How to build profitable eCommerce business with less than $500: Chris Gronkowski

26 November 2017 2253

The sport interest is a great quality for a business manager to have. The spirit of the competition enforces the desire to be the first among the competitors on the market.


Hero of this article - Chris Gronkowski, has a former prominent career in NFL. When he and his wife decided to start their own eCommerce business on Etsy, it was either everything or nothing. Chris’s only option was to achieve success by any means possible. Eventually, he is currently known as a founder of two profitable eCommerce projects.

The couple’s first project - Everything Decorated has grown to be a prominent online personalized gift store in the USA. Chris’s second project is Ice Shaker -  an innovative insulated shaker bottle with an ability to hold ice for over 30 hours.


The Story

Being a successful sportsman, Chris used to play for four different football teams and every year he had to move to be able to play for each team. His present wife - fiancé at the time, was not satisfied with such situation.


“She got sick and tired of finding a new job after moving every single year.” - says Chris. “Eventually she had to find a way to work from home. She started hand painting wine glasses. It took a little while before they started selling but they did and I saw the potential there. I encouraged her to find a way to scale the business.”

Chris saw huge potential in the personalization of gifts, especially for the wedding market. The next steps were to find out what kinds of gifts people wanted to purchase the most and to indicate a way to get the couple’s name out there.


“We did a lot of research to find the most relevant and profitable options.” - tells our hero. “After that, we started looking for the product sources and suppliers. We started with wholesalers in the US and after some momentum was gained, we actually had to source our own production because our best suppliers kept running out of items.”


Another huge step that eventually put the entrepreneurs on the map was trying to find a way to become the first result in all organic searches. They started the initial business on the Etsy marketplace where they had to find a way to get on the front page.


“We put a lot of time and a lot of research into finding out who was on the front page and why, we had to get in front of them.” - Chris tells. “At that point we realized how big this really can get so I took a lot of my money earned playing in the NFL and we invested into commercial-grade laser engravers.”

The first investment was less than $500.

The products were manufactured by Chris’s wife personally while he was building a website. Eventually, it took about two days to make the first sale and from there on out, Chris and his wife took up a part of the successful eCommerce owners.


According to Chris, it was not that hard competing with other handmade goods shops on Etsy. The only competitors there were had higher prices and products of lower quality.

The Business Growth

While the couple were maintaining the production, the business’s growth was so rapid that they had to expand the working space.


“We started on my kitchen table and ended up taking over my wife's dad's house.” - says our hero. “Eventually, we went and got a big house. It was our second year of business management and we were running out of spare bedrooms and using a three-car garage for our storage. That lasted for about another year. Currently, we're still looking for more storage. We're just continuously looking for new ideas and new ways to grow.”

The business initially was launched on an Etsy marketplace.

Chris recommends all the entrepreneurs just starting out to take a chance and start with a side marketplace, like Etsy or Amazon.

“It's great to start from the marketplace.” - our hero notices. “If you're brand new, you want to see if your product is going to sell. If it's not going to sell on a marketplace, it's never going to sell. That's a great way to see if something is going to be legit.”


However, he also recommends to not spend too much time on the marketplaces and start looking for one’s own customer base when the business proves to be profitable enough.

“Working with the marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon, you sell your products to their customers.”

“You don't get the contacts, you don't build your brand with them. They're loyal to Etsy only. You need to start branching off on your own when you are sure that your business is desired by people.”


A question appears - wouldn’t it be easier to move the acquired loyal customer base from Etsy or Amazon to the new independent solution?


“You cannot direct your customers to your website - that's against Etsy policies.” - our hero notices. “You can't email them and it's pretty much the downfall of using a marketplace.”


The Technical & Marketing Sides

Initially, Chris’s eCommerce ran on WordPress and WooCommerce but the backend proved to be a difficult moment. Also, handling emails and customer flows was a complicated process. Eventually, Chris decided to move to Shopify.

“We integrated the Shopify and it's pretty much an all-in-one solution.”

“You don't have to go and find your own host, you can create and ship right off the back end of the website which saves us a huge amount of time because we're shipping so many items.”


If we are talking about advertising and how it can help a business, according to Chris, it is indeed an option.

“You can absolutely use ads on Etsy to boost your sales.” - notices Chris. “If you're the first one being seen on the sidebar, you're most likely going to be clicked. So it is definitely a way to get out there and be noticed.”


Still, in terms of Chris’s business, the organic traffic is primary. His business tends to be trusted by the customers and has over 17,000 five-star reviews.

Affiliate marketing

Chris told us a bit about the influencer marketing aspect and how he employs it.


“My brother's a celebrity football player. He helps me out a lot with Ice Shaker promotion.” - Tells Chris. “Influencers really help to build customer trust. A celebrity like that is definitely pushing you way further then you can get on your own.”


Did you know that there are 6,000 weddings a day conducted in the United States?  An entrepreneur says that the wedding industry is the biggest source of clients for his business.  

“If we pick up just a couple of weddings a day, it's not just one gift we sell.” - our hero tells. “It's a gift for the bride, the groom, for the fathers, the mothers, all the bridesmaids, all the groomsmen. Just by getting one wedding we're able to capitalize on multiple gifts.” 

The Lesson

Chris’s belief was that a perfect founder must put all his spare time into a business offspring. He just had to thoroughly know each aspect of his thing and that required much dedicated time.


What's more, it's important for Chris to share his experience and inspire others. Here are some life & business lessons that you should defenitely check if you are planning your own business.


Among many lessons learned from personal experience, Chris points out that it is important to trust and work with other people. He notes, however, that when it comes to your own thing, it can be very hard to trust its management to an employee.

“I was working 80 hours a week running every aspect of the business.”

“It got to the point where I just didn't trust other people to do as good of a job as I could do.” - says Chris. “But I was getting so worn down. We hired our first person and it was a relief, but I literally couldn't stop watching over her shoulder. It just came to the point where I had to trust other people in the aspects which occupied my whole day.”  


The first thing Chris started letting other people do is fulfilling and processing the orders. He also, gradually, hired people that do SEO for his website, accounting and other things.


The customer reviews are very important for Chris and he reaches out to people personally to get feedback. His ultimate goal is to always satisfy the customer, provide them with refunds and repeated shipments if necessary.   

The Current Success & How it was Achieved

Chris and his wife actually have an offline establishment in their city of Texas. However, the business owner reckons that an online solution is much more accessible and therefore pays more attention to it.


“It can take people a good thirty minutes to an hour to decide what font they want, what color they want and what actual item they want and so on.” - our hero notices. “It's a lot easier and less time-consuming to do it online. We actually really encourage people to purchase online instead.”


It is no secret that there is a certain tendency among some people to get the presents at the last moment. Chris has detected this tendency and turned it into a benefit.

“Most companies have a week turnaround or so, the best I saw out there was about five days.” - says Chris. “We were offering three to five days initially but then I said, "Hey, what if we can turn around these products within 24 hours, how much more customers can we pick up?". That's when we really started getting a lot of business.”


“With such model, we're also able to charge a little bit more for Express fee, to get it out the same day, and so we're making more money and we're getting more customers at the same time.”


Chris’s company used to use basic packaging, but soon, the owner and his team realized that the presentation of the product can bring significant benefits. In such manner, they started putting stickers on boxes and decorate them in various ways. Also, each of their products comes in a traditionally wrapped up gift box.

The Second Project

Our hero did not intend to stop on the achieved and wanted to grow as a business owner, so he launched another project - the Ice Shaker.

“We realized that there was this market for shaker bottles out there that we could also tap into providing personalized and custom shakers.” - tells Chris. “We did, I launched the company about seven months ago and I really think it's going to take off to the next level.”


His own experience inspired the businessman to come up with an idea for a very practical encapsulated shaker bottle that would hold ice for over 30 hours.


“Here in Texas it can be over a hundred degrees in the summer.” - Chris notes.


“I get to the gym, my water would get warm. Finally I said, "Hey I want an insulated bottle". I looked everywhere and I couldn't find one. At that point I said, "Hey, we have the contacts already, we're importing products, why don't we go ahead and make the best insulated shaker bottle that we can?". That's how 'Ice Shaker' was born.”

With Ice Shaker, Chris went straight for Shopify and built a dedicated website for the bottles from the get-go. He placed the product on Amazon page as well however.

Current Situation

Currently, our hero’s routine starts with the traditional visit to gym and continues with daily responsibilities of a business owner.


“We’re working all the time.” - says Chris. “We're constantly making new videos, new content. I’m still making sure the orders are being fulfilled properly and everyone's happy, answering emails, answering wholesale requests. We are also just trying to get as much press and people to talk about the product as possible.”


For everyone out there wishing to start an entrepreneurial career - here are the ultimate first three steps to successfully start a business on Etsy as told by Chris Gronkowski:

  1. Find the product that will sell
  2. Adjust the supplement and shipment
  3. Provide the products pictures of the highest quality


If you put enough effort and dedicate yourself to it you will be able to take on any competition you wish. Your limits always depend on your decisions. Or as best told by Chris - “I always liked that one quote - go big, or go home.”

“You can go wrong sometimes, but you just got to be ready to bounce back and strike back.”

Chris Gronkowski took his sports attitude and conquered once another sphere and ultimately, took place among the leading competitors.


We hope that this interview inspires you to take on the greatest heights and motivates you to go far! Everyone is able to reach success by really committing to it.

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