Ashley Banks owes a lot to a penguin.

This particular penguin, which took the form of a thermal drinking flask, helped Ashley turn his first ecommerce store into a success.

In the three months between July and September 2017, the UK native generated £4,713.38 (or $6,140.01) from this one penguin flask.

In this story, we’ll run over how he built his business, and the exact marketing strategy that helped him rake in the sales.

At the end, you’ll be armed with advice about how to pick products with the best chance of selling, the tools that were essential to Ashley’s success, and a couple of clever marketing tactics to help you convert more shoppers into customers.

Ready? Let’s start at the beginning.

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A Brief History of Ashley Banks

ashley banks This is Ashley. He’s currently living just outside of London, and making his living as a web developer. “That’s my bread and butter,” he says.

He has always had an interest in ecommerce. In his web dev job, he has built dozens of ecommerce stores for his clients, and was constantly exposed to different business ideas and products.

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Ashley decided to give it a try himself.

One of his earliest ideas was to establish a men’s watch brand. He wanted the products to feel luxurious, but still be affordable enough for the everyday man. He began researching private labeling, which would allow him to purchase generic, unbranded watches from a manufacturer and add his own logo and colors. Quickly he realized that this was going to cost him.

The suppliers had large minimum order quantities and he would be taking on the financial risk if anything didn’t sell. He’d also be responsible for managing fulfilment of all the orders, a time-consuming and tedious task. In the end, the dream of his luxury watch company fizzled out. “It was just so hard to commit to that much capital and that much risk,” he says.

Next he became intrigued by Fulfilled by Amazon businesses (FBA). Running an FBA business meant he would store his stock in Amazon’s warehouses, where they would take care of fulfilment for him. This way storing and handling the stock would be somebody else’s problem. He enrolled in an Amazon FBA online course, excited to learn from someone else who was claiming to have made millions with the scheme.

But the more he learned about FBA, he came to see that it wasn’t going to be that easy. The margins were thin, and there were thousands of sellers trying to sell similar products. He was facing the same problems as with the watches. Even just to test out his product ideas, he was going to have to cough up a large initial investment to buy the inventory. Plus he’d still be stuck with any products that didn’t sell.

He wanted to make a start with his ecommerce business, but so far every approach he’d found seemed difficult and financially risky.

Then he discovered dropshipping.

Discovering Dropshipping: Ecommerce Without Inventory

It was through one of his Amazon fulfilment Facebook groups that Ashley first discovered dropshipping.

He learned that dropshipping would help erase a couple of his stickiest problems with ecommerce. The business model meant that he wouldn’t need to purchase inventory upfront, as his supplier would hold on to the stock for him. Only once a product had sold would he pay for it, and then the supplier would ship the product directly to his customer for him.

If he bet on a product and it didn’t sell, no stress. He wouldn’t be left with any extra stock, and he could quickly move onto trying to sell something different.

With fulfilment taken care of by his supplier, he’d be left to focus on setting up his ecommerce storefront, finding products to sell, and running the marketing. He was ready to take that on.

A Store Made for Coffee Lovers

It was July 2017, and Ashley was obsessed with coffee.

He’d spent weeks learning how to make the perfect flat white. He learned how changing this size of the jug helped him froth milk better, discovered how the correct grind of his beans made all the difference, and learned what exactly a “tamper” was and how to use it.

When he started his dropshipping ecommerce business, he wanted to share this hobby with the world. “I wanted all these little products that would help you become a home barista,” he says.

Despite his background as a web developer, he decided to set his store up with Shopify. He’d made the mistake of trying to code his own store before. In contrast, the out-of-the-box offering of a Shopify store meant that he’d be able to get things up and running in a matter of minutes (or about the same time it takes to make yourself a creamy flat white coffee).

He began searching for products to add to his online coffee boutique, which he named Roasted Boutique. He used a dropshipping app to connect the suppliers’ products with his store, pulling in the details of their inventory.

He filled Roasted Boutique with the tools of a home barista – steaming jugs and grinders and portable filter coffee makers. But as he began filling out his store with more products, he realized there was a problem – he wasn’t the only one selling his products.

Although the products Ashley had chosen would be approved by any coffee lover, many of his products were also available on Amazon. He knew that it would be difficult for his business to compete with the level of trust, low prices, and distribution power of the Amazon juggernaut.

Frustrated but still determined, he knew he needed a different approach.

Introducing: The Penguin

He was on the train home when the idea first clicked. “I just stumbled upon the thermos. Every time I got the train or bus you’d always see people with these thermo flasks,” he says.

He searched for a supplier of thermo flasks to add to the Roasted Boutique. He found several designs. Some were more classic looking, while others, like a mini cat thermos and a penguin thermos, stood out with an original and playful design.

He added them to his store, and started running a few tests with advertisements on Facebook. He wanted to see which of his products would attract the most attention, so he tested a broad range of products. He created ads for his home barista products, products for tea lovers, as well as a range of different thermos.

As the ads started popping up on Facebook, a front-runner emerged.

The little penguin was attracting a huge amount of attention. The cute design caught people’s eye, and they were quick to comment and tag their friends on his posts.

Then two weeks after launching the store, the moment finally came. He got his first sale.

The penguin.

Ashley knew he was onto something here. He wanted to scale up his ads, and optimize them.

He’d ordered a sample of the penguin flask, and was preparing to take some photos of it at home to use in new ads.

But on this particular day, his nieces decided to come for a visit.

They both loved the penguin immediately. “They were really into it,” he says.

And in that moment, something clicked. Up until then, Ashley wasn’t really sure who was likely to be buying his products. He started off thinking about selling to coffee lovers, but with the penguin, his strategy had shifted. After seeing his nieces’ look of delight when they encountered the penguin flask, it all fell into place.

The penguin was cute, his nieces had confirmed that. And it was small enough to be held by little hands. Ashley knew this little penguin flask was destined for one type of customer –  kids.

He jumped on the opportunity to get his nieces to star in some ads. He pulled out his camera and quickly drafted a quick plan for a video advertisement of the product.

“I thought that it would be a really good idea if we directed a mini video together. So I got one niece to help with pouring a drink out of the thermos, and got my other younger niece playing with it,” he says.

“We created this video within literally ten minutes,  and I edited it up in the space of five minutes. In 15 minutes I had this cool video to use for ads.”


The Penguin Video Goes Live

Ashley was excited about the video. He’d gotten great feedback from both his nieces and their mother about the finished product, and he was keen to show it to the world.

He pushed the ad live on Facebook, and watched as the views of the video started to climb. In the copy, he encouraged people to comment and share the post. “It just blew up with all the moms commenting,” he says. He could see that 90% of the people commenting were mothers: “Once you got kids involved, you had an easy target audience with the moms,” he says.

During the three months he was running the penguin video, he generated over 22,000 views.

“It wasn’t until I did the video that it just all blew up. If I have to give advice to anyone, it’s to do video based marketing.”

But actually, the video wasn’t everything. There was another clever tactic operating in parallel that made all the difference.

The Secret Sauce: A Facebook Messenger Bot

With the penguin video pulling in hundreds of comments, Ashley wanted to make the most of it to snag sales.

He set up a Facebook Messenger bot, using the tool MSG Hero. He programmed the bot to respond to anyone who had commented on his post with a special offer.

Once someone commented, they’d receive a message automatically through Facebook Messenger.

The bot would spit out Ashley’s pre-programmed messages, offering them free shipping or 10% off the price of their order. It would also slide in the link to the penguin thermos, reminding them of the product they had liked so much.

This worked well from two fronts, Ashley says.

  1. People were more inclined to click on a message that popped up in their Facebook Messenger than an ad. A personalized one-to-one conversation made the people feel special.
  2. The cost of the offer was already baked into the product price, so while the customer thought they were getting a great price, Ashley was avoiding cutting into his margins. Win-win.

The Facebook Messenger bot would also respond to people’s questions about the product, helping to get them over the line if they were a little unsure.

Using the bot was a big success, and gave Ashley’s store a big boost traffic and sales. “I could tell through Google Analytics that a lot of the clicks to my site were coming through the messages rather than the ad itself,” he says.  

By September 2017, three months after his store launched, Ashley had sold 272 penguins, bringing in approximately $6,140 in revenue. He’d spent $600 on advertising to get there.

Looking to the Future: Store No. 2

Even though work commitments meant that Ashley ran out of time to manage his store, he knew he wasn’t done with dropshipping yet.

When I spoke to him in August 2018, he was in the process of launching his second store. This time he’d ditched coffee in favor of one of his biggest passions: martial arts. The first store might have started out for coffee lovers, but as Ashley followed the success of his winning product, it morphed into more of a “Penguin Thermos” store, and he found himself losing interest in his products.

This time around he’s determined to stick within the product niche of martial arts. He’s thinking long-term and wants to build a community and brand around the business. He’s excited to turn his hobby into a business, and is already throwing around ideas for tutorial videos and instructional blog posts. Thanks to the lessons he learned from his work with the penguin, he’ll be setting himself up for success.

Inside Ashley’s Essential Toolkit

As an ecommerce entrepreneur, you’ve got thousands of tools available to help you build your business. We asked Ashley which ones were key to his success. Here’s what he told us:

Conversion Tools

  • TriFunnels – “Use this to create a sales funnel within your Shopify store by removing distractions from the page, encouraging them to click through and complete the purchase.”
  • Sales Pop by BeeKeeting – “This app displays a little popup in the corner of the screen that says someone has purchased a product. It plays on psychology aspect to help convert as it shows social proof that people are purchasing and ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out).”

Marketing Tools

  • MSG Hero – “This app helps you set up automated commenting and likes on specific ads.”
  • ManyChat – “This one helps create an automated sales bot to the over the conversation and handle customer queries.”
  • Shopify Kit – “This marketing automation tool works with Facebook Messenger. It’s great for syncing Shopify products to your Facebook shop, this easily creates a ‘shop’ area on your brands Facebook Page, but also easy to do retargeting ads for specific products on Facebook. Kit lets you send and automated thank you email to any buyers, and tells you when someone has abandoned their cart so you can send them a chaser email.”

Video and Design Tools

  • Canva – “This is my highly recommended online design tool to use for ads. It comes with 100’s of pre-designed templates for specific social media platforms and can style and adapt to your own requirements.”
  • iMovie – “It’s basic video editing software, and it’s available free on all Mac computers.”

Organizational Tools

  • Google Sheets – “I use it to calculate your costs and profit margins for each product. Remember, don’t underprice yourself!”

Ashley’s Facebook Marketing Strategy

  1. Test your products with simple image-based ads at the beginning, using “Pay per engagement” ads as it will be cheaper. Test your audience’s reactions to the products – are they excited about them?
  2. When you find a product that is getting a lot of attention, create a video. Don’t worry about production levels being perfect, just film someone using the product. Like Ashley, you can edit it together easily using iMovie.
  3. Run your video ad on Facebook and encourage people to comment, this free engagement this will help spread the word, and lower your cost per click.
  4. Set up a Facebook Messenger Bot to reach out to anyone who comments with an offer for free shipping or 10% off. Include the link so they can click through immediately.
  5. Scale and repeat.

Now it’s Your Turn

Pick up where Ashley left off. Click the image below to import the penguin flask into your store!

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