Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?
My name is Kevin Canning, and I’m the founder of Pearls of Joy – the world’s fastest-growing pearl jewelry company.
For 15 years I’ve been flying around the world sourcing loose pearls and selling direct to consumer. Because of the connections I’ve built with pearl farmers and producers, I’m able to source top grade pearls and sell them for around 80% below traditional luxury retail.
YTD we’re trending around 150% growth and expect to close 2018 with $2.5M in revenue.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started working online building websites in various industries. Eventually, I grew tired working for clients and began looking at a way to grow my own E-commerce company. I started by looking at different industries that had high markups. I knew if I could find the right product and sell it online, I could cut out a lot of the typical retail overhead.
Avoid shiny object syndrome at all costs! Keep your focus… I believe that’s the main skill that separates the winners from the wannabes.
Jewelry has extremely high markups. The fancy showrooms, displays, lighting, location and sales staff, all add around 300-1000% markups. Even higher if we’re talking about luxury retailers like Tiffany & Co.
I knew a general jewelry store would be too difficult with my limited resources, so I looked for a type of jewelry that I could focus on. Pearls stood out as a type of jewelry that’s been popular for literally 100’s of years, yet almost nobody was exclusively selling them.
With a bit of research, I found I could source pearls internationally for a fraction of what they could be purchased in North America. So I knew if we could sell direct to the consumer we could offer a product for a fraction of typical retail.
Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.
For us, we try to focus on what has mass appeal within our industry. The problem is not coming up with a better mouse-trap.
The hurdle we faced was figuring out how to tell a compelling story. For a lot of people, “direct to consumer” equals cheap. So, our challenge was convincing people that even that our product could be both cheaper than retail and higher quality.
The solution to this has been transparency… I started blogging and shooting videos related to how I buy and grade pearls. Something that is just not done in the jewelry industry.
I started by bringing my wife along on a buying trip to Hong Kong. With camera in hand, she shadowed me for four days of intense pearl buying. At the end of each day, I would sit down and blog about the pearls we negotiated for.
By taking people behind the scenes, showing them how the pearl industry works, I was able to build a lot of trust and authority. To begin with, this took the form of blog posts where I chronicled my pearl buying trips.
And later I started filming videos where I’d talk about our products and teach my customers how to select and purchase great pearls.
Here’s a couple of our more successful videos we’ve done:
Describe the process of launching the business.
In 2003, the competition online was very minimal. Amazon.com was still mainly a bookseller and there were only 1-2 websites selling pearls online.
It was a rare time in internet history where the old saying “build it and they will come”, actually held up.
With very little inventory and an idea, I launched our first website. It was extremely basic, even by 2003 standards. I ran some PPC traffic (via Inktomi) to the website and with a little luck, we produced $20,000 in revenue in the first month.
Find a channel that drives traffic and sales and maximize it to 100%. If you feel you can’t go any further with that channel, then look at what other channels you can layer on. If you try and be everywhere and do everything, I guarantee you’ll fail.
The early success was a tremendous boost and helped purchase more inventory and give me the confidence to keep going.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our number one strategy has been educating our customers. With so many pearl types, grades, colors and sizes – it can be overwhelming to buy pearls for a novice.
By focusing on teaching rather than selling, I was able to position ourselves as an authority in the industry.
Originally this took the form of old-fashioned content marketing and SEO. But as we’ve progressed, it has also included PR, email, Pay-Per-Click and Facebook ads.
Our strategy for PR has been simple… I try to find journalists that are currently writing about e-commerce and direct to consumer brands.
Using a VA to compile a list of relevant journalists, I’ll send each one a personalized note and introduction. It’s a very slow process but has resulted in some great placements.
Around 40% of our revenue comes through email. The key here is to keep a high quality list and segment your users. Instead of blasting everybody with a promotion once a month, we look to send the right message, to the right users, at the right time.
This means things like post-purchase upsells, abandoned carts, win back campaigns, etc.
PPC & FB Ads
This is where you find new leads, how you keep your sales funnel full. Here it’s about putting your message in front of the right people.
I spend a tremendous amount of time with audiences and targeting. The often overlooked part is making sure you’re sending traffic to pages that convert.
If your website isn’t converting, it doesn’t matter how good your ads are.
This is much easier than people think. The real secret here is to write about topics that are of interest to someone in the process of researching a purchase.
Just think about what questions your customer needs to answer before making the purchase. Then write an article that provides the answer. Write real expert articles and you will be rewarded with traffic.* *
With all these channels we try to not only attract new customers but empower them to make an educated buying decision.
This model of education & transparency helps us create loyal customers, with a high lifetime value.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future is bright for Pearls of Joy. We have an email list of 30,000 die-hard pearl fans, website traffic will break 100k users/month and we’re doing multiple 7-figures in revenue.
As little as a few years ago, I personally handled all customer service. But as we grow it’s been increasingly important that I transition out of “working in the business” and focus on finding the right people.
So instead of getting bogged down with customer emails, or micro-managing, I’m able to focus on growing revenue and scaling our advertising. I feel it’s important to “hire slow and fire fast” when growing your team. It takes a lot of time and money to train an employee and you want to make sure you’re investing in the right people.
Surprisingly, I’ve made a couple of amazing hires via Craigslist, but also found some very talented people through weworkremotely.com
It’s also allowed me time to join the Cultured Pearl Association of America as their marketing chair. To date, we’ve put over 30,000 students through our online “pearl specialist” course and secured over $250,000 in funding for expanding the market share of pearls within the jewelry industry.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest mistake I made was trying to do everything. With a small team, it’s just not possible to be great at all sales channels. It’s important to find a channel that works and maximize, then layer on new channels. But you can’t scale with a bunch of mediocre sales channels.
For us, it was organic search (SEO & Content marketing). Nothing fancy here, just keep writing content that’s relevant to your audience(and the buying process) and Google will reward you with free traffic.
While other growth hacks have more appeal, it’s hard to beat the ROI on good old-fashioned content marketing.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For email collection, I like the guys at Privy.com. They’ve been super helpful and put out a fantastic product.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with chatbots and Facebook Messenger marketing. For that, I use ManyChat.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are two books that I consistently recommend to all entrepreneurs.
These books dramatically changed my view of work. There’s a big difference between “busy” and “productive”. I’d wager that 90% of the working public is “busy”, but few are truly productive. Read these books and thank me later.
I also suggest finding a mentor or group of entrepreneurs to associate with. But choose wisely… Facebook groups are full of wannabes spouting horrible advice. Find truly successful people and learn from their successes.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Avoid shiny object syndrome at all costs!
Keep your focus… I believe that’s the main skill that separates the winners from the wannabes.
Figure out what your #1 priority is, that one task that will have the greatest impact on your mission – and do nothing but that until it’s complete.
For most businesses, 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your efforts.
If your blog posts are generating 80% of traffic and sales, don’t spend the afternoon setting up Snapchat – write more blog posts!
Find a channel that drives traffic and sales and maximize it to 100%. If you feel you can’t go any further with that channel, then look at what other channels you can layer on.
But if you try and be everywhere and do everything, I guarantee you’ll fail.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Currently, I’m looking to hire a marketing assistant. As we grow I find my time is best spent on strategy and not “in the weeds” working directly in our various platforms.
The right candidate will be able to take my strategies and run with them. This would include setting up email campaigns, adjusting bids in AdWords, uploading FB video ads.
If any readers want to learn how to scale an e-commerce company and work as my marketing assistant – send me your pitch.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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