as lingerie was something that you never spoke about but then Victoria Secret came along and made it much more of a fun place to go. Did it take awhile for people to accept this new of buying extensions?
Dafina: I would say, and I won’t take credit for it, I think that there was just an confluence of circumstances in the late 90s, I would say in the 2000s, really, in the TRL era. It was really, I can attribute to like US Weekly, like, “Celebrities, they’re just like us.” We became way more celebrity aware and driven and obsessed. You started seeing your favorite celebrity, like Gwyneth Paltrow had a bob and then all of a sudden she had really long hair extensions. Then you started seeing Jennifer Aniston got hair extensions. Then Jessica Simpson.
I think within the black community, women have always worn hair … I mean, in all communities, to be honest, women have always worn hair extensions. I just think that people weren’t as honest and forthright about it. As more and more celebrities started to … Even when Jessica Simpson came out with her own line of hair extensions, that really propelled people like … It was something that you started to be proud of like, “I can treat my hair like an accessory and it’s not a stigma.” I think that in line with those trends that were already happening and then people were very receptive to the … Being like, “Hey, you know what? You’re right. I do spend a lot of money on this. I do deserve to have a nice shopping bag for it and have some champagne while I shop.” I think all of those things was like a perfect storm.
Felix: This kind of speaks to the importance of paying attention to the customers’ attitudes towards the products and they change over time. That’s a clear example of, in your industry, where it did change over time and because you recognized that there was this change, you adapted with it and made it part of your brand, part of your messaging that it should be celebrated and shouldn’t be hidden. I think that’s a big lesson that comes out of that. I’m going to go back to the very beginning now of the business. You and your sister spoke to your parents about opening this online version of the business, the brand, the store. You opened it up and what happened? What was the first month, or first few months, first year like?
Dafina: We put up the site and I think initially we were like, “It would be really cool one day maybe possibly we would make $8,000 a month. Then we’d be set.” We did not have a business plan. It was just something we thought would be nice to supplement our income.
Felix: This was like a side project for you guys at the time.
Dafina: Yeah. I think my sister at the time was a hairstylist in Atlanta. I actually was in Los Angeles selling real estate. This was not born out of a really … I didn’t think I would be doing it ten years later, but I think the first month we probably did … I don’t remember. I think we put it up on a Friday, we had our first order by Sunday. It was a Yahoo store. If you go on a way back machine, it’s embarrassing to see it. It worked. Then it would be like one a day, then three a day. It just kept going. It was something that we did. It was started definitely on the side.
Felix: Very cool. What was driving that traffic early on? Was it just people discovering it organically or did you have some kind of plan to get the traffic to the store?
Dafina: I don’t know. This is ten years ago. We didn’t even install Google Analytics. We didn’t UTMs to track. We really just threw it up. I don’t even think we did AdWords for it for a couple of weeks. I think it organically came up when people were searching.
Felix: Yeah, that makes sense. When was the transition, then, to moving off of Yahoo and on to your own store?
Dafina: It was on Yahoo for awhile. While we were on Yahoo, my sister exited the business and so I became under my direction. At that time, I wanted to do a way more experiential website. I had a custom designed site on X-Cart. I had a team of developers. I had two different designers. It was very, very, very expensive to do. We had quizzes, we had celebrity style guides, it was a very, very detailed site. It was just cumbersome and really hard to manage. Just to give a little bit of the journey of it is that the website became really successful at a time when the economy was … I was selling real estate in California before the housing crash. We were getting a lot of orders in Atlanta. We, at the time, my parents, we were just talking and Sunny came, was like, “I think you guys should go open a store in Atlanta because you’re getting so many orders there.” My sister lived there. She did hair so she had connections.
I was running the Atlanta store. For a long time, up until about three years ago, the website always … It was always still almost like a side project. You know, sometimes how you start something is how it stays no matter how hard you try to overcome it. When you have a brick and mortar store, it is very time consuming. The customer that’s right in front of you is always going to catch your attention first. I would take calls at night after being at the store all day and I would be on at night with the development team, working and tweaking. The evolution to Shopify came is because personally I had twins and I got married and I was going to have to move to New York, all very, very sudden. I had a very high risk pregnancy. I was on bed rest in the hospital and my children were born and they were in the hospital for an additional five weeks. It was stressful. I was also having to move, coordinate closing my office and moving all of my operations to New York for the website.
Felix: In how short of a timeline are we talking about? Was this in a couple months?
Dafina: The store was open in Atlanta. I was there for about six, seven years. Then about three years ago, while I was still on the X-Cart platform, this custom site, within October I was put on bed rest and I was in the hospital. I had to move. We had to move in February. I gave birth in December, so in a four month cycle. I had a graphic design person, I had a customer support person, I had a e-commerce manager. It was a thriving, big thing and I couldn’t move all of that to New York. I was like, “I’m just going to have to do this in New York by myself until I get settled.”
I think there was one night where my site got hacked. You’re on the call with Media Temple and I was just so sick of all of the bloat that came in having a custom solution. I really think that if I didn’t have Shopify, I don’t think I would still be in business. It was so much to manage. Any time you wanted to make a time, you had to call your designer and then the developer. It was so bloated. Shopify, I would say, unlike a lot of businesses, since I’ve been in business for a long time, this is the peaks and … I’ve been around enough to have the peaks and valley. Really in my valley, Shopify was an essential tool for me. I’ve been on Shopify for about three years.
Felix: When you made this transition, because it sounds like you put a lot of time, you had a team of people working on this customized site, and you were just ready to just cut everything off and then start over from scratch? What was that process like?
Dafina: There was a couple of things going on. This is a cautionary tale of how to blow up a successful business. A lot of businesses actually struggle with this is you struggle with the success when you’re growing. I had a big team of people. Then things were going so great that I was like, “I know, I’m going to hire an SEO firm.” I did a commitment for that for a year. It was very expensive. Then that coincided with I didn’t know enough to know what white hat versus gray hat versus black hat and it coincided with the Panda update. It wasn’t an overnight thing, but I just remember there was just a market drop in my business. It coincided with, I think, that the SEO firm was not … It was more venturing in a gray, black hat type of stuff. It really took a toll on the business. Then it also just happened to coincide with me being on bed rest and being in a hospital, there’s not as much … You can dig in and really resuscitate something that is losing about 40 percent of its sales in one month.
Felix: It sounds like a lot of it was out of your control. What did you find was the lesson out of it? What could you have done differently if you could go back and redo it?
Dafina: I think what I would focus on is, and I try to do now, is when you hire contractors or SEO firms or social media or even at any level, is to really take the time to educate yourself, speak their language. There’s so many different aspects of running an online business that if you don’t speak the language, what are you really doing? How are you really overseeing something? That’s really always been a lesson for me now before I make changes. I’m not going to know it the way a developer’s going to know it, but you should know the difference between CSS and Scripts and what type of [inaudible 00:31:36] you’re using and what’s a private blog network? You should know these things before you invest a lot of money. You can’t pay your way and just blindly hope that they’re doing the right thing.
Felix: There’s like a range too, right? On one end you could just be, like you were saying, completely blind to it and then pay somebody and just pray that they know what they’re doing, that they’re going to do it the right way, and the other, which you just do it all yourself. You’re saying you have to be somewhere in the middle. You don’t have to do it but you have to know enough. How do you gauge when it’s I know enough now to hire somebody versus maybe you’ve spent too much time learning about it when you could have hired someone earlier?
Dafina: One thing I will say is really once I got to Shopify, what I love about Shopify, is there is this huge community on Shopify. When I was on X-Cart, it didn’t really have that on that platform. Now there’s these Shopify entrepreneurs, grow and sell, there’s so much resources just on Facebook groups alone. You can ask people. I’m also a part of a really great forum. It’s called, “E-Commerce to Alive.” There’s just some great knowledge in there and there’s just so many people willing to help. Just at the bare minimum, just asking, “Hey guys, I’m thinking of hiring an SEO firm. What are some key things that I should be aware of? What are some strategies that are considered white hat right now? Where is the snapshot of the industry?” That’s just bare minimum. There’s just so many great web articles, podcasts, just to get versed in terms and methodology. Not that you’re overseeing it or strategizing it, but that just enough to know that you’re not being sold snake oil.
Felix: Makes sense. I wanted to go to talking about you mentioned in one of the pre-interview questions which was that you said to focus only on what you can do consistently. Can you say more about this? What do you mean by that? What’s an example of something that you do that you focus on because you can do it consistently?
Dafina: When I became a parent, and I had twins and I no longer had a team of people and it was just me, I’m a working mom out of this apartment in New York City now, it was like I knew I wanted to keep this business. I wanted to keep the e-commerce. I wasn’t going to go and open a store. Anyone knows, there’s so many things that it involves that it can overwhelm you. I might lose a lot of customers, and I actually did. I lost just a lot of customers who were just used to a level of service I could no longer give, but I just had to focus on if I want to keep this, I always know consistency is the name of the game. People are very forgiving if you’re consistent and you manage their expectations. For me, I think for a lot of businesses, especially when a time in your life happens where circumstances change or you get overwhelmed or you’re stressed, just, I think, instead of getting focused on taking on more and more and more, the more that you can just pull back in and be like, “What’s the necessary components to making this going forward?”
To me I found I love writing and I love taking the educational approach to selling. I knew I could commit to writing to one blog article a week. I automated that so that that one, I could sit down when my kids are taking a nap, I could do the one blog article, it changed every week but I had an editorial calendar set in my mind. I had a RSS to email flow in MailChimp. That also served the purpose of my weekly email, my weekly blog post which gives you your SEO and just your customer communication going, then you can post that Facebook and tweet it out. That was all I could do. I couldn’t do hours of YouTube videos anymore that I used to do and editing them and working with influencers and affiliates and doing a lot of the SEO work. I just was like, “I can do this.” It was a rough year but my first year on Shopify, that’s really what I focused on.
Felix: I completely agree that the name of the game, like you’re saying, is consistency. It’s better to be consistently good than to be periodically great. Like you’re saying, you want to get to build the expectation with the customers. You mentioned that you were losing customers because you had to pull back on some of the things that you were doing, like spending hours on YouTube videos, you couldn’t do that anymore. While you’re losing customers, I think a lot of people at that time might start pulling their hair out and saying, “I’m just going to dig my heels in and force myself to do it because at the end of the day, it’s all about the numbers, all about the revenue, I’ve got to keep it going.” Did you ever feel that pull? How did you convince yourself to take the healthier approach?
Dafina: I think because for me it was I had my twin boys, I have a son, Blake and Cole. They were born two pounds. It was scary when they came into … That was my focus. I wasn’t going to stress over the people who … I was like, “If a customer needs someone who they’re going to be able to call me at any time and ask a million questions and get next day shipping and be able to get returns right away, I can’t offer that right now.” It was okay. I’m not going to lie, it’s not fun to lose a part of your business, but I had great repeat customers It worked well because they knew what they wanted, they ordered in a timely manner, I could ship it out to them, I could write little notes. It was reliable, consistent repeat customers.
Then the new customers who were not fickle or need something right away, that just wasn’t going to work for me at the time. I think you just start to attract more and more people. For the people that I lost, it would have been unprofitable for me to continue chasing them. I just didn’t have that bandwidth at the time. Over time, the people who I retained brought on more people just like them. Now, where I focus on for me is how profitable am I? I had to trim a lot of the fat and a lot of the stuff that just didn’t make sense for me to be focusing on. It’s worked. It worked for that particular timeframe. That’s what made sense for me. It was just a more pleasurable business to run.
Felix: I think a lot of times we lose sight of the fact that we can design businesses, design our customer service, design our marketing, to attract the customers that we want. I think a lot of times we just think about how can we get the most customers possible, the most visitors possible, the max everything? What’s the point of doing all that if it’s just going to stress you out and make you unhappy at the end of the day? You should really focus on … Not really focus, but you should at least consider that you don’t want every type of customer that comes through the door because some of them are going to be much bigger headaches than others. They could become less profitable because you’re draining so many of your resources to satisfy those customers. One of the things you mentioned, though, about how to do this gracefully is to manage their expectations. What are some ways that you found to manage your customer’s expectations? How do you even do that?
Dafina: That’s a really great question. It takes a little bit of time. I switched over to Klaviyo, I don’t know if it’s Klavayo or Klaviyo.
Felix: Klaviyo. Yeah.
Dafina: I spent some time writing what some, what they call, flows. It’s a trigger based email so that even for when someone … I spent time to sit down and write a series of emails for new versus retuning cart abandonment. Then in the new customer cart abandonment, I just spend some time in my flows, not just being like, “Hey, you forgot something in your cart,” but really trying to establish … To educate them about the products, to send some of our top blog posts, to send some of our top reviews, to let them know how it works, where stuff is shipped from, how long it takes. We have express shipping. I always say, “Once I hand it to the post office or FedEx, I don’t control all the factors that go into getting it to you there. Next day is two to three days.”
Really just trying to provide as much education as possible in an automated way, not in a way that you’re answering every single inquiry. Even on live chat, I have a lot of automated answers for just a lot of frequently asked questions. Just putting some time and thought into it up front, but in ways that you can, if you sit down and do it once, you residually benefit from. Same thing for trigger based emails. If it’s your first time purchasing from us, even before you get your package, you’re going to get our story of our business, like, “Thanks for placing your order,” some tips on how to take care of the hair, when it’s going to arrive. I do it by product assortment. It took some time but it’s paid off in dividends a lot.
Felix: How many emails do you think are in these trigger based email flows?
Dafina: I have a lot.
Felix: Sounds like it.
Dafina: For instance, for a new customer abandoned cart sequence probably has about eight emails. It’s over the course of weeks. It’s a mix of sales versus education versus a friendly reminder. For our returning customers, though, they don’t need all of that. A lot of times for returning customers, I only have two emails for that, like, “Hey, did you forget,” or, “Do you have some questions?” For returning customers, I don’t need to put them through that whole series. I think MailChimp offers that now too as well. Then for the first time customer, I think I have about five to six emails on there. For returning customers, it’s different. I only have two. That’s the thing. I don’t want to bombard people but I do want to just help them and educate them. A lot of my customers are returning, once they’re … Some people have been buying from me for ten years. They don’t need that email flow.
Felix: Yeah, they’ve already been indoctrinated to you. These educational emails, what’s in them? How did you know what you should be educating your customers on?
Dafina: I’ve done a lot of training. I actually used to do training for hair, how to put in hair extensions to stylists. I’ve worked with a lot of television and film productions, like The Fast and the Furious and The Hunger Games, so I know a lot about, just for stylists, just even for people who are interested in getting into that industry, just information about that, types of hair that they work with. Then on the product side, I really, really spend a lot of time testing our products. I’ve gone to our factories where we get our hair in India. We have an amazing relationship with that factory there. It’s a really great place. It’s ethically sourced. There’s no child labor. It’s a really great factory. I try to just share that with people. I really believe in ethical sourcing and corporate responsibility.
In the last five to six years with the advent of AliExpress and Alibaba, there’s just been a lot of flooding in the market of, I would say, sub par hair extensions. They use a lot of harmful ingredients that aren’t really allowed here to process the hair. It’s mislabeled. It’s mis-marketed. It’s not a super regulated industry here. It’s almost how a lot of foods will say, “It’s natural,” but that really means nothing. That has really just flooded the market recently. Even if you go on my site, you’ll read a lot of reviews of people who are like, “Oh, I was going to buy from you. I went somewhere else way cheaper. Got crap, that was horrible. Now I only buy from you.” If I can save a lot of women having to go through that through education, that’s a win for me.
Felix: Yeah, I always use this term where you want to become the trusted advisor for your customers and not just be the sales person, but the person they come to just to help them out just in general with not just your particular products but anything else that might be related to your product as well. You have these email flows, you have all these trigger based emails, but how do you even capture them in the first place? How are you able to get these email addresses?
Dafina: That’s a great question. I really, in the last year, have really stepped up my email acquisition. I always had a newsletter and people who would opt in just after process and then the little sign-up on the website, but that is not yielding anything. A huge success for me this year has been I’ve been using Justuno. I really like them. They integrate really smartly with Shopify. I think there’s some others, like Privy, as well. Every other month I do a giveaway. It’ll be a combination of whether it’s a giveaway for clip-in hair extensions or if it’s … Last month I did a giveaway for two $100 gift cards to my store as well as a curated box of my best of beauty 2016. I had some fun Korean beauty products in there as well as Living Proof. Just stuff that has nothing to do with what I sell on my site, just products that I love. I collect a lot of emails through the giveaway. Right now, as I’m leading up into Black Friday, just collecting emails for people who want to opt in to learn and to get early access to our Cyber Monday, Black Friday, all of our specials. Then I’ve done before some magnets of like a guide to growing your long while using extensions. I love to write, as I said. That was just something if you gave me your email, I would send it to you as a PDF.
Felix: These were in the bottom of your blog posts?
Dafina: These are on the site as a exit intent pop-up or a timed. The giveaways were somewhat … I did some promotions where I would put it on other people who showcase and promote giveaways. I also had a timed, like if you were on my site for more than seven seconds, you would have the giveaway pop up. Then the Black Friday, it was just also a timed one. Then I’ve had a couple that are just exit intents, if you’re leaving a product page.
Felix: To promote this giveaway to people that are not actually visiting the site, you’re partnering with influencers, or how are you reaching these other folks?
Dafina: There’s a couple of sites that promote giveaways for people who are just really into giveaways. I don’t really think that that’s the best solution. Mostly it’s just been for people who are prospects on my website who come, not going to buy, but would love to get a gift card or would love to get some clip-in extensions. That’s really where I’ve focused this past year. I really enjoy them and I would love to start next year, as part of my strategy, I would like to start bringing in some influencers to help promote that as well.
Felix: Most of these sign-ups for the giveaways are people that are coming to the store but for some reason or the other haven’t made a purchase yet?
Dafina: Yeah, yeah.
Felix: Cool. What about the traffic? How do you drive the traffic to your store in the first place? What is the most successful channel for you guys?
Dafina: For the last few years, the most successful channel has been organic. We get about 55 percent of our traffic from organic, about 15 from referral. A lot of the referrals is just press that we’ve received. We’ve been featured in some major magazines. Those were very just not from active outreach, just being discovered. I also do some writing for some other beauty blogs, like an ask an expert on series. That bring a lot. Paid is not a huge part of our acquisition strategy. Really organic has been a large source of our traffic.
Felix: Is this coming from the content marketing, these weekly blog posts that you’re writing?
Dafina: Yeah, a lot of them are coming from … As I said, it seems small in the moment but if you can do one a week every week and that’s the least that you can do, if you aggregate that over ten years, that’s almost 600 articles. What I’ll make an effort to do is go into older ones sometimes and update them and refresh them. A lot of that is just a lot of people coming in through the blog.
Felix: 600 blog posts. You never felt like you approached a week where you’re like, “I don’t know what to write about?”
Dafina: Oh, many times. I create a backup default. I have, in Asana, I have an editorial calendar. It’s my default editorial calendar in case I don’t get inspired. One thing I will suggest for people who hit … Years of writing blogs, you’re like, “Oh my God, if I write the same thing again.” I found when I was really just being like, “I have no creativity,” taking questions that I was getting from live chats a lot, or from email chats. If I would get them more than two times, similar questions, not the exact same but similar, then I would, instead of just sending an email to one person, I was like, “Let me respond to this as a blog post.”
Felix: I see. That’s a great way to just get new ideas but then also, of course, answer an actual customer’s question at the same time. Cool. Once you have these blog posts written, do you also promote them in any way, or is it just through the email list that you have built out? Do you push them out to other platforms?
Dafina: It’s mostly through just my social channels. I’ll put them on Facebook. I’ll boost those posts on Facebook or sometimes I’ll use … I have been recently using them as Facebook ads. That’s been really successful. Just because it’s more conversational and it’s more starting a relationship. Then I have my funnel there to capture them if they don’t … It’s not really about, “I got to convert this click from Facebook.” I have enough conversion tools, I guess you could say, throughout different articles, YouTube videos, etc., to take a cold lead and make them warm and over time convert them.
Felix: Right. You eventually capture their email address and get them deeper in the funnel at some point. That’s cool, though. You write a blog post and sometimes you will post it on to the fan page or something and then boost it that way?
Dafina: Yeah, yeah. Do it that way. I haven’t really done anything paid within Twitter, but I have with Pinterest. Sometimes I’ll take a blog post, turn it into an infographic and then put it on Pinterest and promote that as a pin as well.
Felix: Very cool. Do you do this yourself or do you hire somebody to create that infographic?
Dafina: I do it myself through Canva.
Felix: Oh, cool. Yeah, Canva’s a great tool. Speaking of, you mentioned Canva, Asana, Justuno, Klaviyo. Are you still just a one person team at this point?
Dafina: I am. I am still a one person team. I will say two things. I just entered, this last year, I applied to this Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program in conjunction with the Tory Burch Foundation. I graduate from the program in January. It’s been the most amazing experience. It’s like having an MBA on your business. They’re in, I think, 20 different cities around the country. You have to have certain revenue in order to be able to interview, but I just highly recommend it for anyone out there who might meet those requirements. I am very much focused on hiring a team next year and not having it be me. I would say that first year I was in survival mode. Now my kids are in preschool so now I’m ready to grow a team. In the absence of having a team, it’s just been me. I flirted with having a virtual assistant for a month. It didn’t work for me. One thing that I have that I’ve been onboard with for about nine months now is a service called Hey Carson. They can do little tasks for you for your Shopify store. It’s little tinks and little things that you have to tweak here and there that if you’re not a developer you could really mess up your site. It’s a flat fee. I love them. I highly recommend them.
Felix: Yeah, no. Jonathan over there at Hey Carson’s a great guy. I think that he has a great program going, like you were saying. He takes that one big element out of running his business. You don’t have to worry so much about a technical side, but then you don’t have to have a full-time person that’s just probably sitting there most of the time doing nothing on your team.
Dafina: Yeah, exactly.
Felix: Other than these services, this program that you’re enrolled in, are there any other apps or services that you rely on to help run the business?
Dafina: Yeah. One that I love is Riskified. It’s not for everybody. As I said, I have a very high average order transaction. Hair extensions, for whatever reason, is a very high fraud segment of internet business. Riskified is really great for me. Before I would get, even like international orders, I would spend a lot of time trying to contact orders that seem a little shady. For me, a lot of my clients are stylists. They’re ordering it at their salon with their client’s information, the billing and shipping is separate. It’s red flags everywhere. If I didn’t ship these, I would lose about 30 percent of my business. I really like them because they analyze it for you instantaneously. They provide insurance. It’s not for everyone. It makes sense for me because charge backs can become very cost prohibitive. That has saved me a lot of time of not having to track down and call and ask them to … You’re reading tea leaves. I really like Justuno.
I really like Klaviyo for email. It’s expensive, but it really automates a lot of things and it really has some really great tools. Other tools that I use, I love Canva for not always having to call a designer for everything, a graphic designer for just simple things. It really allows you to just churn out more stuff for social and your email newsletter. I think it’s fantastic. Then just for project management, I like Asana. It’s collaborative. You have your calendar. As I said, I keep a lot in my different calendars and different projects that I want Hey Carson to be working on or collateral that I’ll need designed in Canva. I really like Gmail for Business. I use Gmail to answer my customer support. I have a lot of canned responses in there that I really like. I think that those are essential tools for my business. I think that that’s it.
Felix: With you running this business by yourself and all these apps and tools, can you give us an idea of how successful the business is today?
Dafina: The business, I would say the most we’ve had this past year is on track. We are low to mid six figures business. Our sales are up 40 percent from last year. I say, “Ours.” It’s funny, I’m still used to having a team.
Felix: The royal us. Royal we.
Dafina: It’s definitely the most profitable year so far. That is a snapshot of it right now.
Felix: Nice. Where do you want to see the business go in the next year? Where do you want to see it go in terms of the business itself? You said you had your own line. Where do you want to see everything be this time next year?
Dafina: There’s two huge goals that I have for next year, as it’s our 25th anniversary and 10 year online. I’m working on right now developing a line of products called Good Hair Days that maintain and protect the extensions. People are always asking, you know you need sulfate-free shampoo and conditions and products that are really lightweight and designed and formulated for extensions. They have specific needs. I’m really looking forward to offering that. I would like to also offer that more on a subscription basis for people, so you set it and forget it. Whether it’s every month or two months. Then I’m also looking forward to really launching … In our stores, we have amazing wigs. Online, we don’t have as many wigs. I would like to be able to offer something called Wig Dazzle, which is a monthly subscription for different wigs curated by your style personality. I think that that would be a fun way to offer wigs online. The final thing is maybe to toe into having a little bit more of a multi-channel approach to retail, whether it’s E-bay or Amazon, specifically even with these private label products and the products for maintaining the hair extensions.
Felix: Very cool. Sounds like a great channel, great product line that’s coming up for you. I think that subscription based business, great way to obviously improve the overall revenue, but then also have the stability of that guaranteed revenue every month. Yeah, thanks again so much for your time, Dafina. SunnysHair.Com is the website. Anywhere else you recommend listeners check out if they’re interested in the products or interested with following along you and your business?
Dafina: No, they can check us out. Our Instagram handle is Sunny’s Hair. We have some really amazing stylists who do amazing work with our extensions. It’s really fun and visual to see, as well as our YouTube channel, which is Sunny’s Hair as well.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks again, Dafina.
Dafina: Thank you so much, Felix.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.Com/Masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.
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