In case you haven’t noticed, SPOD is all about helping you - the business owner - gain knowledge and improve your business. Our goal is to create content that motivates you and helps you grow professionally (and personally). The SPOD mission: build a community of business owners who want to learn, develop themselves, and grow their businesses.
Highlighting and celebrating the successes of these businesses is key to that mission. We want to share shop owners’ knowledge so that you - the merchant - can glean some insight and turn your business into a success!
Our SPOD content team recently had the pleasure to speak with shop owner, Sean Ali, via video chat. Sean has been in the POD (print on-demand) business for seven years. He’s worked in every facet of the POD business: production, design, marketing, all while leading the charge. Sean runs his operation of three (soon to be four) shops through Etsy. Ali talked about all the ups, downs, lefts, and rights of his business with us.
We faced a roadblock at the beginning of our conversation: we couldn’t mention the names of his shops. While we want to promote our shop owners’ businesses and see that as a positive thing, Sean thought differently. His reasoning made sense after he explained: he’s seen his designs end up in someone else’s shop due to copying or flat out stealing his graphics too many times.
“It would cost a small business around $1200-$1500 US [to trademark designs]. So, say you have however many designs, it quickly adds up It’s something to consider. Basic wordmarks are easier, but it's never guaranteed. You can apply for it, but it’s a gamble. You pay, and it's up to the USPTO [United States Patent and Trademark Office] to decide if you get it. If they say no, then you’re out of that money.”
While theft of design is common in the POD marketplace, he does the best he can to protect his designs and creative ideas. As a veteran in the industry, Sean has worked with various platforms, like SPOD, and has found the platform to be easy to use and user-friendly.
“SPOD’s interface is one of the best and easiest to use. It’s simple. I enjoy using it. Creating the product is quick. Uploading the design is quick. Creating a manual order is so simple and the pricing is a larger factor, not only for myself, but a lot of merchants. Your prices are very competitive, and your shipping prices and methods are competitive and possibly the best in the industry right now.”
Sean says that the shipping offerings for SPOD are a huge plus. We offer economy, standard, and expedited shipping options.
“Your prints are good, your quality is there, and you have pricing to make it all work for merchants,” he says.
Sean uses SPOD as his main supplier and partner in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. He has quite an understanding of holidays around the world and is passionate about being there for his customers. He continues to speak about fulfilling orders in Australia and how Father’s Day is coming and will be celebrated there. He is committed to having a place where people can seek out the right gift for that special someone for an important day or moment in their life. If there was one piece of advice he could give himself when he was starting out or to a new merchant, it would be “to focus on one niche per store.”
“When I first started, I created my first store which was a store with designs all over the place. I was trying to figure out what was selling. It had birthday designs, some Christmas, and Halloween. So, I was all over the place. When a buyer comes to a store like that, they get flustered and are like whoa, there’s completely different designs here. What should I do? Should I buy this or should I buy that? They don’t know.”
Sitting back a little at his desk, Sean smirks and continues:
"The second store that I opened was geared towards birthday designs. I’m finding more success when I concentrate on a specific niche such as birthdays because that’s a year-round thing. Everyone has a birthday. I would tell a [SPOD] user that they should concentrate on one niche whether it be birthdays, kid designs geared towards more kid-focused items, yoga, workout, or anything like that. Concentrate on one niche and have your store be that specific niche. I think that they will find more success that way.”
Sean elaborated on how he decides what niche is right for him. Like any good business owner, he looks at previous sales, trends, what's coming up, and relies on a little gut instinct. In a previous role prior to his own enterprise, he was managing Etsy stores for others and has learned how to recognize trends and turn them into successes.
Another key to his success is keeping things lean and continuing to learn new and difficult things outside of his wheelhouse. Sean creates his own designs and has learned Photoshop along the way. He’s self-taught. He learned by watching tutorials online, reading articles, and YouTube. Sean also wasn’t afraid to ask questions to those that were more skilled.
“Our in-house designer at my old company helped me a little bit. But watching YouTube videos on how to do designs is what really helped my knowledge and helped boost my Photoshop knowledge. I still maybe only know 15 to 20 percent of Photoshop because there's so much. It is such a powerful application that everyone who uses it uses it differently, but I think the knowledge I have is great for what I need.”
While we were on the topic of knowledge, we asked what sort of skills or attributes does someone need to have to be successful in this business? Sean said that when he first started, he was doing basic text designs and he evolved and started using photos or clip art and continued to grow his skills. He said he’d try new things and “level up” each time. His message:
“Evolve, level Up, and learn. If you can’t get out of your comfort zone and evolve, you’ll never get beyond where you are.”
He's seen revenue growth since he started in 2015. 2020 was by far his best year due to the closures and limited hours of many retail shops. While revenue has slipped slightly since, it’s still providing him and his business profits. During that time, Sean did a paid ad campaign on Facebook and Instagram. At its height, he was seeing $15-$20k sales per day. In the current market, he’s rolled his ad budget back a bit and now is holding steady with social media efforts focusing on organic likes and interactions, as well as repeat business from existing customers.
He reminds his existing customers to come back and buy with an email drip campaign offering specials to his existing clientele. He also answers the customer service emails and maintains an extremely high regard for customer service.
“Because of my experience, I know customer service and am able to quickly manage any issues a customer may have. I’m quick to answer and resolve their needs.”
So, what’s the future look like for Sean Ali and his shops? He’s had a few offers to buy his company, but right now he’s enjoying what he’s doing. It’s his main source of income and something he is truly passionate about right now. He’s also been offered opportunities to purchase production equipment/facilities and bring production in-house.
For Sean, that just isn’t in the cards right now. He’s been in the throes of production and is happy to let SPOD be his production and shipping partner. Ali wants to continue to learn what he can do to make the business better, get more customers, satisfy more customers, and increase repeat purchases.
Are you a SPOD merchant? Would you want to share your story and be featured? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to Terrille Horton at email@example.com We’d love to hear from you and feature you and your business.