E-Commerce Master Plan Podcast - Influencer Marketer with Rob Kessler – Million Dollar Collar
Announcer: It's the e-commerce master plan podcast here to help you grow your e-commerce business faster and more efficiently by cutting through the hype to bring you inspiration and guidance from the e-commerce sector and beyond. Here's your host Chloe Thomas.
Chloe Thomas: Hello master plan world. Welcome to our latest podcast. It's a pleasure to have you all out there listening. I'm Chloe Thomas creator of the e-commerce master plan. I'm an author, speaker, and adviser and I focus on e-commerce marketing. You can join the chat about that and anything else e-commerce in the e-commerce master plan world Facebook group that you'll find at ecommercemasterplan.com/facebook. Let's get straight into it today. I'm going to introduce you to our special guest. Rob Kessler is the inventor and co-founder of Million Dollar Collar., where he creates fashion accessories for men which creates a classy, polished appearance. After 3 years of r and d, they launched in January 2016 and have now shipped 135,000 units to 90 different countries which are about 13,000 satisfied customers all via the website and Amazon. Hello Rob.
Rob Kessler: Morning, how are you?
Chloe: I'm good thank you how are you doing today?
Rob: I'm fantastic.
Chloe: I like that positivity. Okay, I've just given our listeners a very quick of you, your business, and where you are at the moment. But how did you get started off of e-commerce?
Rob: You know I had a business before, I had a screen printing and embroidery business which actually began as a clothing line. So the company was called NEWD, which stood for Nothing Else Will Do. Oh I thought nude clothing how great of a name is that, I will be a viral sensation. That didn't happen but I did make some really great clothes and I've tried Magento and Shopify and it seems like I tried every kind of e-commerce site out there. While I had that company I got married and my wedding is when I came up with the idea for Million Dollar Collar and we launched that.
Chloe: I often find we have a starter business where we try everything and that actually means when we come up with the really good idea then it's so much easier to do it. Is that how you found with Million Dollar Collar because you'd had NEWD before? Was it a little easier to get things happening?
Rob: Yeah, definitely. It gave me the confidence to move forward with Million Dollar Collar. I've had a ton of ideas for inventions and other companies but to actually have done something that was in a somewhat similar field definitely helped give me the confidence I needed to push forward for the Million Dollar Collar.
Chloe: In those 3 years of r and d were you still running NEWD while you were doing that?
Rob: Yeah, and that's why it took 3 years because it was me and one other person. We were doing 40 or 50,000 shirts a year. It was pretty small, my mom would come and help out which was amazing to be able to spend that extra five days a week with her for a couple hours a day. While I was doing that I was figuring out Million Dollar Collar.
Chloe: I guess that also meant if you had some ideas you thought might work with Million Dollar Collar you could use NEWD to try them out in the meantime?
Rob: Right we did a little testing and I used the network from NEWD to start talking about the idea, asking questions, finding out what people thought about the product I was coming up with, the problem that they had. It was great to have that network which was again.
Chloe:Cool before we get into what's going on with Million Dollar Collar let's take off some of the boxes so everyone knows the parameters in which you're operating. Clearly, from my intro you're selling everywhere, where are you based out of?
Rob: I'm in Los Angeles, California. My partner is in Madison, Wisconsin, out in the middle of Wisconsin and hopefully coming to California soon. He's actually in Australia right now and we have an employee in Denver, Colorado.
Chloe: So very much the virtual business then?
Rob: Yeah, we're all over. It's all working from home and all over the country.
Chloe: Do you manage everything within that team or do you outsource some elements of the business?
Rob: Pretty much everything is in-house. We do as much as we can. I'm a tinkerer and figure outer. I gutted and remodeled my house by myself. It was kind of one of those things if you can't afford to pay somebody you better figure out how to do it yourself so that's how we handle things here now.
Chloe: Kind of the bootstrapping getting your fingers dirty model.
Chloe: Do you do the manufacturing as well or is that outsourced?
Rob: We outsource that currently but we're trying to bring in the finishing in-house but it's a pretty expensive machine to cut out our design so .... baby steps.
Chloe: Little by little. We ought to really explain what the product is I think. So could you explain what the Million Dollar Collar is?
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. so what happened was at my wedding I am a really casual guy and I got married in Jamaica on the beach and I wasn't going to wear a tie because I hate ties, I don't like wearing them, I don't like that thing around my neck. It drives me crazy, I was also a car salesman so I think that brings in that. We were looking at our wedding photos and I just remember tugging at my shirt all day just trying to get the collar to sit up where it was supposed to, and it didn't'. it was this beautiful day, this amazing day and my shirt was a glaring, sloppy mess in every single picture. Even before I had a chance to say I do in my brand new freshly pressed, little starch and it was just awful.
I came home and cut open my shirt and shoved a piece of cardboard down where the button and the button holes are, that's called the placket. I showed my new bride and instantly she was like, "Oh okay, I get it. " From that piece of cardboard to every piece of plastic in the house, I could find. Milk cartons, mini blinds, zip ties, flexible cutting boards and literally every piece of plastic. There were holes all over the house from me like, "let's try this material." I had tested everything there was, I went and tested every plastic on the market. We ending up having to develop the material that goes into the shirt so it's highly, highly engineered, the material that is our product.
Chloe: Got you. It's all about making your collar look like a million dollars even when you're not wearing a tie.
Rob: Right. We call it the Million Dollar Collar because people know what the collar is and associate the problem with the collar. What we actually are is a collar support. The weight of the collar is what actually collapses the placket and so we're kind of a collar support. Nobody knows what a placket is unless you're in the industry so calling it perfect placket just wouldn't work.
Chloe:It would be precise and accurate but it wouldn't help you ship many units.
Rob: Yeah. Million Dollar Collar is just a cool name.
Chloe: It's not a literation but it kind of rhymes in some way. They'll be some English majors and degree people out there going it's this Chloe how do you not know that in your grammar. I don't sorry but it sounds cool.
Okay, so obviously you say you tested lots of different platforms with NEWD which one did you pick for Million Dollar Collar?
Rob: We're on Shopify and when we actually launched we were on WooCommerce because I had a web develop buddy he built out our initial website but adding to it I know Woocommerce you can totally customize a lot easier and a lot better but Shopify for us who my partner has several online businesses and he's a big Shopify fan so 6 months into sales we switched over to Shopify and have been on that for the last year and a half.
Chloe: If you're on Shopify you must have some widgets and plugins that you adore care to share them?
Rob: Yes, absolutely. The number one that we love is judge.me which is our product reviews. Getting people to buy a product somewhere in the world that they have not idea who the company is or what's going on. Just to have those third-party reviews is just amazing. I think we have 165 or 170 reviews now.
Rob: So that one's big obviously tying mail chimp in is a big one. We use privy for pop-ups just to get email addresses to be able to follow up and then the number one best value ever is the retarget app.
Chloe: Which you're using for ads or for emails?
Rob: For ads so that it just multiplies money. Anybody who is not using a retarget app is crazy. It's just the easiest thing to pop up, it keeps you in people minds and I think we're probably 4 or 500 percent of what we pay for it in sales.
Chloe: Definitely worth putting in place then.
Chloe: Oh yes. Cool so ... is it just the single product you're selling?
Rob: For the most part that's the focus. The beauty is that I have so many customers for the last 5 years to the next 5 years there will be a billion dress shirts sold around the world. So getting to those billion shirts is a full time, maybe a 2 or 3-time job. To me, it's just staying focused on what our core business is. I did recently add in collar stays so that we can market collar stays so we can draw that collar stay crowd in so we can use that as cross-promotion and it's unbelievable. I hesitated to do it at first but I'm so glad I added it.
Chloe: Is that pulling people in to buy the collar stays and then you're selling them the Million Dollar Collar afterward or is it a sale who have already bought the placket support?
Rob: We market the collar stays so that's something familiar that people can see and once they get to the site they understand what Million Dollar Collar is and we use it as an add-on sale. We don't sell collar stays directly, they are on the website but it really is kind of .... because I've created a product and a category that's never existed before you have to find something similar to draw people in and that's what collar stays do.
Chloe: Am I understanding correctly, you're pulling people into the website on the promise of a collar stay and then convincing them once they get there that they don't want that they want your product instead?
Rob: Yeah. It's kind of ... they work together I don't want people to get rid of collar stays, my product doesn't compete with that at all it's a complimentary product. So if you care enough about your shirts that you are looking at buying collar stays to look at this, this actually might be the solution that you're actually looking for.
Chloe: Very cool. Quite unusual to take that approach in marketing. I don't know a lot of people that would be brave enough to do it.
Rob:Well it's not a hundred percent of our stuff but it definitely... you have to try everything and when it comes to being an entrepreneur you have to try every crazy opportunity that you can. It's the crazy ones that are successful.
Chloe: It often is, isn't it? The totally left of center. On that note what do you think is the most awesome thing about your business right now?
Rob: The opportunities so we see 3 real markets. One is the end users so people that order from our website. Two is the installers, that's the challenge with our product is that it actually has to be installed by a tailor. It's a couple of stitches and I've had a ton of guys say, "Dude I watched your videos and if you can do it I went and bought a sewing machine and I do all my shirts and it's super easy." Some people are like me, they don't want to pay somebody else to do it and you figure it out yourself. It does take that extra step. The fact that we've sold 135,000 sets to people who literally get it in the mail and they're like great I don't know how to sew now what? then they have to go out and find a tailor and then convince that tailor they can do it. We spend a lot of money on the packaging to put it that way. Our focus now is a shift to those dry cleaners and tailors and get it as a one-stop shop experience for our clients. So that's kind of the focus we're having right now.
When we first got our patents at the end of 2015 we called every major brand and met with all of them. We had no numbers to back what we were doing, what we thought would work and it wouldn't so they were a little hesitant to shift 100 years of dress shirt making that they are familiar with and adding our little product. They'll come around so that would be our third is licensing the technology and having brands putting it into production. We have a couple of small guys doing that now and they're selling shirts like crazy.
Chloe: Yeah, it's always amazing how the big guys sometimes don't see what's right in front of their faces until you've waved it at them a million times.
Rob:Yeah, I talked to a really big company and they're like I don't know, I don't think so. There's a statistic out that shows that 90 percent of dress shirts will rarely if ever be worn with a necktie. 90 percent, like a massive majority and these guys, came out with a stretch collar. So you came out with a technology for 10 percent of the market and you've fu frued my technology that's in 90 percent of the market. Okay, I will remember you.
Chloe: That is kind of crazy isn't it?
Chloe: Absolutely crazy so given those three markets for the business let's talk about the end users because I guess they're the most relevant to our e-commerce audience here. Obviously, you're very passionate about the business, very passionate about how the product works, and you're trying to get people to buy a product that as you said they can't actually use once they've got it until they get a needle and thread out or find a tailor etc. Is your passion and the way you get that across for the business, is that essential to getting the sales?
Rob: Passion is addictive obviously and that's why we're starting a YouTube Channel where my wife has taken over social media, she's really great at it so she's doing a lot to bring it to life. You can't convince somebody of something unless they can connect to it on an emotional level. Especially with all the steps, you have to go through to get my product. Passion is hugely followed by execution.
Chloe: And you mentioned earlier about the importance of the reviews to prove to the customer in one of those 90 different countries that this does actually work. I noticed on your website you have quite a lot of other trusts building metrics going on there like famous people using the collars and press. Is that something you actively went after or is that more something that fell into your lap?
Rob: No, we very active on that. When we launched we knew we had to get out to the masses quickly. We went to YouTube Fashion influencers and under our press page, you can see all the videos of those guys. They have massive audiences and my product just need to be seen and demonstrated and those guys have the following so that was a huge kick off for us, they are not cheap.
Chloe: I was at a conference last year where they were raving about micro influences. You have the 10,000 or 20,000 followings that are a lot cheaper but I guess there's quite a lot of work with working with each influencer isn't there to get it right? If you want the scale you almost have to go for the huge contenders.
Rob: I would agree with your earlier statement. The smaller guy is more passionate, has more passionate followers so our biggest influencer had about 230,000 subscribers when he did our first video and he has outsold all the other guys combined. Those other guys have 2 million subscribers, a million subscriber. This guy is now over 2 million subscribers. One of the guys we used was on shark tank twice and we thought this guy gotta have, and he's going to be huge. And we paid several times more than we did for the smaller guy and his turn was a fraction of the small guy was. If you can find the guy with the 100, 150, 200 thousand subscribers. Those subscribers are passionate about what he is saying because they found him and are following him and not from an ad or not from being out there more. It's because of the content that he's putting out there.
Chloe: I was going to ask a question but I think you've already answered it. It's not about with hindsight you now know that one wasn't as good as that one. Actually, you've learned a lesson that anyone could apply. Which is go with the smaller guy with the passionate following, he's about to break rather than the one who's kind of gone global I suppose
Rob:Yeah, looking back and looking at doing more influencers it'll be the smaller guys that have that passionate following up to a quarter of a million maybe. You can get them for less and if it doesn't blow up than it's not that big a deal. When you spend tens of thousands of dollars on these crazy guys...
Chloe: You really want it to blow up don't you?
Rob: You have a lot more on the line. If you spend $1500 it's not that big a deal if it's not... It's a lot of money but it's not $15,000.
Chloe: The whole not putting your eggs in one basket. If you only have $10,000 to spend on influencers than why not split it across 10 influencers instead of giving it all to a Kardashian.
Rob: Right you never know who follows... We thought some of these followers would be stronger than others. You just never know, the smaller guy is looking for content and it's harder for them to have built that. So they're going to recycle those videos and they're going to play two or three and push it out to their base as it gets bigger. All of a sudden you'll see a spike in sales with that discount code from that guy because he's pushed them back out again.
Chloe: With those which you've worked for you, have you built long-term relationships with all of them?
Rob: Actually funny they are all under one management team so we know those guys pretty well. There's another group within there we're considering working with and a couple of up and coming guys that they bring on so that's made it really easy just to talk to one person and have access to 20 influencers.
Chloe: For anyone out there who's thinking, yeah I think influencers could make a big difference for me would you recommend going to a management company first rather than an influencer?
Rob:No we reached out directly to some of these guys, sent them some samples, kind of got the conversation started and once it all happened it was like oh we're talking to the same manager. Reach out, the first celebrity we got on to my wife and I we were here in L. A. for a couple of weeks and she was Instagramming and it just popped on this guys Instagram and shot him a direct message and he said I'll take some, here's my wardrobe person. We sent it to here and it was in a couple weeks on his show that he was on. So you can get lucky if you're put in the time and the effort....and I wish I'd still wish that I'd sitting watching TV at the end of the night decompressing just DM'd people on Instagram and shoot out messages out to people on Twitter and you'd be surprised how many people would respond that you can get your product in front of them for nothing. It's just a matter of screen shooting and following and hoping that they would use the product at some point.
Chloe: I guess the really good thing is, here's my wardrobe person. Wicked, I bet she deals with more people than just him.
Rob: Right, that lead to, yeah we need to be talking to wardrobe people. I spend a lot of time connecting with wardrobe people on LinkedIn and talking to them. My wife is a stunt woman so she's on set all the time, she's on set right now. So she talks to wardrobe people when she's out as well so it's kind of worked out really good.
Chloe: So she's always got a set of them to take with her?
Rob: Oh yeah, several. She actually was on set for one thing, like an hour and a half away. Told this one wardrobe person, she said we're having the everybody wardrobe meeting in two days, can you bring me 150 sets I can pass out at this meeting. So an hour and a half away she drove home, while she did that I was putting these 150 sets together. She drove an hour and a half back to set to give it to them and then home again. She drove 6 hours that day just so I could get 150 sets out to Wardrobe.
Chloe: My word, that must have been worth it.
Rob: Well it was L. A. traffic so it was only like 4 or 5 miles but it was ...
Chloe: She should have run, it would have been quicker.
Rob: I'll ride my bike.
Chloe: So coming up in 2018 what's on your to-do list?
Rob: We are meeting with and talking to tons and tons of dry cleaners. That is our focus, there are 40,000 dry cleaners in North America. We are in the largest distributor of those cleaners. We're focusing obviously on the US market because I can get to it and I can travel and it's a lot easier. Then as it expands we have a few people in Europe that are doing our sales. On Amazon Europe, we're actually doing very well. Then we'll start to expand it out to the rest of the world. We have a few international distributors that are taking the product and pushing it in their markets. The dry cleaners and the tailors are 100 percent or 90 percent our focus right now.
Chloe: Excellent, well look I think we should get into the top tips round now. I love this section because it gives me an honest look for taking our businesses to the next level. So Rob here we go. The book top tip, if everyone listening to this podcast agreed to take Friday off and read a book to make their business better which book would you recommend?
Rob:I am in love with Grant Cardone right now, so his 10 rule. it totally struck a chord with me, it takes 10 times more effort than you think it will to get your product out there and right now we are living 10X and pushing as hard as we possibly can and that's what it takes to be successful.
Chloe: Very cool. then the traffic top tip. Which marketing method do you either prize above all others or think doesn't get the press it deserves?
Rob: Definitely retargeting and I'm sure that gets plenty of press. But following up with your current base. One thing that one can do is get those customers you already have to tell all of their friends. With our product, it's challenging because of the multiple steps but as we transition into this second phase of our business it'll be a lot easier to get people to refer their friends. That current base you have is worth 5 times what you got paid the first time if you can leverage that properly.
Chloe: Okay. Then the tool top tip, maybe a collaboration tool, a social media plugin or a phone app, or just a way of working? Is there a cool little tool that you use that makes you and your team more efficient from day to day?
Rob: Google is huge for us, we have our drive and we all have our email accounts that are a pretty standard one. We use Evernote a lot just while we're driving or I go on runs and I can just talk into that thing. Evernote's great and we actually use Wunderlist as a way to keep each other up to date on what we're working on.
Chloe: Can you now talk into Evernote?
Rob: You can't talk into it specifically but like on my iPhone I have the microphone button so I'll just hit that and just talk to it and it'll follow along with what I'm doing. I actually recorded a video, played it on my computer and had the microphone for my phone next to it and it recorded the whole video for me.
Chloe: Oh wow very cool I did not know that. Okay the great top tip, if you met someone today who are focused on growing their e-commerce business from 100 orders per month to 1000 what would be your number one tip for them?
Rob: Again it's the follow-up. It's having excellent customer service even in an online world is key and delivering more than what that person is expecting. I'll quote Grant Cardone again. He talks about if someone is willing to pay you $30 for your product that doesn't mean it's worth $30 to them. That means it should be worth 60 or 80 or 300. They could take that 30 and spend it on any other thing that's $30 so if you can deliver value that's far exceeds the dollars that they trade over you're going to have a fan. That fan is going to share with their friends and not be able to ignore your product so deliver 10X more than you think your product is worth.
Chloe:Excellent advise. Well, Master Plan World you can find those top tips and links to everything else we've been chatting about in today's episode by heading over to ecommercemasterplan.com /podcast where you will see a link to this show. Rob before we say goodbye could you please let the listeners know where they can find you and your business on the web and social media?
Rob: Absolutely we're at milliondollarcollar.com and just for you we have a discount code going so if anyone wants to give our product a try they will absolutely love it. The discount is just masterplan, super easy, it'll be 10 percent off your order. We're all over social media so Million Dollar Collar on Instagram and Facebook. Mdollarcollar on twitter and Pinterest although we're not very active on those two. Instagram and Facebook are definitely our main ones. I'm on LinkedIn you can find me.
Chloe: Awesome, thank you very much for the offer I'm sure they'll be a few of our gents taking you up on it. We'll add links to all of that and everything else we talked about today in the show notes.