How growing a successful ecommerce business gave these sisters more freedom

 

Turning tragedy into triumph: How two sisters grew their ecommerce business to $50K+ in a year to support their seriously ill brother

 

Texan sisters Carolyn Newsom and Virginia Ehrlich, of Bootsie’s Boutique, are one of SaleHoo’s great success stories. Here they provide their personal tips and tricks for how they grew a thriving ecommerce business in order to gain more family time and flexibility, while still making good money.

Carolyn Newsom and her sister Virginia ‘Bootsie’ Ehrlich were working well-paid, full-time jobs when their parents sadly passed away within a few months of each other.

The family tragedy also meant the sisters had to take over the care and partial financial support of their brother, Neill, who was a diabetic and double-leg amputee.

But with Neill living several hundred miles away from their Texas home, the sisters needed work that was more flexible.

They also needed something that would provide a reliable income.

The people who were handling their parents’ estate suggested that they look at selling things on eBay.

Selling products online was a foreign concept for Carolyn and Bootsie.

Carolyn was an executive director at a non-profit with 20 years experience in the industry, and Bootsie was a former financial planner, insurance agent, and teacher.

How to start selling on eBay

They started in 2007 selling Gorham plates, silverware and china that can fetch good money on eBay.

But they quickly discovered they needed more inventory to keep attracting customers, and sales ticking over.

“We initially built the business around things my sister Bootsie loved: Dolls, bears, children’s clothing,” Carolyn says.

“Of course, we were very exited when all the plates sold, and then other things we bought or found.”

They were soon approached by wholesale suppliers and started buying some items, such as plus-size women’s clothing, in bulk.

They called the business, Bootsie’s Boutique, and started listing items on eBay more regularly.

In the early days, Carolyn and Bootsie were only making a few hundred dollars a month from eBay.

So they started looking on forums for creative ways to grow their business, which is when they discovered SaleHoo.com.

Choosing a wholesale supplier directory service

Carolyn and Bootsie joined SaleHoo about a year into their business when their original suppliers stopped offering the products they needed.

Carolyn says they chose SaleHoo over other directory services because of its extensive lists of vendors and product categories, as well as the “amazing, helpful” staff.

“It was like being a kid in a candy store,” she says. “No one else compared.”

Using SaleHoo, the sisters were able to find the vendors and products they needed, many of which they still use today.

They include wholesale websites such as FashionGo for women’s clothing; The Immediate Resource for prom dresses; Entertainment Earth for action figures and toys; and Crayon Kids Fashion for children’s clothing.

Finding a niche

Carolyn says they chose plus-size women’s clothing as their niche early on as the market was “very underserved”.

“Plus size ladies love to look great and sexy, too,” Carolyn says.

However, they have since expanded to all types of women’s clothing, prom dresses, flower girl dresses, christening clothing, porcelain dolls, action figures, tea sets and Disney/Mattel and Hasbro dolls.

They also sell gift baskets for different occasions, such as a birthday gift basket, a cheerful “get well” basket, and a romantic anniversary basket via drop shipping.

Carolyn says SaleHoo helped to connect them with great suppliers for each new niche they picked up.

SaleHoo also provided data and information on potential new niche markets, she says.

Some of their most popular products include Halloween costumes, flower girl dresses, christening clothing, children’s play clothes, and toys.

Today, their product range includes pet costumes, Star Wars action figures, lace-lined cocktail dresses, and Kreative Kids soft toys.

Carolyn’s tip for new sellers: “Try to find your niche, but also try to find things that will sell well in all the seasons or holidays.”

Sometimes when one niche is booming, another falls flat which means it helps to spread your business across multiple markets.

Buying in bulk versus dropshipping

Carolyn says they mainly opt to buy in bulk from wholesale suppliers, but use drop shipping for some items.

Drop shipping is a method in which the seller doesn’t keep goods in stock, but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details to a manufacturer, retailer, or wholesaler, who then ships the goods.

Carolyn says drop shipping can be a good way to get started selling online.

“You can begin by drop shipping so you do not have to carry inventory, package and mail all the items, and SaleHoo has so many great drop shipping vendors for you to use.”

She recommends contacting drop shipping suppliers to make sure that they can meet your needs in a timely manner.

"You will want a drop ship company that ships their products in 1-2 days to the delight of your customers, not one that takes 2-3 days or has inconsistent inventory levels.”

Generating a steady income

Within a year of using SaleHoo, Carolyn and Bootsie had grown Bootsie’s Boutique from earning a few hundred dollars a month to more than $50,000 a year.

“It has grown significantly larger than we had ever imagined,” she says.

“Connecting with SaleHoo was definitely a turning point.”

She puts the success down to “the quality goods from dependable vendors” found on SaleHoo.

SaleHoo has helped Bootsie’s Boutique progress from bronze to silver level on eBay where they are now a “top-rated seller” and have positive feedback from more than 5000 happy customers.

The forums, newsletters, blog posts, videos and other content from SaleHoo has also helped them to expand beyond eBay. They now have stores on Bonanza.com, Addoway.com and Etsy.com.

The profit margins on most of their products are double the wholesale cost, but hard to get items can sell for “ridiculous amounts”.

Some products, such as gift baskets and silk arrangements, have lower profit margins of 20-25% as there are extra costs associated with drop shipping.

Diversifying their product range as well as their online presence has helped the sisters to sustain a steady income.

They even set up a subsidiary of their business in the name of their brother, called Neill’s Deals, where they mostly sell children’s toys.

The sisters used the proceeds from Neill’s Deals to help pay for their brother’s living expenses and healthcare.

More flexibility and family time

Carolyn and Bootsie have also managed to achieve their most important goals - more flexibility and family time.

Carolyn says when she was working as an executive director at a non-profit, she was doing 65 to 80-plus hours a week.

“Now it is more like 40 hours. Plus you can work while travelling, and can even do drop shipping from almost anywhere.”

This allowed the sisters to spend important time with their brother Neill during the years before he passed away.

They now donate the proceeds from Neill’s Deals to various charities for children and veterans, as well as the Salvation Army, Red Cross and the National Kidney Foundation.

Carolyn says it’s easy to put the business “on vacation” and take care of more pressing things.

But the greatest benefit of selling online is “that family can be first at any time”.

Top tips for ecommerce success

In her nine years of selling online, Carolyn has great advice for anyone looking to make a living in ecommerce.

“Start selling something you love, no longer need, or take advantage of the fantastic help videos on SaleHoo for ideas and data on niche markets.

“When you decide what you want to sell, check the SaleHoo directory first for details and reviews on suppliers that sell just about anything you would want to sell or drop ship.”

She says it’s important to make your eBay listings as “complete, honest and interesting as possible” to improve search engine optimization (SEO).

“List often, so there is life going through your site.

“Also, update things regularly by adding pictures, changing prices, adding details to the description, title or drop down menu options/traits. Fill in all that you can, as data is king.”

Carolyn says she and Bootsie also took online courses, read articles, and watched educational videos.

“We took advantage of so much that SaleHoo offered and benefitted exponentially.”

And posting on social media regularly also helps generate brand awareness and sales, Carolyn says.

Carolyn and Bootsie have a combined 70,000 followers on Twitter and also use Instagram and Facebook to push their products.

“Set up automatic tweets to post any new items you list or that get re-listed,” Carolyn says.

“Get your friends involved to retweet or post your things on their Facebook or Instagram. Reciprocate.

“If you do not have time to do all the social media posts and marketing, there are many resources available to help. The idea is to get lots of backlinks from such posts to your items.”

At the core of the business was treating their customers and vendors well and enjoying the ride.

“Thank each customer and vendor,” Carolyn says. “Build your business one sale at a time. Have fun.”

 

 

 

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