This Leather Maker's Journey From Basement to Seven Figures

This Leather Maker's Journey From Basement to Seven Figures

Wallet by Popov Leather being displayed.

While working at a desk job, Ryan Popoff took on leatherwork as a creative outlet. Initially making a minimalistic wallet for himself, Ryan's wife Jill, encouraged him to sell what he made online.

Ryan then launched Popov Leather and grew the business from a basement rental to earn seven figures annually while supporting 12 full-time employees.  

In this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Ryan Popoff of Popov Leather on how to take outstanding product photos and how he works with micro-influencers. 

One of the greatest feelings in the world is actually selling something that you've created.

Tune in to learn

  • The key components for product photos that lead to conversions
  • The most important question to as in a post-purchase survey 
  • Which channel for micro-influencer marketing to focus on and why   
Don't miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.
  

Show Notes

    Transcript 

    Felix: Today I'm joined by Ryan Popoff from Popov Leather, Popov Leather is a bespoke leather goods manufacturer that uses full-grain USA leather, and produces everything in-house and was started in 2013, and based out of Nelson BC, Canada, and just broke the seven-figure revenue mark for the first time last year. Welcome, Ryan.

    Ryan: Hey, glad to be here.

    Felix: Yeah, so your first million dollar revenue year, last year? How did it feel?

    Ryan: Pretty amazing. I never thought that that day would come, to be quite honest, yeah. And I was just mentioning a few seconds ago that I remember listening to your podcast in our basement, when it was just me and my wife, fulfilling orders and checking them out ourselves just in our house. And now we're at 12 employees, and it's totally surreal to be talking to you, so yeah, thanks again.

    Felix: Glad to have you on. So that's awesome that you guys have grown throughout the year. So take us back to, I guess, 2013, where did the idea come from?

    Ryan: Sure. So essentially, it was born out of a hobby. I worked at a university, I did an arts degree and, excuse me, after I graduated, I was kind of aimless, I took on a full-time job, office job, that kind of thing. And my spare time, I just picked up a hobby that was kind of related to art school, leather working's kind of sculptural, so it kind of appealed to me. And I always wanted a cool wallet that didn't have branding, and it was very minimalist, it was kind of hard to find on the market at the time, and so I decided to make one, and kind of took it from there, got obsessed with it, watched a bunch of YouTube videos, got really into the leatherworking community asking lots of questions.

    Ryan: Anywhere where I can find information on leatherwork, I just kind of devoured it and it kind of snowballed from there. So I eventually made that wallet, that I really liked and Jill convinced me to throw it up on Etsy and up to that point, I had no eCommerce or no SEO experience or anything like that, so I was like, "Okay, I'll try it." And other people started buying it, so then I took that money and bought better tools, better leather. And just kind of one thing fed into the other, so while we were both working our day jobs, we were slowly building this Etsy store and eventually got to the point where I had to make a choice, either I was going to stay in the office doing what I hated or pursuing my passion.

    Felix: Got it. So, yeah, this pursue this passion of yours, and lots of people are kind of doing something similar to pursue some kind of passion, maybe it is leatherworking as well, and they're selling handmade goods here and there, maybe on Etsy, like you started or at local markets, but you eventually were able to take it to that next level, what do you think really kind of clicked for you to allow you guys to accelerate beyond just selling one at a time on Etsy to eventually selling on your own site in, building a business that can then turn over a million dollars in one year?

    Ryan: Yeah, so like I mentioned, we reached that turning point, so we were on Etsy, up until I was essentially making the same as I was in my day job. So it was at that point where I kind of thought, “Well, hey, maybe if I became a little bit more serious about this, and actually started to learn about things like SEO, proper product photography, product copy, all that sort of stuff, and launched a third party web, like my own website on Shopify, maybe I could grow this thing.” And a lot of our growth comes from word of mouth, it was only maybe halfway through last year where we were actually started doing cost per click advertising. Up until that point, it's all been word of mouth and just treating our customers like we would expect to be treated. So my background, a lot of it is customer service, so I know what it's like to treat a customer well and that kind of philosophy is sort of beaten into me through the course of my early career.

    Ryan: So I kind of took that approach with our products, learning from customer feedback, not taking it personally, making it right even if it costs to free wallet, or whatever. And then that sort of caught on, and if you look at our reviews today, you can see some one star reviews on our website and we've turned that around. So people will go, “You know what, the wallet wasn't for me, but I'm giving it five stars for customer service,” and then they'll tell their friends who might be in the market for that type of wallet. So yeah, for me, the turning point was figuring out if I wanted to pursue this, and then gradually building up this sort of brand where we treat our customers really well and we produce a product that we stand behind.

    Felix: Got it. So you taught yourself basically leather working from scratch, when did you start feeling comfortable enough where you were like, “Let me show this to the world and try to get someone to pay me for it.” I mean, you weren't ever feeling like, “Maybe I'm not good enough?” Did you ever had those kind of thoughts? And how did you handle them?

    Ryan: Oh, yeah, I mean, all the time. Your biggest critics are going to be the people who give you money for what you're doing. So I mean, one of the greatest feelings in the world is actually selling something that you've created, because there's no truer feedback from a customer, other than them giving you their hard-earned money for something that you've created. So to get to that point, of course, it took a lot of convincing, like I said, Jill had to convince me to kind of put it on Etsy, I wasn't expecting much, I was really happy with what I made. But again, having that arts school background, you're used to a lot of criticism. So some customers may not have liked it, I took that feedback and kind of incorporated it into the products that we were making, and just kind of built it from there.

    Felix: Got it. Give us an idea of the time, as a how long between the time where you first started pursuing this hobby to when you, let's say, got your first sale on Etsy?

    Ryan: Yeah, actually it was really quick, I think it was within the first week of putting up on Etsy. And of course, back in 2013, there was a lot less competition, especially in sort of the handmade market, Etsy has really kind of taken off in the last 10 years or so and we were kind of at the cusp of that. So there wasn't a ton of competition, but yeah, it didn't take too long at all, and I mean, there's a lot of reasons for that, I had some pretty good skills in photography, so that helped a lot. I spent time kind of understanding how Etsy's algorithm works, the way they waited keywords and titles and stuff like that, so that helped a lot.

    Ryan: Yeah, and the other thing that's kind of frowned upon is I priced it fairly cheap. So I had no comprehension on cost of goods sold, and I didn't really care, I just wanted to see if I could fund my hobby, and eventually take it from there.

    Felix: Got it, so when you started getting these sales, you mentioned that you were reinvesting back into the business, tell us about how you did that, what were you reinvesting into?

    Ryan: Oh, yeah, for sure. So leather working is a very expensive hobby to get into, It's similar to carpentry and that there's a specialized tool for every sort of thing that you want to do, for example, on a wallet, you need glue, you need thread, you need special tool to punch the holes, you need the needles, and then you got to finish the edges, so you have to sand them, you have to get a special beveling tool just for the edges. And then if you want to do a different project, you might need a whole different set of tools, so maybe you want to use rivets or whatever. So what I did was I created a product, I would sell it, get enough money and then maybe think about making something new, “Okay, well, what do I need to buy for that?”

    Ryan: And then just kind of save up that revenue that I was generating, and then maybe buy the tools to do that, or there's different grades of leather, we started off with a very cheap stuff, and we kind of worked our way up to what we're using now, which is horween and that stuff's really expensive, especially when you're learning, you kind of want to practice on the cheap stuff first, and then as you get good, work with the good stuff. So it wasn't just tools, it was material as well.

    Felix: Got it. So I think a lot of times people when they think about reinvesting, there's couple options, right? They can either hire, they can spend it on marketing, spend it on marketing tools, or in your case, you spent it on the tools to improve the product, did you find that investing in the tools for creating your product, did that equate directly, measurably to growing the business?

    Ryan: Yep. Every time we launch a new product. I'm kind of talking from my perspective now, but even back then, launching a new product on Etsy, it increases your exposure, because now all of a sudden, you have more things that potential customers are going to find you for, so launching a different type of product, from wallets, to passport covers to book covers, to belts, to whatever, you're giving yourself this sort of breadth of product offerings that more or different types of customers will find you with. So that did essentially equate to more business for sure. Looking back on it now, that's only one part of the equation, for sure. But at the time when I was just starting, I didn't care, I was super stoked that people are giving me money to kind of do what I love and I was just kind of pushing that in different directions to see what kind of products I could make.

    Felix: Got it. So the buying of the tools allowed you to expand your product catalog, and you're speaking from what worked for you when you started, if you were to give advice to someone or if you were to do it all over again, and the goal is to, let's say, grow as quickly as possible, would you have invested it differently?

    Ryan: I don't think so, because there's a lot of lessons that are sort of coupled with that learning experience that are invaluable, and people can kind of tell you how to do something and at the end of the day you learn best from experience and how to kind of grow from that. So to be honest, no, I thought Etsy was a fantastic stepping stone, and it still is, it's great for learning how to do product photography, how to get your feet wet with SEO, customer service, and then even shipping, which I found very challenging in the beginning, understanding Canada Post was just a nightmare for me, because I had never done anything like that before.

    Ryan: But Etsy gives you all those tools or all those opportunities to kind of learn, whereas if you kind of jump into something like Shopify, with no previous eCommerce or SEO background, there's a little bit of digging that needs to be done because you don't necessarily have that marketplace in front of you, and you have to kind of drive traffic on top of all those other things.

    Felix: Got it. So let's continue down this timeline then. So you launched on Etsy, started selling some products, started reinvesting back into the business, and between 2013 until when was it before you realize that this was something... before you hit that kind of crossroads where you decided to quit the day job and go full-time into your own business?

    Ryan: Yes, I'd say it was about a year and a half. Definitely you have eight hours at your day job and then you have eight hours in the evening, and then eight hours or less for sleeping and personal life. And I was very fortunate during that time that my now wife helped me through that, we were essentially working for free for a year and a half, and it's very common with entrepreneurs who are starting something, they have a passion and it's doesn't matter how many hours they are up at night, as long as there's a goal in sight, our goal was quitting that day job and doing the something we love full-time. But yeah, a year and a half of steady grinding like that, and then we got to the point where we were able to make that decision, it was a very, very difficult decision for sure.

    Felix: Yes. Tell us about that transition, when you made the decision, as you talked about the decision, what were some of your concerns going into making a decision like this? I think there's others out there that either are making this decision or approaching it and... share some of your concerns and how you kind of work through them?

    Ryan: Yeah, so I mean, my initial goal was, if I can bring in the same amount of revenue that I'm getting on a paycheck, why am I at my day job, staring at a computer screen all day and doing something I hate, when I could be happy? My biggest concern was, is it sustainable? Some months could be better than others, how do I know people are going to still be buying wallets from me? And essentially what I did was I gave myself a deadline, I said, "Hey, Joe, if I can maintain this for, let's say, another six months, I'm going to quit my job, let's just do it, I mean, we can always find another job if this doesn't work out." And thankfully, she was on board with that and if anything, we made more money in those six months.

    Ryan: It was grueling because I felt like I could quit at any time, what's the point of me doing this job, I could focus on my business and grow it even more. But I gave myself that six months just to have that reassurance, and it happened, and here I am.

    Felix: Got it. So you weren't only unhappy with a day job, but you saw a path that would open up if you had more time, you had more energy to devote towards the business?

    Ryan: Mm-hmm yeah, absolutely. So I was sitting and just staring at a computer screen all day, and I did not care about the work that I was doing, I was there doing it but at the back of my mind, I was just thinking about the business, I was thinking about learning about photography, how can I make a wallet a little bit more efficiently, but keep the same level of craftsmanship, just all these things running in the back of my mind. And then as soon as I got home, this flood of inspiration that I've been sitting on all day, kind of put me through the next eight hours in the evening, that sort of thing. But I had thought that once I quit the job, then I can put even more hours and that's essentially what I do now.

    Ryan: If you're forced to work on your business, you're going to do it, especially if you're passionate about it, and you're just going to grow, I have no doubt in my mind, if you're passionate about something, you're going to make it happen.

    Felix: Got it. So was that what you were doing? Looking for more efficient ways to create the product? What did you do on that first six months? What kind of things were you able to focus on once you freed yourself up from the day job?

    Ryan: Yeah, for sure, just to give you an example, in the beginning, we had these cardboard templates for all the pieces of say, a wallet, or book cover, I would trace it, and then I would cut it out by hand, I reinvested some of our revenue into a clicker press, which is kind of essentially an industrial cookie cutter, so I had one of those in our basement, and it allowed us to make more wallets quicker. And what I quickly started to realize was that customers would be more willing to purchase something from you, if you offered, better lead time. So up until that point, it was three to four weeks, because we had so many orders and then all of a sudden, we get this clicker press and we can bring it down to two weeks.

    Ryan: And then I see this order volume start to creep up, and I'm like, "Oh, this is interesting." And then that sort of snowballed into thinking about how customers make a purchase on a website and that quickly became my new fascination. After I started hiring employees to help us with the business, I started looking at ways to reduce friction points on our website, basically, conversion rate optimization, and that's now my passion, I guess, my day-to-day passion as well as leather work. 

    Felix: Yeah, definitely I want to talk about the conversion rate optimization, I think a lot of people want it obviously improved on their site, before we get there, that you mentioned photography a couple times, I want to touch base on this thing. So what are some the things that I guess are important in terms of product photography, whether it be on Etsy, or on your own Shopify site, that you see people maybe missing or making a mistake?

    Ryan: Yeah, so one of the most important things for me is, obviously, product photography. So when I look at selling online, there are two really critical things, one is, are you optimized for search? Are people going to find you in a search listing if they type leather wallet? If so, good. And then the second most important thing is your photography. So on Etsy, you have to stand out from the crowd. So very early on, we were looking at how other people were presenting themselves and images, and a lot of it was the white background, like Amazon, whatever the standard is. And so I was like, "Well, okay, how do I stand out from this?" Well, I put a background in our photo, so we did that, and I felt like that increased our presence in the search listings, so people would see all these standard images and then ours would just kind of pop out, so people would now actually click on it.

    Ryan: For me, photography is such a fundamental skill, especially when you're selling online, nobody walks into your house and picks up a wallet and smells and feels it, you have to kind of convey that through photography. So if I had a piece of advice to give anyone who's selling online is just to dial in your foot of photography, learn how to do it yourself, get a nice camera, it's going to pay for itself 100 times over. But yeah, photography is key, I think, with selling online, and keeping it consistent. So your Shopify store, make sure all the white balances are the same, make sure all your products are sort of lined up the same, We talk a little bit about conversion rate optimization, so if someone goes to your product page, and there's options, make sure there's pictures for every one of those options.

    Ryan: So one of my biggest tasks this year was actually photographing every permutation of leather color and thread color that we had available. So each product, up until this year had, I think we had eight leather colors and six thread choices. So you can imagine trying to photograph all those different combinations. So we actually paired it down to our most popular combinations and, yeah, as of a couple of months ago, we have all that photography now, and I've noticed a considerable lift and conversion rate because of that.

    Felix: Yeah, that's really a good point and whenever I go to a site, and they don't have every single combination possible and I pick the different combination, and then the photo doesn't update, it makes me really unsure about whether I want to purchase or not because the expectation is that it will change, right? So it's expected nowadays that if you don't make sure you have that a bit, make sure you have every permutation, it certainly will detract from a lot of credibility and trust in the site, and its confidence from the customer.

    Ryan: Exactly. And if I could just add one thing, the other thing that we noticed is if you don't have that picture on your website, they're going to go away from your website on Google and look for it and then all of a sudden, you've lost that customer because they could get distracted or whatever and forget what they're doing. So you want to keep them on your site and give them all the information they need.

    Felix: Right. And you also mentioned along the same lines, is that you don't want to just think about your photos in a silo just on your site, but also thinking about where your photos might appear next to other products, especially if you're selling in a marketplace like Etsy, or even if you're just trying to optimize it for Google Images, you're not going to be the only photo that shows up, you're going to be next to others, how do you make sure that you stand out amongst the competing photos?

    Ryan: Yep, exactly. Exactly.

    Felix: Got it. So this last point is like when you go to a website, and you see a really good product photo, what are some of the most common attributes that make it a compelling photo in terms of likelihood to get a customer to buy the product?

    Ryan: Well, I kind of touched on that, how do you convey a sense of smell or convey a sense of touch? For me, for our leather products an important aspect are both of those, and every everyone who comes to our website can't touch or feel or smell any of this stuff, so I have to somehow communicate that through our photography. So things like texture, the shadow, the way that your finger presses into the leather gives you a sense of softness and touch. So I try to... say, if I was buying boots, you go to Fiber or Oak Street Bootmakers, and they do really good product photography, you can almost get a sense of how smooth leather is or how it feels just by looking at the photos. So if you have something that's very tactile, it's good to consider those types of senses and how you would want to portray that in a photo. 

    Felix: How do you do that? How do you convey this smell in a photo?

    Ryan: I don't know, I haven't figured out the smell, but definitely the touch, like I mentioned, seeing how the shadows kind of caress where you're holding the wallet or how you're... it's hard to explain, but if you look at some of the photos where my hand is in the photo and it's holding a wallet, I was very careful to make sure that the shadow sort of accentuated the divot just to kind of give you a sense of the softness, and then I guess, if I was shopping on an on a different website, some of the photos that I would expect to see, every angle of the product, I'd expect to see scale, how is it compared to something else? If there was a picture of a wallet, how big do I know, other than look at the dimensions in the product listing, how big is it? Put a pencil next to it or have someone put it in their pocket or whatever.

    Ryan: So lifestyle photography, it doesn't hurt to have a ton of photography, I've never I've never had a customer complain that we've had too many photos, It's always too little or not enough information.

    Felix: Probably makes sense. Okay, so let's talk about the CRO, the conversion rate optimization that is now your newfound passion. What were some of the biggest changes that you recognized early on that made the biggest difference in terms of conversion rates?

    Ryan: Yeah, I mean, it's an ongoing thing. So the biggest thing for me is eliminating customer friction. So we kind of touched on a little bit, having all the product photography in place, things like information, when can I expect to receive this product, be very transparent about your pricing. We talk about free shipping, the dollar figure on our website is what you pay at checkout. So [crosstalk] exactly, yeah. So you talk about conversion rate optimization, essentially, it's getting rid of all those doubts in a customer's mind, very early on, I recognized the value of social proof, customer reviews, we've been working very hard to collect a ton of feedback in terms of reviews on our website. So when customers come here, they can feel assured that they'll receive a product and then receive a high quality product just based on the reviews, things like tagging us on Instagram, reusing that content on our website, sending out... another really big thing for us is micro influencers and I can touch on that a bit, but getting that content and putting it on your website.

    Ryan: So having a lot of that sort of done for you to kind of ease the customer, to get them to make a purchase, good return policy warranty, we have a lifetime warranty, anything I can do to prove to a customer that we're worthy of them spending money, and that'll never change, we'll always stand behind our product no matter what. And I'm really happy about that, and I feel that as we sort of embrace all those facets, our conversion rate is slowly increasing. So I've gotten to the point now where I'm looking at things on our website and starting to do A/B split testing, does it make sense to have a button that's black versus the button that kind of matches our theme? Things like that which are kind of interesting to me.

    Felix: So you have this good return policy, lifetime warranty, you mentioned transparent pricing, so there's no sticker shock by the time they check out, and the social proof of the customer reviews. So it sounds like these are kind of things that you learn over time, and these were things to address any doubts that a customer may have, how do you learn what those doubts are, if someone wants to optimize their site? And they want to try to squash some of these doubts? Where do they begin to find out what those doubts are?

    Ryan: Absolutely. So I mean, if you're already getting customers, one of the biggest things you can do is a post-purchase survey, which is what we've been doing for the last couple of years. So a really important question is, what almost made you not purchase from our website today, so that's a very important question you can ask your customers. So they'll give you an idea of what sort of hurdles that they had considered, maybe they looked at a competitor who is offering something cheaper, or maybe it was difficult for them to find what the shipping costs were or whatever, those are things that you could start doing right away and getting important feedback. If you're not getting customers, I would consider putting up social proof, maybe giving away a bunch of wallets to friends and family, have testimonials on your site.

    Ryan: The social proof is really important for me, and I think for a lot of people who go to websites, I've seen things like the Notify app, where it gives a sense of urgency, where it shows people purchasing or activity on your site, I'm not 100% convinced on that, but things of that nature, where you can convince people who are considering purchasing from you to other potential customers. See, if I was just starting, I would definitely try to work very hard to get those initial reviews on their website, and prove that you're legitimate and that people have genuine feedback. And another really important thing that I learned, especially with reviews is, embrace those one star reviews, keep them on your website, don't hide them.

    Ryan: I think it's important that even if you have 10 reviews, and one of them is a one star, it's still important. And I think that, if anything, helps boost conversions, because people know you're a real star, and you're actually making stuff because it's very easy to pretend.

    Felix: That makes sense. So when you are in this stage where you don't have any customers yet, and you want to start boosting some of these customer reviews, you might be able to give some away to friends and family and exchange for them to review for you, what is it good kind of base of reviews to try to get to because it sounds like that's something you might want to do first, right? If you don't have any kind of optimization going on the site, you have no reviews, get those reviews and first, is there a baseline that you try to recommend people to hit before you start looking elsewhere to optimize?

    Ryan: I don't think so. I think that's something that... I guess I shouldn't say that because right now, I'm not trying to get reviews, we have the Stamped app that does it for us. But I think in the initial stages, try to get a few reviews on each product, one or two, depending on the size of your catalog, you know, just enough to kind of get feedback not only from the customer experience where they're on your website, but product feedback, it's very important to get real world feedback on that sort of stuff and incorporate it into your website. So it's valuable for a number of reasons not just to get those sales, but to also make your website better. But do that in conjunction with your other marketing activities and your working on your website, working on your product. Don't let that be the end and beyond of the eCommerce experience, because there's so many things that make up a customer's buying experience.

    Ryan: I think social proof is very important, but there's a number of other things that you can look at and work on to, we touched on photography, there is product copy that you can work on, making sure your site works really well on mobile, as well as desktop, there's a ton of things, it never ends, but that's one of the things I really love about it.

    Felix: So yeah, this is lack of social proof is a problem that everyone starts with, and you kind of learn to remove that problem, but what is a big common mistake that you see people making in terms of reducing conversion rates on their stores.

    Ryan: I think it's giving customers too much choice, and that's something I was guilty of even up until six months ago, you've heard of the term analysis paralysis. So that's a customer goes to a product page, for example, we had a wallet that was offered in eight different leather colors, and each of those leather colors had like six different stitching options and there wasn't enough photography to kind of show you what all of it looks like. And we would spend half our day answering customer emails, we would see a lot of people just go to our site and leave it because maybe they're going to Google to see if anyone else has a color combination that we didn't show. Keep it simple, make it really easy for a purchase decision, don't let someone dwell on a product page, like I said, have all that product, photography ready,  narrow down to just a few things, it's going to make it easier on both ends, especially for your customer, but especially for yourself, because now all of a sudden, your inventories is that much easier, or your manufacturing is that much easier.

    Felix: Got it. Are there certain tools that you use to help manage this entire process of testing different changes that you're making to your site?

    Ryan: Yes, so I've been using Google Optimize. So it's very good for split testing, sort of the HTML sort of aspect, in terms of looking at conversion rates for reducing our product offerings, that's just as simple as going into the Shopify back end, and kind of looking at our conversion rates from this period compared to this period where we switched over. And that in conjunction with lowering our dispatch times gave us a considerable boost in terms of conversion rate. So, for tools, I mean, just the basic reporting and Shopify, and then for the on-site adjustments, I mean, you can make stuff based on your own intuition, but you could also use Google Optimize. So there's a lot of things you could test, like putting trust badges or changing colors or changing the way your product page is laid out, those can all have significant impacts.

    Ryan: But I kind of want to stress that for that type of conversion rate optimization, it might not make sense until you're seeing a few thousand people a day on your website, and a lot of people are starting out, or maybe looking at 10 to 20 to 100 kind of visitors, so it's not a bad idea but, there are definitely more pressing things to focus on for sure.

    Felix: You're saying don't focus too much on making this small tweaks when you don't have a lot of traffic yet?

    Ryan: Yeah.

    Felix: Yeah, I think a lot of this is like a big kind of waiting game and it's almost like counter to the, I guess, attitude of a lot of entrepreneurs, which is that you have to kind of sit on your hands a bit and not over tweak, otherwise, you don't know what worked or what didn't work, especially early on, I think nowadays, you're just saying, if you have already a thousand people visiting a day, it's you don't have as much of a lag time, but when you first started out, do you remember how much time you would give between each kind of test before making a decision?

    Ryan: Well, we've done other split tests, they have a very good split testing mechanism for their pop ups, we typically ballpark at least a month, let it run for at least a month and kind of see where you're at, it really is a numbers game, so if you're looking at conversions like even Facebook, you're running ads on there, they need at least 100 conversions before they start dialing in their algorithm in terms of finding buyers for you. So you can either look at it as a time length or the amount of conversions or visitors or sessions or whatever, it's kind of a hard question to answer to be honest.

    Felix: Yeah, I think maybe the bigger question is, did you ever feel like you were a second guesser where you would make a decision and then see things maybe not turning out the way you want? Just within that first day or whatever, and then you just feel like just backtracking kind of forgetting the whole thing?

    Ryan: Yeah. Yeah, all the time. Yeah, actually-

    Felix: What do you do about that?

    Ryan: That never goes away. But you can definitely approach it in a methodical fashion, so like Google Optimize, you have your base and then you have the experiment. So you'll have your website as it is today, normal and then you have your experiment which has the tweak, and they'll serve that to a certain portion of customers, and then you'll keep your original to yourself. So I don't stress too much about conversion rates because of that, because you have a test, so if you're able to split test that kind of alleviates the fears, but things like reducing our product offering, that was a hard pill to swallow. But it was based on sort of an educated guess and it's one of those decisions that you can't really reverse easily.

    Ryan: So I think maybe instead of having that regret, maybe just approach your experiments with a little bit more thought, base it on a certain number of things before you kind of dive in because you can look at changes like this in so many different ways but putting a lot of thought into it first will probably save you a lot of headache down the road. But yeah, I think being patient as well, give it some time, see what happens.

    Felix: Ryan, you're saying that if you don't the patience, I think what you're saying is that split testing helps deal with that kind of pain of waiting because you're now... well, I guess the pain of thinking that you made the wrong decision because with split testing you don't have to go through this whole switching all of your traffic at once because... I guess a counter to this is just making change, wholesale, everyone is going to see the new version of the site, and then just kind of comparing time periods and seeing what changed. So you're split testing because you're... splitting the traffic up, it doesn't have to be as much of a concern?

    Ryan: Exactly. And I mean, there's always such a thing as trusting your gut, and I believe that but the more that I've been reading, and the more that I've seen from customers perspective is it's not really about you as a store owner, it's about your customer and how they think, so it's how they navigate the site. So what works for you as a store owner, an eCommerce person, entrepreneur, the way you navigate a website, or an eCommerce website is vastly different than the majority of people who are finding you. So that also helps alleviate any sort of discomfort I have when i when i do test because I think, "Well, it's just going to sort itself out based on how the customers interact with our website." So it eventually becomes this big data game rather than sort of a gut instinct.

    Felix: Yeah, that's a good point, which is that you use your intuition to figure out what to test, but never make your decision based off of your intuition because I've heard this concept of that you don't feel your wallet, you are not the person making the purchase so don't you... you don't matter, to put it bluntly, your opinion doesn't matter because at the end of the day you are not your customer, even if you are the demographic of your customer, you just have a totally different relationship with your store than a customer does so you cannot trust your decisions, you have to look at the data, look at what your customers are doing. So I think that's what you're getting at, so that makes more sense.

    Ryan: Yeah.

    Felix: Now, these days, because you've been doing this for a while now, I'm sure you're getting to the point where you're making micro changes to your site at this point, what are some of kind of the tests that you're currently running?

    Ryan: So right now we're split testing our pop ups, our email captures. So we're looking at, does it matter if we offer a 10% versus a 15% incentive to sign up to our email list? So that's a big one that's going on, we've been running that for a couple of months now. The other things I'm looking at, like I mentioned, Google Optimize, just getting that dialed in right now. So we're looking at how we structure a product page, does it help to have trust badges? Does it help to have our reviews in a more prominent space? There's a lot of little tweaks that we're kind of looking at right now. In terms of big tests, we talked about the gut instinct, so we just redid our theme a few months ago and that was solely because this theme offered promotional widgets on the category and the product pages and the reason why I wanted that was so that we could have our value propositions on every single page that the customer went to.

    Ryan: So made in Canada, a lifetime guarantee, that sort of thing, and compared to our previous site, our conversion rate has been steadily increasing. And I think that that's part of it, but unfortunately, it's not very easy to test themes, so I kind of had to go with my gut with that one.

    Felix: Got it. And one thing you mentioned to us in the pre-interview was around listening and who to listen to, who not to listen to, and you mentioned that, within reason, do not listen to what other people would tell you when starting a business, you try it out yourself, learn from it, learn from your failures, and just keep going. So this part about within reason, what does this mean, I think this is a challenge, this is like the gray area people get into where they have their own thoughts, and obviously, once people know that you're starting business, everyone now wants to give you their opinion, how do you know what to take and what not to take?

    Ryan: Honestly, for me, it was just doing my own thing, I wanted to create a wallet that I would carry my pocket and my reasoning was that, if I want this, I'm sure other people do and that's kind of how it went. Up until that point, I've always kind of had ideas about different businesses and things like that. And I would always ask my peers, and they would always give me reasons why it wouldn't work, and then one day, I just stopped listening, I just went and did it myself. The only people I listened to now, essentially, are our customers, they give us lots of feedback based on what they want in a product or what they'd like to see down the road. But if everyone had awesome advice, they'd all be eCommerce entrepreneurs as well.

    Ryan: Talk is cheap, I guess there's another adage, there's always a reason why something's going to fail and it's up to you as an entrepreneur to prove them why it won't. So, yeah, I mean, listen to people to a certain extent, but don't let it change your mind, I guess.

    Felix: Yeah. I mean, it sounds like you kind of went the complete opposite approach, which is like, you decide not to listen to anyone other than your customers, of course, but when you're first starting off, you just didn't plan to tell anyone, maybe did, but you weren't listening to people that were going to just tell you that wasn't going to work. So which do you think is worse, now that you've gone through this, which is worse, listening too much, or not listening enough, and not talking about to your customers, but just like from your peers, maybe even other entrepreneurs, they're going to have opinions as well. If you had to choose, should you do your own thing, and not to listen to anyone else or listen to what everyone says.

    Ryan: I would say don't listen to anyone, because what's going to happen is, if you listen to everyone... and another really good example is people who are just starting off and they're reading tons of eCommerce, or entrepreneur books, I got probably about two dozen on my bookshelf, but they're all kind of the same, they're very inspirational and so on and so forth. I would say don't listen to anyone, just do your thing, you're going to learn from your mistakes. But if you listen to a ton of people, they're all going to give you different advice, and you're just going to be paralyzed, essentially, and eventually, you're going to be like, "Oh, is it really worth doing all this."

    Ryan: But one day at a time, if you have a vision, you have a passion, just follow it through and honestly, you're going to succeed. If you're really passionate about it, you're going to make it happen.

    Felix: Yeah, I talk to myself about this a lot and I talk to others about this, which is like there's two approaches to people that are trying to become entrepreneurs, there's the people that are learning just in case, versus people that are doing kind of just in time learning where a lot of times people just want to spend so much devouring information because they... or someone says, "Hey, one day, I'm going to need this and it's good for me to consume it." But I actually think that dilutes action, taking too much information makes you... because there's going to be information that's going to tell you two opposite things, when it happens, you're not going to go anywhere.

    Felix: So there's that then also, there's the just in time learning, which is like figuring out what exactly is the problem that's right in front of you? And then look for the answer, look for that answer rather than just being open to hear anything, decide what's the problem in front of you, and then go look for the podcast, the books that talk about that specific problem and help you overcome it, rather than trying to just be open to anything and everything people want to kind of fill your head with. So I think that's an important point that you're making.

    Ryan: Yeah, absolutely, 100%. Google is your friend, YouTube's your friend. And that translates exactly to when I made my first wallet, I just focused on that one wallet, I didn't learn all the history of leather working, I didn't learn how to make all this other stuff in leather working. I just focused on that one product that I wanted to make for myself and learned everything about that particular process. And if you can translate that into how you run your business, focus just on photography for a while, or focus just on learning how to drive traffic to your website, don't try to learn everything, because it's overwhelming, it's still overwhelming for me now. Just in time, yeah, that's a great way to calculate that. I like that.

    Felix: Awesome. So you mentioned this a couple times, I think, that the core of the value they offer in your business is around your customer service, and you trust what your customer says, you're focused on serving them, what do you try to do to make sure that each experience with the customer is something that they'll walk away with thinking like, "Wow, that was a great experience," what do you tell yourself and tell your employees to keep in mind when the interacting with the customer?

    Ryan: Always put yourself in their shoes. So I mean, very early on you, I discovered that when customers are angry or treat you rudely, it's because they're having a bad day, that maybe their cat died or whatever, it's never about the product, it's always about them. Thankfully, we don't have customers like that, it's extremely rare. But essentially what you want to do is empathize. So if someone gets a product that's poorly made or is damaged or whatever, what would you expect a company to do for you? Or how would you walk away from that experience feeling like, "Wow, holy smokes, I want to buy something else from these guys." So that's essentially the advice that I give our customer service rep.

    Ryan: The other thing is being consistent as well, so maybe someone doesn't like a product, we'll just, "Here's your refund, that's fine, keep the product, give it to someone else who might like it," that's kind of how we operate. It's essentially doing whatever we can to make the customer happy at whatever the expenses, obviously, if we have a wholesale customer who bought $10,000 worth of product from us and decides to return it all, we might have a problem. But generally speaking, if it's a problem that costs less than a 100 bucks, it's, "Whatever, that's fine, just have the product." And like I mentioned before we get the occasional one star review, we'll reach out to the customer, and we'll turn it into a five star review, just based on treating them how we would expect to be treated.

    Felix: Yeah, I think that's great opportunity that you look for, what are some others that are some of the biggest missed opportunities that you've seen, either personally, from your experience with brands, or just you've see other entrepreneurs making when it comes to customer service? What are some things that you just see like this is a great opportunity for you to improve your customer service, but you just see them missing?

    Ryan: For sure. I think a lot of companies focus on the nickel and diamond, so you kind of got to think big picture, so lifetime value of a customer, maybe they're not happy with this purchase, but down the road, they're going to remember about how you treated them and go, "Hey, you know what, maybe this would be a good Christmas gift." So to think big picture, not day-to-day, I know it sucks to refund orders, but you have to think of it as building a relationship with your customer, rather than just a one off transaction. So if a company treats me that way, I'm not going to come back, I'm not even going to think about them, because they made me feel just like a number, whereas, we treat our customers, again, how we want to be treated, as people, as a relationship.

    Ryan: Thankfully, there's a lot of lot of good examples out there, it's very rare that you see kind of the commerce site where they treat you like garbage, unless it's a very specialized item you can't get anywhere else, I don't see anyone really getting away with that nowadays.

    Felix: Now, let's talk about micro influencers. You mentioned, this is the marketing strategy that has worked well for you more recently, which platforms have you focused on when looking for micro influencers?

    Ryan: Strictly YouTube for a number of reasons. So YouTube isn't ephemeral like Instagram, so if you approach an Instagram user, send them product, there's a post on everyone's feed that kind of vaporizes within 12 hours, right? whereas on YouTube, it's kind of evergreen. So our strategy is to approach people in a particular niche, so this past six months, we've been focused on people in the everyday carry community, so we look for people who are under 20,000 subscribers, but above 1,000, so that shows us that these people are really passionate about what they do, so they'd be very good at promoting our product or giving a really honest feedback. So when we approach these influencers, we ask them, "Hey, would you mind checking out our product? There's no obligation to do a review, we'd appreciate a very honest feedback, we don't care, what's in it all? Be very critical.

    Ryan: And so we've had a lot of success with that. And then essentially, what they do is they link back to us on their video, and as they grow, people will see these videos and Google will pick it up and kind of boost our engine rankings as a result. And once you kind of get over that 20K subscriber mark, you find the influencers tend to want to be compensated, we don't really have much of a budget for that, we're happy to send a free product and whatever you do with it, it's up to you, so that's kind of why we keep it in the low subscriber range. Yeah, and then the people who are in that area are very, like I said, very enthusiastic, and their channel tends to grow, so we kind of grow with them, and we establish really good relationships through that.

    Felix: Got it. So these 1,000 and 20,000 thousand subscriber YouTubers, are they easy to find? How do you even begin to find the micro influencers? 

    Ryan: Yeah, so that, I mean, that's a challenge in itself and we've kind of worked out a way of doing it, I would be happy to kind of dive into that, but it's a fairly... just generally speaking, we build up a database of potential people who we want to reach out to, and we kind of manage it through a CRM, we use Pipedrive right now, so we kind of establish these relationships and it allows us to kind of connect with them again down the road. But it's a very convoluted and sort of technical achievement that I'm proud of, but it's maybe beyond the scope of our conversation. But yeah, I mean, if anyone wants to reach out to me, or whatever I'd be happy to let them know how I did that.

    Felix: Awesome. So let's talk about the site a little bit. So you mentioned previously that you guys redid the theme because you found a particular widget that were more in line with the messaging that you want to put out there? Is website design in-house, or did you hire out for it? How did you get It done?

    Ryan: We purchased the theme, and then I tweaked it to my liking. So I do all the scripting and HTML stuff on my own.

    Felix: Got it, do you remember the theme that you used?

    Ryan: Yeah, it's called impulse.

    Felix: Cool, awesome. Now, you mentioned a couple apps along the way. You mentioned Stamped, I heard you mentioned Google Optimize, you just mentioned Pipedrive for CRM, are there any other apps that you rely on, either on your Shopify site or off of it to help run the business?

    Ryan: Yeah, I mean, there's a ton... we're huge fan of Klaviyo, Klaviyo has been instrumental in bringing us a ton of revenue, both in terms of the flows, as well as customer segmentation, which we're just kind of dipping our toes into. The other one that I really like is called Product Personalizer, so we offer personalization options on all our leather goods so you can put your name or date or whatever you want, Product Personalizer actually lets you visualize it on the product itself. So again, you talk about customer friction, one of the biggest pains that we had before was kind of translating what a customer would type on the website to the picture on the page. So Product Personalizer allows us to do that and it's phenomenal, very good support.

    Ryan: What's another one? Oh, yeah, so we just moved to Shopify Plus in April. So we've been using Launchpad which is a Shopify Plus app that allows us to schedule promotions, which I found really helpful. And then for the day to day stuff, we use ShipStation for all our for shipping, so it helps us manage our order queue and kind of prioritize sort of the manufacturing flow in our workshop.

    Felix: Awesome. So popovleather.com is the website, P-O-P-O-V L-E-A-T-H-E-R.com is the website. Thank you so much, Ryan, I'll leave you with this last question, your first seven figure year last year, now you're looking at this year, what needs to happen this year for you to consider the year a success?

    Ryan: I'll keep this brief. So we just finished a non-tech accelerator program and one of the biggest hurdles for us was finding a production manager and we just hired him in May and we're already... that was my biggest win this year so far. And I think it's going to allow us to be even more streamlined and efficient going forward. So we're going to be able to make our turnaround time down to three days, from two weeks earlier that this year, so I'm really looking forward to that, that's going to be my 2019 goal is to bring the turnaround time down to that.

    Felix: Awesome. Sounds like you're off to a great start so far. Again, thank you so much for your time and sharing your experience, Ryan.

    Ryan: Awesome. Thanks, Felix.

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    About the Author

    Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.

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