secrets to scale

Secrets To Scale Podcast
031 - How To Grow An E-Commerce Business With Greg Shuey

031 – How To Grow An E-Commerce Business With Greg Shuey

Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories of successful entrepreneurs and uncovering their secrets to scaling their businesses. Music for every episode of this podcast was written and produced by Treycen Clausse.

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Tanner:

This week on the show, I have Greg Shuey co-founder and CEO of Stryde. Stride is a digital marketing agency that specializes in e-commerce brands. Greg and I talk about how e-commerce businesses can scale with or without a large budget. Greg is really great. He’s really knowledgeable and passionate about e-commerce. You’re going to love this episode. Welcome to the show, Greg. I’m really excited to have you go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.

Greg:

Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. Excited to spend some time with you today. So I’m Greg Shuey. I am the co-founder and CEO of Stryde. We are a digital marketing agency that works specifically with e-commerce companies.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. So how did you get started in this business? What’s your story?

Greg:

Yeah, it’s a long story, honestly. I don’t know how much time we have to go over a story. I’ve been doing digital marketing now for probably about 15, 16 years. I actually got my start doing affiliate marketing. So I was working as an affiliate manager, kind of learning the ins and outs of working with different websites and publishers to be able to help promote offers for a business that I was working for. After about a year of doing that, it kind of dawned on me that people were using websites to drive traffic and to drive action, whether that was, you know, to get someone to buy a product or to generate a lead. And I became interested in what that was, and that led me into search engine optimization, which is kind of what has been my career over the last, I would say 12 or 13 years. You know, the art of really helping websites rank in the search engines and helping them drive traffic and sales. And so, you know, over the years I’ve worked for several different agencies. I started out with a really small agency here in Utah, and then I joined a company called seo.com. I was there for about five years. I helped build out that company. And then I left to start my own agency and we’ve been running Stride now for about eight years. And it’s been nothing short of a ride.

Tanner:

So, you know, speaking of a ride, what were some of the hardships that you experienced from where you started to where you’re at now?

Greg:

I mean the biggest issue or hardship that we’ve had is that there’s just so much competition out there in terms of agencies. And so over the years, we’ve had to adapt. We’ve gone from, you know, servicing anyone and everyone down to e-commerce. And then even in just the last couple of years, we’ve really narrowed down more into e-commerce businesses that are owned by women that are selling products specifically to women between the ages of 20 to about 50. And we’ve been able to really niche down and kind of position ourselves in a different way than other agencies are. And it allows us to be able to not only structure our team and build our team a little bit differently than other agencies, but also be able to build our processes and the way that we approach marketing differently than other agencies.

And so that was probably one of our biggest kind of hurdles that we’ve had over the last eight years. And then obviously I don’t even have to mention 2020 you know, in terms of e-commerce, we were doing a lot in the travel space. And some might not consider it e-commerce, but obviously with COVID last year that came in and kind of shook us pretty good and, you know, caused us to narrow down even further into what we were doing. And that’s honestly when we kind of narrowed down into more of the women-owned, women-based e-commerce companies and getting really specific around what we wanted to do there. And that probably has been our biggest issue that we’ve been through ever in terms of the history of Stride.

Tanner:

I’m about to go through that myself, so I definitely know how difficult that is. So, Greg, outside of personal need, what are some other ways that you see entrepreneurs coming up with product ideas for their businesses?

Greg:

So I can talk on and on and on and on and on about e-commerce. I love it so much. You know, a lot of businesses, as you mentioned, are born out of personal need. I have an issue, I assume other people have issues and I’m going to go out and build a product to solve that issue. A couple of the other ways that that we’re seeing, or that I am seeing you know, e-commerce companies get their start are, you know, around passion, honestly. So is there something that they do or something that they love so much that they can go out and create a product around, even if there’s already competition in this space? A couple of good examples of this come from my family. So I have several of my own e-commerce businesses as well. One of them sells aftermarket parts for Toyota Tacoma and Tundra trucks.

And I started that company because of my passion. I owned a Tacoma. I love being able to make changes or do modifications to it. And, you know, one thing led to another, I found myself designing products and manufacturing products and bringing products in from overseas to be able to sell to other Tacoma and Tundra enthusiasts. And so passion is definitely one way that I see entrepreneurs coming up with business ideas. The other way that I see companies coming up with these ideas is that they’re copycats. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In my opinion, you know, just because a business is first to the market doesn’t necessarily mean that they own the market. And so these copycats, I would say, are looking for industries that maybe don’t have a lot of competition that has proven the concept and has clear demand.

And then they come in and they build out similar products as the competitors. Obviously they try to take a spin on the product. They come up with different value propositions or whatnot to try to stand out in the market. But, they’re coming into an already proven market. I mean, they may be taking a different spin on products. They made us be building the same type of products or bringing the same type of products over from you know, China, or wherever they’re having those products manufactured. So those are the two big ways that I’m seeing kind of these e-commerce companies spun up over the last several years.

Tanner:

So, I mean, one of the hardest parts about starting an e-commerce businesses, you know, taking it from zero to hero, right? What are some ideas or how can new e-commerce business generate brand awareness, traffic, and of course sales, but you know, usually they’re on a budget, right?

Greg:

Yup. Yup. So I think that’s probably one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about e-commerce businesses is I can get a product, I can put up a website and I can start making money. You see a lot of BS. I mean, I don’t know if it’s just unique here to Utah or not, but you see a lot of these e-commerce companies that are just absolutely killing it, not the big box retailers, but these middle market companies that are just killing it. And I think a lot of people look at that and they say, okay, that’s easy. Right? I can do that. It’s not hard. But what they don’t see is the 5-10 years that happened before that of just building and grinding and trying to organically grow the organization, because a lot of these e-commerce businesses are starting with a bootstrap budget.

I know a lot of them who got started by going and buying fabric and taking their sewing machine and starting to make product on their own just by themselves. We have several clients who are still doing that today and are doing a phenomenal job at it. But I think they failed to realize that unless they have a massive budget, it’s going to take a lot of work in order to set foundation and build a lot of this grassroots effort that are going to get them to the next level. Yeah. And so, you know, I think the biggest way that you can start doing that as an entrepreneur and probably the most obvious way is through social media, going out and starting to build a presence on social media, whether that’s Instagram, whether that’s Facebook, whether that’s Pinterest, whether that’s TikTok or Snapchat, going out and starting to promote yourself and promote your brand and starting to build up a following.

What it comes down to on social media and using influencers is that if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, you’re going to see results.

Another way that you can start to put fuel on the fire from a social media perspective is using influencers. Now, you know, I have very strong opinions when people start talking about influencers because there’s two different kinds of influencers. There are influencers with humongous audiences, which in my opinion, charge way too much money and they don’t deliver a lot of value. So where we like to focus when launching new e-commerce businesses is using micro-influencers, and these are individuals who have audiences of less than a thousand followers. And the reason we like to focus on these is because these audiences are typically a lot more engaged and what the influencer is doing versus these, influencers who have millions and millions of followers. And so if they’re able to get product in their hand, if they’re able to, you know, use it and put real world use cases around it, and then be able to share that out to their following, you’re able to leverage that, to grow your social following, and then start growing your sales and really what it comes down to on social media and using influencers is that if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, you’re going to see results, where it gets hard as you know, after your first month, right?

You’re just grinding and grinding and grinding, and you’re not growing as fast as you would like to grow. And a lot of people call it quits. And it has proven that if you’re going out and making the right connections and you’re putting in the work day in and day out, month in month out, that following is going to grow. And that following is going to be engaged. And then engagement is going to spread like a wildfire and bring more people into the social media world and the different accounts and just start generating more sales. And it’s like a snowball. I also see a lot of businesses, and this is where I started my company around Toyota Tacoma and Tundra parts is there’s a lot of really amazing communities and forums out there that already have a built in audience. And if you can go into those different communities and those different forums, and you can create a voice for yourself where you’re not overly promotional, if you’re just going in and listening and engaging in conversation with individuals, there’s a huge opportunity for businesses to be able to build advocacy in those communities, in those forums. And in turn, start driving traffic and sales and new customers. And so if I was starting a business from scratch with not a lot of money to put into marketing, those are the three areas where I would spend time and allocate my personal resources to be able to, to leverage those and build those up.

Tanner:

That’s excellent advice, Greg. I’m going back to your influencer recommendation. I actually had someone on the podcast a few weeks ago, talking about influencer marketing for doors. And so they sell barn doors. And what they do is they find these micro influencers and they just give them a free door. And then they post about it. Do you pay your micro influencers or do you just give them free products?

Greg:

It’s typically giving them free product. Very rarely do we have to pay a micro-influencer.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I think that’s a solid point. Everyone thinks of influencer marketing as one of the Kardashians, the posts about their brand. Right? But in reality, you probably not going to get a return on your investment for that.

Greg:

You’re going to have a way bad negative return on your investment because no one cares. No one cares.

Tanner:

So, what about those on not on a budget, what would you recommend?

So you’re investing in building a marketing funnel, you’re building campaigns at each of those levels that address the marketing funnel, you’re investing in the right creative assets.

Greg:

Sure. I mean, you can come in, you can invest in search engine optimization. You can invest in email marketing. You can invest in conversion rate optimization. But where we see a lot of our clients having success is with Facebook and Instagram advertising. Now, when I say that that’s not just you coming in as a business owner and boosting a post, I’m talking about building out a full marketing funnel, top middle, bottom of funnel, where you’re going out, you’re creating campaigns that address the top of the funnel, where you’re creating brand awareness. And then you’re building out another level of campaigns where you’re retargeting off that brand awareness. And again, taking them down that funnel toward conversion. So you’re investing in building a marketing funnel, you’re building campaigns at each of those levels that address the marketing funnel, you’re investing in the right creative assets. So that is video motion, graphic, and very, very, very high quality imagery of your products. And then taking those and adding design elements to those by doing so, businesses are able to really scale their businesses, scale their customer acquisition. But again, this is more than just boosting a post. It requires serious strategy. It requires serious campaign build-out and serious asset creation to be able to feed that funnel and be able to deliver results at the acquisition costs that a business would need in order to profitably grow the organization.

Tanner:

So what do you see a lot of e-commerce businesses doing in regards to digital marketing? I mean, I do see a huge presence on Facebook and Instagram, but what are some other ideas?

Greg:

Great question. So what I’m seeing right now and probably over the last 12 to 18 months is that I’m seeing a shift. We’ve got a lot of companies in the past who come in and say, okay, I just need Instagram ads or Facebook ads, or I just need search engine optimization, or I just need help with email marketing, or I need help with content marketing. We’re seeing more and more small to medium-sized businesses, come in and say I need a holistic approach to marketing. I need an omni-channel strategy. I know that one channel isn’t going to do it for me. I need all of my channels working together to deliver the right customers at the right price. So this includes using paid media. That’s your Facebook ads, your Instagram, your YouTube ads, TikToks, Snapchat ad roll, Google and Bing shopping ads, retargeting, display advertising, taking that and marrying it with your search engine optimization, your conversion rate optimization, your content marketing, your email marketing and automations, influencers, and digital PR to have them all working together.

And again, creating that holistic strategy. I’m saying that the companies who actually take the time and have the money to invest in an omni-channel strategy are the ones who are growing at a significantly faster rate than any of their competitors. Because a lot of times, like I mentioned, a lot of the competitors are still stuck on, well, I just need my Facebook ads to be working. And that’s just not a viable strategy going forward because you’re just continually paying for customer acquisition versus attracting some organically remarketing, nurturing customers, getting repeat sales and just having everything kind of work together, cohesively.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, that’s really important, right? And you know, you can invest all this money into a single channel, but no one knows tomorrow Facebook has completely changed their entire ad platform and you could be screwed.

Greg:

They could turn off your Facebook page tomorrow and your audience has gone.

Tanner:

Yeah. And that’s a really good point. So talking about scaling, what are some of the biggest issues that you see when e-commerce businesses are trying to scale?

Greg:

Yeah. So there are a couple of main issues that we run across on a regular basis. So the first one is the fact that that e-commerce businesses just don’t know their numbers. And that is a humongous issue because a lot of them have come into this without any business experience. They’ve got an idea for a product, they’re going to go make it, they’re going to bring it in, but they haven’t really thought through, you know, what their margins need to be. So what does it cost to produce the product or bring it in? What does it cost for packaging? What does it cost for shipping? What does it cost to pay a human being to pack it up and to get it ready to ship out? So all of your product costs versus what are you going to charge? Also, they don’t know what their customer lifetime value is.

A lot of them aren’t tracking that Shopify doesn’t really provide a great way, or, I mean, really none of the e-commerce platforms. You need a business intelligence person and some really good technology to be able to tell you what your customer lifetime value is. Without those two numbers, it’s really difficult to determine what a customer acquisition costs should be, which is what’s going to drive your business. And what’s going to drive your marketing because you can spend all day with Facebook advertising, but unless you know what your acquisition costs needs to be in order for you to be profitable, you’re just going to spend a lot of money and you’re probably not going to make a lot of money. The other issue that we run across, which is one of our more common issues is that e-commerce businesses, initially they struggled to balance inventory.

So we have a couple of different scenarios. The first one is they either spend way too much money on inventory, and then they’re left with not enough money for marketing. And so with fewer marketing dollars, that means they’re going to generate fewer customers and have a lot of inventory that isn’t moving. So you’re going to have cashflow issues. On the flip side, they spend too little on inventory, meaning they don’t have enough and they put more into marketing and they end up running themselves out of inventory. So they either need to stop their marketing campaigns, which causes a whole other set of issues, especially with Facebook algorithms and ranking in the search engines. They’ve come out recently to set out of stock products aren’t gonna rank very well in the search engines and it just causes a lot of issues. And then they’re scrambling to figure out, okay, so I’ve got this task. Now I’ve got to go get inventory. How fast can I get this inventory here? If I spend all of my cash on inventory, I won’t have enough to start up my marketing initiatives. And it’s just, it’s a grind and it’s a really tricky to balance this. And one of the things I always recommend for new e-commerce business owners starting up is you should hire a business consultant who specializes in e-commerce to come in and help you balance the two, because you’re probably not going to make the right decision one way or the other, someone who’s been there done that, and has the experience will be able to come consult with you. And it honestly, I mean, it shouldn’t take more five to 10 hours of a business consultant’s time to come in and help you set all that up. And, you know, consultants cost anywhere from, you know, $150-$300 an hour. So yeah, it’s a little bit upfront, but the heartache and the pain that you’re going to experience down the line is just going to be insane compared to, if you put the money up front to be able to map all of that out and have a really good plan and strategy.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, it’s almost like insurance, right? You’re just protecting yourself from something really bad happening. So, so last year 2020 was really the year of an e-commerce boom, fast-forward to this year. What, do you think is important for e-commerce businesses to focus on in 2021?

Greg:

So there are a couple of things that are keeping us up at night and keeping our clients up at night. So the very first one is conversion rate optimization. E-commerce businesses have to invest in CRO and they have to nail their conversion rates. You can send as much traffic as you want to a website and a product page, but if those people don’t convert into paying customers, then you’re out of business at the end of the day. So making sure that you’re taking the time to perform ongoing conversion rate optimization testing is critical to maximizing how many people are actually coming into the site, pulling out their credit card and paying you for a product that you’re selling. The second thing that’s giving us heartburn and keeping us up at night is iOS 14 beefing up their privacy. And I’m sure that there’s other platforms that are likely going to follow.

And so you’re really going to need to understand this. You’re going to need to understand how that is going to impact your business and your marketing, and coming up with a plan. As of right now, we’re still really early in the game. We’re going to have to see a tremendous shift from a paid mindset to an email mindset. So building your own subscriber base on your own platform that you own. So we’re going to be pretty limited on how we can retarget website visitors. We’re going to be pretty limited on how we’re able to engage with those visitors based on browsing habits, buying habits and all of those different metrics and things that Facebook and the social platforms are providing us. However, building an engaged email list is something that we can do, we can control, and it’s going to be critical for you to be able to grow your business after this year.

Tanner:

And along those lines, you know, marketing is incredibly important for customer retention.

Greg:

100%. On scaling your customer lifetime value. Right.

Tanner:

So, Greg, what would you say your secrets of scale are?

You have to be 100% dialed in to your customer’s needs, wants, and desires. If you know them intimately and you know what those needs wants and desires, and then you can come in and you can deliver an above average product at a reasonable price.

Greg:

Well, I mean, I think I’ve talked about most of them here. Maybe, just some final words around what e-commerce businesses need to do in order to scale. You have to be 100% dialed in to your customer’s needs, wants, and desires. If you know them intimately and you know what those needs wants and desires, and then you can come in and you can deliver an above average product at a reasonable price. In addition to world-class customer service, you should have no problem attracting and retaining customers for a long time generating repeat purchases, increasing lifetime value. If you can nail those two things and then you can build your omni-channel, your holistic digital marketing strategy around that. You’re going to have a formula to win as an e-commerce business owner.

Tanner:

Awesome. Well, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview once again. What’s a way for anyone listening to get in contact with you?

Greg:

Sure. So you can email me directly. It’s [email protected] Or you can connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m happy to get back to you if you have any questions about anything we discussed and I’d love to meet somebody out.

Tanner:

Awesome. And we’ll make sure to link that up in the show notes. Thank you again.

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