Buffalo Made Co owner, Rob smiling with arms folded at the front of his retail store

How Shopify Helps One Retailer Breathe Life into His Hometown

Read Time: 7 min.

Shopify sets the stage for an apparel designer to reconnect the city he loves with its roots. See how the founder of Buffalo Made Co. manages inventory to achieve this mission.

Do you remember the rush you felt the first time one of your products sold online? Rob Hopkins, the founder of Buffalo Made Co., does. For him, that sale took place on Big Cartel back when you could only list five products at a time. From that moment on, Rob knew his vision of bringing high-quality, fashionable Buffalo pride products to the world could actually become a reality.

And when we say “world,” we mean it. This Buffalo, NY business owner is now not only shipping product beyond the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Rockies, but as far as Germany, too.

Now Rob is settling into his new brick-and-mortar as he expands his design collection and product offerings. What moves has he made in his e-commerce endeavors to get him where he is today? Besides his fresh designs and an intimate understanding of his market, he attributes much of his success to the Shopify platform.

Buffalo Made Co.'s Mission and Beginnings

The city of Buffalo, New York carries a reputation that's been painted in broad strokes. Hit hard by the Great Depression and in the bullseye of Lake Erie's monster snow systems, The Nickel City is seen by the rest of the country as a frigid has-been with laughable professional sports teams.

For this reason, Buffalonians often have a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. This unique city that was once a center of industry back when the Erie Canal was in its glory has a lot of history and architecture still worthy of admiration. Even before Buffalo saw the resurgence that came with the renovation of its waterfront, Buffalo was beloved by locals and expats alike.

Rob checking his phone in front of a rack of Buffalo Made Co t-shirts

Rob Hopkins was one such an expat, having moved from a Buffalo suburb to San Diego early in his design career. On his travels, he used to go into local apparel shops in big cities and admire the clever designs and quality goods. “Buffalo deserves that, too,” he thought.

Thus the concept for “Buffalo Made Co.” came to be. Rob's designs often tap into the nostalgia of Buffalo, whether they're highlighting old industrial companies and famous Buffalo bars that no longer exist – he presents them in a well-polished way that often take customers by surprise.

“A design that took 10 minutes to make 15 years ago started it all,” according to Rob. He successfully — and perhaps serendipitously — merged a nostalgic Buffalo icon with a fresh slogan that struck a chord with his audience in his Bethlehem Steel Tee. Since then, he's sold thousands of that design alone.

“Companies like Bethlehem Steel weren't even operational when we were growing up, but it never fails that someone's grandfather or uncle used to work there, and just the name brings back a sense of pride. These old Buffalo icons have a mythical relevance to our generation.”

Shopify for the Win

BMCO's success early on proved hopeful. However, a business's growth can be stunted by its tools. Rob's fragmented inventory management process, which he pieced together using WooCommerce and PayPal, among other tools, was a time suck at best.

“After selling at events, I'd have to manually update SKUs one by one on my website,” Rob remembers. “There were times I had to apologize to customers and reimburse them after selling them product I didn't have.”

An over-the-shoulder view of Rob at his cash wrap with his Shopify card reader visible

Now the card reader he uses at the counter in his shop -- the same one he uses while selling at events -- syncs up with the inventory on his Shopify website automatically.

Real-time inventory management isn't the only area in which Shopify has saved Rob time and costly mistakes. He used to handwrite the address on every outgoing package himself and wait in line at the post office to create a shipping label. “I used to spend ten minutes a day waiting in line at the post office.”

Now, Shopify creates his shipping labels for him. After boxing and weighing his orders, all he has to do is affix the label to the package and drop it off at a shipping dropbox. “The time I've saved in shipping alone has more than paid for Shopify,” Rob reflects.

Couple the time saved with automatic shipping calculations and the Shopify shipping discount, and it's easy to see how Buffalo Made Co. is saving money using the platform. “I used to undercharge for shipping on accident because I would try to estimate the cost on my own. Sometimes I would just throw a ballpark shipping cost onto an order because I didn't know for sure how much shipping would cost.” With Shopify, the math is done as the customer is placing their order.

The Shopify Benefits BMCO Relishes Most

  • Real-time inventory updates
  • Shipping label creation
  • Shipping cost calculations

From E-Commerce to Brick-and-Mortar

It's true that Rob was successful with BMCO before switching to Shopify, but the platform has given him the ability to successfully scale his business to where it is today. This past July, Rob's dream of opening a physical location came to fruition.

Rob on his laptop sitting at a table covered with merch ready to be packaged and shipped

The online store is still his primary sales channel, but Rob enjoys other advantages of having a brick-and-mortar. His space, located in the heart of downtown Buffalo, reflects the true nature of his brand. He can create more content for Instagram and validate the quality of his products. Because he now has room to store extra inventory, he can create product in larger batches which lowers his cost per item. And to top it all off, he has a distraction-free office space to do his design work.

“If I don't sell a thing in the store, online and event sales will cover its cost anyway.”

How do you get your online store to that status? Here's Rob's advice to other small retailers.

Rob's Tips for Small Business Owners

  • “If you're just starting out, start small. Rather than create dozens of SKUs and only selling a handful of them, create five great designs and start there. Otherwise, you could work yourself into a hole that will be hard to get yourself out of. It's OK to test the waters this way. Test your market and your pricing. You can always add more product later on.”
  • “If a product is not available for purchase, DON'T post it in your shop! A viewer's first reaction to a design is going to be their strongest driver to purchase. Don't waste that drive on a moment when the product can't even be purchased.”
  • “It can be hard to switch platforms when you're in the groove of selling. I waited until January/February to switch to Shopify, after the holiday rush, when inventory and sales are lowest (and when there is nothing to do in Buffalo because it's so cold). Shopify is extremely streamlined and simple. It wasn't hard to get it up and running quickly.”

A Dream, Now a Reality

“When I was growing up, the only thing to do in the city was to go to a Sabres game,” Rob shared. That sentiment has certainly changed after nearly a decade of investments made around Buffalo. It can be said without a doubt that Buffalo Made Co. has been a part of that revitalization, if at the very least by allowing Buffalonians to wear their pride for their city.

Buffalo Made Co's cash wrap with a black and white logo

You can check out all of Rob's newest designs on his website, buffalomade.co, or by following Buffalo Made Co. on Instagram.

Photo Credit: Ryan Kell, Seek Axiom

Buffalo Made Co. is one of many small business retailers using Shopify to sell products and manage their inventory. If you have a Shopify store like BMCO, or are thinking about starting one, you can now offer your customers cheap, same-day delivery and keep track of your inventory across our nationwide network of mini-warehouses in real-time. You'll want to check our ecommerce order fulfillment options today.

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