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EPISODE 10

The Brand Is More Than the Product: A Conversation with Beardbrand Co-founder Eric Bandholz

There is an evolutionary process for every business, and Beardbrand is no different. When Eric Bandholz co-founded Beardbrand back in 2012, all he had was a Tumblr blog with a modest amount of followers and an eCommerce shop selling other people’s beard products. Today, Beardbrand is a seven-figure business with multiple high selling products of its own and an entire catalog of content that customers gobble up with each new release. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Eric tells us how he fortified his brand, and how success in the digital world is all about going beyond offering just a product in a box — it’s about delivering value and the best possible experience to your customers

Key Takeaways:

  • Move away from the strict focus on simply selling as much as you can and instead aim to find the ways you can add value to your customers’ lives. That will lead to more loyalty and, in turn, more lifetime sales
  • When you’re cash-strapped, you must think of creative ways to grow the business without capital. One way to do that is word-of-mouth — you can’t incentivize word-of-mouth. You have to just focus on creating an amazing experience that your customers want to talk about
  • Site speed is more important than other features. Achieving that  means cutting out pop-up ads and other third-party plugins, which data shows often do not provide consistent or meaningful ROI

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

Key Quotes:

“There’s this whole community of guys that do not fit the traditional stereotype of a bearded guy. That was the inspiration to call myself an urban beardsman. Beardbrand was going to be the community to unite urban beardsmen and give them the tools they needed to feel confident about rocking a beard. To us, the tools don’t mean just the grooming products. They mean, videos. They mean blog posts. They mean style inspiration. They mean community.”

“For us, the content that we’ve created was more of not to drive sales. The products we have allow us to share our word more. We sell products as a way to kind of expand our voice and to grow our content, not as a way to create content to sell products. I think we’re one of the companies that kind of view it a little bit differently.”

“I think a lot of people really err towards sales and discounts and ‘buy from us’ and chest-thumping. That’s really not our style. I would challenge people out there to think about how you can bring value to your audience’s lives. Then, if you bring enough value to their lives, then, the whole Buddhism karma thing, it will come back to you. People will end up buying from you. We have that outlook on the world, that if you do good things, good things will come back to you.”

“We’re trying to bring more value. You buy from us and, not only did you get great products, but we brought you a little more value outside of what the products can do. Hopefully, by delivering this experience, we can grow through word-of-mouth and loyalty and customers who want to stick around, rather than going on to the next hot thing.”

“When you’re cash-strapped, you’ve got to think of creative ways to be able to grow the business without capital. One way to do that is word-of-mouth. You can’t incentivize word-of-mouth. You have to really just truly focus on such an amazing experience that your customers want to talk about it.” 

“The reality is, you’re always going to have a competition. If you have no competitors, then your competition is ignorance. We’ve always embraced competitors and knowing that we’re going to have competition in the sense that it’s going to force us to elevate our game and provide such an amazing experience to our customers, that they’ll have no option other than to go with us because we are the best.”

“There’s so much more to a business than what’s in the package or what’s in the box. I think a lot of companies get so focused on their product. Anyone can rip off your product. They can exactly copy your product. They can come down to an exact tee. Then, if that’s all you’re standing on, what do you have there? Then, it becomes a race to the bottom for the price. When you build a business, you have to think beyond your product. You have to think about, ‘How can I really bring value to my customers that is beyond the product?’ The product alone is not going to do it.”

“We had one of those live chats. I think it presented some issues because, sometimes, a little pop-up would block information or block the “Add to Cart” button….We killed it. We no longer have that JavaScript burden of loading. Those chatbots are fundamentally the things that slow down your page load speed the most, I’ve seen. We haven’t seen any drop in conversion rates or sales.”

“SMS is something that a lot of people are talking about, and something that we’ve actually been doing for a good half a year now. We do it in a way that, I think, most people aren’t doing it. Most people see SMS as just another channel to market and throw sales and discounts. That drives consumers crazy. If I see someone marketing to me on SMS, I’m just like, “You’re dead to me.” How we’re using it is as style consulting. SMS is perfect for that because you got your phone there, take a selfie, send it to us, we can tell you where you’re trimming your beard, how your neckline is coming in, what your hairline looks like, and what kind of hairstyle will work for you. I think that’s an excellent way to use SMS.”

Bio:

Eric Bandholz is the founder of Beardbrand, a men’s grooming company that focuses on beard care. With the help of the Beardbrand team, they’ve built a community that is changing the way society views beardsmen.

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. Welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles. Today, we have Eric Bandholz on the show, founder of Beardbrand. Eric, welcome.

Eric:

What is going on, Stephanie?

Stephanie:

Hey, hey. Thanks for hopping on here.

Eric:

Yeah. I’m excited for our conversation. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Stephanie:

Me, too. You are a true brand. You’re rocking an awesome beard. Just what I expected when I was hoping to see you on video. I’m like, “He better have an epic beard, or this conversation won’t go well.”

Eric:

Well, it was funny because, actually, I shaved it all off in December, the beginning of December, of last year. That was kind of a big deal for us. That was the first time I shaved my beard completely off.

Stephanie:

Oh, man.

Eric:

She’s like, “[crosstalk 00:00:44] your beard,” or something like that.

Stephanie:

How many customers did you lose when you did that?

Eric:

Well, I’d like to think that we actually added a lot of customers, because Beardbrand is not about the beard. It’s about the man behind the beard. We kind of support a guy’s right to grow his beard as much as his right to shave it off. I really wanted to make that point, especially today, with a lot of our competitors challenging people’s masculinity by not having facial hair. We want to kind of say facial hair doesn’t matter at all. It’s just a style.

Stephanie:

Cool.

Eric:

We did some YouTube ads on it as well, which was a lot of fun to do.

Stephanie:

Awesome. I’d love to dive into the background of how you started Beard Brand and the story behind that.

Eric:

We’re in business, I think it’s got to be, eight years now we launched.

Stephanie:

Wow, congrats.

Eric:

We launched in 2012 after I had grown a beard out for about a year. What happened is, at that time, I was trying to do this graphic design business or design business, and I would go to networking events and everyone would call me Duck Dynasty or ZZ Top or Grizzly Adams. Those are super cool dudes. They’ve got epic stories as well. As an individual, I don’t identify as those kind of guys. I’ve got the softest hands you could ever imagine. I never touched an axe. I ended up attending this event where I met other dudes like me who are other entrepreneurs and designers and doctors and lawyers and dads. I realized there’s this whole community of guys that do not fit the traditional stereotype of a bearded guy. That was the inspiration to kind of call myself an urban beardsman.

Stephanie:

I like it.

Eric:

Beardbrand was going to be the community to unite urban beardsmen and give them the tools they needed to feel confident about rocking a beard. To us, the tools don’t mean just the grooming products. They mean, videos. They mean blog posts. They mean style inspiration. They mean community. Over the past eight years, we’ve been rolling all that out. We’ve gotten an epic blog and a YouTube channel with over a million and a half subscribers. We’ve got a private community where we connect with people. We’ve put on conferences for our customers to be able to connect in person. We’ve really worked hard to support our audiences, support our customers. I’ve got two business partners. We’re completely bootstrapped. We have no debt. We have no outside funding. We’ve been able to grow to a nice size seven-figure business.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. Congrats on all those YouTube followers. How do you think about utilizing your content to sell your products? Was that an idea and a strategy from the beginning, or was it more organic, where you started on YouTube, and then you’re like, “Well, now, we have all these followers, we should launch a product as well?”

Eric:

Yeah, if we’ll hop in our time machine a little bit more. We launched 2012 as a blog, a Tumblr page, which I don’t think anyone’s ever heard the word, “Tumblr,” five years [crosstalk 00:03:53].

Stephanie:

Long time.

Eric:

We had a Tumblr page. Then, we also had our YouTube channel. This time, it was just me, as kind of a side project. I’ll make a couple of posts on the blog. Then, I would just re-blog some things on Tumblr to make it look active. I think I did six videos on YouTube. It’s not like, in that first year, we really built this thriving community. I think we had 300 subscribers on YouTube and just a couple of thousand visitors to our blog. It was enough that a reporter from the New York Times saw the blog and kind of quoted me as an expert.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome.

Eric:

We utilized that opportunity. I convinced two of my friends to go into business with me, and said, “Hey, why don’t we turn this blog into an e-commerce store?” We found a product. We started reselling it. We literally launched the website a day before the New York Times article went live-

Stephanie:

Wow, perfect timing.

Eric:

[crosstalk] a couple of days. That was kind of the spark to the business to really give us the energy to continue. Then, I had the vision that Beardbrand, the Urban Beardsman, is going to be like how Lululemon is to people for yoga or Vans shoes is to skaters. Beardbrand and the Urban Beardsman was we’re going to serve these urban beardsmen. I always visualize that as apparel or accessories or clothes. I really didn’t have the industry knowledge to be able to do that, and the margins are so tight on there, and some seasonality that we found grooming products was going to be that product that united the community.

Eric:

After, I guess, a year or two of failure after failure after failure of trying to get apparel up and accessories up, we finally admitted that we’re a grooming company. For us, the content that we’ve created was more of not to drive sales. The products we have allow us to share our word more. We sell products as a way to kind of expand our voice and to grow our content, not as a way to create content to sell products. I think we’re one of the companies that kind of view it a little bit differently.

Stephanie:

Got it. How do you utilize newsletters and reaching your subscribers once you have them or engaging with buyers or prospective buyers? I think I’ve read about some newsletter strategy that you have from day one, everyone kind of starts out in the same place to go on the journey with you. Is that still accurate?

Eric:

Yeah. We utilize Klaviyo to, I think they call it flows, where you have these series of emails that you send out when people join your email list. We’ve launched that, I think, in 2015. That’s been really good. When you think about building a business, as much as you can automate and build systems and processes, then the more you’re going to be able to scale your business and the more traction you’re going to be able to gain.

Eric:

This series that we opened up with is really like an education series. I think it’s a 5 or 10-part series where we teach them how to care for their beards, teach them how to care for their hair. A lot of guys still don’t know how to shampoo and condition your hair. Basics like that where, honestly, they’ve been doing it wrong, but there’s opportunity for them to improve their techniques and, ultimately, get better outcome through their journey. That’s been big for us. Then, at the end of the flow, we give them a little thank you product, or free shipping, or something like that for taking the time to invest in themselves.

Stephanie:

Got it? Are there any best practices you would recommend other e-commerce sites when it comes to utilizing that newsletter or where you’re like, “Conversions were high when we did this,” or, “They were lower when we did this,” or, “That thank you product really does help drive future sales,” any insights around that?

Eric:

Yeah. A couple of things that we’ve found that work over the years is we have a product that is not available on our navigation. It’s kind of a hidden kit that is only available to people who join our newsletter.

Stephanie:

Interesting.

Eric:

The retail value of that kit is $50. We give them a pretty aggressive price point to be able to get on board. It’s kind of like a tester kit, sample kit, so they get exposure to a lot of our products. We found that that works really well because we can say, “Hey, get this tester kit, try all of our products, use these products as you’re learning about the things that we’re telling you, then, in two weeks or a month or whenever, when you go through the products and look to re-up them.” We found that that works really well at getting people into the ecosystem and trying our products.

Stephanie:

Very cool.

Eric:

What other best practices do I have? For us, it’s so much about content. I think a lot of people really err towards sales and discounts and buy from us and chest thumping. That’s really not our style. I would challenge people out there to think about how you can bring value to your audience’s lives. Then, if you bring enough value to their lives, then, kind of the whole Buddhism karma thing, it will come back to you. People will end up buying from you. We kind of have that outlook on the world, that if you do good things, good things will come back to you.

Stephanie:

Love that. How do you think about your buyer experience and making that personalized and unique to all your customers as they come in?

Eric:

We’ve invested a fair amount into our packaging to our products. The unboxing experience is nice. We use nicer primary packaging, which is going to be your bottles and your labels and your caps and all that. Then, we use nicer secondary packaging as well. When they actually get the boxes and they open it, it’s pretty nice. In addition to that, we’re working with our own 3PL or a third-party logistics, our own fulfillment center. We make sure that we work really closely with them that they wrap it kind of to our specifications. There’s a nice little unboxing experience, a little bit of tissue paper, and a Beardbrand sticker. Then, we have what’s called a thank you kit. Within this thank you kit, we have a little booklet. The booklet usually changes every quarter. For instance, one quarter, it was a book of reminders, which are kind of my nine reminders that I tell myself in life as I face adversity.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Eric:

Daily planning. It’s all tied around our core message or our tagline, which is keep on growing. We’re trying to, again, bring more value. You buy from us and, not only did you get great products, but we brought you a little more value outside of what the products can do. Hopefully, by delivering this experience, we can grow through word-of-mouth and loyalty and customers who want to stick around, rather than kind of going on to the next hot thing.

Stephanie:

I was just going to say I could see that adding to that viral experience by giving people those little presents that are really fun to share, then, just engaging with more customers because of that. It’s really interesting to hear about.

Eric:

I’ll tell you this. If you’re trying to build a bootstrap company, the reality is you’ve got more time than money. When you’re cash-strapped, you’ve got to think of creative ways to be able to grow the business without capital. One way to do that is word-of-mouth. You can’t incentivize word-of-mouth. You have to really just truly focus on such an amazing experience that your customers want to talk about it. When you have that mentality, not only is it healthy for your business, but it’s going to be healthy for your growth. It’s just kind of a win-win, and the world’s a better place because you’re bringing that much value to the customers.

Stephanie:

I completely agree. Are there any success stories or big failures that you’ve had come from trying to generate that word-of-mouth and getting people to spread the word? Any advice around that?

Eric:

It’s actually not a metric that we really track or keep an eye on. It’s just more of a philosophy internally of just being customer first. I think, to a certain degree, you do have to integrate data. We used to include a little sample of products for people. We found that those samples weren’t driving any additional sales of those products in a significant way. When you look at that, you’re like, “Well, are you actually bringing value to customers if you’re giving them something for free that, maybe, they didn’t want or they didn’t want need?

Stephanie:

How do you track that, or how did you know that people weren’t really using it or that wasn’t helping drive sales?

Eric:

We would send a beard wash, a little sample, a one-ounce container. Then, we would look at if there’s any increase in sales of beard wash. Your data is always going to be muddy, especially when you’re a company that’s our size and really small. We fundamentally can’t get the data. You do have to go off of a certain gap. You have to also look at, “Well, every sample is costing us,” let’s say, it’s $1. Every order is going out, five orders is $5,000 a month. Then, if we’re not seeing a boost of really $10,000 in sales to justify the cost of that, then the margin and the future order, then, you’re not building a sustainable practice. Again, as a bootstrap company, you do have to think about your marketing efforts being sustainable and being able to exist on their own for a long time.

Stephanie:

How do you think about creating these marketing campaigns, whether it’s YouTube videos? How much do you guys put out per day or per week? To me, that feels like it could be not sustainable if you don’t have the right team in place, the right video crew. Especially right now, I’m thinking everything with COVID-19. Has it been hard to keep that content going out and recording the videos and launching them on YouTube and everything? Is it still pretty good, because it’s a remote team doing that?

Eric:

It’s been a really long, hard journey. To the listeners out there who are hearing our story now, eight years in is like we’ve had eight years to build these processes and systems and relationships. You’re not going to be able to do all the things that we’ve done on day one. We’re still cranking out about six videos a week. We’ve been able to do that by leveraging multiple personalities, just like you guys have multiple shows. We’re kind of the same thing. It’s not all on my shoulders, and worrying about me getting burnt out.

Eric:

We have four different regulars on our smaller channel called the Beardbrand Alliance. Then, we have, probably, maybe 4 to 10 barbers who will hit on to do these kind of barbershops style videos. We’ve been able to really spread the burden of the YouTube channel. Then, we have an in-house video editor who is constantly video editing. He’s a machine. Then, in addition to creating these YouTube videos, we do a fair amount of advertising in the video form as well. We do have video editing handled by our ad person as well, our advertising coordinator. She’ll be cranking out content that way as well. Video is great, man. I would highly suggest anyone listening that if you invest in video, you could have a pretty good competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Stephanie:

I completely agree. Video is where it’s at. How do you make sure that your videos and your content is found? A lot of people create some really awesome stuff and then be like, “Now what? I’ve only had one view on it,” or, “I don’t know how to get people to view this video, and then take the action that I want afterwards, which is, probably, buying one of the products that I’m highlighting?”

Eric:

There’s two answers to that. One answer is you pay for it. Really expensive, but if the content is truly remarkable, for instance, when I shaved my beard off, we filmed it. We created a 45-second ad on YouTube. To get exposure on YouTube through their advertising system, if the video is engaging, it’s extremely cheap. I think we’re paying a third of a penny per view.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s cheap.

Eric:

A million impressions was, I don’t have the calculator in front of me, what does that look like?

Stephanie:

Something great.

Eric:

Yeah. It’s astronomically inexpensive. At the same time, you may not be targeting the right people. Now, organically, I think YouTube is going to be the platform to go, because of how they recommend videos. It’s a little more evergreen than Facebook. There’s certainly opportunity on Facebook and Instagram, but I’m not as strong on how to perform there. It comes down to, in the early days, the reality is no one’s going to watch your content. You think that sucks, but the reality is it’s awesome. Maybe, you’ll have one person or two people or 10 people watch it. Then, you’ll get a couple of comments. Well, you’ll use those comments to get your content better and better and better. Then, by the time you’ve built a larger audience, you’ve kind of figured a lot of these things out, so you’re not really damaging your audience. You think what you create is great, but the reality is it’s not.

Stephanie:

I agree.

Eric:

[crosstalk] will be shared. By creating and by doing, you get the hang of it, you get more natural in front of the camera, or you get more natural on the editing process and telling the story. As you learn, it compounds on itself. If you’re thinking about getting into organic video on YouTube, then plan on having, really, 20 or 50 videos that you want to produce before you really even see any kind of traction. I think it took us three years before we got 10,000 subscribers. Then, again, it compounds and you learn and create more content. You create more content faster that’s more in line with what people want. Then, all of a sudden, we’re able to grow to daily content and getting 10,000 subscribers a month. It takes time and it takes learning. There’s a lot of insights in YouTube that you’ll need to learn as well.

Stephanie:

I think it’s really good as a reminder to kind of detach yourself from the content, because when you put something out there, it’s like, “It’s my baby. That was my best one yet.” I remember when we were starting our company, the first couple of episodes we did on Mission Daily, Chad and myself, it didn’t get any downloads. It’s a brand new podcast. No one had heard about it. We didn’t know how to grow the podcast at that point. I remember thinking, “That was my best episode yet. I’ll never be able to do something that good again.” Now, I look back on it. I’m like, “I’m very glad no one was listening to those episodes because they were not good and the audio wasn’t great.” It’s just a really good reminder to put stuff out there more in the learning phase. Then, eventually, you can move into the really trying to find those subscribers and followers, once you get to the point where you’re a bit more experienced and you’ve tried a bunch of things out. I love that.

Eric:

Yeah. So much of it is just the process, for a podcast, making sure you can line up those guests and you can post it early. That’s hard work. It’s easy to get the first one done, or maybe, the first couple and queue it up, but to also record and organize and plan is a very big challenge. Those are the things that you’ll be solving when your audience is small. Then, as you solve those, that allows you to grow your audience.

Stephanie:

I agree. When it comes to solving problems when you’re small, when you got the visibility from, I think, you said New York Times, and I think I read Shark Tank, when you got that visibility, were you ready? Was your website ready, your product ready, your fulfillment strategy ready? How did that go when you got those bumps in visitors?

Eric:

New York Times drove about $900 of sales.

Stephanie:

That’s huge, just kidding.

Eric:

It actually is. I think we had $100 worth of product. It was nine times our inventory. Fortunately, we were able to solve all that. You have a lot of growing pains, I think. This is my first successful business. I had no relationships. We didn’t know where to get our wooden boxes made. We always dealt with supply chain issues. Really, the first two years, as we were growing rapidly, it was just always like a fire was being put out. Then, eventually, we moved to quarterly planning, which has helped significantly in managing our inventory.

Stephanie:

What was the Shark Tank experience like? I haven’t talked to anyone who’s been on there yet.

Eric:

Oh, no. I’m your first breaking your show.

Stephanie:

Yeah, you’re my first.

Eric:

That’s virginity. This was 2014, I believe. Yeah, it’s got to be 2014. Halloween 2014 is when the episode aired. A lot of things may have changed since that time. I know Shark Tank was really popular at that time. A lot of people were watching it. It’s a very stressful process, because during the whole campaign, not only 80% of the people who go through the whole process are going to end up on the show. You could end up investing a lot of energy, a lot of time. You could pay a lot of money to build out this fancy display case. You could fly out there, step away from the operational needs of your business in a time where your business really needs this stuff. Then, do all that and not make it there.

Eric:

We always knew there is a good chance that we didn’t make it there. Subsequently, we didn’t put too many resources into Shark Tank. We kept our display stand, I think, we paid $300 to rent some furniture. Then, we put out some products there. It’s just me going on show. It wasn’t my business partners, so they could kind of focus on building the business and I just kind of focused on the Shark Tank pitch and stuff like that. Then, you get up there and it’s stressful, not just because of pitching to the Sharks, which is how they make the show seem, but also knowing that whatever you do is recorded in front of seven million people. If you make a mistake, you’re like, “Seven million people want to know about that.”

Stephanie:

It’s replayed over and over again, and reruns.

Eric:

Yeah. And, fortunately for us, I feel like Shark Tank, they did a pretty accurate representation of how I felt the conversation was. They’re cutting down 45 minutes to seven minutes. They’re trying to craft a story in seven minutes. Then, the hard part is all five of those sharks, they talk to you all at once and you don’t know that on the show coming in. They all ask you a question right at the same time. When you see the people pitching and they’re looking all over the place, it’s just because five people are talking at once and they’re just trying to figure out who to talk to.

Stephanie:

Wow. Sounds very intimidating. I do love Shark Tank, though. I hope to try and find your episode and see if I can watch it.

Eric:

Yeah, do it. It was a fun experience. It was like how your heart can race and go on through a roller coaster. It was really that. The whole time, it’s just like the adrenaline is pumping. I’m not very good with words. I’m kind of dyslexic. I’m just hoping I’m not saying anything too stupid. I think it was a great experience all over. I think what they’re doing for entrepreneurs is great, too.

Stephanie:

I completely agree. In early days, were you completely selling on your website? How much of it was selling direct to consumer versus wholesale, versus, maybe, utilizing Amazon would your sales strategy look with your brand?

Eric:

We’ve done a little bit of everything. We started off direct to consumer. We actually started off, as I said, as a simply an e-commerce retailer. Another people’s products in the early days, until we’re able to develop our own products. As we were able to get traction, we had passively, companies like barber shops and salons and pharmacists who would want to sell our products. We would kind of sell to these smaller retailers. It was never a core focus of us to bring on wholesale retailers.

Eric:

Then, we would get on the Amazon. This was the early days of Amazon. Hindsight is 2020. We probably missed a fair amount of opportunity on there. We really always focused on selling on Beardbrand.com. Amazon was never more than 10% of our sales. After a couple of years, we ended up pulling off of Amazon completely. You can’t get our products on Amazon now. That’s been a great decision for us. Then, we also brought in Target as one of our wholesalers. That happened 2018. Today, we’re about half the retail and half direct on Amazon, and on any other market.

Stephanie:

Very cool. How do you think about separating yourself from your competitors? Not that I watched the beard space often. I don’t have a beard that I know of, but I have seen a lot of beard oils coming on the market and just things focused around that. How do you separate yourself from the competitors, especially since you’re an e-commerce site and you don’t have a bunch of retail locations or not in a ton of places? How do you show that value on how it’s different from other products?

Eric:

The reality is, you’re always going to have a competition. If you have no competitors, then your competition is ignorance. We’ve kind of always embraced competitors and knowing that we’re going to have competition in the sense that it’s going to force us to elevate our game and provide such an amazing experience to our customers, that they’ll have no option other than to go with us because we are the best. With that mentality, we’ve also come to terms with certain things, like we’re not going to be the low price product on the marketplace. If that’s the game you want, then we’re not going to be a good fit for you.

Eric:

We try to be really clear about the value that we bring and the things that, maybe, we’re not great at. There’s always going to be trade off. To us, I think we do a great job because we bring all that value to our customers. Like we talked about earlier in the show, the content marketing, the education, the blog articles, the email flows, the YouTube videos, the customer service experience, the unboxing experience, I think, all of those things are what makes Beardbrand a different company and why someone would want to buy from us. If they’re just some dude who doesn’t really care and they just want whatever’s cheap, then Beardbrand probably isn’t going to be the best product for them.

Stephanie:

I like that idea of being upfront with, “Here’s what we sell. If you don’t want quality, then, maybe, go somewhere else to find something different.” Do you market differently based on that?

Eric:

To be fair, there’s other quality products out there as well. I don’t think there’s quality products out there that also do the education, that also do the packaging, that also do the customer experience. There’s so much more to a business than what’s in the package or what’s in the box? I think a lot of companies get so focused on their product. Anyone can rip off your product. They can exactly copy your product. They can come down to an exact tee. Then, if that’s all you’re standing on, what do you have there? Then, it becomes a race to the bottom for the price.

Eric:

When you build a business, you have to think beyond your product. You have to think about, “How can I really bring value to my customers that is beyond the product?” The product alone is not going to do it.

Stephanie:

Got it. I love that. How do you think about building better business models for other e-commerce companies? I was looking at, I think, on Twitter, you had an experience with West Elm. I guess they had marked down a table. You kind of went through how e-commerce companies need to figure out how to develop better business models. What is your advice around that? Maybe, you can highlight that experience a bit, because I didn’t read the whole thread.

Eric:

Yeah. A little background story. I bought that table, that table I’m actually using for my podcast studio. 25 days later, they put on a sale where I could get the exact same table, but it cost me 75 days, or excuse me, $75 less. As a consumer, that’s kind of frustrating, because you kind of feel like an idiot for not waiting out. I would have waited 25 days to save 75 bucks. Personally, I don’t think that’s a good experience. I recognize they’re doing sales, they’re doing weekly sales, and some sales are better than others. To me, I feel like, have some kind of policy in place where, within a certain time frame, whatever you feel is appropriate: two weeks, a month, two months, whatever, that you can guarantee the offer that you’re giving to them.

Eric:

It doesn’t even have to be a money back guarantee. It could be a store credit guarantee. Then, I think that’s going to encourage a lot more confidence in the consumers. Also, consumers will be more likely to buy from them again, because if you have the alternative where you’re just like, “I know you screwed; you missed out on this one; you already bought it,” then, it’s like, “Well, next time, I’m just really going to wait. I’m just going to wait until I know there’s an incredible deal,” or, “I’m just not going to buy at all because I don’t want to feel like I want to be made a fool again.”

Eric:

You run the risk if you’re running sales all the time and they’re not the exact same sale. Not everyone will feel this, but some people will subconsciously be feeling this. There’s quick and easy ways to really just guarantee the experience about it. I don’t want to tell people how to run their business and their policy. I’m not mad at them. I’m just kind of calling them out that I think they could do better. Then, to be fair, West Elm reached out to me on Twitter and they offered me store credit.

Stephanie:

That’s nice.

Eric:

You don’t want to have to really fight and argue for that. You just want them to make it right.

Stephanie:

I think that’s a good point, though. Also, that big brands are looking to smaller companies and the individual consumer to kind of learn from. That’s a really good point of making the consumer feel good after a purchase and not having buyer’s remorse. I’ve definitely had that experience before of buying something and then seeing a discount afterwards, and then waiting the next time, and then there’s no more inventory. Then, I just never go back again. Those little moments definitely matter.

Eric:

Well, then you think about, the whole West Elm experience for me is, I couldn’t do a live chat or email them about it. I had to call them. Then, I called them and I was on hold for 25 minutes. Then, after 25 minutes, they pretty much told me I could ship the thing back and then buy a new one, but shipping would not be reimbursed. Financially, it wasn’t going to make sense. It’s like, “Okay, this is how you’re going to do it.” Then, as a small company, you think that these large companies have all the advantages because they can buy in bulk and get better prices. Well, a lot of people don’t buy based on products. They buy because they want to be able to reach out to you and talk with real person, not be on hold for 25 minutes. Those are the things that I want you to think about as you build your business, how you can compete with Amazon and how you can compete with West Elm and Walmart and these giant companies out there.

Stephanie:

I love that. What’s one thing that you wish online sellers would start and stop doing? I’m asking you this question because I see you’re big in the e-commerce community, always talking and highlighting different e-commerce stores. You’ve probably seen a lot of best practices that sellers do, and some things are like, “You should just stop. That’s not good.”

Eric:

Going back, I don’t want to tell anyone how to run their business. There’s a lot of ways to build a business. It kind of comes down to who your audience is and what they’re okay with. A couple of things that we’ve always avoided is we don’t want to do pop-ups. There’s no pop-ups. There’s no tricks. There’s no immediate discounts. One of the things that is a pet peeve of mine is, “Here’s a pop-up. Do you want to save 10% on your next order?” Then, they click x or, “Close out of this if you don’t want to save money,” something kind of condescending like that; or, with the little spin wheel. I think a lot of these has become a little hokey.

Eric:

The people selling those software as a service thing always claim that they work. We’ve actually cut a significant amount of our third party plugins, just because it made our websites so bloated.

Stephanie:

I was reading about that, how quick were you able to get your website down? I think I saw four seconds.

Eric:

Oh, my god. We were doing a speed test on our old website. The homepage on the desktop, I think it would have been in the 40 range score. Then, I think the mobile side would have been in the 20 to 25 range, the score [crosstalk 00:34:34]. Then, we essentially rolled out a new website template, a new website theme, killed all the third-party plugins. The new speed is now around 77 for the desktop and around 40 or 45 for the mobile.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Eric:

I don’t know what that is in actual load times, but in terms of data, according to Google, it’s a significant increase. Some of our blog posts would take 10 seconds to load. We really just went and found the stuff. It wasn’t just the theme, too. We had some images that we uploaded, which were two megabytes in size, something ridiculous like that. It’s just kind of like eight years into having a business and a lot of people putting their hands into the business, it gets a little you lose sight of things. It’s always good to circle back every once in a while.

Stephanie:

I think doing that audit is really important, because like you said, after many years, people are implementing their own things without thinking about the long-term strategy of it and how it might impact things. I think, web chat is one thing where a lot of websites have the digital chat, but that increases the website’s load time by a ton. Maybe, people don’t even fully utilize it. They would rather call or send an email. It’s good to just do that audit, I’d say, at least yearly.

Eric:

We had one of those live chats. I think it presented some issues because, sometimes, a little pop-up would block information or block the “Add to Cart” button.

Stephanie:

Oh, man. They’re like, “I’m just trying to buy and you’re not letting me.”

Eric:

Exactly. It’s just like as templates get uploaded or themes get updated, things get reverted. We killed it. We no longer have that JavaScript burden of loading. Those chat bots are fundamentally the things that slow down your page load speed the most, I’ve seen. We haven’t seen any drop in conversion rates or sales. Then, in addition to that, the alternative, what we did is we just moved to a phone number that people can text. I think what we’re getting is people who are more serious about needing advice rather than just kind of casual looky-loos who see a little pop-up and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, da-da-da-da-da.”

Stephanie:

I that, looky-loos.

Eric:

That’s what my mom calls them.

Stephanie:

That’s good. What metrics are you paying attention to most? You’ve mentioned conversion rates. Now, we’ve talked about website speed. Are there a certain set of metrics that you pay the most attention to?

Eric:

Yeah. I’m like your typical A.D.D. entrepreneur. Being in the details on a daily basis is really hard for me. Everything I do is kind of on an ad hoc basis. When it comes to YouTube, the things that we really look at are our watch time and our click through rate. They’re going to be the big indications if a video is going to be successful or not. Then, on our website, really, I’m the top level kind of guy, so I’m looking at revenue. I’m looking at orders. Then, on the ad hoc level, I look at how our blog is converting, then, how our traffic outside of our blog, two of our stores is converting. Then, our page speed has been something that’s been a pretty big metric for me, lately. Then, there’s so many other more metrics that I should be looking into that I’m fortunate that we have team members who are looking for [crosstalk 00:38:09]-

Stephanie:

Do that for you.

Eric:

… email performance and how those are doing.

Stephanie:

Is there any themes around either video content that you put out or blog content that you’ve seen, certain types of videos? Maybe, funny ones convert better or more how-to blog content converts better. Any best practices around releasing content in a strategic way that will actually create a future buyer?

Eric:

Our strategy is to leverage YouTube’s organic growth. To do that, you need to have the viewers want to watch more of your content and stay on YouTube. The strategy isn’t really so much of, “Hey, buy this,” or, “Be aware of this.” It’s more of get awareness of the brand. We try to integrate a lot of branding on our videos. We put our taglines on every video, to keep on growing and change the way society views beardsmen. All those call outs in the lower thirds. Then, we try to integrate product placements in our videos as well. It’s just bringing awareness to it and not driving people off the YouTube.

Eric:

Subsequently, when you do that, you’re less concerned with any kind of direct sales that you’re getting from videos. One great plugin tool that we’ve used on our Shopify store is called Grapevine. Grapevine allows you to have a simple one-question survey that you put at the end of after they’ve purchased. We use that to say, “Hey, how did you first hear about us?” We have about 20 different options, from Shark Tank to our YouTube channel to various YouTube personalities. We found that 40% of our customers have first found out about us from YouTube.

Eric:

Being able to attribute that any particular video, we can kind of segment it a little bit. 18% of it is from our barbershop videos, which was a fair amount. Beyond that, you just kind of have to trust the process.

Stephanie:

Got it? Do you find influencers in the space? When you’re talking about having these barbers do these videos, do you find someone who already has a following? Do you kind of create that following organically through under your brand? Maybe, it’s someone that no one would have ever known about, but you just know that they’re a great personality to do the video?

Eric:

A little of both, I would say. One of our most or one of our longest tenured relations, well, we’ve got a couple of long tenured relationships with influencers, Carlos Costa. We reached out to him back in 2013. He’s been with us kind of since then as an influencer for the brand. Then, he’s grown to make videos for us. Then, he reached out to Greg Berzinsky, who at that time, I think he had, maybe, 20,000 or 30,000 followers on Instagram. He’s a big believer in the brand.

Eric:

We try to find people who really love your brand, who love the products, who love what we’re doing. It’s just easier for them to be excited about it. We also try to work with smaller influencers, those who are, maybe, still getting established, or who have a following because they’re not influencers. Tobias van Schneider is another one. He’s another business owner. He’s got other businesses. He’s not making money from promoting products. He’s more likely to talk about our products and not ask for compensation, which is something that you need as a bootstrap company, to be able to make your dollars go far.

Eric:

It’s been a little bit of that. Then, we have had employees at Beardbrand who are like, “Hey, man. Get on camera. Talk about this. You’ve got a great beard.” They’ve done that. We’ve done a little both and have had success and challenges and both processes as well.

Stephanie:

That’s very cool to experiment with all those different types of models. I like the idea of having the employees be the influencer. I know that a lot of companies in Asia are doing this. I haven’t seen a lot of companies in the US fully utilizing that model of creating micro-influencers within the company, and then developing their own followings. That’s just a nice organic way to do it. Having someone who is an actual expert on the product without being too salesy, because they’re not a salesperson.

Eric:

We try it, too. If you look at our Instagram account, the Beardbrand account is replying to comments, you’ll always see Sylvester. He’s replying to him. He’ll sign his name, or whoever’s replying to a comment. On YouTube, they’ll sign their name. We’re totally in favor of get to know our people, get to know our copywriter, Mike, and get to know our growth marketer, James.

Eric:

Again, we talked about how you compete with Amazon. Amazon doesn’t have a James. They don’t have a Mike. They don’t have a Lindsey. They don’t have a Jordan. They don’t have Chandler. But, we have those people. The more we can help them get to know the team. Then, the risk is if you just work with one person within your company, then, that person could hold you hostage or quit or leave or getting a DUI or do something like that. If you have 10 or 20 different people on the regular who you integrate into your content, then, in the natural course of business, as people move on and things change, then, you’ll still be able to move forward.

Stephanie:

In a world where everything is becoming automated and you always know you’re talking to bots, I think it’s actually nice how certain business models are kind of flipping that. You’re mentioning about developing a relationship with the person at the company where you are used to seeing the same name and you kind of are developing an Internet relationship with someone at the company that you trust and grow to love. I like how that model is kind of reversing a bit over the past year.

Eric:

Sylvester, who I mentioned, that’s his full time job, is he runs a community. His responsibility is to build those relationships. He’s heading up our private forums. He’s putting on these events. He’s interacting with people on Twitter and Instagram. As they chat on Twitter, and as they chat on YouTube, and they see the same name over and over again. They start to learn about him.

Eric:

In our emails, we’ll have a photograph of him. We’ll talk about him. We’ll talk about the style. People will start to trust his input because, obviously, me as the founder, a lot of videos or a lot of views to those videos, a lot of people want to come and talk to me, but I can’t interact with 40 people a day and still run the company and have sanity, really. Well, to scale up what I bring, and not only that, Sylvester’s got way more incredible style than me. He’s a lot more empathetic than me. He’s able to really provide these people great advice in a way that I cannot. It brings a lot of joy to me to be able to offer that to our audience, and also, that Sylvester is able to do what he loves.

Stephanie:

That’s really fun. To zoom out a bit, go a little bit higher level, what kind of digital commerce trends are you most excited about that are coming down the pike right now?

Eric:

Probably, the thing I don’t follow too much is the trends. I feel like we just kind of fall into them. SMS is something that a lot of people are talking about, and something that we’ve actually been doing for a good half a year now. We do it in a way that, I think, most people aren’t doing it. Most people see SMS as just another channel to market and throw sales and discounts. That drives consumers crazy. If I see someone marketing to me on SMS, I’m just like, “You’re dead to me.” How we’re using it is as style consulting. You text us, send us a photo.

Stephanie:

That’s good.

Eric:

SMS is perfect for that because you got your phone there, take a selfie, send it to us, we can tell you where you’re trimming your beard, how your neckline is coming in, what your hairline looks like, and what kind of hairstyle will work for you. I think that’s an excellent way to use SMS. It’s funny. Once we started using SMS that way, the company we work with, Emotive, they actually changed their whole marketing position to be more about style consultants and beauty consultants, and things like that.

Stephanie:

That’s funny.

Eric:

I want to take full credit for that, but I would like to say we had a little bit of influence in the way that they’re selling us on this. I think that’s better for the consumer as well to be able to connect with them on a one-to-one kind of consultant basis, rather.

Stephanie:

How do you make sure they stick with your brand? I can see them, maybe, not having the expertise, like you’re talking about, how you’re trimming your beard wrong, or what kind of product you need, because of whatever they see in the photo, how do you make sure that they stick with your brand guidelines and make sure they’re speaking in the way that you want and they’re recommending things correctly and not giving bad advice?

Eric:

This goes back to our core values, which are freedom, honor, and trust. Part of the hiring process is making sure that we hire people who align with these core values. Then, it’s not blind faith with trust, but through experience and interactions. I know Sylvester. I know his style. I see him show up every day in the office and what he’s wearing and how he’s behaving and how he communicates. It’s like, “Dude, man. Go at it. Be yourself.” Our brand standard is communicate to our customers in a way that you communicate to your friends. Those no corporate speak, nothing.

Eric:

If you’re a goofy guy, talk goofy. If you’re a serious guy, talk serious. Be yourself. You are going to have different experiences. Interacting with Sylvester is going to be different than interacting with Matt. They’re two different people. That’s totally okay.

Stephanie:

That’s great. Are there any other channels that you’re utilizing or looking to utilize over the next couple of years?

Eric:

For us, our goal has been, again, going back to me being an A.D.D. entrepreneur, you try a little bit of everything. The past two years has been fixing all of my A.D.D. new channels that we’ve been in. We killed Amazon. We killed selling in the Europe. We’ve cut marketing channels. It’s really how do we get better at the channels we’re in? How do we get better at Facebook marketing? How do we get better at Instagram marketing? How do we get better YouTube content?

Eric:

Like I said, we have a newer, smaller YouTube channel that we’re trying to grow and build that awareness. In terms of just completely introducing anything that we’ve never done before, like TV advertising or radio advertising or podcast advertising, we’re going to be staying away from that until we feel like we’ve completely capitalized on the opportunities of the channels we’re currently in.

Stephanie:

That makes sense. I think killing projects and platforms is a good first step to making sure that you can focus on what’s actually working to, then, move into a new channel around the tryout. It sounds like a good strategy to me.

Eric:

I’ll tell you, it sucks, though, when you kill something and then you don’t get better at the thing you’re supposed to get better at.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s a big bummer.

Eric:

We’ve done that.

Stephanie:

That happened a few times?

Eric:

Yeah. When we pulled out of Europe, Europe was about 20% of our business. We did this March 31st of last year. It was about 20% of our business. The intent was with the new focus of not having to deal with multiple fulfillment centers and different time zones and multiple stores and things like that, that we could get really good at serving our customers. Subsequently, 2019 was a terrible year for us. We weren’t able to capture the lost sales that I thought we’d be able to by having more focus. We’ve had to really analyze. It wasn’t so much selling into Europe. That was the thing. I think it was more of the internal structure of our team and kind of red tape that got put in place after seven years of business and systems and processes that kind of built up on itself. We should have taken an axe to all of that, rather than, maybe, potentially taking an axe to the UK channel.

Stephanie:

Got it. Is there any big initiatives that you undertook that you were like, you talked about internal processes and structures, is there any one thing that led to kind of riding the business back to where you wanted to go after the whole shutting down Europe?

Eric:

Yeah. Transparently, we had the worst fourth quarter we’ve ever had. It was a bloodbath. We were just losing a significant amount of cash and just burning through cash. We just had to make hard decisions about the business. When you’re hemorrhaging money, you’re not profitable, we had to scale back to 15. A leaner team means, “Hey, we’re no longer going to have people proofing your work anymore. You’re going to have to be responsible for your own work-end. You’re no longer going to have someone who’s kind of being the quarterback of the marketing team. You have to kind of interact directly with your audience, or your coworkers.” By scaling back the team, you were almost, by necessity, forced to cut a lot of that red tape and focus on getting stuff done.

Stephanie:

Super important. All right. At the end of the interview, we’d like to do a lightning round, which is where I ask you a question and you have under a minute to quickly answer whatever comes to mind. Are you ready, Eric?

Eric:

I am electrified.

Stephanie:

Woo-hoo. All right. What’s up next on new product launches coming to Beardbrand, if any?

Eric:

Our big thing is killing scent confusion or ending scent confusion. We want to provide head to toe fragrance and matching products. We don’t have anything in your midsection. That’s a little hint of a product that will be coming.

Stephanie:

Fun. I’ll have to stay tuned for that. What’s up next content or video-wise that you’re excited about producing or creating next?

Eric:

We want to systematize our barbershop and winding in five different barbers and record over the course of a week, which would be a new way for us to perform. I can’t wait to do that, but, this whole quarantine has got to end first.

Stephanie:

That sounds really fun. What’s up next on your reading list?

Eric:

I hate reading.

Stephanie:

Podcasts, audible, anything?

Eric:

I hate reading. I’ll tell you I just finished the book called Rocket Fuel which talks about integrators and visionaries. It was the one book that I’ve read over the past year. I’m just going to piggyback off of that one.

Stephanie:

I don’t like it. What’s up next on your Netflix queue?

Eric:

Again, man, I just had a baby five weeks ago.

Stephanie:

Congrats. Me, too.

Eric:

Oh, no way.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I had twins eight weeks ago.

Eric:

Oh, poor you.

Stephanie:

Poor us.

Eric:

It’s got to be crazy, right? We’re in the quarantine.

Stephanie:

Yeah. No Netflix for us then, huh? I don’t know. I watch Tiger Kings in my off time when they’re sleeping.

Eric:

My answer is a lot of primitive survival type of videos on YouTube. That’s my go-to content that I consume.

Stephanie:

That’s great. All right. A little harder one, what’s up next for e-commerce pros?

Eric:

I think there’s going to be a move away from Amazon from both a consumer perspective and a seller perspective. I think Amazon is really kind of twisting the screw in a lot of people. There’s going to be a little bit of blowback from that.

Stephanie:

Completely agree, especially with everything going on right now where Amazon’s picking what products are essential. I think they just said that they are going to be optimizing for its margins. Instead of showing people, maybe, what they want to find, they’re going to be showing people products that have higher margins. I can see that also happening.

Eric:

They’re also neutering a lot of people in the affiliate space where they just literally cut their commissions in half.

Stephanie:

That’s not good.

Eric:

[crosstalk 00:54:51].

Stephanie:

Well, it sounds a good prediction, then.

Eric:

Yeah. Less people will be pointing links to Amazon, I think.

Stephanie:

All right. Any final words of advice or wisdom, Eric, that you want to share before we hop off?

Eric:

The big thing I always like to tell people is, in life you always have doubts and questions about what you need to do. The reality is you need to just go out there, execute, and do it. Action, a lot of times, is better than no action. Just go out there. You know what you need to do. Go and get it done.

Stephanie:

Yes, do it. All right. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Eric. It was a blast. See you soon.

Eric:

My pleasure.

 

 

 

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