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Interview: Circle Square Diamond on Reddit, Giveaways, and Avoiding Society6

By Nora Inveiss on February 11th, 2016 - Reading time: 4 minutes

Website: CircleSquareDiamond.com
Store’s Age: 4 years
Platform: Shopify
Payment system: Shopify/PayPal

Do you live for the rush of conquering that new mountain? Being the first to hit the fresh powder, the rush of skiing down a vertical trail? Sean Douglass, the creator of Circle Square Diamond does. He believes every slope has a story, and if you’re a diehard ski fan, you probably agree.

“Shred the mountains and keep the lines” is his mantra – he turns slopes into art with minimalist, visually alluring designs.

What inspired you to launch this project?

About 4 ½ years ago, I was browsing Reddit and noticed a trend of people using trail maps of places they had skied as artwork for their homes. I spoke to my aunt about it (since she’s a huge skier) and she mentioned that she’d love to use trail maps as wall art, but she wouldn’t like how the the maps would look.

I decided to modernize and clean-up the trail maps for her and gifted her a map that year. She loved it suggested that I create and sell them for every ski resort. I sold a few here and there, but not too many – maybe 3 or 4 total in 2012/early 2013. I decided to show off a couple of works on Reddit and they loved them. So, I launched an online store in early 2013 and haven’t looked back.

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Biggest win so far?

Convincing my friends and family (particularly my fiancée) that I wasn’t crazy for drawing lines for hours a day!

On a serious note, launching a new product line. In October of 2015, I partnered with another artist to launch a new product line, the Periodic Table of Ski Resorts. It’s been a terrific success so far. We started with our Colorado print and just recently launched a California version of the print. This was the first time I collaborated with another artist to create something and I’m really happy with the result, especially since people are emailing me daily asking for other states/countries.

Biggest challenge?

There’s never just one big challenge, it’s always changing. Once you solve one problem, another one appears. However, the consistent challenge is getting the word out. This is something that I think a lot of stores struggle with. When I first launched the site in October 2014, traffic and sales were fantastic. However, after Christmas, traffic dropped like a rock.
Since then, I’ve refined a lot of the ways that I can get the message out. I still have challenges with social media. Getting people to finally “like” your page seems like an easy venture, but it’s actually incredibly difficult (shameless plug: Like us on Facebook!).

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What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had before you started?

I cannot stress this enough: avoid launching your brand on a site like Zazzle, Redbubble, Society6, etc. Etsy is great, but don’t use it either unless you have a fulfillment service (maintaining an inventory is harder than it looks). I launched my initial site on Society6 and still maintain a presence there, but I don’t actively maintain it.

There are a few reasons you should avoid them:

1. The profit margins are incredibly low. These sites advertise that you can “set your own prices” and “determine your own profit” but it’s somewhat of a lie. On those sites, I can set a price of $16 and get less than $2 in profit, or I can launch a site myself and get quadruple that (or more!).

2. They actively advertise other people’s products on your site. In some cases, these sites will have a “other people viewed X products” at the bottom of their sites. This pushes your customers away from your products, thus decreasing your sales potential. That’s a big problem. I want people to buy my product, not see a possible competitor’s product.

3. They maintain the data and control the user experience. This is probably the largest reason you should avoid these sites. You want to create an active mailing list on Society6? Good luck, because you don’t have customers, they have customers – you’re just providing the products. Customers complaining about the search function on the site or the way it’s organized? They control it all. It’s a massive negative no one thinks about.

What has been the most successful marketing tactic you’ve used to date?

Giveaways. People love free stuff. However, if they see hundreds of people entering a contest for something they want, they’ll likely just purchase the product because they know the odds in winning are low. In addition, if they enter and don’t win, they’ll purchase it anyway because they wanted it.

Even if you don’t see a lot of sales from a giveaway initially, that doesn’t reduce their potential. Prompt customers to give you an email address to enter. Once the contest is over, send them an email telling them they didn’t win, but give them a discount code as a thank you for entering. That’s really where the sales potential is. They’re interested in the product, now you just need to push them a little.

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Sean skiing back in the day.

Finally, what’s the one must-go-before-you-die slope you recommend to all the skiers out there reading this?

One slope? Oh man, that’s difficult. There’s hundreds of thousands of slopes. I’ll give you one slope and one resort:

Slope: Birds of Prey at Beaver Creek in Colorado, United States.

Birds of Prey was designed for the 1999 World Ski Championships and is now the site of the Audi Birds of Prey World Championships. If you’re an expert skier, it’s a fantastic run to go down. Similarly, if you’re not an expert, one of my favorite beginner runs is also at Beaver Creek. Cinch is a fun run that goes from the top of the mountain all the way down to the bottom.

Resort: Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada

This resort is personally on my “must-go-before-I-die” list. British Columbia in general has amazing snow. Whistler-Blackcomb is the most famous resort up there, but the lift lines can sometimes be up to an hour long. Revelstoke (Revy) is much less crowded, but boasts even better snow and better trails. Plus, the views are absolutely stunning.

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  1. A. T. Baron

    Good article; it is nice to see our creative folks succeed. I found the part about not launching on sites like Zazzle, Redbubble, Society6, etc. very interesting. I have been using Zazzle and CafePress for a couple of years. It was the only way, at the time, for me to sell my illustrations on shirts and mugs. Now, with Printful’s fulfillment services, I can sell on my own site.

    How should I transition out of those others and bring the customers to me?

    1. Julia Gifford

      Hey there, you seem to be doing a really good job with your store already! One of the biggest challenges with marketplace-style platforms like Zazzle and Society6 is that you don’t have ownership over your list of customers. If you can somehow extract your customers’ email addresses, then that would be the nr. 1 way to get people over to your independent platform. Otherwise, Facebook targeted ads would be a great way to attract otter lovers’ attention.

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