Being the founder of a successful ecommerce website isn’t something I would have predicted for myself. One year ago, the idea wasn’t even in my peripherals. It wasn’t something that took me a lot of planning and preparation coupled with years of experience to carry out.
Creating National Parks Depot and getting it to a recognized level of success basically took one month. During that month, I came up with a product to sell, created a store, and promoted the product to about one million targeted prospects. Sales were so great that I had to pull in an investor to help get inventory.
Building National Parks Depot using Shopify is one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. I don’t have tons of experience in sales or marketing, so it’s not as if I was destined to be successful at this. In fact, with my history, success seemed unlikely. But with all the right pieces in all the right places, what seemed to be most unlikely actually became a reality.
Early life and incarceration
The early part of my life was spent incarcerated. From the age of 11 to 27 I was in and out of juvenile and adult correctional facilities for various crimes. I was addicted to drugs, lost, and hopeless. At that time, no one would have guessed that decades later I’d be so involved in business, sales, or marketing. Like I said, I wasn’t a likely candidate for success.
In September of 2007, I was released from California State Prison and have never looked back. My life was different from that day forward, but how drastically different it would be surprises even me at times. Fast forward seven years. I now have a family, a business, and am working on a college degree.
There is something about ex-felons that make us good candidates for being entrepreneurs. There’s a drive that makes us want to be different and to stand out among the crowd. When I decided that I would never go back to crime and prison, my drive didn’t leave. It was just refocused. From then on, my drive and motivation would be success for me and my family.
While that sounds all good, it wasn’t all easy. Over the last few years, while also being a full-time engineering student, I attempted to launch many business ventures. Most failed immediately. Some were sustainable for a short period of time. But only one stands out as an immediate success, and that one is National Parks Depot.
When I started this store, I wasn’t in the greatest financial position. My family couldn’t afford our rent and had to work out arrangements with our landlord in order to keep a roof over our heads. We even had to rely on Government assistance. It was a low point, and I was almost ready to give up on my ventures.
At the time, I had a small Facebook page that was dedicated to sharing images from National Parks around the world. I sold t-shirts through this page and began to think that I could sell even more products to this audience. There was one issue – I didn’t have any products of my own to sell. I had heard of something called dropshipping and thought I might try it out.
So that is what I did.
Getting started with dropshipping
Finding drop shippers was frustrating and even scary at times. But once I got the hang of it, it really wasn't that difficult. The key was to have a product in mind first. I simply looked for items that were selling well elsewhere. Once I found a product, I would create my own offer for that item and see if it was something people would buy from my online store. If they did, I'd find a supplier that was willing to dropship that product for me.
The mistake that many other people make is that they look for a drop shipper and then try to sell what that supplier has. When you do that, you limit yourself. Once I identify a product, I simply email the retailers that are selling the item already and ask if they are willing to drop ship. I was surprised at how many actually said yes.
In just a few days, I had National Parks Depot set up on Shopify and ready to promote. I’m not the best marketer on the block, but through all of my failures over the last few years, I was able to learn a few things that would help me promote this store to success.
The Facebook page only had a few thousand fans, so if we wanted to get any sales at scale, there would need to be paid advertising. But as I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t even pay rent so an ad spend was almost out of question. Almost.
I figured I would try it with a small budget of $60 and determine from the sales if it was worth going further. That $60 ad spend brought in nearly $1,000 in sales on the first day, giving a great return. I was ecstatic! On day two, I decided to double the budget and see what would happen. Sure enough, the sales nearly doubled as well. Over the next few days, I would repeat this process several times – every time the sales would just grow.
Then I came to a roadblock. Since I was dropshipping, I never had control over inventory. After about a week of great sales, my suppliers began to run out of stock and I was stuck with tons of sales and no product. I scrambled to find the products elsewhere, but didn’t have enough capital built up in order to purchase inventory in bulk.
That’s when I had to get help from an unlikely source – my landlord Shawn. He knew of my financial situation; it was to him that I couldn’t pay my rent. But we’ve worked together in the past, so he also knew of my drive for success. I told Shawn about the sales going on in the store and let him know that I needed help if this was to continue. He decided to come on and help out in the areas where I lacked. That would get us past the roadblock and move on to more sales.
Over the next several weeks, we spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads to drive traffic to the store. Just like when I first started, every dollar that went out brought a few more back in. Less than two months after launch, we’ve had nearly $80,000 in sales come in. There have been a few hiccups to overcome, but that comes with learning anything new. In the end, it’s well worth it.
Even though I wasn’t a likely candidate for success, I’ve made it. I’ve learned that there are resources out there that will help us do anything we want. We just have to find them. For National Parks Depot, our success is dedicated to the Shopify platform and to Facebook. Without either, it would not exist.
Editor's note: Robert Nava has since moved on from National Parks Depot to other ventures. This store is no longer active, but we hope you still find his story inspiring.
About The Author
Robert Nava is a father, electronics engineering student, and entrepreneur who started his life with rough beginnings. After years of struggling to create a successful business, Robert founded National Parks Depot in 2014.