How Kevin Lavelle Achieved 400% YOY Growth for Mizzen + Main & Other Actionable Ecommerce Growth Tips You Need to Hear
Blue Stout Podcast Episode 1
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Growing a successful ecommerce company hinges on many things: keeping production costs low, hiring the right team, having a great shopping experience for your digital and/or physical storefront… the list goes on and on.
So how do you make sure you’re consistently checking all of these boxes and doing everything right to foster growth?
To answer this question, I wanted to reach out to someone specific, who I knew had dealt with this exact problem.
That someone is Kevin Lavelle, the CEO & founder of Mizzen + Main, a brand that experienced a huge growth spurt from one podcast mention (more on that later), has achieved 400% YOY growth and has reached profitability as of 2016!
I recently interviewed Kevin to try and tease out any advice or tips he has for other ecommerce companies who are trying to navigate the challenge of scaling.
Kevin gives away some great information in this interview and I highly encourage you to give it a listen above.
What follows below is an article based around some of the main highlights of my time with Kevin. It doesn’t include everything, so listen to the audio to get all of the goodies.
Kevin and I kicked off our talk with talking about what’s known as the “Tim Ferriss effect”, which was essentially a huge spike in demand for his products after a mention on the Tim Ferriss show (a well-known podcast from influencer Tim Ferriss).
How to Deal with Sudden Spikes in Demand
Sometimes businesses will see a rapid influx of new customers or orders due to a successful influencer marketing campaign or an increase of traffic from the holiday season.
When a surge of new customers flooded Mizzen + Main in 2015, Kevin knew he needed help.
“At the beginning of 2015 we had somewhere around 35 retail stores, and our goal for the year was 100. We ended up hitting 100 in the first week of July, and at the end of 2015 we were at about 160.” (Listen at 8:58).
Today, that number has skyrocketed to almost 225.
The brand experienced a huge growth spurt based on a podcast ad they ran on episodes of the Tim Ferriss Show. (Which don’t come cheap, by the way.)
Kevin says that outsourcing was essential to his success when his business costs became too high, saying, “When you start a company, it’s you, and then you need someone to help you so you can keep focusing on the more valuable tasks at hand. We got to a point where we just had to outsource some things because of the associated costs.” (Listen at 8:06)
Hire (Outsource) or Cross-Train to Handle Tasks that Can Be Delegated
How did Kevin go about outsourcing?
In our interview, he talks about how his team was internally handling shipping and fulfillment in a portion of their workspace.
As demand grew, though, they quickly realized that in order for each team member to focus on their role in the company, they needed to seek an outsourced solution for shipping and fulfillment.
A marketer can’t pack boxes and still have time to focus on growing the company.
So in order for your ecommerce company to scale, you need to understand what tasks your team is currently performing that can potentially be delegated to increase productivity and efficiency.
Here are some tasks that are commonly outsourced once an ecommerce company starts experiencing growth:
When Kevin and his team experienced the spike in sales due to the Tim Ferriss endorsement, they were still handling fulfillment in their work space, which was a former art gallery turned into an office space with a warehouse section in the back.
“It was exciting when you’re so busy because you’re packing – that’s a good thing, rather than everyone sitting around going ‘OK…what are we gonna do today?’ – but, you know, people need to be able to go do their marketing jobs and their customer service jobs and their finance jobs and everything else, rather than having to pick-and-pack. So we ended up outsourcing fulfillment a couple months later as a absolute necessity for our sanity and our ability to grow” (Listen at 7:03)
Multi-Channel Retail for Ecommerce Brands
In our interview I reference what are known as Digitally Native Vertical Brands, a term coined by Andy Dunn, co-founder and CEO of Bonobos and founder at Red Swan Ventures.
Digitally Native Vertical Brands – or DNVB’s – are brands that were born and live online.
What’s been interesting to observe with these brands is their move into the retail space. Many brands move into brick-and-mortar to push into the next revenue level.
But is that always necessary for growth?
I asked Kevin what he thought…
The key to using multi-channel, according to Kevin, is choosing the right channels and not assuming that something will or won’t work for you just because it works for someone else.
“I think saying that you will definitively not pursue a line or method of doing business can really hamstring your ability to grow,” he says (10:20). “There are some things that we have said no to, like we don’t sell on Amazon because it’s a different buying experience. We knew that we would want to try different ways of getting our product in front of people, like trunk shows and pop-up shops.”
Pop-up shops are a great resource for businesses looking to give customers a tactile experience with their product before buying online, and could be a good market-test before launching into full-blown brick-and-mortar.
Kevin says that choosing the right channel is about finding the best opportunities for growth. “We do look at it from an omni-channel perspective, because I want to see what the best chance is for my business to grow while staying core to who we are.” (11:03)
When it comes to deciding if you should go multi-channel or not, Kevin provides smart advice: do what you feel is the best for your business to grow, but stay true to who you are as a brand.
Bundle Products to Increase AOV
Of course, experimenting with different channels takes time and can have unexpected costs.
Instead of diving into multi-channel retail, a different approach to growth, is to increase your average order value (AOV) on your website.
Just like multi-channel retail, the process of increasing your AOV will also incur costs. However, these will be significantly less that those associated with launching a multi-channel retail operation, making it ideal for growing ecommerce companies.
Kevin mentions (12:24) bundling products to improve Mizzen + Main’s AOV. “We do packages, so if you buy more, you should get a better price. There are some fixed costs associated with shipping and fulfillment, so if you buy a few more pieces that will get you a little bit better of a price.”
Product bundling also helps customers view those products as a “deal”, so even if they would never have purchased them separately they will still perceive it as a benefit.
“We mix and match to get people excited about a product,” Kevin adds.
Choose A Platform That Allows You To Scale
While part of Kevin’s business strategy is to outsource to increase productivity, he credits his ecommerce platform, Shopify Plus, as his go-to solution for helping him focus on managing his business and not his technology.
Listen in at 19:44 to hear how Shopify Plus has helped Mizzen + Main grow.
Shopify Plus, which includes custom features like the purchase combo that allow you to bundle products and cross-promote easier, is a robust ecommerce platform that makes it easy to build a digital storefront.
For companies who’ve outgrown their initial platform choice, Shopify Plus is a strong platform that can launch your company into hyper growth.
If you’ve thought about moving your store to Shopify Plus, check out this step-by-step tutorial for the 8 crucial steps you and your team should prepare for.
Monitor Your Mobile Conversion Rate
I was really interested in asking Kevin about his mobile traffic and mobile purchase stats for Mizzen + Main. Since mobile ecommerce is seeing rapid growth, I wanted to know more about what he’s seeing with his customer base.
Here’s some numbers about mobile growth just to give you some grasp on why I was interested to ask specifically about mobile:
According to Marketlive’s 2015 report, mobile ecommerce saw a significant increase in visits (+35.0%), orders (+69.5%), and revenue (+97.9%) among shoppers compared to the previous years.
That’s almost 100% growth in revenue from mobile!
So what did Kevin have to say about mobile?
He says that mobile shopping is increasing for Mizzen + Main, but that it’s still important to look at the whole online shopping experience – PC and mobile – if you want to see growth, because mobile technology is still catching up.
“I know that we have a fair bit of mobile traffic, but it doesn’t convert at anywhere near the same rate. Everyone talks about, ‘You’ve got to optimize for mobile!’ Yes, to a certain extent, optimize for mobile, but the reality is people [aren’t ready] to do a full-scale transaction on mobile. But Apple Pay integrating into websites will make things a lot easier.” (Listen at 21:10)
He also mentions that Apple Pay has the ability to revolutionize mobile shopping and improve conversions for shoppers on the go.
“There is an Apple Pay extension that ties in to Shopify, and it’s fantastic. That is the speed of Amazon one-click purchasing on a mobile website. Apple Pay is a potent tool.”
Even though Kevin hasn’t seen an extremely high conversion rate from mobile, that doesn’t mean that is true for your company. Different products or services are more apt to be purchased from mobile than say, a custom-fit dress shirt.
So don’t dismiss it 100%.
Go the Extra Mile with Customer Service
Finally, I wanted to focus on how Mizzen + Main approaches their customer service. In my research and prep for the interview, I came across several stories about how Kevin has gone above and beyond for customers, so I wanted to get his take.
Kevin says that growing a successful digital business is about going the extra mile with customers.
Here’s one of his favorite customer stories that has had long-lasting positive brand effects:
“It was very early on, but I used to pack and ship every box myself, and would put a handwritten note in every one. One of the customers, a dad who was not going to be able to make it home in time from deployment to see his son’s graduation, had bought a shirt and said, ‘Can you please put a note in there just telling him I love him and I’m sorry I won’t be able to be there.’ So I wrote the note, and that was a cool moment.” (Listen at 23:26)
To Kevin, keeping his business as human as possible was and still is a big key to success. “To play a small role in something like that is a unique experience. It’s something so small but hopefully it meant a lot to both people.”
Ready To Grow Like Mizzen + Main?
I’m really glad to have had the chance to interview Kevin and learn more about Mizzen + Main. He uncovered some relevant topics in the journey of growing an ecommerce company.
Again, check out the full audio above to get the entire story and all of the valuable details, but if you’re looking for the bite-size takeaway from our interview it’s this:
According to Kevin, you have to
- plan ahead for sales spikes
- outsource when needed
- use as many channels as possible to promote your products (while staying true to your brand),
- create unique offerings like bundles to keep things interesting
- and choose the right platform (he recommends Shopify Plus) to create a seamless shopping experience for both desktop and mobile.
And, above all, give a little something extra to the customers when possible.
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