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In April 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in the US, Carlos Ugalde’s store hit an all-time high. House of Chingasos made more than $200,000.
He used his trademark combination of Latino culture and humor to lighten the mood about the situation and released new Covid-related designs.
“I wanted to sympathize with my audience because I hate this virus,” Ugalde says. “One of our most popular designs during this time was a 1980s-inspired concert t-shirt with parody band names like Miley Virus and the Coughspring.”
House of Chingasos launched in 2019 and partnered with Printful to print and fulfill its products. Carlos says he was thrilled with the service and quality Printful offered. However, when Printful facilities faced restrictions that caused a delay in production, and shipping times slowed, Carlos reached out to a friend with a small printing shop in California.
“I asked him if he could handle my order volume so I could catch up, and he said yes, so I actually left Printful for a while,” Carlos remembers.
Carlos was able to fulfill orders more quickly, but because the shop was smaller and had higher prices, the House of Chingasos lost money. During this time, Carlos stayed in contact with Printful’s customer support.
“I was impressed that even though I left, they were still willing to answer all of my questions and help me,” he says. “I knew I wanted to continue to work together once things were back to normal, so a few months later, I was able to come back.”
Carlos says he appreciated Printful’s customer service during the height of Covid-19 pandemic. He works hard to address his own customers’ concerns and understands the importance of keeping people happy.
Running House of Chingasos is now Carlos’s full-time job, and as his success continues, he’s considering outsourcing tasks to partners and employees, but says customer service is something he’ll keep doing himself.
“I get lots of happy emails from customers, but most people want to know where their order is, or they need to change their shipping address,” he says. “When you get hit with a lot of those on a daily basis, it’s draining.”
However, even during his most difficult customer service experiences, Carlos strives to remember that his customers are the ones writing his paycheck, and retaining them as repeat customers is important to him.
“It’s fun to share your sales numbers, but you have to remember that there are people behind them,” he recommends. “You better treat them right because you want them to come back.”
Carlos’s advice for providing great customer service is simple.
Carlos says he learned about customer service and business from his father who moved the family from Bolivia to California when Carlos was only eight months old.
Growing up in Southern California, Carlos watched his father, who had been a civil engineer in Bolivia, struggle to learn English and work low-paying jobs before harnessing his entrepreneurial spirit to create several businesses including an online marketing agency.
“I worked for his companies,” Carlos explains. “And he really inspired me to become my own boss. It’s really cool that I grew up seeing my dad doing that, and now I get to do it too.”
Carlos worked in graphic design and marketing for years. As he felt more confident in his design skills, he took a course about how to step into the ecommerce space and make money selling products. The process was trial and error, and his first store was for cat lovers.
“I don’t have a passion for cats, but I saw all these cat memes, so I thought I could jump on the bandwagon and sell products to the people who enjoyed them.”
When his first effort failed, Carlos decided to go back to his roots and create a Latino t-shirt brand. He connected to Printful through its Shopify integration and started selling on a small scale.
As soon as Carlos started using Facebook ads during his second month of business, his sales increased.
“I made about $35,000 in sales my first month,” he says. “My second month, with Facebook advertising, we made $54,000, and we’ve been successful since then. We’ve had some great months, and during the pandemic, I even had a $203,000 month.”
Before that, Carlos says he didn’t believe in Facebook advertising because he’d never purchased anything advertised to him there.
“But I realized that if you can interrupt someone’s day with something relevant and meaningful, they will buy it,” he says. “More importantly than that, they’ll tag their friends and share it.”
To test a new design, he creates a Facebook ad that runs for around two days. After that, if there’s no positive return on investment, he cancels the ad and doesn’t release the design.
“At the end of the day, your customers tell you what’s popular, not the other way around,” he says.
Carlos advertises to his Latino audiences but also uses lookalike audiences on Facebook.
“Those are very important,” he stresses. “And depending on the design, we’ll do interest targeting. It could be sports, food, or something else. If it’s successful, we continue to scale by adding more money to the budgets of the well-performing ads.”
“Last year I only had one holiday design that I wasn’t even going to advertise, but my sister convinced me to test it, and it went crazy. During the 2019 holiday season, the store made $103,000.”
This year, Carlos will release more holiday-specific designs and continue to invest in advertising and email marketing.
A strong brand image and voice are also important to House of Chingasos’s success. When Carlos thinks about his brand, he points back to his emphasis on customer service.
“Your brand is more than your logo,” he says. “It’s how you treat your customers.”
It’s also how you speak to them, and Carlos’s unique audience speaks in “Spanglish”—a combination of English and Spanish—so his designs utilize Spanglish as well, with both languages frequently featured. His inspiration comes from many places, but it all has a cultural twist.
“Starting out, I wanted to do more than the typical “tacos and tequila” designs that are out there,” he says.
These are the kinds of questions Carlos asks himself during the design-creation process:
Many House of Chingasos designs are humorous. Even the name, which translates to “house of fighting,” isn’t really about fighting or violence. Instead, it points back to a common childhood experience for Latinos of being reprimanded by their parents.
The original House of Chingasos design with a boxing skeleton is still popular with customers today.
Carlos advises other ecommerce store owners to make sure they are passionate about their niche and believe in what they’re doing.
“I think my cat store failed because I wasn’t passionate about cats,” he says. “But I know my community. I know their humor, how they talk, and what they like.”
Carlos believes that with enough passion and hard work, anyone can have a successful print-on-demand business, even without a completely original idea.“I’m not the only Latino brand out there. All you need is a piece of the pie,” he encourages. “I’m even friends with some of my competitors. So you don’t need to be the only person at the party, you just need to carve out a niche in the space. Anyone can do it.”
Caroline is a former journalist turned marketer. She is a content marketing specialist at Printful and is becoming increasingly obsessed with social proof.
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