006: How Polly Liu Created An 8 Figure Business Selling Wedding Favors Online

polly liu

I’m thrilled to have Polly Liu on the show today. Polly’s wedding favor store, Beau-Coup.com, started in her own bedroom and has since ballooned to an 8 figure business. In fact, Beau-Coup was the inspiration for my own online store.

Early on, I modeled our shop just like hers and I tracked and studied her every move. Don’t be fooled by Polly’s modesty on the podcast. She’s a super star and there’s a lot to be learned if you want to dominate in ecommerce like she has.

What You’ll Learn

  • Why Polly decided to start an online store selling wedding favors
  • Why Polly decided to dropship early on
  • Why she transitioned to carrying her own inventory
  • How she marketed her store early on
  • How she managed to get early PR coverage of her business
  • How Polly found unique items to sell in her shop
  • How to stalk popular magazine editors
  • What form of marketing works best for Beau-coup.com
  • What’s the traffic distribution for Beau-coup.com
  • Why Beau-coup uses a popup ad on their store.
  • How long did it take until Beau-coup started getting traction
  • How Polly has Google proofed her store over the years
  • What direction is Beau-coup is headed to remain competitive
  • Polly biggest mistake with her shop

Resources Mentioned On The Show

Book recommendations

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Transcript

MyWifeQuitHerJob’s transcripts are done by Outsource2Africa.com, an awesome transcription service that is half the price of other competing companies. Highly recommended!

Steve: You are listening to the mywifequitherjob podcast episode number six. Now before we begin, I just wanted to give a quick thank you shout out to Noah Kagan from AppSumo.com and OkDork.com. Now, I had a conversation with Noah yesterday, but for some reason I wasn’t in the best of moods when I was chatting with him and the funny thing is that everything was all good. I had a successful podcast launch and this podcast was actually ranked number two out of all business podcasts for two straight days and I owe that all to you, but for some reason I was still in a funk.

Now, normally I’m a very happy, go lucky Chinese boy, but I must have been kind of a downer that day. Anyway, long story short, Noah took some time out of his day to try and help me figure out what makes me happy and he actually shares some of his own experiences with me as well. Now, Noah didn’t have to do any of this, and this guy actually genuinely cares about people and for that, I just want to say thank you, it’s all good today. Now, onto the show.

Welcome to the mywifequiteherjob podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suites your lifestyle so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here’s your host, Steve Chou!

Steve: Welcome to another edition of the mywifequitherjob podcast. Today I am honored to have Polly Liu with me on the podcast. Now, Polly is actually someone I met at Stanford but I never really got a chance to get to know, because at the time she was an upper class man and I was kind of this lowly freshman just trying to get used to the ropes. Anyways, Polly started her business Beau-Coup.com way back in 2001 selling wedding and party favors and it has since ballooned into an eight figure business, and in fact her site now totally dominates the wedding favor’s space and she has been expanding into baby and other party favors as well.

So, since I have Polly on the line, it’s confession time. When I first started Bumblebee Linens, I secretly modeled the design of our shop after Beau-Coup. I stocked her store, I found out where she was advertising, I found out her web posting, her shopping part platform, and just about the only thing that I didn’t do was that I didn’t stock Polly herself because that would have been kind of creepy. But, you know overall, I tried to follow the same strategies with our store as what she had done with Beau-Coup and, you know, as you can tell we’ve done pretty well as well just following the same thing as she has done. Anyways, I’m really happy to have gotten back in touch with Polly after all these years, she’s truly an inspiration for my business and we can all learn from her. So, welcome Polly to the show.

Polly: Thank you Steve I’m completely humbled by your introduction [chuckles], I’m really not that great. So, I’m happy to be here and share my experiences with your audience. So, yeah.

Steve: Yeah, so let’s just start with a quick background story. Tell us about Beau-Coup and how you started it and how you kind of came up with the idea.

Polly: Wow, that was a long time ago, 11 years ago, 11 years plus but, the idea originated actually when I wanted to kind of, you know, do something on my own, something entrepreneurial. I was about to get married and about you know, six months, had gotten engaged, and I was at a start up and actually got laid off in the fourth round of layoffs but I was you know, kind of debating whether I want to go and get another job or start something on my own which I’ve always wanted to.

So, you know, my husband and I were brainstorming at the time, my husband had a full time job and you know, as I was planning my own wedding I kind of you know, stumbled upon this idea of selling wedding favors online because we were having issues with our own experience. We were really into golf back then and we wanted to give out golf ball wedding favors as our favors to our guests and it was just a really hard experience finding you know, personalized golf footballs online, and getting it packaged nicely and we just thought it was an opportunity, because you know, we needed to buy hundreds of these little golf balls and there was just really nowhere online you know, all the sites kind of look the same, carry the same type of products.

So we just saw an opportunity and we liked the business model because you know, people buy in bulk and each order would be you know, sizeable and we didn’t have to stock a lot of inventory because we could just kind of turn around and get a dropship from you know, our wholesale vendors so, we kind of liked the low risk strategy, we thought it was an opportunity, I thought I could kind of carry more unique products so, we kind of just kind of you know on our way– I remember this, we were going home to Ed’s parents house in Missouri and we were kind of just jotting down kind of a business plan on a piece of napkin on the airplane and that’s how it kind of started, the idea, and then we went to some gift shows after that and just kind of cemented our idea of you know, selling wedding favors online back then.

Steve: So it was important that you did this online, is that correct, because were there catalogues that sold these personalized golf balls that you were looking for at the time?

Polly: No, offline, wedding favors is really not an offline business, again because you have to buy hundreds of an item…

Steve: Okay

Polly: And most stores don’t want to stock hundreds of you know, a key chain or a bottle stopper to sell as wedding favors so it’s really a good business model for online so we kind of saw that as an opportunity and we just didn’t like the selection that was available back then online. And you know, most of the weddings we’ve gone to it’s kind of all the similar type favors so we thought there was an opportunity to be more unique in this space.

Steve: Okay, so back in 2001 I don’t really think that dropshipping was actually really big just yet, so how did you – were all these vendors willing to dropship right away or did you have special arrangements?

Polly: So when I was at the gift show, most vendors had a minimum order size, so if you wanted to place an order, you had to place you know, a hundred dollars worth of merchandise and this is also why we liked the business model because, you know, if someone ordered 50 to 100 of something, it usually meets the minimum size and I did negotiate with some vendors back then. But, you know, a lot of the vendors that we did end up using were traditionally wedding favor vendors so you know, and we tried to carry more upscale selections so we did– we were able to meet the minimum threshold and when I set you know, minimum thresholds on my website, I made sure that it met you know, the minimum order.

Steve: Okay, so how does customer service work and so, someone places an order on your site for a whole bunch of wedding favors and then do you then just go ahead and place the order with your vendor?

Polly: Yeah, yeah so I would take the order whether it’s online or over the phone and I literally you know, we would have a lead time on our site depending on which vendor it came from and I would literally turn around and call the vendor or e-mail them with the order, with the details of the order and it wasn’t super automated back then. It was literally e-mail with the details of you know, what they ordered and then they would turn around and ship it directly to the customer.

Steve: So how did you handle customer support and returns and that sort of thing, because you never actually saw the merchandise right?

Polly: I never saw the merchandise and if someone wanted to return something they would come back to me and not the vendor because you know, I wanted them to know that I was the interface.

Steve: Okay

Polly: And you know, when I worked with a vendor I try to get them to blind dropship so meaning, it didn’t look like it came from you know, so and so, it came from Beau-Coup so they would actually change their UPS label to say Beau-Coup, so the customer wouldn’t be confused when they got the package.

Steve: I see, so these vendors that you are working with, they didn’t really have an online presence at all either right, so it was a win win on both ends?-

Polly: Yeah, yeah.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: Yeah, and it was a new channel for them because again wedding favors wasn’t like you know, their typical customer base so you know, they loved the fact that we were able to place larger orders every time.

Steve: Okay, so even today, do you still follow that same model or do you hold more inventory?

Polly: We hold a lot more inventory because it just makes sense in how you know, a lot of times customers order you know, three or four different types of products and it does make sense to try to consolidate and send them one package versus four different packages. So, the types of products that we do dropship now are mostly personalized products that we don’t personalize in-house, like personalized ribbon or personalized cookies that we don’t bake you know, we don’t bake the cookies in-house [laughter]. So everything else we have to inventory and we you know, now we have a third party dropship, I mean, actually third party warehouse in the mid-west that ships all of our products for us so.

Steve: So, how did you know that you needed to kind of transition over to that model? Or was it gradual or?

Polly: It was gradual, we just ended up you know, stocking a little, a little more, a little more and it’s usually the more popular items that we started stocking.

Steve: Okay

Polly: And then you know, as we grew, the needs became bigger and we actually run out of warehouse space just a year or two ago and we moved our fulfillment to the mid-west.

Steve: So, take me back to the beginning. How much did you invest in this business? And, do you have a technical background at all or?

Polly: Not really [chuckles].

Steve: Not really.

Polly: I was an economics and psychology major, but I have to give credit to my husband who actually helped me build the website, did a lot of technical, yeah [chuckles] work.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: In the beginning I was, well mostly on the marketing and merchandising side.

Steve: Okay, so let’s go back to the early days. So, what were some of the challenges? So you had your husband help with the website, what were some of all the other you know, start up related challenges and how did you overcome them?

Polly: I would say the biggest challenge was probably marketing, just getting the word out, letting people find out about us and I really got lucky with a feature in Instyle magazine. So what I did was, I would just cold call all you know, a bunch of editors…

Steve: You mean stock, kind of-

Interviewer: Stock yeah [laughter]

Steve: Kind of like what I do? Okay

Polly: So you know, I try to get the contacts and either you know, e-mail them or call them and I just got lucky with one editor at Instyle magazine which really helped us kind of you know, put us on the map and get more features after that and I still remember it was a pair of salt and pepper shakers made out of blown glass, that I found at a local shopping mall, Stanford shopping mall, and you know, it was more of a home decor item and I just thought that it would be a really cute wedding favor item.

So you know, I added that to my website and this editor thought it was a great idea, it was very high end. It was like over ten dollars a pair and she featured it, and after that I just started getting you know, traffic to the site and I was able to say, hey, I was featured in Instyle magazine and I got other you know, Martha Stewart weddings or brides magazines to become interested because they thought– oh, wow! If Instyle would feature you then maybe we should too. So that helped a lot and I definitely…

Steve: So-

Polly: Like plastered that all over my homepage and-

Steve: Yeah, we do the same thing.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: So, you said a lot of stuff in that last statement so let’s walk through some of that. So, you said you saw something at the mall that you liked.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: How did you get from that point to carrying something in your actual store?

Polly: Yes, that’s a great question because I did that a lot in the early days. I tried to be creative. So wherever I was you know, I’m always kind of keeping an eye out for unique items so. I remember this was a gift store in a local shopping mall and I just thought it would be a really cute item to have on our site. So what I did was, I you know, I looked on the bottom, found out who manufactured it or who they got it from, I do that a lot [laughter]. I’m a very sneaky shopper [chuckles].

Steve: [chuckles]

Polly: I’m always like taking pictures with my I-phone, yeah, just to try to find out where they sourced it from and then it was a place in Santa Rosa, I remember. And I called them up, I got a catalogue and you know, some vendors will drop ship, some vendors won’t. And sometimes I have to take a risk and kind of you know, place initial order to stock and if it works out then I’ll stock more. And this particular vendor didn’t drop ship. So I actually took the risk– I think I bought a $100 worth of products and it was nice because I got to see the products, take my own pictures and you know, just took some risk on inventory, which wasn’t a lot.

Steve: Yeah, a $100 dollars is nothing.

Polly: Yeah, and I really liked the product so I was confident I was able to sell it and I got some in the shop or in my apartment, I got some shipped to my apartment.

Steve: [chuckles]

Polly: And then I just you know, took pictures, wrote some creative copy and got it loaded onto our website and yeah, then the Instyle editor just really liked it.

Steve: So, what did you write in this letter, I’m just kind of curious, how do you approach someone just completely cold?

Polly: Oh! I actually called her [chuckles].

Steve: Oh! You called?

Polly: [chuckles] And I think I got lucky she just happened to pick up the phone and you get lucky sometimes, they’ll just pick up or you leave voicemails which usually doesn’t work well. And I just started talking to her and I still keep in touch with her.

Steve: Oh!

Polly: Throughout the years, yeah, now she’s got her own show online and yeah, so…

Steve: Wow! Okay, so, how did you get her phone number? Maybe I should be taking from you lessons about stocking instead.

Polly: There’s a directory at the library, you can just go to any local library, called the Bacon’s directory, and it has all the magazines that you can ever want to you know, write to and it’s categorized like you know, wedding or baby, or family or you know lifestyle and you can literary get contact information for any magazine there by fax, by e-mail, by phone. So, it’s just a directory of all the editors.

Steve: That is a very good tip.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: So, is that still up to date today, do you know? As far as you know?

Polly: I don’t know, I haven’t used it in a while.

Steve: You haven’t stocked anyone in a while, I see.

Polly: No, but it’s called Bacon’s directory yeah.

Steve: Okay, great! That’s awesome advice. So, okay, so you get in Instyle magazine and then did you actually get a ton of orders from the magazine ad itself?

Polly: I wouldn’t say that we got a ton of orders; we got a lot of kind of just publicity from it.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: And it was just great right, to know that someone was interested and then it kind of snowballed from there but, I would say what really helped me in the early days from a marketing stand point, I mean, that was really great, InStyle. But I also just kind of started learning about SEO.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: Search engine marketing or optimization and I you know, started writing content, I started building links, I started just trying to you know, learn how to scroll up on Google, and I think in the very early days we also did some paid advertising through Google which brought in a lot of water back traffic.

Steve: Okay, so let’s go in a little more in-depth. So earlier on, so what are some of the SEO things that you did with your site? And this is just back when you were just by yourself pretty much right?

Polly: Yeah, yeah. So, you know, I mean back then it was so early for SEO so it’s pretty easy to you know, gain rankings but, I know I made sure all of my pages were re-titled, wedding favors or anything I wanted to rank for, I wrote content on wedding favors, bridal shower favors too and I exchanged a lot of links. So, I would you know go out to other wedding related sites and try to get them to link to me with anchor text that has wedding favors in it or something related and I would link back to them. So, I did a lot of that because I was just reading up on it and it was a lot of work.

Steve: Oh right, yeah.

Polly: And finding directories to you know, get my link in there. But I did a lot of that in the early days.

Steve: Okay, okay. So, just for the benefit of the listeners, the SEO game has changed tremendously…

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: In the last couple years, so some of these tactics that Polly is describing here, well, will no longer work, and in some cases they may penalize you but, in the early days all that stuff was actually very good strategy in terms of building up a search engine optimization.

Polly: Yes.

Steve: So, okay, so you have– SEO traffic start trickling in, how long did it take for that to happen?

Polly: Not too long. I would say like, within like a few months, I started seeing some results and I just did more and more of it and as you’ll see right now today I mean, we are not just ranking for wedding favors, it’s you know, baby shower favors, birthday party favors. So, we did more and more, and like Steve said, the game has completely changed so, you know, this was like ten years ago [chuckles].

Steve: Yeah, yeah. So, how has it evolved? I’m just curious, how do you guys get links now for your store?

Polly: Oh, we just try to get natural links now, we don’t build any links, we don’t submit anything to directories anymore. It’s really just building good content and doing a lot of social media. You know, we have a blog, so we just try to produce content that we think our readers or our audience will be interested in and then they will want to link to us so.

Steve: Okay, so, percentagewise you know what percentage of your business is direct traffic SEO, search engine marketing and that sort of thing just to give a very rough breakdown.

Polly: In the early days I would say almost 90 percent of it came from SEO, SEO yeah not even paid. Paid was probably like ten percent of it or something, and I think over the years paid has become a much bigger percentage of our business.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: And, today I don’t have the exact breakdown but I want to say that you know, paid is probably like 30 percent you know, SEO is probably another 30 percent and everything else is like you know, press, or social media and everything else so.

Steve: What about e-mail? Do you guys do anything special with e-mail at all?

Polly: Yeah, we have a huge e-mail base now so yeah, we do have a lot of people coming in whenever we send out an e-mail blast, but that’s not a huge percentage of our traffic source.

Steve: Oh, okay. So, do you gather e-mails from people that have purchased or do you gather in other ways with your content as well?

Polly: Both, so you know, you can come to our site and I think one of the first things you’ll see is a pop-up that asks you to join our newsletter and then you know, after every purchase or actually during the purchase process, they can opt in to receive our e-mail and then afterwards we see if they want to you know, sign up for our newsletter as well and there’s just a lot of opportunities along the funnel for them to sign up.

Steve: So this pop-up is often been controversial in terms of e-commerce stores, do you guys offer any special offers with this pop-up or is it an informational pop-up?

Polly: Yeah, they’ll see exclusive notifications on sales and I think you know, they’ll get it– and then once they agree to get newsletters we have a whole cycle of welcome e-mails and you know, so we try to give them bigger and bigger deals along the way every week to get them to buy. Even if they don’t buy on that visit, they’ll get e-mails to try to encourage them to come back.

Steve: Okay, so the pop-up actually hasn’t deterred people from shopping on your site right?

Polly: No.

Steve: Because sometimes it annoys people.

Polly: Yeah, I know [chuckles] we’ve tested it and actually it does work for us.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: Okay. So, you know if you were to go way back you just got laid off from your job, you’re just starting up your business, when did you kind of know that this is what you wanted to do? How much time did you give yourself?

Polly: Yeah. It was probably a year into it, I mean I remember in the early days it was just me you know, by myself in my apartment and I definitely had doubts you know, in the early months especially that this wasn’t going to work. And I remember you know having episodes where I would cry and be like, what am I doing here? [Chuckles] I’m all by myself trying to get links [chuckles] and then you know, in the early days I mean, fulfillment was you know, a challenge too. I had to like pack up my own packages and then like go to the local drug store to drop off the packages.

So it was just really manual too, and I definitely had doubts and it wasn’t until you know, I got that InStyle feature and you know, I started seeing traffic to our site start to increase and you know, started to get some orders and I realized, hey, this could really work and you know, some days I wouldn’t get any orders in the early days and then you know, I think maybe at the sixth month mark you know, I would get an order a day and then it would become like two or three a day and you know, once you see the growth pattern you just you know, start having more confidence in the business.

Steve: Okay. So, that Instyle thing happened within the first six months?

Polly: Yes.

Steve: Okay. Yeah, you know, one thing that I always tell the students in my class at least is to never underestimate the impact of leg work and it sounds like you did your share of leg work in the beginning by cold calling people as well as you know, just hustling work to get any sort of business that you could.

Polly: Yes, yes.

Steve: So-

Polly: And I did everything, I mean, I tried to partner with you know, wedding vendors and event planners and you know, just trying to get creative with marketing. I think that was the biggest challenge in the beginning, is just to get our name out there so.

Steve: What a coincidence! We have been doing the same thing.

Polly: Yeah, you can’t be shy [chuckles].

Steve: So, okay, so your business is gaining traction and you know if you can think back, I know it’s hard to think back that far, but I’m sure you made your share of mistakes as well. So I was just wondering if you could comment on some of these mistakes and perhaps you know in the hopes that other people who are starting wouldn’t make these same mistakes.

Polly: What are you talking about mistakes? [chuckles]

Steve: I know you are perfect Polly and you know, [chuckles]

Polly: I’m just kidding [chuckles] mistakes so you know I think I might have mentioned this to you at one point but thinking back, I think if I were to do it all over again, I would have invested more in infrastructure from the beginning. You know, in the beginning it’s just hard because you know, you’re not sure if this is going to work and you’re just trying to like get the cheapest like server or get the cheapest you know, any third party software you can get and as the company grew it was just hard you know, with all this legacy.

I remember you know, even our shopping cart, we tried to get you know, something off the shelf, really cheaply and even with you know, our operating system or our fulfillment software, we just tried to find the cheapest thing out there in the beginning and then as we grew, we had to switch it out, it was just a nightmare. And you know, in some cases where we had to spend a lot of time trying to, you know upgrade the system, upgrade the infrastructure and it just took a lot of bandwidth when we could have used that time and the resources to grow the business. So, you know, it’s really hard because you know, you want to save money, you want to be scrappy in the beginning, but I do think you know, for certain things you need to invest in scale.

Steve: Was open source around back then? I’m trying to think this was a long time ago so.

Polly: Yeah, but we didn’t really do that.

Steve: I don’t think it was actually that big.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: Certainly not in 2001.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: So, may I ask what you were on initially when you first started out?

Polly: Oh gosh, I can’t even remember, I’m sorry [chuckles].

Steve: Okay, oh, that’s okay. And then, what did you transition to then, is your shopping hut homegrown now or are you using anything kind of off the shelf altogether.

Polly: No, we were using Niva.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: For a long time, now it’s completely custom built, I mean, we built our own shopping cart, our own you know, operating…

Steve: Okay.

Polly: System, yeah.

Steve: Just between you and me, I already knew the answer to that question before I asked so, [chuckles]

Polly: Cheeky [chuckles]

Steve: Okay, so and you know, as your company has kind of grown, how has– so let’s talk about Google for a sec, So, within the last couple of years the Google rankings have been shifting around the algorithm to change so, how has the company kind of transitioned over the years to kind of Google proof yourself so to speak?

Polly: Yeah, yeah, we realized that we can’t just depend on Google traffic as much as we did in the past So we try to like you know, like I said, build a bigger social media presence, build better content and you know, get smatter with paid advertising you know, try to find other places where we can pay for traffic so that we are not so reliant on our rankings you know, we could drop tomorrow and not feel the pain so much because we have definitely experienced that I would say like five or six years ago or even the recent past. It was just really stressful to rely on that traffic. You know, today we are doing very well on Google but you know, that could go away tomorrow so.

Steve: So, what are some of the paper click services that you use and recommend?

Polly: Well, first of all we, you know, advertise on all the major search engines right.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: So Google, Yahoo, Bing. We do you know the shopping engines; I can’t remember the others [chuckles].

Steve: That’s okay, yeah, we know.

Polly: A comparison.

Steve: Google merchants centre.

Polly: Comparison shopping, yeah.

Steve: Right.

Polly: And then we do the product feed, product feed paid advertising, so you know, we just explore and then we you know, we pay for some blog advertising and…

Steve: How did that work out actually? I’m just curious, for the blog advertising.

Polly: Yeah. It actually, doesn’t work out as well as some of the other you know, channels but it’s good for kind of brand marketing. So we still do some but not a ton, it’s not a big channel for us by any means. So, in terms of you know, return on investment it’s definitely not one of our top channels. I would say e-mail, e-mail has the best return but it’s small and we also– let me try to think what else we do, affiliate is also another channel, affiliate marketing.

Steve: Oh! Okay.

Polly: Which actually has worked a lot better in the past too [chuckles].

Steve: Oh! Because the Google rankings affected the blogs?

Polly: Yeah, yeah.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: That makes sense.

Polly: And now we are trying to figure out how to, you know, get on mobile and you know, advertise on mobile which is not you know, the best performing channel right now for anyone so.

Steve: Yeah, mobile for us isn’t performing that well. Recently we, well not recently, is a couple of years ago, we did a mobile implementation of our site which drastically boosted conversions. But they were still pretty low and I noticed you guys launched one, was it a year ago? Or couple of years ago as well?

Polly: A year ago, yeah.

Steve: A year ago yeah.

Polly: Yeah. I mean, it’s great but it just doesn’t convert you know, I think you get a lot of eye balls but people just don’t you know still buy on their phones as much as they do on you know, an iPad or the desktop so.

Steve: So do you still continue to buy ads for the mobile space then?

Polly: We’re experimenting, I think not a ton but you know, we’re starting with our brand and then you know some of the top terms but it’s just, the returns are just not there so, right now yeah.

Steve: So just curious, how do you measure like brand penetration? Is there a way that you guys can quantify that? Or how does it work?

Polly: Brand penetration, [chuckles] you know, we do look at how many people search for our brand over time, and the good news is that it’s more and more every year because as we you know, become more well known I think people are searching for our name Beau-Coup in all different forms and we do measure how well it converts and it’s by far the best converting returns for us.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: Okay, so if you were– so I noticed that you decided, I think all of your stuff is sourced domestically, is that correct for the most part?

Polly: Most part I would say 98 percent we did source some things from Europe yeah.

Steve: So, was that a conscious decision to just kind of keep everything domestic? Or just what were some of the thought processes that went into products that you wanted to carry?

Polly: I think part of it is just you know, starting out, we just didn’t have the volume to import and it was just really complicated and I just didn’t have the resources or the mind share back then to even think about learning how to import. And we did go to a gift show in Hong-Kong a few years ago and we do import a few things now from China. But it’s through a middle man and I think the thought processes as we get bigger we will be able to bring in containers and you know of items, but it is a lot more risky, so we didn’t want to kind of, you know, commit to a container full of anything.

Steve: Sure.

Polly: So, it’s just you know, and I think that the domestic market you know, there’s just so much that we want to do still so that we haven’t tapped into the whole importing. But it is an opportunity, we can definitely get the cost down by a lot but we also need the warehouse space to…

Steve: Right, right.

Polly: Store all these products and then we take on the inventory risk.

Steve: And there is quality control as well.

Polly: Yeah, it’s just a whole set of issues so.

Steve: Okay. So, do you have any– let’s say I was a complete nubby today who wants to start an online store. Any advice that you would give for people just starting out, who want to create a business set similar to yours but you know not within the same niche?

Polly: Not within the same niche, gosh, I think the game…

Steve: because you would just crash them you know, if they started in the same niche.

Polly: [laughter] Don’t even try! You know, I think the game’s changed a lot, like I said, I think it’s just a lot harder now with marketing. I think it’s just so much more expensive so, you know, I would just advice to just understand your product, your category, your competitive space because I think it’s just so much more competitive this days and even with bringing traffic, just know how much it will cost you [chuckles].

Steve: Right.

Polly: So, think about you know, your margins, I think that’s a big learning for us is just trying to– I think in the earlier days it was really easy because we didn’t have as much competition.

Steve: Right.

Polly: And we were more unique and as we grew there was just a lot more people came into our space and try you know, started carrying similar type items. So it’s just harder to differentiate ourselves on a product level and we are going back to that a lot more through designs, and through carrying exclusive products because you know, competing on price is just really hard.

Steve: Right.

Polly: And we’re trying to get away from that because you know, you are bidding against all these other guys on you know Google, Pay for click and it just gets really expensive and to have a descent margin, you’re going to have to really differentiate through product offering.

Steve: One thing I do notice is that you guys take your own shots, so even though it might be the same product…

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: Yeah.

Polly: Yeah, that helps a lot actually.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

Polly: We’ve done a lot of A/B testing on product images using the vendor’s image versus our own and using a nice image versus a not so nice image and it definitely pays off to have good photography. So, we do a lot of that and a lot of like you know our own content and we try to give people ideas on packaging and how to differentiate the product because it really helps us convert.

Steve: Any worries about Amazon kind of encroaching and taking away some of…

Polly: Yeah! We do worry about Amazon but like I said, if we continue down the path of you know, coming up with our own exclusive designs on the personalized products which is a huge part of our business now.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: Inland, and working with manufacturers on producing exclusive product lines, that’s kind of the direction we are headed.

Steve: Okay.

Polly: I think that will help us stay competitive.

Steve: That makes a whole lot of sense because the whole personalization space in Amazon, it hasn’t quite jelled yet, yeah.

Polly: Right

Steve: Okay! So, is there a favorite business book that you could recommend to the listeners?

Polly: Favorite business book– gosh, I’m trying to think what are some of my best books?

Steve: Do you read anymore Polly? I mean, I know you have a couple of kids but, [chuckles].

Polly: I do read, I do read. Maybe not so many business books anymore, but I’m reading a book called ‘Quiet’, which I highly recommend, [chuckles] it’s about introverts verses extroverts and how to you know, and it actually applies in the workspace too, you know, how you can manage people better by knowing whether they are you know, an introvert or extrovert so, it’s quite interesting.

Steve: So are you yourself an introvert or extrovert?

Polly: [chuckle] I you know, I talk about this all the time with my husband, my friends, I think I’m somewhere in between-

Steve: Okay.

Polly: Yeah, I’m not truly one or the other but…

Steve: I would not call you an introvert; I just thought I would ask [chuckle].

Polly: Really? [Laughs]

Steve: Yeah, no, I mean, an introvert – at least when we first met, the conversation was kind of free flowing so I, you know, usually introverts, it’s a little harder to get them going so.

Polly: Oh, yeah.

Steve: But, any online services that you use for your business that you just can’t live without that you recommend? You guys would look at?

Polly: There’s a site – I can get back to you, but basically, you can basically see all your competitors and their traffic and where they are coming from. God, I can’t believe I’m blanking right now so.

Steve: Open [inaudible] [00:36:33] no-

Polly: No, no, no, something with competition in it [chuckles].

Steve: Competition [chuckles] Okay! Yeah, you know, once you get that to me I’ll go ahead and put it in the show notes.

Polly: Yeah, yeah.

Steve: Chances are I’ve already used it on your site.

Polly: Oh! It’s Compete.com?

Steve: Compete! Okay, yes, Compete.com of course.

Polly: I love Compete.com because I’m always like spying on my competitors and-

Steve: Ah! So I’m not the only one? [chuckles] Okay.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: Well, I know you’ve got some stuff you need to get done Polly, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but just thank you so much for coming on the show.

Polly: No, I this is great and I hope you know I want to listen to all your other podcasts too, great series you’re doing.

Steve: Yeah, I hope it really takes off.

Polly: Yeah.

Steve: All right, well, thanks Polly!

Polly: All right, thanks Steve!

Steve: I really respect Polly a lot, and in fact I owe the success of my online store directly to her and Beau-Coup. Back then, I used her online store as a role model for my own and by stocking and tracking Beau-Coup’s every move, I was able to emulate her success or be it on a much smaller scale. Anyway, be sure to check out the show note for this episode, where you’ll find the sites and links mentioned in this episode and if you have a minute, it would really help if you could subscribe and leave a review on iTunes. And don’t forget to enter my free contest where I’m giving away a lifetime membership to my profitable online store course as well as free consulting. For more information go to www.mywifequitherjob.com/podcast-launch. That’s mywifequitherjob.com/podcast-launch. Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening to the mywifequiteherjob podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information, visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.

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9 thoughts on “006: How Polly Liu Created An 8 Figure Business Selling Wedding Favors Online”

  1. Sandra says:

    Excellent podcast. Very informative and inspirational. Thanks, Polly, for sharing your tips and experiences.

  2. Online Income For Everyone! says:

    These podcasts of actual case studies are incredible learning experiences and much valued! Thanks Steve for bringing to us and thank you Polly for sharing
    your experiences with us!

  3. Anouk says:

    The interview was interesting, thank you.

    There is 2 things I’d like to point out.

    It would be interesting to know her revenue or profits during her first years. How did it grow? Slowly? Fast? She started 11 years ago and the web was quite different at that time. She claimed that she has a 8 figure business which seems very huge to me!

    Also, at the end of interview she confirmed what I think about online store: it became much, much more difficult now. The competition is huge and the marketing is much expensive. She started a business when there was a lot of room on the market and that’s a good thing. Having my former online store in Canada, I couldn’t compete with other businesses who have huge marketing budget.

    Thanks again

    1. Steve C says:

      Anouk,
      All of her company information is public since it was sold. Just do a search. I visited her office a few months ago. She has a large building with over 50 employees.

      Your thinking about it becoming much much more difficult is a cop out. Profitable online stores are opened every single day. If all you want to do is earn a 6 figure or a lifestyle income, it’s quite doable. You just can’t go head to head with giants.

      1. Anouk says:

        Thanks Steve, to be honest I went on the website but I didn’t know she sold her business. Good for her, having created 50 jobs by herself is just amazing!

        I know it takes time and work to succeed with an online store (or any business). As far as I know, there are little Canadian online stores who became very profitable like the ones I see in the US or UK. Maybe our market is too small, I don’t know.

        I’m not looking to have a 6 figure business, just to replace my actual income (around 70K) would be great! I’ll stay confident and keep work hard to achieve my goal 🙂 Your tips help a lot, and I’ve also found that I’ve learn much by DOING it. Mistakes made me learn very quickly!

    2. Owen says:

      I think that there is room for e-commerce even today. You just need to find the right niche and don’t compete with the big boys. You need to find a niche that is not easily available anywhere and home in on it. You may make mistakes but it’s achievable. I know someone who sells feathers online and makes revenue of $1 million.

      1. Anouk says:

        I agree that finding the right niche is necessary, but it’s not enough. No website traffic, no sells. Marketing and sales skills are also necessary.

  4. Kevin says:

    Great episode! btw, how do you get the “where should i begin” to fade in and out like that? it looks really great. I’m really digging your podcast thus far. Keep up the great work and the wonderful guests you’re having. I’ll definitely be tuning in every episode.

  5. Owen says:

    Nice, interesting interview. Very inspiring. I love your interview style.
    Hope you have many more to come. I have done a lot of research and come up with at least 4 possible niches. I’m going to start one soon.

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