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How to Sell Online as a Beginner: Part 2 “Finding Your Niche"

14 min read

Last time, we talked about some of the very basic things you need to start a store: a product, a budget, and a name. I also promised that I would take you with me as I attempt to turn my idea for a vintage clothing business, Bad Asta Vintage, into an online store and brand.

Today we’ll cover:

  • how we came to understand our “niche”
  • how we turned that idea into a customer base
  • how we picked inventory around these ideas
  • …and more!

I said in article one that my business partner Kate and I have these three things ready to go:

Our Product

Our product is hand-curated vintage clothing inspired by films from every decade of the 20th century. Skirts, jackets, scarves, suits, ties, hats, you name it. The more out-there, and the more clearly related to a recognizable piece of film history, the better! I’ll dive more into our inventory in a bit.

A couple of eye-catching piece we thought could work

Our Budget

Our inventory budget is small. I wouldn’t even call it a “budget” per se—our starter inventory was taken from our own clothes (also our mothers’, and family friends we could spread the word to before they went all “yard sale” with their vintage stuff). We plan to put 100% of our early profits into growing the business and expanding our inventory, so hopefully our budget will increase overtime.

As far as a time-budget goes, it’s variable. Kate and I have started to have a weekly, hour-long meeting to discuss everything Bad Asta, including collective brainstorming, coming up with action plans, etc. The rest of the time will be minutes here and there whenever we find the time. Aka not that much time, but hopefully because there are two of us that means double the man (or in this case, women) power.

Our Name

Our name is Bad Asta Vintage, a clever (if we do say so ourselves) play on “Asta”, the beloved dog actor from 1930s film hits like The Thin Man. It’s also a play on the word Bad-Ass, because I guess when you are two twenty-something women going into business for yourselves, the phrase is never too far away. Will the name make sense to customers? Will being adjacent to bad language alienate our customer base? Who knows! But we like the name and that’s enough for now.

Phase Two

Understanding Our Niche

With these three important resources in hand, it was time to understand the ins and outs of selling our products.

Before we could begin building our business, we had to understand what that business was and who we were building it for. Niche. Vertical. Market. These are all related terms to help you define what you’ll be selling and who you’ll be selling it to.

Every niche is thought of, and presented, in a slightly different way. For example, you wouldn’t talk about organically raised beef the same way you’d talk about discounted socks, would you? (Would you??). The same principle applies here. When you’re thinking about a niche, think about some basic overall verticals first, such as:

  • Apparel
  • Food and drink
  • Home and gardening
  • Art and decorative arts
  • Sports/fitness
  • Crafting

Now, within that “vertical,” think of the specifics of what your product is and does. Is it a fitness product targeted at millennial women? A gadget targeted at boomer-aged men? A piece of space junk targeted at non-alien human-folks? Is it considered a sleek product? A cool one? A cozy one? A high-energy thrill?

You might have been thinking through some of these ideas as you were coming up with a name. But now is the time to really dive into this conversation and find your niche, as it will likely be a part of your marketing strategy going forward.

As we thought about our own fledgling business more intentionally, the niche for Bad Asta Vintage was already pretty well-defined: vintage women’s clothing at the intersection of film and fashion. Once we knew where our products fit within the vintage clothing space, it was time to do some deeper thinking about our audience.

Still stumped? Check out more tips on finding your niche on the blog.

Defining Our Audience

We already know from defining our niche that our audience will be women who appreciate fashion and have a penchant for film history. But let’s look at our audience a little closer…

Since we both identify as women, and the seed of our inventory is coming from our own closets, it’s no surprise that much of our clothing would be targeted at women. So who are these women? They’re likely youngish (dare I say, Millennial) women who like old things. They’re the kind of women who visit antique shops on the weekend, or whose vinyl record collections…still exist.

In short, our audience is women who aren’t so different from ourselves. That means our marketing and branding will revolve around making our inventory as appealing as possible to that demographic—without alienating anyone who isn’t.

Another helpful way to do that is to create “personas” aka a variety of different potential shoppers with unique traits. I don’t have time to get into this now (and haven’t done it yet myself!) but we have a blog post on the subject if you’re looking to jump ahead.

So now we have a niche and a more clearly defined picture of who our audience will be—now it’s time to select the inventory.

Selecting Our Inventory

Inventory is probably the most important part of getting into the ecommerce game. And an important thing to remember here is that you want inventory before you open your store. Seriously. Do not try to open a store with no inventory, or at least a plan for how you will have inventory available for when someone buys something. Anything else just doesn’t make any sense.

The made-to-order methodology is very likely going to cause you frustration and sadness at this stage in the game. My advice: don’t do it. Have inventory, or a drop shipping supplier. But don’t just think you’ll wing it when the time comes, because you probably won’t be able to.

Kate and I each pulled a minimum of ten items from our own closets, giving us a grand total of twenty pieces to start selling. When thinking about which items to pull, we thought a lot about niche: which items would appeal the most to our target demographic? What is the biggest variety of styles and sizes we can offer within that niche?

We also wanted a variety of types of clothing, as in, a good balance of skirts, dresses, shirts, scarves etc. And we also had to consider the time period here: as a vintage clothing store, we cast a wide net as far as styles go, from roughly 1900 (good luck finding something that fit the bill in our own closets from that period) to 2000 (much easier, thankfully!).

We had yet another consideration: how will we make these pieces tie into our blossoming “brand,” which is film-focused? We decided to look for things that reminded us of looks and styles we’d seen in movies we like.

This, of course, called for some research. Research can be a necessary part of sourcing inventory. Sometimes research is looking at market trends, checking out competitor’s brands, etc. Our research was that. But it was also watching a lot of old movies. Luckily, that’s the type of research we like.

This Grace Kelly inspired blouse became a key piece of inventory

Eventually we settled on our twenty pieces. All sourced from a mixture of our personal closets, mom’s closets, and family friend’s closets. All had at least one picture of a film star or film still that could act as inspiration.

This took a lot of work, but because we were feeling so inspired by the idea that we were actually doing the thing we dreamed about and getting one step closer to opening a store, it didn’t feel so much like work. Never underestimate the power of your own inspiration to help you get things done.

Photographing Our Inventory

We decided to take pictures of our inventory pieces one at a time, and then to list them on Instagram as we took them, to help us stick to a consistent posting schedule, and to make sure there was always dynamic content on the “gram.

But I really wouldn’t recommend this. Even though there are two of us, if one of us got sick, or too busy (this is a side project, after all!) we found that things would slow to a crawl and our posts would become inconsistent.

If I had to do it again, I would definitely recommend taking bulk photos of your entire inventory catalogue all at once, and then listing them in big chunks onto an actual website for selling (but of course, more on that soon).

No matter what your strategy is, think within your budget. Take the best pictures you can for this stage in opening your store, keeping in mind that things like inventory photos can be changed as your equipment gets upgraded.

I think the most important part of selling online is getting your store set-up and ready for people to see and buy from. This has to include photos of your items. If for now, that means photos on a decently nice iPhone camera in front of a curtain you put up yourself, that’s okay!

It’s a worse idea to put your entire project on hold until you can splurge on professional photography, and along the way lose steam and have your project grind to a halt.

In other words, always approach setting up your ecommerce business in a way that keeps you moving forward. That’s what we’re doing, and so far, it’s working out pretty well. Stay tuned for the next installment, where I tackle the self-appointed task of starting a shoppable website to finally get our products up and available for purchase. It should be fun, and with Ecwid as my ecommerce platform, relatively painless.

Check out even more photography tips (and how to avoid some common mistakes) on our blog.

Key Takeaways from Today

Things to consider at this stage:

  • Niche/Vertical: where will your brand live in the big wide-world of already exciting brands selling things.
  • Inventory: how many products are you going to sell at first? What will you name those?
  • Images: products need images of them in order to sell. Make them high quality, dynamic, etc etc.

Bonus Tips

Communication Is Key

If you have a business partner like I do, it’s important to be on the same page. Our weekly meetings have become lifesavers in making sure we can sync up on all sorts of business related ideas, and carving out time to actually make them happen.

But even if you are a one person show, communication is important. In your case it might look a bit more like staying organized: writing things down, making lists, checking things off as you go, and being clear as to what you need to get done and when.

Inventory Can be a Fickle Friend

The key is planning. How many items you have to sell dictates how much time you need to spend researching them, naming them, photographing them, pricing them, etc. Inventory is awesome because it is the heart of your store. But make sure to have a thorough understanding of the research and work that needs to be done before you dive in blind.

Coming Up Next

Next article, we’ll get into perhaps the most exciting piece of the puzzle…opening a storefront with Ecwid.

Worried you’ll miss our next installment? Be sure to sign-up for our newsletter so you won’t miss a thing!

Also in the series:

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About the author

Nicole is a writer and Content Marketing Manager at Ecwid. As newcomer to e-commerce, it’s her goal to provide informative and user friendly articles that are accessible to all stripes of sellers. She is based in Southern California, the perfect place to chase the sun and watch old movies.

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