This is a follow up story for Vagabond Heart. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi, my name is Mike Lecky, I’m a carpenter and entrepreneur living in Montreal, QC, and Prince Edward Island, in eastern Canada. At my company, Vagabond Heart, we make cool, design-forward travel patches for people’s luggage.
Tired of seeing the boring same old rectangular country flag patches at every souvenir shop, I decided to start a company that made better ones. Our patches combine a vintage mid-century vibe with a clean modern aesthetic to make patches, stickers, and enamel pins that will help your bag stand out on the luggage carousel.
I started the company three years ago with about $2,000 and last year I sold over $100,000 worth of patches and stickers.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since the last time we talked, the biggest area of growth has been on Amazon. I’d only had FBA listings on Amazon for about 3 months last time, and sales gave grown by about 4x since then, which I attribute mostly to the listings being up long enough to gain some steam in the Amazon algorithm, after accumulating some sales and reviews.
Make sure you’re niched down far enough that the people that are interested in your products are really interested.
The biggest step I took in the business was to find a 3PL fulfillment company to do all my shipping and receiving for me! Previously I’d been doing all the packaging and shipping of orders myself, and it was starting to take up a large chunk of my time (a good problem to have, for sure). After interviewing about 15 companies I eventually found one I liked at the right price and shipped all of my stock to them. Not only did this allow me to offer faster shipping times because they were dedicated to doing it 6 days a week, but it also meant I could finally go full Digital Nomad. As soon as the 3PL had everything under control I packed up and headed to the East Coast of Canada where I grew up, and I spent the next 6 months building a cottage during the day and managing the business a few evenings a week.
As far as growing the business, I’ve been focusing on adding more products to the catalog. When we spoke last I had about 45 different designed locations. I’m up to 60 currently, with another 20 coming before September, just in time for Black Friday and Christmas season. As I add more locations I’m finding my Average Order Value has been creeping up, as more and more people find a second or third or fourth patch to add to their shopping cart.
The one stumbling block I came across last year was with Etsy Advertising. I had previously been able to bring in a lot of sales through their on-site advertising platform, but around August of last year they changed the way their billing worked, and it made the ads much more expensive and completely impossible for me to make a profit off of. Where I had for the first two years seen a Year Over Year increase of 100% each year, I’m now just getting back to even with last year’s sales, has seen a steep drop after I turned the advertising off. The good news is that the new sales numbers have a much higher profit margin as there’s no advertising cost to take out.
I’ve been keeping my customers happy by regularly asking their opinions. I don’t have sales often, usually just Black Friday and Boxing Day, as I like to keep up the impression of being a higher-end brand. Instead, I try and have a dialogue with them, and my most opened and clicked emails are the ones where I’m asking for ideas for new locations. People vote on a quick survey of locations they’d like to see made into patches, and they’ll get excited and email me photos from their vacations, give me ideas for what the patch should look like. I always get a lot of thank you emails when I release a new patch, people feeling like I made it just for them.
During the pandemic, I took a break from any sales emails at all and started sending out informative and fun emails instead. I ended up finding out that emails suggesting a top 5 travel magazines to read, or top 3 favorite local businesses to support would have a much higher open rate than the run of the mill sales email. They also had a decent click-through rate to the website, where people would end up shopping even though there had been no call to action to shop.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The biggest lesson I learned in the last year was not to rely on one stream of income! ** ** As I mentioned above, in Q4 of last year Etsy changed their advertising model and it threw everything out of wack for me to the point where I had to turn off advertising altogether. My sales dropped quite a bit on what had been my most regular flow of income. Fortunately, my Amazon sales were quickly becoming a bigger part of the business and it didn’t ever become too much of a problem.
On the flip side, this spring when the pandemic hit, I saw my Amazon sales drop by 50%. Partially because Amazon stopped shipping non-essential items, and partially because Amazon wouldn’t accept restock of non-essentials when they sold out. Meanwhile, my Etsy sales, which by this time had started to rise again through natural means, stayed exactly the same all through the pandemic and keep me in the black until Amazon let me send in stock in June.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
My main goal for the rest of 2020 is to get all my new products ready for Q4. I’ve got around 50 new SKUs that haven’t landed stateside yet that need to be photographed, have their listings added to Amazon, get the website updated, etc. If that’s not all ready for Black Friday, it’ll be a big whiff on the year.
I’ve also been playing around with a few new product ideas that would use our existing designs. I’ve got a couple of different manufacturers working on keychains, enamel mugs, wall pennants, a bunch of other souvenir type items that would work well within the existing scope of the brand.
As for next year and beyond, I’m excited to focus more on getting into retail stores. I have a few retail stores that carry Vagabond Heart products scattered across the US, but I’d love to focus on getting into a wider array of Gift Shops and Home Decor stores.
Aside from that, the goal is always just to grow the catalog. By year’s end, I’ll have 80 locations available, but the world’s a big place. I want to have 180 locations. 280.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I listed a few of my favorite podcasts last time I was on here, but I’ll suggest another one: Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn. Like with any ecom podcast, I find the longer they go on the more fluff episodes there are already covered the really useful nitty-gritty stuff a few times. That’s why whenever you’re digging into a new podcast looking for tips I tend to subscribe, then scroll way back to the first 100 episodes and download everything that seems useful by its title. In the first 100 episodes you’re going to find a lot of the nuts and bolts how to stuff that’s really useful when you’re starting up, although you might find a few things a bit out of date as you’re going back 2, 3, maybe 5 years sometimes, and that’s a long time in eCommerce!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
My number one tip for someone having trouble with their business would be to make sure you’re niched down far enough that the people that are interested in your products are really interested. If you’re specialized enough, people who need what you have will seek you out. They’ll care about you. And those people, if they’re happy with what you’re selling, they’ll tell their other friends in the niche. Customers who care about your company are the best advertising you can get.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I’m pretty content as a one-man team right now, but I’ve been speaking to someone about handling Facebook Advertising for me.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Or if you prefer to shop on Etsy
- Or on Amazon
- Check us out on Instagram
- If you have any new location suggestions for me, or just to say hello, email me.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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