In 2011, Adrien Lavoie started his business in the basement of his parents’ house selling skateboard-related merchandise. The Gatineau, Québec native had been working for a bike shop when he was a student, and because he was stronger on computers and with cameras than he was at bicycle repair, his boss asked him to oversee the online sales portion of his business. That’s where he cut his teeth in eBay sales and that’s what gave him the confidence to launch Wooki, his own business, after he graduated from the University of Ottawa.
At first, he was selling out of his parents’ home, but they soon grew tired of the ever-expanding inventory that was taking over their house. As his business was expanding thanks to a move to sell online through eBay, he began looking for warehouse space. He found a nice 2,100-square-foot bricks and mortar shop in Gatineau and, based on existing online sales, he knew he could cover the rent even if no one ever darkened his retail doors. Face-to-face sales would, he reasoned, simply be gravy.
Two years after launching, the then-24-year-old won eBay’s Young-Preneur award. And this year, he won eBay’s “micro-multinational of the year” award.
Today, the business has evolved to focus mostly on sneakers, featuring styles from Reebok and Adidas that are in high demand from international markets. A full 90 per cent of Lavoie’s sales are from outside Canada. He regularly ships to 45 countries, including the U.S., France, Australia, Germany, the U.K. and Japan. Since his launch, he has sold more than $1 million worth of goods on eBay, and his year-over-year sales continue to double.
For Lavoie, exporting was a no-brainer.
“In Canada, we’re 10 times smaller than the U.S. and we purchase a lot of items from the U.S.,” he said. “I think being an exporter is great because we’re making our profits from another country. It’s good for the economy.”
He said exporting was his business model from the start. “For me, the first question was do I go into business or not,” he said. “The exporting side was always the plan. I was born in 1989 and was born with the mindset that ‘the internet equals international.’ Starting selling online was the equivalent of selling internationally.”
While eBay brings him the customers — he pays his fees to be on eBay and considers that his marketing spending — one of the challenges he had to overcome was the high price of shipping internationally.
“It’s really expensive and you need a tracking number for good customer service,” he said. “What I did was to lower the price of the shipping. If one pair of shoes was $50 to ship, I reinvested part of my profit to lower the price of the shipping. Maybe I would bring it down to $20 or so. It’s a lot more appealing for customers to see they could get them shipped for that price. And I’m still making a profit. Even if it’s $10 instead of $40, it’s still money in my pocket and it allows me to greatly expand my market of customers.”
As an incentive in Canada and the U.S., he offers free shipping on orders worth $75 and over.
Asked what it takes to be a young, successful exporter based in Canada, Lavoie said he thinks it’s someone who is curious, adventurous and who has the patience to figure out small problems.
“Also someone who’s interested in getting their products to their customers,” he said.