How Judith Treanor Started A Business Sourcing Products From Southeast Asia

Published: December 29th, 2018
Judith Treanor
Temples and Markets
from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
started February 2015
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi, I am Judith Treanor, founder of online curated store Temples and Markets. Every Product has a story and every product has been ethically sourced from artisans and Social Enterprises in S.E Asia.

In my store I tell the stories behind the artisan made products and the people who make them, giving a human element to the often cold world of E-commerce.

Temples and Markets showcases accessories, bags, jewelry and home decor unique to the region of S.E Asia. The gorgeous products I source are handmade, crafted from sustainable materials and more often than not from interesting or upcycled materials.

My customers are in demographic 30-55, high income, lovers of travel. They tend to be conscious consumers who care about doing good in the world.

Since launch, I have grown a loyal customer base and a quarter of my customers are repeat.


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

My love of S.E Asia is represented through Temples and Markets.

I have been fortunate to have traveled extensively and often to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Singapore over the last 20 years. During those travels, I’ve been awestruck by the creativity of the people I met, their stories of resilience against hardship, and their creations that are borne out of hardship.

So often they have come from marginalized or poverty-stricken areas and use traditional crafts and sustainable materials to handmade unique and gorgeous items that one could never see elsewhere.

When I would return back home in Sydney, Australia from a trip to S.E Asia and be stopped in the street to be asked: “where did you get that?”.

From there, I conceptualized the idea to expose the unique creations I found on my travels to a broader market outside the region.

Furthermore, I wanted to help others who experience what I call “Buyers’ Regret”. I know I’m not the only one who experiences this. Buyers’ Regret is a name I give to not buying all those wonderful things you see on your holidays because of budget or financial restraints. One gets home and wishes we’d bought more.

Temples and Markets showcases many products that can usually only be found on one’s travels so solving one’s buyers regret!. For example Eugenie Darge is a popular brand of homewares found in Vietnam, however, prior to launching Eugenie’s designs on Temples and Markets it wasn’t possible to find her brand online or outside of Vietnam.

At the time of business conception, I was owner of interior design and renovation company Inspired Property Designs. When I first left university however I worked in the Buying and Merchandising of two major Department Store groups in London - first House of Fraser and then Debenhams. I guess you could say my working life has gone full circle. I’ve always sourced product whether it be in retail or interior design.

I used the revenue from Inspired Property Designs to invest in stock for the new business Temples and Markets.

Take us through the process of finding your products and showcasing them.

Prior to launch, I spent 10 months sourcing products and designing an online store.

I traveled to S.E Asia three times during that time to find the products that I loved, and that I hoped my target market would love too. I gravitate to color and unique design and that’s what I was looking for.

I was able to work with a contact I had in Siem Reap, Cambodia - my favourite travel writer and fountain of knowledge on all things S.E Asia Lara Dunston from Grantourismtravels, who introduced me to vendors/designers/makers there. I already knew some of the product I had in mind for the store from having walked the streets of this charming town and fallen in love with so many of the creations I’d seen there.


I did a lot of googling pre travel to work out who I wanted to meet in Chiang Mai and Bangkok Thailand, so by the time I arrived I had meetings set up. However much of the sourcing process involved hot days and nights walking through markets such as Chatuchak in BKK, or Chiang Mai’s night market and chatting to designers and makers about selling their products in my store.

In the pre launch phase I bought in $10,000AUD of stock. The majority of this was either brought back with me via the plane trip home or sent via courier.

Startup costs included $5000AUD for web development and product photography, travel to S.E Asia and business registration. All up I invested $25k to start Temples and Markets.

Describe the process of launching the business.

It took almost a year to source product, photograph products, design and populate the website with images and descriptions.

I used $25k to start the business - a combination of funds from my previous business and a loan from our Family Trust. I tend to be very frugal when it comes to cash flow and watch every cent that goes out from my business.

If something doesn’t work, try something else, particularly when it comes to marketing. Every business is different so Instagram, for instance, might work for some but not for everyone.

I saw customers as soon as I launched but as is common, they were mostly friends and family at the start! It took until the following year to feel the business was really gaining traction, and another year after that to feel like Temples and Markets had taken off. However, my business is a gift store - it is by its very nature seasonal in its success. The two months before Xmas are always the busiest times.

I also do Pop Up Shops pre-Xmas so I can increase revenue and get further exposure for my brand. Pop Ups can be anything from one day to 6 weeks or 3 months. My preference is to be in and out quickly as that makes a pop up more interesting to the local consumers. I negotiate with landlords (not an easy task as generally they don’t like to do pop ups) and try to share the spaces with complimentary businesses.

It has to be noted though that e-commerce is extremely tough and is characterized by highs and lows. One might think one’s business has taken off but then have a couple of months where it seems the business has died a death. This can be excruciatingly demoralizing at times but it’s important to ride those waves.


Unique products is what we’re all about. The Lotus de Luze Foldable Tote Bag by CUSHnart is just one example of the type of bright and beautiful ethical bags we sell in store.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?


For me, PR is a big thing. Every product has a story and that is a big story in and of itself. Also, the fact that my store is part of the growing ethical shopping movement is something that I want to shout from the rooftops. PR is the way to do that.

I use Source Bottle to hear about PR opportunities - this is a daily email that journos use to ask for content. A lot of PR opportunities come through word of mouth once people get to know who you are.

Here’s a couple examples. This article came early on and more recently this one as well.


SEO is key for my business. The majority of my traffic comes via google - consumers are searching for the products that I sell because in general they can’t be found elsewhere.

My daily website visits are on average 120. 85% of that roughly comes through SEO/Google. I rank highly for niche keywords such as “tribal bags” and “boho blokes”.

I’m rising up the rankings for more commonly searched terms such as “Beach Bags” and “Thailand Home Decor” (on page 2 for the latter currently). Also I tend to rank at no 2 on Page 1 for my biggest selling brand Zsiska Jewellery. That happened within the first year. However it has taken nigh on 3 years to rank highly for Thai decor and Tribal Bags. Ranking for the fun term Boho Blokes happened in a few short months pre Xmas this year.

SEO is a minefield though - only after 2 ½ years did I decide to engage an SEO company Talk About Creative to help me with this and the work they do is phenomenal. I couldn’t possibly do this on my own. Thoroughly recommend finding an SEO company who has a good reputation.

For me, they have set to work to position me as an expert in S.E Asian travel by arranging guest posts for travel blogs. They are working hard on improving backlinks through these travel blogs, and they have also used fashion stylist blogs to write about my products.

In addition the SEO experts have rewritten some of my collection and product content to optimise the keywords. Equally they have written blogs on my own site on either S.E Asia or gifting suggestions. They are monitoring rankings, and suggesting new keywords to go after, on a consistent basis.


I use email marketing to announce new arrivals and promotions. These drive traffic to the website and remind previous customers about my store.

I recently reduced my list from 6000 to 2000 because a business generally wants quality over quantity on a database. For anyone who hasn’t opened an email in 2 years it really isn’t worth paying your email software provider for them to stay on your list.

I try to send an email out once a fortnight, but nearer to Xmas I was sending gift guides every two or three days.

I have an automated welcome email campaign for new subscribers - they get 3 emails over a period of 2 weeks.

I also have “Abandoned Cart”, “Receipt and Thank you” or “We Miss You” emails set up to send automatically. Birthday emails work well too.

I recently changed from Mailchimp to Klaviyo for my email marketing, I wish I had done that sooner. Klaviyo is much more intuitive. It integrates very well with Shopify, and email campaign design on Klaviyo is a breeze compared to Mailchimp.

Average open rates I get on newsletter emails are 18% and 1.3% click rate. I’m always working on bettering these but it is tough. People are less and less inclined to open marketing emails these days.

Amazon & eBay

I am on Amazon and Ebay as well - these bring in extra sales and I was one of the first sellers on Amazon AU when they launched last year,

Overwhelmingly, my own website is where the majority of sales come from. Amazon is yet to really take off in Australia but I’m hanging in there as I’m convinced it will happen.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

All revenue is still going back into the business - for stock, marketing and pop up shop rental.

I am now actively seeking to scale the business, hence engaging an SEO agency and a PR consultant. I recognized I could not do everything myself and it was time to outsource and play to my strengths e.g those strengths are business development, sourcing and website maintenance.

The business is forecast to be in profit next year as I am anticipating a strong Christmas sales period for 2018.

My aim is to be Australia’s go-to online curated store for ethical gift shopping. ⅓ of my customer base is from worldwide and I would like to expand on this further by investing in global SEO next year.

As far as sales distribution, 85% of sales are through my online store. 10% through pop up shops I do once or twice a year. 3% from Ebay and 2% from Amazon.

As far as email subscribers, when I moved from Mailchimp to Klaviyo for email marketing I did a cull of non engaged subscribers. The list went down from 6500 to 1900. It is recommended to do this as subscribers are best looked at in terms of quality not quantity.

Some other stats:

  • My average order is $100
  • Revenue is up 57% on previous year.
  • Online traffic is up 47% on previous year
  • Returning customer rate is 24%
  • Online store conversion is .33% so I need to work on this.

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

If something doesn’t work, try something else, particularly when it comes to marketing. Every business is different so Instagram, for instance, might work for some but not for everyone.

For me, SEO/Google drives most of the targeted traffic to my store. Social media is necessary for brand awareness but generally not for sales, in my case. Having said that in the last 2 weeks I had two sales directly from Instagram posts on the same day I posted. That’s a new phenomenon for my business and great news, particularly as I ensure I post daily on Instagram to stay top of my mind for my followers.

I’ve learned so much and grown so much since starting the business. I originally paid a web developer to build my Shopify site and if I look at what the site looked like at the start it’s really quite embarrassing. I’ve been able to update my site to appear much more luxe and well set out than the company I paid to do that for me at the start. I’ve learned so much in terms of web design myself along the way that now I’m able to maintain design and content myself. I’m very proud of that achievement. I can now create websites for other people if they ask. Another string to my bow!

Another big decision relates to dropshipping. When I first started Temples and Markets the idea was to drop ship directly from suppliers to customers. This lowers financial risk of course and saves having to hold stock. However, unless you are selling high volume or very high-value products drop shipping is a model that really doesn’t work. The margins are way too low. Furthermore, the public is on to dropshipping now - they tend to steer away from small retailers who aren’t shipping their own products

Another lesson I’ve learned in e-commerce is good photos/images can make or break a website. This is probably one of the first lessons every e-retailer should learn. Invest in good imagery otherwise your products just won’t sell and visitors to your site will leave as quickly as they entered.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I use Shopify and from my understanding, this is far and away the best e-commerce platform for security, themes available and a myriad of plugins available.

I use Sendle Australia for fulfillment/shipping domestically and overseas. They’ve saved me so much time and money; a courier picks up packages from my door. When I started the business I was queuing up at the local post office to send orders. An utter waste of time.

Lucky Orange is my favorite plugin for Shopify - it allows you to view visitors on your website in real time, and watch how they behave and gauge why they leave without purchasing.

Klaviyo instead of Mailchimp - Only recently I moved my email marketing from Mailchimp to Klaviyo and I wish I’d done that a long time before. Klaviyo is so much more intuitive, designing campaigns on Klaviyo is relatively simple compared to Mailchimp and the integration with Shopify is a huge plus.

I love Later for scheduling social media posts.

I use for customer reviews - very happy with them, a much cheaper review app than the more famous Yotpo.

A long time ago I realized I had to play to my strengths and I couldn’t do everything myself. One of those things that take too much of my time was photoshopping images, hence I use the Fiverr platform for photoshopper freelancers.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I don’t tend to read business books. I love to read but fiction and non-fiction biographies are my thing - not business publications.

However, I do watch webinars and have learned a great deal about selling through Instagram from Alex Tooby and her Hashtag Hero course.

Generally, I gain my business tips and guidance from the women’s business FB groups I’m in - they’re a constant source of information from people in the same boat as I am

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

My top tip would be ‘’don’t be afraid to evolve”. When I first conceptualised Temples and Markets it was to be an online store that showcased unique products from S.E Asian emerging designers. While it is still that in essence, it did quickly evolve into a store that is proudly part of the ethical shopping movement. I actively seek out products made from recycled or interesting materials that aren’t harmful to the planet, and I’m thrilled that my business is making a difference in the world, if only in a small way.

The biggest lesson since launch and something I tell a lot of new business owners is this: “just because you build a beautiful website with beautiful products do not think that means people will automatically come to your site, and do not think they will necessarily buy once they do get there. You need to have a niche, a point of difference that separates you from the others. Launching a website is the easy part. Targeting customers and attracting them through digital marketing, SEO, social media, PR and so on is where the hard work is. One could easily spend 24/7 marketing the business. WIthout marketing your website is basically a shop in a dead end alley off a high street that nobody can find. You have to be prepared to try different methods of marketing, you may waste money and make mistakes along the way, and if something doesn’t work try something else. Adapt and change. The website you launch with will look very different two or three years down the track”

In addition I will always tell entrepreneurs just starting out to ‘play to your strengths” If I’d carried on trying to do everything in my business alone as I did at the start, I’d have crashed a long time ago. Yes you may have to pay freelancers or SEO professionals but they are the experts at what they do, and those investments will pay off in the long run.


Luxe Multi Wrap Lotus Charm Bracelet* by Senhoa - Senhoa empowers women rescued from human trafficking in Cambodia through fair work and training in the craft of jewellery making. Temples and Markets is proud to support this ethical organisation making a difference.*

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I am always keen on guest bloggers to feature on my site - particularly in the field of S.E Asian travel and ethical shopping. I would consider paying if the blogger had a significant following and credibility.

Where can we go to learn more?