Stephanie Summerson Hall of ‘Estelle Colored Glass’: “Invest in great photography”

Invest in great photography. We use the same photographer for all our projects and have learned how essential lighting components make a world of difference in the finished product. Create fresh content. While this can be difficult, content creation is a must. Even in our busiest moments, we make time to produce content that we can […]

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Invest in great photography. We use the same photographer for all our projects and have learned how essential lighting components make a world of difference in the finished product.

Create fresh content. While this can be difficult, content creation is a must. Even in our busiest moments, we make time to produce content that we can use repeatedly. Content creation is one of our biggest tasks currently.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Hall, Founder of Estelle Colored Glass.

Lawyer turned serial entrepreneur, Stephanie Summerson Hall has managed to create two family businesses from the ground up successfully, and she has no plans of stopping. Her most recent endeavor includes the creation of Estelle Colored Glass. Launched in 2019, this luxury brand of hand-blown colored glass cake stands and stemware is taking the world by storm.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, as it was one of the main reasons I pursued law at the beginning of my career. After obtaining my degree from The University of Chapel Hill, I practiced law in Washington, D.C., for more than a decade. Once I started my family, my husband and I decided it was time to move back home to Charleston, SC. My career as a lawyer had been fruitful, and I was ready to enter the next chapter of my life not only as a wife and mother but also as an entrepreneur. In Charleston, I opened two businesses with my family, a wedding rental company, Ruth’s House Event Rentals and Wedding Flowers for Rent, before launching Estelle Colored Glass, inspired by my grandmother’s love for colored glass, in 2019.

My grandmother Estelle inspired Estelle Colored Glass. She loved antiquing and had a particular day of the week where she visited her favorite shops looking for new treasures in small neighboring South Carolina towns. Throughout my childhood, during the summer months, I enjoyed accompanying her on many treasure hunts. My favorite collection of hers was her colored glass collection. Her collection initiated my love for colored glass and became the blueprint for my company.

Today, Estelle Colored Glass is a luxury brand of hand-blown colored glass cake stands and stemware in a mix of jewel tones and soft pastels. The Estelle Colored Glass collection includes original commissioned pieces made by glass artisans in Poland at a glass-making company with a rich 100-plus-year-old history. Best described as “jewels for your table,” we hope our vintage-inspired yet refined and modern colored glass collection starts a revival of colored glass that is reminiscent of a pastime.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

My husband and I had a new family home built. While furnishing the house, I started looking at it from a “forever collections” perspective, which meant I was sourcing pieces that would eventually become heirloom pieces. With that in mind, I wanted colored glass stemware in my collection (an ode to my grandmother) but discovered the only place where I could find a large selection of colored glass was on the secondary vintage market. When sourcing, I would often find much of the glassware sets were incomplete. I soon realized colored glass was a dying art form. I started researching how I could offer an extensive collection of colored glass in one place. It took five years for me to bring our offerings to market.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

One of the most demanding challenges with starting Estelle Colored Glass was finding a company to produce our pieces. Initially, the goal was to have the pieces made here in the U.S., and I came to a dead-end on that effort as it was hard to find an artisan able to capture the essence of the brand through glassware. However, I persevered, and I eventually worked out an agreement with a 100-year heritage company in Poland. They were able to bring my vision to life. I am incredibly pleased with the finished product.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Through everything 2020 has presented, I have to say this year has bought our company tremendous success. Since the company’s onset, I’ve been laser-focused on creating a range of products that people will love and find as useful as they are beautiful. I am not new to entrepreneurship, so I would say my grit and resilience come from knowing if I’ve done it before (i.e., create a profitable, successful company), I can do it again. I’ve proven to be successful twice. In this somewhat new endeavor that is Estelle Colored Glass, the brand’s popularity has grown so much that our company hired new members to keep up with our products’ demand. The ability to hire on a tram during this time one of the tenants of our success and something I am incredibly proud of.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Initially, I wanted to offer a gift box in every color glass we were producing, which was crazy; however, we eventually settled on a white box with gold lettering. The end product is a simple, elegant look that our clients love and has become a signature with our brand. The “unboxings” we see with the product are fabulous, and the simple white box with gold lettering adds a nice touch. I learned through this process that simplicity could be the best route to take with packaging.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What’s ironic is that many of our customers and followers on social media often share their memories of colored glass pieces that their grandmothers and aunts had. Seeing our pieces evokes happy memories. We stand out because we have recreated this feeling in a fresh and modern way that speaks to all generations.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. Many entrepreneurs try to do it all, and it ends in burnout. It’s essential to trust in your ability to hire competent team members who can carry out tasks like you would. Delegating allows you to work on your business and not in your business.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There have not been many people who have understood my career change from attorney to entrepreneur, and I did not get a lot of encouragement. However, I persisted with my faith in myself and trust in God. My husband stood by me because he believes in me and knows that I follow through on anything I decide to pursue. He has always supported my efforts, and I am eternally grateful for his support and dedication to my dreams.

Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

I believe e-commerce businesses benefit from this shift despite having trouble keeping up with demand given the breakdown of supply chains caused by the Pandemic. Websites are the new storefront, so businesses must continually update their photography and visually showcase their product offering in new and exciting ways.

Additionally, amping up our social media presence during the Pandemic has been vital to our success. More people are on their phones longer, so you have to find the best way to engage with them. We’ve leveraged user-generated content from our followers to keep our content pipeline healthy, and it’s helped spread the word about the quality of our products.

Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than U.S. and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

What our company has done well during this time is to find niche products and suppliers. When I started the company, I was extremely intentional about who we worked with and how. I knew our take on modern stemware and glassware would set us apart and allow us to remain extremely competitive in our market. I worked diligently to ensure we researched every potential vendor, competitor, the demand for our product, and the steps we would need to launch a successful brand with a strong customer base.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Many e-commerce platforms rely heavily on current topics and other things not related to selling what they are offering. I focus on selling products as the main priority. Regardless of the trending topics or news, you want consumers to buy your products and believe in what you are doing. In my opinion, the focus should remain there, especially when you are just starting.

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Branding and photography are vital to your brand. Consumers demand content, which can often become a massive task for small businesses looking to keep up. We invest in photography and video to consistently engage with our audience, and the payoff has been worth it. Our images are used for media opportunities and across all social media platforms.

Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

I talk with many new business owners and entrepreneurs in the e-commerce space, and I often suggest Shopify as a great platform to get started. The site is extremely user-friendly and offers several integrations to help new users get up and running in no time.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience, what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

I think this ties to having a product consumers want to purchase. Our products are niche, so the conversion becomes about finding a consumer who is the right fit. Conversion will always be about the correct positioning, messaging, and partnerships to amplify your brand. We have been effective in doing this by reaching out to influencers and working out partnerships that allow for increased visibility and a more significant customer connection, leading to more sales.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

You cannot negate the power of authentic storytelling, engaging content, customer review, and endorsements. These four components are the tenants of social proof, which makes a business more trustworthy. Reviews from customers carry more weight than a manufactured message, and it’s something we truly pride ourselves in when it comes to instilling trust with our customers and supporters.

One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

The key to poor reviews or a bad customer experience requires first apologizing to a customer for a bad experience. Next is offering a full refund if the product was not a good fit or the customer changed their mind. A customer will always remember how they were treated, so it becomes a priority to operate from a place of integrity in everything that you do.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Offer products you are passionate about and will love promoting. Our products are passion products, and this makes a world of difference in our enthusiasm level.
  2. Do your research. Do not invest in products that are overcrowded in the marketplace. I believe failure to study your industry will make you another fish in a crowded sea.
  3. Invest in great photography. We use the same photographer for all our projects and have learned how essential lighting components make a world of difference in the finished product.
  4. Create fresh content. While this can be difficult, content creation is a must. Even in our busiest moments, we make time to produce content that we can use repeatedly. Content creation is one of our biggest tasks currently.
  5. Make friends and build a social media community. Building a tribe of loyal customers and supporters has made a world of difference for our company, and we actively give support and, in turn, receive help.

You are a person of significant influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would revolve around equal access to opportunities and resources to all hard-working business owners. Small businesses account for more than 44% of U.S. economic activity. I firmly believe there is room for everyone to grow and thrive in entrepreneurship and business growth, so my movement would present opportunities and resources to help others succeed.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Our handle on Facebook and Instagram is @estelecoloredglass.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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