How Successful Customer Profiling Bolstered RTACabinetStore.com to an 8-Figure Business

By | 2018-05-23T17:19:14+00:00 January 21st, 2016|eCommerce Best Practices, Marketplaces|

Customer profiling and customer focus the best way to ensure customer retention. If you can hone your business to market toward a specific niche, that consumer group will not only be a repeat customer, but also share their experience of your store. Gary Nealon from RTACabinetStore.com not only devised a way to retain his customers but the purposefully targeted customer profiles and marketing provides his customers with exactly what they’re looking for. Because of this, RTACabinetStore.com has been growing exponentially, earning them a spot on Inc.’s 500 for the last four years.

In the Eighteenth episode of Skubana’s E-Commerce Mastery Series where we invite experts of their respected fields to share their best practices for success, our host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz of InspiredInsider.com interviews Gary Nealon of RTACabinetStore.com.

What this interview covers:

  • The importance of catering to your niche and focused consumer base
  • How different social media avenues need to be focused over other depending on your product
  • How CTACabinetStore.com was invited to be a part of over 80 different television programs through effective marketing and guerilla marketing.
  • Overcoming shipping obstacles when delivering heavy kitchen cabinets and other parts
  • Focusing your efforts on your favorite parts of running a business and leaving other responsibilities to your employees or outsourced freelancers.

Raw Transcript: Gary Nealon of RTACabinets.com

Jeremy: [00:00:15] Dr. Jeremy Weiss [SP] here. I’m founder of Inspiredinsider.com, where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders, like the founders of P90X, Baby Einstein, Atari, many more, how they overcome big challenges in life and business. This is part of the Skubana E-Commerce Mastery Series, where top sellers and experts teach you what really works to boost your e-commerce business. Skubana is a software platform to manage your entire e-commerce operation. Gary is gonna talk about some software too today.

[00:00:41] Today, we have Gary Nealon. He’s founder of RTA Cabinet Store, and he’s built an eight-figure e-commerce business. He’s the owner of Rocks Group, which is a collection of e-commerce sites in the home improvement niche, of all things, which includes one of the largest online distributors and importers of kitchen cabinets in the US. They’ve been featured on over 80 shows, HDTV, A&E, and several others. He’s been featured on the Ink 500, 5000, as well as Philly’s 100 Fastest-Growing Companies. If that wasn’t enough, Gary, you also run Winetrailadventures.com and Nealon Solutions Marketing Company. Gary, thanks for joining me.

Gary: [00:01:21] Oh, thanks for having me.

Jeremy: [00:01:23] There’s a lot to discuss, and I want to talk about . . . You’re an expert in e-commerce. We met at the event in Napa, Mastermind Talks.

Gary: Yes.

Jeremy: [00:01:32] I was really impressed with your e-commerce knowledge. There was a circle of people, and you kept giving some mind-blowing, amazing responses and tips in e-commerce. So the first thing is . . . We’ll get into RTA Cabinet Store and the marketing company. But just in general, what’s a must for sellers to boost sales? If someone’s looking for advice from you, what should they start doing to increase their sales?

Gary: [00:02:00] Probably the thing that really boosts our sales and kind of honed in, not only reducing our costs, but kind of getting us a better message, was when we really focused on the avatar of our ideal customer. When we first started out, it was kitchen cabinets. We were just trying to sell kitchen cabinets. When we really sat down and thought about it, we really had more than one customer. We had essentially five different types of customers. So we were using the same message to speak to five different people. It wasn’t resonating as well as when we actually honed in on what each individual customer was looking for and then had a custom message created for them. Once we did that, not only did it drop our advertising costs, but it really helped our conversion rates because we were speaking specifically to them instead of just talking to a general audience.

Jeremy: [00:02:43] Yeah. That’s powerful. The power of direct-response marketing. So what’s one of those customers? Use an example. Yeah.

Gary: [00:02:50] Yeah. So when you think about kitchen cabinets, we just thought about anybody that owned a house. That’s who we were selling to. When we really looked into it, we were talking to, essentially, the homeowner, the contractor and builder, property investor and a flipper, and real estate agent. Each one of them had a different reason for buying from us, instead of . . . Some might have been price. Some might have been convenience or speed of delivery. Others were the quality. So each one, by tailoring the message to them, we’re hitting exactly what their pain points were if they’re buying our product.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:03:23] That was kind of one of the biggest shifts that we made in our business model when we started doing that a couple years ago. A little more laid work on creating multiple funnels and doing all that stuff, but really in the long run, it actually helped us out and actually reduced our cost per acquisition.

Jeremy: [00:03:27] When did you first discover to do this? It seems like when you’re saying it, I’m like, “Obviously.” It’s not like I would have sat down and thought that would be my first thing, but it’s so powerful. When did you first . . .

Gary: [00:03:49] Yeah, it was . . . I want to say it was a couple years in. We kind of peaked there after maybe our third or fourth year. Sales were growing, but they were kind of starting to level off a little bit. We were trying to figure out why we were competing for the same customer base here with everybody else. There’s got to be something different that we can do to kind of separate us from what everybody else is doing. Literally we put out an ad, and people would copy it. It was like we were kind of the leader in that little niche.

Jeremy: Really?

Gary: [00:04:15] Yeah. They were just copying everything we were doing. So we were looking for creative ways to kind of generate an audience without having to compete on the same level.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:04:24] That was one of the strategies. Another strategy that we did was we looked at what, based off of those avatars, what are some of the other hobbies that those people had. So good example would be for the homeowner. We figured out that our . . . Realistically the buyer was actually the female of the house, who usually had one or two kids.

Jeremy: [00:04:42] They control everything. The females. Yeah.

Gary: [00:04:44] She liked to cook. She liked to spend time in the kitchen. So we started creating social media platforms around cooking and gardening and different hobbies that we knew that particular audience had. Well, they may not have been in the market for kitchens at that time. We would give away free cookbooks and get them on our . . . get them used to just dealing with us on a regular basis. Then we’d slowly drip in, “Hey. Are you sick of your kitchen, your outdated kitchen, or whatever?” Just kind of drop [inaudible:00:05:10].

Jeremy: That’s genius, Gary. I love that.

Gary: [00:05:14] Not only that, but it allowed us to talk to these people that our competitors were not. So we have a cooking Facebook page with, I think, 70,000 or 80,000 . . .

Jeremy: [00:05:21] That’s amazing.

Gary: . . . followers on it. So we can drop ads to these people, specific to our campaigns, without having them see the same ads from our competition. So it really gave us a niche market that we could target and still be able to interact with them and get some conversions out of it. So I would say that was probably phase two of our big jump in sales.

Jeremy: [00:05:42] So obviously my next logical question . . . I want to ask about what was another message. But how do you get 70,000 or 80,000 people on a cooking Facebook page?

Gary: [00:05:52] That’s the thing. When you find a niche like that, where they’re passionate about something, some people . . . .Cooking is a really good example. People that cook are really passionate about cooking. So we’re always looking for new recipes, different things. So we literally just are giving away recipes. Our strategy initially for that Facebook campaign was . . . We’d post a couple recipes, figure out over the course of the month which ones were the top ones or which ones got the most likes and shares, and just put them into a free download and just give them away. So people were like, “Oh, wait. You’re giving away free recipes that I can always just see online anyways.” So they were eager to sign up for our email campaigns because we weren’t selling them anything. We were literally just giving them stuff away.

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:06:30] Then every now and again, we’d slip in kind of an ad here or there, but we made sure that we weren’t spamming them. We weren’t doing anything that made them feel uncomfortable. It’s the difference between when you try and get them on a mailing campaign for cabinets. People are apprehensive because they know you’re trying to sell them something. But when you’re literally just giving away free recipes, there’s no apprehension there. So when you drop in an occasional ad, it doesn’t feel as intrusive as if it’s just ad, ad, ad, ad, ad, coming at them.

Jeremy: [00:06:57] Right. You’re all about delivering the content and the value and, maybe 5% or 10% of the time, just mentioning about . . . It may, at that point, hit a pain point for them, because they’re not always searching for cabinets.

Gary: [00:07:11] Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. We’re trying to . . . In that case, we’re just trying to lay the background. Hopefully when it comes around time for them to actually go shopping, they’ll remember that they saw some really nice kitchens or remember the name and just kind of go from there.

Jeremy: [00:07:25] It’s a long-term approach. Not everyone probably is into the long-term approach.

Gary: [00:07:29] Right. Exactly. Yeah. It’s definitely a longer-term approach than running Facebook ads and [inaudible:00:07:33].

Jeremy: [00:07:35] Sending them directly to a page to buy cabinets. So talk about one of the other customers. What kind of messaging do you use with . . . I don’t know what the best example, either with the real estate agents or contractors, would be interesting.

Gary: [00:07:49] Yeah. With contractors, they’re more concerned with business growth and, obviously, price points a little bit more.

Jeremy: Make a profit.

Gary: [00:07:59] Yeah. So what we do is we actually put together a contractor dashboard for the back end, where we give them business coaching ideas, like marketing strategies. So obviously if they grow their business, it only helps us in the long run. So we try to help them from a business standpoint, versus focusing on the price of the cabinets or anything else like that. So we figure if we can bring them in and almost be like a partner, suddenly price isn’t as big of an issue. So they’re not constantly shopping around. They know they’re getting something of value from us.

[00:08:27] Property flippers, they tend to need speed and high quality right away. So if somebody gets a property to flip, they’re usually on a time crunch. They got to get the cabinets in and out within a reasonable amount of time. So we focus more on how fast we can deliver them, how fast our service is gonna be if there is an issue or something like that. So again, we’re trying to take price out of the issue and just say, “Here’s all the value that we’re adding for you. Based off of that, that’s why you should be buying from us.”

Jeremy: [00:08:54] Yeah. Because if you talk more price with them, they’re not as interested as getting it to them yesterday.

Gary: [00:09:00] It’s still obviously high on the priority list, but still hitting some of those other pain points that most people aren’t focusing on.

Jeremy: [00:09:06] Yeah. So Gary, I think we can stop the interview right here because the avatar, “Speak directly to your customer,” that solves 90% of things. Right? Probably . . . I have to think about that on a daily basis too, now that you mention it, because it’s so important, and we probably forget it a lot of times. So I appreciate you starting with that.

Gary: [00:09:25] Actually . . . It kind of is a launching pad for everything else you do too, because even when you’re running ads, or you’re thinking about how to target people on Facebook ads or Pinterest or whatever, knowing what your ideal customer is, it makes it a lot easier to narrow down the costs and the market base that you’re focusing on. So instead of just running generic ads to a wide . . . to eight million people, you can have really tailored messages to maybe 10,000, 15,000, and it’s gonna drop your costs. Your conversion rates are gonna go up, and everything is gonna be improved, just by doing that.

[00:09:54] See, I think it’s one of the most important aspects. Maybe when you’re first starting, it’s not because you’re trying to get traffic through the door, and you’re just trying to hone your message. But at some point, that has to become a major focus.

Jeremy: [00:10:06] Yeah. No, I can tell you dial it in because you know it’s a mom, one or two kids. She reads Home & Garden magazine, whatever it is. You can speak directly to those people so easily.

Gary: [00:10:17] Exactly.

Jeremy: [00:10:19] So two things I want to talk about. TV.

Gary: Yes.

Jeremy: [00:10:23] I mentioned 80 shows. So I want to hear about how you got on TV and then some of the milestones there.

Gary: [00:10:31] I don’t even know how many shows it is anymore. I think it’s even more than that.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:10:34] We’ve been doing probably about 20 a year.

Jeremy: [00:10:35] What was the first one? Tell me about the first one that you got on.

Gary: [00:10:38] First one was a show called “Carter Can.” It had Carter Oosterhouse on it. He came from “Trading Spaces” show from a while back, was one of the most popular shows on . . . home improvement shows. Initially enough, we got in touch with them through press releases. So I used to do a lot of press releases, a lot of guerrilla marketing, just putting stuff out online, talking about what we’re doing. One of the producers of the show just happened to find our company name, and they were like, “We’re in a real tight crunch. We need cabinets delivered in, I think like, a little over a week. Nobody else . . . ” They didn’t know anybody else that could do it. So we’re like, “Yeah, we could do it.” So we just figured it out, got them out to them. They loved it for the first show. They’re like, “Can we use you for multiple shows?” I was like, “Absolutely.”

Jeremy: [00:11:22] So what did that require? Did they need it for the set? Or what did they need? What did they need?

Gary: [00:11:27] So it’s whenever they’re doing a home renovation or whatever. They’re looking for materials to actually renovate the house. So they work on such a tight time frame that they may literally only have two weeks’ notice that they need materials. So it was like for . . . Kitchen typically takes eight to 10 weeks. So it’s kind of hard to do. So this is going back eight or nine years ago, when we first started. They really had no idea how to get this done. So we were kind of the only ones that were like, “Yeah, we’ll turn it around in a week for you if you really need it.” [inaudible:00:11:56] don’t worry about it. So that show kind of spawned . . . The producers of that show, once it was over, went to a couple other shows. They just kind of kept spreading the word like, “These guys are really good to work with.” We’re flexible, and we fly out to some of the shows, and we help them with the setup and everything. So we really added a lot of value to the shows.

[00:12:16] For me, it was great because I was getting free marketing material out of it. Hardest thing for us was getting high-quality videos and pictures. So we were getting [inaudible:00:12:24].

Jeremy: [00:12:24] Oh, you could take it off like A&E. There’s our cabinets right there.

Gary: [00:12:28] Yeah. So they would chop it up for us, and they’d produce nice little commercials and everything for us.

Jeremy: Wow.

Gary: [00:12:34] It’s all high-res images.

Jeremy: That’s amazing.

Gary: [00:12:36] That was worth more than the cost of the cabinets for me. I was more than happy to help you out with these shows. So that’s kind of how the TV stuff started. We just kept a really good track record working with the shows, and they keep passing us on to other shows and other shows.

Jeremy: [00:12:50] Do they ever ask you to go on the show?

Gary: [00:12:53] I’ve actually been on camera probably 10 times, and they’ve cut me out almost every single time.

Jeremy: [00:13:00] Because you’re too tall?

Gary: I think [inaudible:00:13:02].

Jeremy: [00:13:02] For people who don’t know, you’re 6’7. Right?

Gary: Yeah, 6’7.

Jeremy: [00:13:05] Your head is probably cut off. That’s why.

Gary: [00:13:06] They just don’t like tall bald people or what, but for some reason, they just kept cutting me out of the shows. I made it on two. There were like two shows.

Jeremy: [00:13:14] It’s discriminating to bald people all over the world. I take offense.

Gary: [00:13:18] Yes. Discrimination or something. I don’t know.

Jeremy: [00:13:21] So you’ve been on two, though. What do you do on camera? Are you actually installing? Are you teaching?

Gary: [00:13:25] Yeah, the one I was on, I was demonstrating the quality of cabinets and stuff like that. Then the other one, I was actually helping install. Early on, it was a lot easier for us to get those big interactions because typically the way those shows work is they’ll lower the budget, the more they’re willing to give away, because they don’t have money to spend on materials. So when they first started, they were like, “We’ll put you on camera.” We had them come to our showroom a couple times, and they did some in-house stuff. So we got some really good value out of that.

Jeremy: [00:13:54] They wanted to create more value because they are doing it on a low budget type of thing.

Gary: [00:13:58] Yeah. Yeah. So now, as the show’s become more popular and kind of grown in budget, a lot of them backed away from doing those free on-air stuff, just basically focusing on the quality of the content that they’re giving you. So we [inaudible:00:14:14] stuff now than we have in the past, but we still get a huge amount of value out of the actual materials.

Jeremy: [00:14:19] Gary, how do you decide what opportunities to take in that case? I see a TV show. That’s a huge opportunity. Then they’re probably asking you to cut your profit margin. I could say the same thing with contractors, dangling something. Well, we do tons of houses if you just give us this deal. How do you navigate that?

Gary: [00:14:41] It’s taken some time to kind of read through the kind of BS from a lot of these guys. I noticed the guys that do a lot of business like that, they don’t blatantly talk about it. They’re just like . . . It’s innate in them. They’re like, “Give your best deal, and whatever your best deal is, we work with it.” In fact, some of our largest customers never have a problem, never say a word. This [inaudible:00:15:05] They don’t complain about that stuff. It’s usually the guys that are really small guys, trying to become big. They’re like, “We’re gonna give you all this business, but you got to give us this in exchange.”

[00:15:14] So we start off. We say, “Once you hit a certain threshold, then we’ll do it. But until then, we don’t know you. You don’t know us. So let’s kind of get to know each other first.” It’s like dating.

Jeremy: [00:15:24] Yeah, exactly. So that’s a TV front. So what about the social media front? I know you guys do a lot of great content in social media. Maybe start with YouTube for a second.

Gary: [00:15:35] Yes. So we started . . . Let’s face it. There’s not a lot to talk about on cabinets. Once you talk about them, [inaudible:00:15:42].

Jeremy: [00:15:43] Well, that’s why I want you to talk about this, because if you can make cabinets sexy, then no one out there has an excuse about their product.

Gary: [00:15:50] Yeah. It’s probably the least . . .

Jeremy: [00:15:51] First of all, Gary, if you could ship cabinets . . . Someone who’s doing e-commerce cabinets . . . You can do that. Forget it. You can do everything. So that’s why I love having you for this.

Gary: [00:16:01] We always joked about it. It’s probably the worst product you can sell online. It’s big and bulky. It’s hard to ship. It’s an actual product, so [inaudible:00:16:08].

Jeremy: What do you do with it when you get it? Yeah, it’s like . . .

Gary: [00:16:11] We do a lot of education through video. We figured out that it was hard for us to keep coming up with crazy stories that talk about cabinets. So it was like we just take all the questions that we get on a daily basis, work them into videos, and those become more of tutorials than anything else.

Jeremy: [00:16:27] Yeah, that’s great.

Gary: [00:16:29] We’ve been trying on a regular basis to take all the questions our customer service gets, convert them into educational videos, because we know if one person’s asking it, there’s probably at least a handful of other people who want the same answer. We’re turning those into videos, like I said, and then putting them on YouTube and then uploading them onto our site. So we’ve also done a lot with . . . Because it is a hard product to ship, and people aren’t used to dealing with it, we’ve actually created a series of videos. After they order, we walk them through the entire process.

Jeremy: [00:16:58] Like unpacking stuff.

Gary: Exactly what’s gonna happen when it gets there, if there is something wrong, what to do, and it’s all in more of a fun video aspect than just reading it off of a piece of paper. So YouTube was actually a big directional push for us, especially with trying to drive in some traffic and education and everything else.

Jeremy: [00:17:16] Yeah. What made you start with that? Because I look, and some of these videos have 3000 views or more.

Gary: Yeah. I know. It’s just . . .

Jeremy: On kitchen cabinets.

Gary: [00:17:23] It was one of those things where we’ve tested out just about every social media platform out there. We know which ones . . .

Jeremy: [00:17:28] Yeah, so rank them. What do you like the most, and what do you not like as much for this?

Gary: [00:17:33] I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook because it’s really hard to sell kitchens on there, but it’s really easy for us to re-engage with people that have actually come to our site. So for us, Facebook isn’t . . . Advertising campaigns don’t work very well for us, but re-targeting campaigns work really well. So we’ve learned that over the last couple years. Pinterest, obviously, because it’s a visual product. People want to see really nice kitchens finished and everything. Pinterest works really well for us because it’s a digital marketplace. There are some home improvement sites, like Hals.com [SP] and Buildzoom.com that do really well for us.

[00:18:11] Google Ads still work really well. Bing, for some reason . . . Bing converts better for us than that platform. We got Facebook. We got YouTube. YouTube does really well.

Jeremy: [00:18:21] Yeah, so YouTube . . . I want to hear about your process. The geeky part of me wants to hear. So there’s a process there that goes. Customer service takes a call. There’s a question. What’s the process that actually translates? Because there’s many stops until it gets into a video and then onto YouTube.

Gary: [00:18:38] So kind of our process is those questions go into a . . . We have a custom-built CRM. So when a customer calls, a customer service person will take that into kind of almost like a notebook section within our CRM. Then on a weekly basis, we’ll kind of go through there and look at what could be made into a video versus what’s just a generic question. In some cases, we’ll group them together into a series of questions within a video. Then we have a little section of our showroom that we sectioned off, strictly for . . . with lighting and everything, to be able to shoot custom videos there.

Jeremy: Nice.

Gary: [00:19:09] So we were on a pretty good streak of creating a couple a week. We’ve kind of fallen off that recently, but [inaudible:00:19:15].

Jeremy: [00:19:15] What’s your favorite? What’s a favorite video that you produced? Maybe it’s a really weird question, or maybe it’s especially well-done, because I like checking out really good marketing videos, even if it’s kitchen cabinets.

Gary: [00:19:27] I’ll tell you which one’s the best one that’s working for us the best right now.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:19:30] It’s on Facebook, and it’s actually one of the TV shows, but it was done here in Philadelphia. It was actually . . . A buddy of ours is the contractor. It has John Silva from . . . He’s done a couple shows on TV. He literally blatantly gives us a promotion on the video.

Jeremy: Really?

Gary: [inaudible:00:19:49] physically for us. It honestly converts better than anything we’ve ever created.

Jeremy: What does he say?

Gary: [00:19:53] He just walks through a finished kitchen and has the surprised homeowner come in, and they literally are like, “Wow. This is the greatest thing we’ve ever seen,” and he talks about the quality and everything. So it gives us some social proof from him, but it’s also such a high-quality video that we could never shoot anything that well.

Jeremy: [00:20:09] Right, and the customer’s reaction, I’m sure, is huge too.

Gary: [00:20:12] Yeah. So it’s got a mixture of the perfect storm for us. So we use that for all of our re-targeting ads on YouTube. We use it for all of our Facebook campaigns and everything.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:20:22] So that’s, by far, the highest-converting ever.

Jeremy: [00:20:24] Yeah. So what works for YouTube subscribers? Because you guys still have a number of subscribers on YouTube too.

Gary: [00:20:30] Yeah. It’s just the educational aspect of it. So we look outside of just what has to do with our cabinets. So we’ll talk about fundamental home improvement projects and general things that people would have to do around their house anyways, to kind of pull them in from those ancillary topics that they’re looking at. Then maybe they’ll start to see some stuff about the cabinets and talk about that stuff too.

Jeremy: [00:20:53] Yeah, it reminds me of a guy I interviewed, the Beard Brand, and he’s got like tens of thousands, I forgot, 70,000, about how to take care of your beard. It really reminds me of . . . I go, “How do you have 70,000 watching your videos on stroking your beard?” But he does it well. So now I can add kitchen cabinet videos to my repertoire.

Gary: [00:21:16] There you go. Yeah. You’re telling me you never thought you’d actually want to subscribe to it. Right?

Jeremy: [00:21:20] So what about . . . A lot of great tips on boosting sales. Now what about some mistakes that people should avoid when selling on e-commerce?

Gary: [00:21:31] Yeah. Honestly the biggest mistake would be not knowing who you’re actually talking to. You can waste a ton of money. The other thing that I kind of preach about . . . Some of the things when I go on presentations is don’t focus on just one marketplace. There’s a lot of money to be made, obviously, on Amazon. There’s a lot of money to be made on your own website. But having a multi-platform strategy is gonna protect you in the long run. I’ll give you an example.

[00:21:57] So we never really got hit by any of the Google updates, except for one. This was probably about five or six years ago. Doing really well. Things were taking off. We’re hiring people. We’re doing everything that you’re supposed to be doing, but we were heavily focused on our own website. Almost all of our traffic was organically based from SEO efforts that we put through.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:22:18] Then one day, we lost like 20-something percent of our traffic, just from a Google update. I was like in sheer panic mode, like, “Holy . . . ” We literally just lost 20-something percent of our business without nothing that we did. So from that day on, I made . . .

Jeremy: [00:22:29] That’s a scary thing.

Gary: [00:22:31 ]Yeah. It could’ve been a lot worse. There’s people that have lost all their business.

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:22:34] Just from focusing on one thing. So from that day on, we made sure that we never were focused on one platform or one advertising source. So right now, even our organic is maybe 20 to 25% of our total business. So even if we lost all of it, we still wouldn’t have everything disappear.

Jeremy: [00:22:52] You’d just be in the same spot you were when they updated it.

Gary: [00:22:55] It’s a lot easier to swallow losing 20% than it is to lose 90% of your business [inaudible:00:23:01].

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:23:01] Especially now. We’ve got a huge warehouse here. We’ve got a lot of employees to think about. So we really want to make sure that we diversified and we were protected in everything that we did. That’s one of the things I preach too about other e-commerce people. It’s like you’re gonna start off on one platform. You’re gonna have a lot of success, but also look at other ways you can diversify and generate traffic from other sources. God forbid, the worst-case scenario happens. You’re not completely left without a business.

Jeremy: [00:23:27] You don’t want to get too fat and happy, in other words. Right. So tell me about diversification. After that hit, what’d you do? Oftentimes, it takes a little bit of a scare for us to take action. What did you do to diversify after that hit?

Gary: [00:23:40] Our first thing was we were never running any paid ads. Everything was organic. We were getting just natural traffic, which is great. So that was our first step.

Jeremy: [00:23:48] Your background is in marketing and SEO. So you were able to do that. Yeah.

Gary: [00:23:52] Yeah. So I had done affiliate marketing and some of that stuff before. So I knew how to run ads. I finally said, “Okay. It’s time to bite the bullet. Let’s figure this out.” So that was our first launch into something different. So we were starting to generate paid traffic. We were figuring out what works, what doesn’t work. From there, we looked into some of the home improvement platforms. For our niche, it’s a little bit different because there are sites that specifically sell just home improvement products. So we were able to look at some of those marketplaces and kind of diversify that way. We dove into Amazon and eBay and failed miserably at it because kitchen cabinets just do not sell on eBay and Amazon.

Jeremy: [00:24:28] On Amazon. Yeah. Do people buy any components of kitchen cabinets? Or not at all on Amazon?

Gary: [00:24:34] We spent . . . This is kind of like what our last maybe two years was. We spent a lot of time figuring out why they wouldn’t buy and what could we actually sell to get them back in the system.

Jeremy: Right, right, right.

Gary: [00:24:46] You figured out that they’re not buying kitchens, but they’re buying . . . We did a lot with shower doors and different products for the bathroom, to kind of get them used to our buying cycle. So we actually have a very successful eBay and Amazon store now. We probably do 70 figures on Amazon alone right now. But that is all just to drive traffic back to our site. So we’re selling other people’s products that we know sell really well, getting them used to buying from us and getting them used to our selling cycle, and then we’re dropping them into an email campaign to get them back into the cabinet stuff. So it’s really grabbing people that weren’t really shopping for cabinets but also, in the long run, if they’re making one home improvement project, they’re probably gonna do one or two more down the road.

Jeremy: [00:25:25] Yeah. So you can . . . Can you work directly with manufacturers to sell their brands then on Amazon?

Gary: [00:25:30] Yeah. So that’s what we’re doing. We focus more on manufacturers that we knew would drop-ship it for us.

Jeremy: [00:25:36] You’re like, “I don’t want any more warehouse headaches.”

Gary: [00:25:38] Yeah. I got enough stuff out here. I don’t need to be bringing other people’s products. Yeah, we have probably about five or six vendors that we work with that will drop-ship for us. We don’t have to touch it. We’re just driving the traffic to [inaudible:00:25:51].

Jeremy: [00:25:52] So what’s your requirement for that? Does it have to be below a certain weight or sell for a certain price? Are there . . .

Gary: [00:25:58] No. The neat thing is we figured out the shipping process based off of how bad our product is to ship. We literally deal with any product that’s out there. I can’t think of anything worse than cabinets at this point, although maybe like a pool table or something you’d have to ship. Yeah, so we don’t have any requirements on that. We just try to make sure that, A, they ship within the Amazon requirement times, that we know they’re gonna communicate effectively with us, and that the price point makes sense. So we’re not focused on making profit on it. We’re trying to get them in the lead, but we also want to make sure that we make a little bit of money off it, just for the effort.

Jeremy: [00:26:33] Right. Now do you only do drop-shipping with that? Or do you sometimes have them do FBA?

Gary: [00:26:39] No. Right now, we only do drop-ship. We’ve been looking at doing some of our own products, especially now that we have the cooking page up and some of that stuff. Got enough followers that we know we can start creating our own products.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:26:51] So we’re gonna do a couple trip-wire products. I know we’re looking at some kitchen gadgets and different things that are at a low enough price point that people would . . . We could sell enough of them and get some people back into the email campaigns.

Jeremy: [00:27:04] Yeah. Any tips, Gary, with working with these manufacturers? I’ve obviously talked to the people who sometimes that’s their whole business. Right? They just deal with these manufacturers, have them drop-ship. Any tips when working these manufacturers? Then I want to ask a marketing question, if you have them put anything in the box, if there’s any marketing materials that you can capture them as a customer.

Gary: [00:27:27] Yeah. So it depends which way you’re going. So if you’re going straight to the factory . . . So for the cabinets and everything, we deal straight with the factory. In that case, you get more flexibility in terms of what you do with the packaging and what you can put inside of it. So we bring in full containers, or we partner up, and we bring in partial containers, whatever. We have the flexibility to put stuff in the packaging and really focus on making sure our messaging and everything is correct for us. For some of the stuff that we do on eBay and Amazon, where we’re just strictly drop-shipping from US manufacturers, we don’t have that flexibility. So we have to have a really good followup system.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:28:01] The good thing is that because it is a bigger and bulky product, it’s natural for them to get a followup from us. You’re getting a 300-pound item showing up at your door. It’s not as . . .

Jeremy: It’s not self-explanatory.

Gary: [00:28:13] It’s not as weird to get a call from somebody to say, “Hey. Did everything go okay?” Whereas if you just got a toothbrush in the mail, you’re not expecting somebody to call and check up on it. So it’s a little more logical in that process, where we have a followup, and it’s not as creepy or as intrusive as it would be for . . .

Jeremy: [00:28:30] You’re a friendly-looking guy, if they hear you on the other end. So what kind of followup do you recommend? What should people [inaudible:00:28:37] start doing?

Gary: [00:28:38] We’ll send, obviously, the email through Amazon or eBay or whatever the platform is. I know there’s software programs that you can use to automate some of that stuff. We’d go more with a manual approach, just so that we have a different person on there and really communicate with them. We also do a phone call followup, especially since most of the products that we ship require an appointment for the delivery. It allows us the opportunity to call and say, “Hey. We know your shipment is gonna be delivered tomorrow or whatever. We just want to make sure if you have any issues, here’s who you can reach out to.” It starts that communication process for us. So in that case, we just do a manual followup on the phone, just to touch base with them and really create those communication channels.

Jeremy: [00:29:17] Now Gary, will you . . . Again, this is another geeky marketing question. But will you leave a message about that? Or will you wait to get somebody on the line to talk to them?

Gary: [00:29:27] We’ll leave a message because a lot of times, they’re expecting somebody to call to set up the appointment. So it’s almost a natural progression for them to call somebody back.

Jeremy: [00:29:35] Yeah, and you tell them to call back? Or you just give them information on the message?

Gary: [00:29:39] We just give them information and say, “Here’s who you can reach out to if you have any issues or anything like that.” Then oftentimes, we’ll do a followup after it’s delivered because usually, in a construction project, they may not open it for a couple days. We want to make sure that they get within the parameters of when we can file a claim if there is one.

Jeremy: [00:29:57] Yeah. I guess my brain goes directly to really hard parts or nightmares. So things that pop up for me is logistical nightmares for you. I don’t know how you deal with it. Then the other thing is hiring. You have to have a lot of people to coordinate with between the people . . . Yeah.

Gary: [00:30:16] So we . . . [inaudible:00:30:18] logistics one. So I actually . . . My background was logistics. I came from . . . I worked in logistics for about 10 years. I was the director of sales for a logistics company [inaudible:00:30:26] started anything. So I knew the shipping and logistics industry, inside out.

Jeremy: That helped a lot, I’m sure.

Gary: [00:30:31] Yeah, obviously. So I was able to get some super aggressive rates with a trucking company. I knew who was good to service what areas and whatnot. I knew the kind of claims ratio, and I knew how to handle a claim. So a lot of times, we would preemptively try to explain that to customers so we didn’t have to deal with a huge headache on the back end.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:30:51] But we’ve also, in that process, developed . . . We were talking about software programs. Some of the stuff that we developed was internal to help solve those issues. So it’s . . . A good example is we’ve created a mobile app. So we take a picture of our product before it leaves our facility. Then when it gets to the customer, they can use the same mobile app to take a picture of it when it gets there. So we’re kind of eliminating the steps in between of arguing between the carrier of, “Oh, it didn’t show up that way,” or whatever. It helps the customer out because then it’s the comfort level of what’s showing up and what it should look like.

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:31:22] So we develop different things like that to help . . .

Jeremy: That’s pretty cool.

Gary: . . . the logistics nightmare that typically happens. Yeah.

Jeremy: [00:31:27] So I want you to talk about some of the in-house software you’re developing that maybe you’ll let people use, maybe not, in the future. But talk about logistics for a second. What are big mistakes? If you didn’t know what you knew, what mistakes did you see people making when you were at the logistics or with your company?

Gary: [00:31:47] That’s a good question. Logistically, a lot of people . . . Especially since ours is a big, bulky product, it’s outside the norm of what most people would deal with. So a lot of people don’t understand how to ship it, or they don’t know what to expect. We’re putting it on a third-party trucking company who’s showing up with a lift gate on their truck, and it could be 1000 pounds, could be 2000 pounds showing up at somebody’s house.

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:31:10] So I think that was actually the barrier to entry for a lot of our competition, is that they just didn’t understand how to actually ship all this stuff.

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:32:17] So really I think that’s what helped us really grow fast, because we were doing something that’s different than everybody else, and I have the expertise in it. In terms of shipping normal products, dealing with FedEx and UPS and some of that stuff, I don’t know that there’s major mistakes that people make. It’s just maybe just not understanding the costs of shipping before they’re factoring in their pricing models. I’ve seen that before, where people will have a product on Amazon. They’ll get a really good price point on it, but they’ll under-price it because they won’t understand what the shipping costs are.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:32:47] So initially they’ll lose money, or they couldn’t figure out where their numbers are. Not knowing their cost per acquisition and everything was really what ends up killing a lot of people. That would probably be my biggest thing, is if I see people make mistakes, it’s not knowing their true cost of goods before they actually price it, and they actually end up under-pricing what they should be.

Jeremy: [00:33:05] That makes sense. What’s a logistical nightmare you had to go through that would scare most people to get into the cabinet business?

Gary: [00:33:14] It’s on a weekly basis. I’m shocked at [inaudible:00:33:16].

Jeremy: Really?

Gary: [00:33:17] Yeah. The biggest logistical nightmare that I can remember actually happened with a TV show. So we were shipping an entire kitchen to a TV show, and there was a blizzard halfway across the country, in like Chicago or something like that.

Jeremy: [00:33:31] That’s where I am. I’m sure that’s true. Yeah.

Gary: [00:33:34] It’s on a truck. A truck can’t go across the highway if there’s a blizzard coming through. So it got stuck there. TV show didn’t really care why it got stuck or how it got stuck. They just knew that their production time was gonna run out, and they were gonna have to pay overtime and all that stuff. So we literally had to fly an entire kitchen across country to [inaudible:00:33:51].

Jeremy: Really?

Gary: [00:33:52] An astronomical fee, but yeah. But we got it accomplished. We got the TV show. They had what they needed and everything. So it’s just knowing how to navigate if something does go wrong. That was a good thing that I knew what I knew because otherwise, somebody would’ve just panicked and had a heart attack.

Jeremy: [00:34:10] They just keel over.

Gary: [00:34:12] Yeah. They just grab a bottle of vodka and just start chugging.

Jeremy: [00:34:16] That’s why you started Wine Trail Adventures. So what does that call look like? Is it someone screaming at you on the other line? What is . . .

Gary: [00:34:27] No, it’s more a panic in their voice, and they’re like . . . They were literally looking for a solution. They knew it wasn’t our fault. Obviously we can’t control that. They were running behind when they ordered. So it was literally just them like, “What do we do? Who solves this?” So we just took it upon ourselves to figure out what the solution was gonna be. That wasn’t like an angry call or anything. It’s like, “We’re in a lot of trouble here.”

Jeremy: [00:34:50] Right. Now I know your customer avatar for Wine Trail Adventures. It’s all people who own cabinet stores.

Gary: [00:34:56] Yes. Yeah. People that own businesses and are about to have a heart attack. That’s who our customers are.

Jeremy: [00:35:02] So on the marketing company side of things, Gary, talk about some of the tools that you created.

Gary: [00:35:08] Yeah. So as I mentioned, one was a mobile app. We started the marketing company based on some of the problems that we were having within the cabinet company. We couldn’t find software that fit it. We’re like, “If we can’t find it, why don’t we just create it?”

Jeremy: [00:35:21] That’s why I’m really interested to hear about this. That’s my sponsor, Skubana. The same thing. Big seller. He wanted to . . . They were using all these internal automations to ship things and wanted to put it all under one e-commerce thing. So yeah. So what kind of stuff?

Gary: [00:35:37] So one was the mobile app that we created to kind of help ease the claims process. One . . . So the logistical . . . Another logistical challenge with shipping on an LTL carrier is all the paperwork that’s involved. It’s not like you just print out a label and go. There’s [inaudible:00:35:51] and all this other fancy documents that you need. So we were doing it basically manually, which was costing us, I don’t know, maybe seven, eight minutes a document. So I’m like, “Why don’t we automate this?” So we actually created an automation system that took the sales order information, dumped it in here, into the actual paperwork, and then we only had to enter two or three lines, and we were done. So it was cutting it down like a 10-second process.

Jeremy: That’s huge. Yeah.

Gary: [inaudible:00:36:15] process. So we did that, and we created it as an app that can attach to just about any shopping cart plugin, as a plugin. So that’s actually done. We’ve been using it internally, and we’re actually getting ready to push that out.

Jeremy: [00:36:27] So what do you call it? Can people get it yet? Or no?

Gary: [00:36:31] It’s gonna be . . . It’s just like [inaudible:00:36:33] app or [inaudible:00:36:34] creator or something like that is what we’re calling it.

Jeremy: [00:36:36] Can people use it, besides people in your company? Or no?

Gary: [00:36:39] Yeah. Yeah. It’s not live yet as a plugin, but we’re actually getting ready to separate it and push it out to the marketplace.

Jeremy: [00:36:45] Yeah. So what’s the name? Or where can people find it?

Gary: [00:36:49] I don’t have it ready available yet online, but it’ll be called [inaudible:00:36:52] app or [inaudible:00:36:53] creator, the plugin for one shopping cart and some of those other solutions out there. Some of the other stuff that we created . . . As I mentioned, we diversified onto multiple marketplaces. We have data feeds for every single marketplace that we were using. So internally, we created our own data feed program that centralized that down to one data feed, redistributed it out to all the marketplaces, and then pulled all their information back in. So we’re spinning off our own data feed automation system. We work with eBay and Amazon. That’s actually in beta right now. So that should be ready to go hopefully within the next two weeks, provided they don’t have any major hiccups.

Jeremy: [00:37:30] So talk about the pain point on that for a second. What were you experiencing in the company that made you create this internally? What other solutions were not out there?

Gary: [00:37:39] Yeah, we looked at a couple that were out there, and they just didn’t have the depth of diversity that we needed or the information that we could get back. So what we really went out . . . We were like create . . . Every time we add new products . . . An average kitchen line for us has like 200-some SKUs on it. So every time we had a cabinet line, that’s 200-some more SKUs that we have to send out to 18 different sites. You think about that. That’s, I don’t know, maybe an hour’s worth of work, two hours’ worth of work for every time you do that. For us, it was like, “How do we streamline this, so that we only have to update it once, and it pushes out to everybody?”

[00:38:13] We looked at a couple of the data feed systems that were out there, and they just weren’t offering what we needed, in terms of depth of descriptions and everything else that we do to kind of optimize them. So we’re like, “Okay. It’s not out there. We’ll just create this.” So we’re a big proponent of trying to solve our own problems, rather than trying to find something that fits it. So we created that. It helps us pull in all our data information too, especially from sales, so we can keep track of it in one CRM instead of having multiple platforms to look at and spreadsheets and all that stuff. So that’s really what the whole thing was created for, was to just . . .

Jeremy: [00:38:47] What’s the avatar for that? Who should be using it?

Gary: [00:38:50] I think it’s really geared towards people that are on . . . that have successful businesses on Amazon, that are looking at diversifying, try to shift focus not away from Amazon but just at least get on other places and have additional traffic. So it’d be really easy to take that data feed that you already created for Amazon and then just dump it in and allow it to automate it for everything else and give you one central platform to focus on.

Jeremy: [00:39:13] Is there a company that . . . It doesn’t make sense unless you have over X number of products or something?

Gary: [00:39:19] Yeah, that’s kind of what we’re looking at for beta testing here, to see what type of customer it actually fits. It obviously fits our model, but [inaudible:00:39:26] most of those guys are gonna be. So through beta, we’re trying to pick people that are at multiple levels of business, which one it really works for and which one maybe it just doesn’t apply to.

Jeremy: [00:39:38] You have to look at the Skubana E-Commerce Mastery Series. You may have some beta testers there.

Gary: I will.

Jeremy: [00:39:44] So what else? I do want to touch on . . . After you talk about all these . . . You’ve become a . . . It’s like a whole different business, which is really interesting. This whole set of advantages and dis . . . problems too that come with software development . . . But what’s another . . . Yeah.

Gary: [00:40:00] Yes. The other [inaudible:00:40:00] ones that we’re doing . . . I mentioned it’s a very visual industry, where pictures really help sell a product. So for us, every time we get a testimonial or something from a customer with pictures, we post it on, obviously, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, all these different platforms, but we’re doing it manually. So we actually created a program. It’s called Bio Content Automation, which allows us to, especially for our cont . . . So we built it internally for our contractors. So a contractor can buy our kitchen, install it, take pictures of it, upload it into our site, and then we do all the automation for them. We put it on their Yahoo page, on their Google Local page, all their business pages can be automated, and then also all their social media pages. So it really created a marketing platform for us to get to them. It’s been working really well internally. So we’re like, “Why not . . .” Any other companies, like real estate companies or construction companies, anything that’s on that visual aspect, in terms of sales, why not let them use it? So we’re creating that. That’s also in beta, actually, this month. We’re hoping to have that out on the marketplace next month as well.

Jeremy: [00:41:05] What do you find works well with that? What’s been a success story from that, from use? I’m thinking . . . Does a contractor take a picture, and then it’s on their Facebook, and someone . . . they get business from Facebook? Or what does that case scenario look like?

Gary: [00:41:20] Especially for contractors, we know a couple that have gotten quite a few projects out of it. Simply, it’s getting them visibility in places that they normally wouldn’t use. So especially for a contractor, they don’t have time to do marketing. They don’t have time to do a lot of that stuff.

Jeremy: They’re not on Pinterest all day. No.

Gary: [00:41:35] Right. So they can literally just create the account, and we’ll do it for them. So a lot of it is just getting visibility out there for them where they normally wouldn’t be able to. If they’re doing really good projects or really good work, then it’s just gonna speak for itself. So a lot of the home improvement sites, they find us to help them create accounts and get everything set up for them. That’s really helped launch their businesses, and it obviously helps us in the long run too.

Jeremy: [00:41:58] Yeah. So Gary, the trials and tribulations of a software company now. Now that you’ve had logistical nightmares, now you add development and other stuff.

Gary: [00:42:08] I’ll tell you whatever your timeline is and your budget for a software program, just assume it’s gonna be nowhere near that.

Jeremy: [00:42:16] What’s been the hardest part about the development?

Gary: [00:42:20] With those two projects, I actually had a really good development team that I’ve worked with well. On the project that’s behind you, the Wine Trail Adventures, that’s been a . . . If I could make any mistakes, I’ve made them with that, just . . .

Jeremy: Like what?

Gary: We . . .

Jeremy: [00:42:37] I guess what is Wine Trail Adventures first? [inaudible:00:42:39].

Gary: [00:42:40] Yeah. So Wine Trail Adventures is the third company that we have, but it’s based off of wine tasting and just exploring different wineries. So every winery in the US is loaded in there. You can go in. You can check in. You can review. You can do all that fun stuff, like social sharing, but you’ll gain points for each time you check in and every time you review something. Then at the end of . . . Once you get X number of points, we’ll actually send you what your top wines were. So it’s basically a way to keep track . . .

Jeremy: Oh, really?

Gary: [00:43:06] . . . of what you’ve liked, where you liked it, and then over the course of time, eventually you’ll get those wines for free. On the back end, it’s a marketing platform for wineries because, again, wineries are horrible at marketing because they just know how to make wine. They don’t really know how to do anything else.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:43:22] So this kind of streamlines that. They’ll be able to take those reviews from customers. They’ll be able to push that out to their social media platforms. They’ll be able to re-target those customers. They’ll be able to be advertising specifically to people that they know have been in there. So it’s really a marketing platform for companies, but also a mobile app for users for free. So with that program, I didn’t go overseas. I made sure that I wanted to have a US coder, because of the just nuances with geographic locations and everything. We were on our third development team because they either under-budgeted, or they over-estimated what their workload would be. I think that’s just been the biggest issue. It’s like . . . As much as we try to communicate what we want done, there’s that gap between what their interpretation is of it and what your interpretation is of it. I think we finally got the right development team now, but it just . . . That’s probably been the biggest struggle, is bridging that gap between what’s in your head versus what they’re actually interpreting it to be.

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:44:19] No matter how much we put on paper . . . I’m pretty thorough when it comes to that. I did an SOP. I put together examples of what I wanted to see in it. It was just somewhere along the line, just like a gap in between what they really thought they could accomplish versus what was actually required. So that’s been the biggest struggle.

Jeremy: [00:44:36] Yeah. I think I have a contact for you, as far as that goes. So I’ll have to mention that afterwards. So why start Wine Trail Adventures? What made you start that?

Gary: [00:44:46] It started out as a hobby, actually, just being an entrepreneur, just like I’m sure a lot of people listening to this. What we were doing was we were driving around the country or wherever we were at. We’d always look for something fun to do within every city or wherever we’re at. So we’re like . . . Wine tasting just became a natural thing. We enjoy it, go out tasting.

Jeremy: [00:45:06] You’re in Pennsylvania. There are wineries near you? Where do you go?

Gary: [00:45:09] Yeah, there’s actually . . . I forget the exact stat, but I think there’s like 300 wineries in Pennsylvania or something like that. There’s really a lot. It’s maybe not what everybody would really like, but there are quite a few wineries. So just going up and down I-95, you get stuck in traffic. You’re like, “Oh, maybe we can just pull off, find a winery or something like that.” So at the time, there really wasn’t anything that could kind of snake everything together. So I was like, “Okay. If there’s nothing out there, why don’t we just create something? We know how to do this. Let’s launch our own product.”

Jeremy: [00:45:37] It’s the advantage and disadvantage of being an entrepreneur.

Gary: [00:45:42] Yeah, everything becomes an opportunity for you. It’s like, “Why don’t I just make it myself?”

Jeremy: [00:45:49] So for the software programs, if people want to look out for them once they do come out, what are each of them called, just so people can . . .

Gary: [00:45:58] You can go to Datafeedautomation.com, and there’s actually a landing page, a beta test landing page for that. The other one is Viralcontentsystems.com. That should have a beta testing landing page already as well. Fully built sites for both of them. The mobile apps . . . The one that we use for claims is actually out there. It’s called Tag to Order. It’s free for everybody to use. We customize it for you if you really want to white-label it or something. Then the other two apps are not to the marketplace yet, but we’re getting them out there as fast as we can.

Jeremy: [00:46:33] Yeah. So I want you to speak to hiring for a second. Some people picture e-commerce. You’re saying the couch. You’re just at your computer.

Gary: [00:46:43] So did I. Yes.

Jeremy: Then what’s the reality?

Gary: [00:46:47] Reality is much further from that. I think ours is a little bit different than most e-commerce companies because, again, because of the physical nature of the product, how big and bulky it is. We ultimately had to get a building. There’s a lot of companies that could do FBA through Amazon and never have to touch the product. There’s a lot of ways around it. But because of the nature of our product, we had to get a building. So that went . . . I would say maybe seven years ago, we ended up getting our first warehouse. At that time, I was palletizing every order. I was doing everything. We slowly kept growing. We were hiring more people and hiring more people.

Jeremy: [00:47:22] So tell me. Palletizing. What does that mean to people?

Gary: [00:47:25] Okay. So that’s just taking . . .

Jeremy: [00:47:27] Break it down like at 2:00 in the morning. What are you doing?

Gary: [00:47:29] So we’re taking an entire kitchen. Let’s say there’s maybe 40 boxes, big boxes. It would be strategic placing them on a pallet or skid, figuring out how to square it off, making sure that they’re not gonna get damaged, shrink-wrapping them, strapping them, doing all that fun stuff.

Jeremy: [00:47:44] Serious. That’s serious labor. Yeah.

Gary: [00:47:46] So we were doing all that initially. Then as we got a warehouse, we started bringing on people to do the warehousing stuff for us, brought in our own customer service team because of the nature of the product. Again, it’s hard to outsource that. [inaudible:00:48:01] You really need to be in the building to actually check on. So we brought in kitchen design people. So I think right now, we’re up to . . . I think we have 15 in-house. I’ve got a team in the Philippines. I’ve got like four or five people in Philippines, three in India, and we’ve got two guys outsourced outside here in New York City.

Jeremy: [00:48:22] They do more data . . . Philippines and India, they do more data-related? Or what do they do?

Gary: [00:48:27] Philippines does more of the task-oriented stuff. So we really broke down each task in the standard operating procedure. So one is for social media. We have one that . . . We’ll give them the content. They post on a regular basis. They make sure that there’s communication going on. Another one is graphic design. So any time we need images or banners, we have somebody dedicated to that. We have one person that manages eBay and Amazon for us, just so that we make sure that orders are getting out on time. Communication is proper. Everything we need to do on that. So those are more the day-to-day task things that we can outsource to them.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:49:02] India is actually . . . So within our website, we created a custom kitchen design tool that’s embedded into our site. The average homeowner can use it kind of [inaudible:00:49:11]. The guys in India . . .

Jeremy: [00:49:12] It’s a good looking site. People should check out RTAcabinetstore.com. Really good looking site.

Gary: [00:49:18] Yeah, we split-test pages on a daily basis.

Jeremy: [00:49:20] I can tell that you . . . Yeah, because you have the . . . Well, talk about some of the conversion, why you have certain things. I immediately see the credibility with all the TV shows there. What other components should people be including?

Gary: [00:49:35] We’ve split-test a lot of things. In fact, the last split-test I was kind of surprised about. So we went with a really clean design on the website as a split-test, because the one there is . . . It’s a little bit cluttered, but yet still gets the job done. When we tested a really clean design, it actually did lower than the one that we currently have.

Jeremy: Interesting.

Gary: [00:49:54] So we just automatically assumed that everybody’s going to clean design. It’s gonna work out really well. That’s why it’s really important to actually split-test stuff.

Jeremy: [00:50:02] Right. Why do you think that is?

Gary: [00:50:04] Yeah, I don’t know.

Jeremy: [00:50:05] They’re just used to it or something?

Gary: [00:50:06] I can’t figure out the logic on it, really. I wish there was a standard that you could say, “Okay. The color green works better every time, or the color orange.” Really in business, it’s gonna be different. So we’ve tested colors. We’ve tested just locations of buttons. Everything we change has some sort of dynamic effect on the site. So that’s why we just keep testing every day. We try something different.

Jeremy: [00:50:29] What produced the biggest lift for you?

Gary: [00:50:32] Biggest lift would be probably the kitchen design tool, when we actually integrated that. So we used to have it as a separate platform.

Jeremy: [00:50:41] Yeah, if people check it out, it’s right in the middle of the site. It’s like, “Custom kitchen layout tool.” They can check it out. Yeah.

Gary: [00:50:49] That boosted our conversion rate significantly.

Jeremy: [00:50:51] Wow. What made you even think to do that?

Gary: We were just . . .

Jeremy: [00:50:56] I wouldn’t be like, “Let’s put a custom kitchen layout tool in the middle of our site.”

Gary: [00:51:00] It’s one of those things that you’re constantly looking for ways to diversify yourself or at least become a standout from the crowd. We started getting a lot of competition that were literally just slapping up websites and copying what we were doing. So we were like, “We know that nobody has the wherewithal to actually build their own software program. So let’s just build something that we know will actually ease the sales process.” Let’s face it. You’re buying a kitchen. It can be a really overwhelming process. You’re spending a lot of money. People don’t really know how to fit things together. So that you could . . . Somebody with no knowledge could literally just drop cabinets into a layout and figure it out themselves.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:51:36] So it really helped us with the sales process, but it also diversified the . . . It gave us something different that our competition didn’t have.

Jeremy: [00:51:42] Yeah. So one thing you look at . . . I guess something people can think about is maybe what the biggest pain point is of your customer and then make it easier. Probably if it’s a pain point for your customer, it’s probably a pain point for you, dealing with and explaining it. That makes it easier on both sides of the coin?

Gary: [00:52:00] Yes. What we . . . Kind of going back, you were asking what was the biggest change that we made to the site. Actually now that I think about it, one of the biggest was probably . . . We looked at not only the avatar of our customers, but also the skill level. So we have essentially three different funnels that people go through. If you have zero knowledge, and you’re just wanting a good deal, you’re gonna need a lot of hand-holding. So we have kitchen design staff on-hand that can take you through the process. They’ll actually design it for you. For somebody that has enough knowledge to be dangerous, but they don’t trust their knowledge, they can go through the kitchen design tool, and they can actually [inaudible:00:52:33].

Jeremy: That’s most people. Yeah.

Gary: [00:52:35] And check their process. Then for the people that are experts, like contractors and whatever that just want to buy, they can go through a much more clean checkout process. So by diversifying that, you eliminate the contractors who are like, “God, I don’t want to go through this huge process.” Then for the people that didn’t know, it gave them that comfort level that they were working with somebody else to be able to fix the problems that they had. So that was another big thing that really changed when we created those three separate funnels to go through.

Jeremy: [00:53:02] See, Gary, I love going to sites by people like you, because I know you pay attention to detail, and I know that you really know your customer, and I know you know marketing. So I love looking at your site just to see what you have on there. I suggest people check it out. One thing I noticed, obviously, right away is the credibility statements. The phone number is tap and center. It just reminds me of what I’m probably not doing a lot of times. I go to this. You have beautiful pictures there. You have an opt-in with a really value proposition download. Then you have this custom tool. But just a few things right off the bat, top of the fold, are all front and center, that reminds me what I should be doing.

Gary: [00:53:47] It’s interesting. Even just taking the phone number . . . We used to have it all the way to the right. By shifting it to the center, it actually helped increase conversions because it was front and center for people. Trust factor. They may not have seen it, and they’re like, “Oh, it’s just another website.” But by putting that front and center . . .

Jeremy: Right in front of them.

Gary: [inaudible:00:54:02].

Jeremy: [00:54:03] I love that. Yeah. So I knew there was a rhyme and reason why you do things. So the hiring process . . . With that, how do you know when to . . . Do you bootstrap? Or do you have to get outside investment for this? Because these are expensive . . .

Gary: [inaudible:00:54:19] outside investment.

Jeremy: Wow. That’s impressive.

Gary: Yeah, everything’s been organic.

Jeremy: [00:54:23] That’s really impressive.

Gary: [00:54:25] I think I started with like $5000 or something like that on my own.

Jeremy: That’s unbelievable.

Gary: [00:54:29] So when it comes to hiring, I’m not gonna say that I’m the best at it because it’s a challenge. It certainly is a challenge, especially through our product mix because . . . What I’ve found is that somebody that’s really good at customer service may not understand the technicalities that go into cabinets or installing them.

Jeremy: [00:54:47] Different skill set. Yeah.

Gary: [0:54:48] Struggle with that. But somebody that has a really good skill set may not have the personality to be in customer service.

Jeremy: [00:54:55] Ideally you’d want someone cross-trained to do both?

Gary: [00:54:58] Yeah. So it’s . . . I’ve always struggled with finding that mix and finding who really fits in. I think we’ve got a little bit better at it over the years, but it’s a challenge. It’s not easy. Nothing about this business has been easy, but that in particular, the hiring process, has been quite a challenge.

Jeremy: [00:55:17] What’s interesting, I think, is what you do is, first of all, hiring in general. Right? So when do you . . . How did you decide to bring on certain positions as you grew?

Gary: [00:55:29] Yeah, what we really . . . In the beginning, I probably struggled with that, as any entrepreneur. You want to do everything yourself. A couple years ago, I got a business coach who really helped me focus on how to kind of split up those tasks and figure out which ones I should be doing versus what I should be outsourcing and what I should be pushing to [inaudible:00:55:46]. That really opened up a lot in my head. Okay. I don’t have to do all this stuff. I can . . . When you look at the value that you’re bringing for each of the tasks that you’re doing, and you realize that a $10 task should be done by somebody other than yourself when you’re the big level guy . . .

Jeremy: [00:56:00] Yeah. What surprised you from their advice? What did you figure that you would definitely be doing, that you had to hand off?

Gary: [00:56:07] I’d say a lot of it’s been the operational stuff. So I brought on an operations manager now who kind of sees the day-to-day stuff and allows me to focus on what I’m good at, which is the marketing and the financing side of it. Once I did that . . . I’m still kind of in that transition period out of that. But now that I’ve done that, it’s freed up a lot of my time to focus on big-level thinking and bringing on programs that are gonna double or triple the company over the next couple of years. But until then, I was still interacting with the warehouse. I was doing a lot of things that kind of were distracting me from everything that I should be doing. Once I really sat down and defined what those tasks were and how I should pass them off, it made things a lot easier for me.

Jeremy: [00:56:43] Yeah. So what other great advice did you get from your business coach?

Gary: [00:56:47] Time management skills. I’ve always been pretty good at time management, but again, it came down to segmenting things and grouping them into like tasks. So especially with multiple businesses, to hop around from marketing on one to operations on another, it was just so disjointed. I started focusing on, “Okay. This day, we’re gonna do all the marketing across all the sites for all the different businesses.”

Jeremy: You kind of batch it?

Gary: [00:57:12] Yeah. That way, I was always in the marketing mind instead of jumping from financing to operations to whatever. That really helped me stay focused on the tasks that I was doing instead of getting distracted by other stuff. So I was kind of batching tasks based off of what the task is versus what the actual business was, and then obviously outsourcing or delegating some of the tasks down to lower-level stuff.

Jeremy: [00:57:34] Yeah. Gary, one thing you talked about is . . . As an entrepreneur, sometimes we try and do everything ourselves. There’s one thing the business coach tells you. You need an operations manager. Another thing, you actually getting one. So what did that process look like internally, from knowing it and actually executing on it?

Gary: [00:57:53] Once I looked at everything, it’s one of those things that you know . . . At least I did. I knew that I’m just like . . . For some reason, I’m like, “No, I can just keep doing it myself. I’m good at it. I can do it.”

Jeremy: [00:58:04] That’s what I mean. That’s what I mean. Right.

Gary: [inaudible:00:58:06] You’re stupid for doing this. Why are you not . . . You’re actually holding yourself back.

Jeremy: [00:58:10] Yeah, I want to hear the devil and angel that was on your shoulder in having that conversation.

Gary: [00:58:15] It’s tough because you get used to . . . Not that you don’t want to let go of control, but you almost feel like you’re not gonna know what’s going on day-to-day if you release some of that responsibility. But in reality, it’s really giving you time to focus on what your core set is. I know I’m not good at managing warehouses. Why am I doing it? I’m just doing it out of force of habit.

Jeremy: Right.

Gary: [00:58:36] So by passing that off, it allows me to focus more on the marketing side of it, which is what I’m really good at. So when you think about it logically . . . I sat down, and I was like, “Yeah.” Instead of focusing everything on what I’m good at, I’m trying to do a little of everything, and I’m not doing anything really well. So that was kind of the mind shift for me when I finally looked at it and saw what I was doing. In terms of process of actually going out and doing it . . .

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [00:59:00] I worked with him and a couple other people on defining what the actual tasks were, because you can’t really hire somebody until you know what the core responsibilities are gonna be. So once we outlined that, I actually had somebody internally, that had been with me from the beginning . . . I was like, “You know what? You got almost all the skill sets.”

Jeremy: [00:59:15] So they were already trained. You didn’t have to bring someone in from outside. I gotcha. Okay. That makes it a lot easier.

Gary: Yeah.

Jeremy: [00:59:22] Because then you’re thinking, “Forget it. Now I have to train someone for six months.” So they were right under your nose.

Gary: [00:59:30] Yeah, so it was just like trying to also raise people that are internally . . . by giving them different skill sets and helping to bring them up within the company.

Jeremy: [00:59:37] Yeah. So what about . . . What other mistakes do you see other people making with their e-commerce business?

Gary: Oh, boy.

Jeremy: [00:59:45] You’re doing a lot of marketing for different companies too.

Gary: [00:59:50] Yeah. Yeah, I’ve done consulting for other businesses.

Jeremy: [00:59:55] What should we all not be doing, Gary?

Gary: [00:59:58] The big ones are not knowing your overall costs. What’s your fundamental costs for making it? Whatever the product is, you have to incorporate everything and really look at the finances and be like, “Okay. Did I include all the shipping costs? Did I include the labor here?” Know all your soft costs associated with the product, because too many people will overlook those. Then at the end of the day, they’re like, “Why am I losing money? Or why am I just breaking even?”

[01:00:24] The other huge mistake that I see is not knowing lifetime value of your customer. I’m a huge proponent of that. If you look at some of the IM guys and some of the really good people that are out there making a lot of money, they don’t focus on the value of the initial purchase. They look at the lifetime value of that customer. It could be double or triple whatever your actual sales price is. So if you’re really only focused on that initial transaction, it’s gonna be really hard to make money if you’re not looking at the big picture. So that’s where I see a lot of people make mistakes. They’re so worried about, “Oh, I’m only making $5 on an initial transaction,” but you could be making $150 on the back end. If you’re not really focused on that, then you’re losing out on a whole lot of opportunity.

Jeremy: [01:01:03] Yeah. Yeah. You talk about funnel in that sense. Right? So they start in one part. So can you talk a little bit about the process that someone may go through, from a free download, design ideas, or buyers guide, to whatever the largest-ticket item [inaudible:01:01:21].

Gary: [01:01:20] Yeah. So our kind of sales cycle, depending on which funnel they come through, will start with the download. So they’ll come in. They’ll download the free design guide, which will help them kind of figure out which direction they want to go in and help them kind of sketch out their design. Throughout that process, then we’ll try to push them into some of the other stuff, either using a design tool or talking to one of our kitchen designers. So we always try pushing them up the ladder, to either get in front of somebody or get them on the phone. Once we get them in that process, we start really focusing on how do we get them up to a total price. Let’s get them into a quote. Once we get them in a quote, we start doing some re-marketing and re-targeting, like, “Hey. We saw you put this into a car. How do we get that transaction completed? What do we have to go through? Is there a time difference?”

[01:02:07] One of the things with our product that’s unique is somebody may come to our site and purchase today, or they may not purchase for nine months. So we have a really long window between our buying cycle. You have to keep in front of them and just keep reminding them that, “Hey. You really like those cabinets. What do we need to do?” It’s really a soft sell. We don’t try to be pushy, but we just keep trying to up them up.

Jeremy: [01:02:28] They know they want to redo it. It’s just a matter of when.

Gary: Right. Right.

Jeremy: [01:02:32] Chelsea, my wife, and I had this conversation yesterday.

Gary: [inaudible:01:02:33].

Jeremy: She’s, you know . . .

Gary: [01:02:36] We try to add as much personality into it as we can.

Jeremy: [01:02:39] Yeah. How do you add personality into it? You add your personality? Or is it like someone who does more the videos or social media? What personality do you use in there?

Gary: [01:02:49] Well, the email campaigns are sort of my personality. So I sat down with an email writer who was, again, not my skill set. So I know enough to be dangerous about writing email, but I obviously don’t really . . . I’m not an expert at it. So I hired somebody to do it, and they took my personality and tried to transfer it into the actual email writing.

Jeremy: [01:03:07] Do you want to give them a plug? Or no?

Gary: [01:03:11] They’re very expensive. I don’t know if . . . Actually I don’t even know if they’re doing anything.

Jeremy: [01:03:16] Okay. It’s an investment though. Right? Yeah.

Gary: [01:03:19] It’s definitely an investment.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [01:03:22] Yeah, the emails are written based on my personality. The videos actually incorporate both my personality and the other guy in the office, who actually is my operations manager now. He does a lot of the videos for us. So it’s kind of his personality into it. Advertising and everything is really about me. It’s like we try to be a little sarcastic, a little humor in it. We created a fictitious disease around kitchen cabinets.

Jeremy: What is it?

Gary: [01:03:44] Kitchen embarrassment syndrome. We created a whole organization. We have like a . . .

Jeremy: [01:03:50] That’s a great creative solution for anyone. They should create a disease around it.

Gary: Right. Exactly. So you could . . . We have [inaudible:01:03:58].

Jeremy: [01:03:57] How did you come up with that?

Gary: [01:04:00] We sat here the one day and were just tossing around ridiculous . . . What’s the craziest thing that we could do about kitchen cabinets? What’s the weirdest commercial that we’ve ever seen? We just started to toss around ideas, and we’re like, “Why don’t we just create this fake disease? Give it some crazy initials and put some fake doctors in front of it.”

Jeremy: [01:04:17] Have someone running through the field. They take this purple pill, and then they get these kitchen cabinet.

Gary: [01:04:22] Right. It’s talking about, “Do you have these . . . ” We give a whole bunch of symptoms of what [inaudible:01:04:27].

Jeremy: That’s great.

Gary: [01:04:28] . . . and everything. So we turn it into just something funny that had nothing to do with selling. The farther we can push away from selling, the better our conversions are. So if we can add humor to it and not even mention that we’re selling cabinets, it actually works out in the end for us.

Jeremy: Yeah, yeah.

Gary: [01:04:42] It’s a good tip for anybody that has a hard product to sell. Try not selling it. Do the complete opposite and just [inaudible:01:04:49].

Jeremy: [01:04:49] It’s like a “Seinfeld” episode probably. So Gary, what’s been the biggest . . . What was the biggest challenge in the beginning, very beginning, and then compared to now?

Gary: [01:05:00] Biggest challenge in the beginning was, I would say, just getting sales. I didn’t know anything about kitchens when I started. I didn’t have a passion for it.

Jeremy: [01:05:09] Yeah. So how’d you get into it?

Gary: [01:05:12] So I had a business partner in a previous business whose uncle was importing cabinets. I actually literally just approached him, and I was like, “Hey. Let me create a website for you.” He didn’t have any presence. He’s like, “Don’t ever sell online. I don’t want anything to do with it. If you want to do it, go right ahead.” So it was more of a challenge than anything else. So from there, it was . . . Obviously I didn’t have a passion for it. So it was really just me writing about factual stuff and doing the fundamental marketing things [inaudible:01:05:40].

Jeremy: [01:05:40] You saw an opportunity there. What did you see that most people didn’t at that time?

Gary: [01:05:44] Yeah. So it’s kind of . . . I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was looking at kind of the fundamentals that they look at when you’re looking at Amazon products and anything else. It was [inaudible:01:05:53] niche that had competition, but the competition didn’t really know what they were doing.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [01:05:58] It was a marketplace that had fairly decent margins. It was easy for us to get some traction in it, based off of Google rankings and everything. So it was really the perfect storm at the time. I didn’t realize it. I knew that the industry was a little antiquated, but I didn’t know what I was doing was actually the groundwork for what everybody else was doing in other niches. That was kind of it. It was like people had websites, but they didn’t have . . . You could see cabinets, but you had to call somebody to talk to them about it. You couldn’t buy online. So we just tried to create an easy, simple shopping solution for them that they can just buy right there.

Jeremy: [01:06:31] So getting sales, initially, was the challenge. What about now?

Gary: [01:06:37] Now, it’s staying ahead of the competition because literally everything that we do gets duplicated. So it’s like, “How do we continue to expand and continue to market without constantly, every week, creating new ads and doing all that stuff?” So a lot of it is . . . I let the secret out when I told you about some of our social media platforms. It’s like creating ancillary markets around it that were not directly competing for [inaudible:01:07:01].

Jeremy: [01:07:01] They still have to go out and get 70,000 Facebook fans. If anyone’s tried to do that, it’s not that easy. So I think you have some barrier to entry there.

Gary: [01:07:11] No, I think so too. Yeah, it was just kind of like creating those ancillary markets around it and then allowing those markets to help us grow our actual business. So it’s constantly building the circle out around the main business and then just dumping that traffic back into that. That’s kind of our biggest challenge right now, is just how do we keep this thing growing at the pace it’s growing and keep finding those new marketplaces to service.

Jeremy: [01:07:34] How do you segment your day or your week? Obviously you have so many businesses that you’re running. You know? What does your week look like?

Gary: [01:07:44] I don’t know that there’s ever a standard week for me, but I’d say the first two days, we focus mostly on helping operations and anything I need to do on that end. Middle of the week is usually marketing and conference calls and figuring out, because we have outsourced marketing teams that we work with, in terms of advertising and everything. We have a bunch of conference calls with them, figuring out what’s our next strategy, sales opportunities that we might be overlooking. Then I focus more end of the week towards some of the other opportunities. So it’s the software development, any coaching that we’re doing. So I’d say that’s probably the standard week, but everything [inaudible:01:08:25].

Jeremy: [01:08:25] Yeah, because I could see you sleeping from 4:00 to 6:00 AM because you have to be up with people in India and the Philippines. What’s your sleep schedule like?

Gary: [01:08:32] No, I actually have a fairly normal sleep schedule. When it comes to those guys, we have them pretty regimented on email campaigns. So we focus mostly on . . . Let’s communicate by email. If we really have to clarify something, then we’ll get on a phone call. I actually have a project manager now that kind of oversees those guys. So I don’t have to be directly involved with them. I’ve really been able to separate myself and focus more on the high level stuff with that stuff than I actually do the day-to-day calls and everything.

Jeremy: [01:08:57] Yeah. Yeah. So Gary, besides your in-house software, what other softwares do you use that’s essential to running the business?

Gary: [01:09:05] We use, obviously, online chat systems. That’s huge for us because . . .

Jeremy: [01:09:09] What do you use?

Gary: [01:09:11] Right now, I think we’re using Olark [SP].

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [01:09:13] Yeah, we’re using Olark. So we integrate that. It integrates nicely with our CRM and our shopping cart. So if somebody has a chat or something like that, it can dump right into our CRM, but that is . . . To me, any website that is truly a business is gonna have somebody dedicated to that because you can potentially lose so much business by not having somebody there to answer questions there. If they have to bounce off and go somewhere else to get a question answered, you’re losing that customer.

Jeremy: [01:09:40] Yeah, and it’s kind of addictive if you have it, and you see them enter into your site. You’re like, “Oh, there’s someone on my site right now.” So how do you manage? Is there a customer service person that just pays attention to that?

Gary: [01:09:52] Yes, we have . . . Right now, we have three customer service people, and they kind of rotate throughout the day, in terms of using the software. But yeah, to me, that’s probably been one of the key tools that we use, is just having somebody present, so that it doesn’t feel like you’re just at a website. You actually feel like you’re dealing with a business and that you can talk to someone. Other software, we use HootSuite and some of that stuff for social media posting. I’m trying to think what other software we use right now. A lot of it is analytic stuff that I don’t deal with directly, but we have . . . Marketing teams are using fully integrated analytics to make sure that we’re doing UTM tracking and everything they need to do to really hone in on our advertising costs. Email campaigns, we actually use MailChimp for email. I know most people probably wouldn’t use that, but for us . . .

Jeremy: Why?

Gary: [01:10:41] For us, we don’t deal with . . . Our mailing list isn’t hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, like some of the informational products would be. So for us, MailChimp is perfect because it’s just an easy way. We can use analytics coming out of MailChimp to integrate some of our other stuff. It’s just been an easy platform for us to use. So it’s kind of what we focus on for mail.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [01:11:02] In terms of other software programs, those are the three that kind of come to mind.

Jeremy: [01:11:05] Those are the main ones. Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned the live chat ones because that doesn’t get mentioned a lot, actually, and it is critical, that interaction with the customer. So Gary, I’m gonna do a quick word from the sponsor. So this integrates perfectly in the conversation because with Skubana, who is sponsoring it, they combine all software tools currently to run your e-commerce business on a centralized cloud platform for a fraction of the cost. Why wouldn’t someone do that. Right? Absolutely, they do it. I use them personally, actually. What I love about them is because they automate process, so I don’t have to touch them, from ordering to product shipping. They do exactly what you’re talking about earlier, about the profitability that’s huge. You don’t understand the shipping cost. They do a SKU profitability report. So it tells me what products are actually making money and what ones are losing me money. So I don’t sell them anymore. So that’s the plug for Skubana.

[01:12:03] Mentors. One thing that comes to mind with your story, Gary, is . . . Not saying this journey is easy. It’s not at all. But before you started RTA Cabinet Store, you have an interesting lead-in story, when you were about 28, 29. You want to tell people what happened with that?

Gary: [01:12:23] Yeah. Like I mentioned before, I was in logistics for 10 years. Whatever. Certainly when I got out of college. I was actually working for a company that worked with Walmart. So any time Walmart brought on a new vendor, we would go to that vendor and tell them how bad their life’s gonna suck after working with Walmart. We’d tell them how [inaudible:01:12:42], everything that would go into the logistics of working with Walmart. I was like . . . After helping all these different companies, I’m like, “Man, I could really do this myself. I know the logistics side of it. I know everything else that goes on. I’ve got a marketing background.”

[01:12:55] So I spent two years looking for a business. At that time, I had no knowledge of it, other than, “Oh, I’ll just go, and I’ll buy one.” I didn’t know how to start one. I didn’t know any of that stuff. So I found an industry. It was actually the Dollar Store niche that I found was still booming at the time. Products were fairly inexpensive. They were all coming from China, which I had experience from. So I got investors to help me buy into it, bought it, and at maybe the seven-month mark, cost of petroleum went through the roof. Obviously everything in the Dollar Store is made out of plastic, which is made out of petroleum. So the cost of goods almost doubled to even tripled.

Jeremy: [01:13:32] Wow. Really? Bad timing.

Gary: [01:13:36] Yeah. Having just spent a lot of money on a business, and we weren’t cash-flexible enough that we could survive a big downturn. So within a year, I ended up closing that business, filed bankruptcy at the age of 30, which is a painful thing to face, kind of an ego boost, or ego crush. So yeah, that was kind of when I came up with the idea of, “Let’s just build a website.” It was really just to try to keep that one alive and keep it afloat. So we weren’t thinking it was gonna be this big thing. It was just like, “If we can make any money off this, let’s just use it to keep this thing going.”

Jeremy: [01:14:11]Just start small and build from there.

Gary: [01:14:13] So inevitably, that went out of business. The other one closed. They filed bankruptcy on that. I went back into sales. So I was traveling, working from a hotel. I was building a website in a hotel at night. So I’d work all day, go back to the hotel room, sit there for four or five hours, and just write articles, do whatever I had to do to kind of get some traffic going. So I was really doing double duty there for quite a while, I’d say for the first year, until we really got some really good traction going.

Jeremy: Yeah.

Gary: [01:14:38] For somebody starting out, if you have any viewers that are kind of just getting into it or trying to launch their own business, don’t make the entrepreneurial mistake of saying, “I’m gonna quit my job,” before you have a business.

Jeremy: Right, built up.

Gary: [01:14:51] Have something to [inaudible:01:14:51] and slowly build it. Don’t think that you have to cut your job cold-turkey and suddenly jump into something big.

Jeremy: [01:14:58] Yeah. Yeah, I want you to talk about that because sometimes people see you, and they see an overnight success or something like that. It’s a journey to get there. Even before this journey, which has got its challenges, there was a previous journey of figuring it out too. So I appreciate you sharing that. Gary, I appreciate your time. This has been hugely valuable. I love this and talking about these details. So I have one last set of questions. Since it’s the Skubana E-Commerce Mastery Series, I always ask what’s been the lowest e-commerce moment and what’s been the proudest e-commerce moment.

Gary: [01:15:41] If I had to say lowest, it would probably be the previous business and filing bankruptcy, because that was sort of an e-commerce business that we had. That’s a tough pill to swallow.

Jeremy: [01:15:51] What was tough about it? For people who haven’t gone through it or people who have, what was tough for you?

Gary: [01:15:57] For me, it was more letting the people down that I got to invest in it. It wasn’t really . . . I wasn’t too concerned about me, for whatever reason. I’ve never been risk-adverse. So I came into this business. I’ll take some risks that most people probably wouldn’t take, but I know it’s me that I’m impacting. At that time, it was other people. So I think that was probably the hardest part of it, the fact that I went through that process of finding investors. They trusted me enough to invest in the product, and then I didn’t have either the skill set or the circumstances around. It just didn’t work out to actually get their money back. So I think that was probably the toughest part of that, was just dealing with the concept that I cost somebody else something instead of just myself.

Jeremy: Yeah, yeah.

Gary: [01:16:36] In terms of highs for us, obviously one that I’m probably the most proud of is getting on the Ink 500 the last four years, [inaudible:01:16:48] last three years. So kind of getting that recognition that I know it’s not just me. It’s everybody in the business, all the employees and everything. But being able to be recognized is something that . . . Especially coming from somebody that just filed bankruptcy 10 years ago and building up to [inaudible:01:17:03]. I think that’s probably [inaudible:01:17:04].

Jeremy: [01:17:04] That’s huge. That’s awesome. So what should we leave people with, Gary? We talked a lot about a lot of different things in e-commerce. What lesson should we end with?

Gary: [01:17:15] Lesson to end with is, I think, kind of what we started with. Get to know who your real customer is. You can figure that . . . If you’re really in e-commerce, and you want to build a business instead of just sell products, easiest way to turn it into a business is to make sure you know who your customers are and talk directly to them. Don’t just think that you have to advertise to everybody. Focus in on the ones that are your true customer base, and your conversions and your sales are gonna go through the roof.

Jeremy: [01:17:40] Yeah. Yeah. Gary, I appreciate this. My last question is: can you still dunk a basketball? Fun fact is Gary played college basketball.

Gary: [01:17:48] That’s a good question. I haven’t tried in probably two years. I’d like to think I could, but I’m not gonna make any promises.

Jeremy: [01:17:57] I would bet on you. But thank you.

Gary: [01:18:01] Getting old.

Jeremy: What’s that?

Gary: I said I’m getting old. I don’t know if I can anymore.

Jeremy: [01:18:04] You’re 6’7. I think you could do it. Thank you, Gary. I really appreciate it. It’s been awesome.

Gary: Awesome. Thanks for having me.

 

Interview Highlights:

[00:02:00] Probably the thing that really boosts our sales and kind of honed in, not only reducing our costs, but kind of getting us a better message, was when we really focused on the avatar of our ideal customer. When we first started out, it was kitchen cabinets. We were just trying to sell kitchen cabinets. When we really sat down and thought about it, we really had more than one customer. We had essentially five different types of customers. So we were using the same message to speak to five different people. It wasn’t resonating as well as when we actually honed in on what each individual customer was looking for and then had a custom message created for them. Once we did that, not only did it drop our advertising costs, but it really helped our conversion rates because we were speaking specifically to them instead of just talking to a general audience.

[00:09:25] Actually . . . [customer focus] kind of is a launching pad for everything else you do too, because even when you’re running ads, or you’re thinking about how to target people on Facebook ads or Pinterest or whatever, knowing what your ideal customer is, it makes it a lot easier to narrow down the costs and the market base that you’re focusing on. So instead of just running generic ads to a wide . . . to eight million people, you can have really tailored messages to maybe 10,000, 15,000, and it’s gonna drop your costs. Your conversion rates are gonna go up, and everything is gonna be improved, just by doing that. See, I think it’s one of the most important aspects. Maybe when you’re first starting, it’s not because you’re trying to get traffic through the door, and you’re just trying to hone your message. But at some point, that has to become a major focus.

[01:01:20] Yeah. So our kind of sales cycle, depending on which funnel they come through, will start with the download. So they’ll come in. They’ll download the free design guide, which will help them kind of figure out which direction they want to go in and help them kind of sketch out their design. Throughout that process, then we’ll try to push them into some of the other stuff, either using a design tool or talking to one of our kitchen designers. So we always try pushing them up the ladder, to either get in front of somebody or get them on the phone. Once we get them in that process, we start really focusing on how do we get them up to a total price. Let’s get them into a quote. Once we get them in a quote, we start doing some re-marketing and re-targeting, like, “Hey. We saw you put this into a car. How do we get that transaction completed? What do we have to go through? Is there a time difference?” One of the things with our product that’s unique is somebody may come to our site and purchase today, or they may not purchase for nine months. So we have a really long window between our buying cycle. You have to keep in front of them and just keep reminding them that, “Hey. You really like those cabinets. What do we need to do?” It’s really a soft sell. We don’t try to be pushy, but we just keep trying to up them up.

[01:17:15] Lesson to end with is, I think, kind of what we started with. Get to know who your real customer is. You can figure that . . . If you’re really in e-commerce, and you want to build a business instead of just sell products, easiest way to turn it into a business is to make sure you know who your customers are and talk directly to them. Don’t just think that you have to advertise to everybody. Focus in on the ones that are your true customer base, and your conversions and your sales are gonna go through the roof.

Conclusion

Be sure to utilize this real insight from a real marketing expert to help your e-commerce business grow and succeed. Stay tuned – this will be an ongoing weekly series featuring a variety of e-commerce experts looking to provide you with hard-won knowledge free of charge.

Checkout out our previous E-Commerce Mastery Series episode featuring Wes Grudzien of LullabyLane and Ezonomy 

Work Smart. Sell More.
www.Skubana.com

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