Christine Deslauriers always had business in her blood, but her own now-thriving business basically fell into her lap while she was taking some time off from a mining sales job to stay home with her children.
She was living in the tiny Northern Ontario neighbourhood of Porcupine where shopping opportunities were slim. Being at home allowed her to explore eBay and she thought it was an excellent way to do business. She knew some day she’d ignite her entrepreneurial spirit and start selling something online. But what?
That answer came when her children started figure skating. She was looking for well-priced skating costumes and found there was a lack of supply — even online. But she knew where to look. Her father had run a sporting goods shop in her native Montreal and her grandfather had for 30 years run Mondor, a manufacturing plant that produced sports clothing.
“I bought some overstock from Mondor and a lightbulb went off,” she said. “I thought ‘I should try to sell this on eBay.’ That’s what got me started. Eventually I opened a commercial account with suppliers and that’s when the business got started.”
She started selling small amounts on eBay in 2006 and officially launched her business — Boutique Step Up — in 2007. Two years later, on the strength of those sales, she opened a bricks and mortar store in Porcupine, later moving it to Sudbury where her husband got a new job. Since 2007, the businesses have together grown by 700 per cent. In 2015, eBay named her its Entrepreneur of the Year.
“These days, I get stock from all over,” she said, and added that she sells skates, blades, skating clothing, including dresses, and skate bags. “I search all over the internet to see what’s new. And when I buy, I buy a lot.”
Running the eBay and the bricks and mortar store is quite manageable, she said. She works full time at the shop and runs the eBay portion from there. Five part-time employees relieve her on weekends and evenings.
When it comes to exporting, the micro-multinational has sold to 42 different countries in her 10 years. A total of 34 per cent of her export sales go to the U.S. After that, it’s the U.K., and then Sweden and Finland. But there are orders from as far away as Russia and recently, when she added competitive swimsuits to her product line, she started hearing from customers in South America.
“Business is always changing,” she said, “but it’s always improving.”
Staying competitive has meant keeping up with the latest trends in sporting apparel and finding the best possible prices from wholesalers.
“If there’s a supplier that has a sale, I’ll buy whatever they have and I’ll try to negotiate great rates,” she said. “They give me good prices because I buy in bulk.”
She also delivers impeccable service, even online and about 30 per cent of her customers come back.
“When people email with questions, I answer right away,” she said. “I’m good at remembering people and tell them it’s nice to see them back. When they receive a skating dress in the mail at a discount price, they’re very happy and they come back.”
The biggest drawback of exporting is the shipping costs. She works mainly with Canada Post and wishes they would offer better rates and service. The other drawback is having to pay duty on a returned item that’s coming back across the border.
“Not many do come back,” she said. “I’d say it’s about one a month, but it’s a pain to have to pay $80 in duty, for example, for a product that’s being returned to you.”
When it comes to best practices for marketing, Deslauriers says eBay really looks after her marketing.
“When you put something up for sale on eBay you immediately get buyers. It’s not a lot of work and it gets viewed by people all over the world. I don’t understand why more people don’t do it. It’s an amazing platform for selling.”
Get more export insights from Boutique Step Up’s Christine Deslauriers here.