By Benjamin Joe
Amy Shellman started her first business almost one month ago, but it’s not an ordinary store or restaurant. It’s called Sunsets and Souls Boutique, and while it’s located in North Tonawanda, it won’t be found on Payne Avenue or Oliver Street. A good place to look though might be the local library’s computers.
Shellman’s business is an online-boutique (www.sunsetsandsouls.com) where she utilizes her social media savvy to sell clothes through her website and Facebook page. According to the Census Bureau, 10.2% of total sales in the U.S. were online sales in the second quarter of 2019; thereby creating a $146.2 billion market for e-commerce that Shellman is now taking part in.
“I saw some other women using some of the same business models online, and I thought, ‘Well, I can do that,’ and I reached out to some of them for a little bit of advice,” Shellman said. “Other than that, I just kind of figured it out.”
Shellman said she became immersed in all the legalities of owning a business such as finding how to get a tax number, but also looked into how business structures work, which she considered the most difficult. After that, she found the wholesalers and was ready to start her online business.
“It wasn’t too difficult,” she said “It’s been doing better than I ever imagined, I’d say. I’ve been doing quadruple in sales than I was even expecting in the first month.”
Shellman is a native of WNY, growing up in Ransomville and going to Wilson for high school. Her family has been in the area for ages, she said, noting her grandmother taught at Niagara-Wheatfield and she, herself, goes to church in North Tonawanda.
“I’ve always been around the area,” she said.
“I’m a nurse, I’m full-time,” she laughed. “It’s a full-time job and this, it’s kind of nuts, but it’s fun. I’m an RN at Kenmore Mercy and before this I was actually a high school teacher at a bunch of different schools in the area. I taught at Buffalo schools for a year, I taught at the school that’s attached to Wyndham Lawn for a couple of years. I did some long-term subbing and it just wasn’t a good time for teaching and it really wasn’t what I wanted to do. So, it got to the point where I could keep working at a job that I didn’t like, or I could try do something else.
“I applied to and excelled at a nursing program on a whim, and I got into it, took all the prerequisites I needed within two weeks and then I did nursing school.”
Shellman described herself as the kind of person who is driven by will. She made up her mind, she said, and she just did it.
“Life is short,” she said laughing. “I definitely just jump in and do. I think that growing up, it was always (told to me) I could be whatever I wanted to be. … I just decided I could be everything I wanted.”
After getting all her priorities straight of what she needed to make a business, on or offline, Shellman added value to her endeavor; making shopping fun on a computer as much as it is walking into a favorite store.
“I do live streams on Monday,” she said. “Every Monday at 8:30 p.m. I just get online. I show the product, try on the clothes so you can kind of see it a little better than the picture online. They can see a little bit of how they fit, and how the fabric is.”
“It just becomes a little thing to do,” she said. “They can watch on Facebook and then we can interact on the comments, start a little community there, as well. The system that I use allows them to claim the products as I’m live. They’ll comment, ‘Sold,’ the color and the size and the number of the product and it pops it out to their cart.”
The platform that she uses to do this is called Commentsold, which runs her website and can connect to Facebook. This company was founded in 2017 and claims it can, “Convert social media comments into sales, automatically invoice shoppers, and manage all aspects of your business with the No. 1 comment selling platform and total e-commerce solution,” on its website.
“It does help me, a lot,” Shellman said. “It makes it easy, it’s definitely worth the money I spend to be on that platform … it can connect my products to Facebook, so, they can sell right through the comments.
“They’re making a mint off that program.”
Shellman likes to keep it local. She said her T-shirt designs are from a business in Cheektowaga called LG Designs, which is run by another woman entrepreneur. Her Facebook page can be found @lgdesign2.
“For me being small, right now, screen printing, I need a minimum order from her, because she has to buy the products to make the T-shirts,” she explained. “But she is allowing me at this point to put the things on the website and whatever orders I get from them, she makes at close to cost for me. … So, it’s cool because now people can support two local moms, working at full-time jobs and doing this on the side, at the same time.”
“It’s a fun thing to do on Monday nights,” Shellman said. “On Monday nights I go through all the stuff I have to offer and the people on the live show get first dibs. Then after the live show I load whatever’s less onto the website and then people can shop at their leisure.”