100 T-Shirts: A Different Way to Validate Your Business Idea

lvd fitness on shopify masters

One of the most common ways to validate a product idea is to try selling it online, through Kickstarter or a coming soon page, even without a finished product.

Instead of starting online, however, what if you ordered a small batch of products and took to the streets?

In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who tested her business idea by selling 100 t-shirts offline before investing in any sort of online presence.

Mallory Rowan is the co-founder of LVD: a lifestyle apparel company that provides one month of clean water for every item sold.

We made those 100 shirts, we decided if we can’t sell them through word of mouth to our community we have to go back to the drawing board. 

Tune in to learn

  • How they sold 100 shirts before launching their store
  • How to build a community that engages with each other
  • Why the best type of content depends on the social media platform
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      Show Notes


      Felix: Today I’m joined by Mallory Rowan from LVD Fitness. LVD is a lifestyle apparel company that provides one month of clear water for every item sold and was started in 2015, and based out of Ottawa. Welcome Mallory.

      Mallory: Hi, I’m excited to be here.

      Felix: Yeah, you started this business as a school project?

      Mallory: Yeah, it was in my last year at university. One of my entrepreneurship classes. I had one the year before and we had a group project, and we had to come up with this concept for a product. I felt like I put a lot of time and energy into it just to, at the end of the semester, forget about it. The next year I knew I really wanted to do something that I was actually passionate about, and I was really lucky because at my university, Carleton, here in Ottawa. They really do encourage entrepreneurship, so they were actually pushing us to pick projects that we’d actually want to pursue after. It started as a class project and then I actually ended up asking my co-founder to work on it with me, who wasn’t even in the class at the time and we just kind of dove in from there and decided to keep rolling with after the semester ended.

      Felix: Got it. Did you even have to make a decision to go get a job versus continuing with the business after that? You just stayed with the business right from the get-go?

      Mallory: Yeah, we started it as students. Then once I graduated I did actually work full-time. We were really used to being on the grind, being full-time students and both competitive powerlifters, which takes a lot of hours in the gym. We just kept on that same grind, got full-time jobs, covered us with benefits, have some steady income. At the time it was still really fresh, we hadn’t even launched when I graduated. It was still very much in that ideation phase, so we worked full-time while growing, and I only quit my job last May.

      Felix: Got it. When you did graduate and got your full-time jobs, how did you guys find the time to squeeze in the opportunity to work on the business?

      Mallory: We were really lucky because we were also living together, so it definitely helped things out, because you’re just squeezing every spare minute, whether it’s waking up early, or staying up late, trying to design that next collection, or figure out the logistics of events. It was honestly just every spare minute we would put into it. We would take the weekends to go to events so that we could get right in front of our customers. You just kind of get used to it working on your lunch hour, working late nights. You just find the time where you can.

      Felix: When you first launched the business, was it T-shirts, what kind of apparel did you start off selling first?

      Mallory: Yeah, when we started we actually made 100 T-shirts before we even launched our website. We had the brand all finalized, we had actually done a bunch of wrist bands that just said the name of the company without the logo even, honestly just because we didn’t have the logo in time for when we needed to print, but we really wanted to get our brand out there. We started out just by giving out these wrist bands, and then we decided to make 100 shirts and sell them offline, because we didn’t want to invest more after we had already invested in the branding process, working with designers.

      We didn’t want to invest more on things like Shopify if we make this product and nobody is interested. We made those 100 shirts, we decided if we can’t sell them through word of mouth to our community we have to go back to the drawing board. That’s what we did, we went to one event, we spread the news through the school. We had all the sports teams being really supportive, and we ended up with all of our shirts sold and some back orders. That’s how we really knew we had something.

      Felix: You were going to, what kind of events, power lifting events?

      Mallory: Yeah. We were specifically focusing on the niche of power lifting. Part of where our inspiration was that power lifting was growing so heavily at the time and it still is today, and it’s really shifted who a power lifter is. I think a lot of people have this conception that power lifters are bald, bearded, tattooed fat guys, and that was really changing. There was this modern power lifter and we like minimalist over skulls, we like really, simple, clean designs, and we liked a lot of things that were being targeted in different niches, but not ours. That was really what we focused on. We went right into those power lifting events and we were able to find a lot of people who were similar to us.

      Felix: These events, did you have a booth or something, or what was the, how did you start selling your T-shirts once you got to the event?

      Mallory: Yeah, we definitely set up booths. At most power lifting competitions there is one main stage going on, and in the back there is often protein or any type of supplement, so it’s kind of businesses, some coaching stuff, some equipment, so we decided to ask some people for some booths. Luckily, because the sport was so early and people are just so supportive in that community we were able to do most of it at no charge, which is kind of unheard of. Most event sponsorships are insane pricing. They said, “You know what? It makes our event more interesting, it gives our audience something eels to do in between lifts, so yeah, come on, set up.” People were really, really great about it.

      Felix: Was it because no one was selling apparel and no one else selling apparel like yours? Why were they so interested in having you come, basically, for free?

      Mallory: I think that was definitely part of it. There was no one selling apparel, the whole concept of lifestyle apparel in power lifting was unique at the time. We were printing slogans on shirts that didn’t exist on shirts, and they related to it on a level, and they knew that their lifters and their audience would. It brought a different element, and as you mentioned earlier, we have that give back model as well. That’s always great to get people on board, because they’re like, “Hey, I can just give this person a table at the back of the room, and it’s going to help provide clean water to someone in a developing country.”

      Felix: Got it, to have that kind of mission that goes above or it goes beyond your brand of products, I think helps you tell your story and it helps people want to help you out, basically, which is exactly what happened in your case. Once you were going to these events and you guys had your 100 shirts and you’re selling them, what you were learning from customers during these one-on-one, in person sales that maybe influenced your design, or influenced your business?

      Mallory: Yeah, we definitely got some great feedback early on. It really pushed us to come in with more products, because people were just so quick to buy that first T-shirt and they wanted more. We made decals early on and we had the wrist bands, but we were kind of running out of things to give them. That’s when we started making a few more items for our online launch. We added a zip-up, we added a hat, we added all these little things to be able to give people more of a package. That was really, really helpful, because it also taught us a lot from a sales and marketing perspective.

      Felix: Got it. You decided to expand to different types of apparel, like you said, a zip-up-instead of just printing new designs on shirts, at least initially. What made you guys make that decision? I think it’s an important one, because a lot of people get stuck at this phase and they’re trying to [inaudible], just put the design that’s working on other things, or just design new things on the same shirts?

      Mallory: Yeah, one thing we were really lucky with is that we had a really powerful brand image from the start. In fitness specifically it’s easy to start up a T-shirt company, right? In fitness I’ll often people come up with a name and then slap a logo that has a barbell on it, or something similar to that, and for us we actually spent three months of designers working on over 50 logos to find something that felt like us, that worked in all the different ways we wanted it to work, and I think that putting that ground work in was really helpful because it made it that we could put our logo on a hat, and people wanted it. People wanted to ask right away, “Hey, where’d you get that hat?” Because it was just a cool logo.

      That was one side that was really helpful, and then on one end we were in this timing play where power lifters didn’t have a brand they identified with and that’s how we felt as well. Being part of our own audience was really helpful. You can have three T-shirts, but I want a T-shirt, and when I’m cold I still want to rep, so I want a sweater. When I go outside or when I’m lifting I need my hair out of my face, I want to wear that hat. That was really what pushed our decision to not just do more T-shirts, but to offer people products that weren’t currently being offered. You could get some equipment company T-shirts, you could get stuff like that, but there wasn’t that high quality look and feel that we were looking for.

      Felix: You said that before you even launched, or before you made the shirts, you spent three months with designers to work on 50 designs. Where did you find these designs and how did you go about that? Tell us a little more about that process.

      Mallory: Yeah, that started right after the semester finished. We actually spent a whole semester going through different ideas, and it wasn’t until the end of the semester that we finally landed on just started with a lifestyle brand. I was working on another startup at the time in the tech space, but given what the product was we had a lot of graphic designers. I approach one of them and said, “Hey, I know you have a lot on your plate, but is there anyone you could recommend for something like this?” He connected me with a couple that had just started out, they had graduated and they were doing their own graphic design firm.

      It was a really scary experience at first, because we met up with them, they had a very formal contract, and I think we put about $3000 into it, and at this point my self and my co-founder were newly dating, we were coming up with this idea that didn’t even have legs yet, we were like, “Wow, we’re really going to put money into this,” but we knew that we didn’t want to have to do a rebrand and to this day we haven’t done a rebrand. That was really important, was putting in that time that people often skip just to make sure that the brand is, in some sense, going to sell itself.

      Felix: Right. How did you know that you had the right design? What were you guys looking for?

      Mallory: I think a lot of it is gut instinct, because we had the social aspect too, and that fitness side. A lot of the logos we explored either felt too typical of a not-for-profit, kind of on that softer side, and then the other side some of them felt too lifestyle, too street. We had some functional characteristics we were looking for too, so we knew that we wanted our logo to horizontally or vertically. We knew that we wanted to be able to have an icon, the logo could stand on itself, but we also wanted the word mark of LVD that could be combined or it could be separated.

      We knew we wanted it to look good on a T-shirt, on the front of a gym, on a water bottle. We really looked at all those different elements so that later when we sponsored an event it’s not like, oh, seeing it up there on the poster it doesn’t look so great. We really wanted to make sure that every platform we used was going to have a powerful impact, and I think that was really helpful too. Some of the logos that we liked were cool, but they have been circular and that was limiting in certain uses.

      Felix: Got it. Once you guys were preparing for this online launch you sold out all 100 shirts, you’re now preparing to launch online, what did you guys do next? What did you know you had to put in place before you could do an online launch?

      Mallory: For us Instagram was a huge thing. It’s how we started even before we had our website, it’s how we announced the events we were going to be at, but Instagram is an insanely powerful tool. We can connect with people all over the globe, so I think bringing our brand to Instagram and connecting through our personal accounts even with power lifters that we had met already through Instagram and letting them know that this brand was coming, it really was powerful. On the first day where we opened our website we actually had global sales just simply by having friends on Instagram, which is so wild to say. Years ago you would not have global sales just by launching a website, right?

      Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). On Instagram you guys already had a brand profile as well?

      Mallory: Yeah, we had started that up in the summer kind of to prepare for what was coming. We wanted to let people know that something was brewing and then as soon as we got those shirts we grabbed my co-founder’s cousin actually, who had taken one high school photography class, we’re like, “Hey, you have a camera, you want to be our photographer?” And we just started creating content, which was really big too, because in this space there was no professional looking content, it was such a neglected part of the fitness industry, so people were really excited just to see, “Hey, that’s somebody squatting.”

      Felix: Yeah. How did you build up the following before you even had the products?

      Mallory: I think word of mouth in the niche was specifically powerful, but leveraging those personal accounts. We didn’t have huge personal accounts at the time, but we had people that were in our direct audience, so with that ability to narrow in on who that audience was and we did a lot of groundwork from the brand account too. We would lay in bed at night and we would be following people, we would be commenting on people’s videos and making sure they have authentic comments, not just like, “Great video!” It would be a specific comment about the personal best that they just hit. I think that was really powerful and showing people that we were real people behind this brand.

      Felix: Is Instagram still the number one social network or platform for you guys today?

      Mallory: Yeah. What we noticed early on when we tried testing with others, Twitter wasn’t really big for us. We did do a little bit of SnapChat, but as soon as Instagram stories came out, SnapChat was dead to us. What we learned about Facebook was that people liked connecting with the story of the brand on Facebook, so we would do really well when we’d post about an incubator we got into, but if we posted just a motivational post that we would post on Instagram it didn’t really get that same engagement. We definitely focused in on Instagram, and just given our niche too, fitness is so heavy on Instagram. It really was finding out where our audience is and just zeroing in on wherever they go. If they leave Instagram, we’re going to go with them.

      Felix: Posting, how frequently are you doing it? Give us an idea of you ideally like to run your Instagram profile for the brand.

      Mallory: Right now, we typically post I’d say every two days or so, especially with just more recent algorithm changes, it’s no longer chronological so you don’t want to be overflowing people, but you want to be a consistent presence. We often use our stories to promote promotions, or we like to feature LVD. We love when people tag us, and then that’s an opportunity for them to feel special and for us to connect with them and show people what it looks like. If you’re considering this shirt, here’s a real person wearing it during their workout. We definitely try to have stories every day. We do have some sponsored athletes as well, so they’re posting on their Instagram accounts to try to spread that visibility.

      Felix: Do you find different ways to encourage your customers to engage with you, or to like post them wearing the products on their Instagram profile?

      Mallory: Yes, we’ve done a lot of testing with Instagram. Something that was fun is how I mentioned posting people wearing LVD in our stories. At the end of the day when it comes to social media, I think everyone is a little bit narcissistic and they love that idea of putting themselves out there. When we started sharing people in our story, it was like, “Cool, I can be an LVD story,” and that’s very different than just posting on your own account. I think that alone was a really big motivator for people. I also think it’s a way for them to connect with other people.

      Felix: Got it. By you posting on your story on Instagram customer of yours wearing it people recognize I could be on there too, so then they start tagging you with the hope of getting on your Instagram as well.

      Mallory: Yes, something that’s been really cool is someone might see us post someone and realize that they go to the same gym as them. Then LVD has now connected those people, and they might train together next time. We’ve had stories of people going to the gym and seeing someone else in LVD and it gave them the opportunity to know that person is a power lifter too, I’m new here, let’s connect. Then they’ll post and tag us in that. That’s been really cool.

      Felix: Got it. You credit your community with a lot of your success, how would you describe to them, are they mostly collecting around Instagram, how are they engaging with each other? Tell us more about the community aspect of the brand you built.

      Mallory: Instagram is definitely huge way to connect everyone on the global level. More locally, definitely the fact that these people attend a lot of these same events. There’s a Canadian national championship, there’s a US national championship, and then there is a world championship, so it’s definitely opportunities for people to connect on all those different levels, which I think is really cool. Then connecting with the brand we also really emphasize our Email subscribers. What we do is when we launch collections we launch to our Email list first.

      Felix: Do you try to have a presence at all of these events still? When there is a power lifting event, is that part of your strategy today?

      Mallory: On a smaller scale. Definitely early on it was every event we could get to. Now we’ve kind of shifted, based off the return on investment. It’s a really nice idea to be able to sponsor every single power lifting event, but not all of them will really have returns, especially if you can’t physically be there. We do still try to sponsor to support the sport, but we’ve shifted some of that budget to online so that we can grow the online sales bigger and bigger, compared to event sales, and putting money into things like a loyalty program instead.

      Felix: Got it. For someone out there, for a brand out there that’s starting from scratch, starting a community from scratch and they want to follow in your footsteps by going on Instagram, are there things that you find that you guys have been able to do to get your … One key thing about community is that they are talking, interacting with each other. Have you found ways that worked really well to get that kind of engagement between your customers, between members of your community?

      Mallory: Yeah. I think one thing that’s worked really well for us, which we kid of fell into, is using real customers for our photos. We don’t use a modeling service or anything like that, partially because we just didn’t really know where to go. We were like, "Hey, why don’t we just take photos of these people we know in our city that wear LVD. It’s cool, because then they get photos of themselves, and then we get to post our actual customers. We started doing that and that was a really cool way, because then people would see faces that they recognized, or they’ll see that look like them. I think that’s a really big difference, a lot of the time when we follow these brands, especially fitness you don’t see people that look like you.

      It’s a really important factor in connecting with a brand because a lot of the times you see them, every person on the page is an extra small and if I’m a large, one, I don’t know how I would look in the apparel, and two, I honestly am not really connecting the same way because it feels like it’s not made for me. When we post all these different sizes, all these different ethnicities, I think that’s a really impactful way.

      On a more tactful level, something we figured out just by testing early on was creating those more engaging captions and asking your audience real questions that relevant to them. Then when we would post those, we would ask a few friends, I would just text them and say, “Hey, do you mind commenting on LVD’s last post?” They would read the post, they would comment something authentic, and then all of a sudden when there is five comments already there it just opens up this platform and people are willing to share. It was a really cool thing to see. It’s kind of like no one wants to be the first one, so we just asked a few people to be those first ones and then all of a sudden it’s an open platform and everyone is sharing.

      Felix: That’s makes sense. Kind of get the ball rolling for people to feel comfortable sharing by having someone else share first.

      Mallory: Exactly.

      Felix: Now, you mentioned Email marketing has been able to, is where you launch your products to first, and I think you mentioned as well to us that you have a VIP list. Tell us a little more about this, what is the VIP list?

      Mallory: Yeah, we have two things going on right now. We have our Email list that we’ve been growing since day one. It was really important for us to do that because we are so dependent on Instagram early on, and at the end of the day Instagram could close tomorrow and then you’re not connected to your customers. Email lists are really the only way to go old school and have that direct customer relationship and own it. No matter what happens we have that list of customers, even if Shopify closes, if MailChimp closes we have it.

      That was a really important thing for us, so we said, “Okay, how can we convince people to join an Email because Email lists are not always fun?” It’s like annoying, always spamming your inbox, so we decided to do exclusive deals that only the Email list gets sweet discounts. Then more than anything, we were launching our collection early, and that was cool because people would go on social media after and post their order. Then other people would get jealous because they can’t order yet when they go to the website. It’s really pushing to get more and more.

      Then just this month, growing off of that, we’ve relaunched a loyalty program, so it’s essentially going to be an even more tiered system of our Email list. When you hit certain tiers you’ll get free shipping off an order, you’ll get certain deals that even the rest of the Email lists won’t get, and then when you hit our top one you can get things like 10% off your orders, even more exclusive deals, and really just sweetening that pot all the way up. It does, it makes people feel valued.

      Felix: The loyalty is like a point-based system based on how much they’ve spent?

      Mallory: Yeah. We have points earned for spending, but also for things like following us on Instagram, following us on Facebook, sharing us on Facebook, doing a product review for a week, having a birthday. Then it actually gives everyone a unique referral code, which is kind of cool. If you’re always posting about LVD you actually have a unique URL that you can post, and if somebody signs up for our loyalty program through that you both get $5 off. It’s a really win/win, and it makes the customer feel like they’re doing something, but it’s also rewarding them for it. Especially in the fitness niche, feeling like an ambassador of our brand is a really popular thing. Everybody wants to be sponsored right now on Instagram. Giving people those unique codes is a really cool way to do that without really doing it.

      Felix: Right. I think the loyalty program and the early releases are great incentives for people to join a list. It’s one of those things that you need to have an established brand in that people actually care about, they care about early release, or they care about promoting your product before it takes effect. But the exclusive deals I think anyone can use at any point, maybe when they kick of their store for the first time, that makes sense to start with that as an incentive. What does that look like, what kind of deals do you recommend, what kind of coupons do you recommend that listers might want to offer to their customer to get them on an Email list?

      Mallory: One thing that’s really common you can do is giving them an immediately discount code, so if you sign up for an Email list you get 10% off your first order, that’s a really popular one. Then you just have to make sure that you have a strong Email campaign to back that up, because often people will do that, get the code, and unsubscribe. I know I’ve done that for websites, so you have to make sure there is more reasons than that.

      Felix: Right, what are you sending them to keep them engaged and on the Email list?

      Mallory: Honestly, one of the biggest things for us is actually not sending Emails unless there is a very clear call to action. That’s a value to them and not a value to us. I think that’s a very important difference, is we start sending Emails because you have access to these people, but you have to treat their inbox as almost a sacred place so they know if they’re getting an LVD Email that means there’s a promo, or that means there is exclusive access to something and they know that it’s actually something that they’re going to want to jump on, as opposed to us trying to trick them into jumping on. But I think that having less frequent sales is honestly a big thing, because that means that when people get the Email they’re going to jump on it. There is certain websites where you’re getting 25% off once a week in an Email so you’re no longer really noticing those Emails, but if you’re only sales a couple times a year it really pushes people to jump on that Email.

      Felix: Right, makes sense. You also said that, when you get to the point where you are able to incentivize people by giving them early access or early releases for your product lines, for your catalog, how early are we talking about? What’s a good amount of lead time for people that are on your list?

      Mallory: We only stick to 12 to 24 hours before, so it’s not too far ahead because it’s really just also a tool to, one, reward those customers, but two, get that extra promo that the collection is coming out, because if you do it a week before, somebody is going to see it, they’re going to get jealous, and then they’re going to [inaudible] next week. If we’re launching a Thursday morning, the Email list gets like Wednesday at 5:00, or so. Then what we’ve actually done, prior to the loyalty program that we’re starting, is having that VIP list and it will be top 50 based off of lifetime spent, and they would get it Wednesday morning. It’s all within that 24 to 48 hour period, so that it really is that last minute marketing boost for you.

      Felix: Right. Now, once you’ve kicked off the loyalty program, how do you promote that? Do you send an Email letting people know that it exists? How do they know that there is a loyalty program?

      Mallory: Yeah, so we have a little floating icon on our website when you first go on that people will notice, but we also just did a soft launch with a product collection that we just had come out. When we were doing the Emails about the collection we had a little point at the end of the Email like, “Hey, our loyalty program is starting soon. Get ahead of the game and get some points for your purchase.” That’s that same making people feel like they have an advantage is a really useful tool, so a lot of people sign up through that.

      Then we’re going to do an official launch and with that, it’s actually going to be this weekend. We’re going to do an Email campaign, as well as some social media posts, and 25% off all tees. It’s that reason to get people on the website and then when they’re on the website we have a blog there about the loyalty program, and we have other ways to make that point of contact again and again to remind them about the loyalty program. If you’re buying anyways, you might as well get points for it.

      Felix: Right. I’ll talk a little bit about running the business from the side of hiring for the team. I took a look at the site, at the, “About,” section, it looks like there are, it’s not just you and your co-founder there, there are other team member. What role did you hire for first?

      Mallory: For a long time we’ve had a really amazing group of friends that have just been super helpful. Right now, we actually only have one employee, but we do list our team as people who help us out. The first thing for us, actually more than anything, was that content, was how can we develop high quality content that’s going to catch people’s eye?

      As I mentioned earlier, my co-founder’s cousin did our first photo shoot. Then he was really interested in the brand, and he loved that we were pushing ourselves to grow, so he decided he was going to push himself to grow with us, because if he wanted to be our photographer he had to step up. Based off his words, not ours. That was one of our first ones.

      Then after that we found a video guy, because it was really important for us to have video content as well, because that wasn’t really being produced and for him, we were all students at the time and he had just started dabbling with video. He was really interested in the idea and actually approached us, so it was a win/win. He got some videos, he got to play, and basically do any kind of video features he wanted, and then we got content as a result. We had that relationship with both of photographer and our videographer was like you can play and you can have total creative control, and we’ll share the content.

      That was really our main focus for the first two to three years I would say. Which is cool because they’re both doing video and photography full-time now. It’s been cool to have been able to give that value back to them as well.

      Felix: Right. Yeah, they definitely had the platform and the experience that you offered them to work on in exchange for this high quality content that you’ve got. What do you think when you are creating content, or the team is creating content? What do you think the founders involvement should be when it comes to photography or video content? What kind of influence do you have, or do you give them a lot of free rein to run with their own ideas, how much involvement do you recommend founders have?

      Mallory: I think it really depends on how clear your brand is, and obviously the more clear you can get it the better, and then the more you can step out. We try to make sure that our photographer and videographer have a very clear understanding of who we want to be, where we want to go, what the big picture is, even if that’s not what we are right now. Early on a lot of that would be sitting down and finding photos, finding videos that we both really like, and dissecting why it was that we liked them so that we could bring all that into our content.

      We really do try to enable them, even just this past year we re-sat down and we said, “What are the themes in our images that we really like?” When there is a photo that I really like, and then there is one that I’m not a huge fan of that they took, what is that difference? We were able to identify very, very small things, but we moved from we want videos and photos of dead lifts to a photo that has a certain energy to it, or a photo that implies movement. These were very small themes, but we were finding them across all of the content that was doing well, and that we felt best related to the brand.

      I really think that if you can just impower them by understanding your brand. It’s a really great way to let them feel in control and give them something to own, but also for you to be able to step back and just know when you give them that apparel to go shoot, you’re going to be getting some amazing shots back and it’s exactly what you are.

      Felix: Right. I think a lot of founders that aren’t design oriented kind of just avoid this entire process, but you don’t have to describe what you want with words from scratch, you can start with finding videos and photos that you like, and talk about why you like it. Which was the process you guys went through. Then over time you’ll have content to dissect and then that should give you a lot more, get a little more precise with your direction because you’re working from something that’s even closer to your brand. I think that’s great that you don’t just try to write a bunch of things that you want, you start with what already, what assets, what photos and videos already exist and then go from there. The video content, is that going up on Instagram? Where is the video content going?

      Mallory: We’ve played with both Facebook and Instagram for video. Right now with Instagram we like to still keep it to 15–20 seconds, that sort of started when Instagram videos were that long. Then what we noticed was unless it’s telling a really important narrative, we like to keep it to about 15–20 seconds, because that’s soft pace, how you’re going to keep someone’s attention that long. It’s actually a pretty long time when you’re watching something on instagram. We only dabble over that timeframe if there is a narration to the video, so someone telling their actual story along with the visuals. Which we’ve only done a few times, and those are really powerful too, but you have to use them sparingly. If you’re doing that every week, people start to ignore them. It’s just like any type of content.

      Then we also found that video does well on Facebook, so it’s important to keep up with what these social media platforms are pushing themselves, because we all know for awhile, and still today, if you scroll through your Facebook feed you can barely stop without landing on a video. Video is really prominent on Facebook, so we just started creating video for Facebook to get seen, and that was really powerful. It’s a different way for people to share it, because they can tag their friends on Instagram, but unless you have a Repost app it’s hard to download the video and share it.

      Felix: Right. That’s a good point, that it’s not only about being on the social media platforms that your customers are on, but then creating the right type of content based on what the platform itself wants to push. Like you were saying, Facebook really wants to push video right now, so by producing video for Facebook you get that organic lift, kind of bonus points essentially from Facebook to help push your content out there for cheaper, potentially. How often are you guys doing product launches today?

      Mallory: Right now we usually do about, I would say, four to five a year. We try to space them often about eight weeks after. We’ll have some that aren’t full collections, and we usually have four to five full collections. That means we’re doing the marketing ahead of time, we’re sending it to some people to post ahead of time. A collection typically has some sort of theme to it, and that also will have it’s own color pallet, it’s own font that we use. We really try to make it thematic, and honestly we’ve been finding it really enticing for customers.

      Felix: Yeah, can you walk us through the design process, because it sounds like you’re doing a lot of obviously prep work, where there’s themes, a color pallet, there is fonts involved. Who is involved in the design and how long does it take to go through something like this?

      Mallory: Yeah. It’s definitely one of those things that falls into the panicked backend of a startup for us. It’s funny, because from the outside it looks really well-thought out, and then we had a designer who was actually a customer and then we brought her onboard for her third year of school last year. She was like, “Wow, I thought you guys totally had your stuff together,” and it’s not so much that on the inside. All that’s important is letting the customer think that, so we’ve developed it a lot. We usually start with whatever is drawing our eye at the time, like certain styles that we’re personally attracted to, and then we kind of build it off.

      We always have one or two ideas, and then we’ll start with that. Then we’ll look at what products do we want to have, because the hardest thing with designing a collection is you have the actual designs and then you have the products that it’s going on. Do we want a hoodie? We a crew neck? How many T-shirts do we want? What colors of T-shirts? It’s this little back and forth dance of we’ll decide, we think these are the products we want. Then we’ll start working on the designs, and then we’ll really like the idea of this one design that’s being designed for a T-shirt, but then we decide it’s better for a hoodie. There is this constant back and forth of, “Okay, now what will the collection look like? What colors do we want?”

      Then there is always this one moment where the theme just hits us and it really just starts snowballing from there, and the designs become more natural. We narrow in on those colors. There is always that last minute tweak of there might be one color that you really want in it, but when you step back it’s not working with the rest, so you save that color for the next collection. We’ve done a lot of designs that were designed even a year before they come out, because we just can’t get them to fit with a collection. Then when we find the right collection for them to fit, it could be our best product, but we know that if we designed and released it the year before, it wouldn’t have done well because it just didn’t fit. There is so much back and forth, but honestly, it’s a fun process, it’s just a lot.

      Felix: Right. Once the design is done … Actually how long would you say the process takes when you guys are designing a collection?

      Mallory: We usually end up doing some back and forth over some two to three weeks.

      Felix: Got it. Once it’s done what happens next? Does it go around to production? How do you guys take the design and turn it into products that can land in customer’s hands?

      Mallory: The next step is definitely looking at the budget. We try to stick to specific budgets for collection launches, so then seeing how much we want to order of each item and what sizes, what sizes would do well with certain styles. Figuring it out that way, and then figuring out a budget that’s tied to that and seeing if we need to tweak. Then from there we would reach out to our manufacturers and get the conversation going, making sure there is no barriers. Sometimes they may not have that fabric color, or they might not have that style right now, so having that discussion with them and just placing that order usually takes about three weeks or so. Then we’ll get it in, hopefully have enough time to do some photo shoots, all that stuff, log it into our inventory, and then we’re basically good to go online.

      I try to do the Shopify end of things, like creating those products, creating the product descriptions, all that as soon as you’ve got those orders in because then you know what your product is, and there is nothing worse than being in the middle of all these photo shoots and getting all the marketing ready and being like, “Oh, wow, I need to make 20 products in Shopify.” It’s really important to get that stuff that seems smaller out of the way earlier.

      Felix: Speaking of the site, can you tell us a little bit more about the apps or tools that you use to run the business?

      Mallory: It’s funny, I was thinking about this question, like what tools have been the most helpful for us. Funnily enough, I find Shopify on it’s own has been the most impactful because the fact there is an amazing mobile app that they just keep improving. Now I can pretty much do anything that I could do on my desk top on the Shopify phone app, which is amazing for when you’re on the run, when you realize something is wrong. It’s really good for putting out fires. Then also the POS app. That’s what we’ve always used at all of our events. To have a full POS system that’s connected to your online inventory right from the start has just made things so much easier. Even saving money on our designs, being able to take a free theme instead of paying someone to make you a custom website. Those are huge barriers to new businesses. To be able to just take those out of the equation for an annual fee has been so, so huge for us. Especially being younger, and not having huge budgets for it.

      That would definitely be the biggest thing. I think in terms of the Shopify app I use Minifier a lot. Again, small thing, but basically it will take all the photos you upload and it optimizes them for the web. One of the biggest things that will effect your conversion rates is a slow website. If pages are taking too long people will go. We have very short attention spans now, so that’s been a really great one. I think it’s maybe 50 cents an image, but it’s super affordable. I just click it, it just goes, and it makes our website that much ready to convert.

      Also Notify Me. Another one where it’s super simple, but basically you can decide how often they Email you and they let you know when products are running low in certain sizes. This one has been really great because you know if you need to reorder something, but also it’s a great way to catch inventory errors. Sometimes you’ll get it where it says, “You only have two of these left.” And it’s like I just saw in my inventory I have 20, so it’s a good way to make sure that everything is always up to date on your website, so you’re not losing opportunities to sell.

      Felix: Is that an app?

      Mallory: Yeah, it’s called Notify Me.

      Felix: Notify Me, okay, I got it. Anything else?

      Mallory: Then launching our loyalty program, lately we use Smile.IO, which was previously known as Sweet Tooth. Something really cool with this company is we had talked to them a while back, and the program just didn’t makes sense for where we were at. Then when we touched base at the end of last year they’ve been constantly making changes, and now they have a really beautiful program that makes sense for businesses of all sizes, and it made it so easy to just kick up a loyalty program that fit all of our needs, and we’re really excited about that one.

      Felix: Awesome. Did you guys design the website in house?

      Mallory: Yep. Everything that’s on our website we’ve done in house. Even if you go the about pages or any drop down pages Shopify does have limited abilities to change up those pages, so we’ve even done things like using Canva, if you’re familiar with it, the graphic design tool. I’ll make an image in Canva and put it in a Shopify page and it looks like it’s been custom built, but it’s really actually just a photo. There is lots of ways to hack it.

      Felix: Yeah, that makes sense. Have there been any recent changes to the site that have made a big difference in the sales or the conversions?

      Mallory: There is three things that I think have helped a lot with our website. One is free shipping promos, so having it clearly available on your website when people checkout, or when they’re browsing pages you can show them. There is some apps that will show how much more they have to spend to get free shipping, but that was a really awesome way to increase our average cart value by $10 a cart super easily. We just looked at what the average cart spend was, we put free shipping a little bit above that, and then all the sudden we were getting higher average carts.

      Another one is using those real people, just like we do on Instagram, we use real people in our products. It shows people, what it looks like on different sizes, on male or female. Then in the description, we actually link to all of those people’s Instagrams. You might be able to tell from one photo if someone is a similar body type, so it lets you go click, take a look through, and decide what size you’d be. That has been really helpful in getting rid of some barriers for people to buy, but also hoping to reduce our exchanges or refunds.

      Then a third one would be focusing on long tail keyword with your blog posts. For us, people get really caught up in making blogs about their products, instead we try to make blogs for our audience. It could have nothing to do with our products, but as long as it’s something of interest to our audience. For example, we actually have one blog post that is from 2015 on alternatives to pre-workout supplements, because a lot of people don’t like taking pre-workout supplements, so we came up with a list of alternatives. We still get conversions from that every month for the number one ranked Google result for that. It’s such a small thing, but it’s something that our audience is constantly looking at. Then when they search that they come across our brand, and it’s a new way to get new customers.

      Felix: Got it. Where do you want to see the business go over this year?

      Mallory: That’s a really good question, and it’s something that we’re tackling right now. We had a lot of growth from 2017 to 2018 so it was very go, go, go in 2018. We almost had to slow down and reset on the backend. That was a really big thing for us in 2018, was slowing down those front end efforts so we could collect ourselves, get all of our accounting in order, make sure, all the business stuff is good. This year, we really want to ramp that back up and grow outside of our niche. We’re really pushing to grow. For anyone who creates their own standards and has fitness as part of their life it doesn’t just have to be power lifters, and that’s kind of our next step.

      Felix: Awesome. LVDfitness.com is the website. Thank you so much for your time Mallory.

      Mallory: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having.

      Felix: Thanks for tuning into another episode of Shopify Masters, the E-Commerce podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, powered by Shopify. To get your exclusive 30 day extended trial, visit Shopify.com/masters.