Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another edition of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.
Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. Man, it has been really cool to see the reviews continue to increase on this podcast. Something I think we're both really proud of.
Austin Brawner: We are really proud of it, we're at, as of today, 115 five star reviews, which makes me feel great and it also gives us a little bit of motivation to continue putting this thing out, putting the hard work into it. I just want to read one review because it just made me so happy to hear.
From Will Roya, June 16th, five stars; "This is one of a handful of podcasts that I've listened to regularly help me build my online brand to $1 million within a couple of years."
Andrew Foxwell: That is awesome. I think sometimes I'm currently sitting here in a friend's upstairs guest room, on a chair with my microphone in a mug, an empty mug and it's a pretty baller lifestyle right now. And I think when we go through and take the time to record these things, all over the world really, we've recorded them together and made the time. We forget sometimes, I mean I do, about where the impact is really happening. And man, that's insane. That's so cool. That's so cool that he did that.
Another one, this is from FitDonRo; "With so much fluff in the marketplace, this podcast gives nothing but high quality and actual tactics and strategies to help you optimize your ecommerce marketing. Bookmark this, you want to keep this at the top of your list."
Austin Brawner: Awesome.
Andrew Foxwell: So, so amazing.
Austin Brawner: And it's also really, really helpful and it's one of the things we try to keep this podcast really focused on actionable tips. But before we go into today's episode, one ask is if you listen to this podcast and you've gotten value out of it, please head to iTunes, write us a review. That's the way that we get noticed and we can continue to grow and share this podcast information with more people. That's our ask for the day before diving into a really interesting interview.
We have a special guest who tuned in from her studio in Bali. And initially, I got connected with Meri because she is a member of the Coalition and we've been working together and she's doing some very interesting... She's got a jewelry brand, an ethical jewelry brand out of Bali and she's been doing some very interesting and unique marketing strategies, because they're not really tactics, it's just ideas that she's come up with to use channels like Facebook groups and Instagram, private Instagram channels to be able to move inventory and connect deeper with her customers.
Initially, how we got connected was learning about that and helping her with her business. We wanted to share some of these ideas with you guys.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, if you are looking for interesting marketing ideas, if you're looking for interesting ways to take care of your VIPs and if you're looking to hear a little bit more about somebody who is dedicated to ethical sourcing of the products and having a really ethical supply chain the whole way, this episode is definitely for you. So let's go ahead and welcome Meri to the show.
Meri Geraldine: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Austin Brawner: So we've given our listeners just a little bit of a background on you, but why don't you take about a minute or so and tell us a little bit about you personally and maybe give us an overview or your business and what you're doing these days.
Meri Geraldine: Okay, so I'm Meri. I'm originally from the Netherlands, but I've lived in Indonesia for over a decade. And I run the ethical jewelry brand called Gardens of the Sun. And by ethical I mean I go really deep into the sourcing of the materials that we use and try to make it better for the people involved and for the environment.
Austin Brawner: I know you talked a little bit about being in Indonesia for about a decade. I know you have a background in sustainability and spent, I believe quite a few years working in, was it forestry in Indonesia? Could you tell us a little bit about that and maybe tell us a little bit about your story about how you transitioned over to what you're doing now. Because they are, on the surface they don't seem that similar, but they actually might be.
Meri Geraldine: Yeah. So I started working in Indonesia on oil palm plantations. So I first came to Indonesia back in 2006 and what I did is I worked with local NGOs on reporting actually all the crimes and human rights and legal violations that were happening on oil palm plantations in Indonesia. Mostly on the outer islands like Sumatra and Borneo. Yeah, I worked on oil palm for over ten years.
When my daughter was about a year old, this was back in 2012, I was looking for something that I could do from home because my husband is also in forestry and he was doing a lot of fieldwork on another island for his PhD. And so I started making beaded jewelry. From there, I transitioned to rough gemstone and raw diamond jewelry because I didn't actually like the jewelry I was making at first.
Then a few years in, I had a burnout and I quit my full-time job as a sustainability consultant. I continued doing some short-term, part-time consultancy jobs. But I realized that a few years in, I started to enjoy it less and less. I think it's also working on the same issue of deforestation or palm plantation development, basically extraction of natural resources. It can be pretty depressing. A lot of it was policymaking and telling other people what to do better. But I did get to spend some time with farmers and indigenous people on the ground.
And that's what re-motivated me, just being directly in contact with the people that this policy or these policies were affecting. And I wanted to be more involved with implementation and driving actual change.
It took me a while to put two-and-two together. I realized that the kind of change that I wanted to drive I could do with my jewelry business. And at that point, I think one of my first hires, one of the first full-time hires was a sustainability and sourcing manager.
Andrew Foxwell: I think it's really interesting, Meri, because one thing that's very prevalent on your site and the story of Gardens of the Sun is you're on a quest to meet everybody in the supply chain.
I love that, I think that's very inspiring for a lot of brands. I think that's very inspiring, obviously for the end consumer as well.
Can you take about how you went about this process of understanding and meeting everybody in the supply chain? Because no doubt that's a ton of work too. How did you justify it economically to yourself? I'm just feeling like a lot of small business owners, would be like, "yeah, we spent a lot of time finding this right sourcer but we don't exactly know these people." Especially when you're starting out, I feel like that's quite a task for yourself.
Meri Geraldine: Yeah, it started out with knowing that gold had a lot of issues with mercury. And that mercury has a huge impact on especially, female health. It can basically cause stillbirths and deformed babies and I was like, okay, I don't want to have an impact like that and ask other people to pay for it. I just don't feel good about that.
So at this time, I was still working in forestry. So I asked a lot of my NGO friends. I told them, "look, I'm buying all this gold but I would really like to buy gold directly from the miners and help them find ways to not use mercury."
And it took me about one and half years or year before someone actually got back to me. And I think this went first to someone in Canada, and then to someone in Jakarta and then to an NGO in Borneo. And they said that they were working with a group of women.
So I pretty quickly hopped on a call with them and we decided to work together. It took another year for them to set up a cooperative for these women and to train them to mine gold without mercury.
Austin Brawner: As you were telling that story, I was thinking about before we hopped on, we were commenting that your website looks great, looks fantastic, you've got some really incredible images, very compelling images on the home page.
And then you're telling me this story and it's making me realize just how long the journey to go from getting started to where you're at today. Which a lot of people, if you're looking at Meri's site now, you'd be like, "wow, she's really got things going on and it looks incredible."
I did some research, was reading a little bit about your story and saw that you had quite a developed Etsy site. When you were just getting started and you were going from the sourcing side over to trying to get this rolling into a business, what role did Etsy play in that and when did you get the sense that Gardens of the Sun was transitioning from your initial side hobby into a full-on business?
Meri Geraldine: I started with Etsy because back in 2012, I think Etsy was a lot more popular than it is now and it's the easiest way to start. I think for me at that time, setting up my own website felt like something so complicated and overwhelming. And with Etsy, you just immediately have people able to find you and you don't have to drive your own traffic as much. Yeah, so that's what I started with just because it was easy.
Realizing that it wasn't just a side hustle was I think when I hired my first support staff and I had to write an actual contract for them and figure out all the legal things around that.
Andrew Foxwell: How many staff do you have now, Meri?
Meri Geraldine: Around 17.
Andrew Foxwell: That's pretty neat, I feel like going from an Etsy site, to building it out, to now having 17 employees is pretty unbelievable. I guess my question on that is, when you're building this business out, when you were building and are still building this business out, how do you decide what's important to do that day or even that week? I just feel like there would be so much that would be coming at you.
Meri Geraldine: No, I think you've just hit my major weakness, which is I'm really bad at planning and organizing. I have some ADD tendencies. Which means that something comes in my way and I follow whatever is in my sight.
So I'm really bad at doing what I plan to do in the morning and following up on that for the rest of the day. Let alone the week or the month.
Austin Brawner: As you've grown, as the business has grown and it's changed, diving into that a little bit more. So you're at 17 staff now. You've transitioned it from a Etsy business to a full-on store where you are driving traffic.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you didn't expect as you've continued to grow the business now that you just didn't expect when you were getting started and starting to roll with the business and gain traction?
Meri Geraldine: I think I didn't expect I would be so passionate. And I also didn't expect that I would be all the time learning and growing. I think I just had this idea that it would be something small, something that I did on the side. But I just got really excited that there's so many things to learn and so many aspects of running a business and there's so much room to grow. And I didn't expect I would get so excited about that.
One of the challenges is that I didn't expect it to be so complicated to find the right people to work with.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, that's definitely a significant challenge that a lot of people face. We just recently did a podcast episode talking about how Austin, actually, and his team hired a marketing apprentice and going through that.
There's a lot of different ways to do it, especially you. Is everybody based in Bali with you or are they all over the world?
Meri Geraldine: Mostly in Bali, so we have someone who just moved to Europe last month and someone who moved to Singapore this month. But otherwise, we have everyone local just because it's a whole lot easier to communicate when you're in the same timezone and when you're in the same space.
Andrew Foxwell: So one question I have in terms of continuing this path around the sustainability of the business and making sure that a lot of things, you sell a piece of jewelry, you're going to plant a tree. If somebody signs up for the newsletter, it's the same thing.
How did you design the incentives or what was the reasoning behind the incentives of purchasing or signing up for something or the 'buy one, give one' type thing. I'm curious why they were designed the way that they were and why you set them up like that.
Meri Geraldine: A lot of this business is driven by own values and by what I find important. Because I care so much about our climate, and because I a lot about indigenous people and about women, those are the issues that I try to give back to as much as possible.
And I think planting a tree is actually something quite easy because there are a lot of services, or maybe you can call them brokers, who help you to plant trees in mostly developing countries. So actually it was something that was relatively easy to do and still feel like it was the kind of impact I wanted to have.
Austin Brawner: Meri, as you've been building the business and as you've been gaining traction, one of the things that as you go on the site and take a look at the different types of jewelry that you have, it ranges as far as price point up to relatively high ticket items. What are some of the challenges you face selling items that are $900, $1,000, $1,200 online?
Meri Geraldine: I think one of the hardest parts is for people to get their ring size right because we're based in Bali, it means that any returns or resizing or repairs, it can be quite complicated for our clients. Especially because most of our clients are in the US. This means that they need to do international return shipping and we haven't quite figured out how to make that easier for our clients.
Austin Brawner: You've been based in Bali for the better part of a decade, obviously that's one of the challenges of being based there. I know we were corresponding over the last month and you've been traveling through Europe, you spent some time over there. What are the biggest benefits of being based in Bali?
I know it's probably the only place you could be for this business but what are some of the things you found about working over there and setting up your business over there that have been a big benefit to the business as you guys have grown?
Meri Geraldine: I think you should come and see the office. It's a Balinese compound with a large garden and it's near the beach. So you can actually walk to the beach from the office. And we actually have this dedicated open room on the second floor, which is very breezy and we do yoga classes there. We get a teacher coming in twice a week and we have someone who comes and cleans every day, she also cuts us fresh fruits and sometimes coconuts. I think it's these little touches that I really love about being in Bali.
And also last week, we had one new room added to the office and when it had finished building, we needed to do a cleansing ceremony, which is a very Balinese ceremony. So we had a high priest come in and everyone in the office dressed up in traditional clothes and we went around the office cleansing it with holy water and singing together and carrying offerings to the different little house temples that are throughout the office. I think it's these touches that make it so special to live there.
Andrew Foxwell: That's an awesome story. That sounds very, very cool. And very centric to where you are, which sounds respectful of that area. Obviously in line with your brand and who you really are.
I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about marketing. And talk about the powerful levers that you've pulled. One of them that Austin told me immediately when he found out about you doing this that he thought was really interesting were the live sales in Facebook groups and the auctions that you did on Instagram. Can you talk about what these two things were or are? And they work and how successful they've been?
Meri Geraldine: Yeah, I'll start with the Facebook sale. So with the live sales, because we're a hand-made jewelry business and we have a lot of one of a kind, limited edition items, it means that sometimes when a piece doesn't get sold, it's only a single piece and it can be quite hard to have 50 or a 100 single items, or one-of-a-kind items.
So I wanted to find a way to move stagnant inventory and make space for new designs so that we wouldn't have 500 products on the website because it becomes really hard to look through all of those.
So we did a three-step live sale. We started with a prototype, a one of a kind sale, for our VIP clients. Our VIP clients are those who have made at least three purchases and spent at least $500 with us.
And then the second part of this sale was basically what was leftover from this VIP sale and all the discontinued items. This was only for existing clients who purchased in the past year.
And then the third step of the sale was to do what's leftover from this sale and offer this to our Instagram followers. So this could be anyone and also any people who haven't purchased from us before.
As a VIP sale, we started by sending an email to VIPs and we asked them to save the date and we used a lot of words like, "exclusive" and "one of a kind." And we invited them to join a private Instagram account so they could follow us. And then to follow, they had to share their email address so we could double-check they were a VIP and make sure to keep it really small. I think we've only had about 100 clients join this sale. And then we posted some previews and sneak peeks and also "how-to's" on the Instagram account.
During the actual sale, we posted pictures of the items for sale and they had a code, a short description and the price. Then people could claim the item in the comments. And they could also choose to be back up if the other person would fall through.
In between, we had some giveaways and usually the giveaways I use a survey. So I would ask them questions like what made them place their first order with Gardens of the Sun or how unwrapping the jewelry makes them feel.
Usually the words we get out of these surveys, I love reusing them because I basically have our best clients and I get to use the words that they use. And I'm not paying for it or anything, we just give a few extra items away that are already in our inventory. And they really enjoy it and for many of the clients it's one reason to join even if they don't have an intention to purchase anything at least they will join the giveaway and usually purchase something anyway.
I think that the claiming in this closed group was really nice because people want to claim it before anyone else does, but we've also had people who have the same ring size and you can see them communicating, messaging each other like, "oh, you can have this one because I already have the other one." It's really sweet to see this interaction between our clients.
Then after the sale, we send out all the invoices via Shopify. I told you before, we had around 100 VIPs who joined and we sold a total of $10,000 just in the time span of a few hours.
This time, we had quite a few pieces leftover, I think the first time we did it, that was last year, we didn't have as many. I think we sold almost everything. But this time I wanted to make sure that for the VIPs we would have more than enough products so that they didn't feel like they would miss out. Because a lot of them said that afterward they felt such a rush to claim things and I wanted to make it more relaxed because they're our best clients and I want to make them feel that way as well.
For me, it didn't matter that we had all these leftover pieces because we use them in our next sale or the next part of the sale. And we did this the next week and this was a sale that we again sent out via newsletter and we invited all our existing clients to join this sale.
This time we did the sale on Facebook because it was bigger than Instagram and my thumb just can't handle a bigger sale than the one that we did for our VIP clients. So we set up a closed Facebook group and again, people had to share their email address to join so we could check that they were actually existing clients.
And the reason that I only wanted to have existing clients is because you get less defaults on the invoices. We've done a sale like this before, where we invited just anyone. Then we had a lot of people who received the invoices and didn't pay and this is a lot of extra work for us.
Also, I wanted to make sure that it was only for existing clients because people have a reason to place the first order. And so that the people who have already purchased from us feel more special.
The setup was very similar to the one on Instagram, but it was bigger because we had a lot of the discontinued pieces that we had multiples of. So maybe we had a certain ring that we had in five different sizes, for example. We again, did some survey questions for giveaways and we also gave away some free products to the biggest spenders. So for example, the person who spent the highest amount of money, and a person who purchased the most product, and a person who paid their invoice the first.
I found that this was a nice way to get people to purchase one more item. We also had a lot of people paying very quickly or within hours because we promised them a free gift if they paid the invoices as soon as possible.
On this sale, I think we made $15,000. In that month, we smashed our monthly sales record. It was better than what we had in November or December last year.
Austin Brawner: That's awesome. Also, the added benefit of being able to move a bunch of product that's stagnant and just refresh and get to a point where the website, there's more clarity there.
I would love to hear a little bit more about the invoices because I feel like people listening might be like, "well that sounds a little bit tough, how do you actually do that?"
You mentioned default rate. What have you found after doing this process a couple of times? What do you typically just expect? What percentage of people will not pay?
It sounds like you've done it a couple of times now and adding these incentives, like the free gift if they pay in a certain period of time, how it impacts whether or not people are paying for it. What do you typically expect for people who just won't pay from a scenario like this?
Meri Geraldine: Normally, we just send them a reminder and if they don't we immediately offer it to the next person. Quite often, the next person will want it, but it becomes a little complicated if you wait for someone to pay 24 hours and there's somebody else who would like to have it but we've already shipped out their order.
Then you will need to cover shipping again for the extra item that the other person gets. So of course we try and avoid it as much as possible.
We got around, I think, 20% or something, just a quick guess. I didn't write down the default rate anywhere or calculate it. I guess a quick guess is maybe nearly 20% for the sale where anyone could join. And for the VIP sale, I think we had one person saying that they didn't want a certain ring because they already had three other ones or something like that.
For the insider sale, which was the Facebook sale, I think maybe we had 5% or something that didn't end up buying it or that reduced the amount of items that they wanted to buy.
But the actual sending out of the invoices wasn't really an issue, just because you can draft an order on Shopify and add it as a custom product with a code and we had everything labeled.
As clients, they already all have accounts. So it's very easy to look them up and send them invoice including shipping because they're all existing clients.
I think the main issue is just then checking did everyone pay and then if they haven't paid yet, who was backup, and who did want that item.
Andrew Foxwell: I mean, I think what's so cool about that, Meri, is one, of course Facebook groups is always a great way of bringing in VIPs and supporters. But I really love the idea of the Instagram account, that's a private Instagram account, you're clearly checking the email addresses to make sure those people are there.
I think that's another great way that can really compliment email to help them see it visually, obviously and to lead with that. And to do the auction, it's easy, they can say, "yes I want it," and commit.
And if you have a fairly low rate of people not paying, that's definitely worth it. Very frictionless. They say you want it, you go on and invoice them and they're like, "yeah, that's super easy, just claiming it." I like that a lot, I think that's something that a lot of people could translate directly into their business.
Meri Geraldine: Yeah, I think, for me, the best part of this sale was that we got all these messages of people thanking us and then a few days after the sale when people got their packages.
We got so many pictures of people saying, "yeah, my package arrived and I love the new jewelry that I have. Thank you so much for doing this sale, I enjoyed it so much. Thank you for making me feel so special and for inviting me." I think it's so special to get a client thanking you for selling to them.
Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I would say that's pretty rare.
I think outside of these sales and auctions that you do, what are the other main levers that you pull in your business? Are you running Facebook advertising or Instagram advertising or is it a lot of other stuff that you're doing?
Meri Geraldine: No, it's mostly organic, so we do a lot of mostly Instagram and Pinterest and of course, then Google search. Those are our biggest sources of traffic. And I've been wanting to do into Facebook ads and retargeting but I just never get to it. So that's on my to-do list for this quarter.
Austin Brawner: I have a feeling it's probably going to be really successful for you.
Andrew Foxwell: Yes.
Austin Brawner: Just from looking at what you've been building and the state of your site and some of the unique aspect of the products and your story, specifically. You'll be able to tell a really, really great story as you project what's already on the site outward and being able to bring more people in.
I wanted to go back a little bit and ask you, what did you learn from your time in the forestry that has made you a better entrepreneur?
Meri Geraldine: Just saying yes and just doing things. Just saying yes to all the challenges basically because as a consultant you're expected to be an instant expert on anything. So there will be a client saying, "okay, I need to have this kind of report written or this kind of research done on this and this topic." So you need to learn really, really quickly. As I mentioned before, as an entrepreneur, I'm always learning and always growing my expertise on so many different topics. So I think in that way it's fairly similar.
Andrew Foxwell: The experience that you have from that no doubt, it's just taking on anything that comes at you. In looking forward, Meri, in your business, in terms of the rest of this year and thinking about how you see things moving forward, where are you trying to strategically place yourself? Is it focusing more on marketing, is it focusing more on the brand and just getting your story out there with PR or is it a little bit of both?
I'm just curious in terms of what other things you're looking to do. Or are you just trying to maintain the growth that you have and basically make sure you can keep the engine running?
Meri Geraldine: I think there are three things where I would like to grow. One of them is setting up a second business for sapphires. I recently had a group of indigenous people contact me saying they've found sapphires and they asked me to buy it from them or to help them sell it.
This is an undiscovered sapphire deposit that's not internationally known, so this is actually quite big. I'm now working with these villagers, it's two villages, and I'm just at the very beginning of this collaborating with different NGOs to help them get land rights to help them set up village cooperatives, to make sure that they only mine the sapphires with very limited environmental impact and to make sure that all the benefits are spread quite equally.
And I would want to set up a cutting center here in Bali to train some of the women from this village so that they can learn how to cut the stones and eventually, not only sell it to me but also sell it to other people at a higher profit than when they would just sell the raw sapphires. So that's one part which is more internally where I would like to develop.
The other part is I would like to do more creative sales. So we've been planning some of the sales for Singles Day, for example, or we're looking at doing more bundles. Also, looking at our next Instagram auction, which I'm happy to tell you more about later.
And also looking at doing more marketing that is based on storytelling. So really looking at how are we different and really sharing the story with different blogs and magazines. I think it's really more positioning our values and the journey to create more ethical jewelry.
Austin Brawner: Awesome, those all sound very interesting. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate, to be perfectly honest. Especially adding the second business and going into all these things but it sounds like it aligns with what you're doing currently and should be a good fit.
We're going to wrap up here, getting kind of close to time. But I want to ask you, what resources, if any, do you recommend to other e-commerce store owners can help them in their business? Maybe with their productivity or optimize their sites or anything that you have found valuable recently.
Meri Geraldine: I listen to a lot of podcasts. I like Kurt Elster's Unofficial Shopify Podcast and also his Facebook group I find helpful because he posts a lot of weekly quick tips to help improve your conversion rate or to make your website better.
Because I'm always learning, I really enjoy my membership at The Coalition and the monthly trainings that are there.
I also follow some copywriters and people in the online coaching world and it's actually a very different business. But they also do, of course email marketing and they have slightly different approaches. I like looking at things from different perspectives and seeing what I can implement what people in other sectors are doing in my business.
Austin Brawner: Those are all great resources, I love also reading other copywriters, just because it gives me good ideas for email marketing.
Meri, thanks so much. For people who are listening, if they're interested in connecting with you, what would be the best place that you could direct them to learn more about you or connect with you?
Meri Geraldine: Okay, so our website is GardensOfTheSun.com and you can sign up for the newsletter there, and I promise you it's not just about jewelry.
If you'd like to join any of the secret sales, we only offer those when you're on the newsletter. And you can also find us on Instagram and Pinterest and Twitter @GardensOfTheSun.
Austin Brawner: I do like your copywriting there, it says you send out love letters via email.
Andrew Foxwell: I signed up because of that actually, I just signed up. You have a new subscriber because I look forward to a love letter from Bali, honestly.
Austin Brawner: Meri, thank you.
Meri Geraldine: Thank you, your welcome.
Andrew Foxwell: Thanks, Meri.
Austin Brawner: Thanks so much for coming out and sharing some of your journey and we will talk to you soon.
Meri Geraldine: Okay, talk to you soon. Bye.
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