Early stages of an online t-shirt business, and helping out bees!

Posted by Kris Pfeifer on

I'm now about 2 months in on starting this new business venture into online retail. Still doing it on the side in addition to my graphic design business Pfeifer Design, and still having fun! I didn't exactly start out to create what it has become, which is basically a t-shirt and other apparel, accessory, and gift items store that caters to "alternative recreational activity fans", with my Recreation Nation line of products. After reading this over again, this is a long post, so I applaud anyone who decides to read it! Thanks Mom :) But I wanted to share about my process, because a) I like to write and share, and b) it might help someone else getting started up. You could say I have a "passion for my pastime!"

I started Bunkybee just as a way to try something new. I had a few ideas for t-shirts about alternative sports or recreational activities, that I thought would make fun shirts, but I didn't really know what kind of plan I had for them. I'd been regularly listening to a few podcasts for creative professionals- I like Creative Pep Talk with Andy J Pizza, and The Honest Designers Show. (I recommend them both!) Both talk about finding and pursuing your passion through your creative career, whether it be in your daily work or with a side project that you do just for your own creative outlet or enjoyment. They talk about finding creative ways to generate passive income- something I wanted to try. If you listen to something long enough, you start to believe it just might be possible- so I had some helpful initial motivation. Also, I do website design for some of my clients, and wanted to gain more e-commerce setup skills with the intention of being able to offer this as an additional service.

So- it began with many notebook sketches, playing around with different designs in Adobe Illustrator, trying out some mock up generators, and reading a lot online about how it all works. For anyone considering jumping into an online business, I have to say that using the Shopify e-commerce platform has been a fairly painless way to go- and I actually welcome the emails that pop up in my inbox that give helpful tips on running your business at each stage of the game. They also offer phone support, which is pretty huge in my book when starting something new. I'm using various print on demand (POD) and drop ship fulfillment sources, which is working out well for me because I don't have to make an initial investment in product or stock or ship it. They do it all. And so far, so good. My favorite is Printful. Pretty easy to use once you figure out the process. And an intuitive, attractive interface which is a bonus for me. They also got good review form several articles and videos I watched online. POD shipping times are slower than I like, but that's the trade-off with the one-off printing, and luckily I haven't received complaints. The down side is low profits if I want to keep my products at a price that I think is fitting, but the up side is getting to design as many shirts as I want, and they fulfill the ones that sell. I pay for the website expenses, I have a low overhead in my in-home office, and I can make shirts when I want to. Not a bad business plan for now, but not ready to quit my day job yet. But did I mention that I'm having fun with it?- That's a big plus. I haven't delved too deeply into advertising and marketing yet. I know they say you have to spend money to make money, but I want to make sure I am spending in the right places, versus just spending. Have tried some Pinterest, Etsy, and FB posting and advertising, but nothing large scale yet.

What not to do, is probably spend as much time as I have on creating Instagram posts. It's a time suck. But again- I have fun with it. There are platforms like Hootsuite that let you create batches of posts, style them in a similar way to match your desired look, and schedule them to automatically send. Instead I sit on Photoshop and play around each morning or late evening and come up with a post for something I have recently designed, and put it on there. I push it to Facebook too. I'm sure the friends who initially agreed to follow my new business aren getting tired of the daily posts on FB- but hope they can bear with me, if it's helping grow my audience in some way. You can find Bunkybee on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/bunkybee/. I like to walk, and when I see a nice patch of grass scattering of fall leaves, or what I consider to be "cool pavement" I snap a pic, and it becomes an Instagram post background for my product. Cheap, and pretty easy. I haven't paid any models or talked anyone into becoming a brand ambassador yet, aside from my husband posing wearing my firs sample when it arrived. For now I'm just using the mock up images that you can generate through Printful, and adding my own touch. There's an opinion out there for sure that it is tacky to do so, but hey- gotta start somewhere.

Some happy background finds on my daily walk- make good product mock up backgrounds! I'm sure cars driving by look at me funny.

One of the things that has been fun for me with social media, is finding a new community of individuals and businesses with similar interests. Snowboarding? Never done it, but I think it's cool - and I enjoy seeing posts from people who are enthusiastic about it. I've been happy to get a positive response from some people I have followed on Instagram who have agreed to do future blog Q&A sessions about their passion for their pastimes. I'm learning new stuff, and even though it's virtual, I feel like I'm expanding my network from my solitary desk confinement. Shuffleboard clubs, bocce leagues, pro disc golf players, amazing photographers, and world travelers- it's good stuff! Here's one of my recent Instagram posts for a new tee design that a friend who has moved down south suggested. Croquet and Cocktails- it's a big deal down there apparently. Sounds fun to me! Did I mention photoshopping? Hey if I could mix drinks like that, there would be no need. 

 

When designing shirts, I had initially bounced some of my ideas off my teenage son, who gives good outsider design advice - he'd make a great art director. Both of my kids are interested in and supportive of my new business ideas, as is my spouse, which I think is pretty important when you decide to do something that takes you away from watching Survivor on the DVR with them at night. I can still hear it from my office!  Although I've developed a bit of a product niche, I still haven't entirely honed in on my target market or audience. One thing that guided me with some of the initial designs I made was WWDW- "What Would D(my kid) Wear?" He has a quirky sense of humor, and isn't too tied to following fashion trends, and is a good age for what I was developing- sort of a crossover between what could be a younger audience, and the college crowd, and adults. (Like I said- I still haven't figured that out. I'm rolling with the "if you like them, you buy them" kind of target audience for now.) Some stuff didn't make the WWDW cut by what I at least thought the definition was. I was trucking along until my dad made a pretty outlandish t-shirt design idea over the phone, which my kid then responded with an emphatic- "Baba is a genius- I want that shirt. I would definitely wear that to school tomorrow." Um- I guess the dumber the better is his thing. Hence the late-night co-development of "The Bunk Zone" which was pretty much his idea- to let people come up with their own t-shirt designs and slogans and order them. It's not super streamlined yet, but I may try to market that concept a bit more in the future. 

Um yeah. I actually paid for this shirt. And no, I'm not fully clued in on the humor, though I did crack up a bit while placing the order. But WWDW? This. And is this my target market? I don't think so? Hmm.

 

 Finally, I wanted to find a way to do some good through my new business. I get hung up on the fact that there is already a lot of product in this world, we should think about what we already have before buying new stuff, and should repurpose. Sortof counterintuitive marketing to admit that, but I think it is all true. (I do also believe in treating yourself and others, and if you can give or receive happiness through something that you wear that makes you smile, that is important too. Hey and share your tee with a friend or giving it as a hand-me down when you outgrow it, is a great plan for the lifespan of a Bunkybee tee!)🐝 But with environmentalism ingrained in me from a young age, and as something that is still important to me today, I thought of ways to give a portion of my proceeds somewhere to help make an impact.

I recently read a book called The History of Bees by Maja Lunde. It was somewhat depressing in parts, but also very fascinating, following stories of people and bees and how they are interwoven into the different character's lives. And how our world is dependent on these tiny creatures. My town of Madison NJ has a community garden that just recently added a bee keeping area, and trained community members about how to care for the bees. They have great information about how to be bee friendly on their website. When I was a Brownie scout, one of the parents was a beekeeper, and seeing his bee hives and his bee keeping outfit was fascinating to me. My younger son and I participated in an eco art show at our church recently, and we did our recycled art project about bees. I also created a handout for our elementary school, which was studying about bees in their new school garden space, and I learned some facts myself. But wait- there's more... I recently painted a banner for my town's downtown sidewalk art gallery, and with the subject matter that year being "Shine the Light on Depression" and the guidelines that the piece be predominantly yellow, I chose to do one side of mine with cheery bees as the subject matter. All signs were pointing to bees, clearly! Lastly, I chose the name of my company, Bunkybee, because it was one of the silly names I called my kids when they were little- my little bunky bees. Because why not?! And because I kid around that this business will hopefully pay for their college educations (or at least one of their college textbooks) they inspired the name. Again - bees!

Here's our recycled art project- we used frozen pizza boxes and paper towel tubes for the sunflower, and toilet paper roll tubes for the honeycombs. My younger guy made the awesome origami bees!

 

This is the banner I painted for our downtown art gallery.

 

And one of my little bunkybees - from a while back!

 

This is the description from the store about the new line I've created to support bee conservation: 

The new Beeline Collection tees have empowering statements to wear and share - So bee it! Say it with a bee tee! A portion of the proceeds from this collection will support bee conservation efforts. We have chosen the Pollinator Partnership Organization - https://pollinator.org whose mission is to promote the health of pollinators, critical to food and ecosystems, through conservation, education, and research. They are not sponsoring or affiliated with our products  or our company- we just think they are the bees knees, and we want to support them- and help save bees! We salute those with a passion for their pastime- and a passion for bee conservation too! Check out the Pollinator Partnership for some great information about bees and bee conservation. And please follow Bunkybee on FB and Instagram too!

So there you have it- the brief (or not so brief, really) story of Bunkybee in the making, and our new exciting connection to help the bees! Bunkybee will still be adding products to the Recreation Nation Collection frequently, and highlighting people who passionately pursue their pastimes, especially in recreational activities that may be less mainstream, but are no less awesome than the rest. But now we add a new passion to the hive- bee conservation efforts. To see the collection, please visit here! Thanks for reading. Another thing that the podcasts that I listen to mention time and again is that you have to put yourself out there in order to grow. So here I am!

xoxo Kris at Bunkybee 

P.S.- I wasn't paid or perked by any of the companies mentioned- I just wanted to share my honest opinion about my experiences. Cheers!

 

 


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  • Interesting….and should be helpful to new entrepreneurs. Love the new BEELINE

    Beth on

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