Bootstrapping An Online Fabric Shop and Growing to $20K/mo

Published: June 19th, 2018
Chantelle Taylor & Brenda McArthur
Founder, The Fabric Loft
The Fabric Loft
from Okotoks, AB, Canada
started March 2013
Discover what tools Chantelle recommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Chantelle recommends to grow your business!

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hi - my name is Alanna Banks and I’m the owner of Fridays Off Fabric Shop. Fridays Off is an online fabric store based in Toronto, Canada that supplies fabric enthusiasts, quilters and makers with beautifully curated modern fabrics.

In addition to that, we operate a monthly fabric subscription club where subscribers receive one-of-a-kind bundles of fabric every month.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Before starting Fridays Off I was an Account Director at a public relations agency where I ran PR campaigns for consumer product brands.

After returning from a year long maternity leave I found it difficult to juggle my new life as a mom working in the confines of a 9-5, I also came to the realization that the corporate life just wasn’t for me and became very unhappy. I was tired of faking it and really just wanted to follow my forever dream of doing my own thing and being my own boss. So, I did what anyone would do in that situation and got pregnant again ;)

I bootstrapped the whole operation, using whatever I had in my bank account to buy my starting inventory of about 20 bolts of fabric.

Knowing I had another year-long maternity leave on the horizon, I started brainstorming e-comm business ideas. Then, in December 2012 it hit me. I was going to start an online fabric store carrying all the fabrics that I loved from my local brick and mortar fabric shop. I already had a blog called Fridays Off where I would ramble on about stuff, so the domain name was already established. I was a mediocre sewer and knew a little bit about fabric, but had the marketing and PR savvy to really sell it.

At the time there was almost no competition in Canada, but because I followed a lot of sewing related blogs and belonged to sewing related groups online I knew there was definitely a demand. People were tired of paying high shipping rates from online fabric shops in the US and wanted to shop Canadian.

I listened to these online conversations, researched the popular US shops and modeled Fridays Off after them with the goal of providing the Canadian customer with cool modern fabrics at competitive shipping rates.

I launched Fridays Off Fabric Shop in March 2013 using Shopify, just four months after I came up with the idea. I built the site myself using a free template, took all my own photography and wrote all the web content. I used my blog to announce the new direction of the website and posted the announcement all over my personal Facebook page asking friends and family to broadcast it for me.

I bootstrapped the whole operation, using whatever I had in my bank account to buy my starting inventory of about 20 bolts of fabric. It took three weeks to get my first sale (oh that felt good!) and I ended up with a total of five sales that month.

The first few months I treated Fridays Off more like a side hustle than a business because I wasn’t making any money. I remember my sales being so far a few between that we would ring the bell every time I got a sale. My first few months resulted in only 16 sales and a revenue of just over $700 (sad face). To be fair I had a major full time job in PR and was on my way out on maternity leave with a 2.5 year old in tow. I didn’t really take it too seriously, but I also desperately wanted it to succeed.

Fridays Off Alanna Banks

Fast forward six months, with a newborn I decided to participate in the largest crafting trade show of the year to get my brand noticed and talk to potential customers, also build my email list. It was there that I met the editor of Style at Home, a major Canadian interior design magazine.

This introduction resulted in Fridays Off being included in a feature story about the booming industry of online fabric shops in Canada. This helped legitimize my brand and put me on the map as a major fabric player in Canada and I saw my sales grow by 600% in 2014.

With that, I knew I had something good and decided to quit my job in the PR world and focus solely on Fridays Off. I needed a better recurring source of income to convince my husband and myself I had made the right decision. I had a lot of inventory that wasn’t moving so I started brainstorming ideas to get rid of it without running a big clearance sale. Subscription boxes were becoming popular so I started researching fabric subscriptions in Canada and nothing came up despite there being several in the US. I replicated what I saw businesses doing in the US and started Le Club Canada’s first fabric subscription club. It took some researching and digging around to find a subscription app that was compatible with Shopify. I started off with Recurhub, but later switched to Recharge. I blasted the link out to my meagre email list as well as my social media accounts and within the first month I had 15 subscribers to send to, from there it kept growing. Now we send to a 100+ subscribers and it represents 15% of my monthly revenue.

Fortunately, we live a fairly modest lifestyle and my husband was 100% supportive in the early days/years. Without that, I don’t think I would have been able to grow this brand in to what it is today.

It was also at this trade show where I started gathering names for my email newsletter list and distributed loads of business cards. From there, I did two more tradeshows and saw another 300% increase in 2015.

How have you attracted customers and grown the business to where it is today?

I can’t really say that I have a go-to platform for attracting customers, but one that works really well is email marketing. I have worked hard to build a substantial email newsletter list and I send frequent emails to my customers. I read somewhere that email should represent 20% of your sales so I work hard to keep up with that number. Our newsletter list has grown to 11,000+ subscribers and the majority of it has come from email lead capture pop-ups via Mailchimp and Justuno. We started out with MailChimp, but last year switched over to Klaviyo for our email newsletter platform. I send out at least one email per week with content like new arrivals, sales and pre-order information. My goal is to send out more content that’s less about the store and more informative. I’d like to have a better mix of salesy stuff and sewing related content.

I’m still trying to figure out Facebook and Instagram ads, but regardless I’m very active on both platforms and make it personal when posting content. I have a good mix of personal content and fabric to show that I’m a real person behind the brand. I have embodied Fridays Off and that resonates with my customers.

I just started a brand ambassador program on Instagram. I put a call out for people to apply who would be interested in receiving a discount three-month subscription to Le Club in exchange for 2 posts about the subscription in Instagram per month for 3 months. I had about 50 applicants and picked four. The programs is kicking off in June and I’m hopeful it will attract to customers.

Massive action! Keep taking action until you get the results you want. Failure is not an option.

Learning as much as I could about search engine optimization has been really helpful. In the early days I read Shopify Empire, The Definitive SEO Guide for Shopify by Josh Highland and followed everything that book discussed. I had a basic knowledge of SEO from blogs but the book really solidified things for me and gave me a step-by-step guide to get things done.

I googled my keywords every day until I got to the number one spot on the first page and I’ve probably edited my meta description 100 times to get that number one spot. I’m constantly tweaking the site to better optimize it and make sure Fridays Off comes out on top for Google searches. What seems to work for me is getting the write keywords in my meta description, keeping the content fresh on my site and writing meta descriptions for each product listed in my store. It’s a pain but it’s pays off in the end.

Coming from a PR/client service background my top priority is communication. I treat every customer like a client and I want them to understand that every step of the way. I have an extensive order confirmation email that communicates everything that they might be wondering.

I am super friendly in all of my correspondence with customers and send them a personalized thank you email after their first and second purchase using my email service provider Klaviyo.

The fabric I sell in the shop is premium quality, designer cotton. It’s the kind of fabric you want to keep. It’s so pretty you’re too afraid to cut into it. The fabric drops seasonally by collection in the same way fashion designers launch their lines. This anticipation creates excitement among fabric fiends and provides lots of visual content for Facebook and Instagram as well as email marketing campaigns. I ride the coattails of this excitement on social media and have an eye for curating beautiful bundles of colourful fabric.

My priority from day one has always been the customer.

Instagram and Facebook, email marketing, SEO and killer customer service.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve learned that not everything is going to work the first time or the second time for that matter. Resilience is key. I’ve had many failures but I just keep getting back up and trying again.

I’ve also learned that competition doesn’t matter. I do like to keep my finger on the pulse and listen to what they’re up to via social media, but it doesn’t influence my strategy or business plans.

Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?

I recently moved the shop into a new studio space and have hired an employee to help with cutting orders.

This has opened up a lot of extra time for me to work on building the brand and the business. My goal is to increase the subscription base and add new products. I’m using the time to focus on creating more content for my email newsletters like creating automated flows and weekly email newsletters. I’m also starting a brand ambassador program on Instagram (mentioned earlier) to increase exposure of my brand and Le Club. I’m looking at expanding my product offering and carrying more sewing related items such as scissors and sewing machines. I’ve already started carrying irons and ironing boards but haven’t put much effort behind marketing and advertising these products. I’m also going to start selling Fridays Off branded merchandise and plan to run a design competition to get customers to create fun sewing related sayings to be printed on t shirts etc.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

  • Shopify - Ecommerce platform.

  • Klaviyo - Email marketing.

  • Recharge - Recurring billing and subscriptions.

  • Justuno - Pop-ups and conversion marketing.

  • S Loyalty - Rewards and loyalty program.

  • Yotpo - Product reviews and site reviews.

I also love listening to podcasts. My go-to right now is Unf*ck Your Brain. When I first started out I listened to Shopify Masters Podcast a lot. I also listen to Masters Of Scale.

I also recommend reading Shopify Empire, The Definitive SEO Guide for Shopify by Josh Highland.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just go for it! You can think about your idea forever but if you put the idea into action and figure it out as you go at least you’ve got something started.

Massive action! Keep taking action until you get the results you want. Failure is not an option.

Consider hiring a coach. I worked with a retail coach in 2017 for about 6 months and it was extremely helpful. She pushed me to take action on ideas I had been thinking about and gave me a lot of great ideas that resulted in increased revenue.

Absorb it all. Listen to podcasts and read, read, read. Never stop learning.

Where can we go to learn more?