Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Amanda Austin, and I’m the founder of Little Shop of Miniatures.
My ecommerce store offers thousands of dollhouse kits and dollhouse miniatures for sale. My main customers are hobbyists who enjoy assembling, building, and furnishing dollhouses, though customers have also included kids who need miniatures for school projects and companies creating model displays for corporate trade shows
I launched my store in November 2017; right now my revenue averages about $4,000/month (of course it’s much higher during the holidays!). Summer tends to be the slowest time of the year since this hobby is most popular during the cold weather months. My gross margin is about 35%.
I run a dropship store, which means I pay a supplier to pick, pack, and ship the order to my customer. I have two wholesalers who dropship for me and they are both great. My main drop shipper has about 20,000 different dollhouse miniatures and dollhouse building supplies in stock!
What's your b ****ackstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was unhappily working in marketing for a Fortune 500 insurance company when I started looking at ways to create a new income stream. I became interested in ecommerce and invested in a course to learn more. I compiled a list of keywords for products that had decent search volume and not terribly competitive to rank for in organic search. I used Long Tail Pro to get ideas--I had so many when I first started!
My business is a small, mostly passive income stream and I’m okay with that. There is so much more I could be doing with my store, but right now I am loving the extra income stream that allows me to work part-time at my day job and spend more time with my infant daughter.
A bunch of keywords in the dollhouse miniatures space fit the bill. I used Long Tail Pro and looked for keywords that were competitive--which on there is a score in the twenties or low thirties. I also wanted them to have at least 2,000 searches per month. This is not a ton, but five keywords with that search volume that are not that competitive can lead to a decent number of organic traffic if you build your site the right way. My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to find a niche with a nice handful of keywords you can rank for with quality content and a nice backlinking strategy. Don’t try to be number one for some saturated keyword that has a million searches a month. Go for keywords where you stand a chance of ranking--this is usually so-called long tail keywords that are really phrases--for example, “wooden dollhouse furniture” instead of just “dollhouse.”
What also tipped the scale for me was the fact that all the sites selling minis were atrocious. So I flew out to Las Vegas to attend one of the biggest trade shows for dollhouse miniatures. It was there where I met a company willing to drop ship for me. This was a huge relief because I feature thousands of dollhouse miniatures on my site and I did not want to invest in a warehouse or buy all that inventory!
This niche also appealed to me because my grandma made me a dollhouse when I was a kid. There was a miniatures store in my local mall and I was obsessed with it--I probably spent every allowance and communion dollar I had there. So I had some familiarity and affinity for minis.
I did a lot of the legwork for my business while still working full time. This included picking my niche, choosing a shopping cart, finding suppliers, and choosing a name and logo. Eventually, I did quit my job to create the site. I had savings to tide me over during that time and my husband put me on his health insurance.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I used Shopify to set up my store--I love it! I probably asked their support team a million questions in the first few months.
My background was in copywriting and websites. I knew how to write for both search engines and a reader. So after I uploaded about a bazillion products, I created a blog with tons of rich keywords related to dollhouse miniatures. I’ve been rather lazy about updating content, but to this day it brings thousands of people to my site for free every month. Some of my most popular posts include “9 Free Dollhouse Miniatures Printables Site” and “How to Choose a Dollhouse Glue.”
The store was profitable from the first month it opened, I think I cleared a $50 profit that first month! Now, I am making about $800 in profit each month. It will be about triple that for the holiday season.
I used my own savings to start this business. The actual costs were low--below $5,000. The biggest expense was the opportunity cost of not working a day job for several months to get the site up and running.
I launched the site on November 11, 2017. It took several days to get my first customer and the first year was pretty slow. What I learned during this time was that I get very lonely working from home by myself all day. By the time winter rolled around, I was really going crazy. That, combined with the trickle of money coming in, led to me accept a full-time job at a successful business with a large online presence in my town.
Today, I manage their Shopify, Amazon, brand partnerships, email marketing, and digital advertising. It was the right move: I enjoy the work and I learn a lot there every day about how to run an ecommerce site. I run my store during weekends, evenings, and lunch breaks.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Here are some ways I grew my business:
1 - Great design
Making my site more attractive and easier to use than the competition. This was not hard to do--just look at some of my competition to see what I’m talking about.
2 - Invested in SEO
I had three main keywords I wanted to rank for and I used them in my product descriptions, alt tags, meta descriptions, title tags, etc.
Probably the best thing I did was write really helpful content for my blog. I get a TON of traffic this way.
I then created Pinterest pins for several posts. I get about 700 referrals from Pinterest a week from just three pins that are getting reshared. I am hardly a designer, but you can create free pins very easily in Canva. Just use one of their super easy Pinterest pin templates. I’d create pins in there, save the image to my desktop, and then upload the pin and link back to my site. I upload these pins to board on a Pinterest profile I created just for this business--it’s full of miniatures and dollhouse tips.
3 - Roundup posts
I did some roundup posts about the best blogs and Instagram accounts to follow if you love dollhouse miniatures. I’d reach out to each influencer and ask if I could include them.
They were usually really flattered and gave me a backlink and traffic. I also befriended The Daily Mini, who has 100K plus followers on Instagram. She featured me on her account on and on her website. She later included some of my products in a book she published!
4 - Set up a welcome drip email
I set up a welcome series in Klaviyo. I give people a coupon in exchange for their email. Once I have their email, I have a 17 email long welcome series that’s a mix of interesting content and promos. This, along with an abandoned cart email, is a must.
I did boost some Facebook posts and even dabbled in Google Ads. But my margins aren’t good enough to support digital advertising. So right now, I rely almost exclusively on ranking high on the first page of Google and on returning customers. About 11% of my traffic is from returning customers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The store was profitable from the first month it opened--if I remember correctly, I think I cleared a $50 profit that first month! Now, I am making about $800 in profit each month. It will be about triple that for the holiday season. My gross margin is about 40% and my operating margin is about 35%. From what I understand, this is pretty good for a drop ship store. Right now, Shopify said my store grew 212% year over year. I probably spend about two hours a week on it.
My main goal is to add more products to the site--I have about 2,300 uploaded but my supplier has something like 20,000 to choose from! I also need to get better at email marketing. My blog could also benefit from more frequent posts. I must keep my top spot on organic Google search!
I toy with the idea of going big and owning this industry. But with a young and growing family, it just isn’t the right time. For now, I just keep gathering intelligence on my competitors and think about where I might want to go with this.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Digital advertising is expensive and not worth it if you don’t have a high margin product. Because I dropship, I soon realized that I need to steer clear of that and instead invest in good SEO and putting out good content.
Do some keyword research--once you know the keywords to target, create some great content around them.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I love Shopify! It’s so easy to use and no other ecommerce platform really compares. Their support team is the best I’ve ever worked with.
Klaviyo is the email marketing platform you want if you’re in the ecommerce space. I recently got the owner of the company at my day job to switch over.
Some apps I get through the Shopify store that I really like include:
- Free Shipping Bar: Lets my customers know how much they need to add to their cart to get free shipping
- JSON-LD for SEO: Gives your store a big-time SEO boost for a one-time, affordable fee.
- Klickly: A newer digital advertising option that lets you pay only when someone buys from your store. You choose the commission you want to pay, with higher commissions giving you great exposure.
- Rewind: Backs up my store daily.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Steve Chou’s My Wife Quit Her Job is a great podcast if you’re interested in starting an ecommerce store. He interviews super successful ecommerce store owners, so I always learn a ton when I tune in.
I also love the How I Built This podcast. I’m always reminded that we all start out clueless with little more than an idea and that everyone is figuring it out as they go along.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My business is a small, mostly passive income stream and I’m okay with that. At this stage in my life with an infant daughter, I am just not in a place to go all in with a business.
There is so much more I could be doing with my store, but right now I am loving the extra income stream that allows me to work part-time at my day job. Beyond that, I still find it thrilling when I get a notification that someone placed an order. I’ve had many hundreds of orders at this point, but it never gets old!
I also learned that no business is totally passive. My store stopped communicating with my drop shipper’s FTP right before Black Friday, which was when I gave birth to my first child. Essentially, my store was listing items for sale that were out of stock. So I had to send an email to my customers letting them know which items were out of stock and did they still want the order? It was hell and I was actually emailing people in the early stages of labor! It took me 6 months to get the issue fully solved.
At several times, I thought of closing the store because it was beyond stressful with a newborn keeping me up all hours of the night. Luckily, I’m stubborn as hell and just kept pecking away at it. So I would just warn others to expect bumps in the road--and to expect them to come at the worst possible time. Also remember that there is a solution to every problem and you’ll be glad you found it once you’re on the other side.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: shopofminiatures.com
- Facebook: Little Shop of Miniatures
- Instagram: @littleshopofminiatures
- Pinterest: Amanda Loves Miniatures
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Shoot me an email!