If you’re an avid reader of the Shopify blog, you already know about the two in-depth case studies and business giveaways done by our content team. The first was Hello Matcha, a tea dropshipping business which wound up generating $922.16 in revenue in three days, and the second was Think Pup, a dog-themed t-shirt line that earned $1,248.90 in three weeks.
As part of the content team at Shopify, it was now my turn to build an ecommerce business from scratch and post my findings and results here on the blog.
I couldn’t be happier to take up the challenge. As a content creator at Shopify, I’m tasked with sharing many different strategies and concepts to help entrepreneurs build successful businesses. The interesting thing about these case studies is that they give us the opportunity to prove all the tips, strategies, and lessons we talk about every day.
With Syght Glasses, that’s exactly what I set out to do.
Since both of our previous case studies were dropshipping businesses, I decided to try something different. I wanted my case study to present new challenges, walk through new strategies, and have a different business model than what we’d previously covered.
I know a lot of people have questions about finding manufacturers, sourcing products, and buying from manufacturers overseas, so I decided to sell products sourced from China using Alibaba - the world’s largest source for wholesale trade goods.
Before I started, I came up with a few guidelines to ensure things didn’t get overcomplicated.
My Criteria to Make Sourcing From China as Simple as Possible
To make sourcing, buying, shipping, and selling my product as easy as possible, I developed a strict list of criteria to help me avoid spending too much money or dealing with any headaches. I wanted to keep it simple.
- I wanted the product to be light and small enough to fit into a shoebox. I didn’t want to ship massive and heavy products which would complicate shipping from China to me, and from me to my customers. I also didn’t want the product to be big because I didn’t want to take up too much physical space in the office.
- I wanted the product to be relatively cheap per unit, around $1-$10. This makes it easy to keep costs down, especially when making a large (100+ units) order.
- I wanted the price to be low enough per unit and leave me with enough wiggle room to have a great margin. Ideally, I was looking for something that I could confidently markup enough and sell at a 50%+ profit margin per unit.
- I didn’t want the product to be electronic or food-based. Electronics can break, require warranties, and create headaches. Food is just as risky. I didn’t want to risk being held liable for any bad food products as well as having to deal with storage and expiration issues. Of course, I could purchase liability insurance and incorporate, but I wanted to keep it simple.
- I wanted the product to be niche or serve a market of passionate people. I wanted it to be really easy to find where my customers congregated so I could put my product in front of them quickly.
Now that I had decided what my product wasn’t going to be, it was time to start brainstorming.
Coming up with a Product Idea
When looking for a product to sell, it’s a good idea to think about who exactly you want to serve. The more specific your customer is, and the more specific their interests are, the easier it will be to sell to them.
So, my advice is to choose the customer you want to serve and work backwards. Instead of thinking of a product first and then trying to find an audience for it, think of the customer first and think about what they need. For example, if I’m a passionate electric guitar player, what kinds of things do I buy regularly? What would make my guitar playing experience better?
I’m a gamer, so I started to look at things I could possibly sell by doing some research and brainstorming on Amazon and eBay. I looked at popular accessories and bestsellers for gamers.
After spending a lot of time writing down and brainstorming ideas, I began to narrow it down to non-electronic accessories such as special gaming mouse pads and ergonomic gaming chairs. Eventually, I stumbled across a product I could relate to - blue light blocking glasses.
Researching a Product Idea
Blue light blocking glasses are usually UV400 and work by filtering out blue light. This is commonly seen with shooting glasses, snowboard goggles, blue blocker glasses, night driving glasses and sleep glasses. My idea was to take these glasses and simply position them to gamers.
I deal with constant eye-strain issues at work and at home. To help cope with this, I sometimes wear “computer glasses” or even sunglasses indoors!
I started looking at other similar products around the internet (such as on Amazon, eBay and Google) to learn the following:
- How well they were selling (by looking at sold counts and review counts)
- How much they were selling for (to get an idea on the markup and my pricing)
- The feedback and criticisms in the reviews (to improve the product myself)
- What styles were selling best (to know what design/style to sell)
- Who the major players were (to get an idea of the market size and my competition)
From doing some research I could see that a popular frame style was a neutral and sleek wayfarer frame. It also seemed like people were willing to pay anywhere from $25-$90 for a good pair of glasses that protected their eyes.
Looking at the number of reviews on these glasses, I could tell that they were popular and there was a need for these kinds of glasses.
I also took to Google Trends and looked at what the searches for “gaming glasses” and “blue light blocking” looked like over the past few years.
What convinced me to sell these kind of glasses was ultimately how nicely it fit my criteria for the product I wanted to sell. They’re small, lightweight, cheap to produce per unit (more on that later), and offered the potential for a big profit margin. Plus, I’m a gamer, so I knew the target customer well.
Now that I had found a product, I wanted to create a logo to start generating some mockups of what I wanted the glasses to look like, to show suppliers in China.
Creating the Name, Logo and Branding
Creating the logo and coming up with the name wasn’t something I would usually do at this stage of starting a business. Validating the idea first is more important. But because I was ready to find a supplier for the glasses, I had to come up with a name and logo for the mockup.
I started brainstorming words and names that would represent the clarity and visual accuracy my glasses provide gamers who need them. Here’s a quick snapshot of my brainstorming:
I brainstormed names such as precision, fidelity, rigor, sniper, sharp, eagle eye, gun sights, sight, and hawkeye. Eventually, I liked the name of gun sights and sight, but I wanted to make it a little edgier and unique (it’s targeting young gamers after all), so I went with Syght.
Next, I started looking for free fonts I could use for commercial purposes. I wanted a clean and simple text logo with a bit of a futuristic/sci-fi look. I went to 1001 Fonts and began browsing through their “futuristic” collection of fonts. I filled out the sample text form with the name Syght to get a preview of each font with my business name.
I eventually found a font I liked called “Hemigraphy” that I could also use for commercial purposes (such as in the marketing materials and logo for my business).
While I was satisfied with the text logo, I also wanted a nice emblem I could place alongside it. I looked through Creative Market for a vector shape of an eagle’s eye or something similar.
After choosing my emblem, I purchased the extended license for $180 and put everything together in Photoshop. I chose yellow and black for my branding, the colors of the glasses I would be selling.
If you don’t have any graphic design ability, you could always hire a freelancer from a website such as Upwork or Fiverr. Better yet, check out our Shopify Experts for your design needs.
I also created high resolution and transparent background variations for printing on the glasses and for using in any other marketing materials.
Now that I had everything I needed, it was time to find a supplier who could make my glasses.
Finding and Contacting Suppliers On Alibaba
Alibaba is the largest wholesale and manufacturing marketplace on the internet. To find a manufacturer that could create the exact glasses I wanted, at a good cost, Alibaba made the most sense.
Before making any kind of commitments, I wanted to reach out to potential suppliers for some initial details and pricing. I only wanted to get an idea of what it would cost and what the glasses would look like. If I could find glasses that I could sell at a 50% margin with the shape and look I wanted (black wayfarer frame with amber colored lenses), I would consider making an order.
There are two ways you can begin your search on Alibaba. You can either search for products or search for suppliers. I would recommend trying both with your product keyword.
To improve my results, I kept revising my searches with the keywords the suppliers used to describe the product I was looking for. “Computer glasses” didn’t yield as many good results as “anti blue light glasses.” For other products, you might need to get more specific or more general if you’re having a hard time finding what you’re actually searching for.
I then added the glasses and suppliers that were closest to what I was looking for to a shortlist. You can do this with Excel or simply by adding the product or supplier to your favorites on Alibaba.
At this point I wasn’t yet interested in knowing whether they were a quality and credible supplier. This was just a list of suppliers I planned to reach out to regarding price. Once it comes time to placing an order, that’s when I suggest doing your due diligence and comparing suppliers. However, the due diligence part is very important! There will be more on it later.
I began to compare all of the glasses I liked based on their material, minimum order quantities, and price. I created a list of what I wanted for my glasses and sent them out to all the suppliers on my shortlist. One important thing to keep in mind is that product listings don’t always align with what suppliers will tell you. For example, the listing might say a minimum order quantity of 200 but when you inquire, it might actually be 500 or more. That’s why it’s always important to ask and not assume anything.
I wanted a low minimum order quantity. Ideally, I was seeking 100 glasses for my first order. I knew this would be challenging since most suppliers, especially for small objects such as glasses, want very large minimum orders of 500-2000 pieces to start.
I also wanted a specific frame style and color for the glasses with my logo printed on the side of the frame. Again, most suppliers offer customizations, so don’t be afraid to request different designs and features for your products.
Even though a listing may not have explicitly shown a wayfarer frame, I still contacted suppliers to ask if they can produce what I wanted. Because of the language barrier, I would often upload an image of exactly what I wanted when inquiring, or link out to an image from another supplier’s listing.
Here’s a rough mockup I put together in Photoshop, using an image of glasses from Alibaba I found, with my branding and where I wanted it.
Here’s what my message looked like to nearly every supplier I contacted.
I’m interested in purchasing 100 anti blue computer glasses. I would like them to have a black wayfarer style frame, yellow lens and my logo on the side of the frame. I attached an image of what I am looking for.
Please provide me the price per piece along with shipping cost to this address:
80 Spadina Avenue, 4th Floor
Toronto, ON, Canada
Since Alibaba isn’t perfect when it comes to tracking dozens of requests, I began to track all of my requests and communication with each supplier in a spreadsheet. This would allow me to easily compare all the suppliers as well as keep track of who’s responded to what and who hasn’t.
Some suppliers understood what I wanted, a few wanted really high order quantities, and others never got back to me. I contacted around 20 suppliers in total and after a few days of exchanges and more questions (from both sides) I narrowed it down to 2 suppliers who offered me a good price and low minimum order.
Researching Potential Suppliers
From here, I began to do some due diligence. I wanted to ensure the supplier I was working with was reputable and could deliver a quality product. The first thing I looked at is whether they were a manufacturer or trading company. You can see this by visiting their company profile and looking in the Business Type area. What I ideally wanted was to deal with a manufacturer and not a trading company since I didn’t want to pay extra to deal with a middleman.
Next, I checked how long the business has been active. Each listing will have a badge with the years active. I wanted to work with a supplier that was at least 5 years active. Any business that was around 1 year seemed like a risk to me. There are of course always exceptions to this but I wanted to be safe.
Next, I wanted to deal with a manufacturer that specialized. I’d rather work with a supplier that only made glasses than one that made everything from yoga pants to face creams. If the business had “optics”, “eyewear” or “glasses” in their name, I knew they we’re specializing.
I would also Google the company and see what turned up. Sometimes you’ll find websites talking about the business or even warning you about the business. In most cases, not much will turn up besides their physical location in Google Maps and their official website. Still, it’s a good idea to check, just in case.
Lastly, a nice to have would be dealing with a supplier that has Trade Assurance. Most businesses on Alibaba offer this and it ensures that your payment is protected under Alibaba in case anything goes awry. I also checked any feedback the supplier received from other buyers under Company Profile > Business Performance > Feedback.
After doing my due diligence, it was time to start the process of ordering.
Product Validation Before Ordering
Before ordering, I wanted to ensure I could confidently sell these glasses by figuring out the channels I would sell them through, and determining whether I could at least break-even.
First, I wanted to see how many I would need to sell to at least break-even. There was nothing scientific about what I did. I simply used my best judgement to guess based on the quotes suppliers were giving me. If I retailed my glasses at $39.99 (in the range of what my competitors sold their glasses for), how many would I have to sell to make my money back? This screenshot outlines my thought process:
Here, I guessed I would order 100 glasses at a total cost of $700 (including shipping from China). This would bring me at a cost of $7 per pair which leaves me with a profit of $32.99 per pair sold. That’s a 82.5% margin! That’s over my goal of at least 50%, which is great. Doing the math, I would have to sell 21 pairs of glasses out of the 100 I ordered to make back my initial $700 investment. Not bad!
Obviously I wanted to turn a profit and sell all of them, but giving myself an achievable number like that gives me confidence. Also, this isn’t accurate, it just gives me an idea. Keep in mind that this doesn’t include any fixed costs for the business, variable costs like shipping, or marketing costs. I will likely need to sell double after all my expenses are incurred just to actually break even.
Next, I began to brainstorm channels and places to sell at least 21 glasses and break even. I created a list of different marketing channels and estimated how many glasses I would sell in each. If I couldn’t confidently add up to 21 or more, it probably wasn’t worth doing.
The more specific you get with this, the better. Remember that these are very rough estimates. There’s no science to this. Most of this is simply to get you to brainstorm and ensure you have some kind of an idea of how you plan to sell your product.
The best way to validate any business is with pre-sales. I chose not to pre-sell my glasses since I did not receive a sample (more on this in the next section). If I had a sample I could photograph, I would attempt to pre-sell the glasses using Facebook Ads and gauge the interest for these glasses from there.
This would also allow me to test messaging and branding. I could see what messaging and branding gamers responded to more. However, being that I wanted to start this business as soon as possible, and write this case study as quickly as possible, I chose not to validate my product this way.
Now that I had the confidence that I could sell this product and break even, it was time to order. The next few sections will go over ordering a sample, creating a logo and branding, and ordering a large quantity.
Getting The Sample And Ordering Initial Stock
Most suppliers offer samples so you can see first-hand the quality of the product before making a larger purchase. Typically, I would order a sample from the suppliers I narrowed my shortlist down to. Samples can run you around $100 or more (depending on the product) but most suppliers will refund you the sample cost once you place an order with them. These costs are to keep tire kickers away as well as pay for the shipping, customizations, and production of a single product.
Due to time constraints with this case study, I opted to not order a sample and simply take a risk and place a large order. I would not recommend this. Production and shipping for the sample would have taken around a month, and after receiving the sample and ordering my initial stock, it would have taken another month or so to finally receive my glasses. I just did not have the time for this case study. If this was my business (and not a business case study under tight deadlines), I would always order a sample before placing a larger order. I always recommend you do the same.
If I had the time, I would have ordered two samples from two different suppliers. They would match the requirements I wanted for the design and features, as well as have my logo on them. After receiving them, I would compare the quality and order from the supplier I was most satisfied with, and even make any design adjustments if needed.
Placing an Order On Alibaba
Once I narrowed down my suppliers based on quality, price, and trust, I reached out through Alibaba’s message center and began the process of placing the order. A good place to start is to ask for an exact quote that includes shipping and printing/mold or to ask for an invoice.
Once I looked at the invoice, and thought the price was reasonable (you can always try to negotiate) I asked for a payment link. Personally, I prefer to pay through Alibaba itself or Paypal. I think these are safer options than Western Union or anything else an Alibaba supplier might ask you to pay through.
Once you ask for an order link, the supplier will usually generate one for you in Alibaba, and you’ll get an email asking for payment, based on the agreed price. If the supplier is under Alibaba’s Trade Assurance, it’s a good idea to pay through Alibaba so that your transaction is protected.
Once paid, wait for the supplier to confirm the order. Feel free to ask any questions about the production time and shipping time.
Once I got my link, I paid. Then the waiting game began. First, I needed to wait for the glasses to finish manufacturing, then I had to wait for them to arrive after they’ve been shipped.
Beefing Up The Product
The glasses I'd be receiving from China would not have any packaging. I didn’t want to neglect the unboxing part of the customer experience but I also didn’t want to pay more to the manufacturer to have them create packaging for me.
I decided I would create my own packaging. I didn’t want to spend more on branded packaging so I had to get creative. I decided I would order 100 hard travel cases, 100 microfiber cleaning cloths, and 100 stickers and hang tags to make the product look more professional. This would also help increase my gaming glasses’ perceived value, allowing me to sell the glasses for a high price and margin.
Finding and Ordering The Glasses Cases
I looked to AliExpress to find 100 hard cases to ship with my glasses. AliExpress is similar to Alibaba, in that it’s a marketplace to find manufacturers, but in this case, you can purchase a smaller quantity or even just one item at wholesale prices direct from China. I didn’t want to brand or customize the cases so AliExpress made more sense.
I searched “glasses cases,” sorted by the lowest price, and filtered sellers that shipped to Canada. I began to look through the top listings, reading the descriptions and reviews until finally settling on the following item:
It was black, had no logo or branding, and was inexpensive. I placed an order for 100 and the total came out to $184.92. That’s about $1.85 per case.
Finding and Ordering Microfiber Cloths
Next, I wanted to find 100 microfiber cloths. Since I didn’t want to spend money or time branding them, I simply looked for microfiber cloths that were yellow (the color of my brand).
I again sorted the results by the lowest price and filtered the results to sellers that shipped to Canada. I eventually landed on the following product after going through the description and reviews of the seller:
This was perfect as the lot had exactly the number of microfiber cloths I needed, so I ordered.
It came out only costing me $12.00 for 100 microfiber cloths.
Finding and Ordering Stickers and Hang Tags
To create and order stickers, I decided to go with StickerMule. There are a lot of options for sticker companies but they’re who I was most familiar with and felt the most comfortable using. I selected my preferred shape, uploaded my logo, and ordered 100 2”x2” rounded corner stickers.
For the hang tags, I did some searching. I wanted to find a printing company that could provide inexpensive paper tags with a hole already punched into them so I could easily tie them to my glasses. Kind of like this:
After some searching on Google, I found GotPrint, who offered a low enough minimum with the exact look I wanted. I uploaded my logo and ordered 2”x2” hang tags with a hole punched top center on each of them.
Both the stickers and hang tags required me to confirm a “proof.” A proof is a mockup of what the stickers and hang tags will look like once completed. This requires my confirmation since that manufacturer wants to ensure I approve the end result before mass producing and shipping my order.
At this point, since I had to wait for the order to arrive before I could take any photos of the product and begin selling it, I decided to begin building the website and writing sales copy for the homepage.
Building The Online Store
The first thing I had to do was create a store on Shopify. Since I was only selling one product, I wanted a theme that focused on one product instead of having an entire catalogue for several products.
I decided to go with Startup for my theme. It was a theme I was previously familiar with, looked great and made it easy for me to feature and focus on selling one product.
Now that the theme was selected and installed, and I created my store on Shopify, it was time for me to purchase a domain name. I bought mine through Shopify in Online Store > Domains > Buy New Domain.
And so, SyghtGlassesShop.com was born!
After buying the domain, I also created forwards for emails firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com to my personal email.
Next, I started by adding a placeholder product and used the mockup of my glasses I created earlier. This helped fill out my website and made designing everything a lot easier.
Looking at the theme, I looked at the sections that needed sales copy and created a new Google Doc to begin writing copy for the home page. Here, I would also write a great product description. I also created a new Google Doc for each page of my store that I would need to write up.
I’m not a professional copywriter but I do know the basics of good sales copy. I needed to give my product a unique selling position, and describe what pain points my product solved and how.
I looked at websites of similar products (such as HD glasses and night driving glasses) to get an idea of the language they used to describe their products. I also watched YouTube reviews of other glasses and read Amazon reviews of other glasses to see how people talked about their pain points and how the product solved them. I didn’t need to invent the problem I was solving, I just had to find it and see the exact language customers used to describe their pain.
I began to customize the theme to suit the colors of my branding through Shopify’s theme customizer.
The next step, before going any further, was installing a Facebook custom audience pixel on my website (so I could retarget traffic through Facebook later) as well as setting up Google Analytics (so I could track my traffic and goals).
Next, I wanted to set up email marketing. I decided to create a MailChimp account since it’s free up to the first 2000 subscribers. I also installed the MailChimp Shopify app so that every customer is added to a list I created in MailChimp called “Syght Customer.” This will allow me to followup with customers for future promotions and products.
Since I installed the MailChimp Shopify app at this point, I figured it was worth installing some of my other favorite apps. There are a lot of great apps out there and I recommend trying the alternatives to these as well. I only use these because it’s what I’m familiar with. Here’s what I installed in my store and why:
I eventually edited the theme, after going through a few iterations and talking with co-workers at Shopify, to improve conversions on the page. I made the top navigation sticky and included the Canadian and American flag along with a Buy Now call-to-action. A few other changes were made after taking product photos (which I’ll get into later) and after getting some traffic.
Creating Visuals For The Sales Page and Store
For the hero image I would eventually end up using, I wanted a stock photo of someone playing video games or on their computer that I could Photoshop either my logo or glasses onto.
I went looking on stock photo sites such as Stocksy and iStock. Searching “gamer” and “computer” I found a few good photos on both sites. By the way, Shopify has since launched a new stock photo site where you can download free images for your store and marketing campaigns. I eventually settled on the following:
Once my glasses arrived, I’d take a side-angle photo and Photoshop them onto his face, as you see now on the site.
Next, I wanted to create a diagram showing how the glasses work. I wanted to show a full color light spectrum entering the eyes from a computer monitor, with the glasses blocking out blue light in the spectrum.
I used Iconfinder to find a silhouette of a head and silhouette of a monitor, and used Photoshop to create the diagram I would use on the store.
Lastly, I wanted to find icons I could place on the homepage to highlight some of the features and benefits of the glasses. I used Iconfinder again, found 3 icons and included them on my homepage.
With the site completed, all I could do was sit back and wait for my products to come in.
The first thing to arrive were the stickers. They came out perfect and as expected with no issues.
The next thing to arrive were the hang tags. Both the stickers and the hang tags arrived pretty quickly, since the supplier is in the US.
Almost immediately, I realized I needed something to tie these hang tags to the glasses. I swung by the local Wal-Mart to pick up some string.
Almost a month after ordering the glasses cases from Aliexpress, they finally arrive.
The package it arrived in didn’t seem appropriate for the quantity I ordered. The box was oversized and there wasn’t enough protective packaging. It arrived in a cardboard box that had been taped over several times.
As a result, some of the cases were damaged. The ends of some of the cases were frayed and the clip pin was broken on others. Fortunately, it looked like 80 cases or so came out perfectly fine.
I also eventually received my order of 100 microfiber cloths.
During all this time, as I was setting up my website, and receiving stickers and hang tags, I was waiting for my glasses to arrive.
I ordered the glasses on November 11, 2015. The glasses soon went into production (since they required custom branding) and on November 29 2015, almost 3 weeks later, the glasses were finished and were shipped. On December 9, 2015, nearly a month after placing the order, the glasses arrive at Shopify HQ. This was expected and around the average length of time for orders on Alibaba.
When I opened the box, I was pleased with what I received. The glasses were placed in plastic bags and packaged into smaller boxes. Each of the glasses seemed undamaged and had the quality I expected.
Here’s how the final product looked when I put it all together:
Taking Product Photos
Now that I had the glasses, it was time to take some visually appealing product photos so that I could begin selling them.
I was lucky enough to have equipment available at the Shopify office to take some great product photos. I was also fortunate to have the help of a colleague who has experience taking excellent photos.
However, I could have easily taken
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