Ryan Barr “flunked out” of a few careers before landing on the one that would change his life.
After studying education at college in Florida, he worked as a high school teacher, sold medical equipment, and tried his hand at carpentry.
“Nothing really stuck,” Ryan says. “I decided to give entrepreneurship a try and ecommerce seemed like the lowest risk, both financially and from an embarrassment standpoint.”
Ryan was a guitar player and saw an opportunity to create and sell products that aligned with his hobby.
According to SaleHoo.com, an online sourcing directory there are thousands of people around the world who have turned their hobbies into successful online businesses.
"These people have become so influential in the business world that a new word has been coined to describe them: Hobbypreneurs," said Simon Slade, founder of SaleHoo.
“I kept reading about finding a small niche for business. I was a guitar player so I decided to make a leather guitar case and a specialized wallet for guitar players.
“Though we sell mostly mainstream goods now, this was an excellent way to start because the products were so specialized and it was easy to get press.”
In 2009, he started WP Standard with just a few hundred dollars and got his first sale through a $20 advertisement on a guitar forum.
The ecommerce world was totally new to him and he didn’t have an understanding of finances, cash flow, or routine business practices.
Ryan started by prototyping products himself, but quickly realised he needed to work with a manufacturer in order to scale.
He reached out to other brands that sold leather goods but weren’t direct competitors to ask about the manufacturers they were using.
“Eventually I found someone who was in the industry and helped me understand scale manufacturing,” he says.
While Ryan was able to work with a mentor, important steps such as sourcing quality suppliers have not always been a straightforward process. Organisations such as SaleHoo and Doba have recognised this and integrated comprehensive training resources and guidance opportunities into their service.
This ensures potential sellers can always find support on key areas of online business, particularly concerns such as manufacturing and distribution processes.
“I was lucky to have success out of the gate. It was, however, a slow build. I worked it as a side business for my first two years.”
WP Standard has evolved over the years from specializing in leather guitar straps and wallets, to selling a wide range of leather goods, such as totes, messengers, backpacks, belts and other accessories.
WP Standard’s business model is vertically integrated, which means it has control over the design, manufacturing and distribution of products.
“This way things can be done very specifically as all the touch points go through us. However, you may not be able to scale as quickly this way because you'll be selling directly to consumers and wholesale offers a broader audience - but less control.”
Today, WP Standard is a successful, 7-figure ecommerce business with several staff and loyal customers that appreciate high-quality leather goods.
Ryan says it’s been a long process and the strategies that worked for him won’t necessarily apply today.
“It’s kind of the wild west out there,” he says. “A lot of the industry and traffic has consolidated around the big players - Amazon, Google and Facebook - so learning to work within those confines has been interesting.”
He says that starting an email list early is important for building a successful online store.
“Email is the only channel you really own. Facebook, Instagram, and Google search are all very fickle and those companies will make you pay for access to the people on those platforms.”
His advice to online sellers is to use a service like Klaviyo and start collecting email addresses as soon as possible.
Ryan says the main obstacle that aspiring entrepreneurs need to overcome is self-doubt.
“Many online retailers fail to succeed because they let too many easily-solvable problems get in the way. Discovering a profitable niche is one of the most important steps for dropshippers and persistence is key in finding the right match. Tap into your hobbies and interests. If you enjoy traveling or the outdoors you’re going to have unique knowledge of the products and trends in those markets that can help you identify a viable niche.” Slade says.
The ever changing landscape of eCommerce has provided Ryan with plenty of battle wisdom. “There are highs and lows and there will be plenty of times that you will doubt yourself. Press on through the tough times. It’s very likely success is right around the corner.”
Visit the WP Standard website