When I launched the Long Live Small Business shop a few months ago, I stepped into an entirely new realm of business and learned a ton. I’d never had a shop with physical products, so I had to research wholesalers, brands, drop shipping companies, and do much more (on a time crunch)! In honor of supporting small businesses, I thought what better way than to help you skip over the long process of starting all the research from scratch yourself and share the steps I took to launch my very first apparel collection!
While there are multiple ways in which you can set up an online shop, I chose to use a drop shipping method and automate as much of the process as possible to eliminate the need to bring on a team or add too much on my plate for this initial product launch. This means that I didn’t have to physically handle the fulfillment process and that orders could be created on demand (reducing the upfront cost of inventory). Since the purpose of the shop was to donate all of the proceeds to the Freelancer’s Union Relief Fund, creating as few obstacles as possible and maximizing profit for the cause made this method ideal.
The Shop Checklist
- Products & Brands
- Online Store
- Fulfillment Center (You or a dropshipper)
- A Little Bit of Time
Plan Your Products
It’s important to determine the products you’ll be stocking in your merch shop before you decide on a wholesaler or drop shipping company. Not every company will carry the same products, brands, or even the same colors.
If you’re working with a designer, keep open communication about this particular obstacle, because there is nothing worse than seeing a beautiful design and realizing the drop shipping company doesn’t stock that color.
For example, the beautiful blue shirt that we chose was only offered by one drop shipping company, which ultimately made our final decision on which direction to move.
Odd Daughter Co made this design process a breeze and I can’t thank her enough for creating such a beautiful design, or highlight just how amazingly talented she is!
Set Up Your Online Shop
There are so many options available for online shops, but I’d previously had a Shopify store for downloadable products that I was no longer using. Since I was familiar with the platform and it easily integrated with so many other programs I use (like Flodesk), I decided to stick to Shopify.
As you plan your shop, you can create inventory in Shopify if you’re planning to self-fulfill your orders, or you can integrate with a drop shipping company like I did.
In the steps below, I’ll explain how to set up the integrations, but it is important to note that some drop shipping companies require each of your products to have a different SKU (including sizes) that “talks to” their system.
Choose Your Drop Shipping Company (Skip if you plan to self ful-fill)
While there are so many options out there for drop shipping, I ultimately decided to go with Printed Mint for a few key reasons:
- That beautiful heathered blue color they carried in the Bella Canvas shirts.
- They offered gorgeous customizable packaging options, which I loved!
Connecting Printed Mint with Shopify was extremely easy:
- Log into Printed Mint
- Select Integrations
- Select Shopify
- You can set up your own settings, but when it comes to SKU filtering, select “SKU starting with PM”
- Log into Shopify.
- Select Apps.
- Visit the App Store and Install Printed Mint SIA.
I will go ahead and note that the process of setting up products became extremely complicated for me and my team. Printed Mint has so many amazing things to offer, but because of my experience with amazing UI in the tech world, I struggled with the backend user experience they offer when setting up your products. (It was clunky, lacked automation, and didn’t have automatic access to the data we needed.)
I’d love to see Printed Mint make a few upgrades to their backend as they continue to grow.
Ordering Wholesale and Setting Up Products with Printed Mint
I opted to create one t-shirt design in three colors, a sweatshirt, a tote, and a mug. I wanted to review the quality of these products, so I decided to place a wholesale order a couple of weeks before launch.
The products turned out beautiful, just as I’d imagined they’d look! Unfortunately, Printed Mint does not have a backend shop for you to reorder wholesale or even preplan your shop launch to be automated.
So how does setting up your shop happen? There are two options, you can either place “test” orders for each of your products in Shopify and fulfill each order prior to launch or you can wait to create each product after you’ve launched.
Once an order comes through from Shopify to Printed Mint, it will show up in your drafts. You’ll then design the product, BUT make sure to save the product and design! This was the biggest obstacle I faced with the shop—manually creating each product as the orders came in on launch day. Thankfully, they offer design templates for each product so you can ensure your different sizes will have the same placement.
Once we had every product ordered in every size at least once, that meant I could go in and create the product, save it, then Printed Mint would associate that design with the SKU (Don’t forget that you set up each product SKU in Shopify to start with a PM so Printed Mint will pull it in). After a few hours on launch day, the automation set up was complete!
The beautiful thing was that I was able to sit back with very little involvement after launch day and the orders are handled for me. Other than checking in on the status of orders each day to make sure everything is running smoothly and shipping delays due to COVID-19, we didn’t have any issues!
It was important that this shop allowed for as much profit to go to the Freelancer’s Union as possible, so we ensured there was at least a 40% profit margin on every product sold in the store.
Every two weeks I’d run a profit/loss analysis. I’ll take what the shop earned in Shopify and subtract the cost of the materials from Printed Mint (and sales tax collected).
At the completion of the shop, we were able to donate $9273 to the Freelancer’s Union. We couldn’t have done it without your help and orders!
Now that you know a little about the basics of setting up your online shop, I can’t wait to see what you dream up and create!