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Green Is the New Black: Launching an Eco-Friendly Chic Jewelry Web Destination on a Shoestring

Green Is the New Black: Launching an Eco-Friendly Chic Jewelry Web Destination on a Shoestring“We met when the younger one of us showed up and ruined the older one’s peaceful existence, and have been first sisters and then friends ever since,” – so begins the “About Us” page on the Eco Lustre website. A fitting beginning, as, indeed, Eco Lustre (www.ecolustre.com), an eco-friendly, handcrafted jewelry website launched in the summer of 2011, is a shoestring startup run by partners who happen to be sisters: Natalia Tisdale, a former marketing exec come marketing consultant, and Luda Samuels, a veteran of the fashion industry. They’ve toyed with the idea of doing something together for a while, but this concept intrigued them the most: “The idea resonated, we did research, and the feedback was positive, so we just kept going. The timing isn’t ideal: Natalia has a busy consulting practice and Luda has her hands full with juggling two young kids and community work. And there is the economy, of course. But when is the timing ever ideal? And research shows that business startup success rate doesn’t decrease in recession.”

The sisters asked a friend and a fellow juggling entrepreneur to conduct an interview and ask pithy questions to best tell their story.

Green Is the New Black: Launching an Eco-Friendly Chic Jewelry Web Destination on a Shoestring

Eco Lustre Natalia & Luda at fundraiser

So why Eco, and what’s so Lustrous about it? And why you?

Well, we’ve always loved jewelry, we’re girls after all. And Luda has worked with jewelry for so many years at Geo Art, and made her own jewelry. So jewelry was a natural choice. But we wanted it to be meaningful to both our target audience and to ourselves. So the environmental/organic aspect came naturally as well. We’re both environmentally conscious – recycle, conserve, buy organic as much as we can, support companies that follow green practices. This was our chance to upgrade from “environmentally conscious” to “environmentally proactive”, to become one of the green companies.

 

The other aspect of this is the handcrafted angle: all jewelry we sell is handmade by artisans in the U.S. This was also a natural choice. I think we have an inherent respect for handmade things. We spent our childhood in the Soviet Union of the 1970s. Much of what was mass-produced was substandard and unimaginative, foreign-made products were mostly inaccessible, so there was a reliance on things that were handmade. Handmade meant customization and quality. And U.S. artisans are because we wanted to support this country’s economy, as well as the artists who dare to make a living as artists and be successful.

And then the Lustrous. That came about because the general perception of eco-friendly and/or handmade jewelry is that it isn’t exactly high fashion. The overall image is of something vaguely hippyish or a little too quirky for modern tastes, more of a conversation piece than something a modern woman can wear on a date. Or that handmade equals prohibitively expensive. We wanted to show that while handmade can be all of the above, it can also be chic and stylish, exceptionally well made, contemporary or classic or edgy or retro, whatever the wearer’s taste. And a real value: majority of the items we carry are priced under $100, which is amazing for what’s really unique pieces of art.

And there it is, Eco Lustre in a nutshell: a web destination offering beautiful unique affordable eco-friendly jewelry designed and handcrafted by the U.S. artisans and handpicked by the stylish fashion and jewelry experts (i.e. us).

You mentioned a “web destination”, that implies more than ecommerce – is that what you currently consider your website? Or is that aspirational?

We currently have a website, www.ecolustre.com, a blog, www.ecolustre.com/blog, and a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/ecolustre. A customer or a prospect can choose to engage in multiple ways: read and comment on the blog, post on Facebook, or just buy. And our blog and Facebook page are much more than just Eco Lustre jewelry for sale: it’s style advice, and trends, and lifestyle. So between these three entities we are already a “destination.”

However, it’s aspirational as well, of course. We have close to 1,100 Facebook fans, and while that seems like a phenomenal achievement in 3.5 months, at least to us, we clearly have a long road ahead of us. We need to work on a better integration of the three touch points without being redundant. We’re still in the process of understanding what makes someone engage repeatedly… As I said, a long road. But the foundation is there.

You may have been asked this once or twice before: what’s the biggest surprise in launching a shoestring startup?

Yes, once or twice! Seems to be the “go to” question for startups. I wish I could come up with something pithy and original, but our experience is similar to most everyone’s: the biggest surprise is the sheer amount of work it takes to launch a business and keep it going. It’s similar to having your first child – everyone tells you it’ll be a huge amount of work, but you don’t quite understand it until you actually experience it. And “shoestring” is key: it would be terrific to outsource something, that would really help, but there is no budget for it.

Speaking of budget, what has been your biggest expense?

Inventory, by far. Photography is the second biggest, and we had to be creative in order not to overextend ourselves. We had the “beauty” shots (i.e. the big setup shots – home page, a few of the key artisan pages and giftwrap) professionally done. They set the mood, and the less than perfect quality of the rest of the photographs, which we did ourselves (and which still look great, by the way) , isn’t as obvious.

Any technology you’ve discovered that you can share – preferably free or inexpensive?

Yes! We use standards like Google Analytics, of course, that’s not anything unusual. Our discoveries have been more in the support functions that make running a web-based business easier:

Offerpop (http://offerpop.com/) for running sweepstakes & contests on Facebook. It’s a bit temperamental, but has multiple options and great support. Free for under 500 fans, and reasonable for over (ranges based on the number of fans).

Lujure (www.lujure.com) for creating Facebook fan pages. First page is free. Our welcome page is built using Lujure, we had a complicated design, and their drag and drop functionality worked beautifully. Good customer service too. If you want to check out ours, it’s www.facebook.com/ecolustre – that’s the page you land on. You see a fan gate, for a full effect you have to like us!

Stock.exchng (http://www.sxc.hu/) great source of free photos – good for one’s blog.

Banner Snack (www.bannersnack.com) for creating banners, drag and drop functionality. It’s free, but there is a limited number of views. Check carefully before using.

Instapage (www.instapage.com) and Unbounce (www.unbounce.com) – both for creating landing pages – drag and drop, can integrate with your site and with other services like email. We’re just starting to test, will probably test both. Instapage is $5/month unlimited Unbounce has a free option, but for only 200 clicks. After that it depends on traffic.

Any other advice you’d like to share?

If you can’t afford to outsource, find a mentor who can help. We were so fortunate to have a design mentor, Natalia’s colleague and friend, Glen Wish of Wish Communications. He set up the photo shoot, which was the only paid project, and did a lot of advising, handholding and cheerleading otherwise. Could not have done it without him.

Find several cheerleaders. Our husbands were (and still are) great. So are friends and family who can root for you or sympathize or become your first Facebook fans. It’s really helpful to know you have people on your side, regardless of how well the business is doing.

Everyone has heard it, but we’ll repeat it anyway: have a business plan. It’s your roadmap. It forces you to ask questions and be accountable. But also be prepared to go off-road once in a while if you can justify it and can afford it. First year, especially, can be unpredictable.

Your marketing program – any insights?

It’s a little too early for insights. One of the marketing adages is that you need an average of seven touches to convert a prospect to a customer. We haven’t done enough of the touching to see a trend. We were hoping for a breakaway hit that circumvents the seven touches, but nothing yet.

We planned to do Facebook ads, paid search, SEO and sweepstake type promotions as barter, and we’re sticking with the plan. We’re also supplementing with exhibiting at local charity holiday-related events. (All of the above is acquisition, by the way). The latter is not what I’m hoping to be doing five years from now, but if I had one takeaway, it would be to have planned more of these our first holiday season. They are direct selling, marketing, PR and market research all rolled into one.

Green Is the New Black: Launching an Eco-Friendly Chic Jewelry Web Destination on a ShoestringYour wish list for the future, next six months, let’s say.

It would be easy to say “a bigger budget”, but that’s just not realistic. It would then have to be getting enough learning in all areas: product, marketing, operations – to work more efficiently. We’d then free up time to do what we just haven’t been able to do (or do well) yet this year. The short list would then include:

- a much greater focus on PR – moving beyond Help a Reporter Out (HARO), which is reactive, into a proactive approach

- more marketing experimentation – multivariate ad and landing page tests, etc., and potential additional venues and channels

- developing more of our products – we have design ideas, down to sketches, for pieces to add to our currently tiny line, NaLu. We just need time to refine and produce.

With the foundation we created in 2011, the wish list is not unrealistic. And if achieved, it can mean great strides for this shoestring startup, a jewel in our crown (pun intended).

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One Response to “Green Is the New Black: Launching an Eco-Friendly Chic Jewelry Web Destination on a Shoestring”

  1. Sarah Meislick says:

    I loved the interview and wish ECOLUSTER all the sucess, as these two women become tomorrow’s success. It is not easy starting a business and raising a family. These are two very optomistic and forward thinking young women, with, I am sure a very prosperous future..Watch Out World…HERE THEY COME!!! :)

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