After a week hiding in bed from bills and the inventory she couldn’t sell, Karolyn Fox emerged with a new lease on ecommerce life.
What happened next is the stuff of “overnight” legend and put Fox’s company, Military Hippie, on track to soon hit $10 million in annual sales.
Of course, you already know there’s no such thing as “overnight” success. Instead, Fox is taking us behind the scenes to reveal exactly what it takes to overcome inventory hell and the entrepreneurial grim reaper …
It can cause an extremely painful deep breath through gritted teeth...
The feeling you get when you first discover a competitor's product and realize it's better than yours is one that can sting badly.
But what if that didn't have to happen?
Okay, raise your right hand and repeat after me; I swear on the ecommerce Bible that I'll do something everyday to try to put myself out of business.
That's the pledge the entrepreneurs featured in today's post live by. In fact, just a couple of years after launching they've already disrupted themselves and found something so potentially revolutionary they're willing to risk it all to strike gold- literally strike gold!
They're also sharing with you the five tools they use to better listen to their customers and create products guaranteed to sell.
So read the post, swipe the tools, and start future-proofing your business now...
What will likely result is a future that looks little like as it does today and rich with new threats and opportunities.
Want to see all of this before everyone else?
Introducing Shopify Plus Industry Reports, a series of industry specific snapshots, shifts in consumer behavior, and emerging technologies designed to provide merchants with actionable insight they can use to make data-informed decisions that powerfully differentiate their brand and help them intelligently chart a strategic course for the future.
We created the first Industry Report for those of you in the following industries:
Fashion & Apparel
If you want to strategically position yourself for the second half of the decade and beyond, this is the report for you.
It’s like walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. One misstep and it's all over.
That’s exactly how the no-B.S. tattoo artists featured in today's post felt when they discovered the needles many in their industry used contained potentially harmful levels of lead. They didn't want to slam the very tattoo artists they were hoping to sell new needles to …
But they also wanted to offer a safer alternative and protect the industry from itself and potential new regulation if and when this dirty little secret gets out.
The delicate balance this duo walked, along with the specific methods they used to increase their company's abandoned cart recoveries 200%, are outlined here for you to copy and use to grow your business with trust and technology...
Yevgeniy Mordkovich didn’t like what he saw when he looked behind him. What was that in the distance?
His wife! Don’t misunderstand; Mordkovich is crazy about his wife. But when the pair would set out on long bike rides, their different levels of strength often prevented them from riding alongside one another; one would often fall behind the other.
It was a big problem for two people who desperately wanted to spend more time together while bicycling. The solution?
The pair decided to build from scratch an electric bicycle that could provide the burst of power necessary to keep Mordkovich and his wife riding side by side in the event one were to tire and start to fall behind.
Eventually, Mordkovich would partner with his brother Boris, who has a background in alternative transportation, to found EVELO, a maker of premium electric bikes that are thoughtfully designed and masterfully built.
How best to launch an online-only electric bike company? By riding one 4,000 miles across the country to prove the bikes can perform. Here’s the idea in Boris’ own words:
“What if we do the first-ever trans-American electric bike trip on our bikes? By riding around 4,000 miles from New York City to San Francisco, we’d be able to put our bikes through the ultimate, real-world test and ensure that the product can handle anything that our clients will put it through in the future.”
The unconventional launch proved the bikes were high performers. A company was born. So too was a first-of-its-kind distribution model turning heads in the bicycle industry.
Blowing Past Tradition
That cross country bike ride helped Mordkovich perfect EVELO’s bikes.
Five years and thousands of customers later, the company offers consumers two product categories; the first includes four models of electric bicycles: “The majority of people who buy these bikes skew older,” Jonah Bliss, EVELO’s Director of Community says. “These customers are retirees or people close to retiring who used to ride a bike and want to do so again but feel they need a little more power to hop on and begin exploring.”
The second product the company sells is called Omni Wheel, a specialized wheel that attaches to and turns almost any bicycle into an electric bike. It provides riders of all fitness levels the extra boost of power they might need to tackle hills, difficult terrain, or anything they might encounter outdoors or on their way to work.
“It electrifies any bike,” Bliss says. “The Omni Wheel is something more often purchased by younger consumers who may not be ready for an EVELO electric bike but want a power boost for their current bicycle.”
Interestingly, EVELO competes against a variety of products vying for the attention of the traveling and fitness-minded public:
“People purchase from EVELO for very individual reasons,” Bliss points out. “It really depends on what their goal is; getting to work without driving a vehicle, becoming healthier, or reigniting their passion for riding later in life with the security that comes with knowing an instant boost of power is available.”
EVELO’s bikes empower riders by offering two modes: (1) Pedal Assist where you pedal and the electric motor detects how much help you need and provides the appropriate amount of power; and Throttle where you ride traditionally or kick your legs to the side and allow the electric motor to do all of the work. Bliss tells us the bikes top out around 20-miles per hour, but the really motivated (and fit) can go a bit faster if they pedal hard while the engine is at top speed.
Potentially even more innovative is EVELO’s distribution strategy; it bypasses traditional bike stores and sells directly to consumers online. “We were the first of our kind to adopt the web-only model of distribution,” Bliss says. “When you sell bikes through chain stores and local shops they often slap a fifty-percent markup on each bike and we wanted to do things differently.”
The model positions EVELO to control the price of its bikes better than others which is a key component of the company’s success. That’s because premium electric bikes come with a premium price tag.
We Want You to Love It Not Like It
How do you sell a premium electric bike for double the price of some competitors?
You bridge the digital and physical worlds by creating a robust experience that proves without a doubt the value of an EVELO bike. “If a person is going to plunk down thousands of dollars for a bike,” Bliss says. “We want them to love it not like it.” Here’s how EVELO engineers that love …
The EVELO Ambassador Network
The Ambassador Network includes EVELO diehards scattered all over the country willing to temporarily loan their electric bikes to prospects and allow them to ride before making a purchase decision.
“Whatever town you’re in we’ll try to connect you with the nearest ambassador,” Bliss explains. “Instead of our marketing spiel, consumers can actually talk with EVELO bike owners, ask questions, and discuss the bikes frankly before committing to a purchase.”
Not only does the ambassador network offer prospects an opportunity to make a more informed purchase decision, but it also allows the ambassadors willing to occasionally share their bikes and perspective a chance to earn $200 commissions from EVELO that can help offset the cost of their bike.
The Ten-Day Free Trial
Test it before buying. EVELO further de-risks the purchase decision by offering customers a ten-day free home trial of their EVELO ebike. If for any reason a customer is not in love with their EVELO bike they can return it within ten days of purchase and receive a refund or exchange it for a different model no questions asked.
“It’s an amazing guarantee,” Bliss says. “Customer happiness is paramount for us, and we want people to choose EVELO because we’re the best, so we have a responsibility to prove that.” But EVELO doesn’t abandon customers at the conclusion of the ten-day free trial. Along with its ebikes, the company also delivers peace of mind with an 18-month warranty.
It’s a combination of promises that alleviates the fear of not being able to test a bike at a local shop as well as pay a premium of which customers are taking note.
In addition to de-risking the purchasing decision, EVELO is powered by Shopify Plus, an enterprise level ecommerce platform for high volume merchants. EVELO has been with Shopify since its launch and upgraded to Plus, so it could scale on demand and keep up with the breakneck growth it’s experiencing.
Sales have doubled every year and the company is on track to exceed $3 million in revenue this year. “Shopify is powerful, and we’re really happy with it,” Bliss says. “Shopify helps us prove our value to customers which is ultra important for a premium brand.”
Importantly, EVELO notes the ease with which Shopify Plus integrates with third-party applications and systems. Specifically, EVELO uses Klaviyo, an email marketing platform built for ecommerce merchants, as one of its marketing lynchpins. “We’re glad we switched to Klaviyo,” Bliss says. “It lets us see how much money we’re making from each mailing, which is extremely informative.”
Speaking of money, EVELO is largely powered by remote employees that communicates via Slack, a messaging app for teams, and another of EVELO’s key Shopify integrations. “Every time we make a sale we’re all pinged in Slack,” Bliss says with a smile. “Everyone on my team, no matter where they are, gets to celebrate because we can all see we’re making money.”
And if EVELO’s secret plan for the future comes to fruition, those Slack pings may soon be nonstop.
Powerful & Sexy
Besides a promise to respond to all email within 24-hours, here’s proof the company’s effort to alleviate the issues associated with selling ebikes directly is resonating; customers who purchase EVELO bikes rarely return them. “The return rate is extremely low,” Bliss says.
It’s a telling metric, but soon the company will have another on which to focus; repeat customers. The company is working on new electric bicycle models, but Bliss hints the world probably has no idea what EVELO has in store for it.
“Our bikes are great right now, but they look like electric bikes,” he says. “The new bikes are going to be more powerful and sexier. We want to change people’s perceptions of electric bikes, and we’re going to do that by changing the look and performance of the bike.”
Expect a splash sometime soon. For now, though, the team at EVELO is not only basking in the glow of entrepreneurial success but also the realization it’s having an impact on the world.
“We’re all pleasantly surprised at how big this has become,” Bliss admits. “These bikes are helping older people experience the outdoors again and become healthier. We’re actually helping make people’s lives better which is the most important part of this.”
Seems as though Yevgeniy Mordkovich’s desire to be closer to his wife on long bike rides is empowering others to go farther than they ever dreamed.
You might call it an entrepreneurial dream killer. It’s a monumental problem that strikes immediately after you’ve taken the plunge; quitting your day job to pursue your side business full-time.
“The transition was not easy,” says Scott Palmer, a marketer and operations pro who experienced this scenario when he dedicated himself full-time to Spikeball, which sells equipment and apparel to people who play Roundnet -- a sport described as a cross between volleyball and four square. “It’s really stressful especially when you have a family depending on you.”
The company’s founder, Chris Ruder, had been running Spikeball as a side business out of his living room for several years. “He’d put the kids to bed and fulfill orders all night,” Palmer recalls.
But shortly after Ruder and Palmer dedicated themselves to Spikeball full-time, fate intervened and posed a hulking challenge formidable enough to crush a lesser company. “There was a strike at a major port that prevented us from getting our regular shipment,” Palmer says. “We ran out of inventory and couldn’t fulfill orders.”
Even worse, the duo’s lofty goal of doubling sales every year was in jeopardy. “It looks like an unrealistic goal every year, and this made it worse,” Palmer says.
But instead of allowing this dream killer of a problem crush Spikeball, Ruder and Palmer crushed the problem. “It’s all about learning from your mistakes and managing risk,” Palmer says.
Today, Spikeball splits each inventory shipment between two ports so if one goes offline the company still has inventory to sell. It costs a bit more to split shipments but the peace of mind it brings, as well as a better customer experience, is well worth it. “The best part was we hit our revenue number,” Palmer says with a smile. “We didn’t think we could, but so far we’ve been able to overcome everything life has thrown at us and double sales every year.”
Even more impressive is that Spikeball is a company founded on a ragtag collection of equipment being held together with nothing more than grit and duct tape.
The Next Great American Sport
Even if you haven’t heard of it…
Roundnet, a two-on-two game similar to doubles volleyball in which participants begin play by serving a ball into a ground-based net (like a mini trampoline) and score points after three touches when the ball hits the rim of the net or ground, has been around for decades.
Ruder continued playing though and kept his equipment, which was battered and bruised after years of use, yet still functional by patching it together with duct tape. That duct tape laid the foundation for a multimillion dollar company.
It was during a vacation to Hawaii where, despite the equipment’s rough edges, others noticed Ruder and his family playing and became curious. “They were all dying to know what sport Chris was playing,” Palmer says.
The idea for Spikeball was born right there on the sand in Hawaii. It’s a humble beginning for a business that has grown exponentially and recently celebrated Roundnet’s National Championship tournament in Washington D.C. by awarding a $5,000 first prize. Notably, the sport is now enjoyed by people across the country thanks to the awareness and equipment Spikeball sells:
Over one million people now play nationwide
250 tournaments will be held in 2016
“People love the Roundnet,” Palmer says. “We’re literally building the next great American sport.” Spikeball, once a part-time living room-based endeavor, now has fourteen full-time employees and two offerings: (1) Spikeball equipment and kits that empower people to play anytime and anywhere, and (2) a SaaS platform in which Spikeball enables Roundnet lovers to organize, accept registrations, and run their own tournaments
“We give them loaner equipment and everything they need to operate tournaments,” Palmer says. “It’s really cool to watch the sport grow in real time.”
Spikeball is growing as well. Since its founding in 2008, the company has grown more than 2,700% and posted record sales numbers each year:
$1.3 million in 2013
$3.2 million in 2014
$6.9 million in 2015
Interestingly, the company’s strategy is to introduce the game to children and offer them opportunities to continue playing as they grow:
Spikeball equipment is in over 3,000 secondary schools nationwide where children participate during physical education classes
Roundnet is now a recognized club or recreational sport on 150-college campuses nationwide
“We want to teach them how to play in grade school, offer them a chance to compete in college, and maybe one day beyond that,” Palmer says. More on what “beyond” means in just a moment. But first, remember how Palmer intelligently split port shipments to avoid ever running out of inventory again? It’d prove meaningless unless Spikeball could keep cyber jerks from bringing down its popular website.
A Differentiator: On-Demand Delivery
Initially, Spikeball had a hybrid site…
A primary WordPress-Shopify combination accompanied by several satellite sites used to sell directly to specific channels like middle schools interested in incorporating Roundnet into their P.E. classes. “When we were attacked, the WordPress portion of our site went down but the Shopify portion was still standing,” Palmer recalls.
It’s one reason, along with a desire for a platform that could scale on demand and keep up with the growth it was experiencing, that Spikeball migrated its digital properties and upgraded to Shopify Plus, an enterprise-level ecommerce solution for high volume merchants. “We love Shopify and the people who work there,” Palmer says. “We’re marketers, not developers, and Shopify Plus saves us both time and money by allowing us to focus on what we do best rather than worrying about technology.”
In addition to the easy-to-integrate applications that position Spikeball to better manage inventory and upsell, Palmer notes Shopify Plus also allows Spikeball to differentiate itself by leveraging on-demand delivery services like UberRUSH. “We were one of the first companies to launch with UberRUSH,” Palmer says proudly.
UberRUSH, which allows merchants to offer same-day delivery in select cities, positioned Spikeball to offer last-minute holiday shoppers in Chicago, where it’s headquartered, a valuable service. “Typically customers would need to order six to seven days prior to Christmas to ensure packages arrived in time,” Palmer notes. “But with UberRUSH customers could order all the way up through Christmas Eve and still get their Spikeball kits in time.”
Here’s exactly how it worked during the 2015 holiday shopping season:
Spikeball selected the products eligible for UberRUSH delivery and kept the inventory on hand at its Chicago headquarters
Customers entering their zip codes during the checkout process who were in the pre-selected delivery zone were given the option for same-day delivery
Palmer was on hand as the first several UberRUSH orders rolled in. “The doorbell rang, and it was the UberRUSH delivery person,” Palmer recalls. “It was so cool the guy actually showed up after the order was placed.”
Shortly after that, Palmer and the Spikeball team reached out to the customers ordering with UberRUSH to confirm receipt. “They got it the same day- it really happened,” Palmer says excitedly. “Listen, it’s not like it allows us to compete with Amazon in terms of delivery, but it made us feel like a big important company adding real value for our customers who are in a hurry.”
On-demand delivery isn’t just for holidays. Spikeball offers UberRUSH year-round and one day, if all goes according to plan, possibly well beyond Chicago.
#1 Marketing Expense: Free Replacement Parts
It’s nowhere to be found on Spikeball’s site.
And it’s not something for which Palmer and his team market or actively seek credit.
But Spikeball’s secret sauce is this; surprise and delight customers. It’s something you may have heard others promise but here’s how Spikeball actually delivers and why Palmer suggests customers love it:
“We replace parts for free for life. People will actually call and ask if they can purchase a replacement part because something has broken. Our answer is no- we will NOT sell you a replacement part. What we will do though is give you the part you need absolutely free. Customers are amazed by this which is the point- we love surprising and delighting them. We care about facilitating the playing of the game and people can’t play unless they have equipment that functions. We do this no questions asked and we cover the shipping which really resonates with customers. So it turns out, free replacement parts are our number one marketing expense.”
The customer trust that’s earned, especially when combined with Spikeball’s strategy of introducing the sport to children and nurturing love of the game through college, may one day bear fruit on much larger stages; Spikeball is actively working on making Roundnet:
An Olympic sport
An NCAA sport
A professional sport
“Eventually we want to have global rankings like other major professional sports,” Palmer says. “We’re having conversations with organizations like the United States Olympic Committee and are doing everything we can to grow this sport.” Lofty goals for sure...
But obviously, no match for a Spikeball team that routinely conquers ports closed due to worker strikes, achieves seemingly impossible sales goals, and offers on-demand shipping that’s surprising and delighting the Roundnet world.
“We’re introducing people to the sport every day,” Palmer says. “We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished, the community we’re building, and a future in which Roundnet is as mainstream as any of America’s great sports.”
Now take 'em and be creative with your store in ways that'll generate mega-ROI!
That's basically what Shopify Plus is telling merchants to do by releasing Shopify Scripts, which offers merchants the ability to write their own custom code on Shopify’s servers. With scripts merchants can have it all; the freedom to write their own code as well as the scalability, reliability, and affordability associated with cloud-based ecommerce.
Need some inspiration?
Check out how the two companies featured in today's post put Scripts to work to grow mobile revenue 340%....
That's just a slice of the outlandish but true story the entrepreneur featured in today's case study has to tell.
How the heck might this help you sell more?
Besides learning about this guy's near death experience this article is going to reveal the two secret weapons used to turn a crazy idea that almost failed several times into a multimillion dollar business VCs are now throwing money at.
They're the same tools you can use to quickly grow your business and avoid your own entrepreneurial near death experience...