The Power of Trusting Your Gut: How One Ecommerce Entrepreneur Rebuilt a Failing Business, One Product and Customer at a Time
Carter Seibels was getting bored. In the early days of her career as a jewelry maker, she fed off of the creativity and energy that went into every item she made and sold to her customers. She had a knack for creating unique and memorable handmade jewelry that literally stopped passersby in their tracks, and she was passionate about quality and attention to detail.
But as she sat in the middle of a 10,000 square foot warehouse, repeatedly taking uninspiring product photos that lacked creativity or thought, and shipping box after box of wholesale product to bead and craft stores all around the country, she began to feel in her gut that something wasn’t right.
She didn’t feel fulfilled in the same way she did when she first started her career, and what’s worse, she saw signs that the business was starting to fail. She knew that she was at an important crossroads that many entrepreneurs have faced before her — she needed to make a decision about the future of her business: close up shop and walk away, or dig in her heels and refuse to give up.
I recently sat down with Seibels to hear her story. In this exclusive feature, you’ll learn why she ultimately decided not to give up, and how she was able to successfully pivot and transform her failing wholesale bead business into a successful retail brand, one product and customer at a time.
Uncovering an Opportunity
Long before creating the WomanShopsWorld brand that she is known for today, Carter Seibels was attending a private high school in Columbia, South Carolina and working on a project called the Senior Exhibition. It was a college preparatory, year-long research project that required students to study a topic in depth and either write a research paper or build a product, then present their learnings to the entire school.
Through her research, Seibels ultimately chose to study glass blowing, took a class from a local artist, and began producing unique glass beads that could be sold to people who were interested in crafts and homemade goods.
Fast forward a few years, and Seibels found herself attending college, where she continued to hone in on her skills and interest in making jewelry and designing glass beads. What started as a class project and a fun hobby soon became a budding business for Seibels, as more and more people began noticing and asking about the handmade items she wore around campus.
“I started wearing my jewelry out in college, and people started buying it off of my neck, literally,” said Seibels. “The next thing I knew, I was in my second year of college and had a pretty legitimate little jewelry making business going.”
When Seibels graduated from college, her business was waiting for her.
Finding Success with Wholesale
After a few years of selling wholesale and attending craft shows as a business owner, Seibels met and partnered with her now-husband, a bead manufacturer based in California who was looking for someone to help him design a line of glass beads to manufacture in China. “He saw my designs and recognized that I really thought outside of the box,” said Seibels. “So I joined his company, moved out to California, and essentially moved into a 10,000 square foot warehouse full of beads.”
At the time, the company was wholesale supplying most of the bead stores in the country. For Seibels, it was an entirely different type of business than the one she had been owning and operating on her own for the last few years.
“It opened this whole new world to me where suddenly I was in the big business side of things and behind-the-scenes in the jewelry-making industry, and it was just like a whole new world opened up,” says Seibels. “I really enjoyed learning more about the business side of what was going on.”
Eventually, as business picked up and she was tasked with new challenges, Seibels found herself spending much less time making jewelry and much more time on the wholesale operations side of things—photographing, managing inventory, accounting.
When Everything Started to Crumble
Around 2010, changes in the industry landscape caught up to Seibels and her husband. China had started coming directly to the U.S. to wholesale distribute beads to the same local mom and pop shops that Seibels’ business was supplying. In addition, those same mom and pop shops were struggling to compete against big box stores that were increasingly entering the space.
“We used to supply probably 75% of the stores in the country with boxes of beads. We would send out a pick box of beads, they would keep what they wanted and ship the rest back. It slowly started happening, and you don’t realize it immediately, that this store hasn’t returned their box, or this other store…. they’d actually gone out of business,” said Seibels.
“It was my accountant one day who came to us and said ‘do you realize you are completely in the hole?’ We were shipping out boxes and nobody was shipping them back. And all of a sudden, sales reps are no longer as busy. And it snowballs… if feels like you have a fire underneath you.”
The business had turned upside down almost overnight. Yet, they were sitting on top of a huge warehouse, tons of inventory, and an expensive home in the Berkeley Hills.
Realizing they needed to make a drastic change, Seibels and her husband packed up their home, along with 10 53-foot containers worth of merchandise and gear, and moved to North Carolina.
“We went from having a peak of 15 employees in our California warehouse to having 1 employee in North Carolina helping us rebuild our operation.”
But even beyond the business struggles, Seibels had been dreading the monotony that came with selling wholesale beads.
“With the wholesale company, I started feeling like I was a bead-eating, number-crunching machine,” said Seibels. “It was like, I could have been selling paper, or cardboard…it didn’t matter what we were selling anymore. We had to lay out the beads in the lightbox in the same angle in the same way, and make sure the dimensions were shown, and it was like I was a number-cruncher for beads.”
Feeling uninspired and unfulfilled, Seibels recognized that their wholesale beads business was not moving in a sustainable direction.
“When I was re-training my employees in North Carolina…. It was at that time that I realized this system wasn’t working very well, and I’m not sure I want to rebuild that system here. That’s when I started the Etsy shop… I thought, we need to try something different.”
She called the Etsy store WomanShopsWorld, and positioned it as a shop where creative people could come to find and buy unique, crafty global goods.
Within a year and a half, she had completely transitioned their business from selling huge heaps and boxes (20 boxes a day 50-75 lbs each) of beads, rocks, and gemstones to shops around the country each day, to selling one item to one customer at a time online.
Having the Courage to Pivot
Pivoting away from the wholesale bead business and into the 1-to-1 retail business wasn’t easy for Seibels or her husband, despite the early traction they experienced. Transitioning required them to shut down their business and part ways with employees, sell their home, and move their entire warehouse of inventory across the country.
After a year and a half of working hard to build the WomanShopsWorld brand, reputation, and customer base, they were able to completely shut down their wholesale bead company and invest 100% of their time and energy into scaling the new retail shop. It survived solely on Etsy for 2 full years, until they finally launched a website in February of 2017 that would allow them to continue to scale their retail business and sell unique inventory that they weren’t allowed to sell on Etsy.
For Seibels, it was exactly what she needed to reignite her passion for selling unique, high-quality crafts to creative people.
“I think I like the retail side better just because it allows me the time to enjoy the products, interact with the customers, and curate the shop, instead of the need to just move huge amounts of volume and products.”
As a business owner, making the pivot into selling retail to individual customers was one of the best and most rewarding decisions she’s ever made. She’s never looked back.
Finding Success, Sustainability, and Happiness with Retail
In the years since pivoting her business, Seibels has been able to continue strengthening and scaling her operations, and has worked hard to nurture relationships with a loyal community of customers who love buying her products.
She now targets hobby crafters, DIYers, professional jewelers, artists, and interior designers who look for unique products that they can’t find anywhere else. She travels the world with her husband looking for the right partners, small scale manufacturers, and the right products to feature in her shop. Bright, colorful, bold, and fun items that stand out from anything else that her competitors are offering.
So how did she do it? For Seibels, it’s all about presenting the products she sells in ways that people aren’t used to them being presented.
“If you go to a wholesale bead show, it’s basically just piles and piles of beads on top of tables,” said Seibels. “Nothing is really given the close look that is deserves. So I started highlighting the unique aspects of the items that I was listing in my shop, and they started selling like hotcakes.”
It’s a much more personal business to operate and manage. Without the tedious tasks that came with managing the wholesale bead business weighing her down and eating up all her energy, Seibels was able build a business that focuses a lot more on quality, reputation, artistry, differentiation, and nurturing relationships.
“Now,” said Seibels, “I can stop and admire the beads, and take the time to lay them out the way I want to lay them out in the lightbox, and present it as creatively as possible, because that is ultimately who my customer is, a creative person. It’s not about number-crunching or bead-slinging, it’s about being creative.”
To attract customers and get them to buy again and again, Seibels focuses 100% on product quality and consistency.
As you can imagine, social media is a big part of what helps her differentiate from other shops. For Seibels, the ability to give people a reason to pause from their busy day because you’ve wowed them or made them think about something is a big part of being able to help people understand what makes their products truly unique and special.
These days, Seibels spends a lot of her time creating and curating content for her social media followers, particularly those that follow the brand on Instagram.
Her efforts continue to pay off day after day. Her followers and customers have learned that they can depend on her product photography—they can feel confident that they will receive products with the level of quality that Seibels is presenting in her photos.
It’s this commitment to quality and reputation that allows her to attract new customers, and continue scaling her business, one product and one person at a time.
Lessons Learned Along the Way
Naturally, Seibels has learned a lot of lessons along the way as she’s worked to transform her business and sell products that she and her customers both love.
For Seibels, one of the most essential factors in building a successful ecommerce business today comes down to quality.
“When we were operating the wholesale beads business, I got really good at spotting a fake from a mile away,” says Seibels. “It feels really good to be able to now choose what we sell—a quality product that people can depend on.”
When it comes to her biggest challenge, Seibels mentions time.
“Across the board, through it all, one of my biggest challenges, and still is a challenge that I face every single day is time constraints,” said Seibels. “There are never enough hours in the day to get done everything that I want to get done.”
Seibels also mentioned the importance of having patience as an entrepreneur, and waiting to see how things turn out before making any rash decisions about the future of your business.
“Giving things time to work is so important,” says Seibels. “It’s so important to try to see the long-term and make decisions accordingly.”
For Seibels, that ultimately means forcing yourself to slow down and listen to what your gut is trying to tell you.
“Go with your gut instinct,” she said. “With WomanShopsWorld, I am always listening to that inner voice and inner feeling. If you get quiet enough and calm enough, and take a step back for long enough, we’re all able to tap into that and tune into that feeling, and that is the most important guide that I have ever known in business.”
When it comes to operating a business or completing tasks that you aren’t familiar with, Seibels says it’s all about being proactive about learning.
“As time passes, technology just changes faster and faster and faster. I think it’s really important to stay on top of all of that, but it’s also a huge challenge to constantly be learning things that are new,” said Seibels. “You can learn so much from Googling stuff and watching other people who are successful. That’s the beautiful thing about doing business in this day and age—there are so many tools and resources at your fingertips. If you’re driven, you can pretty much do anything you want to do. It’s really just about dedication and taking the time to learn.”
When it comes to working alongside your spouse on a business venture like she has for many years, Seibels offers this advice to couples:
“A clear delineation of responsibilities is very important, as is being patient,” she said. “You have also to understand that not everyone does everything the same way.”
When it comes to helping other aspiring entrepreneurs decide whether they should stick with their day job or attempt to follow their dreams and become an entrepreneur, Seibels pulls from her own experience. She describes why she does what she does, even though it’s not always the easiest path forward:
“I can do whatever I want to do every day of the week,” she said. “I can choose if I’m going to work today, or if I’m going to focus on taking pictures today, or if I’m going to focus on paying my sales taxes, or whatever it is. I can choose exactly what I want to do today, and how I want to do it, and that is an amazingly beautiful thing. It’s priceless, really.”
I want to thank Carter Seibels for taking the time to sit down with us for this piece. If you have any questions for us or Carter about the world of ecommerce or WomanShopsWorld, leave them in a comment below.