How a determined brother is carring on his sister's legacy through ecommerce success

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what you sell at Galen Leather and how you got started?

Galen Leather was originally founded by my late sister, Zeynep, who sadly passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2019. She came up with the idea on the heels of her diagnosis, having temporarily lost her voice to cancer, and needing to find an alternative career to her previous role in sales. We started selling handmade leather goods on Etsy. 

As the business and demand grew, we began teaching ourselves how to handcraft our own designs so we could bring our customers exactly what they wanted. Over time, our range continued to expand, bringing together our love for stationery and vintage items. 

We specialize in handmade leather travel journals, notebook covers, iPad, iPhone and laptop cases, writing accessories and so much more.

What did it take to get your first products in stock? Has that changed since you started?

We started making our own products after the 2013 Christmas season, when we experienced an unexpected spike in orders. Our vendor was unable to meet the demand so we were unsure if we would be able to stay in business. We were able to get through this period (just barely), but it meant we had to put better systems in place to meet our growing demand. 

We also went to our vendor with some new designs but they said they couldn’t help us. That’s when we decided to take matters into our own hands and started learning the leather-making craft ourselves! Now we design and hand make our products in-house. We also source our cowhide leather locally where it goes through a natural vegetable dying process.

How did you get your first sale?

Through Etsy and eBay.

What obstacles and challenges have you overcome along the way?

Well, there was the story above about our original supplier being unable to meet our demand, forcing us to reconsider our business model, and moving from retailer to manufacturer and retailer.

In 2016, Paypal stopped their operations in Turkey. This forced us to look for an alternative way to sell our products outside of Paypal-dependent websites at the time (like eBay and Etsy). We were gaining more and more exposure and customers from all around the world, so that’s when we decided to launch our very own online store using Shopify.

And, of course, Zeynep’s passing in 2019 also was a massive challenge for us on a personal level.

What influenced your decision to use Shopify?

We had to find an alternative option to eBay and Etsy after Paypal shut down in Turkey. Shopify looked like the best option for us to service our global customer base and give us an easy way to set up a fully functional ecommerce store almost instantly.

What was the process like to get started? Is there anything you wish you had known then that you know now?

We started off small and grew slowly until around 2017, when our wooden writing box went viral and we sold over 1000 pieces. Our social media grew greatly as a result and demand rose greatly for our products. So keeping on top of it all from there really tested us. 

As producers of our own products, it can get especially difficult when peak season times hit (like Black Friday and Christmas). It’s a challenge keeping on top of the everyday business matters and customer service queries, so it would have been good knowing what processes to have in place before moments like that happen. But I guess that’s the beauty of business sometimes. You just never know until you do!

What Shopify apps do you currently use? Which apps are most important to your business and why? 

We love the app on Shopify for customer reviews. Why keep those happy customer responses hidden? They’re worth showing off!

We also use Reamaze as it’s very easy to see all communication channels together (FB, Email, Contact forms). It’s easy to measure the response times which helps our productivity. Shopable for Instagram is also wonderful for turning Instagram traffic into sales with the shopping feature from a post.

What theme did you choose for your site and why?

Retina. Our product images are a huge feature for our store and we take great pride in them as they’re a major selling point. We love how we’re able to showcase them brilliantly through the Retina theme. It’s also updated frequently and the support is great.

What strategies have you used to attract more leads and grow Galen Leather?

From our SEO efforts, organic traffic plays a huge role in customer acquisition. We are also big on paid Google campaigns, as well as email newsletter marketing and our most active social media channel, Instagram. As mentioned before, integrating your Instagram posts with an app like Like2Haveit allows us to convert traffic to sales.

What are some of the most effective ways that you interact with your customers?

We are very active in specialty communities and forums, like those made for Fountain Pen addicts and vintage stationery (we’re fanatics too!). We also attend a number of expos like the Fountain Pen expo, which is great for networking in the industry. And we interact with customers on social media, frequently posting and sharing little behind-the-scenes footage and insights into our business.

Are there any metrics you can share in terms of order volume, monthly sales, increased revenue, growth %, etc.?

We had a record year of sales last year, turning over $1.2M in product. Making this move Shopify and taking control of our own ecommerce store has clearly been a very wise move for us! Our Instagram has over 44.7k followers and a returning customer rate of about 20%

That's amazing! To what do you attribute those positive metrics?

Our customers are very loyal and often find they come back to make purchases for family and friends. We’re constantly coming up with new product ideas and designs which also piques the interest of customers. 

Our products are also very photogenic and do well on Instagram. People love sharing them as they’re part of their everyday life! We’ve also put a lot of care and thought into our product packaging. It adds to the customer experience and really speaks to the part of the business we hold onto tightly -- that we’re a small family run business who handmakes high quality leather products from the heart and with great attention.

You have quite an impressive Instagram following. Any advice or tips for growing your audience like this?

It helps to have a very photogenic product! We also take a lot of care and attention with our own product photography (this is how I got started in the business helping Zeynep out) to create eye-catching images that make people stop when they are scrolling through their feed. We are very active in our social communities too, and often share little sneak peeks into behind the scene moments which I think really helps to personalize the brand and builds trust.

What are you working towards now? 

We’ve started doing more wholesale and also collaborating with other local producers and brands to expand our product range into woodwork and brass. We launch new products every month and it’s a very exciting time for us.

Are there any blogs or other resources that have been helpful for you?

When we first started out, we followed a number of creators on YouTube to learn the trade and one of our favorites is Ian Atkinson.

We don’t have a great deal of time these days, so our consumption of information is limited. But we’re always on the lookout for new ways to build our business and stay on top of things. We recently found this guide on Google Shopping for Shopify to be one of the most helpful free resources other Shopify users might find useful and something we want to get better at.

Based on your own success, what advice would you share with others who might be just starting out with Shopify (or with eCommerce in general)? 

Learn to FOCUS on the important things using the 80/20 rule. It’s all too easy to get caught up with the unimportant tasks that waste time and don’t lead to results. This isn’t just in day-to-day business. 

We’ve learned from other successful ecommerce stores to narrow our audience down to 2-3 focused communities, like stationary lovers, pen collectors and travellers. This has enabled us to better understand their specific needs better and service them directly.

Many of our new products are coming straight from customer demand. So yes, of course they are going to buy the new product when we release it. They basically came up with the idea!

Where can we learn more?

You can find us at the following:

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