Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi Starter Story! Thanks so much for allowing me the opportunity to conduct this virtual interview with you:) My name is Serena Jenkins - Hannah and I own a fitness brand that helps women shape & tone their hourglass figure as well as mentally empower them in the process. We have multiple products for women but our #1 selling item is the Hannah Booty Band System. I’m also a Realtor® with SGE Realty.
I offer my services throughout Southern California. My current customers are women of all ages and backgrounds. I strongly believe that it’s never too late to get back into a fitness routine and begin taking care of yourself again. This is why I want to make sure and create something that I can share with women of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. I soon will be branching out and offering fitness products and workouts to children as well. This is something I’m extremely excited about!
My brand Serena Hannah Athletics has gone through many ups and downs just like any entrepreneurial business. Currently, we are on a slope & sales are slowly coming in. I truly got my start on Amazon. Amazon is an amazing platform, it’s easy to use and it’s created a lot of jobs for many sellers across the nation. It also has its downfalls, as Amazon does not treat their sellers & workers well. This is something that many sellers can attest to. Their communication through seller central is extremely bad and to be honest it seems fake. With That Being said, I’ve been able to have much success using their platform, which allowed me to make well over $100,000 in sales over the course of a year and a half. $70,000 of which came during COVID-19. I was able to sell out my products quickly each time I put them on their platform which in the beginning was something I was praying for but VERY shocked when it actually happened.
Currently, Serena Hannah Athletics has branched off Amazon onto Shopify to add cash flow. Building a brand outside of Amazon is more difficult because you have to find your customers as opposed to Amazon finding them for you.
I’ve invested a lot of money back into the brand to help it grow & I’m currently waiting on Amazon to allow my products back in stock. This is another MAJOR issue with their platform. They have the power to “lose, hold, and stall” your shipments and you as a seller have NO say in the matter. For example, I sent in my products in October and “they can’t do anything” until after Christmas. This is actually something that’s happened to me before as well and something I’m sure many other sellers can attest to. This is why building a brand outside of Amazon is a smart move. YOU take back your power instead of hoping for a scam customer service seller agent from who knows where telling you there is nothing they can do for you.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was born in Columbus, OH, spent some time in Montpelier, VT, and then moved to Jefferson City, MO at the age of 4. I was raised there until I moved to college. My dad’s background is with the government so my two older sisters moved around more than myself and my sister Brittany Friedman.
Growing up Black in a small country town was very exhausting at times, especially when I was younger. I can tell you so many racist incidents from my childhood, but I will refrain for now. I stuck out everywhere I went which ended up being a blessing in disguise I realize now as an adult. As a kid, I was given white dolls with bleach blonde hair and stick figures (Barbie). I was around a lot of white people, and I wanted to be like all my white friends growing up. I just wanted to be normal but I’m now realizing I’m far from it and I never was normal.
I discovered a passion for sport and exercise. I found an anger outlet as a kid in basketball. I would stay outside shooting until the street lights came on because it allowed me to “dream big” and get away from everything around me. Thank God my mother forced me to try out for the 7th-grade volleyball team or I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. I never wanted to play volleyball, but there was only one reason why. I didn’t see anyone that looked like me playing that sport growing up. And every one that DID play that sport was white with the Barbie shape. I was the complete opposite.
The summer before high school tryouts I remember doing everything I could to look like “the other girls” because I didn’t want to be the “curvy girl in little spandex.” I’ve learned over the years that one thing black women can’t hide, is their figure. As a child, it’s frowned upon and as an adult, it’s praised & desired (which I knew that in 9th grade). Despite my initial fear of spandex, I fell in love with the sport and the sport loved me back. Although I also loved the music I quickly noticed that black athletes were praised in a way that no one else was. I wanted respect, so I stuck to sports.
I went to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. An EXTREMELY racist area by the way, very similar to Orange County. This is something I did not know or understand at the time. I went there initially because they offered me scholarships in basketball and volleyball and I didn’t want to choose one at the time. Being one of the first Black athletes to be recruited to the volleyball team in years, I dealt with racist remarks from the Head Coach & other staff members. I wasn’t even allowed to try out for varsity after being told I “didn’t look right with the varsity team.” Melinda Washington with Columbia College in Columbia, MO was really a God sent an angel. I lasted one semester at Lindenwood University before transferring to her program because she recruited athletes from ALL ethnicities and nationalities. I went on to become a national athlete there.
I moved to San Jose, CA with my now-husband Jonathan Hannah and his brother Aldon Smith after college after landing an office assistant role with Carr & Ferrell, LLC in Menlo Park, CA. Corporate America quickly took a toll on me for multiple reasons so to gain control over my life again I began club coaching volleyball, high school volleyball, giving private volleyball lessons, & received her PT certification – these were my first entrepreneurial experiences.
When I unexpectedly became a mom at 23, I wanted to be present with her as much as possible so I started a clothing line with my best friend Reneta Johnson. We invested $10,000 into it but made the grave mistake of spending all the startup cash on everything except marketing, meaning we never made a profit. We’ve been hanging onto some of the pieces from our line and we may actually re-launch it again.
The most challenging aspects of designing the products were the time difference and the language barrier at times. You must be very specific about what you want, which is something I had to learn. I’ve never been asked to be that specific before.
After a brief return to volleyball coaching and dabbling in eyelash extensions, I began to wonder, am I just someone that starts something, gets excited, and then quits? I began working with the University of Saint Katherine in San Marcos, CA as the Assistant Volleyball coach to the great beach volleyball player, Karolyn Kirby. Together we created the University of Saint Katherine’s first volleyball manual and launched their volleyball program. It was an amazing experience. I then moved on to work for Love Works Method under Nicole Moore, as her Executive/Personal Assistant. I owe a lot to her and her husband Mike. This is where I learned how to run an online business and began to fully understand the importance of time. It finally clicked, having the ability to control your own time was actually what I truly desired. They were FREE and I wanted to be FREE as well.
The term I used for “freedom” was passive income. I began searching for anything that would allow me “passive income.” With the help of YouTube & Joshua Crip (an amazing FREE channel about selling on Amazon), Serena Hannah Athletics was born in 2018. I followed all of his videos like it was gospel. This was how I learned keyword research and found my number one selling product on Amazon, the Hannah Booty Band System.
I knew this was my “aha” moment because I was able to encompass my love for fitness with the desire for “freedom” through passive income. It was a match made in heaven. My unique selling proposition was to create an entire 30 Day workout program to go along with the product. I validated the product by stepping out on a leap of faith, ordering 300 units, and just said to myself “we’ll see what happens.” When they sold out way faster than I thought they would I was shocked.
I needed more validation so I ordered another 300 units and the same thing happened again. That’s when I knew I was really on to something special. My husband and I were able to invest the money back into the business each time and continued to grow and expand. ARMR (an Amazon representation company) was also very instrumental in helping me understand how to properly run and manage PPC Ads. At this time the business is slower than expected. Being unable to get the products back on Amazon is gravely affecting sales and income. We have multiple cash flows (one thing every entrepreneur should have) so we’re still doing well at this point.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I learned how to source and manufacture products from watching Joshua Crisp on YouTube. I was able to use Alibaba.com to find a trusted manufacturer. I received samples from 3 companies to compare quality and pricing before choosing our current manufacturer. He’s been by our side since we launched the brand and continues to help us grow and source new products for us.
I was able to design the products with him from inspiration, studying the work of other sellers & reading the reviews about what customers said they liked and disliked about the other seller’s products. The number one complaint of my product was “no workout videos” so I knew that’s what I needed to add to my product to make it stand out.
The most challenging aspects of designing the products were the time difference and the language barrier at times. You must be very specific about what you want, which is something I had to learn how to do on the go during the design process because I’ve never been asked to be that specific before. Everything is a learning process when you try something new, but by studying and communicating through Skype & email we were able to make something special.
Before placing the full order, my manufacturer was able to send me about 5 units as samples. With these samples, I was able to hire models and shoot the workout videos while the rest of my products were getting made and shipped.
My start-up costs were about $2,500 for products. I was able to use A.C.E. Fitness after hours for free (Thank you A.C.E. Fitness) to record the workouts, & Reneta Johnson (same business partner from the clothing line) helped me hire all of the models & the photographer.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Once I launched it took about a week before I really started to see the sales coming in. I remember refreshing my phone with the Amazon app every 30 minutes it seemed like. Each time I got a sale I would say “Thank You.” I even created a “daily routine” for myself saying that I was manifesting sales. The funny part is it actually worked! I would clean the kitchen and vacuum every day and the entire time I would say to myself “Thank You for the Sales.”
They began coming in faster so I just kept doing the same routine every day. My husband was shocked that it was actually working and told me to keep doing it lol. We launched and sold out faster than I’d ever imagined.
In addition to my little routine, I learned how to use PPC ads and began launching a couple to test them out. I was able to sell out with only 4 keywords in my ads. This means I was REALLY onto something because you’re taught to continually launch ads and keywords. I had not even made it that far into the process yet and was still seeing success.
I created my website from scratch myself. I learned how to create the website from playing around online when I launched myself as a personal trainer so I already had a background in it. The website was pretty easy and fun to create with the help of GoDaddy. I don’t have screenshots of the old website but the image below was our main image for the product in the beginning.
The best way to get into the growth phase is to begin to hire help. This will allow you to step out of the self-employed phase (where you must do all tasks yourself) and allow you the space you need to create.
We used our own savings to invest in the business. We didn’t use any credit cards or outside sources of income. It was savings & faith.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that entrepreneurship is a journey and it doesn’t have a start and end date attached to it. Investing in yourself is something you will have to continually do and your business is what you make of it. I’ve stopped and started at Serena Hannah Athletics many times.
The beautiful part was that it was always sitting there waiting for me to return to it once I was ready to do so. The hardest part about starting anything is actually stepping out on a leap of faith and doing it. Your business will continually be there waiting for you to get back into the groove and take a mental break if you need to. What pushed me into the growth phase was beginning to hire help. This I learned from reading Robert Kiyosaki’s books. Do you want to be self - employed or do you want to be a business owner? Once I began to understand that I needed to shift into a business owner I began to grow.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, I would say the best thing I did was begin speaking to my customers as if they were my best friend via email after they emailed in. I began doing this because I was very tired of the way customer service emails were coming to me when I emailed companies. So making the emails very personable and chatting with my customers really helped with customer retention.
For aspiring founders, based on what I learned, the best way to get into the growth phase is to begin to hire help. This will allow you to step out of the self-employed phase (where you must do all tasks yourself) and allow you the space you need to create.
The steps we took to increase sales and traffic were hiring an agency to handle the Amazon PPC & Facebook Ads management. Trusting in my team and allowing them the space they needed to get results was instrumental in helping us grow. We have begun working with Otter PR, which has been a very exciting experience. This is my first time working with a PR Company so we look forward to growing with them.
We are currently working on bringing existing customers back through the creation of the Fitness App. This app will house all of the workout videos & will also be the place we add the kid’s line to as well.
I think Amazon is an amazing channel to start on. They bring you the customers! Once you begin to grow, it’s VERY important to take the proper steps to branch off from just that one channel because again, they cater to customers NOT sellers. As a seller, you are a dime in a dozen. You must find ways to differentiate yourself and your products from your competitors. I started on Amazon because I did not know how to market my business correctly and I did not yet understand how to scale Facebook ads. Amazon PPC is very easy to get started with and if you find a winning bunch of “keywords” you can be off to the races in no time!
Below you will find examples of different ads we’ve run through Amazon. Some are “winning” ads and other campaigns are not so great. The important thing to remember here is to keep testing ads until you find ads that will work. I’ve also made the grave mistake of forgetting that an ad was running and accidentally spent way more than I should have before finally turning it off. If you look closely below you may be able to spot that one out. We are in the process of adding a store to our Instagram page and a store to our Facebook page to allow for more sales and traffic.
My biggest mistake was spending the entire $10,000 on everything but marketing and sales. If I could do that over I would have started with WAY less money invested and spent the MAJORITY of it on marketing and ads for sales.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Profitable? Yes, the brand is very profitable. We have good profit margins and good systems and operations set up in place. We are now working on expansion and scaling.
My cost of goods is around $12. Initially, they were around $15 but through the consistent ordering and building a relationship with our current manufacture as well as continually increasing the number of units ordered each time I’ve been able to negotiate the price down to its current price of $12/unit.
My customer acquisition cost is $59.99-$69.99 depending upon the time of year, the channel it’s being sold on, and the pace at which the product is selling. For Serena Hannah Athletics CLV is currently a calculation that we have not yet added into the business. We will be adding this metric once the fitness app is created.
Adding the app will allow us to track customers transitioning from the purchase of an initial product into a monthly subscription. We currently have around 800 email subscribers. Consistent email marketing is something that we have not yet added but are working on right now.
Our social media following is a little under 19K. Having consistent Facebook ads running, adding live workouts, and having a consistent social media presence will help increase the following. Our ROAS for amazon is currently 3.77. Please see the example screenshot below:
Here is an example of a GREAT “winning” ad. We owe a lot of this to ARMR. They were very instrumental in helping us learn how to run our Amazon PPC Ads correctly to get the most profitability and help us scale.
Facebook Advertising is something that we are just now jumping into. The 2020 election (we believe) has affected our advertising efforts so we have paused these ads for now and will get them back up and running very soon.
Our Net Margin right now is currently around 50% and we are hoping to stay or increase that number back up. Our net margins have been as high as 80% depending upon how much we must spend on Ad cost.
Serena Hannah Athletics has two distribution channels we use. We work with Amazon as a fulfillment center & ShipCalm as a fulfillment center for Shopify orders. Up until now the majority of our sales have come from Amazon and products have been shipped through their fulfillment center. Scaling and growing the Shopify store is what we are currently focused on to allow for another consistent cash flow.
We have now hired a team of people to help us with the brand. We work with a full-service agency, Riches & Saint. They have been absolutely amazing. They have taken over all the social media content/management, photography, graphic design, Facebook ads, etc. I also have an assistant that is now helping me to handle customer service emails. This will now allow me the ability to create & become the brand visionary.
I plan to expand my products internationally. On Amazon, we are looking at expanding into Canada & the UK. With the help of Shopify, Shipstation, & ShipCalm we are NOW able to ship products internationally to all countries. This is a very exciting achievement!
Short Term Goals: Sell 3,000 units of the Hannah Booty Band System as quickly as possible & launch my kid’s line.
Long Term Goals: Grow the Serena Hannah Athletics brand to a million-dollar brand & sell over 1100 units monthly.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Yes, I’ve learned SO many things from starting and running my own business. Things they don’t teach in school, but should. My biggest mistake was spending the entire $10,000 on everything but marketing and sales. If I could do that over I would have started with WAY less money invested and spent the MAJORITY of it on marketing/ads for sales and conversions.
When I dabbled in eyelash extensions after getting my certification my grave mistake here was NOT spending money to rent a studio space. I was driving all around wasting SO much time and energy. When I was working as a personal trainer, my big mistake was not branching off on my own. Working as a trainer for a corporate gym in my opinion is exhausting. You do all the work, they keep all the money. When I was giving private volleyball lessons, my grave mistake here was not using some of the money to rent out a gym space. I was giving lessons at parks and outside, but obviously weather & not having a consistent space to go took a toll here.
The best decision I made was to KEEP trying things until I found what worked for me. Yes, find something you love to do, it helps keep you motivated throughout the process. But remember that if you want it to be your full-time income, love comes second to profit margins.
The MOST helpful habit is to continue to work on yourself. I go in and out of remembering and fulfilling this actually. When I work on myself and focus on my goals, my business grows. When I’ve given all of my love, energy, and time away it’s difficult for me to grow my business. When I work out, meditate, and control my thoughts (self - development), I manifest whatever I want. The last tip I have (and this goes for myself as well) is to do the things you don’t want to do in the morning. Do the things you hate to do first. As of late, I’ve been doing the opposite and it has been working out well. So I’m going to be working on switching back to this routine: wake up, workout, meditate, shower, do the things I don’t want to do as soon as possible, and then relax.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My absolute favorite tool right now is Canva. I’m SO thankful for their platform! It’s so powerful and easy to use. The best part, it’s free. It’s allowed me to create my own artwork in a way that I never thought possible. I’ve gone through stages where I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Canva was my outlet. It allowed me to express myself through Art. I also used Canva for all of my Amazon images as well.
When I initially launched my products on Amazon I used GoDaddy to handle my website (it was cheap and easy to use), domains, & emails. My email marketing/CRM was Mailchimp because they were free. We have now branched off GoDaddy for the website and onto Shopify. Their platform is very smooth. We’ve also now set up Shipstation to allow for international sales. Also when I launched I stored all the products in my garage, and then a storage unit, finally we’ve transitioned into a fulfillment center in San Diego. This is a huge accomplishment for Serena Hannah Athletics and I'm very thankful not to have to package products myself till my fingers go numb and stand in line at the post office daily anymore.
Productivity is still something I’m working on! I’m taking a course to maximize how to use Google Calendar efficiently right now & a course on Personal Productivity actually. The course was $10 on Udemy! You can learn A LOT from Udemy and their courses are very cheap.
I’ve hired graphic designers, photographers, & video editors all on Fiverr during the start-up phase and still use this website for freelance work currently. My best advice on getting reviews has been to give reviews to others. Once I started doing that I saw it come back to me tenfold.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Scott Voelker’s podcast - taught me the importance of growing my own brand and not just selling on one channel.
Robert Kiyosaki books - taught me the importance of becoming a business owner vs. self - employed.
Manifestation Babe podcast - gave me the belief and motivation that what I desire I can have.
Dana Wilde Podcast - taught me the power of controlling your thoughts.
Marisa Peer Rapid Transformational Therapy - helped me gain more confidence in myself.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
If you are just starting, pick 1-2 people you want to be like and follow everything they say (they are where YOU want to be). Take it one day at a time and before you know it you will have created something really special. Something that no one can take away from you. And remember if you need a mental break, take it. It will be waiting for you when you get back.
My best advice is something that I’m still learning myself as well. Fear is your worst enemy. But it’s only “true” if you believe it. It can paralyze you from ever obtaining success at anything. There is SO much power in vision boards & controlling your thoughts. I’ve stopped, started again, failed & had to get back up again so many times it’s not even funny. The power is always in your ability to get back up again and try. I’ve just managed to “fall flat on my face” yet again recently during COVID-19, but I always get back up and you should too.
Fear: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m always looking for interns that can turn into paid positions. My current Executive Assistant/Personal Assistant started as an intern for only 2-3 months and she will continue to grow with the brand now.
Product submissions, writers for blog posts, & social media engagement would be the 3 main areas we are looking into at this time. But honestly, I’m a firm believer that ANYONE with the desire to learn CAN LEARN a new skill. So if you’re motivated and you love the brand please reach out. I’d be happy to speak with you :) My personal assistant is learning on the go right now just like me!
Where can we go to learn more?
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