By Michelle Covey, Vice President of Partnerships, GS1 US
In today’s hyper-connected world, the opportunities to launch and promote a small business are boundless. The e-commerce marketplace has created a multitude of growth opportunities that small businesses can leverage, whether selling products direct-to-consumer (DTC), from a retailer website, in third-party marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify, or via social media. Diversification of channels is not only imperative to help enable resiliency, it’s also more accessible than ever through today’s online landscape.
Small businesses now have access to customers that have long been served by their larger counterparts. The market is changing to accommodate and elevate businesses of all sizes, creating equal ground for growth. For example, American Express’ 12th Annual Small Business Saturday® reached an all-time high with an estimated $23.3 Billion in U.S. consumer reported spending, indicating consumers’ increasing desire to support entrepreneurs.
However, before launching a product, it’s important for any small business starting out to do their due diligence and make sure they’re retail ready – regardless of channel. One critical step is uniquely identifying items in the global marketplace – this means acquiring authentic UPC barcodes for each of your products. Let’s examine the story of a young entrepreneur who did just that and utilized several avenues to bring attention to her brand, positioning her company for growth.
Becoming Retail Ready
Nina LaBruna, founder of LaBruna Skincare, started her business while studying nutrition as an undergraduate at New York University. She had immersed herself in the field of wellness, teaching yoga and researching ingredients for holistic, clean and non-toxic skincare. That desire to create something that others could benefit from, while representing her values, was the driving force for Nina’s skincare line.
“I always had an entrepreneurial mind, even as a kid. I would create little ideas and companies,” Nina said. “That creativity made one of my dreams come to life.”
Nina knew when she started her all-natural line of skin care products that she needed to familiarize herself with how to bring a product to market. Her lack of experience in building a small business didn’t hinder her.
“When you’re starting a business, there’s going to be millions of things that initially you’re not really going to know how to do,” Nina explained. “And that can be really scary. I remember when I first started, I was like, how do I even make an LLC? Do I have to have an operating group? What are all these terms? I don’t know any of this stuff, am I going to be able to do this?”
Nina educated herself. She also learned the importance of uniquely identifying her products with authentic UPC barcodes. Nina recognized that an important part of establishing her brand identity in any channel would be linking her products to LaBruna Skincare with GTINs (Global Trade Item Numbers), which are the product identification numbers encoded into UPC barcodes. Since many retailers require them, she knew it was a critical step in her process. She acquired her GTINs from GS1 US, a not-for-profit standards organization, and was on her way to launching products. That approach currently translated to real sales for LaBruna Skincare.
Shortly after, Nordstrom reached out to carry her line and Nina was ready because her authentic product barcodes were in place. Her strategy to add GS1 US barcodes has been especially crucial in also attracting the interest of other retail partners.
For small businesses like LaBruna Skincare, GTINs validate a company’s products. “It definitely makes us more credible and stronger as a brand,” commented Nina. “It gives us more value.”
Opportunity Knocks Online
In the beginning of LaBruna’s business journey, much of Nina’s revenue was generated by brick-and-mortar stores, including some smaller stores that eventually closed due to the pandemic. Nina pivoted her approach and began to focus on e-commerce and direct-to-consumer channels, putting more time and energy into marketing online. With retail e-commerce sales worldwide predicted to reach $4.921 trillion in 2021, Nina created a sound strategy — getting her authentic UPCs early on proved valuable.
Many online marketplaces like Amazon require GTINs because they help sellers prove that they are selling legitimate products. Some will even hide product listings if they are not identified with a proper GTIN. Using UPCs in your online product listing can help make your product more discoverable in online searches too—Google has reported that sales conversions increased up to 20% for businesses that used UPCs in their listings.
Since GTINs help products surface in more search engine results online, there is a big opportunity for e-commerce businesses to benefit from identifying products with GTINs. The primary question should not be, “Should I get a GTIN?” Rather, the better question is, “How many barcodes should I get?” GS1 US offers an estimator tool, which helps business owners determine which option is right for them: a single GS1 US GTIN or a GS1 Company Prefix. The answers will be based on how many products you have, how many variations of the product there are, and how you anticipate growing your company.
If businesses know right away that their plan is to build out one or two items into a line of products, then licensing a GS1 Company Prefix will help manage growth – allowing them to create additional GTINs down the road.
“It makes me feel more credible having a unique number associated with each product and being ready to show marketplaces and retailers that I have all of my product data ready to be shared online, because that’s where the majority of our business is,” said Nina. “If someone searches for a certain product, it’s correlated to our brand because I’ve registered it with GS1 US. So being established with GS1 US just helped us move faster to compete in on a variety of digital platforms.”
Social Media for the Win
Social media is another channel for marketing a business and should be a necessary part of any business plan. According to data from Hootsuite, 76.8% of global internet users purchased a product online in 2020, while 44.8% of global internet users turned to social media for brand-related information.
In the case of TikTok, which recently reached a billion users, brands like LaBruna Skincare are discovering success. During the height of the pandemic, a LaBruna Skincare TikTok received a lot of attention, introducing an entirely new audience to its plant-infused beauty products.
Since then, Nina saw a surge in web traffic from the TikTok page. “We’ve had a lot of influencers organically promoting our products since our skincare is part of their routine that they share with viewers.”
In addition, now that commerce platforms like Shopify have enabled integrations for in-app shopping, users can shop directly from a post without having to visit a web browser. That type of accessibility can be a game-changer for small businesses with fewer resources.
Nina says LaBruna’s success on TikTok was unexpected. “This highlights the fact that every small business is going to have different experiences in how their product is perceived and disseminated. But there are very clear steps that a small business owner can take to set up their brand for success, and a social media presence is one of those steps.”
When entrepreneurs have a growth mindset with a keen focus on how they will evolve their business over time and the right information in place, they can earn similar positioning and sales opportunities as major brands. While the fine details to launching and growing a business can be hard, perseverance can pay off.
“The biggest thing is just that you will figure it out, and there’s lots of people who can help you,” said Nina, “Do not let the fears of the unknown stop you or hinder you from progressing with your creative outlet.”