My name is Sanja, and I am 32 years old. Together with my mom and brother, we run a small family business making handmade wool felt products. My mother is the one who makes all of the products we sell in our shop and the rest of us take care of everything else (customer support, social media, marketing, product photography,...).
Family involvement doesn’t end here, as other members (architects, graphic designers, and programmers) get involved from time to time and pitch in with various ideas and tasks. However, for now, this is only a side-business, and everyone has their full-time jobs, including myself.
It all started almost ten years ago. We have a family tradition where everyone gets the same homemade Christmas present. Each year we try to come up with an idea of what kind of gift we could make that would suit everyone in the extended family (aunts, grandparents, cousins...).
A few years ago, we came up with the idea to make a pair of slippers for everyone. A few of us sat down, and we designed our first pair of slippers. At the time, they were made out of synthetic wool felt because it was easier to obtain on short notice. Everyone loved the slippers, and people outside of our family started asking about them, so my mother made more of them.
That is how it all started. Our slippers are our most popular product. They are lightweight, soft, and very comfortable. Since our early days, we switched away from synthetic wool felt and managed to obtain more natural variations. These are airy materials that keep feet fresh and healthy in every season. Our customers tell us that the simple yet clever and colorful design is what makes our slippers especially unique and elegant. Furthermore, our slippers have arch support sewn in, making them very comfortable for everyone and very helpful for most people with flat feet. Another aspect that is important to us is that the slippers don't make any noise when you walk, which makes them very pleasant to wear.
A lot of trial and error - that was our design process for our first product, and it is still our main technoque when we’re coming up with new products. In the beginning, we tried various shapes - cutting, sewing, seeing how it comes together, then cutting again. When we had a prototype, we would wear the slippers for a while to gather some feedback, and then we iterated some more. We also experimented with different materials and finally settled on wool felt because it is such a unique, pleasant, and practical material. It is also skin-friendly, which is very important when designing a wearable product.
The biggest problem was finding quality wool felt supplier, and someone who is able to provide a small amount of material because at the beginning it's financially hard to buy a big amount of material. We were lucky to find a seller who was willing to sell us a smaller sample so we could give it a try. We were happy with the goods, and we are still buying from them to this day.
We opened our first online shop in 2014. It was a website that we designed and custom-built in our family. However, it was a rough start as we didn’t know how to get traffic, and we didn’t have a budget for advertising. We found it very frustrating, so we quickly decided to open our Etsy shop. It didn’t take long for our first orders to start coming in.
Since the website was still struggling, we decided to redirect the visitors to our Etsy shop instead. That lasted for a few years. After that, we decided to build a webshop on the Pattern platform (which is also run by Etsy). Etsy and Pattern are synchronized, so we don’t need to manage our products in two separate databases.
Even though Pattern is very useful for us, we are running into lots of limitations (limited design options, newsletter subscriptions, etc.) The frustrations are piling up slowly, which is why we are planning to switch to something else in the future.
Our slippers were our very first product, but over the years, we came up with more products. Each autumn we usually launch our products in new colors, in order to try to keep our customers interested.
We make the most sales in colder months. This is especially true for slippers. We’re trying hard to get the message out that our slippers can be worn all year round because wool is just as good for sweaty feet as it is for cold feet. But apparently, we haven’t yet found an effective way to communicate this. Some of the disparity is, of course, attributable to the Christmas period, when people are more likely to buy gifts. We do have another very active period in the summer months before school starts when parents buy backpacks (and sometimes matching pencil cases and slippers) for their kids.
We rarely do sales since making our products by hand doesn’t leave much room, and our markup is not that big. However, we do try to incentivize buyers by offering free shipping for bigger orders. We also have lower prices for bulk buyers.
We rely on social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, to market our products. In the past few months, we also started an experiment to try to build an audience on Pinterest.
We usually post on Facebook and Instagram 3 times a week. All photos are taken in everyday situations. I take our slippers with me everywhere I go, including short trips and longer travels abroad, where I try to take photos. We rarely do planned photoshoots. We prefer to be spontaneous and take pictures when we find a place we like. We realized that people are much more likely to engage with the photos when people are wearing the slippers (and using our other products), compared to the ones that are just showing the product.
We regularly check what is trending on Pinterest. And then we pin our products to these boards. We always pin our products and also products from other brands. For example, when Christmas season is around the corner, we pin Christmas gift ideas for men, for women etc. I read a lot of content on how to be successful on Pinterest but it is hard to find something that works for your business as well. So we are just trying new things all the time. I found quite a few useful tips about Pinterest at Simple Pin Media.
We also use eRank to help ourselves with finding the right keywords and titles and to check our ranks. We always ask our customers what made them choose our products when they make a purchase. We find this very valuable when you have to write advertising copy.
The most traffic to our webpage comes via Instagram and Facebook because we advertise on Facebook/Instagram (we get a little more traffic via Instagram than via Facebook). But if we weren’t advertising on Facebook, Pinterest would be the channel that brings us most traffic ‘’for free’’. Etsy search is the one that brings us the most traffic to our Etsy shop.
When a customer makes a purchase, we always get in touch to personally thank them. We let them know when the product will be made and when it will be shipped. We also tell them that they can contact us anytime if they have any questions.
We slip a polaroid photo of their slippers during the sewing process, to make it more personal and highlight that the whole process is done by hand. We also offer the possibility to add a personal hand-written message in the package.
How to get good reviews from customers? Offer a high quality product and good customer service. Reply to every message and always empathize with their problems and needs. Try to solve every problem they have. And always be respectful.
If you are just starting out, I would recommend starting on a platform like Etsy, because you don’t need any programming skills to make your shop. There are a lot of tutorials available online where you can learn how to do it for free.
Also, I often used (and I still do) Skillshare, where you can learn the basics of Photoshop, Indesign, Copywriting, and a lot more. It is a really useful platform, and it is not expensive. For the basics of Facebook advertising, I recommend Mojca Žove and her book Facebook Ads Manual: Everything you need to know to get started. She also has an excellent online course called The Science of Facebook Ads, which is a bit of an investment. However, I think it is a very useful course and great for beginners.