Great Lakes

Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?

As kids our favorite memories came from heading North and spending time at the lake with the people that matter most. With the growing popularity of lifestyle clothing companies, we saw an opportunity to create a lake-inspired brand that us and so many others are passionate about and can resonate with. Additionally, we've dedicated ourselves to manufacturing everything right here in America. When we first opened our Shopify store we printed our designs on wholesale American Apparel shirts as a low cost way to test the market and the brand. After receiving a tremendous response in our first year we made the transition to seek out American manufacturers to make a better product, exactly how we want them. The process hasn't been easy, but creating relationships with our manufacturers, creating our own unique products, and the ability to oversee quality pays off big in the long run.

How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?

Since we started this venture as seniors in college, we were fortunate enough to have an amazing network of supporters to give us a boost from day 1. We started by selling out of our cars and on Facebook, but as soon as we launched our Shopify website it blew up on social media from friends and family sharing it which was a huge benefit. Upon graduation we launched a successful Kickstarter campaign for about $25k -- this was really the validator for us to take the leap of faith and make it our full-time jobs, and we've been growing nearly 4x ever since.

Word-of-mouth has been huge for us; we have the benefit of being a brand that connects with people on an emotional level rather than just being another clothing company, is the main reason we've spent nearly 0 marketing dollars. We do almost all of our business through Shopify. It has been such an amazing and affordable platform to grow and manage our business with. Our typical customer is very easy to find on social media so we can get ads in front of them and direct them right to our site which makes it incredibly convenient. Additionally, we do a few holiday pop-up stores at high traffic malls in the area including the Mall of America. The pop-up shops are an awesome way to create buzz and generate major revenue without having to sign any long term leases. We anticipate to do nearly half a million this year alone with the addition of the pop-up stores.

Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?

We love Yotpo for customer reviews. Seven days after a purchase the customer will receive an email asking about their experience shopping with us. This has been an awesome way to have another touchpoint with our customer, get their feedback, and thank them for their business. We also just downloaded Stitch Labs as we gear up for an incredibly busy holiday season which we anticipate to be a huge help in managing our inventories across different sales channels. We handle everything internally at our office/warehouse and use shipping easy to print our labels on our Dymo Labelwriter. We include a personal, handwritten thank you note in every order as well as a few branded stickers that people really seem to enjoy.

What are your top recommendations for new store owners?

Make customer service your number one priority, especially as an e-commerce site. We've sent out over 8,000 personal, handwritten thank you notes since our very first order in Oct. 2012 and it has been the most beneficial thing we've done. It's something that takes very little effort but goes miles for creating a relationship and loyalty with you customer. Making online shopping a quick, easy, and personal experience is not something people are used to and will make them talk -- so make it an emphasis, it's worth it. Also, start young. We launched this venture as 21 year olds and it's been the best learning experience we could ever ask for and people are always willing to help out young entrepreneurs taking a risk.

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