Belle Helmets

Initially my hand-painted helmets were something I created for myself and friends. I didn't like the helmet options that existed when I started riding a bike in New York: they're bulky and boring, and they are something you have to carry around with you all day... but so important!

So I painted some cool designs on helmets. That way, I'd want to wear it and carry it. This idea turned into a business sort of accidentally... I knew that I wasn't the only one who disliked the current state of helmets. But when people in the street, when stopped at intersections would ask, "Whoa. That's a cool helmet. Where'd you get it?" or compliment me with, "awesome helmet," it cemented my hunch that, yes there is a gap in the marketplace for stylish helmets. Of course I needed I website to direct them to.

My first website was just a gallery with an email address and a link to Paypal. I kept adding designs as I thought of them. But once I set up a Shopify site, my sales started surging as my site transformed into an official and fluid eCommerce site where customers from all over the world could add any helmet of their liking to their shopping cart and after checkout magically receive it in the mail 2 weeks later. With this new Shopify site I could also add new designs super-fast, so I ended up making more designs (and now I have over 80 to chose from!). Knowing that web maintenance is relatively quick with this platform fuels my creativity and productivity. I'm much more likely to experiment with new designs and products than in my early days of FTP.

My blank bicycle helmets (my canvases) come from a great company in Canada, Seven Star Sports. It took many emails and phone calls to find a helmet supplier who shared my vision of keeping more people safe by letting me restyle their helmets and mask their branding. (Brand names on helmets = not cool). Finding a helmet supplier let me lower my costs as I'm ordering them in bulk instead of running out to bike shops and buying out all their helmets. Now I'm painting about 20 helmets a week. I'm selling a lot through Shopify and my 14 retailers, getting orders through custom requests, and selling helmets in the streets of New York by cargo tricycle.

How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?

I get traffic from blogs writing about the sudden surge of cyclists in urban spaces link to me as well as bike accessories blogs, design blogs, art blogs, and local blogs. I'm a one-person business and have established relationships with my customers and they spread the word about my helmets. Something recent that has helped me get a lot of traffic is Instagram. Being able to quickly snap photos of designs I'm working on lets people see the range of work I can do and share with their friends. I also always carry postcards with me that link to my site, as it turns out there's lots of people looking for a helmet who haven't got around to buying one or are avoiding it because helmets don't usually jibe with their style.

Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?

I love the app "Product Customizer" for allowing customers to upload their own images. A unique product I have is a "helmet with your logo on it" with no minimum order, so customers type in a color and then send their logo, or really any image, that I can add to the helmet. I use Chimpified so I can stay in touch with customers about new designs and events, and Zopim live chat as a quick way to contact me and ask questions if I'm in my studio.

I'm still manually doing shipping with USPS and then sending the customers a tracking number through Shopify, but eventually, as business keeps growing, I'd like to use an automated tool like Shippo.

What are your top recommendations for new ecommerce entrepreneurs?

1) Be explicit about what you're selling on the landing page and why it's unique. Figuring out "what your product is" shouldn't require too much navigation. Post new products, sales, or any other pertinent information directly on your landing page!

2) Have good quality photos. Visuals are powerful and are processed before language.

3) Have all your essential product information on the product page. Sometimes customers won't go through the effort of emailing you a question, but that question might be the reason why they decide not to buy it. For example, all of my helmets are CSPC and ASTM certified for safety, and listed that in the "about" section instead of on the product page. It took me a few emails of "Are these safe?" before I added it, while probably way more people had that question in mind and never asked me.

4) Connect to your site to your social networks. When people are discovering new brands, it's nice to see the community surrounding it. For example, customers of mine sometimes post pictures of their helmets with their bicycles on my Facebook page, and those images help influence potential customers as they can imagine themselves with it. Building a community around your customers makes the products more vivid when someone is first discovering your brand.

5) The customer is always right, probably. Any confusion in navigating your website is pretty much your fault, not your customers' faults. Listen to all of their comments and follow up with them for feedback. Ordering things online can be scary, especially if it's artwork or something personalized. That's why it's good to communicate with customers, as it mimics shopping in a real store. Customers might have lots of questions that can't be answered by looking at pictures or reading descriptions.

6) Search for "abandoned" orders and figure out why they were abandoned. It might be your price point that you have to play around with or as simple as adding free shipping. Act upon your analytics!

7) Use visitor's flow in Google Analytics to figure out which pages are essential and how to lessen the amount of clicks leading to a purchase. If there's key information stuck in section of your website that nobody is getting to: change it.

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