Dafina Smith is the CEO of the popular, USA-based brand Sunny's Hair & Wigs. She’s an experienced business owner, ready to share her most valuable tips for developing and running a successful eCommerce business - all while juggling the demands of family.

It’s truly amazing if you stop and think about the power of eCommerce. In the comfort of your own home you can shop for products around the world. Or, as the owner of an eCommerce store you are no longer bound by store hours or physical location to sell. I’ve owned and operated a beauty eCommerce store for ten years, and to this day I’m still amazed by the freedom, flexibility and opportunity it creates.

My eCommerce journey

In the early days of eCommerce, I began with a Yahoo Store, which was clunky and time consuming. In 2007, it was all I knew and I couldn’t even imagine the crazy journey that owning this online store would take me on.

I began Sunnyshair.com with my sister and we started getting a lot of orders in Atlanta, GA. So we decided in 2008 to take a leap of faith and expand the online store which was an extension of our family’s business to a brick and mortar shop in Buckhead, GA. Over time, the online store continued to grow.

My sister decided to go back to operating her hair extension salon, but I stayed on. From a staff of 3 people, I grew the business to a 7 figure operation. It was exhilarating.

I thought I had it all figured out and my business was running on something close to cruise control …until I became pregnant with twins and found out I had to relocate to NYC for my husband’s job. My amazing team dwindled to one amazing assistant who quit to take a job working as a Disney character.

I felt blindsided by life, as my twin pregnancy became high risk and involved a long stay in the hospital for both me and my children. It was around this time that operating an X-Cart site just became to cumbersome for my non-technical new mom-of-twins status.

I remember sitting in my NYC apartment with two kids and no sleep, and my site was hacked by someone. I was on the phone with Media Temple reconciling lines of code and I just wanted to shut off the site and go to sleep for 5 years.

I realized after a lot of soul searching that I needed a hosted solution. I could no longer have a developer, designer and project manager just to make simple updates to a website.

Shopify to the rescue

I was well aware of Shopify for years and it was always my go to source for validating an idea. Back in 2008-2009, it didn’t have anywhere near the functionality of X-Cart, Magento or Volusion. But by the time my twins came, it had turned into this nimble and robust platform.

I turned to Shopify in my time of need to keep a business running while dealing with the blunt force trauma that is new parenthood. Throughout all these challenges, I was able to continue to operate a 6-figure business on Shopify with no employees and staying home to take care of newborn preemie twins.

Sunny Hair Website

How did I do it? These 7 tools on Shopify helped a lot:

1. Aftership

This integration eliminated 50% of my emails and phone calls out the gate. This app syncs into your Shopify API to obtain the tracking number and email and phone number of your customers and keeps them up to date with shipping status of their order. You can customize when and how they are notified.

My special sauce has been to let them know when it is shipping, when it is in transit and even to text and email the customer when there has been an exception to delivery! In the past few weeks, Shopify has natively rolled out this functionality for In-Transit and Shipped notifications, so this app may not make as much sense as before. But for me, this greatly improved the customer experience and saved me time from answering countless emails on order statuses.

2. Riskified

Ugh - to ship or not to ship to possible fraudulent customers. Whether it was a new customer with a separate billing and shipping address, or someone who just moved, there were many orders that caused suspicion. My team and I used to spend a lot of time on the phone, trying to verify with customers and credit card companies.

We often would have to cancel orders that probably were not fraud and lose revenue, while still having a lot of actual fraudulent orders slip past us. It was the most annoying part of running an eCommerce site in a high fraud field.

Riskified is exceptional at analyzing fraud risk but they go beyond analysis. They guarantee and insure for chargebacks that are due to fraud that slip through the cracks. More than anything, they have saved me so much time and stress analyzing something that felt as mysterious as reading tea leaves.

3. Shippo

This shipping app integrates directly with my Shopify orders and allows me to create bulk mailing for orders that are similar in weight without having to re-type the customer address or copy and paste the tracking number. I also love this app to have a streamlined interface where I could see all of my orders and where they were in the shipping process.

My favorite part of this app is the ability to create pay when shipped return envelopes. This app has saved me time and allowed me to ship my orders in about 30% less time than I did in the past.

4. Olark

When you have twins….the phone is your enemy. At first, I tried to schedule customer support calls at certain times of the day, but inevitably I would be panic-stricken hoping that my one of my twins didn’t wake up and giveaway my secret of running the business from home.

Olark was my saving grace. I love that Olark was able to integrate with my analytics and shopping cart to tell me if it was a new visitor vs repeat visitor, what pages they had recently been viewing and what items if any were in their cart. I encourage as many customers as I can to use Olark to get quick answers to routine questions and I am able to answer more in depth questions by linking to quick videos that I have created or FAQ articles that I have written.

5. Ring Central

I have used Ring Central for years, but every year their array of services expands, and right now I can’t live without their Business SMS service. On mobile devices, customers can text my ring central business line without having to give out out my personal cell phone number. I use a call center to take orders and answer in-depth questions, but for a lot of millennial customers they prefer SMS. I can answer quick questions and for common answers to questions, I use saved replies from an app I have called Key Reply to save time.

6. Klaviyo

So… return customers are my utmost aspiration in my eCommerce business. 40% of my sales come from repeat business and it has made my business way more predictable and easier to manage with repeat clients. Klaviyo is the number one tool to help me increase and retain repeat customers. I don’t know where to begin with how amazing Klaviyo is.

If I had to pick one it would be that I can segment my customers with a variety of parameters from how many times, how much or what they purchased from my online store and create email drip campaign specifically targeted to them. When I first started using Klaviyo about 6-8% of my sales came from email campaigns. Today that number is at 20% without adding to my bottom line. The time I invest in crafting a thoughtful and helpful email drip campaign to a specific segment of my clients can continue to pay revenue dividends over time.

A great example of this is when I decided to create a separate email campaign for repeat customers vs new customers for abandoned carts. Obviously a person who purchases from my website 6-7 times a year does not need to receive the same content to convince them to purchase with me as someone who has never purchased. Instead I can just send them 1-2 friendly reminders that “hey I think you meant to finish your purchase but you forgot.” That’s it. For someone who has never purchased, I put more effort to showing them who our company is, what they can expect for quality, reviews of our top products etc.

My email correspondence is based on triggers by customers rather than creating new newsletters and content every week, allowing me to automate that aspect of my business.

7. Gmail Canned Responses

I say a lot of the same things over and over again to a lot of my customers and vendors. I love the canned responses feature in gmail because it saves me time! I value things that allow me to spend more time upfront so that I can create a systematic and consistent flow to my business.

Onward and upward!

Being a twin mother has taught me so much about the inefficiencies in my life. I look to maximize my efforts by systematizing them, and these 7 tools have been essential to maintaining a business while I was starting a family and attending to all of the curveballs that life has thrown my way.

Now my babies are toddlers and on their way to pre-school. Recently, I was accepted to Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses and it has forced me to realize that while I did what I had to do to make my business survive in light of the circumstances, the time has come to move on and rebuild my eCommerce site to a thriving company with its own office space and employees again.

With the efficiency that these tools have brought me, I’m so confident that the next iteration of my eCommerce site will be even more successful because it will streamlined and nimble.

About the author

Dafina Smith

After graduating from Georgetown Dafina Smith began a career in Retail Sales & Branding. As a former Buyer at Bloomingdales in the Men's Fashion Dept she was responsible for purchasing & cultivating brands such as Fred Perry, Sean John and G-Star.

In 2007 she expanded her family business Sunny's Hair & Wigs to Atlanta. Under her guidance, the brand became a fixture of the Atlanta beauty community and was featured on shows including The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Braxtons, Love & Hip Hop and What Chilli Wants. The brand developed partnerships with Film & TV Productions including Flight, The Fast & The Furious, The Hunger Games, Being Mary Jane, Teen Wolf and The Game.

Smith now manages all aspects of the e-commerce division for Sunnyshair.com as well as all social media and marketing from New York.

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