Danielle Oakey Created A Business Selling Pillow Cases On Instagram

The Story of Danielle Oakey Shop

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hi, my name is Danielle Oakey and I am the founder and owner of Danielle Oakey Shop.

I run an online store that sells decorative pillow covers made from vintage and high-quality fabrics. I focus on curating pillow combinations that ultimately make it easy for my customers to decorate their home.

The pillow shop continues to grow every month and is projected to do $400,000 in sales in 2018.

danielle-oakey-shop

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

After 8 years of interior design blogging and running my e-design business, I needed a change.

Building a business has taught me more than I could ever have imagined. I have learned a lot in regards to working with people and setting proper expectations from the beginning. Whether it was an with an employee or a fabric company, I learned that being upfront with expectations is very important.

I knew I wanted to stay in the design world and had always dreamed of opening a little store. Since textiles have been a big passion of mine, a pillow shop seemed like a natural fit.

danielle-oakey-shop

At the time we lived in Southern California and had easy access to fabrics from all over the world. I was spending my days selecting pillow combinations for my clients and the online options were lacking. I knew there was a need for such a shop.

We had 2 kids, were living in a high cost of living area, and my husband was a 3rd-year medical resident working 100 hour weeks. Finances were very tight. We did not have much to invest in the pillow shop so I borrowed $500 for my dad and nervously pulled $800 from my own bank account.

That is when the hunt for fabric officially began and the idea of a shop became a reality.

danielle-oakey-shop

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

Since I chose to bootstrap my business, my available finances we very limited and my startup story is extremely simple. I spent hours searching for vintage fabrics online and visiting local flea markets. I purchased the fabrics, washed them in my home, hung them to dry all over my apartment (on our balcony, doors, kitchen table...anywhere) and then dropped them off at my seamstress.

I found my seamstress by searching ads on Craigslist. I was specifically looking for someone who could handle production since I wanted to find a seamstress that could grow with me. I was able to find two seamstresses that met these criteria within the first few months of opening. The second seamstress I hired is still with me today and she does 100% of my sewing.

I think that in order to be successful on Instagram, you need to provide your followers with more than just a product. In my opinion, allowing them to see your journey, celebrate your successes, and participate in your growth is key.

I hired my cousin to design a logo, printed out business cards, bought shipping supplies from Uline and I was ready to ship!

For our first run of product, I had my seamstress make 24 pillow covers, which was all I could afford. I paid for my fabric, seamstress, zippers, and simple packaging with the $1,300.00 I had saved.

danielle-oakey-shop

Describe the process of launching the business and scaling to where you are today.

I did not have the funds to hire a website designer from the beginning, so I launched the pillow shop on Etsy. It was user-friendly, easy, and most importantly free. Here’s what it looked like:

danielle-oakey-shop

The shop stayed on Etsy for almost two years and last February finally I switched it over to Shopify.

Luckily I had been blogging for 8 years prior and I was able to grow a small social media following. This was very helpful when it came to marketing. The Pillow Shop sold almost all of the 24 pillows the day it launched.

I then took the profits from the 24 sales and re-invested it into more inventory. For the first year, the pillow covers would sell as fast as I could list them. As soon as the profits became available, I would purchase as much fabric as I could afford and repeated this over and over again. I now pay myself a small salary and continue to re-invest the remainder of the profits into my growth. Since I have been investing in my inventory for the last 2.5 years, I have built up my inventory, expanded my pillow selection, and can purchase fabric in larger quantities.

danielle-oakey-shop

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

To this day, Instagram is our main source of marketing. I am hoping to venture into other marketing avenues (FB and Pinterest) next month, but I have had a ton of success with Instagram. I started my Danielle Oakey Shop Instagram account in December of 2015 and I have over 36K followers today.

I think that in order to be successful on Instagram, you need to provide your followers with more than just a product. In my opinion, allowing them to see your journey, celebrate your successes, and participate in your growth is key.

I have found that Instagram Stories are a great place to do this. I love sharing little snippets of my day as a mother and business owner. I do my best to share videos and pictures throughout the day, every day. I often ask my followers for their advice, opinions, and help with making business and life decisions.

This has allowed me to connect with my customers/followers on a more personal level as well as provide them with fast and easy customer service. I try and keep my Instagram feed more curated by sharing styled pictures of my products, as well as the occasional posts that share a little more insight into my business journey.

Here’s what a couple examples of Instagram posts that have done really well for me:

danielle-oakey-shop

danielle-oakey-shop

Growing my instagram following has been a huge priority. As I mentioned before, almost all of my sales come from instagram marketing. Even though I don’t have all the answers, I have learned a few things that have helped grow my following. Posting regularly (at least once a day), collaborating with influencers (giveaways and sending products in exchange for tags), and being present on stories throughout the day have all been very effective.

I have not tried selling on Amazon yet, but I think about it often. Since my customers spend a lot of time on my website deciding which pillows would be best for their home, I am not sure it would be the right place for us. Although I would love to try it.

danielle-oakey-shop

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The pillow shop is growing every month and has exceeded my expectations in every way. I am still bootstrapping the business and continuing to grow our inventory. I now work full time for the pillow shop averaging around 50 hours per week. Between raising 2 kids and building a business, things are busy!

100% of our sales come from online. The shop gets around 11,000 monthly views on our site and 10% success rate on our abandoned checkout recovery emails. We currently have around 2500 email subscribers and are working on growing that list.

To this day, our pillows are still sewn by my seamstress in California who continues to do production out of her home. She is also working on building her business alongside me. She ships the finished product to us in Wisconsin where we still stock and ship from my home. I have an assistant that ships 3x a week and manages the inventory and returns. I run all other operations, but I am currently looking for a virtual assistant.

I plan to move the business out of the house within the next year. My home is currently at max capacity and I need the shop to be more accessible for my employees. I am also working on designing a new line of textiles that will be exclusive to my shop. I am currently working with a textile designer and I am very excited about this next step.

danielle-oakey-shop

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Building a business has taught me more than I could ever have imagined. I have learned a lot in regards to working with people and setting proper expectations from the beginning. Whether it was an with an employee or a fabric company, I learned that being upfront with expectations is very important.

I have also learned so much about collaborating with influencers on social media. This can be so tricky. Properly understanding the influencers actual reach and what their posts/tags will do for your business is key. Not all collaborations are good for both parties, so doing our due diligence has been extremely helpful.

danielle-oakey-shop

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I am definitely lacking in this area and hope to find some tools that are helpful to my business. I currently only use a few Shopify apps to help my site run smoother, but I have not been overly impressed with any of them.

We also use Quickbooks (well mostly my accountant does), Venmo, Paypal, and Gusto for payroll.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I am sure this podcast is mentioned often in interviews, but I really do love the How I Built This Podcast. It provides me weekly inspiration to keep going.

I also love connecting with other small business owners. We often chat over social media and share tips and encouragement. This has been a very helpful resource.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

My biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs is to invest your time into social media. You don’t need a perfect website, packaging, or logo, but you do need customers.

Spend your time building a following that will help get your name out there and eventually turn into sales.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Yes, I am looking to hire a Virtual Assistant right now. I need a person that can manage a wide variety of tasks and keep me organized. It will be paid hourly.

Where can we go to learn more?

www.danielleoakeyshop.com Instagram: @danielleoakeyshop FB: @danielleoakeyshop [email protected]

Want to start your own business?

Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business.

By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.

If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.

- pat-walls Pat Walls, Founder of Starter Story


More interviews like this:
Learn how e-commerce businesses are earning as much as $100K per month.