How I Started A Profitable Online Lingerie Boutique
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I am Paris Munn and I am the founder of Sensual Sinsations, an online lingerie boutique. Sensual Sinsations aims to encourage modern women to celebrate their bodies and embrace their sexuality throughout the different phases and changes that the female form experiences throughout a lifetime.
Lingerie is the perfect way to highlight feminine sensuality as well as to accentuate natural beauty. We believe that the first person a woman should choose to wear lingerie for is herself. One can expect to find a large selection of lingerie and sleepwear styles ranging from teddies and babydolls to robes and pajama sets.
Our inventory expands weekly, with a recent focus on expanding our plus-size collection and luxury lingerie line. We now house over 800 styles, 150+ of which are plus-size options. Our luxury line is extremely recent and has not been made live yet, but will be by summer 2022.
Currently, Sensual Sinsations is garnering an average of $2,500 per month in sales, an 813.69% growth rate when compared to our post-closure sales from January 2020 through April 2020. We only just relaunched on September 30th, 2021.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve always had what you can consider an entrepreneurial mindset, and have had some sort of revenue stream as early as 11 years old. In 2012, I was an almost 25-year-old single parent with more bills than my job could pay and almost 40k in student loan debt.
For a few years, I had been trying to figure out how I could start my food truck (kind of a continuation of the restaurant that my parents had opened when I was a teenager). I had a menu put together but that was the furthest I was ever able to get into that endeavor. With the amount of debt I had, it simply wasn't feasible. I felt like I was at a crossroads and found myself searching for the next step.
Being the adventure seeker that I always have been, that next step ended up being a leap that took my daughter and me to Guam. I packed our belongings into a small storage unit, stuffed a couple of suitcases full of what we could fit, and started our 3 flight, a 24-hour journey to Guam.
We stayed in a friend of mine’s vacant, fully furnished rental property upon arrival until I was able to find a place of our own, which happened in about a week. I found things like finding jobs, and housing tend to happen fast and fairly easy on Guam, unlike stateside.
I worked in the bar, club, and strip club scene during my time in Guam and focused on paying my aforementioned debts.
It was pretty early on that I noticed a high demand for lingerie on the island, and a lack of product. At the time there was one department store with a small lingerie selection, and one novelty store with a small, dated, and overpriced selection of lingerie.
This was when the idea for my company slowly started to form, in the beginning, I actually would say that “someone” should open a lingerie store and undersell the competitor while still charging enough to make a profit and provide a better selection. No one ever did, so after about a year of continuing to hear women from the clubs and military spouses talk about how they couldn’t get their hands on quality lingerie, I decided to start my own business and Sensual Sinsations was born.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I opened a few months after I married my husband, who is an active duty submariner in the United States Navy. I had decent-sized savings and was able to fund the start of my business, including my initial inventory orders upfront. While we lived in Guam I did not have a website, as there was no need. I sold to military wives and dancers at the strip clubs and sales came easy. But by the end of 2016, I was returning stateside with my daughter, a year before my husband to fight a custody battle with her father, and was forced to put Sensual Sinsations on hold. The business remained dormant for a year and a half.
Once my husband received new orders, they were for Washington State. This meant I needed to formulate a new plan of action as to how I would make my company work in a place where people have access to lingerie pretty much everywhere.
I spent the first few months of 2018 designing a website and obtaining more wholesale accounts now that we were stateside. To see products in person and get a feel for the quality of different brands and fabrics, I went to the Altitude Intimates Trade Show that is held annually in Las Vegas. This was an amazing experience, getting to meet reps from different brands, learn about different manufacturers and see the lingerie in person before deciding if I wanted to bring them to my company. I officially opened the website for business on June 1st of 2018.
As a small business, when you don’t show up consistently, it really can affect you negatively. If I miss more than one or two days of showing up on Instagram, especially in the stories, not only do my Instagram analytics fall but so do my website stats and sales.
From June 2018 through April 2020 I struggled immensely to grow my company. I was trying desperately to make it work, but growth was not happening. I was burnt multiple times by people I tried working with as far as collaborations, sales were stagnant at an average of 5 sales per month.
I tried being a part of some networking groups that I never really felt that I fit well with, and all around I just could not figure out what I needed to do differently. Then as we all know, early 2020 is when Covid came in and kind of just shook everything up. What few sales I was making ceased and I decided that I needed to temporarily close.
I am a bootstrapped business and a stay-at-home parent of 3, I simply couldn’t justify continuing to stay open after losing what little sales I had been making. At the same time, I wasn’t willing to give up either. November 2020 rolled around and new orders from the Military had us moving yet again, this time to Virginia. Once we got all settled into our new home, and my husband was a few months into his deployment I was ready to focus on relaunching my company.
I began the process of rebranding and gearing up for a relaunch in May of 2021. I spent May through September of 2021 completely redesigning my website, fully rebranding, leveling up my packaging, and overhauling my business social media. I officially relaunched on September 30th, 2021, and have been steadily growing since then.
Although Sensual Sinsations initially started as a way to meet demand, once the company came stateside and I brought my story to social media and my brand's message to social media, something happened that I never really expected. I received messages from so many women sharing with me about how I have inspired them.
Whether it be from my journey and growth in my struggles as a single mom to a married mom of 3 and business owner, or how I have inspired them to be kinder to their body and give it the kindness and respect that it deserves, and to see that they are beautiful, sexy, powerful, feminine and deserving of feeling all of those amazing things.
Sexy isn’t a singular definition, it doesn’t fit into a little box. Sexy is broad and varying, it is a state of mind. Learning that I have been able to inspire women with my journey, or the message I aim to spread with Sensual Sinsations is really what has become my drive and passion for my company.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As I mentioned earlier, in 2018 I designed a website once we moved stateside. Looking back, the first few versions of my site seem prehistoric in comparison to what I have now. I purchased a decent enough theme template but knew nothing about customizing beyond what the Shopify editor offered and as a beginner on Canva, I was quite terrible at designing my ad creatives.
I find humor in it now, but also appreciate how far I have come. I spent weeks manually uploading products one by one because I had no clue how to work a CSV file, and I knew nothing about image quality or sizing so my product image sizing and quality were all over the place. I’ve spent many sleepless nights learning how to do these things independently. I’ve scoured the internet, watched youtube videos, taken a few courses, and lived in forums and on support calls. It isn’t something that ends, and I am always learning something new, but this is something I enjoy about owning my business.
Shopify offers many courses for free in the Shopify Learn section, which should be used to your advantage. Often subscription-based services that you are already a part of also provide free courses, so be sure to poke around and get the most out of something you are already utilizing for one thing or another.
Launch-wise, I didn’t have a launch plan in place, no contacts to network with, and no finances to back a launch campaign. I was just trying to keep my head above water.
To finance my business, I began driving for Lyft and shopping for Instacart to be able to purchase inventory, as well as using my credit cards. To stay relevant and keep people coming back to my site I had to keep new inventory coming in fairly consistently.
I purchased approximately $10k in inventory during that time frame and my monthly overhead was usually around $250. Things have changed in some ways since then, but I am still a bootstrapped company.
Before the relaunch, I brought in another $7.5k in inventory and invested $2k into the redesign of my website and speed optimization. I also invested around $1k into eco-friendly branded packaging. Although I have utilized some credit card space since the relaunch, I have mostly used what I saved up during my year and a half closure, some inheritance, gift money, and funneling all sales back into the business.
I also went into the relaunch with a more solid plan of action as far as getting customer attention. I was active on social media daily, trying to build excitement around the relaunch, used hashtags, utilized my email list, and even did an early access launch party for those who signed up for the early access pass.
I would have to say that my biggest lesson learned is that consistency is key when it comes to social media, specifically if your ideal client/customer is on social media. For my niche, my ideal client is on social media, and a large portion of my sales are driven by Instagram specifically.
As a small business, when you don’t show up consistently, it really can affect you negatively. If I miss more than one or two days of showing up on Instagram, especially in the stories, not only do my Instagram analytics fall but so do my website stats and sales. It can take anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks for me to recover from missing just a couple of days. So I am at a point where I do everything in my power to show up, even if I show up late, but I do my best to show up at the same time every day.
Instagram offers some pretty great insights on your analytics, this is something I recommend checking consistently to gain a better understanding of who your audience is and how they interact with your business. I also keep an eye on my Google Analytics, Pinterest Analytics, and Shopify Analytics.
I do have a hashtag analytic account with IQHashtags, this helps me keep track of my best performing hashtags and ensures I am not using any banned hashtags. Before posting, I check the status of any hashtags I plan on using. Wherever I am driving traffic from I do my best to analyze those statistics, and I recommend the same to anyone else.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since my relaunch, something that I have been making a point of utilizing more is my email list. And I am still working on utilizing it more, as it is one of the best tools that we have to retain current customers and to earn new customers who have signed up but not yet converted to paying customers.
In the beginning, I was afraid to use this list and come off as spammy, I think that there are a lot of retailers who spam their customers who sign up, and that left me hesitant. But I have come to realize that if someone signs up, they are likely genuinely interested in what my business has to offer them, and if they are feeling put off by the emails that they are receiving they can simply hit unsubscribe. You also don’t have to be spammy about what you are sending or the frequency of how often you send a newsletter email. So don’t overlook your email signups, especially when you are trying to grow organically.
Currently, I don’t spend much and I don’t spend often on paid marketing campaigns. Every once in a while I will run a Facebook campaign with the goal set to more website visitors. But with my niche being lingerie, Facebook has made it increasingly difficult over the past 5 years to market anything related to sexual products or sexual health. I would rather invest my money elsewhere than fight with the “policy violations” I am constantly bombarded with even when not running paid ads.
Although I do not face the same problems with Google ads, the amount I would need to invest to see a real profit is just not a place I am at yet. Actually attempted a 6-month Google Ad Words campaign with a monthly budget of $300, managed by a company a few years back, and did not see any ROI, so I pulled out at that point and it just so happened to coincide with my 2020 closure.
I am just now getting into SEO and starting to seriously invest my time learning everything that I can about it and how I can optimize my site as best as possible. Currently, I am working on optimizing the meta descriptions for all of the products on my website as well as researching and implementing keywords.
I have also recently been working on some blog posts related to lingerie care, as I have brought in some new lingerie care products. Blog posts can be great in terms of not only educating your customers but also SEO, so I am hoping to see a positive impact.
There is so much that I still do not understand about SEO, but I have recently joined Semrush, a platform that has been essential in the learning process for me. I think that once I implement all things SEO thoroughly and properly, my organic growth will skyrocket. Their site offers many different tools, courses, and blog posts so you can learn and understand how to implement the best SEO practices, keywords, and much more.
Instagram is my current largest tool that offers exposure and showcases my products. With the use of hashtags, and branching out with an affiliate and influencer program I have been able to reach more and more people. By posting interactive stories, and a mixture of flat lay photography and model photography I have finally started to see results in engagement and growth.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Things seem to be falling into place for my company, although I have a long way to go I have already seen a ton of growth, which I briefly touched on in the very beginning.
Comparing Q1 of 2020 to Q1 of 2022 I have seen a growth of 813.69% Seeing as how I was closed for 18 of the 24 months between these time frames, this growth seems great to me.
My sales are coming in more frequently, and the average sale amount is also growing. My gross margins teeter between 59 and 60%. With the fact that I don’t do much in the realm of paid advertising, I have never sat down to find out what my customer acquisition cost is. And at this point, I am solely focused on organic reach and growth.
I have made some great choices as far as pushing myself out of my comfort zone and branching out to learn new things and take chances.
I haven’t been open long enough yet to have accurate numbers for my customer lifetime value, but I do have a returning customer rate of 26% currently. All of my sales are through my website, as I do not sell on other platforms, many of the wholesalers their products from being sold on Amazon.
My conversion rate is significantly lower than the industry standard, and it is something that I have been working on increasing. I am not entirely certain what is holding people back, as I have followed all of the tips from articles that have been sent my way from Shopify gurus, and my next step is to hire a CRO team to come in and help figure out a plan of action.
The industry average is 1.51%, and I am sitting around .42%. I do believe that part of it has to do with being an unknown brand, but I am sure there are other factors involved that I can increase that number. I am currently seeing approximately 7k monthly visitors to my site, but am hoping I can significantly increase that number once I have grasped the concept of SEO and successfully and fully implemented it to my site.
My short-term goal for Sensual Sinsations is to scale to $10k in monthly sales by the end of 2022. Based on what I have been able to accomplish since relaunching 6 months ago, I do fully believe that this is possible, and I have every intention of reaching that goal.
My long-term goal and ultimate dream are to eventually be able to open a high-end brick-and-mortar boutique with lines from Europe and my very own lingerie line, coupled with a boudoir studio attached but separated.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I easily could have opted to open my company and not house any inventory, essentially making my startup costs almost zero and my product selection seemingly limitless. However, there are very specific reasons I did not want to go this route. I want to provide my customers with the best possible experience I am capable of giving them when they come to shop with my company, and I simply cannot give them that if I dropship.
I have missed out on multiple opportunities, trade shows attending, and vendor markets where I would have been able to have a booth due is on active duty, and our children are young. We don’t have family here in Virginia, and the lack of childcare is a major hindrance to my ability to market my business in ways other than on the internet.
As far as positives, I have leo much about my drive and tenacity. I have made some great choices as far as pushing myself out of my comfort zone and branching out to learn new things and take chances. I have partnered with a few boudoir photographers in regards to my affiliate program. They earn a commission off of any sales that come from their clients and their clients get a 15% discount off their purchases from my site. So it is a win-win situation for all parties involved.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As I’ve mentioned a few times above, my website platform is Shopify, which for the time being suits my needs. I am currently using a handful of 3rd party apps such as Growave, Goaffpro, Privy, and Rise.ai to name my favorites.
Growave handles my rewards, wish list, reviews, and social login tools. I was using them to host my Instagram feed on my site as well but recently removed the feed to increase my site speed. They have some of the best customer services of any app I have dealt with on Shopify. They are incredibly swift, courteous, and thorough, every single time.
Goaffpro is my affiliate program app, which I have only had for 2 months now but is well worth the cost of $24 per month for the premium plan. I’ve already seen close to $2k in revenue since the implementation of the affiliate program.
Privy, of course, is my email pop-up and newsletter app. I tried two other well-known pop-up companies before Privy by far is my favorite.
Lastly, Rise.ai I only recently added to my site in January. Shopify doesn’t offer a store credit option for returns, and gift cards are not an option for this. Rise.ai not only allows me to offer an in-store credit, but I can offer a much nicer gift card than the Shopify option, as well as some other revenue-increasing tools.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My biggest takeaways and lessons learned have to do with consistency and planning. Before Beforebusiness owner, I was never really a plan in advance kind of person, and that is how I started when ened my business. It didn't matter much before the days of having a website, but once the website came into play that all changed.
Playing things by ear was no longer an option if I wanted to make this a successful business. I’ve become much more of a planner, much more consistent and routine in all things that pertain to my company. It’s also a blessing and a curse that I am somewhat of a perfectionist.
It is a blessing in the fact that I am extremely detail-oriented, and I make sure that everything is done to the best of my ability. But then, on the other hand, there are times that I am up until 4 in the morning stressing about things that are out of my control because they are not as good as they can be. In that regard, I am trying to learn to go with the flow a little better.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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