Last week I started a new blog series to tell you a bit more about my story with Cherieswood and what have been the biggest challenges in building a new wooden toy brand!
Part 1 is dedicated to the early days, where I found the idea and how I moved from a simple prototype on a napkin to the first baby gym produced. As a quick recap: in the last paragraph of Part 1 we were talking about our toy certification process followed by our photo shooting. At that point I still needed to work on one of the biggest challenges that every business needs to face: find you first customer!
Ready? let’s start, today we talk about sales, marketing and suppliers.
The long road to our first customer
By the end of October 2021 I had achieved much more than I what I would have thought: the website was live, my baby gym certification process was finally over and after a lot of frustration with my photo skills, I finally found a great photographer and I was ready to bring my products to the world! With all of these steps done, I was now looking at a bigger challenge: find my first customer!
This is something that every entrepreneur eventually needs to face: you spend a lot of work to design, build and promote your product, sometimes to a point that is not even useful. You keep refining the details, imagine every potential issue it might come up and check everything over and over a thousand times! Yet….who is now buying your product? Finding your first customer is mostly a matter of luck and persistence: in November 2021 I was finally ready to sell my baby gyms and I was constantly looking at Google Analytics to see how many visits I was having on a daily basis. Unfortunately, building an e-commerce and obtaining visibility (and therefore customers and orders) can take quite a bit of time, especially if you are not really prioritizing marketing. My marketing strategy was simple: use social networks to promote my brand and talk a bit about our baby gym. My first focus has been Instagram and then I quickly moved to Facebook and LinkedIn, creating dedicated pages for Cherieswood and attracting the first likes, questions and comments! While I was doing that, I was also learning about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and the importance of content marketing: for many website owners the quickest way to gain visibility and visits is to publish content that can be useful and attractive for their audience. The better the content the easier it will be for this content to be indexed by Google and attract more visits: you might answer specific questions your audience is interested in or cover the specific industry you are in. I started writing a few blog posts talking about Cherieswood (here you can see the first one published!) and slowly adding more week over week, not something that I truly enjoyed (writing takes a lot of time), but that definitely helped Cherieswood get off the ground and have more and more visits every day.
Last but not least I started thinking about marketplaces: Etsy is the most famous one for artisanal brands like Cherieswood. In a few days I was able to open our store and publish the first baby gyms there. In January 2021 we also started selling Cherieswood on Amazon store (in Italy, more about this in one of the next articles).
But even with all of that in motion I was still at zero, no customers and no orders! All of that changed on December 10th 2021. I was checking my email and I finally saw a new order! An Italian customer bought a baby gym with mat for a gift. Needless to say I was over the moon as I was finally seeing months and months work turning into an amazing result: our first customer for Cherieswood!
How did I get there? Hard to know, as I said I worked on a variety of things between October and November to attract more people to our website and one of those finally triggered the first online sale! This part of the journey can be quite depressing in the early days as you will obsess about finding your first customer: be patient and keep working on promoting your business and products. It takes a different amount of time for everyone, but it will work in the end.
On top of that, I started Cherieswood a few months before Christmas and I had big expectations for the best sales season of the year, unfortunately I was just getting started and I couldn’t find a quick way to accelerate sales of our product overnight. In the end I simply decided to stay focused and keep working on my marketing strategy, producing more content and keep sharing more about our new company.
Visits, content marketing, paid advertising and how to find my second customer
With my first customer I got into a bigger and more challenging problem: how to find a second and third customer?! Nothing new for an entrepreneur but definitely new for me! I started looking into numbers, visits and analytics to understand exactly what was working in my marketing plan and what I needed to do more to get more customers now. This is not easy in the early days, especially when your website is getting traffic from just a few sources (social and google search in my case): there are simply not enough data points to understand exactly what’s working or not working and in most cases people are coming to the website because someone has mentioned it to them (word of mouth!) or because they found it looking for something very specific. In my case, for example, the first customer simply found Cherieswood looking for wooden baby gyms on Google! It was a great validation of my content marketing efforts, but at the same time I did not know exactly how to repeat that and find another customer.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the most powerful way to boost your products in the early days producing great content. In my case I started writing more and more blog posts (in Italian and English) trying to narrow down my focus on explaining why Cherieswood’s product was different and talking about its features. I was looking for more customers that would have found me on Google. It took me a few months but since then I had more and more customers stopping by our website and buying our products thank to this strategy. If you look at my blog, you will see how I started covering more and more topics, sometimes more educative articles and sometimes more promotional ones.
While my content efforts were ongoing and Etsy was finally bringing a few sales, I was now thinking about getting more and more visibility with our first marketing campaign. In this case I had to rely on an external consultant to help me: I started promoting Cherieswood with Google Adwords for new announcements (while you search on Google) and remarketing (if you visit one of our products you will start seeing announcements of that around the web while you visit other websites). On top of that I started experimenting with Instagram’s campaigns and so with Facebook’s. Advertising can be a tough way of promoting your business: it becomes expensive very quickly and tracking what’s working or not working takes time and a lot of experience. That’s why I would always suggest to hire a consultant at least for the initial months of promotion.
By the beginning of January I was experimenting with more advertising channels while continuing my new writing career with this blog post and social networks! Month over month sales went up, partially due to my efforts and partially due to word of mouth, something that is always critical when you start a new business. I had a lot of friends suggesting our baby gym to friends and parents or simply mentioning it and that turned into sales!
Today I am still working and spending a considerable amount of time on our marketing strategy and execution. The biggest lesson here is to be perseverant and patience: getting a new brand and website off the ground can definitely take up to 12-18 months and nothing will ever happen overnight, even if you start spending more and more money on paid advertising. Being constant with your updates (new blog posts every week and so new social posts at a regular pace) is probably the best way to get to success in the end. As I said, I am still working on it and while things are progressing well, I am far from the definitive marketing strategy for Cherieswood.
From online to offline: our experience with a small local market
At the end of December, with Christmas quickly approaching, I thought that attending a local market in Piacenza (my hometown) would have been a good way to test something different, an offline way of finding new customers. I’ve built Cherieswood to be an online and global brand, so our e-commerce will always be our first channel, but I love experiments and I really wanted to try something new: in my mind a classic Christmas local market would have been the best way to find customers interested in buying an artisanal gift for babies.
Well, I was wrong!
After a couple of days attending the market with our booth, I ended up with zero sales! The market was crowded but I quickly realized that my product was not the perfect fit for that audience and I was probably selling too much of a premium product compared to the rest.
We ended up investing a bit more than 500 Euros in the event, not a huge loss but definitely a big learning for me: I had to focus on my audience and on serving niece of people interested in buying unique wooden toys.
Finding suppliers and scaling production
While I was working on increasing sales and visits to our website, I was also looking at a different and more tangible problem: scaling our production of baby gyms. This problem had two sides: on one I had to find a reliable and scalable supplier that could sell us wood with premium quality and on the other side, I had to work on our process to accelerate the production of baby gyms.
At the start of Cherieswood, right after the certification process, I ordered enough wood to start the initial production of 30-50 baby gyms. I selected a few vendors mostly based on pricing, quality of wood and type of wood. Most wood suppliers are still very much offline so finding them is most of the times a matter of calling and visiting their stores in person to see if they really have what I need. I selected the best supplier to start and then I spent more time looking into a set of suppliers for different parts of the baby gym: today our baby gym is made of beechwood (our materials are detailed here) but we get different parts of it from different suppliers to optimize costs and quality. The wood we buy is usually raw and unfinished so over time we found three different suppliers that are able to sell us specific parts and sizes always maintaining a great quality within our budget.
The second problem was scaling our production for baby gyms: I’ve been leveraging my father’s knowledge of this space to get inputs and help from our early days, but we were still simply producing a few baby gyms. Once we had to move from producing 1 or 2 baby gyms to a more structured process we ended up experimenting for several weeks until we found the most efficient way of producing them, reducing time and increasing quality. In a few weeks we quickly iterated and got to a point where we could produce 20-30 baby gyms per day, while keeping the quality extremely high. As I keep building Cherieswood this will definitely come back as a problem at some point and we will likely have to do more research on how to keep scaling production.
This is it for part 2! Curious to know what’s next? Here the final part.