Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Mohamad Saad, and I am one of the founders of HalalWorldDepot, America’s premier Halal online marketplace. The company started three years ago as meat and grocery delivery service and slowly grew into a full-blown online marketplace offering a wide range of Halal products.
I am a user experience software designer and spend a lot of time making sure the website is straightforward to use for the consumer. With many products added to the site, from Halal cosmetics to Halal vitamins and meats, it can be challenging to make everything visible, not crowded, and easy to find.
With a simple goal of getting as many Halal items listed, we also focus on building a community of Muslims around the United States to connect and come together. A home formed on a website where all can feel welcomed and comfortable shopping and finding the products they need.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping your business.
The website was the main focus when we were preparing for launch. There were a lot of products, most of which had no photos online. I was still in high school at the time and would go to my father’s store after school and take pictures of the products we needed to list. I would then edit the images with Canva during my lunchtime. Many teachers in school did not believe in HalalWorldDepot, and many friends/family members didn’t either. Most large food companies that were getting into home delivery services published articles saying that it doesn’t work. We knew that this wasn’t ultimately true and that we were in a different niche than most other food companies. My brother-in-law and I kept our heads down and pursued the idea. We knew that there were people out there who needed Halal products.
I used a basic Shopify template to launch but quickly moved into a purchased theme from Themeforest, which you can view an image of below. The website wasn’t all that, but it still got the job done. I would hire freelancers on Fiverr to custom code ideas that I’d think would make the website easier to use. There were many trials and errors, but more and more people began to adopt the website at the end of the day.
The next significant factor beyond the website was the packaging of the fresh-cut meats. A lot of research made sure that the perishables were in a safe condition during transit. We needed to vacuum-seal the meats in portioned bags that were easy to open for the customer and also needed a box that would keep the items at a safe temperature.
When getting into e-commerce, especially perishable shipping, things can get costly. The prices of shipping supplies and shipping rates fluctuate month over month.
My brother-in-law’s mother has a medical office that receives vaccine shipments regularly, and when I was passing by, I noticed how the medical companies would ship their vaccines. They were shipped with gel ice packs and styrofoam boxes. We took this concept and applied it to our shipments, and it worked perfectly. We used this method of shipping for a while before we became more environmentally friendly.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Before we take a full dive into how the company launched, I need to provide some backstory. My family is in the Halal meat industry, from Halal deli meat brands like Sharifa Halal to Halal meat distribution. I have seven uncles all of which are in the meat industry. Being one of the seven brothers, my father owns a local shop in Canton, Michigan, called Saad Meats, selling Halal-certified meats and groceries.
I never thought about following in their footsteps as my passion has always been in the automotive industry. I have always been business-minded growing up. My father taught me the basics of business from a very young age. As a kid, I would go to the eastern market in Detroit and tag along with him as he met with different distributors. My brother-in-law also significantly influenced my mindset and would always teach me new ways to think and look at ideas from a different perspective.
I was a senior in high school when the concept of this company came about. It was late at night, and I just got out of the shower when I got a call from my brother-in-law suggesting I launch an e-commerce website and list the products in my father's store online. The website was intended to be a side hustle to help fund some other projects we were building. I took advantage of this idea and researched the best e-commerce platform to launch the website. A platform that has always been popular and ended up being the best choice was Shopify. I chose one of their basic templates, and we began designing logos and the website. The startup costs were relatively low because the inventory was already purchased and held by my father.
The costs of the website, shipping boxes, and shipping materials, which were about $5,000, were all that the company needed to launch. The website launched in December 2018, and within an hour, the first order came in. From then on, we started to realize this concept may be larger than we initially anticipated.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Social media plays a massive role in our day-to-day lives. From Instagram to Pinterest, we made sure that we had social media activity on every platform out there. If you search “The best marketing strategy” in your browser, you will have a flooded screen of articles and videos with influencers trying to tell you the “only” way to market your business.
After tackling finding the right marketing strategy, I made sure that I took the time to map out different ways to retain customers. I read through the reviews of other meat delivery sites and searched up the keywords in my industry to see how other companies are promoting themselves. The results of my research ended with newsletters, Google Ads, Instagram, and Facebook. Being a niche business, it wasn’t as hard to create ads to separate ourselves from the competition; at the time, there were only a handful of sites pursuing similar concepts to ours.
Stop telling your vision to small-minded people. The validation you are looking for won’t come from others but will come from yourself.
When startups look to platforms like Google to get themselves out there, we meet a crowded webpage/backend, saying, “you need to spend a lot of money.” I fell into this trap, we had an ad budget of $1,000 per month, and I had no clue how to use the Google Adwords backend. The money did not do HalalWorldDepot much. You shouldn’t use your money unless you know exactly how to use these platforms and understand what their buttons and recommendations truly mean.
The best advice I can give you is to spend more money hiring someone who knows what they are doing or take classes and learn this yourself. The best marketing strategy was SEO, out of all these sites and platforms I have used to promote HalalWorldDepot on. As long as you can get yourself within the first fifteen results on Google, the website will gain more traction and reliability due to these large corporations’ algorithms. The best part about this is that it costs way less than boosting ads!
Retaining customers doesn’t just rely on the fact that the site offers good products or services. It relies heavily on how you treat your customers; letting them know that they are valued, and the issues they are experiencing is something that the company takes seriously. We have made sure to always go the extra mile and let our customers know that they are cared for and have a safe place to turn to if any inconveniences are faced.
Excellent customer service combined with high-quality packaging, sustainable products, and an easy-to-use website has led us to a steady customer return rate of fifty to sixty percent. Once we started to build our customer base, we had a foundation that HalalWorldDepot could build upon. From transparency to good reviews, the website lets new consumers identify trustworthiness and faithfulness in the company.
Sales channels like Amazon and eBay can be great resources for companies to get sales. But the catch with these sites is the fees that they charge. I initially used Amazon and eBay to sell primary non-perishable products, but I stopped using them because I knew the products we were offering were not easy to find. I didn’t want these marketplaces to get the credit for the hard-to-find products that we could offer. Realizing this, I pulled all our products off these websites and solely focused on getting customers to rely on our site instead of others. It was at this point that HalalWorldDepot started to become a marketplace of its own.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
HalalWorldDepot’s profitability is at a good stance as of now. Before and during the pandemic, we were not profitable and maybe stayed at about five to ten percent profitability after all costs. Due to us progressively expanding, we had to keep taking on more expenses. From a larger facility to more inventory, these were all new variables that would play a part in how we need to use our cash flow. When COVID became very serious and lockdowns were in place, the entire world moved online overnight, which affected many businesses in a good and bad way. For us, it was an overnight sensation where we went from three to ten orders per day to over one hundred orders flying in within forty-eight hours.
After settling down and getting caught up with orders, we could get back to a steady rate where we could have a sense of control over the business. We were able to get in touch with suitable packaging companies such as Veritiv and Nordic Ice which helped us reduce costs. Our margins are now at about sixteen to twenty-five percent, and our website conversion rate fluctuates between three and seven percent, depending on the season. We have grown to over ten thousand customers, and as we continue to market ourselves, we see more and more people getting signed up onto the site and beginning to use our services.
We always aim to build relationships with our customers and make sure that they have a trustworthy place to come to for Halal products. That leaves us with a great customer return rate sitting at fifty to seventy percent. We currently operate out of about thirteen thousand square footage across three facilities. We plan on getting into a more large-scale warehouse in about a year or two down the road if our growth maintains this steady rate.
As we continue to perfect our business model the best we can, we plan to expand into other countries like Canada and the United Kingdom within three to five years. Many potential consumers request our expansion into those countries. We want to become a global service that provides sustainable Halal products to consumers anywhere in the world—at the same time, supporting small businesses at the same time as they become vendors and offer their products on our platform.
When it comes to our present-day marketing, we are running campaigns on Google with a five hundred dollar budget and plan to increase this very soon after teaming up with new agencies that will help accelerate our growth. We also pursue many organic marketing strategies on Facebook and Instagram by adding relevant hashtags and alt text to our posts.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When getting into e-commerce, especially perishable shipping, things can get costly. The prices of shipping supplies and shipping rates fluctuate month over month. I was seventeen years old when I started this company and did not have experience in running reports for profitability. At times, we were not profitable from simply not seeing how much supplies were going up.
Now we run expense reports every month to see what we need to improve on and where we stand after accounting for the total expenses for that month. When running a business, every penny counts. Even if you’re saving a dollar in some places, it adds up and could potentially be used to help the company expand if spent right.
One of the biggest things I have learned in business is not to trust people easily. A great example of this is my account rep from UPS. He was very kind and seemed like he had my back. He would always say my account was looking great and that new contracts were coming into play to improve rates. I would take his word for it and didn’t sweat it. During the height of the pandemic, it was hard to manage everything since things were very hectic.
One day we were looking at invoices to pay our vendors, and the amount owed to them was much more than the amount we had in our bank account. We were mind-boggled and thought that the company might not be profitable at all, which would eventually mean we wouldn’t be able to continue. After looking deeper into this, we realized that debits from UPS were extremely large and did not make sense whatsoever. After requesting and looking through their invoices, we realized that they were double charging us on every package due to weight adjustments.
My account rep never advised me on this and left us in a thirty-five thousand dollar pit of debt owed back to UPS. After speaking with my account rep, he was going to work for another company. So it was now up to us to make sure this money came back to our account. Never trust large companies, people, and corporations. They may seem like they have your back when in reality, they always have their best interest in mind. It would be best if you remembered to be selfish when it comes to them. A business’s money is its life supply, and once that is taken away, the company will eventually die.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our website is custom designed and coded but is hosted by Shopify. We have tested multiple eCommerce platforms and have found Shopify to be the best platform to use. It has a very easy-to-use backend and has many other services baked within itself to help scale a business. I have found order fulfillment a very easy process with them and it has been very easy to train employees on how to use the app/website.
Some of my favorite apps that I have connected to the website are Smile.iowhich is a customer loyalty app, Seguno which is a great newsletter app, and Reputon which is a great app that automatically follows up with customers to collect reviews.
We shipped many packages, and it became hard to track all the shipments and find out when shipping carriers delayed any of them in transit. After research and assistance from FedEx, we chose to use Shipstation as our shipping management platform.
Shipstation has all the basic features of most shipping managers, but it has a few extras that stuck out to us. We can bulk track all the shipments and see how long they have been in transit without clicking on the tracking numbers. They offer weekly digests, which give you week-over-week reports on how your shipments are doing. It allows for multiple employees on the platform to see who shipped a package if we need any additional information about it.
Emails can be tough to manage, with a lot of customers. There are a lot of services out there, but many of them are costly. We have used Zoho for three years and have been happy with the performance. It allows us to add multiple people to have their company email and filter through our more important emails with a higher priority than others. Their security is very safe, and they have multiple steps in place to make sure no one can hack in and steal information.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My all-time favorite book that has stuck with me is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. It helps you find the “why” of your business and teaches valuable lessons from large companies like Apple and Microsoft. Another great book is Millionaire Success Habits by Dean Graziosi. I am not a big fan of his videos, but this book did provide helpful strategies to use towards both life and business. The book offers many exercises that you can implement yourself, and a lot of them opened my mind up to different points of view to look from.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The number one thing I can tell you is to start. Whatever idea you have in mind, take it and start. Many people will doubt you and not believe in it, but you need to learn to tune them out and focus on yourself. As long as you believe in a vision and can see it in your mind, it can become a reality. Almost every large company out there started without an audience and with many disbelievers, but the one thing most CEOs say is that they kept their heads down and stuck to their vision until it became true.
Consistency is key. You won’t see results right away when it comes to owning a business. When starting a company, you will face a lot of hard work. Seventeen-hour workdays without getting paid a dime, and you will have to do it again the next day. It isn’t all about the money. It is about the cause and effect the business could potentially have in people’s lives. The money comes later. Innovation is why the world needs entrepreneurs. We have the drive to change the world to make it a more efficient and better place. If you keep that mindset, your dream will empower you to keep going.
Stop telling your vision to small-minded people. The validation you are looking for won’t come from others but will come from yourself. Working hard, putting hours in, and achieving goals will show for themselves. There is nothing to prove to anyone other than yourself and the purpose of the business. Most people won’t see your vision and won’t understand it. The dreams of having a beautiful home, nice cars, private jets, and giant yachts can all be true, but no one is going to make that happen for you. Only you have the power to take control of your mind and life.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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