We are always on the lookout for the stories of successful dropshipping and ecommerce stores so our readers can able to build their dream empire by following the successful examples. In this episode of the dropshipping success stories, we are interviewing Travis Nagle, co-founder of Viesso.com, an eco-friendly furniture store, based at Los Angeles.
Entrepreneurs have always developed a viable business through sheer dedication, consistency, and smart thinking. This is exactly what Travis Nagle did when he started his first ecommerce business after leaving a successful career in advertising. Through dedicated efforts and hard-work, he turned his idea into a multi-brand product with global sales.
Let’s learn how Nagle took the business to where it stands today from none other than Nagle himself.
Over to you Nagle!
I’m Travis Nagle. I have a background in marketing, and worked at an advertising agency for a couple of years after college. It wouldn’t be wrong to say despite my fulfilling career, I always had an entrepreneurial bent that forced me to go into the business for myself.
How It All Started?
In 2005, me and my brother who is a graphic designer by trade, decided to start our own furniture line. What was distinct about our furniture line was the idea of customizable pieces and eco-friendly material. Our motive was to create a better way to shop for furniture online, something that wasn’t very popular back in those days. We received no external funding and grew organically, learning hands-on about the furniture industry as quickly a possible (and trying to minimize the mistakes in the process).
The Big Break
In the beginning, we sold furniture out of our apartment, using free ads on Craigslist. The next milestone happened when we opened a small store/office and focused our attention on making our website the sales-hub for the business.
The store grew steadily and started to perform well. We were meeting our quarterly targets, but then something dramatic happened – something that forced us to move into dropshipping (we sincerely hope the event never repeats itself!).
The Recession Hits!
The housing industry and specifically the home furnishing industry got a major blow. Businesses started to shut down or move to another industry, and most of our competitors rolled down their shutters.
We had to adapt, and fast. An important part of the adoption process was to look into substitute products that closely matched our industry and could complement our brand. We started out with a rug line and outdoor furniture to branch into product categories that we didn’t make ourselves.
We Started Dropshipping to Scale Fast
We immediately saw the power of the dropshipping model in terms of low cost of doing business and more aggressive revenue growth. The model exceeded our expectations and in a span of just two years, we were able to strike dropshipping focused deals with over 50 major brands.
When we launched Viesso, our main objective was to focus on utilizing our website as the central point of business and sales instead of relying on large and largely outdated showrooms. It was all about being lean, offering a lot of great options, and trying to enhance the shopping experience, so that people would be comfortable buying furniture online.
Ecommerce was a natural fit for us. With my background in advertising, I was experienced in branding and marketing physical goods. On the other hand, my brother had previously owned a graphic design firm, so we had all the skills to build, continuously improve our website and then set up marketing and branding strategies for our business.
From day one, this specialized focus gave our ecommerce a presence that seemed way more established than it actually was. In addition, we both liked creating physical goods and then used digital platforms for marketing and sales. Moreover, we launched our store with the back-end platform that later became Magento. Due to its flexibility, we were able to easily grow our store from the ground up and then maintain it with minimal customization later on.
Hitting the Million-Dollar Benchmark
Within the first two years of business, we hit the million-dollar benchmark. And, this year alone, we had two big sales days crossing $103,000 and $54,000.
A couple of years ago, we split the whole operation into two companies, each with specific business model. Our core business is still selling customizable furniture. We have a dedicated ecommerce store for that purpose called StemGoods. However, having witnessed exponential growth opportunities in the dropshipping businesses, we have branched out (and scaled up) into the dropshipping business with Viesso.
The initial step for Viesso was contacting the brands that we thought were interesting and had shared values (they needed to be eco-friendly, had mid-level pricing, and featured modern designs). We asked them about their terms, and sometimes had to convince them that we would be a good representation and extension of their brand, despite of our small size. I think our well designed website really helped with that pitch.
Building Long Lasting Relationships
Early on, some brands required stocking our own inventory, so we stayed away from that and focused on store that had products stocked in the USA and had a high enough margin to absorb the shipping costs. We also wanted to find brands that weren’t sold everywhere, but were big enough with established audience. Let me tell you that this is a hard combination to come by.
I think it is very important to try and find a strong audience to serve and a good niche where you don’t have too much competition. Instead of just trying to add as many products as possible, we’ve been selective so we know we know the people we will work with.
We also have focused significantly on ecommerce SEO simply because we can never outspend larger competitors through paid marketing alone. It’s a long term investment, but it definitely helps keep advertising costs down while still allowing us to grow.
A simple strategy that we use to build our organic growth is through subscribing to blogs of well known industry leaders to stay updated on trends in this ever changing world of SEO.
Dropshipping Challenges We Faced
All in all, our processes run pretty smoothly. However, business is all about overcoming challenges and finding way-around. For us, several challenges are:
- A big challenge for us is working with the logistics partners. Once you grow beyond the parcel category (FedEx, UPS) and into larger packages, the whole experience gets a lot different and sometimes more frustrating for the customers. However, we are constantly trying to improve our partnerships through customer-centered communication.
- We were unable to store a lot of home goods for long term, creating an important challenge for our business. Delivery also took many weeks to get to the destination. To solve this issue, we’ve created several backend systems for customer communication, internal reminders, and similar areas.
Solution: Automate & Leverage Smart Platforms
We try to automate the bulk of our overall workflow internally, and then layer-in human interaction with customers for a more emotional impact.
With the dropshipping model, we realize that our focus should be on efficiency and streamlined processes in accounting, customer service, operations, sales, etc.
For this, we have tried to leverage as many smart platforms as possible and integrate everything to come with a consolidated process architecture. Without the high margins, It is more cost efficient to save on the time and costs associated with manual actions and operations.
Our plans are to continue to be an important and growing player in the world of modern design, offering a selection of products that are in the mid-price range and try to bring newer brands into limelight.
There are always more product categories to build out and we continue to do research for opportunities based on demand and competition. We don’t focus on offering the largest selection, but on providing better customer experience that stems out of the way we’ve structured our business.
Most importantly, we’ll continue to be a unique voice in terms of the items we sell, our advertising, our blog, and all the other touch-points for customers.
Viesso’s Tips for Success
- Partner with a few key brands that have an established audience
- Really focus on product knowledge and customer service – these are the areas where you can always win against larger competitors.
- Focus on the data to make decisions about marketing spend and website content. Use tools such as Google Analytics, SEMRush, and CrazyEgg.
- Automate processes so that you can focus on the big stuff.
- Leverage platforms that you can easily integrate into your processes so that you could reduce your workload.
Liked What You Read?
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I’m the co-founder of two furniture companies. One is called Viesso, a curated collection of modern brands for the home. The other is Stem which our own brand where we build eco-friendly furniture with customizable options, creating a better shopping experience and healthier living. Both companies and teams are based in Los Angeles, but I live in San Francisco and work remotely on my own.