"That's cool. Where can I get it?"
There's a question that often leads to more customers. But what if you sell a product that your customers don't proudly display when they're out and about?
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who sells underwear by targeting gift givers.
Johnnie Cass is the founder of Stonemen: maker of design-led men's & women's underwear.
Generally, we do probably about 50% to 60% of our trade leading up to Christmas time.
Tune in to learn
- Who you should market to when selling a gift-able product.
- How to manage and keep your influencer marketing organized.
- How to design your content marketing by observing your competitors.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
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- Store: Stonemen
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: SurveyMonkey, Trello, Xero, Dropbox, Hootsuite
Felix: Today I’m joined by Johnnie Cass of Stonemen. Stonemen is the maker of design-led men’s and women’s underwear, and was started 2008 and based out of Byron Bay. Welcome Johnnie.
Johnnie: Hey Felix. Lovely to be here. Thank you.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. Tell us a bit more about the business. What are these special underwear I guess that you guys design and sell?
Johnnie: Yeah, great. Stonemen I guess has been around since about 2008, and my business partner, who’s the designer, a photographer, one day realized that there was no comfortable undies in the world. He went to one of our major department stores, saw that there was no interesting, exciting underwear. Long story short, he decided to put beautiful images on beautiful fabrics and create beautiful underwear and rid the world of boring, dull underwear.
Felix: Got it. Were you guys working together before? How did this business relationship come about?
Johnnie: No, no, not at all. Mark happens to be the good friend of my best friend. Some of your listeners it’s probably too early for them to remember the Gillette story, that he loved the razorblades so much that he bought the company. Mark, my business partner showed me these new underwear that he come up, and I was like, “Oh my god. I love them. They’re amazing.” Before you know it, I’m investing in the company, a little bit of money, and then before you know it I’m also investing time and money into the company. So it was a case of seeing the product and falling in love with the product and having an entrepreneurial spark and belief that this product was going to actually work.
Felix: Got it. Of course everyone needs underwear, but when you sit down and think about your target customer who you’re really going after, how would you describe them? What is the ideal customer for Stonemen?
Johnnie: Great question. That’s almost like the lead-in, it’s really great to see this product and go, “Oh, wow. I really love this product. It’s beautiful.” Yes, once you have that entrepreneurial spark for want of a better word, then you need to definitely say and ask yourself those questions, “Who is our target market? Would people actually buy the product just because I like the product?” There’s a whole bunch of metrics and a whole bunch of things that go with that. To answer your question, our customers are generally, and it’s always a constant evolution, and we’re always looking at it, but generally our customer is somebody who is design savvy, has an appreciation for beautiful design, and currently we sit in the gift market as well.
Our product is a perfect gift. Generally we do, probably, about 50% to 60% of our trade leading up to Christmastime, and then, of course, your peak sale times, which would include things like Easter, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s. They’re typically our big sales spikes in our business.
Felix: Did you know going into this that you were going to target customers that are of the type of people that would appreciate good design, appreciate well designed prints on underwear, or did you develop an understanding for that over time?
Johnnie: It’s the old saying, really, Felix, isn’t it? Ignorance is bliss. We developed it over time. Again, it was a case of we loved the product, and then actually identifying who in the market would also appreciate that product. Then, again, would they actually be willing to purchase the product because there’s a difference between them saying, “Yeah, I really love the underwear, but am I actually willing to part with $39 US dollars for the article.”
Felix: That’s a good point. You might love the product. You obviously did, and your partner obviously loved the product that he was designing as well. How did you test or how did you come to learn that people would pay money? Like you were saying, pay almost $40 US dollars for your product.
Johnnie: There’s been a fair bit of work that’s gone into that, and we’re always kind of tweaking that a little bit as well. There was a time there probably about maybe four years ago, I’d say about three or four years ago, where in essence we were hitting a bit of a plateau. We were looking at pricing structures, and so we sent a survey out to our customers in our database and asked them what was their price point, what would you be willing to pay. What would you want to have changed? As a result of that we developed a new product line, which was the comfort of the product but not necessarily with the digital print. We’re communicating with our customers as much as what we can and getting feedback.
Now, you might also say, “Well, four years ago was a long time.” Yeah, it is a long time, but we’re always talking to our customers either by email or one on one conversations, also looking in the marketplace. What’s the competition doing in the marketplace? Then of course our own production costs to actually produce the goods with our own margins as well. There’s quite a few different variables to be able to get the price point right.
Felix: Is that what you recommend other entrepreneurs if they are unsure of the pricing, or if there’s a good fit between their product and their target customers, is to just send out just an email or something to your existing customer base, asking them these survey questions?
Johnnie: Yeah, totally. We used, I think it was Survey Monkey and we were looking to go to that next evolution. We put the product in place, we felt we had a pretty good product, we changed the elastic, we did a few things here and there, and we felt that it was really time to get feedback from our audience and that was absolutely invaluable, because some of the things that we thought we were doing really brilliantly we got feedback that we weren’t. That might have been customer service for example, or our shipping costs might have been deterring people from buying. It’s just really good to communicate with your tribe, with your customer base, not too much because then that becomes a bit annoying as well, but at the same time, because you just get into your own head about what you think is right and you think that you’re the customer, well that’s not necessarily the case at all.
Felix: Right. Like you’re saying, it is about you spend too much time, quote unquote, in the office and not being out into the real world and interacting and bumping shoulders with your actual customers. You mentioned as well that you’re always constantly getting this kind of feedback. Do you recommend, if you were to put up a best practice, how often should you be sending out these kind of surveys to get feelers out for your market?
Johnnie: I would think that would really depend on the circumstances. For us, it’s maybe once every couple of years. It really also depends on the relationship that you have with your customers, as well. For us at the moment, one of the key things that we’re trying to do is figure out different ways, always to be talking to our customers so that you’re not so annoying that they want to unsubscribe you or that you just become just another ping in their inbox, but at the same time not sending out enough contact that they ignore you as well. I don’t know there’s an exact science on it, but I would reckon once a year, every 18 months, check in, see how things are going.
Felix: Right. Now you’re alluding to these customers, you don’t want to annoy them, they don’t have much time, and you don’t want to ask them for too much that they might not answer at all. If you were to sit down and put together an email, particularly a survey, for your situation, what are some of the top three questions that you would love to know the answer to when you get the opportunity to talk to your customer?
Johnnie: Obviously you want to know what we’re doing right, so what do you love about our product, what do you love about us? Why do you buy our product? What’s your main reason for buying? The third thing would be, what could we do better? When we did our survey, like I said, a little while ago, one of the feedback that we get, and we still consistently get it actually, is that they love the product, they love the comfort of the product, and we find that that is generally speaking, what is right about our customers, is once they get that product, we have a very loyal customer base.
What they wanted to see more of was more designs, more unique designs, more regularly. That was really great, because from there on we consistently now bring out designs roughly about three times, three to four times a year.
Felix: When they answer that question about the reason why they buy, how do you use that data? What do you do once you find out some themes that are going on with the reasons why people buy from you?
Johnnie: Number one, it also tells you who is buying. Again, we might think that our customer is a very design focused customer, but actually what we were finding out was that our customers were typically moms who were buying presents for their sons, or wives who were buying gifts for their husbands, so all of a sudden now you’re doing your marketing in a very different approach. You go, “Hang on a minute, are we talking to somebody whose design focused or are we talking to a mother or a wife who happens to be design focused who wants to see her husband in a lovely pair of underwear, or wants to buy a great gift?” It really becomes a much more targeted approach about how you speak to people, where you contact people, and now marketing in general.
Felix: That’s a really good point about when your product is such a giftable product that most of your sales come from, or a lot of your sales at least come from your customers that are buying as a gift for someone else. When you know that, do you spend more time marketing towards that end customer, the person that’s going to ultimately receive the gift, or would you spend more time getting the buyer’s attention? The person that might not actually end up using it, but is going to be the one that first interacts with your brand, and the first ones who buy it for someone else?
Johnnie: The obvious answer to that is both, actually. Because with underwear, and I don’t know about a lot of products, but certainly with underwear people don’t think about underwear a lot. They want to make it easy, and so therefore they tend to stick to one brand. What you want to do is get a new customer, obviously, as inexpensively as you can, and at the same time keep that new customer. For example, we have not only online but we have a wholesale division as well. Typically, our wholesale will bring us in new customers as well as online marketing strategies, but then we collect emails from people, we will put a opt-in option on the website. When people get the underwear, we give them a discount to buy new underwear within the packaging itself. We try and obviously get that new customer and then keep that end user as well, and typically the product also, fortunately in our case, tends to sell itself.
We also, for example, do the big design market once a year. That’s our, also, ability to get out there and meet our customers face to face and get away from just being behind the computer screen. We get our customers that come back and say, “Oh, I saw you here last year. I bought this for my husband. He absolutely loves them.” We get the guys coming, “Oh, my wife bought me these last year. They’re the best undies ever. I’ll buy them.” I know that sounds like a little bit of an ad, but that kind of is the truth. We generally know that when we get a customer, we keep our customers.
Felix: You mentioned that you have a product and you’re thankful for having a product that sells itself, and I’ve heard other entrepreneurs talk about this too, that they have a product that sells itself. What does that mean in your case? How can a product be one that it sells itself versus one that requires a little bit more effort from the owner?
Johnnie: It still requires effort, and the effort is getting that new customer. Where it sells itself is I guess in the craft and the work that my business partner has actually done over the years and years of putting the product together, and trial and error and making mistakes. I think we’ve definitely got to the point where we have a really great product. Once we get a customer, they’re typically pretty loyal to us. They’ll be like, “Yeah, I’m switching over to this brand now.” From that point of view, the product sells itself, once it’s gotten into someones hand. The effort comes because it’s freaking underwear and nobody sees it. You’ve gotta be really creative about how you try and get that product seen, because it’s not like tee shirt that you could give to celebrity, or it’s not like a new jacket or a pair of jeans or a pair of trainers that people are looking at. It’s underwear and there are some challenges with that for sure.
Felix: Can you talk a little bit about that, how you overcome these challenges of selling a product that can’t be essentially advertised that will buy the end user?
Johnnie: That’s something that we’re constantly working on. If you had a massive budget, you could probably afford to endorse a celebrity or a product that generally can kick off when a celebrity happens to be wearing that product. With underwear, it’s a bit trickier to do that, but we definitely do reach out to influencers by Instagram, for example and we’ll send them products. You’ve got to find someone, in our case anyway, that is happy to be photographed in underwear. It just requires different creativity. We might even work with modeling agencies and find models who are on the rise, and again, also have a good following on their Instagram and their social media. At the end of the day, the more eyeballs that we get on the product, the more people that will come to the website and eventually hopefully convert.
When they convert, then hopefully love the product, and continue to keep buying the product. You’re just going to come up with creative ways to get the product seen, and luckily for us as well, it is a beautiful product, and my business partner happens to be a great photographer. We’re constantly doing our best to push out content.
Felix: Definitely want to talk about content in a bit. Now with the influencers, I’ve certainly heard of entrepreneurs reaching out to influencers directly, their Instagram by themselves, but this may be the first time I’ve heard of someone working with the modeling agency but it makes a lot of sense, especially in your industry of course in fashion. Talk to us about that. How does that work? How does one work with a modeling agency?
Johnnie: You either look at the modeling agencies or you would go onto a modeling website, so for example, Model Mayhem is one that we have here in Australia, and you either get photographers or you get models who are obviously looking to collaborate and do a photo shoot. I might find a photographer that’s got a relatively good following, and it’s as simple almost like an influencer saying, “Hey, love your work,” so you got to make sure that the style of photography is preferably somewhat in alignment with our brand and say, “Hey, would you like some product to shoot for any of your upcoming models?” Then again, it’s the same with the models. “Hey, really love your work. Would you love some product to shoot for one of your upcoming photo shoots?”
It’s a bit of a win-win all around. It’s a low cost marketing exercise for us. The model wins because they don’t necessarily have the money to always be buying new outfits for photographic shoots. The photographer wins because he’s looking for a product to shoot with as well. They post on their social media. We get more eyeballs on ours. We can repurpose the content for them from our social media. It’s kind of a nice collaborative process.
Felix: Got it. These are basically models or photographers that are already planning to do a shoot and now you’re asking if you can help contribute, help add value to their shoot by giving them one of your products. Is there some kind of business arrangement or deal that happens between you and the agency or is it more a handshake deal that you’re offering these free products for them?
Johnnie: It’s usually more a handshake kind of deal. There is a process that goes in place. You obviously get in touch with the person, you want to nurture that relationship as much as you can with constant communication, if there’s any money exchanged, which happens occasionally, there’s some sort of almost document contractual arrangement about our expectations and their expectations. Generally speaking, the level that we’re playing at and we’re consciously choosing to play at that level is where it’s really just a handshake. We’re not talking about people here that have got let’s say a million followers or 600,000 followers because usually that model or that photographer is really in it just mostly for themselves.
Whereas if you get somebody whose let’s just say got 50,000 or 60,000 followers or even less, it’s really about the engagement that they have, they’re happy to work to help each other out, if that makes sense.
Felix: What kind of engagement statistics do you look at when you are evaluating which influencers to work with?
Johnnie: There’s a few different variables. Obviously Instagram is probably one of the main areas we’re focusing on at the minute, just because that’s where our focus happens to be at the minute. There’s so many different places you can be playing at. I’m looking at let’s say the number of followers that they have. Not only am I looking at the number of followers that they have, but I’m also looking at then the engagement and the comments that they’re getting from their people because somebody can have a really great following but they got no comments, so therefore they’ve really got no engagement with their audience. Not only that, but I’m also looking at, believe it or not, what the story of their Instagram is. It’s very easy to find, let’s say, a guy who’s got 60,000, 100,000 followers, but he might be like, no offense or anything like that, it’s just not our demographic.
He might have an online workout kind of a guy or a real muscle guy. That’s not quite in alignment with our brand. Now we might do that occasionally just to try something different and just to get, again, a product of a slightly different demographic, but generally I will look at are they being fashion oriented? What’s the style of photography? What’s this person’s story about? Then make a decision based around that.
Felix: Got it. Obviously a pretty good amount of work. It’s not just spray and pray. Work with a bunch of influences. You spend time digging through their profiles, making sure that they are on brand and they have the demographic that you’re going after. How many influencers do you try to work with on an ongoing basis?
Johnnie: Again, at the moment, and the reason why I do that is because when I worked with influence probably a couple of years ago, I didn’t do it very well. I just randomly sent out product to everyone and anyone who did have some numbers, and then I went, “Hang on a minute, this is not very strategic at all.” Generally if I’m sending out, at the moment, just because we’re running a pretty solid Instagram campaign, if I’m sending out let’s say to 40 influencers, between 30 to 40 influencers a month, that’s pretty substantial.
Felix: Got it. How do you manage all that then? 30 to 40 is pretty significant, right? You have to keep track of everyone, making sure everyone’s essentially delivering on their end of the deal. How do you keep all this organized?
Johnnie: It becomes a pretty cumbersome process. I’m going to do a plug for Shopify here because I’m going to do a plug. Shopify actually makes it relatively very easy to do all of that. Within the Shopify site, you put the order through, we tag that particular order as an influencer, and thanks to Shopify automation, I just look at all the influencers that are out there, I’ve got an Excel sheet with a communication with them. There is definitely a process that needs to help. It’s not, “Let me contact this influence because he’s a really nice guy. They’re a really nice guy, they’re just going to pose for us.” No. You’ve got to actually follow though. Have you go the product? Keep them emotionally engaged with it?
Have you got the product? When are you planning on posting? Sometimes they post a picture and it’s really disappointing. You’ve got to get them a little of a brief around what you’re expecting and what you’re not expecting.
Felix: How does that going over because like you’re saying, these are typically or sometimes handshake deals and they aren’t maybe contractually obligated to do what you want them to do. How do you work with the influencer in those situation?
Johnnie: Again, the interesting thing is, again, when I first started doing that, just because I’m a relatively nice guy anyway, first I’m like, “Oh no, just do it out of the niceness,” but the reality is it’s actually at the end of the day a business transaction. Even if there is money exchanged or no money exchanged, I’m still giving them product, and I still put time and energy into making this thing happen, which is a win for them because they’re getting new product on their page and they’re getting actually a really beautiful product as well. We just had an influencer post for us the other day and then you had something like about 16,000 views on the product and a lot of people commented on the product that he was wearing, so it’s good for them.
It is a fundamentally a business transaction and they are actually still working for me on a contractual basis even if there’s no money exchanged. I hate to say it, but I’m the client in this instance.
Felix: Makes sense. Sometimes you can’t be too nice or you have to actually see that you are giving them value. You’re not just asking them for a value, because it is if you’re delivering value, you expect the value you’re giving back to as well. I think that’s certainly a mindset that entrepreneurs should get into. Now when you run these campaigns, do you have a method of measuring success? How do you know if a particular influencer is essentially successful or worth working with again?
Johnnie: That’s a really great question. It’s almost like a never ending question really. It really depends on the influencer, and we’ve tried different strategies. By the way, I read an article, I can’t remember what it was other day, but anybody who has more than I think its 2,000 followers is considered to have some sort of influence in the social media world. Whether you want to question that or not, that doesn’t really matter. How we measure them, well it really depends. Some people don’t want their followers to know that they’re giving a product, so it’s just a hashtag or they might just mention it. In those instances, it’s a little bit trickier to measure the results. Again, Shopify did a lot of that work for us, so the influencer will tell me when they’re about to post.
Shopify will tell me how many people have visited that site. Typically, within a 24 hour period of somebody posting, I will see whether there has been a spike or not. That is obviously one measurement. Then the other measurement as well is there’s one thing to see if there’s a spike in the traffic, is then to see if that actually transfers to obviously a sale. It’s one thing to drive traffic to the site, it’s another thing to close the sale. The other way is even, again, you might work with somebody, give them a code, a specific code that worked for that influencer, and then you can also see who purchased from that code.
Now usually for us, I find that that doesn’t really typically work for us or I haven’t really made that work for us. I find that just giving product and then driving the traffic to the site, giving them their $10 off on their initial opt-in purchase seems to work pretty work for us or at the very least, they’ve opted in and we have potentially acquired a new customer. There’s a few different measurements there.
Felix: Do you find that it might not work that well when it’s almost got blatant here’s this count code, go to Stonemen.com? Do you find that that doesn’t work as well because it’s too much of an ad, it doesn’t seem as organic? I guess, what’s your observation of why that might not perform as well as the more subtle approach?
Johnnie: Now I said that doesn’t work for us, and I think one of the main reasons why it doesn’t work for us is, number one, what you just said then exactly Felix. It’s a bit forced, it’s a bit contrite. I think that people who are looking on Instagram, if they’re going to buy something you would just do an Instagram ad or something like that. I also think for us as well, I think the only people that seem to be doing that relatively well, and I’m exploring this possibility but we’re not there at the minute, are those who would give a really heavy discount. Use the code and get up to 60% off your first purchase of Stonemen or whatever it might be.
The truth is, we’re not really a discount product; we’re a premium product, so I don’t want to get into the heavy game of discounting at 60% in order to acquire new customers. Number one, we don’t have the margins for that, and number two, I don’t want to be that type of a business that just relies on discounting all the time. We have certainly have had key times where we’ve had sale times, but I don’t want that to be the thing about that we’re competing on price. No. What we want people to do is to buy into our story, buy into our brand, buy into the comfort of the product and work at that level there.
I don’t mean to sound like a wanker or whatever, but it’s like asking Louis Vuitton to always be discounting. We’re a premium product, we’re not a discount product.
Felix: Makes sense. Now you mentioned earlier about how you’re sitting in the gifting market, your product is sold very often during the holiday shopping season. What do you think makes your product essentially a giftable product? Usually when I see giftable products, they’re usually cheaper. They fall into the $10 or $20 range. Your products are of course premium, like you said, and they look premium and they command premium prices. What do you think makes your product something that works well as a gift?
Johnnie: If you think about it, underwear is typically bought when? Once a year, maybe twice a year, right, or unless you’re a bit of an underwear … that’s your thing. Maybe you got a bit of a thing for underwear. That price point of coming up with a high quality spin on a predictable Christmas product for example I think makes it appealing. We get a lot of people that see the product and they go, “Oh my god, well I was going to buy him underwear anyway. Yeah, they’re a little bit more expensive, but they’re really unique and they’re really different,” so they’ll grab one pair and then we’ll retain that customer for a while.
It’s also one of the reasons why we bought out our essential range because that doesn’t fit a lower price point, still with the same comfort, but not necessarily with the unique print, which ends up costing us more because of the yardage wastage. I think for us as a gift, to answer your question, is because it’s a tried and true gift. Women buy underwear for their husbands, women buy underwear for themselves, and it sits at that price point where I think they’re willing to take the risk because it is so different.
Felix: Got it. You’re basically saying that people are already gifting underwear; you’ve just now come with a better gift for them to give to someone?
Johnnie: Yeah. The husbands or whoever at Christmastime or Valentines or whatever it might be are used to getting a pair of underwear, but how nice to go, “Oh my god, look at these and how beautifully designed they are”? I hate to say, but there is nobody who’s doing what we’re doing because we use a complete 360-degree, wraparound image on our underwear, which is partly also the reason it’s expensive because underwear just generally throws the patent together whereas we have a complete image, and there’s actually nobody that’s doing that in the marketplace.
Felix: Definitely premium products by looking at it. You mentioned, we talked about influencers already as a ways for you to get new customers, to reach new customers. You mentioned as well offline about content marketing being a key driver for your business. What kind of other content do you focus on creating to track new customers?
Johnnie: This is a conversation that we really this year, we’re a little bit slow. I think the great thing about some of your listeners hopefully is when you’re young and you’re fresh and, again, the great thing about Shopify is there’s just so much available to you on the Shopify site. We had a site before this one that wasn’t Shopify, it wasn’t automated and all the different pieces weren’t working together, made it a complete nightmare. We were at that point in time an underwear company trying to sell a line, whereas now the head space has shifted to some degree, well this is what we’re exploring is that we happen to be a digital media company or we happen to be a content company that happens to sell underwear.
I think that’s a kind of a little bit of a Headspace difference. Our focus for so long is being a part of the product and being the product right. Now that we’ve got that right, I think it’s just about going we’ve got to just deliver the content because it doesn’t matter how right the product is, if you’re not out there and people aren’t seeing the product or talking about the product, then it’s completely pointless. Then to answer your question, we do that in a multitude of different ways, so called our own high level content. Again, my business partner is a photographer, so organizing a proper campaign ideally once a month and a pro shoot at least once a month, but then also sending out an EDM to people in our database or posting images on Instagram that aren’t necessarily product related but more story related and brand building related.
They’re just some of the ways that we get people or just small campaigns or a small EDM that isn’t a small story related. That is the constant process of figuring out how to be talking to people, how to create in content that’s not just, “Hey, let me sell you a product.”
Felix: You mentioned EDM. What is that?
Johnnie: EDM is electronic direct mail. In other words, talking to your database. Talking to our database, it could be one L-train email that goes out that’s sale related, another one that’s about our story, another one that’s say focused on our product, another one that can be completely not related to our product at all but might have something to do with our brand. It’s basically those emails that we all get in our inboxes.
Felix: Got it. You’re basically shifting the business and moving away from just a company that sells products, to now creating more of a story, creating more of a lifestyle first, and then the customers, if they want to participate in this lifestyle, they might happen to want to buy your products and in this case your underwear products. What was that shift? When did this start happening and what were the first steps towards going in that direction?
Johnnie: That started happening for us, like I said, this year. I think the main reason for that was because up until this year, we realized that growth has been pretty organic, but organic will only get you to a certain place. The other thing as well is that the online, the eCommerce world has changed quite a fair bit. We’ve been around for a while now, and that’s a testament to the work that’s been gone on, but it’s been freaking scary. Let’s not sugarcoat that either. The online eCommerce world has changed now, and again, partially to Shopify as well because it’s made it so much easier to get online, but at the same time it’s a lot easier.
Once upon a time, where it could just be organic, you have to be a bit more strategic now. If you want to see the real growth and if you really want to challenge yourself in the business, you definitely need to be more strategic within your approach. That started for us this year where we said, “No, we really want to ramp things up. We have to be more strategic about how we do it.”
Felix: Got it. You decided to move beyond, take the next step after organic growth and start building more content to surround your brand. Now how did you know what kind of content to focus on, especially since you just started this year? I think a lot of listeners out there might want to take the same approach and they don’t know where to begin. How did you begin the steps towards creating content to surround your brand?
Johnnie: That’s an awesome question. The current answer at the minute is we haven’t perfected it yet. I’ll tell you what, in our instance. I’ve got a business partner who’s amazing and who’s wonderful and great. He’s the creative drive in our business. I tend to be probably more the sales focus and the marketing focus. Sometimes there’s a clash there between me just saying, “We need to get some content out, just anything that’s still relatively good content related to the brand,” whereas he wants to be very precises, wants to have only high quality stuff. The simple answer to that is we’re still perfecting that, we’re still working on that.
The other answer to that is I’m also looking at what other companies are doing, and not necessarily direct competitors, but also outside of our direct competition, people who I would consider to have a similar brand value and looking at what they’re doing and what I like about them and what I also don’t like about those and not doing those things as well. Really piggybacking off other people as well.
Felix: Got it. You’re certainly not copying your competitors; you’re looking at them to see not just what you like to do but also what you want to steer away from. I think it’s an important point. I think a lot of times when brand owners start looking for inspiration, they just look for what they like but not what they want to do. This is actually the opposite of. Now you’re creating a content, which I think is just part of that work. I think what’s equally and maybe even harder is to get people to pay attention to the content that you’ve created. What’s been the most effective channel or platform or method for you to get the eyeballs on the content that you guys are hard at work creating?
Johnnie: I would love to say, and I think I mentioned that the listeners are on this call right now, and I know that when I listen to podcasts I sometimes want to look for that silver bullet, that one thing that’s going to make everything turn and change in my business, when I just get that one breakthrough. From my experience, it’s just unfortunately not always that simple. The short answer is we use a multifaceted approach. Facebook ads, retargeting campaigns, Instagram influencers, the electronic emails that go out, as well as having some wholesale product in stores for people to visually see that also drives traffic to our site. Competition and collaboration with other eCommerce businesses so you’re, again, seeing a different market that might never seen your product before but is in alignment with our brand.
It has to be with the resources that you have because I appreciate that sometimes you might not necessarily have a lot of money, so you just got to come up with a bit creative, it has to be in my opinion a multifaceted approach. There are have definitely been times when we’ve just gone down the path of let’s just re-target with the Facebook ads, and yes that works, but there’s also a whole bunch of other things that we could be doing as well to make it all kind of work together.
Felix: I think it definitely does. I think it’s like you’re saying, we want this magic bullet, but I think it’s also comforting to know that it takes lots of different steps and lots of different iterations so that you’re not feeling like you’re missing out on something. There’s nothing special that you’re missing out on. It just requires lots of work and lots of trial and error. It also depends a lot on the business of course, the product and the industry that you’re in. Now I want to talk about mindset, because you mentioned something very I think poignant during offline, which then you said, this is a kind of quote from you, that “Technical skills of marketing social media sales are critical and can be learned, but none of that matters without having the right Headspace to navigate the ups and downs of business.”
Talk to us a little bit more about this. What kind of challenges or what is maybe the most challenging thing that you’ve had that has tested you the most mentally and how did you overcome it?
Johnnie: Well I think it’s an interesting one because I’m making an assumption here that a lot of people, to get into an eCommerce business, especially I’m going to imagine a younger generation. I hate to say it now, but I’m like in my mid 40s, and a younger generation, look at the leverage that you get out of an eCommerce business and it’s tremendous leverage, like all of a sudden geographic borders are no longer an issue for you. There’s a lot of excitement that goes with where an eCommerce business can take you. What people don’t necessarily anticipate, the potential day to day challenges, and they can be financial challenges.
Yes, we might be moving product to 48 countries around the world, but how do we cashflow that to then place our next order? It’s really about navigating the ups and downs that comes with a business. You might invest a few thousand dollars into a campaign, and you might be, “Yeah, this is the thing that’s going to push us to the next level,” and it might be your last few thousand dollars that you have and it just fizzes out. How do you keep going with that? The opposite to that is when all of a sudden you’ve got a half a million dollars in the bank, but you now know that the next three to six months of training are going to be really quiet and not getting too elated at the same time.
When you’re watching potentially your friends who are going to work on a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 and collecting a regular income, how do you manage that? Even the fact that, yes, eCommerce and technology has enabled us to work remotely, like you’re currently in New York, I’m currently in Sydney. I have business partners in Byron Bay, but I can’t turn around to my business partner and ask him a real quick question immediately, so this sense of isolation that goes with that. There’s a lot of different things that have to be considered that we don’t consider at first. I think the anxiety at nighttime of going, “Gosh, I haven’t made any sales today, no money came in and I’ve got pay for the order that I’ve just paid for,” so how do you manage all of those challenges?
Felix: Right. The mindset is truly the foundation that everything else can be built off of, and I think one key thing that you mentioned, we hear all the time about how you don’t want to let essentially the downturns get away from, you get control of your mind and your emotions, but one thing that you mentioned that’s also equally as important is don’t let the highs get away from you as well where you’re now being to maybe overly confident in what’s going on, which kind of sets you up for the eventual downfall, like any business goes, but also makes you maybe make the wrong decisions financially if all of a sudden you are over-betting where you might need to be more cautious.
I think that that’s key, not just about the downs, but also be aware of the highs and not letting those get the better of you. What do you do? I’m assuming that this is a bit of a learning process for you. What do you do on a day to day basis or what are you trying to remind yourself of constantly to try to improve your mindset so that you are prepared for this as a rollercoaster ride?
Johnnie: Well interestingly enough, my background, I happen to have been a motivational coach, a performance speaker. I traveled around the world doing it for a long time. The way that I always, for me, overcome the challenges and the ups and downs of running an eCommerce business is the start of my day is the foundation to my day. I will always start my day with some form of meditation and some form of exercise, so I already feel like I’ve accomplished something first in the morning. I’ve also listened to a podcast first thing in the morning as much as I possibly can, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this podcast for you, because when you wake up in the morning and you know you’ve got 20,000 things to do or you’re anxious about the day or you’re unsure about your next step, it can be really reassuring to know that you’re not the only person in that situation.
For me, it’s the setup in the morning is really important. Then also being, God, I hate to say it, vulnerable enough to lean in and have those conversations with the people who you respect, whether it be a business partner or somebody who knows what they’re doing and saying the words, “I don’t know, I’m not too sure what to do here.” I think part of the thing that slowed me down, being a typical man, was that I had to have all of the answers, rather than going, “I don’t know, let me ask somebody. Who can help me? Who can help me,” and being okay with saying I don’t know and who can help me is really instrumental to what’s been happening in our business lately.
Felix: Got it. I definitely appreciate you sharing the beginning of your days. I think that’s important to kick things off the right way. Now what’s the rest of your day like? What do you spend the rest of your day doing in the business?
Johnnie: Some days go by and to be really honest with you, I’ve got no idea what I’m doing in the business. I’m not too sure if you can relate. You get to the end of the day and you know what did I actually do today. That all really varies from spending time looking at the reports on Shopify. It will vary from looking at cashflow reports that come in. We have a coaching session once a week with a business coach that will vary from finding models influences, talking content with my business partner. That will vary from production schedules and marketing schedules. Then probably we’ll a little bit chat about growth and expansion. We’re looking at moving into the U.S. next year and looking at export grants.
It really does vary, but most of it is generally around how do we come up with creative ideas to get more people to see our product and measure that, more importantly.
Felix: Got it. When you are running the business, you mentioned of course that you’re on Shopify, what other kind of tools or applications do you rely on to help manage and take control of the day?
Johnnie: I guess there’s a variety. Whether that be Trello from a product management point of view. There’s so much technology around us. Skype, I hate to say, is really quite relevant for us. Zero is quite relevant for us. Dropbox is quite relevant for us. All the typical workings within a small business would be the main things that we use. For us, it’s actually a lot is automated through Shopify and the apps that we can put in there, things like Hootsuite for posting our content. They’re the main things that pop into mind right now.
Felix: Got it. Thank you so much for your time Johnnie. He’s with Stonemen.com, S-T-O-N-E-M-E-N dot com is the website. What do you see as the next big challenge for you guys? What kind of challenges do you want to tackle on next?
Johnnie: We’re really ready to embrace the U.S. market next year. Australia has been very good to us. We ship already to 48 countries around the world, Australia being our highest, biggest seller followed by the U.S. and followed by the U.K. For us next year, it’s about how can we supply to our American customers quicker, better, more effectively and take away our shipping costs as well. We’re looking at potentially setting up a hub in the U.S.
Felix: Awesome. Sounds like a great new market to get into. Definitely appreciate you coming on, again, Johnnie, to share all of your experience again. Thank you so much for your time.
Johnnie: Thanks Felix. Really appreciate it. Been great to be on here. To anyone that’s listening, keep rocking and rolling. Keep moving forward. It’s a fun ride.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store on the next Shopify Masters episode.
Male: Pretty just hype up our order deadline for getting a guaranteed December 25th delivery and then after that, we tried to hype up our gift cards.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to Shopify.com/blog.