I’d always wanted to start my own online business.
It's a dream of many Sylvanian Collector's to make it a business, whether selling on Ebay, Gumtree or ultimately their own online Sylvanian Families website.
But wanting to start your own business is one thing; actually doing it is another.
So, in 2017, I made a New Year’s resolution to start an online business – and I kept it. After three months of creating Sylvanian Families Specialty Store as a website, and just as much time in sourcing exciting Sylvanian Families products from around the world to stock it, I finally was able to open my store live to the public and what an exciting day it was. The very first day it opened, two customers found me online and made a purchase!
A Business Plan
If you’ve always dreamed of starting up your own Sylvanian Families e-commerce business then you need two very specific things:
- a product idea (Sylvanian Famlies)
- a sourcing method (several suppliers)
- You need to be sure that your items are going to have true market viability
Sourcing is a crucial business process for every retailer, finding a supplier that is reliable and ongoing.
The main types of suppliers are:
- Handmade item Manufacturers
- Overseas suppliers
- Local Australian Wholesale suppliers
There are pros and cons to each method of sourcing it's wise to use a combination of all these types of suppliers, not just to be solely reliant on one supply source for your products.
A successful Sylvanian small business will have a great variety of items on offer. Both the current items, novelty items and quality vintage items. There has to be something for everyone.
Who will be your Customers?
In running Sylvanian Specialty Store, I find that customers fall into different catergories.
- Sylvanian Collector's who are looking for vintage items to complete their sets
- Sylvanian Families fans looking for a "novelty" Sylvanian Families items, something a little different for their collection, such as a limited edition item or item that is not readily available elsewhere.
- The New Fan - customers who are just starting out on their Sylvanian Famlies journey and are looking for basic sets to start their collection
- Building their Collection - customers who already have begun collection and who are looking to add on sets to items they already have, ie to furnish another home, to add missing items, such as a fridge, TV etc
- Scene setting customers who already have a substantial collection and who love to add interesting accessories, such as Miniature cakes, flower pots and trees to scenes.
There is such a variety of Sylvanian Families fans visiting a store, so to make your store stand out, you need to offer a wide variety of items that will appeal to all types of customers.
What will you sell?
To create a successful online store, you need to consider whether you have the outlay to stock such a wide variety of items. 90% of customers buy more than one item and few would be willing to pay postage costs just for one item. If you don't have a good selection available to choose from, customers are unlikely to make a purchase from your site, may add something to their shopping cart, but will leave without completing their purchase.
What's involved in running an online store?
There are several things to be aware of and costs to consider in running a website.
Did you know that 90% of online businesses fail within the first 120 days according to research? Yes 90%! That's an astonishing figure!
Maybe too many people fall into the mistake of believing that they just need to set up a website, sit back and let items sell themselves. Wrong!
Running an successful site, speaking from experience, is actually a lot of work. It's constant.
Here is just a brief list of some of the tasks that will keep you busy.
- Time taken in uploading new products, researching, photographing and detailing them.
- Time taken in maintaining current products and inventory
- Managing customer requests
- Daily trips to the Post office
- Writing blog articles - (blog articles will help you to show up on google searches)
- Time spent to optimise your website and intially to learn about SEO. If you haven't heard of SEO (search engine optimisation) then it's a good idea to research this or take a course in SEO. This is what makes you show up in google searches, and without it you'll be hard-pressed to bring new visitors and potential customers to your site.
- Did you know, that on average, only 1 out of 100 visitors to your site will make a purchase? If it's 2 or 3 out of 100, then you are well above the standard online store statistics. On this point exactly, is where many online stores fail. Failure for their "online presence" to be discovered.
- Promoting your website. If you don't promote, no-one will find you and know where you are, regardless of how wonderful your product is. (More about ways to promote your website below)
- Being a collector's website and dealing in hard to find Sylvanian Families, there is the added time spent in sourcing new products to sell. Most collector's however wouldn't consider this "work", but rather a pleasant past time, however it still can take many hours to source products.
- Getting to know your product. Time spent in research. If you plan to write knowledgeable descriptions about your Sylvanian Families items for sale (and this is recommended to build customer confidence in your store) you need to be prepared to do the hard yards and research.
- Follow up with courier companies and postal sources when items are delayed.
- General correspondence with suppliers and questions from customers.
- Sourcing reasonable sized packaging. As Sylvanian Families boxes vary so much, it's important to have a wide range of sturdy packaging to cover all options. Sturdy boxes are important, as collector's like to receive their Sylvanian purchases in well-maintained boxes.
- Postage costs to many areas. Rural areas can be quite costly to post to. A carton may cost up to $30 to $40 to post to a regional Australia area. If you are only charging a flat-rate shipment for all customers (or an offer of free postage) you need to factor this into your products pricing.
- Business insurance costs. Product liability insurance is a must! It can cost $500 to $1000 per year in product liability insurance to keep your business safe-guarded and when you are dealing with toys for children, having a good insurance broker who understands what your business is about and the finer details of what you sell is an absolute must. If you can't afford the insurance outlay, you can't afford to run an online store. (Regardless of whether you sell on an online site, from home, or on a Facebook page, you should still have product liability insurance when you are the seller)
- Website costs - $40 to $50 per annum to maintain a Shopify or Bigcommerce (or similar) website.
- App fees - if you wish to add on extra features to your website (recommended)
- Website hosting costs - you need to pay to keep your website name your own property.
- ASIC costs per annum to register your company
- And of course, this is obvious, but there's tax to be considered to. The more you make, the more tax you will be paying.
- Consumables, such as Australia Post satchels, boxes, labels, cellotape, bubblewrap and other packaging materials.
- Facebook and Instagram ad costs. People won't find you if you don't advertise.
- Costs of flyers (I usually pay about 10 cents per flyer for 1000 glossy double sided flyers)
- Costs of photocopying for 1000 colouring competition entries (around $100 in photocopying costs)
- Market costs. Factor in market site fees (between $10 and $40) and that many markets require you to have your own market stall liability insurance. (Between $70 to $150 per year)
- Prize Giveaways - if you intend to promote your your business to attract more customers.
Ways to promote your online store
- Facebook and Instagram ads. Do your study on Facebook advertising, so that you are not simply pouring money down the drain (or you can hire an experienced Virtual Assistant for a fee, who will do the hard work for you)
- Posting regularly on your own Business Facebook page or in Facebook groups where relevant
- Flyers. I attempted this, printing and delivering 1000 glossy Sylvanian Families flyers in our local town on foot, with very low return on investment.
- Posters around town (an old-fashioned way of advertising, but if well-placed can still give your business a shout-out)
- Running a colouring competition in your local school and pre-school centres, with relevant Sylvanian Families prizes
- Running a Fundraiser through your store with schools or preschool groups who are willing to participate, with a percentage of profits going to the participant
Difficulties and Obstacles
- Competition. It's hard for a small sole trader store to compete with the giants. All buying from the same supplier, large corporations buy wholesale by the 1000's and therefore qualify for bigger discounts. They can then offer the same item at far less than you can. The small time seller, who only requires 3 or 4 of each item doesn't qualify for these discounts, therefore can't offer items at the same competitive price. If you're to make a reasonable profit out of items, your small business store will likely have to sell items at a higher price that the large corporations.
- Large corporations also qualify for massive postal and courier discount contracts, meaning they can offer free postage on their website, whereas a small store owner will likely be paying full price on postage.
- Selling on marketplace. When you don't have store overheads it may mean that you may offer great priced Sylvanian Families on gumtree and marketplace. However, remember too that people often expect "bargains" or discounts when buying from this method. It's not as easy as it sounds.
- Delivery costs of bulky items. Some of the larger Sylvanian Families items, such as the new Town Series Grand Department Store, Beechwood Hall and others come in large boxes. This can be very costly to post or courier, especially to regional areas of Australia, where many online Sylvanian shoppers reside. If you haven't carefully calculated your shipping costs for items, then you risk being out of pocket and making no profit, or even worse, you may be selling at a loss.
- Storage. You need to consider whether you have suitable storage space to keep your stock of Sylvanian Families. They may be small, but the many sets you will need to stock an online store take up a lot of room. The storage conditions are also important, making sure that the climate of the room is correct, that items will be kept dry and away from light, which can fade the picture on boxes. If you are planning on stocking Sylvanian Families buildings, then you will need a considerable amount of space, as these can be bulky.
Do your research first
Don't just dive in and start your business. It pays to have a business plan, not just a business dream. These are just some of the ideas to consider and that may help you in your planning. It's a great idea to test the waters first, by selling to locals, on Facebook groups and at markets. Selling items online is not as easy as you would think.
Please note: We do not give individual advice on setting up your online store. This article is simply some helpful thoughts from our own experience, that may be of help to someone else. Please approach a business coach or advisor for your own personal advice queries, or direct any questions you have to one of the many Australian Business forum Facebook groups online, who are more than happy to offer guidance and advice. We do not respond to requests for guidance in setting up your own online business, or in sourcing products.