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Need advice on how to make it big online

3810 Views 20 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  uk2la99
I launched my t-shirt brand last year without a budget or a clear direction. At first I thought I would try to get into retail, so drove out to California, visited over 70 stores and although I had a ton of interest in the brand, it was clear I wasn't going to be able to execute orders. New to this business, I had no idea retailers were only prepared to order in very small quantities and I made the mistake of showing too many designs. I would have had to produce far greater quantities in order to fulfill small orders and then carry a bunch of inventory, something I just couldn't afford to do.

I came back to Florida where I live and decided to pursue an online strategy. My question is to anyone who has been successful starting t-shirt brand merely selling online. I would love it if you would take a look at my line and let me know any pointers you have for successfully marketing tees online. I have a website, but was never happy with the graphics and actually prefer using my facebook fan page and shopping cart to attract buyers. I would have to say that I get a lot of great feedback about my designs, but nothing like the amount of sales I expected. I am wondering is my price point too high? Is it that I just don't have enough brand recognition?

Hopefully there is someone on this site that has built a unique brand largely online and they could give me some pointers.

Thanks for reading.

Rob Thomas
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What steps have you taken to actually market and advertise your designs in front of your target market?
i would venture to say that most brands use the social media to drive traffic to their site moreso than use, say, facebook as their main source of sales. i understand ppl usually have good luck using facebook's ads, though that's not saying that increases sales more than gets people to your facebook page, which in turn hopefully drives them to your real site. in other words, don't expect these social media outlets to be where you conduct commerce as much as using them as a form of advertising. facebook 'likes' mean nothing in sales, it just looks good to visitors. certainly there are exceptions, though i wouldn't plan on being one of them.

as far as social media go, check out printerest, too. but, yeah, you're probably going to need a good website. put your site addy in your signature, i'd like to see it. :)

i'm not saying this applies to you, but i think this is where a lot of people fail, by misunderstanding facebook's potential and pretty much hanging out in places like that because it's funner and easier. to put it another way, people don't want to attend to the real business because it's boring, risky, and expensive. then a year or two later all they have to show for their effort is a bunch of unsold shirts and dead links on the internet b/c they should get 25 sales for every 100 'likes.' but, because they go into this way under-funded, they never spent money on models for their site, or thought they could do the whole thing on their own, or never heard of SEO (search engine optimization), or that marketing was something only the big companies needed to worry about.

don't get caught in this facebook trap, thinking you can do all your business from some page you slap together in a day or two. if you're going to sell online, you're going to need a rocking site. getting people to that site is the challenge. given that you have a great product, great site, and appropriate prices, you should turn x amounts of visits into x amounts of sales as per the normal conversion rate (whatever that is, lol. i want to say it's around 3-5%, but i could be off on that. given enough time, whatever that percentage is supposed to be, if you're not meeting that standard it's time to re-evaluate and find where things are going wrong).

the big question then becomes how to get ppl to your site. social media, of course, is one way. SEO is another. you need to know as much as possible about your target market to make the best of your advertising. what is your target customer doing *right now*? where their eyes are is where you want your advertising to be. it probably won't hurt to give a shirt to the few people that will influence the followers, that's rather the point of searching out celebrity endorsements.

maybe going to some events will help your brand, too. if you sell MMA shirts, what better place than at an MMA event, right?

fortunately, it doesn't sound as if it's a lack of want on your part, just a lack of focus and understanding. also, you don't need to give up on the retail shops, you just need to find a way and a situation that works. i know i would love to have your knowledge and experience concerning your cali excursion. :) maybe you shouldn't give up on it just because it wasn't a blazing success beyond your wildest dreams, rather rethink the idea and see if you can work it out. i say that because what if the online thing doesn't work out? are you just going to stop making up designs? make yourself up a shirt that says, 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.' and, hey, if it was easy then everyone would be doing it. :)
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Hi, thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. For me it's not a matter of giving up, it's a total lack of cash. When I started this journey, I had next to nothing and not much has improved. I currently live in Naples, FL which is not exactly the ideal place to develop a brand such as mine. I have visited a bunch of stores here also, but all want to stick to core brands. I showed at the Orlando surf expo and didn't take any orders. I had 10 or so stores with an interest, but again all wanted to order in such small quantities, I just couldn't do it. I did sell a couple of hundred shirts directly to visitors of the show, so that told me my brand has appeal. Since then I've done some markets with limited success - not really been around my core market.

I decided to go to California because I was convinced that was the right place to launch my brand. I really didn't have expectations since I've developed and marketed products for many years before. I know what it takes to get somewhere from nothing. The only difference is I had capital behind me. I have a ton of business experience and have had several successful ventures, but I have never been in clothing business or really developed a brand from scratch.

My website is Welcome to Bondi Buddha™. It doen't look bad, but it's not up to threadless or design by humans standards and I know how important photography is. It's going to take a while before I can revamp it. I only spend $800 to develop my site.

What brand/ brands have you developed?


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Showed at the Orlando surf show. Done various markets in Los Angeles. Sold on the beach. Visited about 100 retail stores in LA and FL. Written and called several major retailers. I guess Rodney... I worry that maybe I don't have the right thing. Maybe my designs don't have a strong market - although I have sold a few hundred shirts direct to consumer.
i think you hit the nail on the head, and imo the single thing most people need but don't have (or more to the point, won't put in to it), and that's operating capital. i don't there's a problem with the designs, and based on your experience i'm sure you know your market. i suggested doing some events, and you've done that with apparently very good success. you have a decent website, but, yeah, maybe a little sprucing up and some seo would help. i would drop the blog if you're not going to be very active in it. something else i noticed was a whole cadre of 'coming soons', but if i visit back in six months and nothing is done, i might lose faith in the brand, ya know?

what would you do if you had the money to put behind it? if you had the money, are you confident that your line would succeed? are those things you would put money into things that you can get with cheaper alternatives?
I think I would first spend the money on brand strategist. I think I need to hone in on how to simplify my message and how to engage with my audience. Then I would clean up my current branding image starting with my website develop a serious social media campaign - probably pay someone to do that. I would like to make my product better. Right now I use Cignus ring spun cotton shirts, but I would like something higher quality. Quite of few retailers i've visited were fairly high end but and really wanted higher quality shirts. Then comes the problem of buying blanks cheap enough that you can get a decent margin. Also printing... currently I am using discharge and water based, but I would like to invest in trying other things like digital and heat pressing. One of my shirts has seven screens and it gets really expensive to print.

I envisage Bondi Buddha as a lifestyle brand. I see a road to retail stores selling all kinds of adventure sports branded products, as well as clothing. I think your question about cheaper alternatives is a good one. I personally don't like cheap and would always try to put a quality product. I was in London recently and went into the Johnny Cupcakes stores. This is someone I admire greatly. He took is company from nothing to an internationally known brand and as far as I know, he was totally broke and self financed everything from sales. I was however really disappointed in the quality of shirts they sell and it did make me think that maybe quality isn't important to a lot of people. He's still getting $25-$35 a tee, but he's hit a niche and got something pretty unique.
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I checked out your website. A huge thing behind being "indie" is having a story to go with your brand. Why you, what do you represent, why surfing? I went quickly to your site and looked for an "about" page or an "our story" page and didn't see either. Why would I buy from you? Your designs are alright, but they have no story, no flavor. Why Buddha, what is Bondi? Who are you?

I am not trying to be an ***, just trying to give you a picture at what I did when I first went to your site and my first impressions. In the world of the internet you really only have a few seconds to wow someone who visits your site before they leave and go somewhere else. You need to make a connection!
It's right on my site: Bondi Buddha
Perhaps I should have it at the top as well. To be honest, I've never liked my site and so really don't do any work to it. I need to get the money together to redo it, but I wan't to wait until I can afford to do something really cool. I used to be in marketing, so know the importance of a back story. I think I have a pretty good one, but it still needs honing. I have done a lot of designs around surfing, but my brand is about the spirit of adventure, not just surfing. I would like to make a lot of designs around all sorts of adventurous sports and adventure in general. If you look at my facebook page photos/guys shirts, you will see that I like to explore other things.

I struggle with the idea that I have a great concept. I want to infect the world with a sense of fun and adventure through my brand. The question is, what is the right way to go about it? When you have very little in the way of financing, a wrong move can be a huge set back. Thats happened to me many times in this venture so far.

Maybe I am just venting through these posts. I am hearing your thoughts and that's great advice. I probably need to put some focus into my current site, even though I don't like it, just so that I don't lose someone who is potentially interested. Thanks for your ideas. Rob
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I completely understand man, I am launching my brand in the next two weeks. I would love to help you brand and create and do it all at a budget. I'm going to find out how to message people on here and shoot you my email so we can trade ideas on how to connect with people your brand with your message and make them all one thing. You need to infect people with your spirit, money is never the thing holding you back, its the creativity to find ways of doing things without money.

This is my first clothing company but not my first business, I also have done **** tons of research and reading so I know quite a bit about what I am talking about. Check your inbox on here for my email.
If you have sold a few hundred shirts to individuals you are probably worlds ahead of most folks....

I like your designs but not likely to be a customer....I want cheaper, thicker and larger than what you offer.....

But keep at it and I think your line will take off.....
that's always going to be an issue with a brand, isn't it? someone likes your designs, but not the shirt. everyone has a preference. i prefer a lighter ring spun, someone else wants a six ounce all cotton. since you can't please everyone, you can do your best to appeal to your market. really, it probably doesn't make much difference in the long run as everyone will lose a sale for *some* reason (oh, i really love that design. i just wish it came in purple with pink polka dots and rhinestones that, you know, did something electronic!), but you're right, rob, you don't want to lose a sale because of quality. really, any ring spun should be better than your average gildan in terms of perception. too, discharge and water-based is something you want to tout as big plusses.

when i said alternatives, i should have been more specific. no way you should sacrifice the quality just because johnny cupcakes' shirt are not miraculously impervious to the laws of nature as much as viewed as a product some corporate-minded bean counter sees as there being more profit to be squeezed out... of... from. good grammar, huh? i really meant that see if you have some buddies that can help out with the website. are you printing your own shirts? basically, of those things you can't do yourself, is there a way you can learn at least enough to squeak by, or do you know someone that knows how? i look at it as trying to find ways to save money to put back into the business. do you advertise?

let's say i could swim and decided to be a surfer. i would buy your shirt if i knew it existed. what are you doing to let me know you're out there? or i'm a rock climber, or spelunk on the weekend, or i scuba. how do those people see your product?

here's another question: when i look at your designs, all i see is surfer lifestyle, so is that in itself a niche large enough to sustain a business? you want to have this adventurer's shirt, but all i see are surf-related designs, and those that aren't don't scream 'adventure' in any specific form. at first blush, i'd say that you'd sell far more shirts out of a shop on the boardwalk or beach store, eh?

a few little changes might get your enthusiasm going right now, because it seems like you're in a rut more than anything. like royce said, you're worlds ahead of most folk, but you don't realize it because you've also had more disappointment than most. i feel as if you're one little idea away from having that confidence boost you obviously need.

i'm guessing that your primary market is the white male, 18-30, interested in surf gear and accessories? he's probably an active guy, unmarried? he's probably a democrat if he sat down and thought about it, and his religious beliefs tend to be here nor there, but more on the non-traditional side (at least in our culture) if he had to choose, or at least might call himself christian even if he hasn't been to church in ages? he probably has a little college, or plans to go, and earns above minimum wage (or so you hope)? if he doesn't have a smart phone already, he wants one. he probably doesn't have much of a problem finding a girlfriend and his personality, while laid back, tends to be on the aggressive side in a lot of areas? his other interests may include nice cars (which he can't afford, but probably drives a foreign car) and partying on the weekends. his clothing is comfortable and casual, but he's not the white tee shirt kind of guy, per se. he rents.

i'm just making all that stuff up. :) can i go into marketing now? lol.

you did the trade show thing and sold a ton of shirts. you know your product is good even if it does lack the scope of adventure you're seeking. a brand like yours i would say would be a good choice to offer stickers for. and as much as i hate to say it, your brand seems like one of those that might benefit from slapping stickers up all over the damn place around the beach and the bars where your market is likely to hang out. is there a way you can sponsor an event or a surfer? i really think this is one of those brands where you're gonna have to get out there and promote it on a grass roots level along with whatever other ideas you have going on.

as far as johnny cupcakes goes, as i remember how the story goes, he was a bassist in a band that was touring the country. so, he already had an audience that would stare at him for hours on end. then he came up with an amazing design for a t-shirt and started wearing that in his shows. now, if i could come up with an amazing design and get hundreds or thousands of people to look at it for an hour, yeah, i'd probably sell a lot of shirts, too, lol. a lot of folk look at him and draw inspiration from what he did, but they're usually not seeing the definitely unusual circumstances behind the reasons, namely his great idea and his exposure. of course, this is why you sponsor someone, to pay them to be your bassist on tour, an MMA fighter, a hot dog surfer, a skate wizard wearing an amazing design. give the leader of the pack a free shirt and his followers will do what sheep do (sheeple if you're a conspiracy nut). is there any interest in the blog? if so, i would want to find out who the well-known players are and ask if they'll take a pic of themselves wearing your gear and use that in your site, especially your facebook (or maybe even better yet, printerest?).

this all sounds pretty expensive to me. :)
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Wow... thanks for the input. I used to use TV personalities to endorse products I marketed. At one time i did ok!!!! Unfortunately you don't get product endorsement unless you pay... or perhaps give up part of your company. That would be worth it if I found a superstar!!! I have spoke to several management companies for surfers... all want cash! I haven't been to surfing events yet, but spoke to a guy on the east coast that organizes many of them. I told him I had no cash and he said he may let me in... I have to wait and see. I've got as far as I have by bartering and finding people willing to help for little money.

If you look on my facebook photos, you will see I have others designs besides surfing. I was just inspired by surfing. I used to live in LA and drive through Malibu on the way to work. I was always wished I would take the time to be out in the surf. Surfers have that free spirit, and the market is huge. It's a billion dollar industry and more than 50% of people who buy surf apparel have never surfed. Therefore there is something appealing about the lifestyle to everyone. It's funny that when i've sold shirts it's been to guys from 14 to 50 from all walks of life. My designs actually look great in person. However i think the biggest market is teenage girls. They all seem to love my logo and think Buddhas cool. I just don't have much in the way of designs for girls yet.

I pitched my line to Nordstoms and the buyer thought the shirts were really cool. I think the whole "Buddha" thing might be a problem for mass retail. I am not trying to promote Buddhism, in fact I'm not religious at all, but the brand was partly inspired by my time living in Asia around Buddhists, who seemed to be the coolest, nicest people on the planet.

I know with marketing it's important to really hone in on a core demographic. I think I need to get out there and sell more to find out what that is. I am working on 4 new designs, one for wind surfing, one for paddle boarding (which seems to be really taking off), one for skateboarding and another for surfing. They are all part of a marketing campaign I'm planning. So... It's not a matter of not wanting to do anything with my line or losing interest, I think about it everyday and try to find a way to promote it. I know it will never be for everyone, but I don't need everyone. I do have stickers by the way... look on my facebook page photos. They have been very popular at the shows. I also have Bondi Buddha tattoos that i give out to the kids.

Unfortunately I have to work a job too!!!

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yeah, damn jobs.

it rather sounds as if you have things going on for real life promotion that i probably can't add to. :) once you're able to do sponsorships or whatnot, i hope you'll start getting the traffic you need. maybe update the 'current news' section of your site to 2012, lol.

with your online stuff, wouldn't you say the main thing is your website itself? i'd venture to say that one of your top priorities is getting that where you want it. gotta sell the sizzle, right? :) ...or something like that. your web site should rock the way you want it to, link to all your social media, of course (which you already do with that side scrolling thing which i hate because those things always distract me, lol), some seo, and if there's a message board concerning your market then perhaps become involved in that. i think those are you main areas to focus on, no?
I just don't want to put a penny more into my current site, however I can and should update things until I build a new one. One of the things that makes a huge difference is models and great photography I think, but I can't do that yet either. Everything on my site was created in photoshop and nothing is that great. Also with clothing, the ability to really be able to zoom in is important. The resolution on my site sucks... that's what happens when you go to India! LOL.

It's great to be on this message board and talk about this stuff with others who are going through or have been in the same position. I will get there I think eventually!!!!
Bump. But I'll be back.
I just don't want to put a penny more into my current site, however I can and should update things until I build a new one. One of the things that makes a huge difference is models and great photography I think, but I can't do that yet either. Everything on my site was created in photoshop and nothing is that great. Also with clothing, the ability to really be able to zoom in is important. The resolution on my site sucks... that's what happens when you go to India! LOL.

It's great to be on this message board and talk about this stuff with others who are going through or have been in the same position. I will get there I think eventually!!!!
You are on the right track. Since you have people that like and will buy your product. I think someone suggested but do more events that you can sell direct to your market ie: festivals concerts car shows etc. Things you can do on the weekend. I feel your pain but I think light is around the corner.
yeah, i think good models and photography is needed for a lifestyle site. i mean, how else are people to know that's the kind of people that wear your shirt? :) the problem you have is, imo, what photos you have are clearly stock photos. great photos, but, yeeee-ahhhhh, i don't want stock pics, ya know? now, i'm not convinced that you *must* have models wearing your clothing, i've seen plenty of sites that do, plenty that don't, and i don't think it's a deal-breaker either way. (the kind of pic that i loathe are those with geeky yet for some reason uber-confident kids in front of a wall just being cool. blech! i've said many times how i detest the utter corporateyness of ugmonk. just the very definition of slickness. makes me want to barf, like every time i see a car commercial desecrating a classic rock song.)

anyhoo, i don't think your site sucks by any means. maybe it needs a little more to establish itself as a distinct lifestyle brand, like the models and pics, but if you say it's lame, ya gotta go with your heart on this one, right?

i find that most people know the answer to most questions if you can ask them a set of questions in return that clarifies and adds focus, don't you? it's really hard to critique your own stuff. trust me, i used to enjoy writing, and i know that the majority of people can't look at their own stuff objectively. so, i guess at this point the question is what exactly are you wanting to know about online sales? :)
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Hello, I like your designs, but I think they are a bit over priced. Unless you can market to specific groups that will buy.... Then u are good to go.

- Risen Apparel

When I visited stores, I found that most retailers would sell my shirts at $25 - $30. I didn't want to price my shirts for less and then compete with them. However, since all the retailers interested wanted to order in such small quantities, I decided I could afford to do that at this point. Since then I have tried different price points on Facebook. I am currently running a special where I am selling for $19 including shipping and you can get another 10% off for being a fan. If you think that's expensive, I really don't know what to say. Most of my designs are hand illustrated and are pieces of art, not just some logo slapped on a shirt. Many have multiple screens, one has seven. I am using decent quality ring spun cotton shirts and discharge or water based printing for a high quality look. Of course even $10 would be too much if you didn't like the shirt. Perhaps something that says Buddha is worth less than something that says Christ? I'm not about religion BTW! I am not a Buddhist. My brand was partly inspired by the time I lived in Asia. I just found Buddhists to be the most genuinely kind and open-minded people of any religion I've ever met. And I find the image of buddha to be fun rather than Christ dying on a cross which is totally depressing!

I just took a look at your site. $19.99 for a one color print? I know your font is kind of artistic, but honestly, content aside, I should be selling my shirts for $60 if yours are $19.99! There was a tremendous amount of thought and work that went into every design I've created. I understand they may not be for you, but honestly why are your shirts worth the price you are charging? Thanks for the feedback, even thought I think you might be a little biased.
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