Christine Deslauriers, owner of Step Up Boutique, has sold to 42 countries in her 10 years of selling online. In 2015, eBay Canada named her its Entrepreneur of the Year.
What was your first export sale?
I can’t remember. It was 10 years ago and I export every day, literally. Every day, I’m shipping all over the world. I could be sending something to the U.S. or Russia or anywhere Europe. We ship everywhere, all the time.
How did that first export opportunity arise?
Well, I can definitely say it arose through eBay.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
The eBay store began on a small scale. I had a few items that were sent to the U.S. and then things started growing very gradually. Everything was well organized online through eBay. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything I wish I’d known then. It’s been very straightforward from the beginning.
How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
There are more people who do what I do now than when I started, but to tell you the truth, I just do my own thing and try not to pay too much attention to the competition. That seems to work for me because my business just keeps on growing. I focus on what I need to do and keep doing it.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
I wish there were more people — more bricks and mortar businesses — who understood that there is this opportunity and it’s just sitting there for them to grab. Of course, I’m talking about companies who aren’t my competition.
When and why did you first start thinking about exporting as part of your business?
It was in 2007 when I opened my store officially. Almost immediately, an item was sold somewhere in the world and then that was it, I was an exporter. I was really an exporter first and foremost and then, eventually, I opened the bricks and mortar shop.
What is the biggest difference between selling in Canada and selling in another country?
For me, it’s very similar. Doing business on eBay is not much different from doing business in the shop. Even when it comes to customers using other languages, eBay has a translate app. When I get questions in other languages, I can just ask it to translate the question to English. In the beginning, I used to have to go on Google translate and it would tell me what they’re saying. Either way, it usually works out.
How has exporting changed the way you market and sell your products in Canada?
I don’t think it really has. For marketing, I use Instagram and Twitter, and all the social media. I don’t really advertise locally.
Can you share the best lesson learned from a bad exporting experience?
Make sure you have your product fully insured. Even if you use a tracking number through Canada Post, they don’t always work. I use DHL and FedEx as well as Canada Post. With DHL and FedEx, you have to weigh your product and measure it and make sure you get it right. If there’s a discrepancy, the price gets much higher. This happens every now and then, usually when I’m training a new staff member.
What is the one characteristic that you believe every exporter should possess?
Lots of determination. You have to be the kind of person who wants to get something done and just does it. I remember how complicated it was when I first started out — filling out customs invoices for courier companies, for example. Everything seemed so complicated back then, but now with things being digitized, it’s a lot easier.
In the case of small businesses, you also need determination to do it all yourself. My business is a micro-multinational and being micro means I am the driver of it all. I find the deals, do the purchasing, take receipt of the merchandise, photograph it, create the eBay listings, and sell the items online and in my store. For the most part, I serve the customers, pack the orders and send them out. I also do the bookkeeping and manage the employees. To do all of that requires a lot of determination.