Balancing ecommerce profits with a nonprofit mission

In “Using ecommerce to support cancer survivors,” my last post, I discussed how Stupid Cancer launched an online store, and ultimately, a lifestyle brand. Since its inception in 2012, the Stupid Cancer store has had over 8,200 transactions and grossed more than $215,000 in revenue.

We started off with a single order of white Gildan 5000 t-shirts. That order started the entire growth of the store. As a nonprofit, we didn’t want to misuse donor dollars by purchasing t-shirt inventory. In fact, the store has its own checking account, which vendors are paid from, which helps with transparency. Periodically, money is moved from the store’s checking account into the account that funds our programs, services, and overhead.

As the store started to pick up speed throughout 2012, we saw an increased demand for new designs and different materials. People wanted short sleeve, long sleeve, raglans, hooded sweatshirts, beanies, and so on. We are lucky to have an amazing merchandise saleswoman who has found the intersection of minimum order quantities and reasonable prices.

My prior retail experience taught me that we should have at least a 50 percent gross profit margin, which is something that I’ve tried to maintain. One of the unique aspects of our store is that oftentimes our customers are going through hard financial times related to their cancer treatment. This influences our prices, as we want those customers to be able to afford our products.

Periodically, we’ll incentivize shopping with free shipping weekends or a percentage off. We’ve also tested doing a free-item-with-purchase promotions, as well as mystery “grab bags,” where we send to loyal customers a mystery t-shirt along with items that were hanging around the office. It was fun for the recipients of these gifts, because the grab bags often contained items that were either out of print or had old branding.

As good as we are with marketing and branding, we realized quickly that we needed assistance with some of the clothing design work. Since “Stupid Cancer” is such a bold phrase, we typically focus on typography-based designs. We also use “Get Busy Living,” or a combination of the two.

We’ve found design success over the years with 99Designs, the freelance marketplace for designers. For $250, we receive 20 to 30 concepts from a number of designers. Submissions will only be as good as your design brief, so it’s important to let designers know exactly what you’re looking for. In addition to 99Designs, we have a few artists in the community who periodically help out.

One of our biggest issues — and most frequent criticism — is that our clothing is “designed by men, for men.” While the former is true (for the most part), we do take input and feedback seriously.

We recently incentivized participants in a survey with a 25 percent discount on a product purchase. This resulted in roughly 250 responses. Participants were asked about their experience with our store’s navigation and checkout, as well as the current product offerings. We also asked about their tastes in color and other variables that influence their shopping behaviors.

The survey, sent out last month, has already prompted change. Over the past few weeks, we’ve given the store a facelift and enhanced individual product pages and descriptions.

Kenny Kane
Kenny Kane
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