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EPISODE 17

SEO, Reviews, and Partnerships: How To Make Your Product Searchable

With Taylor Jones, the Vice President of Marketing at Soft-Tex

You may not know exactly what Soft-Tex is, but chances are you’ve seen or even own a Soft-Tex product. That’s because Soft-Tex is a B2B2C company that provides products to retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy’s, and many more. The company specializes in sleep products, like pillows, mattress toppers, mattresses, mattress pads, or anything else you might need in your bedroom to help you get a good night’s sleep. But Soft-Tex doesn’t only ship to their retail partners. In recent years the company has upped its Ecommerce and drop-shipping capabilities in an effort to get even more in the lives of consumers.

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Taylor Jones, the Vice President of Marketing for Soft-Tex explains how the company is creating a collaborative partnership with retailers while also exploring and consulting in the world of Ecommerce. He explains the ways in which Soft-Tex goes about ensuring successful product launches — including the exact number of reviews he thinks is the sweet spot — why SEO and product-usage videos are the ultimate keys to success, and the need for an Amazon strategy and what that looks like.

Key Takeaways:

  • There is a delicate balance you have to strike when working with retail partners and also selling products D2C. You have to work collaboratively and across multiple channels to ensure that you have the products selling where you want them and not competing against themselves
  • Amazon is a price-leader, and in order to get any market share, you need to have an Amazon strategy that allows you to live there, while also ensuring that other partners have exclusive access to other products
  • Product reviews and product-usage videos are absolutely essential to achieving a high conversion rate. Generating about 15 reviews and placing a usage video front and center are two strategies to implement to help grow conversions

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“It’s a delicate balance for folks in our position because we supply, our retail partners, so we absolutely don’t want to compete with them. Ultimately those relationships are very important to us and we build custom products. It’s a very collaborative process with our brick and mortar retail partners and the branding that that goes into all of our different channels. Soft-Tex we have about five or six national or licensed brands that we supply product under or, or we’ll develop product under a private label, to mitigate some of the brand conflicts or sales channel conflicts that may arise with selling our products.”

“The role we play on with the eCommerce team is a consultative role in that, we’re able to see over the wall. We supply our products to the 50 different, so we can see some really interesting things that, maybe somebody over here is doing, in merchandising, assortment, with features, attributes, or something cool on the product description page. And we can make that suggestion to someone else who maybe has not done that yet.”

“When you have a new product, accelerating the process through which consumers can experience the product and write a review and leave a review, such that it exists is social proof, for other customers who see that product, is so important to getting a product off on the good foot. We’ve seen, in the home comfort space, 10 to 15 reviews, seems to be a sweet spot for a new product introduction to really help accelerate its growth.”

“The addition of video to product pages has scaled our conversion rate by an incremental 10 or 20%. It’s hard to fathom because typically most retailers’ merchandise video is the last piece in an image carousel. But people don’t like to read, they want to be told, and be surprised and delighted. And so, leveraging that video format and condensing it to 30 seconds has been really big for us….Soft-Tex is a very innovative company with emphasizing technology, cooling, and antimicrobial,” he explained. “So our videos come off as very techie, with graphics, lower thirds that pop up. Making sure your videos are on brand and authentic to your brand voice, clearly and concisely conveying the product value proposition [is important because] in our space, it’s really about how are we different than everybody else selling a mattress or a pillow?”

“User-generated content is so powerful right now. I think if the world is telling us anything, the power of social media and viral media, the same can be true for user-generated content and reviews. If you get a really good review or a really bad one, people can upload them, they’re always going to be there. It’s so important.”

“If you’re searching for a product, folks don’t just begin on Google anymore. There’s a large contingent of the population that are Prime subscribers and really begin the product search phase on Amazon. I think you pretty much have to be there to have the share of voice, whether you like it or not…But, I think brands have to make a decision to have an Amazon strategy. It is delicate. Obviously, retailers are very sensitive to being comped on Amazon. So it’s a very nuanced delicate road that we walk. We have an assortment that we have on Amazon, but we also offer exclusive products to other channels, that we don’t offer to Amazon….It’s ensuring that you’re being thoughtful about your assortment if you’re selling on multiple outlets. We’ve learned in our experience that Amazon is a price follower. As a first-party vendor, we have a wholesale price that we give to Amazon and there are rebates and allowances. But ultimately, they then retail it to make a profit or not, in some cases. They’re pretty aggressive in price scraping and seeing what others are doing and commanding the market share to come to them. If they see a lower price out in the market, they will likely try and beat it. So I think you just have to be prepared before you open that flood gate. If that’s your strategy, making sure that you’re ready to enforce, map or, de-inventory Amazon as needed. I think, certainly, if you’re a third-party seller on Amazon, you’re in much more control of your destiny in that respect, as you can set the retail yourself.”

“There are a lot of backend keywords that we look to put with our products and we’ve really gone through and looked to optimize those to make sure that we’re calling out things like, if a product is antimicrobial,  it is tagged appropriately. Or if it’s got some certifications or whatever it is, such that, when you’re searching on a retailer, if you’re typing in the keyword or leveraging a checkbox menu, faceted navigation, that we’re optimized to show as much as we can.”

Bio:

“Taylor Jones is the Vice President of Marketing for Soft-Tex International, a leading innovator in home textile products and technologies, helping commercialize our ever-growing product assortment and innovative technologies to market and continue to grow demand for our sought-after national brands like SensorPEDIC, SensorGel, BioPEDIC, SwissLux and more.

In his role, Taylor is responsible for all brand and digital marketing efforts including website management, all SEO/SEM, PR, e-mail marketing, trademark development, brand development and voice, retail packaging, user experience, eCommerce, and more.

Prior to joining Soft-Tex, Taylor was most recently Senior Manager of Digital Marketing for Arise Virtual Solutions leading B2B lead generation efforts across all digital channels. Before that, he worked as an SEO Lead at Red Ventures overseeing organic digital marketing efforts for a number of verticals including retail energy, insurance, satellite television, and more.

Taylor graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of South Carolina Honors College with a double major in Applied Mathematics and Spanish and completed my MBA with an emphasis in leadership from Queens University of Charlotte.”

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey everyone. And welcome back to your number one show on all things eCommerce, I’m your host, Stephanie Postles. And today we have Taylor Jones on the show, the VP of marketing and eCommerce at Soft-Tex International. Taylor. Welcome.

Taylor:

Hey Stephanie, thanks so much for having me.

Stephanie:

I’m excited to have you here. I’m feeling a little bit sleepy now, thinking about all the nice products you guys have, that are centered around sleep. I’d love for you to dive a bit into what is Soft-Tex International and how did you come to the company?

Taylor:

We’d love to hook you up first off.

Stephanie:

Yes, please.

Taylor:

So at Soft-Tex, we’re really serious about sleep and home comfort products. I think for a long time, the company has been a leader in memory foam and cooling technologies and just everything to help you get a better night’s sleep and live a comfortable and better life. I came to the company about three years ago. I have deep digital experience, worked for a company called Red Ventures here in Charlotte. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Then for another company in the call center space, Arise Virtual Solutions, and from some mutual connections found this role at Soft-Tex and started, really owning the eCommerce business for them. And it’s blossomed into a larger marketing role, including e-commerce still.

Stephanie:

That’s great. So how do I think about Soft-Tex? Because maybe a normal consumer, maybe hasn’t heard of them. So how do I think about, how big the company is, who their partners are, how you guys sell? Tell me a bit about that.

Taylor:

Soft-Tex is really a B2B, to C company, and Soft-Tex is the entity that would be known to our retail partners. So think about Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, J.C. Penney, Walmart, Amazon, the whole gamut of retail, we supply with bedding, pillows, toppers, mattresses, mattress pads, protection, anything that is in the bedroom that you’d sleep on, it would probably make it.

Taylor:

We have a direct to consumer presence that we work with, bedpillows.com. We also have a robust, drop-ship capability. So it’s not just, we sell in bulk to a retailer. We do that absolutely, but we do, as a core capability, have drop-ship to over 50 partners.

Stephanie:

Wow. So it seems like there’s an interesting mix where, you’re trying to market for yourself, you’re doing direct to consumer, you have your retail partners. How do you think about managing these relationships and also not cannibalizing yourself at the same time?

Taylor:

Right. So I would say, our partnership with bedpillows.com, is emerging. It’s a delicate balance for folks in our position, because we supply, our retail partners, we absolutely don’t want to compete with them. Ultimately those relationships are very important to us and we build custom products. It’s a very collaborative process with our brick and mortar retail partners and the branding that that goes into all of our different channels. Soft-Tex we have about five or six national or licensed brands that we supply product under or, or we’ll develop product under a private label, to mitigate some of the brand conflicts or sales channel conflicts that may arise with selling our products.

Stephanie:

Very cool. And are you helping your partners when it comes to digitally marketing, the mattresses, pillows, are you helping improve their eCommerce strategy? Because I could see you having a lot of insights into different brands and their strategies and what they’re doing to maybe share that knowledge and help each other out.

Taylor:

Absolutely. So the role we play on with the eCommerce team is a consultative role in that aspect, in that, we’re able to see over the wall, we supply our products to the 50 different partners that I mentioned. So we can see some really interesting things that, maybe somebody over here is doing, in merchandising, assortment, with features, attributes, something cool on the product description page. And we can make that suggestion to someone else who maybe has not done that yet.

Stephanie:

That’s great. So what are some learnings or key things that you see happening on these eCommerce sites where your like, here’s some good best practices that anyone could implement or I see this working really well right now, or maybe it wasn’t working six months ago. What lessons are you seeing through all these brands that you work with?

Taylor:

I think the concept of reviews syndication and review seeding is very important. Obviously, authenticity is critical and you don’t want to see fake reviews, but when you have a new product, accelerating the process through which consumers can experience the product and write a review and leave a review, such that it exists is social proof, for other customers who see that product, is so important to getting a product off on the good foot. We’ve seen, in the home comfort space, 10 to 15 reviews, seems to be a sweet spot for a new product introduction to really help accelerate its growth.

Stephanie:

Completely agree on there. How do you encourage reviews?

Taylor:

There are review seeding partners out there, those companies that you can do seeding programs with, Bazaarvoice is a big one in our space. They have a really interesting service where you can collect reviews if you have a direct to consumer presence and syndicate those reviews. And they also have a network of folks that exists to, you can nominate your products and folks order it to sample your product. And those reviews can get syndicated out to retailers that, on the flip side are members of the Bazaarvoice syndication network. So we’ve seen retailers who participate in that, really scale up quickly on our products.

Stephanie:

Very cool. So they’re not really having to do as much of the heavy lifting because essentially a consumer would review a product and that review can be used multiple times. Is that how to think about it?

Taylor:

Through a seeded review, say we did 10 reviews, those same 10 reviews would appear on Macy’s, on J.C. Penney, on Kohl’s, all at the same time, versus, if someone visited Macy’s and bought the product and reviewed it, obviously that review would be owned by Macy’s, and it will show there. So, as much as we can do to help reviews go as many places as possible, that’s been very helpful.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. So when it comes to, I’m thinking about mattresses and buying mattresses, for a while, everyone wanted to lay on them and sit on them and see how they feel. And now with the market evolving, especially with the pandemic and everyone being a little bit more comfortable with ordering online, what shifts have you seen? Do you see consumer expectations increasing, consumer demands increasing on the sellers? What are you seeing happening behind the scenes right now?

Taylor:

For our products, from basic bedding, so everything non-mattress and the mattress, it’s been through the roof. I think, folks want a fresh and clean sleeping environment, especially cleanliness is top of mind. With COVID in fact, Soft-Tex, my company announced a deeper partnership with Thomson Research Associates. They make an anti-microbial technology called Ultra-Fresh, the market is hot right now for all bedding products. And I think, from the customer experience point that you’re hitting at, do you need to touch and feel the product in order to feel confident in purchasing it? Certainly bedding is a very tactile and personal experience and the same pillow or mattress that’s great for me may not, may not work for you. Right.

Taylor:

I think we’ve seen folks through warranties and trial periods that the industry has, particularly on the mattresses, pretty much a hundred nights sleep trial guarantee, in some form or the other is a standard now. But from a pillow or top or other product standpoint, maybe there’s not that trial period, but being as descriptive as possible, the images, the copy, using enhanced content and the importance of video is so important. Batched attributes, iconography, to really recreate that story and experience, doing everything you can without the consumer touching the product, and that way, I joke with folks at my company that I have the hardest job, right. I have to convince people to buy something that’s highly personal and tactile, that they have never touched prior to receiving it.

Stephanie:

That’s pretty tough. What best practices have you seen around creating videos? Because that’s something that a lot of companies are leaning into right now, but especially for, a mattress or something, what are you seeing work when it comes to videos for the products?

Taylor:

I think the concept of video can take a number of forms. YouTube is the second largest search engine. So, you can do a ton of explainer videos or keyword optimized videos, to try and drum up search traffic to your products. But you can also leverage video, in particular the 30-second to a minute product video, to help drive conversion. And I think, that’s been a huge thing that we’ve seen. The addition of video to product pages has scaled our conversion rate by an incremental 10 or 20%. It’s hard to fathom, because typically most retailers merchandise video is the last piece in an image carousel, right? People don’t like to read, they want to be told, and be surprised and delighted.

Taylor:

And so, leveraging that video format in a short, condensing it to 30 seconds, has been really big for us. And I think, stylistically, it’s very on brand for us, the videos that we’ve done. As I mentioned at the top of the podcast, Soft-Tex is a very innovative company with emphasizing technology, cooling, I mentioned antimicrobial. So our videos come off as very techie, with graphics, lower thirds that pop up. So I think, making sure your videos are on brand and authentic to your brand voice, clearly and concisely conveying the product value proposition. In our space, it’s really, how are we different than everybody else selling a mattress or a pillow? There’s thousands of options.

Stephanie:

Yep. Are you making the videos for your brand partners, or are they all are using the same one, or are you customizing them where you’re like Bed Bath & Beyond, this video works better versus Macy’s they have a different clientele and we’re going to make a different video for them or are they making their own?

Taylor:

Absolutely great question, Stephanie. For private label products, or we have some national brands that we offer exclusively to certain retailers, obviously those are customized, and we work with retail partners like Bed Bath & Beyond, and Macy’s, on art direction, model considerations, we work with them on developing a storyboard and get it approved by them before we film it.

Stephanie:

Got it. That makes sense. So the one thing I was thinking about when we were mentioning direct to consumer, how you guys were going about that route right now. I was thinking about a very large mattress brand who I think recently IPOed and a lot of people are talking about their negative unit costs. And I was wondering, how are you guys thinking about that with your direct to consumer strategy? Are you willing to have negative margins to add a new customer, or how do you think about the digital growth around them?

Taylor:

I think the way we’ve thought about it in a lot of ways, is in the concept of, getting reviews on Amazon is so critical to helping ramp up. If you’re giving a discount or something, that you may be selling your product at a loss initially to help gain those reviews, gain some initial sales traction initially. I think it has to be for a finite period of time, right? That you turn the corner and have a clear path to profitability. You can’t just do it indefinitely. Right. But I think that there are definitely values to doing it, in that, you get your brand out there, you get some exposure, user generated content is so powerful right now. I think if the world is telling us anything, the power of social media and viral media, the same can be true for user generated content and reviews. If you get a really good review or a really bad one, people can upload them, they’re always going to be there. Right. It’s so important.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. Is there any model that you developed around we’re going to, we’re okay with going in the negative for this amount of time with this campaign, or is there any models that you build to influences these decisions, around adding new customers?

Taylor:

In terms of the review thing, it’s still an algorithm that we’re working out, what’s the right quantity of review that moves the needle towards a product being successful. That’s mostly in our space, right? When you’re syndicating in a retail environment, so products sold across many retailers, because really the review is a key way to optimize, each retailer has its own search engine, right? Now, if you’re your own brand, right? Selling direct to the consumer. I think it’s a different calculus, you have your own tolerance with whoever’s providing your investment.

Taylor:

If you’re going to go negative for a time. What is the strategy? How do you become cashflow positive? In the industry, a lot of these, just e-commerce mattress in a box guys, is really, they’re marketing companies if you think about it. There’s a lot of articles, a lot of them are made by the same folks in terms of manufacturers and who pours the foam, et cetera. So it’s interesting.

Stephanie:

That’s really interesting to think about. I think I have three different brands of mattresses in our house, but I’m pretty sure they’re probably all the same or made from the same people.

Taylor:

Or from the same cloth.

Stephanie:

I think so. They all feel pretty similar. How do you think about returns, for something as large as a mattress or, I’m thinking about furniture companies and stuff, how have you seen some brands lower their return rates? What are some best practices around them?

Taylor:

I think for the industry, for the mattress in a box, we’ve seen return rates average out between 10 and 15%. I would include basically everything in that, including the comfort trials and everything. Right. So, when you’re a direct to consumer mattress in a box guy, that has to be factored into your pricing. Some other things that we’ve seen creative ways to save the sale, a lot of, one of the big complaints with sleep products is, maybe the bed is too firm. Maybe you’d send a topper or something to make the mattress more plush, as a method to save recouping, returning the mattress. Because ultimately, right, wrong or indifferent, in the mattress industry once somebody slept on a bed, you can’t resell it. It’s just one of those things. People don’t don’t buy used mattress.

Stephanie:

Good. All the things I’d never really thought about. So you were just mentioning how… I’m glad that you have to deal with that and not me. So we were talking about how a lot of the brands that maybe we think are unique, maybe are utilizing the same types of underlying materials and things like that. So they’re kind similar. I saw that you guys sell on Amazon. Are you ever worried that Amazon could just knock you off and just make a mattress that’s so similar, that it’s maybe not beneficial to be on there, or what’s your reason for selling products on there?

Taylor:

Well, I think, so many things nowadays, if you’re searching for a product, folks don’t just begin on Google anymore. There’s a large contingent of the population that are Prime subscribers and really begin the product search phase on Amazon. I think you pretty much have to be there to have the share of voice, whether you like it or not. I think, for us, Amazon’s a growing partner. Certainly it’s hard, we have a lot of rebates and allowances with them, from a margin standpoint and I’m sure you’ve heard this from many folks. It’s hard to find products that, you can be profitable. But, I think brands have to make a decision to have an Amazon strategy.

Taylor:

It is delicate. Obviously, retailers are very sensitive to being comped on Amazon. So it’s a very nuanced delicate road that we walk. We have an assortment that we have on Amazon, but we also offer exclusive products to other channels, that we don’t offer to Amazon.

Stephanie:

Got it. Is there any other advice that you would give when it comes to selling on Amazon, but making sure that it’s beneficial, like you said, one idea is keeping exclusive content to where not everything you offer is all on Amazon, but is there anything else that you all do, where you’re like, this works well?

Taylor:

I think, really it’s ensuring that you’re being thoughtful about your assortment, if you’re selling on multiple outlets. We’ve learned in our experience that Amazon is a price follower. Well, we’re a first party vendor. Obviously many of your listeners, maybe third party sellers were there. They set the retail price, but as a first party vendor, we have a wholesale price that we give to Amazon and there are, like I mentioned, rebates and allowances. But ultimately, they then retail it to make a profit or not, in some cases.

Taylor:

They’re pretty aggressive in price scraping and seeing what others are doing and commanding the market share to come to them, if they see a lower price out in the market, they will likely try and beat it. So I think, you just have to be prepared, before you open that flood gate, if that’s your strategy, making sure that you’re ready to enforce, map or, D inventory Amazon as needed. I think, certainly if you’re a third party seller on Amazon, you’re in much more control of your destiny in that respect, as you can, you set the retail yourself.

Stephanie:

That completely make sense. In terms of SEO, I’m thinking it’s pretty tricky for you guys to, you want your brands to be seen as leaders, but then you also want yourself to be seen as leaders. What SEO tactics do you all use for yourself and your brands?

Taylor:

Great question. I totally think, in our space in particular, features and attributes are more important than the brand overall, in terms of the search volume. Obviously, if you build a brand, which obviously we all are in the business of doing, you can build search volume that way, but, most of our SEO strategy exists around, trying to optimize and rank for generic keywords, based on the features and benefits of each product. For us, the brand story and value proposition is more of a conversion factor rather than a volume driver, if you will. We as a company have invested more in building a robust e-commerce interface, to target that non-branded search term versus building, paying money for our brands to be the most searched today.

Taylor:

That’s not to say that, our brands don’t have an impressive story and value proposition, but I think, part of that comes into cost, right. A brand that spends a lot in marketing, a direct to consumer mattress that may retail for $1000, queen size, roughly, you have a very similar product that we offer under one of our brands, through Macy’s or J.C. Penney, or Walmart, Amazon, that retails for 350 to $400. Is there much difference in the product? I would say they’re very similar in terms of features and attributes, but it comes down to advertising and price point, right?

Stephanie:

So what have you seen works? How do you win?

Taylor:

I think, again, each retailer is its own search engine and each retailer’s algorithm for the sort that they show, when somebody types in a pillow, I’m searching for memory foam pillows or pillows or mattresses, is a little different. They take into effect or into account different factors, all of them leverage the trailing sales history, review quality. So, is your product good? Four stars or better? Are you getting reviews recently? So review count and frequency and recency. And then how does it relate to the query that was searched?

Taylor:

So, for example, there’s a lot of backend keywords that we look to put with our products and we’ve really gone through and looked to optimize those to make sure that we’re calling out things like, if a product is antimicrobial, it is tagged appropriately, or if it’s got some certifications or whatever it is, such that, when you’re searching on a retailer, if you’re typing in the keyword or leveraging a checkbox menu, faceted navigation, that we’re optimized to show as much as we can.

Stephanie:

Got it. So how are you finding new brands who would be willing to work with you on selling your product? Are you marketing to them? Are you approaching them directly, cold email? How do you find new partners in your space?

Taylor:

It’s a great question. A lot of our business is, if you put it into two buckets, hunting and farming, it is farming. You bring new ideas and new product and new concepts to the same folks you’ve been dealing with. But we absolutely have hunting strategies as well. Honestly, I think Soft-Tex has taken a position as an industry leader of research. We’ve undertaken bedding industry research initiative, both of bedding buyer trends. We work with, many, many retail partners, and especially during COVID times, we’ve been able to survey our partners on what they’re seeing and aggregate the results and provide that as a free service, that I think has been really valuable to folks in the industry. And then also not just industry or retailer, B2C information, but what the consumer is looking for in bedding today. We’ve actually just completed a large scale research initiative for bedding consumer tastes and preferences in 2020.

Stephanie:

Very cool. And are you plugging in some of your products, because consumers are very interested in cleanliness going forward and what do you know? We have an antimicrobial, I’m saying that wrong, but you know what I mean, product?

Taylor:

It’s absolutely the type of a feedback loop that fuels our product development cycle. So in our bedding buyer survey, we just got the results back on that. As you might imagine, anything with fresh and clean attributes has been on a positive sales trend and we’ve for a long time had anti-microbial infusions and treatments in our products, but obviously we’re ramping that up now, given the favorable sales trend that it’s seeing. We’re looking forward to, seeing the full landscape of what consumers are shopping for, how they shop, as that’s in constant flux, especially with COVID and beyond. I think, consumers are more comfortable shopping online, increasingly daily, more and more orders, for all of eCommerce, not just bedding are taking place digitally.

Stephanie:

Do you think this is a longer term trend? And if so, how have you guys shifted your strategy? What things are you planning on doing differently or changing going forward?

Taylor:

I think, like I mentioned, we’ve done a great job at Soft-Tex in optimizing our product pages and the end retailer optimization. We are making the investment now, in that top of funnel or off of retailers sites discoverability. So we want people to have our brands, enter the consideration phase earlier in the process versus, just see them on a retailer site and click on them. So we’re definitely investing there, because we do see the shift towards e-commerce, increasingly as a longterm trend, just rough numbers that I had looked at before this podcast. When I started at Soft-Tex, e-commerce was, just under 10% of the total business.

Stephanie:

That’s four years ago, right?

Taylor:

That was in 2017. And I think, ultimately even then we were under-indexed as a company. This year, I think, just given how the trends are going and how we’re pacing, it’s looking, 35 to 40%. And that’s not to say that the brick and mortar piece or other channels of business have shrunk terribly either. It’s just grown that much, just organically as well.

Stephanie:

The pie has increased.

Taylor:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

With that much growth, I’m thinking about your tech stack now. And I saw a quote on some article, where you said, our approach is working, and we believe that the tech stack we’ve built is well positioned for continued growth. So what does your tech stack look like? What are you guys investing in? What platform are you using? What does it look behind the scenes?

Taylor:

I think, product information management and taxonomy, and really taking control of your data as the expert of whatever product you make, is so critical. Before I started, all of our product data was in, 50 million Excel sheets, right. Now it’s much more systematized. And also, not to mention, different retail partners require different fields and everybody’s set up processes a little different, whereas, before that, was institutional knowledge and it lived with a person, now that lives with platform. So that’s a huge process improvement that we’ve made.

Taylor:

Digital asset management is so critical, particularly from being able to rapidly get new images out to different syndication platforms, but also tests. We’ve done a lot in push the envelope on image standards. We talked about how we can play a consultative role with retail partners. We’d seen some really nice boosts when we added some batches to images, as trust symbols, like if something was featured on, Better Homes & Gardens, sticking that, in the bottom right hand corner. Sometimes that’s been a little tough, because certainly main images get picked up in Google shopping and there’s some rules against how much text can be in the image.

Taylor:

That worked well for a time, when we were able to get it approved. From a text tech standpoint, email marketing, that’s super important, leveraging, and also of course social, being able to leverage all of our digital assets and brand voice and value, getting it out there consistently to the customer as well, has been really important.

Stephanie:

What metrics do you look at for success around, whether it’s your B2B type of backend or your eCommerce platform, what metrics are you reviewing to see if things are going well?

Taylor:

An early indication, skew count. So how many skews do we have in our assortment and how many places are they set up? Obviously if we have a thousand skews, they should all be 50 places, ideally, right? For full skew syndication. Certainly not every retailer is going to take every skew that we have. A lot of retailers still have more of a curated assortment versus an endless aisle. Certainly I think, we see a value in an endless aisle, because of how we differentiate our products. Literally we try to create every product to be a little different, to have a little bit of unique feature and value proposition. So that concept that, there’s something for everyone, right.

Taylor:

So skew count, a very important metric, ultimately total sales obviously, unit sales and how are retailers trending, particularly ramping up impression volume, how many people are getting to a product page and certainly for folks listening, they’re probably like, well, how do you get that? Not every retailer provides that information. But you certainly can leverage tools out there, on Amazon, there’s intelligence tools to look at, how many views your products are getting and other things of that nature. I think that, being able to just check that and see the demand for your product over time is very important.

Taylor:

Other metrics that we really look at, sale, when we give discounts, how things perform, because ultimately a lot of things come back to the law of supply and demand, right. We might have a price in our mind where we think something should be, but that’s not the price that the consumer wants to pay for a product. Finding that right price that moves the volume, through discounts, just finding that equilibrium is interesting. And then obviously we talked about reviews a lot, review count and quality. The quality is a big feedback loop that we take very seriously, in terms of work with our quality assurance and customer service teams, to make sure that, we don’t have an issue. And we’re very proud, that our products have about a 4.7, 4.8 aggregate rating.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Taylor:

It’s huge. I said at the top of the call, what works for one person doesn’t for another. So you might think that a pillow, if left long enough to its own devices might net out around a three. So the fact that, we’re at a 4.8 overall, is really encouraging.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. Do any of your partners right now, not having an eCommerce platform? I’m thinking there must be some people who don’t, how do you work differently with them if they only have a retail location versus your eCommerce partners?

Taylor:

There are, sometimes e-commerce is challenging to jump into. It can seem daunting for folks that aren’t doing it, because you’re talking about things at the each level versus, big old fat POS, the way you retail used to run, right. You order a bunch to a warehouse and it gets distributed. There’s a lot of implications to that, especially when you’re talking about commitments for product, with e-commerce and drop ship the risk is inherently on the supplier or the vendor. There’s no risk for the retailer, right. The retailers is like, Oh, sure, I’ll put it up on my website, but you’re inventorying it. Right. You’re going to ship it for me, just when I sell it.

Taylor:

A lot of companies, that’s their biggest objection, I think, is, without a hard commitment or a retailer to commit to bulk units upfront, if they don’t have that, they won’t offer it for e-commerce. They won’t bring it in, because they don’t have that driver to pull them into it. Because it’s very easy, if a retailer’s ordering 10,000 units of something, pepper and a few thousand more free commerce while we’re at it. But if e-commerce is the first channel you’re thinking about, it can be a riskier equation.

Stephanie:

Do you see that changing going forward? Do you see a lot of these brands thinking about now going online?

Taylor:

Yeah. I mean, even within Soft-Tex it’s changing, right. We have now for, within the past couple of years, now digital first product, whereas, not saying that my e-commerce department was a recycling bin before, but pulling off of the success of things in brick and mortar initially, was really what drove eCommerce previously, which is not necessarily a bad strategy. But I think today, for innovation and new product, more and more stuff, if you’re confident in it, you have to commit and leverage on e-commerce.

Stephanie:

I completely agree. So I saw you guys had some showrooms, I think, for your product. How are you all thinking about that?

Taylor:

We have permanent showrooms in New York and Las Vegas, and participate in market events where we host, the buyers from many different retail partners, so much of that. The importance of an in person event, has been blown up now through COVID. We went through a virtual market in March, which, obviously is hard to convey everything through a video, but, we had fun doing it and a lot of people really enjoyed it. That whole concept has been a challenge. Right? Being able to find that dedicated time to get in front of your customers and have them, if anything, particularly for stores, it’s all about creating an experience to surprise and delight.

Taylor:

Those buyers really want to feel the product and experience it, to ensure that it’s worth, that it will monetize that floor space, that it will take up. With the first touch point being a virtual video, that can be a challenge sometimes, but, we’re adapting through virtual markets, mailing samples for, Zoom calls to review them. But it certainly has been different, it looks like, the Las Vegas market furniture show was pushed back.It’s likely that, at least for us, it’s virtual still, just given everything that’s going on. And many of our customers are, you’ve seen probably the announcements, a lot of travel moratoriums. Some through the end of the year, they’ve already come out and said so. It’s been interesting from that standpoint. I guess from that point-

Stephanie:

I can imagine.

Taylor:

I think home products, more folks will spend money, through e-commerce on home and other products, that they’re not spending on travel. So, positives for us and for many others.

Stephanie:

That could be a good opportunity. I’m thinking of, these virtual events right now to sell to buyers. I think, I would just run and jump on the mattress and then just go to sleep and then people would just be interested to see if I’d wake up, that might pull people in. That’s how I would sell it.

Taylor:

That’s a very attention grabbing headline, for sure.

Stephanie:

It’d be like, is she asleep or is she dead, what happened or is she frozen? I don’t know.

Taylor:

That’s all right. Maybe we’ll use that in our next market video.

Stephanie:

Great. I can be the star of it, I’m pretty good at sleeping and internet freezing, all of the above I’m good at. Are you thinking about incorporating these virtual strategies going forward? Is it something even when the pandemics over, that you’re like, this is working well, we might try this out in the future and use it for, our initial targeting effort to then retarget them to an in person event afterwards. Or how are you thinking about that marketing strategy going forward?

Taylor:

I think it’s something that, we’re definitely going to do. It’s something that we had been doing, I guess, even before. We would do video walk throughs of our showroom and our virtual experience with an industry publication called, Home Textiles Today. But for the most recent market, we produced the virtual market video ourselves. So, leveraging, either internal or partner capabilities, we still think it’s very important to address that. There’s always going to be people that can’t come to an event, even forget COVID times. So it’s always good to have that digital touch point to be able to send to them. And also, to your point, it absolutely can sit on our website and exist as a lead generation tool as well, for people to sign up, to see our latest innovation and then fill out a lead form and then go watch the video.

Stephanie:

There is definitely a lot of opportunity there, for content that is being created now that maybe wouldn’t have been thought of before everything that was going on.

Taylor:

Right. It’s a delicate situation, because a lot of what we produce for a trade show like that, and our competitors, is very future looking and conceptual. There is a level of security. Most of what we sell at a trade show is not yet fully commercialized. Sometimes it is, but in many cases it’s like, this is new brand new technology and we’re introducing it here. So, there’s also a dimension of, yes, we want people to see it, but no, we don’t want everyone to see it.

Stephanie:

That’s got to be a little bit, get a little FOMO there and make it a secret.

Taylor:

That’s right.

Stephanie:

So you have an interesting intersection between B2B and B2C. Is there anything that you wish existed right now in the eCommerce space or technology wise, or you’re like, we’re struggling with this right now, that you could see getting better in the future or that you hope to get better?

Taylor:

We have some partners now that help us provide really high quality CGI imagery. Obviously that’s been around, but, making that process easier, it takes a lot of work to stage a live photo and video shoot, especially for our product class. That’s something that we’re looking to get better at, such that we can, as we commercialize new products, we don’t have to have crazy processes to stage a photo and video shoot. Certainly there’s value to that, and we will continue to use it. We have to use live folks for a lot of things, and models and videos, but for the static, just e-commerce imagery, getting those images up front can really increase our speed to market.

Taylor:

I would think the other thing, that perhaps we’re missing today, is really seeing an aggregation of reviews across platforms. So obviously we see reviews that are syndicated. But we don’t always see every review out there. So getting notified when there’s a negative review in particular, such that we can see, is it just a one off? Somebody just didn’t like it, or, is it the start of a trend of some sort. That happens very seldom with us fortunately, but it’s always good to be on the forefront.

Taylor:

If you think about it, I’m sure we’re not alone. A company like Kraft, they have millions of skews probably, having that feedback loop automated is so important. You can’t have a person, tracking every review manually, right? So the more automation that’s out there, the better. And we’ve done a really good job, I think, building out partners with the scraping capability to monitor our product pages and also, with advertising as well.

Stephanie:

Very cool. That’s two very useful things. I’m sure a lot of people will be looking for, going forward as well. So we have a couple of minutes left and I do not want to let you get out of the lightning round. So let me know if you’re ready and we can start that, Taylor.

Taylor:

Let’s do it.

Stephanie:

All right. The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. It’s where I’m going to ask you a question and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready?

Taylor:

Yes.

Stephanie:

All right. First one. What’s the next sleep product that you’re excited about buying or what are you most excited about right now?

Taylor:

CBD pillows.

Stephanie:

Tell me more about that.

Taylor:

Our CBD, we’re really proud of the chemistry. It’s microencapsulated into the cover. So with body pressure and as you toss and turn, as you sleep, the capsules break open and release the CBD up through the fabric and it’s absorbed in the CBD receptors in the skin.

Stephanie:

Oh my gosh. That sounds very interesting. I have to check that out.

Taylor:

Coming, next quarter.

Stephanie:

Cool. I’ll be on the lookout for that. What’s up next on your reading list or audible?

Taylor:

That’s a really great question. I don’t read as much as I should. Mostly, I’m reader of the news. I would love a good mystery. I don’t read enough fiction, sometimes it’s good for diversion, especially during COVID times, right?

Stephanie:

Yep. We’ll have to find one for you then. I’ll source one and let you know.

Taylor:

Yes, please.

Stephanie:

What’s up next on your Netflix queue?

Taylor:

Ozark. We just started, it’s been really intense. So my wife as a mental health counselor, and I have some stressful days at work, so we both agreed, it’s pretty much a weekend thing, because it’s so intense, we can’t watch it.

Stephanie:

Yes. I agree. You got to balance that out, put on a Disney movie or something.

Taylor:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

And the last one, what one thing, will have the biggest impact on e-commerce in the next year?

Taylor:

I am going to say, voice search, I think more and more people will leverage, Siri or Alexa or the Google voice piece, for searching on stuff. I think, particularly, so much of our population is aging. For whatever reason, when I see somebody have a question, I see them using the voice search the most, like my grandparents, that demographic. As it gets better, we’ll see it used more and more.

Stephanie:

I completely agree [inaudible 00:57:15]. To take anymore, too much work.

Taylor:

I know. That’s all right.

Stephanie:

I like that. Well, Taylor, it’s been a blast having you on. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Where can people find out more about you and Soft-Tex International?

Taylor:

You can check us out on the web at, soft-tex.com. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. You can also check out any of our brands, like SensorPedic, SensorGel or BioPEDIC. For me personally, I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter, Taylor Jones. There’s a lot of Taylor Jones’s, but I’m out there.

Stephanie:

We’ll link you up. We will find you, don’t worry. All right. Thanks so much, Taylor. And we will talk to you soon.

Taylor:

Okay. Thanks so much, Stephanie. This is great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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