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How One Firefighter Turned Recycled Gear into a 6-Figure Business Using Instagram

recycled firefighter

Experimentation is the name of the game when it comes to marketing. But when you finally find that successful channel, niche, or tactic that works—then you know exactly where to start drilling down for results.

For Jake Starr, Founder of Recycled Firefighter, tapping into the right niche was the key to turning recycled firefighting gear into a 6-figure business selling wallets and everyday carry gear.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why Jake decided to move from Etsy to Shopify. 
  • How he figures out which hashtags to add to his Instagram photos to reach the right people. 
  • How he uses Instagram to test new product lines before manufacturing.

Listen to Shopify Masters below…

Show notes:

 Transcript 

Felix: This is Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. It's powered by Shopify, the easiest way to sell online, in-person and anywhere in between. 

Hey entrepreneurs, my name is Felix, and I'm the host of the Shopify Masters Podcast. Each week, we put out podcast interviews with successful e-commerce entrepreneurs or experts to give you inspiration, motivation, and actual tips to increase your traffic and sales so your store can generate the sales you need to live the life you want. On today's podcast, you'll learn from an entrepreneur that grew his business to six figures by marketing on Instagram and using giveaways. In this episode, you'll learn why he decided to move from Etsy to Shopify, how he figures out which hashtags to you use in his Instagram photos, and how he uses Instagram to test new products before producing them.

Today, I'm joined by Jake Starr from RecycledFirefighter.com. Recycled Firefighter sells wallets and everyday carry gear made of the highest quality military spec binding, webbing and elastic like fire hoses. And was started in 2013 and based out of Louisville, Kentucky. Welcome Jake.

Jake: Nice to be here.

Felix: So tell us a little more about your story and what are some of the most popular products that you sell?

Jake: Yeah. I've been a full-time firefighter now for 12 years, and I've been selling mainly on my website. I actually started on Etsy but I sell on my website just through e-commerce online, and I make these little slim wallets is my bestseller, it's called this Sergeant Slim Wallet. And I make those out of fire hose, and I actually use some other materials like US combat boot leather. And I've been selling the Sergeant for a couple of years now and it's really just taken off this past year.

Felix: That's awesome. So 12 years as a firefighter, you decided to open up a store. Can you talk to us through that thought process? How did you decide to spend the time you have outside of work to launch a business?

Jake: Yeah. A few years ago, I was at the firehouse and our chief was throwing away some old fire hose, so I went to him and I said, "Can I have some of this fire hose from the trash?" And he said, "Sure." He didn't care that I was taking it. I actually started making iPad cases that have that first piece of hose that I bought. Sorry, not bought, I took it out of the trash. And I started an Etsy store. So I started on Etsy and I was doing probably a few thousand dollars a month on Etsy, which at the time was really good. And from there, it just took off. I did Etsy for probably six or seven months until I outgrew it and I started my Shopify store after that, and now I've been selling just from my Shopify store.

Felix: Okay. Yeah. Let's talk a little bit more about Etsy. Sounds like you started, you were only there for six months, and you were already making a few thousand dollars a month. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience and maybe any tips on how you got that trash so quickly and were able to market your store through Etsy?

Jake: Sure. Yeah. With Etsy, I actually started selling these custom bunker gear duffel bags. So it's the uniform that firefighters wear in the fire, the fire-resistant stuff with the reflective trim. So I started Etsy just taking custom orders with these duffle bags. I would open it up and just take as many orders as I could and then close my shop down or whatever, stop taking custom orders and just make as many duffle bags as had sold. So one day when I first started, I opened up the custom duffle bag, I guess custom order and I sold 30 of them I think in like a day, because those take a long time to make, I spent the next month making those and I realized that was my first $3,000 a month, which at the time was really good.

Jake: So I realized that these bunker gear bags were really hot sellers. So I really just started marketing those. I sold them as a custom item, and I sold some other items as well. But more than anything, I think it was having that unique item that made it go so well, nobody else at the time was doing those duffle bags out of bunker gear, some other companies were selling like backpacks and stuff out of bunker gear, but I was the only guy selling that item, so I think that contributed to that initial success.

Felix: Yeah. And I think with Etsy, they require you to make these products yourself, right? So you actually have to hand-make all of these within your house and everything. How did you find the time to put together the listings and I guess the answer questions, do customer service and market your store then also make the products? How were you able to do all of that with your full-time job?

Jake: Yeah, that was the main issue, man. Because at the firehouse you work 24 hour shifts and then you're off for 48 hours. So there were some weeks that I was working 72 hours and still trying to make these duffle bags and some other items too. So there were weeks that I was working 100, 120 hours a week. So balancing that, I just got really good at sewing. I just started sewing as fast as I could. I do take all my own product shots, and really that was one of the limitations with Etsy, they only allow certain amount of photos. They don't allow any videos at the time, I don't know if this has changed, but that was one of the main reasons, it was just limiting compared to Shopify.

Jake: The same with the review system that you're at, especially with a custom item, because I couldn't take pictures beforehand, people may get the bag and they're like, "Well, this doesn't look like the photo," and obviously, because it's a custom item, every bunker gear duffel bag is different. So it was limiting and nerve wracking being at the whims of the reviewers on Etsy, because a lot of the stores really depend on a really high rating and that was one of the reasons why I switched from Etsy to Shopify originally.

Felix: It makes sense. And after a couple of your first $3,000 a month, did you know at that time that this could become a legit business? Can you talk to us about when you made, I guess that realization that this could become something big and potentially be a full-time thing?

Jake: Yes. So it was a slow process. There were months that I was making three, four five, even $10,000 going into when I first opened my Shopify store. So it wasn't just like boom, it's a huge business thing, it was a slow growth for probably a year until I launched this Sargent Wallet, and that was last December, which is just this little small credit card wallet with an elastic cash strap on the back. And when I launched that wallet, it was like that aha moment, like, "Whoa." Because the sales were coming in just like thousands of dollars per minute sort of thing. And I realized that this is a home run sort of thing.

Jake: So once I launched that Sergeant Wallet is really when it took off.

Felix: And this Sergeant Wallet, it was something that you launched on Etsy at the time, or was this on your Shopify store?

Jake: I don't remember. It's had a few revisions, the first edition didn't have that cash strap. So I think the first one, the first edition I did launch on Etsy, but since, all the other versions, like the second and third version I've launched on Shopify.

Felix: Makes sense. So let's talk about this transition. So you were on Etsy. Was it like some limitations that you didn't like or what didn't you like exactly about your experience or maybe not what didn't you like, but what were you looking for when you decided to move over and own your own shop on Shopify?

Jake: Yeah, so I think the Recycled Firefighter, there's a lot about it that tells its own story. And I think Etsy was just really limiting with being able to tell a story. You have a couple of photos and then your store heading just in text or whatever, so I really wanted a platform that I could have some videos, I could have some really good product photography, and just a good customer feel as they're browsing the site. And I think Shopify really fit the bill perfectly and it was super cheap. I think that it was even like free 30 day trial that I started out with.

Jake: So being able to just worry about telling the story instead of having to capture credit card numbers and all that stuff with other platforms, I could just solely focus on telling this legit story about the fire hose.

Felix: Yeah. You already has success on Etsy, and I'm looking at your profile now on there, you had over 300 sales and over 70 reviews, which is definitely a great start that I think a lot of people would be hesitant to give up. Not give up, but move off of that and just start something brand new. So now that you had to start over by moving on to Shopify, can you tell us a little about that experience and how are you able to maybe transfer the brand or the traffic even over from Etsy, which is a marketplace now to your own store?

Jake: Yeah, so originally trying to get people to go to the website, I was advertising on Facebook, just getting views and people to my website. And I didn't have a ton of views on my Etsy store, but they did have at the time, you could just pay within the platform to get people to view your stuff. So that initial traffic came from just some social media on Facebook, and then I started advertising on Instagram. So really Instagram, I started pushing really hard last I guess in 2014, late 2014, and that's how I got a ton of traffic pushing to my Shopify store.

Felix: I see. So you were going down these marketing channels, whether it be through paid ads or through Instagram. You only started doing that after you moved off of the marketplace and into your own store?

Jake: Yeah. I wasn't doing any paid ads while I was doing Etsy and I didn't do any paid ads on Instagram, at the time, there weren't any paid ads, I just started marketing just for free myself on Instagram.

Felix: Yeah, that definitely makes sense now that you are obviously how to drive your own traffic, you have to actually go out and find where to get it from. So let's talk a little bit about your social media. And you're doing pretty well, you have on Facebook about 24,000 Likes and Instagram, 56,000 Followers. We can talk just about the beginning, how did you build these followings? Because when someone that's listening even sees like 56,000 Followers, it just seems like so far away, but you've only built that up over the last couple of years. It wasn't like that long ago that you were working on this or starting your Instagram profile. Can you talk to us through how you grew that following?

Jake: Yeah. I think it was doing about 1,000 followers a week for a while, I've been pushing it for probably about 15 months or so now, so it's a little less on average than 1,000 followers per week. At the time when I first started, I would read just all the blogs and everything about how to blow up your Instagram and just all the different hacks and growth hacks and everything. And really what I found is it takes a ton of work and it takes really good photography, and not like hugely awesome photography, but just you need to know how to take a good picture even if you're doing stuff with your iPhone.

Jake: What I did was I drilled down to my customer and that ended up being what they call the everyday carry community, so guys that carry knives and guns and stuff. It evolved around like the perfect combination, so like wallet, knife, flashlight, phone carry. And since I've found that niche that those guys were the guys buying my wallets, I really tried to market my photos and edit my photos in that style. So I just started looking up, I would look up some hashtags on Instagram, like for instance they call it a #pocketdump. It sounds kind of funny but it's just like guys taking their wallets and phones out of their pockets and dumping it on like the ground or whatever, like a table top and taking a picture of it.

Jake: So I would look that up and I would see what these other guys were doing or I would see other large Instagram accounts and make my own style but see what they were doing and take some clues from them.

Felix: That makes sense. So you figured out almost like a lifestyle of your customer that they like this idea of posting photos of their everyday carry, like what they're bringing around with them every day. And you said that you dove into your customers', almost like minds to figure this out. Can you tell us how you did this? I think is a really important, I guess, lesson for anybody out there that wants to build a brand, is to understand what their customers are into, obviously. So tell us how you figured out that your customers belong to this everyday community?

Jake: Yeah. I found at first there's so many different things that I could make, that I could sell out of fire hose because I'm self taught, I taught myself how to sew off of YouTube actually. And I realized that I'm creative enough that I could make a ton of different items, but I realized that it would just be way too broad to reach... I can't reach everybody with products, so I figured it was a whole lot better to drill down and get real specific. And since these wallets were already selling well and it fit into that everyday community, that I really drilled down and got specific with them, because not a whole lot of guys know that everyday carry, it's a growing community on Instagram and they spend a ton of money, they buy tons of knives and tons of wallets.

Jake: And I wasn't looking at them at a cash cow vantage point, but I was looking at it like, "I could really help these guys out because they're carrying these huge wallets and if I made this small wallet, there's more room for more gears so they can buy more knives and more whatever and fit it in their pockets," so I kind of drilled down. And it definitely took some testing. Originally I thought it would be firefighters because it's fire hose, and I do have a ton of guys that are firefighters, but a lot of them have been that everyday carry crowd, for sure.

Felix: Yeah. I'm looking at your Instagram now and each post you put out there, there's probably maybe like 15, 20 hashtags that you include for each post. How do you figure out what hashtags you should be adding for your photos?

Jake: I can't remember what, I think it might've been just Instagram. I'm trying to think back to the website that shows you how many hashtags have been used. So I would search for just the hashtag and see how many times it's been used just to see how popular it is. So I picked the top, I think 15 or maybe 19 hashtags, the most popular ones that fit my brand fit my pictures, and just copy and paste those in each photo.

Felix: Yeah. One popular site for that is Icono Square. I'm not sure if that's the one you use, but I-C-O-N-O S-Q-U-A-R-E .com is like a site where you can search for hashtags and see like the number of posts per hashtag, so that's a good way to figure out which ones you should include in your photos. So that makes sense. So you figured out that there was this community that you could tap into, you figured out what content they liked in terms of photos on Instagram. You started taking photos and you started posting them and hashtagging them. I'd imagine that you weren't getting like 1,000 new followers per week right at the beginning from doing that. Do you remember what that beginning period was like? How did you ramp up to getting 1,000 followers a week?

Jake: Yes. Originally, I was doing giveaways. Giveaways are big on Instagram and a lot of guys do it just randomly. They just post a picture and it's just really not that professional. So what I did was I signed up for a website called Gleam.io. It's a giveaway or prize website hosting service and they can link to all the social media. So say somebody wants to get in on... Originally, my first giveaway was a duffle bag, a bunker gear duffel bag, so I posted on Instagram and I said, "Like my Facebook or follow me, or like this photo on Instagram. And for each one of those you get one ticket or one," I don't know what you would call it, "One chance to win this."

Jake: And then after a week, that program just randomly draws a winner, and then I announced it on Instagram, so I think this was late in 2014 that I did that first giveaway and I think I got like 3,000 emails in a week. And then I think I got around 5,000 followers in a week on Instagram just from that bunker gear, duffel bag giveaway.

Felix: That's amazing, 3,000 emails, 5,000 followers. How many followers did you have at that time? I guess that makes a difference, right? You need to kick things off with some kind of foundation, otherwise nobody's going to really help you spread this contest. So do you remember how many followers you had at that time?

Jake: It was sub 10,000, I'm not sure because it's been so long, I haven't stopped since then. I think it was I think it was just around 2,000 when I started that. I'm not sure though.

Felix: That makes sense. Just to make sure that the audience gets a good understanding of how Gleam is involved in this, are they just keeping track of all of the Likes and Comments for a given photo? Let's say you sign up for Gleam and you want to launch a giveaway, how's Gleam involved in the process?

Jake: Yeah. It redirects to Gleam's websites, so you copy and paste the, I guess giveaway link into your profile link and then the guys that are wanting to follow you and get in on the giveaway click on that and it redirects you to the Facebook. Like you can just directly like that photo from that Gleam redirect page, so it's all on that one page. And then they save those emails and then email the winner directly, or whatever.

Felix: Okay. So you have a link in your Instagram bio area and then throughout the week or whatever, you're posting photos saying, "There's a giveaway for this a bag," or whatever you're giving away. "Go check out the link in our bio to answer." Is that how it works?

Jake: You can do it that way. What I would do is I would make a page on Shopify and then embed that link on the Shopify page, or at least I have people going to my website because I get a lot of traffic just from that bio link. So I didn't want to give that up just for the giveaway link. I haven't done a giveaway in a while, so I'm trying to work off my memory here, but I think you can just embed that in a page on Shopify and then put that in your bio link so at least you get people browsing around your website while they're looking for the prize or whatever.

Felix: I see. It makes a lot of sense. Cool. So let's talk about the actual manufacturing and production of this. So you were obviously making these by hand at one point. Is that what you're still doing at this point?

Jake: So I realized that ramping up production, even though I can make a lot of these really fast, just because I've been teaching myself how to sew and I can sew pretty fast now, I realized even me, I just can't keep up with demand. I'm doing a lot of the work still, but I am working with a manufacturer here in the USA that does some of the work, the cutting and just a lot of the other stuff involved that's not just straight sewing.

Felix: And what was that experience like as now you had to obviously start outsourcing some of the work that you've already been doing yourself? Did you have any kind of, I guess fear about, "Man, I'm not sure they're going to do it the way that I do it." Because obviously, you are the one that puts more of your, I guess your heart and effort into it because it's your brand, but now you're handing it off to somebody else or at least part of it to somebody else. Did you have any, I guess hesitation about that?

Jake: Man, that was probably the hardest thing this last year, just the most stressful part is finding a manufacturer, especially in the US because that's a big thing with my company, just US companies and US manufacturing, finding a company that can help me with this stuff that knows how to sew fire hose. Nobody sews fire hose, you know what I mean? It was so hard to find somebody to do that. So I actually, I went local, it took me probably a year to find a really good manufacturer. I went local here in Louisville, Kentucky first and the quality just wasn't there, and the capacity wasn't there either eventually long term.

Jake: And then I went to another manufacturer here in the Midwest and I worked with them for probably four or five months until I realized that it just wasn't going to work out the overall... I guess some of the stitching just wasn't that good. So then recently, I went with another manufacturer here in the Midwest and the whole process probably took about 12 months to find somebody and get the samples to them and get everything approved. But now that I have them, to get new products to market, it's probably still a two to three-month process, which isn't too long since it's here in the US, but yeah, it was definitely stressful, man, that's for sure.

Felix: Yeah. How did you find these manufacturers, like did you just search on Google or how did you find them and how do you determine if it's the right manufacturer to work with? Because I sounds like you're saying that it took a year basically to figure it all out. And I think that that's a common place a lot of listeners are at where they want to find manufacture, but it's such in your business... Because when you're just you yourself working on your business, you're making yourself, you're marketing yourself and everything, there's no question about, am I trusting myself, obviously, but now once you expand and you start outsourcing things, you have to figure out, how can you learn to trust people and how can you, almost like test the relationship. Did you have to go through that? How did you figure out that they were the right folks to work with?

Jake: I think you hear advice about people tell you to go with your gut, and I think a lot of that is true with some manufacturers, especially early on, getting started, I just had this nagging hesitation like, "Oh, are these the right guys?" or, "The product isn't quite what I wanted it to be." And I think a lot of times you ignore that and then you pay for it later, you know what I mean? Like I did. So I think going with your gut, how I found these guys, I actually just started Googling contract sewing in the US, that was the keyword that really let me find some of the good manufacturers. So it's contracts sewing. The sewing industry took a big hit, a lot of guys go to China for the stuff, so manufacturers call it contract sewing, whether it's through the military or just other small businesses like myself.

Felix: Makes sense. I want to talk about another cool thing that you've done with your site, which is with your blogging, you have a pretty active blog, I think you have weekly updates on it. Can you tell us the audience that may be hasn't seen this, what is the format of your blog and how did you come up with it?

Jake: Yes. Last year I had this idea since I have grown my skills with selling and stuff that I could make a custom item every week and post it on my YouTube channel, so I had this idea, just taking suggestions on Instagram. So I would say, since I have like over 50,000 followers, I would say, "Okay, give me some ideas, everybody for next week's custom item." So I would take a suggestion and then I would feel myself making that suggestion, like I've made a knife case and some bags and some other wallets and like an iPhone case among other things. And I would film that and then I would post it up on YouTube and then announce the winner on Instagram and I would just ship the person that suggested that item for free.

Jake: And I think on Instagram, it was really good for the interaction of people looking for something cool, they're looking for, not necessarily something free, but something that they could get handmade or whatever. On YouTube, but it hasn't gotten a ton of traffic, but it's always fun for me to make something cool. And a lot of the suggestions, a lot of them are pretty bad and pretty funny, but some of them are pretty good. It's been fun for sure.

Felix: Yeah. I think I'm a big fan of anybody that uses video a lot, especially to show almost like... This is not exactly like behind the scenes photos, but still showing a side of the, I guess the brand that's just you. It's not like, "Hey, look at this company, faceless company," You're actually showing you and your studio and create this things from scratch, handmade products basically. So I think that's cool that you do that, and I think is an important almost like... I guess the thing to take away from this is that if you can find ways to show your audience, show your customers that you're a real person and not just some faceless company, you should always take those opportunities. I think video is a great way to do that.

Felix: So I want to now move on to the actual products that you're creating. You started off, I guess the most part of the product you were saying was a Sergeant Wallet that came out, and you've released a bunch of other things, since then, or since the inception of the company like notebook covers, belts, bags and t-shirts, laces, bands, key chains, a bunch of different things, what's your prior development process? How do you decide what new thing you should sell next?

Jake: Figuring out what I can sell next has actually been pretty hard because there's probably 20 or 30 items just sitting on the shelf waiting to be released. There's just so many things that I've come up with and I realized I really don't want to saturate the website sides, saturate the market. So what I do, last year, I had this plan on, "Okay, I'm going to release a new item every month." And when I released this first, I had a bi-fold wallet that I released last, I think February, that I realized that did so well, I just didn't have enough time to do a new product every month. So I've pushed that back to probably every three months or so, and there's really no rhyme or reason to it, it's just, "Okay, this is the new item that's really awesome that I'm want to get out there."

Jake: Something I did do recently on Instagram is, I'm going to start taking some preorders for this new wallet that I just designed. So typically, I would make just a bunch of one item, guess to think how many people would want it. And then it's just like a shot in the dark, and I would release it and sometimes I would make too many of one color or not enough of another, or it would sell out, or take two weeks to sell out or whatever. So this time I'm actually going to do a preorder on this new bi-fold wallet, it's called the Captain. So it's the standard bi-fold wallet that you can put cash in. So we'll see how that goes, I've never done a preorder like this before, so I'm testing the waters here.

Felix: That's cool. So you come up with a new product, you spend time trying to figure out what you want to make next and you come up with an idea or at least come up with a product or actually come up with the product itself, how do you introduce this to your customers and then how do you get this over to your contract sewing companies?

Jake: That's one of the really great things that I found with Instagram that I can test what works and what doesn't work with my audience, and it keeps them engaged as well. So like I'll make a wallet for instance, then it'll have a certain color, like color combination on it, and I'll post a picture of it and I'll get some feedback. And guys will be like, "Oh wow, that's terrible." Or, "Dude, that's awesome I want to buy it now," sort of thing. So I can gauge the overall sales to a pretty, not like a real specific degree but a pretty general degree about how many comments and how many likes the photos get on Instagram.

Jake: And also a lot of the followers guide me on Instagram about, "You should do this better, you should make it this way," sort of thing. And obviously, some guys just don't know what they're talking about but sometimes there's some really good comments that I take and I implement it. And that gives the guys that follow me, it let them buy-in to the brand, definitely it feels like they're a part of the process because they are, they're a part of the design process for sure.

Felix: Yeah. I like that you involve them really early on so that they are a part of the process and are part of your brand. So I think one of the things that you're doing and that's awesome, is that you just freely making new things and then showing your audience, showing 50,000 people at once, and as a seller, do you have any hesitation from this, even though there've been times where someone would say things like, "That's terrible." Have you grown a thick skin from that or have you always had a thick skin? Did you ever worry about what people would say when you put out this homemade stuff?

Jake: It's always hard putting yourself out there because you are marketing yourself especially, but you've got to let this stuff go in one ear and out the other. And you hear guys that have thick skin, but really working 12 years with full time firefighters, that's how you develop thick skin. You know what I mean? Guys rib you so bad, if you do some retarded at the firehouse or just dumb at a fire, like they won't let it go for sure. So I think that gave me some thick skin. That wasn't what I was worried about mainly, I was worried about copycats originally from Instagram because I do put a lot of stuff out there, and I realized that you're never going to stop a copycat.

Jake: So I went more of the brand building so people could relate to me and to relate to the brand that would keep them coming back. So that was the main worry, just copycats in general, and I do have some patents pending right now, because there's so many other businesses on Instagram that copy other guys, and this just how people work a lot of times. So that was the main worry at first.

Felix: Yeah. That's not the first time I've heard of that where instead of worrying about copycats, they're worried about the competition instead of trying to get these legal papers or plans to prevent them from copying you, obviously you should do those things as well., but the most effective way is just to build a brand to make it, your name, Recycled Firefighter, the brand that people think about when they think about these kinds of products and not thinking about some other knock-off or competitors you use. I think that's an important point that you're making, that as long as you're focused on building a brand that sticks in people's heads, then you don't have to worry about the copycats nearly as much.

Felix: So let's say that you put a photo up of a new product that you're thinking about selling on Instagram, get great reception, decide to go ahead and manufacture it, what's that process like with the contracts sewing companies or how do you get them started on this new batch of products?

Jake: Typically how that process works, especially in the US it can go a lot faster, so you make a sample, and I benefit from the fact that I can actually show this stuff myself, so I don't have to have somebody else make a sample for me. So I can make the product in my garage like the final sample, and then I'll ship it to them. They'll take a look at it and they do what they call costing. So they'll basically just reverse engineer it and figure out how long it takes and then they'll make it there and then they'll ship their first copy or whatever you want to call it, say it's a wallet, their first copy of the wallet, they'll ship it back to me, I'll take a look at it and if it needs revised, I can send it back, if it doesn't, I'll just approve it.

Jake: And that process probably takes about six weeks to two months, depending on how busy they are, and then you put in an order. So the way that it works, a lot of times that order can take depending on how many you get, and they do have minimums, but say, you do like 2000 or 1,000 wallets, sometimes it can take four weeks, sometimes it can take two months. So if you start to finish that's anywhere from three months to four months getting that product out.

Felix: Great. So you're outsourcing parts of your business, which obviously would free up a lot of your time to work on the business, you have 50,000 at least followers on Instagram, you're in your third year of business. How success was business today? You've been growing this for a while now, can you tell us a little bit about how you're doing today?

Jake: Yeah. Sales are in the highest six figures and we're definitely looking to do all that better than that in 2016. It's grown by about 600%, every year from 2014 to 2015, Phil, it has been this explosive growth, just trying to catch up. And it has been this wild wave that I've just been writing, just trying to stay on top, but it has been super successful. And now we have we more of a team than just me, and it's definitely... I use a lot of the money and put it back in the business so it's not like I have this lifestyle that I'm spending extravagantly, I'm definitely in it for the long haul, so a lot of the profits and stuff we're putting back into the business.

Felix: That's a great move that you're reinvesting into the business. What are you finding... You don't have to give too specific about this, how are you reinvesting in the business? How do you decide where you should put the reinvestments?

Jake: At first it was a lot of tools because I had to figure out how to cut a lot of this fire hose and how to sell a lot of the fire hose since I've bought like 10 or whatever sewing machines and I've maxed that out. I think a lot of the money is actually going into marketing on Facebook and Adwords and some other stuff, as well as just having enough money to buy more inventory, because the way the manufacturing stuff works, you have to pay half upfront and then you pay the other half when they shift the items. So a lot of times placing a large order, you need to have a large cash reserve and we're all cash, we don't have any debt or any credit or anything. So a lot of the money is just sitting and waiting for more inventory orders so that we don't have to delay anything.

Felix: Yeah. How has the paid ads have been going for you? What have been the results of the Facebook ads or the Adwords ads?

Jake: The Facebook was a huge wind for Recycled Firefighter, last year, the retargeting, I have a Cart Abandoned Retargeting Ad, and it doesn't have any 10% off coupon or anything, it's just a blank retargeting ad. And last year, I spent, let's see, $2,700 on that and it made $46,000. So that was a pretty big win. Besides that, since a lot of my market is firefighters, Facebook allows you the different things to push some ads at different Facebook pages and there's a lot of firefighter pages and stuff that was a no-brainer to throw some ads at them. So that was a real low hanging fruit win for us last year as well.

Felix: Yeah, I think retargeting is one of the... I think is obviously the best return on your investment because these are people that are already familiar with your brand and even interested in buying. How did you set all that up with and then the actual ads on Facebook?

Jake: I actually had a company do that, his name is Kurt, and he works at Ethercycle, and he set all that stuff up for me. He actually did a lot of other stuff for my website as well as just fixing the friction points as far as the purchase, guys go into purchase stuff. And he set all my retargeting and Facebook pixel and stuff up as part of that package.

Felix: Awesome. Yeah, a great guy, and he definitely knows his stuff. Anyone else that's listening out there, checkout Ethercycle and Kurt Elster's stuff he puts together, like you're saying, a lot of the CRO or Conversion Rate Optimization things for sites. I think before, I'm not sure you mentioned it on a podcast, but I think at least before podcasts you're telling me that you are working on this full time. Can you tell us a little bit about what your day to day is like, when you wake up, what are you focusing your time on?

Jake: Yeah. A lot of the time I realized I need a market some more, so getting myself out there and that's when a lot of the blogging stuff came about. So basically, I'm doing a lot of photography and product videos and some other stuff for my blog. Since it is this solopreneur thing, I'm doing all the Facebook ads and Adwords, there's always something to do for sure. When I was taking a lot of this sewing away from me, when I realized I couldn't keep up, because a lot of times I was sewing 16 hours a day, and I realized now that I'm not doing that, there's still enough work to do 16 hours a day. So it's trying to balance just the marketing, and I have a kid and a wife too, so a lot of the time is spent with them. So that's where my day's taken up.

Felix: Yeah, that's cool that you're able to now, focus on a full time. And it's funny though, if you have more time, you just tend to fill it up with more things to do, it doesn't feel like you actually getting freed up at all. That makes a lot of sense. In terms of the store itself, do you use any apps or tools that you rely on, for the Shopify Store or any other apps outside of Shopify to help you run the business?

Jake: Yeah. The main app, probably one of the best apps that I've really enjoyed using is Klaviyo, just email marketing, and that's with Shopify. Other than that, an app for Instagram is called Snapseed, I don't know if you're familiar with that. It's just like a photo editing app that's really easy to use, I use that for a lot of my filters and stuff that I use on Instagram.

Felix: Got you, very cool. Can you pinpoint to anything specific that you've done to your store in maybe in the last year or maybe even just in the holiday season that have had a big impact on your sales?

Jake: Yeah. The biggest impact this last Christmas season was email marketing, and I think just automatic email flows through Klaviyo has done extremely well. And I wasn't super into it, and I didn't know a whole lot about email marketing, so I just didn't send a lot of emails in early 2015. So in late 2015, I really took a stab at it and started sending out probably one email a week, probably in the last quarter. And I think that was one of the biggest wins, not even really selling a lot in each email or sending out coupons, just letting people know what I'm doing and behind the scenes, look at the shop or the Fire Hose or telling stories where the fire hose came from. And I think that really helped with sales and it's super easy to track that stuff through Klaviyo.

Felix: Yeah, I think that's a great move. You don't always have to be selling. And a matter of fact, you shouldn't always be selling through email. And I think it provide this content that you're talking about, behind the scene content or just educational content to educate your subscribers and your customers more about the product, how it's made, the brand itself, I think goes a very long way. So cool. So you started 2016, what's in store for this year or what do you want to focus on and what kind of goals do you have for your store for this year?

Jake: I'm actually getting in to Amazon, I think that's the next thing that I'm going to do. I think I did a search on Amazon and Recycled Firefighters, one of the auto-fill ins for Amazon. So people are there looking for me, so I'm going to try and dabble in Amazon. We'll see how that goes. And I have a ton of really awesome products coming, actually have, it's a fireproof handkerchief and a lot of guys of the everyday carry community carry handkerchiefs. And so I've been developing that for a while, and that's hopefully going to come out in the next few months. And then I have this pre-order, Captain Bi-fold Wallet coming out in probably a couple of weeks. So I think just continue to grow week by week, I think is the goal and continue to ride the wave.

Felix: It makes sense. Awesome. Thanks so much Jake. So recycledfirefighter.com is the website, anywhere else that you recommend the listeners check out if they want to follow along with your brand.

Jake:

Yeah. Check on my Instagram is just @recycledfirefighter.

Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much, Jake.

Jake: Yeah. Nice to meet you. Thanks, man.

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