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Cookbook Village – how an Ebay listing led to a thriving business

We interviewed Wendy Guerin, of Cookbook Village, to discuss how she and her husband sell vintage cookbooks online.

What’s your name, your background and what business do you run?

I’m Wendy Guerin and I’m the cofounder of Cookbook Village. I’ve launched brands and online channels for industry leaders including Fujitsu, Princess Cruises, and Learning A-Z. I’m originally from Los Angeles, but I’ve marketed software in The Netherlands for several years and I met my husband Ruben there.

In addition to helping Ruben run Cookbook Village, I also help manage the digital marketing and e-commerce channel of an education technology company in Arizona.

How did you come up with the idea?

I collected cookbooks and had built up a sizable collection over the years. In 2005 or so, Ruben went to visit family in Holland six weeks. I got bored and eBay was a big thing. I was a marketer and had the bug to sell online. I listed some of my cookbooks on eBay and they sold almost overnight. I got a bit addicted to it and by the end of his trip had listed my entire collection.

I racked up about $2500 in a couple weeks. There was no turning back.

From there, things evolved and Cookbook Village started on eBay under a different name. We soon grew and Ruben joined me in selling. We launched our Shopify site in 2011 after establishing it on eBay. I work full-time as a corporate marketing director, and Ruben took on the business full-time. I do all his marketing.

“I listed some of my cookbooks on eBay and they sold almost overnight…I racked up about $2,500 in a couple weeks. There was no turning back.”

Is there anything in your past that led to opening the business?

Being a cookbook collector combined with a professional marketing career organically led to the opening of the ecommerce cookbook business. 

What was the process of designing, manufacturing and bringing your first product or service to market?

Most Shopify ecommerce stores deal with new goods…many use dropshipping models, sell clothing or similar retail items, or manufacture a new product(s). We have one of the few used and collectables models businesses on Shopify. Our inventory is all used and out-of-print cookbooks, a truly niche market. We attract cookbook collectors, professional chefs, and home cooks.

Describe the process of launching the business and any issues you had at the beginning

Shopify is an amazing platform. We love it, but it isn’t well-suited to used and collectables stores. We had to do a lot of customizations to our Shopify theme to be able to support things like Google’s shopping feed, listing a high volume of unique products, and to enable better content marketing through a store blog. We were an early Shopify customer and many marketing tools were lacking in the platform at that time. 

What strategies or marketing channels do you most rely on?

We used to be a very active search marketing advertiser, but since moved to more email marketing. We found social media led us to a lot of likes, pins, and fans, but limited sales or inbound traffic. Organic traffic from content marketing / blogging and email marketing are what we find works well with our market. 

What platform, tools or software do you use for your business?

We use Shopify, Photoshop, Mailchimp, OCR software, social networks, search engines, and QuickBooks.

(Editor – if you’re looking for more great Ecommerce resources, then check this out)

What does the next 12 months look like for your business, and for yourself, professionally?

While many ecommerce businesses set out to grow into full bloomed companies with staff, we really wanted to find a good business for my husband. He was a geological draftsman at Shell in The Netherlands, but had a rough time mirroring that role here in the U.S. when we moved to Los Angeles from Amsterdam.

The cookbook site was a perfect fit, leaving him time to pursue his love of graphic design and art. He sells paintings and custom t-shirt designs online, as well.

“we really wanted to find a good business for my husband. The cookbook site was a perfect fit, leaving him time to pursue his love of graphic design and art.”

What have you learned through this process that you didn’t know or think was important beforehand?

We wasted a lot of money investing in search advertising…because it always worked for me in my professional roles as a marketer. We did profit from it, but learned over time that some other channels were a better investment and attract the right audience for us…buyers.

The challenge is people search for that one rare cookbook…often a needle in a haystack. The likelihood we carry it is slim. Media like email newsletters allow us to share some of the unique cookbooks we do have in stock vs what we don’t carry…more push- than pull marketing.

What do you wish you knew before starting?

I only wish we had started the business on Shopify sooner. We stayed on eBay too long for lack of seeing a good alternative at the time.

We thought we needed a huge investment to move to our own site. We were wrong, as platforms like Shopify, crowdfunding platforms, and a wide-open online marketing arena, allow anyone entrepreneurial or passionate about their hobby or product vision to turn it into a business online without a corporate-sized budget. 

What resources would you recommend for others looking to start a business?

I love sites like Udemy. I have followed several classes on there to learn more about coding. I did the site design from a Theme and customized it to my liking. I had all kinds of customizations I wanted done and hired a coder for some of them, but learned how to do some of it in my own by following classes online.

I also enjoy Shopify’s blog and newsletter. Both put out some excellent articles. YouTube is a great resource for following tutorials of how-tos for ecommerce sites and for online marketing approaches. Lastly, I recommend becoming certified in Google Analytics. It is such a valuable tool for understanding your business…and for marketing it. They have more to offer than just their paid advertising offering.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own ecommerce business?

I always talk about the importance of not chasing that magic bullet for marketing a business. New social media paid marketing programs crop up constantly…but many are hyped by the people that make them, offer them, or monetize from them.

Look beyond the loudest trends. Sometimes the best channels for selling are old school…great customer service and online reputation, blogging, email marketing (it definitely isn’t dead) and media coverage and outreach, along with a high converting interface can be just as productive, and may cost less.

I am not saying don’t advertise on Instagram or Pinterest…just that there are other options and they should be explored before you put all your money in higher cost programs.

“Sometimes the best channels for selling are old school…great customer service and online reputation”

Where can we go to learn more about you and your business?

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