Dionna Dorsey is a creative director and strategist, graphic designer, and the woman behind the successful online store, District of Clothing. We first spoke with Dionna over a year ago, when she shared the story of how her side project started generating $29K a year.
Today District of Clothing is still a side hustle, yet Dionna says she’s trying to make it a more full-time project now. This time we sat down to chat about facing the challenges in her store’s growth, learning how to pivot along the way, and accepting that it’s OK to have slow periods in your business.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Speaking up about the challenges
Dionna starts our conversation by reflecting on the first few years of owning her store.
“The first year of having your shop up is exciting because everything is so new. The second year is full of challenges, but exhilarating because you’re past getting your feet wet, and people are really starting to buy into the brand – you see more conversions, and your audience is growing. And then comes year three, and you ask yourself, How do I keep the business growing?“
District of Clothing is turning four in November, and Dionna has no intention of slowing down.
“The business is absolutely growing. We’re focusing on building a community and a lifestyle brand that people want to be a part of. And it’s incredibly challenging.”
Dionna points out that many business owners and entrepreneurs share their success stories, but very few dare to speak out loud on the hardships of growing the business. She believes that being honest about facing challenges is something people should talk about more. In keeping with her philosophy, she openly shares the challenges that District of Clothing has encountered since the last time we spoke.
“In the last year our online sales slowed down, but we’re still getting lots of hits on our website. And so, I’ve been working on developing different ways to convert more of our visitors.”
Slowing down is part of the journey
After months of great sales, a couple of slow days or weeks might seem like the end of the world. But instead of giving in to panic, Dionna suggests taking an analytic approach to solving the problem. She believes that digging into your store’s data is the first thing you should do to understand your customers’ behavior better.
“Throughout the last three and a half years, I learned that holidays are definitely our top-selling time. November, December, and January are incredible for online sales for us. But in the summertime, May, June, and July, our visits are much lower and our conversions are usually right at or underneath 1%. But we typically sell really well in the [brick and mortar] stores during that time.”
According to Dionna:
“It depends on the season, and then it depends on the day, and it also depends on the time of the day. It’s just something that I’ve learned over time. I’ve been very focused on making sure that I’m taking notes and paying attention to our analytics. The numbers don’t lie and they’re typically the first and last pieces to the puzzle.”
She shares an example how following analytics helped significantly improve her store’s conversions.
“We were using Facebook ads to promote quite a few products. We were spending a lot of money, but we weren’t getting lots of hits in return, and our conversions were low. I started doing some research and realized that people were feeling overwhelmed with information, and consequently they weren’t on Facebook as much anymore. At least our demographic wasn’t. And so, instead of advertising on Facebook, I started publishing ads and more content on Instagram and LinkedIn. This helped to improve our conversions tremendously, and ultimately doubled our social audience.”
Dionna also mentions the significance of direct communication with customers via email, direct message and in-person contact.
“We now send thank you emails to each customer after every purchase. It provides direct contact with our community and lets them know just how grateful we are for each purchase.”
“Speak with your customers and ask what it is that they need or don’t need, what it is they’re lacking or looking for in your brand and product offering. The better you understand your customer, the better you can develop and nurture your brand for your customer.”
Furthermore, she notes how important it is that business owners and fellow creatives allow themselves to take a break.
“I also think it’s imperative to remember that it’s okay to step away from it all and to put the computer down for a day, perhaps even longer. Learn to breathe and press pause. Do something else for a moment, and then come back when you’re feeling refreshed and no longer overwhelmed, or overly stressed.”
Discovering new angles
Storytelling was and still is very important for District of Clothing. Dionna says that she’s constantly trying to find new angles to connect with customers and followers on a more personal and exciting level.
“Figuring out different ways to engage new customers while keeping existing ones satisfied is not easy because the content has to be both innovative and welcoming.”
“It’s typically the same concept/product that you’re telling a story about. For us, it’s our top selling, and the lynchpin to our brand, Dreamer-Doer t-shirt. The Doer tee provides ample opportunity to connect with our community through sharing inspiring, honest, and vulnerable stories about dreaming and doing. But it can also get a little bit mundane and monotonous. People don’t want to hear about the same thing over and over again. So we’re constantly working on new perspectives, and thinking where do we go in terms of content strategy, management, and development.”
Since our last conversation, District of Clothing has added quite a few exciting new products to the store. Some of them are directly connected with social movements that are taking the world by storm.
“There are a lot of things happening in the US right now, and we want to be a part of the conversation. We also want to inspire others to join the conversation, too!”
Dionna believes that “you can wear a statement that is reflective of your thoughts, and quite clearly share it with the world.” However, she also understands that introducing new products that are supportive of different social movements isn’t a task that should be taken lightly.
Dionna is happy that participating in controversial conversations not only encourages social awareness and peaceful resilience but also provides an accessible and welcoming community for people. From a business perspective, this also inspires trust in the brand.
“Now more than ever people know what District of Clothing is, and what we stand for. Today we have more than 8K followers on Instagram, but we know for sure there are more than 8,000 people aware of the brand and our community. Social media is a good start, but it doesn’t give you a full picture, so don’t let it gas you up or discourage you. Be sure to share the brand on a variety of diverse channels.”
Finding inspiration to keep going
Not every problem you encounter along the way of your business growth has a straightforward solution. Overcoming challenges often means trying something and failing numerous times until you find what works. The trial and error approach to problem-solving isn’t new to District of Clothing, either.
“It’s okay to try new things. But know that not everything is going to work. It’s OK to pivot, it’s OK to pivot again, you might have to pivot again from that point as well.”
But what if things you’ve tried so far haven’t worked? How do you keep going? Dionna answers with confidence:
“I think the main source of inspiration for me is the people in our community who believe in their dreams, and actually take action to make something happen. The people who are stepping out and taking risks. The people who are not afraid to fail or do something new or something different.”
“There are times when we go 3-4 days without a post [on social media] now. There are also times when our customers or followers send a message and ask Hey, I haven’t seen a post from you in a while, is everything OK? On those days, knowing that folks are looking to us for inspiration and checking in, well, it just fills me up and reminds me it’s important to keep going.”
Dionna knows from experience that it’s easy to get discouraged, but there are ways to get past it.
“Continue building your brand and engaging with your loyal customers – you will get there. It’s just a matter of celebrating the small victories, being OK with failing, and accepting those failures because you’re going to learn from them. Forget perfectionism, fail fast, and just keep moving forward.”
Connecting with your customers
Dionna believes that the customers are the heartbeat of any brand, so it’s important to do as much as you can to connect with them. Often it means having to be more vulnerable in front of your audience. For Dionna, this meant letting people know that there’s a person behind District of Clothing.
“I’m a very private person, so for the longest time I kept myself completely disassociated from [District of Clothing] publicly. But now I feel like I need to be a bit more visible, which is a challenge for me.”
“Since coming out of the shadows a bit, I’m asked to be present on panels and I have frequent speaking engagements. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to me. I literally feel sick every time just before I get on stage.”
When I asked Dionna to share her final words of wisdom for both new and current ecommerce business owners, she had an answer right away.
“Start thinking long-term. Time is going to go by quickly. Think long-term in terms of your content management and strategy. And remember, it’s not all about the product. Focus on the human factor. Your brand is ultimately for the people, so pay attention to them, and learn to pivot so that you could do something different and/or better next month, and next year.”
And for those who are still hesitant to start an ecommerce business, Dionna adds:
“If you have an idea, go for it. You don’t know who else is watching and how they might be encouraged to go for something, too. I firmly believe that we all have something significant to contribute.”