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Creating a new ecommerce site

Finding my niche...Trying to cover all of my bases



3:19 am on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

How did you go about starting your online business?

I'm beginning to construct plans to create my own online store. I've been working in ecommerce for over a year now, and want to make sure I'm not making a foolish investment.

I was thinking textiles as my entry point, more specifically a niche that I can focus on at a certain time of the year, such as summer dresses or Christmas dresses.

Some questions I have:

Taking a design to a product, I need schematics and essentially a blueprint for a manufacturer to construct my goods, what's the most effective way to create something like this?

Where or how can I find the most competitive textile manufacturers?

Thanks for your help!


6:46 am on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

There will be trial and error when it comes to the general learning phases of getting started.

When it comes to actual design requirements requested by various textile manufacturers you should just contact them and ask. Look at sites like alibaba, thomasnet, etc to find producers of goods. Some manufacturers don't mind if you send them dimensions on a napkin, they will just charge you for the design to CAD service. While others will required a extremely specific formatted CAD file. So you will just have to poke around.

Who is going to design your items? If it is you, do you have dozens of ideas ready to go? A few ideas will get you started but it won't take you far.


12:15 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I guess, this means also universal design patterns. But watch complaints. I have heard some suggestions that ecommerce is not good for print toners. There can be many complaints.


6:41 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

toplisek you mean complaints about using universal design patterns?

Luxoria thanks for the heads up. In terms of design my girlfriend's younger sisters (triplets and one more) have had a knack for design for years now, and will probably produce most designs, so I have a small army of designers.

In terms of shipping is there a clear cut best option for a small business shipping textiles?


6:55 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Shipping from your store to the customer, when I get t-shirts in the mail they come in a plastic envelope via USPS. For single items this might be the best way to go.

Considering the nature of your product and your collective you should look into starting a store on Etsy.com. This will give you a good slow start and experience selling online. Also, you may receive feedback on your items which will help you when you decide to launch a dedicated merchant solution. I understand Etsy may not be as advanced as your goals are but every journey begins with a single step and selling on marketplaces is a good first step.


7:13 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

Got it. Thanks.

I've considered that, but at the same time I want to invest in an actual webstore to have a leg in the project, if that makes any sense (or if that is not completely flawed logic!).

It will be interesting considering we're in the housing market right now so I'll definitely keep your recommendation in mind.


7:18 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Before you get involved with Internet is there any local market for your product? That is to say, it is up and running, is there market success? The internet is NOT the be all end all but is a place to do marketing if THERE IS A MARKET and local success has been achieved. If you can't do biz in your own home town it is unlikely success will happen on the world wide web.

When dealing with clothing/textiles there are other considerations such as unique/new design (highly unlikely given the utter predominance of textiles used world wide). Quite possible somebody somewhere else has already "cornered the market" for that "design" as there are only so many ways one can put sleeves on a bodice or pants, or skirts. Gag t-shirts with printed designs, on the other hand, are something different.

Hate to dump a bucket of cold water!


7:40 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks tangor, it's not, it's always good to hear both sides. Definitely can't do my business from home or rent a physical storefront to get started though.

Under my circumstances I have an opportunity now and I don't want to miss it! But the risk is very real.


9:50 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tangor is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

Websites are cheap these days... $35/yr gets you started, $100/yr is more robust... but if you're selling product and will be producing it, make sure that part is working okay before getting into the WEB. One thing about internet biz is FAIL is/will be written/blogged/emailed by dissatisfied customers more than a "Good job!" report.

On-line biz is no different than real world biz... have a plan and go from there. Wishing all good luck! (I speak from experience as regards COMMON COMMODITY... had a B&M antiquarian bookstore for a few years and did the web for two and ALMOST made it, but B&N and Amazon did it better and it was quit or go broke.)

You'll make a little money... maybe a lot of money... for a short period of time. It is the LONG HAUL that counts. Take that into consideration for the biz plan. Cautionary statements, of course, but the real thing is JUST DO IT! Do it as far as your bucks/time/personnel allow.

Marketing and product are only part of the equation. Lining up a method of payment is the more difficult part, and brings in new level of security requirements, etc. Shipping. Returns (should be none if clothing, make that part of your sales NO RETURNS). Fraud. Copyright and Trademark. Taxes. Then multiply all the above if going international. :)

All above is doable. But it's not like setting up a lemonade stand outside the parent's house where things are neat and simple... ecommerce is Business and all those things that apply to a B&M apply to an internet biz.

Might even need an attorney and an accountant.

Just things to think about. And you did ask. :)


10:29 pm on Apr 23, 2011 (gmt 0)

Really appreciate all the info. Great points about the product.

For payment, I know I have to be PCI compliant, do certain services provide that or is it lumped in with your platform / host?


1:31 am on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Here is my advice.

1. Start with an attorney, or legal assistant, to help formulate the business structure. S-Corp, LLC, etc. This is the critical first step. You have to structure right early on to make it easier. Some accountants can help guide you hear as well.

2. Find a shopping cart solution. I would suggest if you want to go cheap to try ecommercetemplates. Very flexible, affordable and allows you to do your own customizations. Another good choice, but a little more costly, is AspDotNetStoreFront (however that cart is going downhill lately).

3. Now you need to line up merchant services and gateway. Talk to your local bank, they can probably help. Search for an authorize.net gateway reseller, they can help too.

4. Find a rock solid host. I can suggest the best in the business if you are on a php cart (ecommercetemplates is php) and I have a good host also for .NET carts. PM me if you are interested in who they are.

5. Work with a web designer to develop the look and feel of your cart. This is critical, you want a sharp, crisp, easy to navigate user experience.

6. Get your shopping cart deployed to your server, get merchant services hooked up and start testing. Test, test, test. Act like the dumbest customer on the planet and test like that customer. You want a ROCK SOLID shopping experience.

Those steps will get you going as far as the backbone of the business.


5:49 am on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

I didn't have the time or money to do all that 'official' type stuff. Sure, you can hit a couple pitfalls later, but typically nothing devastating. I would rather have a couple hiccups later and play catchup, than spend a ton of money for nothing. I think going the 'full speed ahead' route is fine if you've done it all before and have money to lose. For everybody else, it's best to take baby steps.


6:53 am on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I concur, don't jump ahead to quickly. Well, this all depends on the disposable capital able to be invested. A small 5k startup will run rather thin for a while...

Free shopping cart, owner edited code, basic business web hosting ($18is per mo), 'free' PayPal/Google payments, by hand backlink building, recycled boxes, etc

While the other end of the spectrum is completely different for a 100K, 500K, 1M startup.

If you starting up on the low end of the spectrum do not fool yourself into thinking you can treat this like a 100K+ startup. Startups that rush the process burn through their cash then at the end of the day, year, 5year all they have is a disconnected phone and box business cards as a door stop.


4:06 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I need schematics and essentially a blueprint for a manufacturer to construct my goods, what's the most effective way to create something like this?

Schematics? Blueprints? First learn a molecule about the field, starting with proper terminology. They're called patterns... only patterns.

Understand that "textile manufacturers" (again, wrong term) don't make things for others, at least not in amounts less than $100,000.

Who is going to do the pattern grading? Do you realize that dresses come in different sizes? Petites? Talls? Where are you going to get the fabric (the "goods")?
How about sourcing the buttons, zippers, labels etc?

Do you realize that almost 100% of apparel manufacturing is done overseas these days. The lead times are huge. Above all, know that the only people who will even bother to talk with you are scammers looking to take money from a total rube.

Hate to dump a bucket of cold water!

You need an OCEAN of cold water on this idea, unless you have a minimum of several million dollars and a huge amount of luck.


4:37 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

ssgumby thanks for the tips, my mom used to do marketing for lawfirms, hopefully she knows one that can help me plan.

The shopping cart and merchant services / gateway, really appreciate the words of wisdom and great points, I hope I have the money upfront to square those away.

I'll probably be taking baby steps like dpd1 and Luxoria are saying. Luxoria / ssgumby, the "free" Paypal / Google payments, those only accept customers that use those systems, so someone who would simply want to use a CC, I would have to set up a PCI compliant gateway through my local bank or another provider to do that right, and I'm guessing that takes some investment?

jsinger, that's why I'm here. Thanks for the advice and terminology. I'm only going to be concentrating on one specific type of clothing so hopefully I can get started with less than $100k. That's a big piece I'm missing from the puzzle though, is figuring out what that looks like and how to get the best price / service / lead time.


5:04 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Why in the heck would you want to manufacture the clothing when there are already millions of clothing manufacturers in the world (mostly tailors or contractors with one or two employees in third world places where people make <$2,000 at year. Do you want to compete with them on price? And they all know more about clothing construction than you do!

They would LOVE to sell you their current wares because many of them are starving in this economy. Can you really come up with something unique in the world. Almost Impossible.

As for the cart (the fun part), that's about .0001% of the task you'll be facing!


5:09 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yes that is my plan, I won't be doing any manufacturing. Hopefully I can have them manufacture my designs as well. Maybe that part will wait.


5:23 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

jsinger brings up a critical point it's basically impossible to compete with overseas production capability.

Currently, I manufacturer my own product, volume is way low, when the volume is there I am going to have my products produced over seas. If I want to make money beyond a hobby level I have no choice. China can produce the same product, after paying labor, for CHEAPER than I pay for JUST materials! WTF.

The only reason why I continued with my business endeavor is because despite my niche being over saturated my product is currently unique and I have a few years (so I think) to make some income to invest in growth and expansion taking advantage of the Global Economy.

I don't see the world as harshly as jsinger but really not much lesser in degree. There are people on Etsy making their own clothing line and making a living. They have several employees and a repeat customer base. The only reason they survive is because their items fetch boutique prices being that they are 'handmade' and 'handmade' is trendy right now to a small group of people.


5:51 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Too obvious perhaps... why don't you simply buy ready made "summer dresses" and "Christmas dresses" and sell them online? Much simpler than making your own. Far less risk.

But you'd still have another problem... tens of thousands of sites are already selling such products. Walmart, Penney's, Macys, are just a few of those you'd be competing with. I'd guess there are hundreds of sites specializing in selling holiday clothing.

How would you advertise your "Christmas Dresses?" Get ready to pay $2 a click during the very short selling season. How could you plan your buying with zero experience?

What do you plan to do with your leftover Christmas dresses on December 26th? What about exchanges for fitting and other reasons.

Plan on about 15% of those dresses being exchanged or returned, most at the very last minute before Christmas. And a few after Christmas.

What do you know about the notoriously fickle women's clothing business? Anything? Are you a woman? Have you ever sold clothing? Designed clothing? Worked in s atore of any kind?


7:14 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yeah I'll probably start that way buying premade clothes, but I'm going to do sweaters which should simplify things a bit. I have a team of women in my family who want to help with all the design and patterns, they're my window to women shoppers.

I like tangor's idea of no returns, seems to greatly simplify the process even if it turns a few customers away.

Comparison shopping engines and shopping feeds are my expertise, most marketing / advertising comes pretty easily to me, I'll probably set up a blog and do some home made link building.


8:31 pm on Apr 24, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

It depends on the product, but I do think there's still room to compete with overseas manufacturing. You just have to adjust your advertising and image, and market it as such. There's people who will pay extra for 'image', or they can be sold on some sort of mentality that they are buying US, or whatever. But it won't work with just anything. I would think it would have a fair chance of working with clothing, but that's not my business.


3:29 pm on Apr 28, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Local marketing can have more oppurtunity, specially in season period.


9:04 pm on Apr 29, 2011 (gmt 0)

First things first, your business is about a product supported through a website, not a website supported by a product (many people forget this). You can put up a crap website with a few pictures and a phone number, and if your product is great, people will order. The same is not conversely true (a great website with a crap product).

Unless you have a budget in the tens of thousands, there is absolutely no way you can have your own textiles manufactured dictated by your patterns. Even if you have tens of thousands of dollars, don't do it- you'll be stuck with a bedroom full of bedroom dresses that you likely won't be able to sell. Check out my blog www.ChineseImporting.com - it gives some good advice for importing from China.

If you're hooked on selling textiles, as someone else pointed out, sell pre-made textiles, not custom. With that being said, textiles are one of the biggest blood baths you can get into (right up there with restaurants). Get more niched.


9:21 pm on Apr 29, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member


Awesome! Thanks for posting about this.


2:32 am on May 1, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You cannot wake up one morning and decide you want to go into business, then try to determine what type of business you should go into. While there are exceptions to every rule, it simply does not work like that.

I have a manufacturing business with over 130 employees, selling in several markets. I started the business 30 years ago and began selling online 12 years ago. To us ecommerce is not core business, so we have had the luxury of making baby steps and getting whacked from time to time, without damaging our bottom line. We have stuck it out because we could afford to and this is an incredibly profitable side of the business.

In business, the key is to differentiate. Be known for something other than low prices. Identify an unfulfilled market niche and aim to satisify it. The narrower your niche, the higher the price you can charge. Competition forces you to lower prices. If you want high margins, look no further than niches. This is what you should be aiming at. Instead of looking at China to lower your costs, aim sell your niche product at a higher price. When the business starts growing, then you can look at lowering your cost of goods.

When you think about it, the price you sell a product for has no relevance to what it cost you. You sell it what the customer will pay for it. Once you understand this and identify a niche product, build a killer (but functional) online store, try to get whatever free traffic you can and buy traffic. If you have the margins you will be able to afford it.

Hope this helps and best of luck to you. PM me if you would like to check out my website and online store.


3:04 am on May 1, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Sachac, your site link in your profile isn't working right now.

Otherwise good advice, and obviously from someone with business experience.

"the price you sell a product for has no relevance to what it cost you" ... cosmetics. LOL


6:00 am on May 1, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes, website has been hit by an incredible amount of spam. spam. Our technicans are working on it. Will be back up tomorrow.


4:29 pm on May 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

FYI, the website is back up.


6:02 pm on May 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks for all of the tips. I have wanted to sell products since selling candy in middle school to my classmates and branching out by hiring my friends. Unfortunately ecommerce does not seem as easy as that (sarcasm).

We've been tossing other ideas around and have come to the conclusion that apparel would be a difficult category to enter in, especially with our startup funds and experience.

Instead I think we're going to go the hand-crafted route and see what we can get at a farmers market or two, and make a bigger website decision from there.


1:55 am on May 12, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Since you will be selling seasonal items, you might want to try an automatic markdown service like Pricetack to try and clear out your inventory before the season ends without going straight to a huge discount.
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