E-Commerce for Small Business: An Interview with Claire Codling of Hemp Beadery

Claire Codling is a jewelry maker and owner of HempBeadery.com, a craft supply store that specializes in providing everything the hemp jewelry maker could possibly need. Her business has evolved from running a handmade jewelry stall at a craft market in Perth, Australia to managing and owning a brick-and-mortar hemp products store, to being the sole proprietor of Hemp Beadery.

As Press Up, we developed Hemp Beadery’s current WordPress/WooCommerce site. We spoke with Claire about her experience as a small business owner and how she’s used WordPress to build a thriving online store.

Origins

Harper: How did the idea for Hemp Beadery come about? I know it’s something you’ve been doing for a while now.

I’ve been making hemp jewelry since before the internet.

Claire: I’ve been making hemp jewelry for twenty years, and I traveled around the world for ten years. Making jewelry was a way that I supported my travels. So I’ve been doing this for longer than just the internet—before the internet, before eBay.

In 2000, I was in Australia and I had an accident and I couldn’t work, so I made jewelry to survive. That’s how I got into starting the hemp jewelry business, literally by accident. I started a really successful craft business then; I was making hemp jewelry, beaded jewelry, and selling beads.

But then, I couldn’t stay in Australia and I wanted to come back to America, so I came back to America and had to start all over again, and for some reason I wandered away from the hemp jewelry and got into doing other things and snowboarding. Also there were different circumstances; there weren’t any craft markets I could do there. Eventually I ended up opening a retail store, a little boutique. That was almost 9 years ago. I did the retail store for 6 years, and then I hit a slow period in my business, so I thought I’d start selling on the internet and see if I could give that a go.

During my slow periods in the store, I just plugged away on the internet. I didn’t have a clue how to go about it, I didn’t know anything, I barely even knew how to use a computer at that point. I had to learn Photoshop, I had to learn everything from scratch, and then it came about that I wanted a website. So I started poking around thinking “Well, how do I get a website?”

I stumbled across Dreamweaver, which looking back was a complete waste of time.

I stumbled across Dreamweaver, which looking back was a complete waste of time. I did that for about a year, and just about blew my brains out trying to figure out how to do that, but I managed to get a website up, a very dated one, but I made sales on it and got it on page one of the keywords I was after. Then I started on Etsy, and my business really took off on Etsy, and I decided to go back to doing the hemp jewelry thing that I had done ten years prior in Australia.

H: Was your retail store primarily with the hemp jewelry as well?

The retail store was going downhill while the internet business was going up, so I decided to close the store down.

C: Yeah, I sold hemp jewelry in the store but I saw that the potential was going to be much greater on the internet, because the retail store was going downhill while the internet business was going up. I thought, well, I think I can make it better on the internet, so we’ll see how this goes. Then I ended up doing way better on the internet than in the store and within three months I just decided to close the store down. I haven’t looked back since, I’ve been doing it for 3 years.

H: It sounds like starting on Etsy was a big turning point for you. Were there any other major milestones as far as it came to getting your business online that you’d like to talk about? How have you measured your success?

I set myself sales goals, and it’s been exciting because I’ve actually been meeting the goals.

C: Well, I measured it in number of sales or sales volume. Like I’d just set myself goals like “This month I’d like to do this amount” or “This year I’d like to do this amount” in sales volume, and it’s been exciting because I’ve actually been meeting the goals. They’re not outrageously high goals, but realistic goals; and I’ve been smashing them, so that’s really great! When I was in the store, and I set myself goals, I’d always go backwards. I saw business go down rather than keep going up. This is very neat to keep putting my focus and energy into the internet and the website.

H: Obviously you had a sense of the kinds of people that were going to buy your jewelry from when you were back in Australia, but when you moved online how do you find your customer base again?

C: I started completely from scratch. The customer base is hemp jewelry makers; I sell the supplies to make hemp jewelry and other beaded jewelry. Hemp jewelry’s always been popular, so there’s a definite niche there for people looking for cool beads to make hemp jewelry. It’s a very specific kind of jewelry, and on the internet it’s easy to find that niche and join groups. You’ve got your Facebook page and you kind of attract that kind of person that likes your style of stuff.

H: You sell a lot of the supplies in addition to your own stuff. Did you find that there was nobody else in that niche when you got there? How did you start finding those people?

When I started online, nobody was doing a hemp jewelry supply store that I could see, which I saw as a niche that needed to be filled.

C: When I started online, nobody was doing a hemp jewelry supply store that I could see. There were people with bits and pieces, but nobody had a huge selection of twine or beads for hemp jewelry. I saw that as a niche that needed to be filled: I’m a jewelry maker myself, and it’s annoying to have to go to different websites to get a spool of this and then beads. I wanted to get it all in one place, so that’s what I set out to do.

Marketing and Strategy

H: So how have you grown your customer base? You do have a pretty significant Facebook and Twitter following; do you have any specific ways that you market yourself online?

C: I’ve done really well on Facebook by doing contests and giveaways, rewarding customers with coupons, sharing interesting things, showing them how to make stuff. Facebook is where I’ve done well with that.

H: Do you have any advice for others that are starting to do online marketing?

I know what my customers are looking for, I provide it for them, and I listen to what they say.

C: I think just finding your niche target audience, and don’t overload them with your product. Keep it interesting for them and have them participate in giveaways and ask them questions. A lot of customers I talk to behind the scenes have become like friends even though I’ve never met them. They’ll ask me questions and advice and I’ll respond. It’s like having a little community. I know what my customers are looking for, I provide it for them, and I listen to what they say. Offering good customer service is a key thing. Listening to the complaints as much as listening to the good things.

H: What do you think is something that your business does really well?

C: What do I do really well? I ship quick, I offer good customer service, I have a good return policy, and I offer a good range of products at a reasonable price.

H: Do you have any challenges that you wish you knew how to solve, or that your business is currently facing?

C: Assistance would be nice. The only thing I’m struggling with right now is that I’d like to have some help. I could do a lot more with another pair of hands. That’s why I hired Fred and David to help me with my website, because that’s one thing that I don’t have the time for anymore.

H: Are you in business pretty much by yourself?

C: Yeah, people think I have a team, but I don’t, it’s just me. I can’t call anyone and say “This person’s complaining, they can just talk to the manager” because I am the manager.

H: Is there anything you wish you would have known before started your business or taking it online?

If I could turn it back, I would have started online a lot sooner.

C: If I could turn it back, I would have started online a lot sooner, probably ten years prior—and not wasted my time in Dreamweaver. I would have figured out something else. I wasted a lot of time in Dreamweaver trying to teach myself stuff, but when you start out you just don’t know and WordPress wasn’t really around at the time. I did learn some stuff, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, but I wasted a lot of time.

WordPress

H: What led you to adopt WordPress, and how did you hear about it?

C: I forget how I actually heard about it. I think I just started seeing that the big websites were moving to WordPress, and I think I read a blog or a post and thought, “That sounds interesting.”

I initially didn’t look into WordPress because I thought there’d be some catch like everything else.

I was hearing how it’s really easy to do yourself, but I didn’t bother looking into it for a long time because I thought there’d be some catch like everything else. There’s so many options out there, they all have a catch, they’re all difficult. So, I just thought it was just another difficult option, and I had already been working so hard on Dreamweaver and I wasn’t looking to start something new.

But then I kept hearing more about it, and I think a friend of mine had a WordPress website and I was like “Wow, that looks really good! And you did all the pictures and everything yourself?” and she was like “Yeah!” and so I thought “I’m really going to have to look into that,” and by that time I was making enough money that I could pay somebody to build one, so I thought “that’s what I’m going to do.”

H: It sounds like it’s made a big difference in your business?

C: Oh yeah, it’s been fantastic.

H: And you’re primarily using WordPress for the e-commerce side of things, obviously? What kind of setup are you using?

C: They did basically WooCommerce, and then David customized the shipping for me, which was always a major problem. I wanted a cart that would ship by weight. So you weigh product, and then the cart adds up all the weights and gives an accurate shipping quote, and I couldn’t find anything that would do that.

So I had David basically break the code and make this fantastic shipping plugin that worked brilliantly well, and was really easy to do and it works really accurately so that’s fantastic. That was the best money spent, even though I nearly lost my mind trying to set it up. It got really complicated with the math but David is brilliant, you just tell him what your problem is and then ten minutes later he’s solved it. I don’t think there’s any problem he cannot solve.

H: Are there any ways you’ve found that WordPress has negatively impacted your business? Anything you’d like to change but have had trouble with?

The WordPress site has been all good. It’s easy-to-use and has an accurate shipping calculator.

C: No, I think it’s all good. It’s an easy-to-use site. I wanted a site that was pretty easy to use, not complicated, pretty self-explanatory. I haven’t had anybody complain about the checkout process. I wanted it to be accurate on the shipping, and honestly that’s a real hassle. WooCommerce doesn’t have an accurate shipping calculator so I was getting really fed up with refunding people money and losing sales, so David’s custom plugin really helped solved that problem. And I can upload as many products as I want on this website, whereas on my Dreamweaver website I was really limited on the number of products I could sell.

H: That seems like it would make a really big difference, especially if part of your niche is having everything a customer was looking for.

With my WordPress site, you can have thousands of products and it doesn’t matter.

C: Yeah, with my WordPress site you can have thousands of products on there and it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t be able to do that my Dreamweaver site.

H: What’s been the most helpful thing you’ve learned about WordPress? It does sound like you’ve taught yourself a lot about it.

I don’t understand code, so to be able to run a website through WordPress without having to know that stuff is a definite advantage.

C: There’s so much I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, and Fred and David have shown me a lot of stuff. I guess just the the overall amount of things that you can do. If you’ve got a problem you can plug it in, there’s just so many helpful plugins. It’s just a really helpful platform if you don’t know code. I don’t understand code, so to be able to run a website without having to know that stuff is a definite advantage.

H: Is there anything that you’d like to share with our audience that we didn’t touch on?

C: If you’re looking for WordPress website help, David and Fred are your guys, because I tried a few different people and they messed me around, or they didn’t get the job done, or they didn’t do what they said they were going to do. Fred and David have never let me down once, or disappointed me once. Top-notch service. That’s all I’ll tell people: Don’t waste your time with anybody else.

H: Claire, it’s been really lovely talking with you!

C: Thank you! I hope that was of some help.

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3 Responses to E-Commerce for Small Business: An Interview with Claire Codling of Hemp Beadery

  1. Pingback: Site Owner Stories: E-Commerce for Small Business | WPShout.com

  2. Glenn says:

    Great success story — Claire has a lot of fortitude and determination!

    I am interested in the comment that WooCommerce doesn’t have an accurate shipping calculator. There are 3 types of calculations that I can see — flat-rate (comes by default), table-rate (multiple add-ons for that including WooThemes $199 one), and UPS / USPS plugins (again more than one add-on for each) which (I think) work through XML connections to UPS and USPS with shipping calculated (by them) based on the dimensions & weights you enter on your products, location you are shipping, etc.

    There seem to be significant differences in the Table Rate plugins with the WooCommerce plugin being the most “robust” in terms of features/functionality.

    My wife (who sells custom pottery) indicates that the UPS / USPS pricing/calculators (on their sites) sometimes provide numbers that turn out to be incorrect when you actually ship the product.

    I would be interested in others’ experience of the “accuracy” of WooCommerce shipping calculators (and which particular methods / add-ons they are referring to.)

    • If I’m recalling correctly, Claire tried out the USPS plugin and got rates that didn’t reflect her shipping costs — maybe there weren’t enough product details for the calculator, maybe something else. I’m pretty sure the USPS calculator one is doing a bunch of geometric maths on your items and trying to “pack it” as efficiently as you could to get a good number. But especially with pottery — where you probably have added volume from packaging materials to get it there safe — I could see that going wrong A LOT.

      For Claire, we ended up going with Woo’s Table Rate plugin you mention, as it lets you set your own rules about how you want to calculate shipping and it’s worked well for her. So long as you have some reasonably systematic rules of thumb for how shipping actually works for you (which Claire does), it’s probable a good table rate plugin is the most reliable thing you’ll find.

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