Founder Series – Ashley Johnson of Mohala Eyewear

ashley johnson interview mohala eyewear

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Starting an eCommerce business may seem like a pretty straightforward thing but in reality, it is anything but. There are so many things and running processes that can start to pile up as your business starts taking off. The end goal of an e-commerce business is never to achieve a certain number of sales, the end goal is to scale up and work on growth each and every year. 

There are many e-commerce businesses that we can take lessons from and one such business is Mohala Eyewear

Mohala Eyewear is a Hawaii-based eyewear brand that provides sunglasses for every woman. They also have an amazing giveback program that focuses on funding education for girls around Hawaii. 

ashley johnson mohala eyewear
Image © Ashley Johnson Mohala Eyewear

The founder of this e-commerce business is Ashley Johnson who wanted to design sunglasses for every face shape to encourage inclusivity in fashion. She also wanted to use her platform to empower girls through education which she does for every pair of sunglasses that is sold. Giving back is one of the most common habits among successful people and it motivates Ashley to do even better with Mohala Eyewear. 

As part of my founder series, I talked to Ashley about how she started Mohala Eyewear and the lessons she learned along the way. Mohala Eyewear started in December 2017 and her revenue has now consistently started hitting the 6-figure mark now. Not all of the things that worked for Ashley may work for you but the core lessons she has learned will definitely give you unique insights into what it takes to start and run a successful e-commerce business. I had a lot of fun talking to Ashley and I hope you enjoy and learn just as much as I did. 

Hindrances in Growth

Ask any successful e-commerce business owner out there and they will tell you how they had to work hard at the start to not be stuck in the same sales cycle and what lessons they learned from that. For Ashley one of the things that, in her opinion, hindered her growth the most was her limited knowledge of e-commerce. She was on her own trying to figure out how to get sales and how to keep growing them and she realized pretty early on that you can’t just build an e-commerce business and wait for the sales to come. 

Once Ashley accepted that she can’t do everything herself, she reached out to us at Karizma Marketing to help her with her e-commerce business. Quickly, she learned there was a lot that she didn’t even know what she didn’t know. That sounds confusing but your power to do things is limited to the knowledge you have and Ashley didn’t have a background in marketing or e-commerce which means she needed help with getting her business off the ground and gaining more and more sales each year. 

There are so many tools that can help e-commerce business owners and Ashley credits the introduction of Klaviyo and Privy as the two tools that helped Mohala Eyewear initially the most. Through Klaviyo Ashley was able to set up email marketing flows for her business which helped her grab the low-hanging fruit. With Privy email opt-ins became easy and Mohala Eyewear started building its email lists. Email marketing is one of those tools that can help an e-commerce business so much and it doesn’t require a lot of investment either.

Focus on Email Marketing

Many e-commerce businesses don’t realize the power of email marketing and how it can help them increase their sales and revenues. It is a pretty underutilized tool and Ashley agrees with that notion. Ashley was using Mailchimp when she came to us which we decided to change ASAP. We have all our clients switch to Klaviyo for email marketing and Ashley says that is something that helped her the most.

Ashley learned how to launch new products and market them better to her customers with the mailing lists that we built for her. According to Ashley, email flows helped her a lot when she lost most of her wholesale orders due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Her email revenue was barely anything and now, her email revenue is about 35-40% which is a considerable growth for Mohala Eyewear.

Email marketing is a great way to engage your customers and it also helps you create an ongoing automated marketing channel that brings in revenue without active interference. Ashley accepts that she didn’t understand how e-commerce and its tools could work but that asking for help is always a good idea. You don’t have to do everything by yourself and having someone on board who understands how the e-commerce space works is a great thing that you can do for your business. 

Daily Habits

Daily habits help form routines that can help you get the most out of your day. Contrary to the belief of the past, working yourself into the ground is not going to help you succeed or make your business a success overnight. You need to take care of yourself and only then will you be able to bring out your best self when it comes to your business. I believe that the Law of Attraction plays into this because if you are abundant in your self-care, you will attract abundance in every aspect of your life. 

Ashley believes in having daily habits that help her stay on top of her game. She likes to make sure she has had a full eight hours of sleep, that she is meditating every day and exercising four times a week. One of the things that help her recharge the most is spending time with her husband and her loved ones. She keeps track of her daily habits with a percentage tracker and depending on percentages at the end of the day, she can feel the difference in how she was able to handle her personal and professional matters. 

Ashley believes that these daily habits help her not burn out which means she can give her full attention to Mohala Eyewear every day. Rewarding herself when she hits her percentages, as recommended by her therapist, is something that Ashley believes helps her a lot. Focusing on self-care is new to Ashley since she learned to push herself when she was working two jobs. But, she now understands how being her optimal self can help her be the best for Mohala Eyewear. 

Burning out while working on your e-commerce business is not great for your personal life or your professional life. You need to understand cues of when you are heading towards a burn-out and incorporate routines and habits that help you stay fresh and alert at all times. Owning an e-commerce business is a lot of work and when you’re at the top of your game, it becomes a whole lot easier. 

The Game Changer

Image © Mohala Eyewear

In life, and in business, there are decisions that one makes that can be described as game-changers. These decisions can be centered on small things or it can be one big thing that makes a difference and helps you increase the revenue of your business and gain a much bigger portion of your target market. 

For Ashley, the game changer for Mohala Eyewear was the website overhaul that they did. With the new website, Mohala Eyewear was able to almost double its revenue in the pandemic year. Through this overhaul, Ashley realized that she didn’t understand how websites can help get your story out to the customers, and now she was able to explain to potential customers what the motivation behind Mohala Eyewear was and how their hero product, the nose bridges, can help customers find the perfect fit. 

It wasn’t something that was done in a short amount of time, Ashley actually went through two rounds of website overhauls but that ultimately helped her sales and conversion much more than she could have imagined. When she started working with us here at Karizma Marketing, we introduced her to Rita Fox. Rita is an amazing web designer who helped Ashley with her Mohala Eyewear website and focused on Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO).

Rita helped simplify the checkout and browsing process for Mohala Eyewear which led to more conversions than before. She also made the website much more aesthetically pleasing which helped elevate the Mohala Eyewear brand. Through the changes that Rita made to the web design, Ashley was able to get Mohala Eyewear into popular magazines such as InStyle, PopSugar, and StyleCaster. It became easier to pitch her business to magazines and for them to pick her which Ashley describes as great soft benefits to having her website redesigned. 

Rita didn’t only help Ashley with her website but also rebranded her whole business. She created different fonts and colors for Mohala Eyewear which helped give it a whole new look. Rita will also provide you with the PSD files that you can use to keep a consistent brand image which leads to a much better conversion rate for both your ads and your website.

As a business owner, you can invest in digital marketing all you want but having a high-converting website is where you will make your mark. Potential customers coming from different marketing channels need to come to a landing page that converts them to actual customers because otherwise, you’ll end up wasting your investment. The difference between a web designer and a web developer is something that a lot of business owners, like Ashley, don’t realize. 

Calculated Risks

Something that stands true in business is the fact that you occasionally need to take risks. Bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. Some business owners take risks based on their hunches but some will take risks based on what trends they are seeing in the market and how they can see a potential for the risk paying off in the future.

try before you buy sunglasses brand
Image © Mohala Eyewear - Try Before You Buy

According to Ashley, one of the best things that she did for Mahalo Eyewear was the ‘Try before you buy’ marketing initiative that she started. Primarily in the fashion industry, one of the things that brick and mortar stores have going for them is that customers can try things on before investing in them. That is where a lot of e-commerce businesses can miss out on customers which is a high paint point for the owners.  

Ashley started looking for programs that could help her cater to this and found nothing that could assist her. She tried looking for different applications in the e-commerce space and even looked to Shopify to see if they had anything that was along these lines, but alas! Finally, she found an app that launched during the pandemic and even did their fundraising in the pandemic year. BlackCart intended to allow customers to order 3 pairs of sunglasses for $10 and try them on. They could then pay for the ones that they wanted to keep and send the other backs. 

Apps like these will definitely be the future of e-commerce as it allows customers to take out the last bit of ambiguity that they might have. Going forward customers will start looking for services like these from e-commerce brands. This is precisely why Amazon, StitchFix, and many others have already started investing in try before you buy services. 

Once Ashley started offering this service, her sales and revenue started increasing. Some months, 50% of her revenue came from this initiative and she believes that this will be a core part of her business moving forward. BlackCart was in its initial round of funding when Ashley decided to invest in it to help Mohala Eyewear in the long run and it is a calculated risk that she is very proud of. Mohala Eyewear was one of the first brands that offered this service in Hawaii. It is a risk that paid off for her and was made even better once the Pandemic hit.

Calculated risks like this can help you grow your brand by leveraging press and marketing to show off the success. When you’ve been running your e-commerce business for a while, you start understanding what the needs of your customers are and any service or application that can help you make shopping easier for them is something you should definitely be looking at. Calculated risks almost always pay off and Ashley is a great example of that. 

6-Figure Challenges

Image © Mohala Eyewear

Whenever businesses scale up in their growth and revenue, the nature of the issues they face will also change. When your business is making 5-figures per month, you may have a different set of challenges that need to be tackled every day but with 6-figures per month, you will have a lot more issues that show up and some that might just go away completely. 

For Ashley, before Mahalo Eyewear started hitting the 6-figure sales mark, she was the one who was packing and shipping all the orders. Doing this at her own home, she has limited space for her inventory and could only get a few orders out the door at a time. This led to her focus shifting from the growth of her brand to the running processes. 

Now that her business has steadily grown into a 6-figure sales business, she has hired more staff and has an office space as well. She has someone taking care of the inventory she has and fulfilling all of her orders. This has enabled her to focus on the growth, marketing, and design of Mohala Eyewear, something she couldn’t do before. 

Apart from focusing on growth and marketing, Ashley has also been able to learn a lot more about the e-commerce space. A lot of business owners at the start wear all the hats which means they will be so busy working in the brand that they won’t have time to focus on other aspects of the business which can lead to faster growth. Ashley has learned her lesson and now can focus on the larger growth of her business rather than being focused on the day-to-day processes.

First Year as an E-Commerce Business Owner

If you’re starting out on your e-commerce business journey, advice from established business owners can be a gold mine. It can help you understand the problems you may face at the start and where you should be investing your limited resources to get the maximum return. It can also just open your eyes to the world of e-commerce and how each type of business will bring its own unique challenges. Some can be tackled head-on while some you may just need to ride through and get to the other side. 

When Ashley started Mohala Eyewear in 2017, she had a limited budget. She spent most of it on Public Relations which helped her interact with her customers but also didn’t have a lot of return on investment. According to her, she now knows that she would have been better off spending money on the e-commerce side of things like website design and email marketing. 

Ashley doesn’t regret spending money on PR as it did help her come up with the hero product of Mohala Eyewear which is the Universal Nose Bridge Sunglasses Design, but she does wish she had understood the concept of return on investment and invested smartly in her website as well. A lot of new business owners make this mistake and the way to fix this is to see where you will get the most return for the time, effort, and money that you are putting in. 

Even when your brand is established, you should be talking to your customers. The insights you gain can help you understand the high pain points and cater to them through your products and services. When I started my own e-commerce business in 2007, I was told by many people to focus on local boutiques instead of e-commerce. It seemed easier but required a lot more work that may not have given me a good return. I focused on e-commerce and it enabled me to keep getting in orders even while I slept. I chose to invest in something I knew would bring me a good return and that is why new e-commerce business owners need to understand the concept of return on investment.

Big Moment

ashley johnson mohala eyewear launch
Image © Ashley Johnson

Along the road to the success of any business, there is always a big moment that shows the business owners that they are doing something right. For Ashley, this big moment came when Mohala Eyewear started hitting $20,000 sales from e-commerce monthly after she partnered with us at Karizma Marketing.

The marketing initiative that led to this big moment was a mother’s day sale and Ashley says that what helped make it so successful was the fact that there was a marketing plan in place that helped promote this sale. Before Ashley had no marketing plans in place to promote her sales and the difference was very evident. While promoting the mother’s day sale was a lot of work, the results left Ashle feeling very grateful and proud.  

When your e-commerce sales start hitting big numbers, you may be wondering how you can reinvest that revenue to help your business grow. For Ashley, she reinvested this money into email marketing and making sure her website was the best that it could be. Ashley quickly understood that for email marketing to give your optimum results, you need to have good flows set up and a solid segmentation strategy in place. You also need to be able to understand the analytics and numbers that are coming in so you can make decisions going forward. 

Whenever you hit your big moments in your e-commerce business, you should always look to reinvesting to make sure your growth curve keeps moving up. We have so many clients at Karizma Marketing who have reported revenues that are about 30 to 60 times compared to the investment that they’ve put in through Klaviyo. No other channel can give you this kind of ROI and that is why it is important to reinvest for your business in the correct channels. Smaller businesses can start off with email marketing before they start investing in other channels and that is what worked for Ashley at the start as well.

Lessons Learned

When you’re working on your e-commerce business yourself and wearing all the hats at the start, you are bound to make some mistakes that can become lessons learned later on. When I asked Ashley about this, she instantly went back to when she struggled with updating and keeping track of her inventory. This is a problem that many e-commerce business owners have at the start so Ashley wasn’t the only one. 

When Ashley started Mohala Eyewear she didn’t allocate time to look at her inventory and failed at staying on top of the amount of stock she had. By running out of her hero product she learned how crucial it is to inventory check-ins every week to make sure you always have stock. Checking in with your inventory also gives you insight into how well some products may be selling and which products you need to be pushing through to your customers. 

Now, Ashley knows that she needs to stay on top of her inventory and keep in mind the lead times for different products that she needs to order. Mohala Eyewear was without its adjustable nose bridge for almost a year due to the pandemic creating supply issues globally. You can always give the customers an option to go on the waitlist but if the waiting time is too long, you end up losing money. That is exactly what happened to Ashley. 

Many e-commerce clients that we have been stuck in the mindset where they don’t believe that their products will sell out. With all the marketing plans and email flows you have in place, you are bound to have more sales and you should be staying on top of your inventory. Ensuring you have enough of your top-selling products and not too much of your slow-selling products is the key to making sure your inventory troubles are gone.

Recreational Resources

At the end of this wonderful interview, I wanted to ask Ashley what resources she found helpful. These resources can be things that helped with her personal life or with her professional life. Having resources can help you not only understand different aspects of your own business but can also get your creative juices flowing which in turn can lead to growth.  

One of the first resources Ashley invested in was the B-School Program by Marie Forleo. This program helped her understand the basics of digital marketing and the overall e-commerce space. With this course, Ashley was able to understand the inner workings of Mohala Eyewear and come up with different marketing initiatives to increase sales and revenue.  It also helped her understand the results and analytics much better and overall just gave her the knowledge that she needed as an e-commerce business owner. 

A podcast that Ashley loves listening to is “How I Built This” by Guy Raz. It is hosted on NPR and Ashley loves it because they talk to entrepreneurs from all walks of life and at different stages of success. It helped her gain insight into how hard work pays off and how every journey is different. It inspires her to do better for Mohala Eyewear and motivates her with her giving back program as well. 

Mohala Eyewear and Ashley have been on a journey of learning and growth in the past few years. Ashley realized when she needed help with her marketing channels and her website and reached out for help. Through the process, she learned more and more about how to run a successful e-commerce business and how to correct any mistakes that she may have made at the start.

Image © Mohala Eyewear - Room To Read Mission

As the business has grown, Mohala Eyewear’s give-back campaign has continued to empower girls around Hawaii through education. For every pair that is sold, they fund a week of school at Room to Read Girl’s Education. In just three and half years, Mohala Eyewear has donated 65 years of education for girls around the country, which is something that Ashley is very proud of.  

Ashley also loves to write blog posts that focus on empowerment and different female leaders around Hawaii. She loves talking to people that have built successful businesses and learning how they empower others through their success. It was a pleasure for me to talk to Ashley and learn about Mohala Eyewear’s journey from a 5-figure business to a 6-figure business. I hope the insights in this post help you with your e-commerce journey and inspire you to always keep learning and evolving. 

You can order your very own eyewear at www.mohalaeyewear.com

You can also check out their Instagram page for some fun inspiration at @mohalaeyewear

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