An Instameet is a community event for Instagrammers to meet up at a certain spot to shoot photos and videos together.
Naturally, these meetups, encouraged by Instagram, attract all kinds of photographers and influencers that you could potentially work with.
On this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who built a $2 million dollar business by working with influencers he met through these in-person Instagram meetups.
Meet Chase Fisher of Blenders Eyewear: your first stop for fresh, vibrant and comfortable sunglasses.
- How to network with photographers to get great photos of your products for free.
- What are Instameets and how can you find an influencer through an Insta Meet.
- How to collaborate with other brands to raise your own brand’s credibility
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
- Store: Blenders Eyewear
- Social Profiles: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Recommended: Basecamp, FriendBuy, ZenDesk, FourSixty, Hypervisual, ShippingEasy, Klaviyo
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Chase Fisher from BlendersEyewear.com. Blenders Eyewear is your first stop for fresh, vibrant, and comfortable sunglasses and was started in 2012, and based out of San Diego, California. Welcome, Chase.
Chase: Thanks so much for having me, Felix.
Felix: Yeah, so tell us a little bit more about your story and the name says it, eyewear. What are some of the more popular products that you sell from your collection?
Chase: Yeah, so we sell sunglasses ranging from anywhere from 20 to $45. We started here in San Diego about four and a half years ago. I’m actually from Santa Barbara, I’m a big surfer, so that was embedded into my lifestyle very early. I moved down to San Diego when I was about 18 and attended San Diego State. Went to college with a degree in communication and media studies. I stayed ever since. When I moved out of college this is when the whole journey kind of happened. Yeah, it’s been an awesome journey so far.
Felix: Tell us about how this all got started. What was the original genesis of the idea to start a brand, start a store like this?
Chase: Yeah, for sure. It’s actually funny. I was actually at a night club in San Diego seeing my favorite DJ, Gareth Emery, and it was at Fluxx. I wanted something to add to my outfit. I went to Target. The first thing I saw was a pair of neon green sunglasses for five bucks. I was literally in and out of Target within five minutes. Long story short, I ended up wearing them out to the club. That was at the time where I got a contract with Monster Energy to do a marketing tour. Since the shades were green, I put on these Monster Energy stickers and wore them out. I was all stoked. I was like, “Yeah, I’m working for Monster. Here we go.” Then everybody in the club was coming up to me. They were like, “Oh my God. Those are so cool. Where’d you get those? Let me try them on.” All this and all that.
It was like, “Whoa, there’s a lot of attention around my sunglasses that I bought for five bucks.” Anyways, later that night I started thinking about it and then started just really looking into the sunglass market and really noticing people here in San Diego, they’re not wearing the Ray Bans, they’re not wearing the Guccis and the Pradas anymore. They’re too expensive. You’re either wearing that, who can actually afford it, or you’re wearing $5 beach knock-offs that you can buy anywhere on the boardwalk. There wasn’t really a competitor or a brand that was in between that offered a cool style sunglass at a price point that was affordable and quality and comfortable. We decided to go out and create our own.
Felix: You saw that there was this gap, this underserved area, underserved price point. Great glasses, not super expensive, not the cheap, cheap glasses you’re talking about that you wear, you might lose and you don’t care about. Somewhere in the middle. Were you able to validate this? How did you now that there was … It makes sense when you talk about it and it makes sense now looking back at it because you’ve built a business that’s been successful, but at the time how did you know for sure that it would be a profitable, not profitable, but an area where you could play in and actually grow a business in?
Chase: For sure. Here in San Diego it’s literally sunny every day. Especially in the summertime, it’s jam packed with pool parties, music festivals, concerts, super rich in beach and surf culture. During that time, all my friends were promoters so they’re promoting all these events, they’re actively going to all these events. We decided to make some t-shirts and some hats, literally anything but sunglasses and just put name, put Blenders on it, and we started wearing it out and promoting the whole idea, the whole ethos behind it. On top of that, we made a Facebook page before even having a product. We made a Facebook page, got all of our friends to like it, family, friends, you name it.
We started building a lot of buzz without even having an actual physical pair of sunglasses. My partner Blake would put out different designs and graphics of different mock-ups of shades of different styles. Before we new it, we had 2,000 Facebook fans. Everybody was commenting on the stuff that we were putting out. They were like, “Oh my God. I love those. Where can I buy them? How much are they?” We really validated it before even diving in completely, just by all the feedback we got through social media. It was a really cool way to validate the whole idea. Before we know it, we’re like, okay. We had 100 people commenting like, “Where can I get these?” We’re like, “Okay, this is it. We’re doing this.” That was a really spark plug for us to get things going and to validate our whole idea and niche at the same time.
Felix: Did you already have the products made at that point? What were you guys putting out on the Facebook?
Chase: We had absolutely no products made. These were just physical mock-ups that we’d make in Photoshop. We just put together different color combos that we thought were cool. We put them out there. Before we knew it, we had people commenting and asking where they can buy them. That was really the early phase for us to get things going.
Felix: I’ve heard the same strategy, not necessarily for kicking off a new brand or validating a new brand, but whenever an existing brand wants to release a new product, or release a different style, they’ll first test the waters by posting it on social media and see what the response. Maybe even obfuscate the reason why they’re doing it and not come out, it’s because they don’t want anyone to be biased and give feedback just because they know that this brand’s coming out with it. Just test the waters without putting too much bias in the test itself. Do you do this today with new products that you release too, like test it on social media first by posting it? What’s the market research these days?
Chase: Yeah, for sure. Now that we have customers that we’ve worked with for the past four and a half years, we definitely have tailored towards the stuff we make to the stuff that we think people are going to like and most importantly are actually going to buy. Early on, we were making all these wild shades. We were just making stuff that we thought was cool. I’ll definitely say you can’t hit a home run every time. We’ve gone through our fair share of making stuff that has sat on the shelf that didn’t move and wasn’t a hit, but we’ve also made our fair share of stuff that has just knocked it out of the park and been really successful. We definitely really utilize our current customer base. Even all the employees in our office have a say in what we do and what we come out with and stuff like that. We really like to kind of keep that open ended. We’re not biased, we’re not judgemental. We’re very open and receptive on new ideas or new colors and stuff like that.
Felix: I think that’s one of the biggest, or one of the potential downfalls for entrepreneurs is that they get so tied to an idea, tied to a style, tied to a design that they put up blinders to the feedback. Because they put so much effort and time into it, they don’t want the negative or the constructive criticism they don’t necessarily take and they move forward with it anyway. Like you were saying, sometimes you got to put that behind you, put that to the side and actually listen to what people are saying. How do you know today when to move on from a product that is a “failure” versus pushing a product that you think is actually successful? What do you look for?
Chase: For us, we know like the tortoise and then the tortoise browns are going to be just your everyday, just your go-to. You can’t go wrong with those. We know that no matter what we do, everything we come out with must have either black or brown just because those are our best sellers no matter what. We start there and then we work backwards. Then we’ll come up with different color combos. For us, it’s all about being super different. It’s very easy to blend in nowadays. For us, we like to get wild. We like to get flashy. We like to be fun. That’s what our lifestyle is in San Diego. It’s very vibrant, it’s very fast paced, it’s very enriched in all these cool different lifestyles that we all live. For us, it’s important that our product exemplify that or replicate that or show off what that lifestyle really is. Yeah, product dev is some of the most fun part of the whole entire process is looking at products from start to finish and going through all those different steps, picking out our favorite ones and feeding them to our customers through surveys and friends and stuff like that. Really having an open mind.
Felix: You said originally the way you validated was to start … Was it a fan page at the time?
Chase: Yeah. We started a fan page before we even actually had a physical pair of shades. The process is still very much the same. We put out different mocks and different designs out there. Then we wait for the feedback to come to us. That’s how we validated it early on. Obviously today it’s a little bit more complex, but we still follow those same traits.
Felix: The fan page that you created, you said that it grew to 2,000 to multiple thousand people. What was the timeline for this? How long did it take to get to that point?
Chase: Literally, it was literally our full-time job. We would wake up and we would just anything we can do to get people to that page was what we did day in and day out. We had a massive following before we even had any shades. It got to a point where people wanted the glasses so much and they wanted to buy them and we were taking so long on everything else, we completely neglected the fact that okay, people want to buy these, now is the time to start, let’s get going. There’s a big gap between that of actually launching the Facebook page until we actually had a physical product. The feedback was excellent. I’m sure we wouldn’t be where we’re at today if we didn’t actually start that way.
Felix: Are we talking about months, weeks, a year before …
Chase: We were about about a year out. We kept telling people, “Oh, we’re going to be available in two months,” then two months turned into three months, three months was five months, then the next thing you know we’re almost a year out and we’re like, “Okay. We either got to do this now or never.” That’s when we got down to business and started diving into manufacturing. Just one door opened to the next. It was just a free for all at that point.
Felix: This delay for about a year was almost you guys just didn’t execute on it just yet. It wasn’t so much that there was a hold up?
Chase: Exactly. We were so entrenched in the fact of like, “Okay, let’s get more Facebook fans. People are liking us.” We were just feeding off the energy of our fans that we completely forgot that we actually have to go out and make this product. We don’t even know how to do that. That was step one. Then step two was this Google search and phone calls and just asking around and networking and just getting creative and resourceful with all of it in ways to take those next steps and then actually creating a product.
Felix: This is a stage that a lot of new entrepreneurs get stuck at where they have success, they’re really focused on one particular task, whether it be marketing, growing the business or just planning it all out. They never get passed that stage and get stuck there and then eventually die there as well. The idea does there, doesn’t get into execution phase. Do you remember the switch? It sounded like you guys were just like, “You know what? Let’s kick ourselves in the butt and let’s get started.” Do you remember how you actually … The first day where you guys decided, “Let’s start executing on this”? What did you do on that day? What did you do during that first month or so where you started to execute?
Chase: It’s funny because since I actually graduated from San Diego State and since we actually had this whole idea planted, the entrepreneurship program at my school just started blowing up. It became a really big tool for all local students of alumnis that wanted to start a business. I got in contact with the entrepreneur guy over at my school and told him the whole idea. This was in December, we’re in December at this point. I told him the idea and he goes, “What are you doing? Just get a pair of sunglasses and show up to Entrepreneur Day on March 15th and put your idea out there. It’s brilliant. Get started now.” He goes, “Stop trying to perfect the sunglass. Your price point is saying that you’re affordable, that you’re going to be a more inexpensive option. Stop wheedling over all these other things and just get going.” That was the day where we were like, “Okay, you know what? Let’s stop all this fluff. Let’s really dive in and let’s just show up to that Entrepreneur Fair on March 15th and just get the whole thing out there.” That’s really what kicked us in the butt and got us going. That meeting was crucial.
Felix: This deadline, too, I think was something to work towards, I think helps a lot too. A specific day where you have to launch, you have to go live, you have to put something out there, I think is a way to start putting things into motion. You can kind of work backwards from there. If you say, “Okay, I’m going to launch something and I’m two months out.” Then you can figure out, okay, what do I have to do in week one, in week two, and so on. I think that kind of deadline helps a lot of people. This group, oh sorry, this Facebook fan page that you guys grew obviously was very successful because it helped launch everything. What was working at the time? What were you guys spending your entire days doing to grow this Facebook fan page?
Chase: Back then it was useful because everything we posted actually got seen by all our fans. Since the algorithm changes have occurred and Facebook is literally a new business and it’s changing every day, it’s become very difficult to get the same results that we used to get, just through all the organic and all the interaction that we got on our own. We wouldn’t be able to probably do the same thing that we did today if we didn’t have that. For us, it was a crucial part in starting the business and validating it and most importantly getting it going. When Facebook changed its ways, we moved to Instagram. Instagram became that next platform for us.
Felix: If you were to start over today, would you say that Instagram is the best platform to go to, especially for your industry, to build a following and then see if your product survives the public?
Chase: Yes, absolutely. Instagram is for sure the number one platform that most people hear about us most. It’s the first touch point that most of our customers see or hear about us and stuff like that. If we were to do it over again, we would definitely start Instagram first and do Facebook advertising as well. Instagram is such an important tool for us because it’s a visual learning platform. Our product is very cool and it’s very photogenic and we have a lot of cool different things that we do with the brand. A lot of that really transpires well visually, so that’s why Instagram is great for it. I mean, any brand is great for Instagram. If you sell a product, it’s definitely the way to go.
Felix: At the time, with Facebook and on Instagram, what was the content strategy? You weren’t just posting these mock-ups, right? Were you posting other things too?
Chase: Yeah, absolutely. When we actually started getting sunglasses in and we started getting going, that’s when Instagram was really fun. I would use it as a networking tool and I would meet photographers on the side. I would send them glasses. They would take the most epic photos we’ve ever seen. We’d be able to share them. That was a really fun part of the business, for me especially because I love networking and I love meeting new people and putting myself out there and stuff like that. It was the Holy Grail of content management and content creation. There’s a lot of talent here in San Diego with photography and stuff like that. We had a lot of natural, good content to start posting right off the bat.
Felix: You were networking with photographers that you’d find on Instagram, meeting up with them in person, getting them the glasses and then they’re just taking photos for you for your Instagram feed?
Chase: Exactly. A lot of these photographers were going out shooting portfolios already. They were going out shooting surfing or going to the beach, just to try to build their portfolio. This was a cool little carry on item that they can just take with them. We didn’t really have to pay for too much content when we first started, which was really cool. We got a lot of really good content. In exchange, we were able to help build their portfolio, talk about their photography, post about them on Instagram and really develop relationships from that point on that we still use today. We’ve helped build a lot of photographers’ Instagrams. We’ve helped have them build their portfolios with us. It’s been a very mutual relationship so far. It’s definitely still something that we do today.
Felix: I like this approach. I’ve heard of obviously influencer marketing where you reach out to influencers that might not be photographers at all and then just try to get them to take a look at your product and hopefully they will post a picture of themselves using the product, wearing the product. You went out directly at people that knew how to take photos, knew how to take great photos and met up with them. I like that’s a great idea. I’ve never heard anyone taking this approach before. Talk us through this. How would you find these photographs and how were you reaching out to them?
Chase: For sure. I would find them through just using the platform, Instagram itself. A lot of these photographers will actually host these InstaMeets. They will actually host Instagram meets in different locations around San Diego where the top Instagrammers go and they shoot photos and they all have a little day out. They go and meet each other and they share photos. It’s really cool. I got into that in its very early stages. I would show in Solana Beach, I would show up in Ocean Beach and I would bounce around San Diego and just meet new photographers and bring a box of sunglasses. Just say, “Hey guys, I’m Chase. I’ve got a sunglass company. I follow all you guys already. Your photos are amazing. I would love to give you guys awesome pairs to photograph. If you guys would be so kind, send them to my email and I would love to share them and post about them on Instagram too.”
It really helped put a face to the name and I think people really liked it because it was real and it was authentic and it wasn’t like it was in advertising or we were trying to use them for any sort of thing that they weren’t wanting. It was a cool way to meet new people and network. All these people, all these photographers would have massive reach at their fingertips. We’re talking photographers that would have hundreds of thousands of followers that are all in one place at one time. You’re like, “Wow. This whole group has 2.5 million people at their fingertips. There’s a lot of power and there’s a lot of value in that.” That helped us really early on to get good content and just to get the brand out there as well.
Felix: You reached out to them ahead of time, or do you just show up and the first time you meet them, what do you pitch them your product? How do you approach them?
Chase: [crosstalk 00:19:39] Yeah. When I would hear about the meet, they’d be like, “Hey, we’re having an InstaMeet at Ocean Beach on Sunday at 2PM.” I would email or I would contact the person that was hosting and I’d be like, “Hey, I have a sunglass company. I want to sponsor the meet. I want to provide everybody there a pair of shades. Is that cool?” They’re like, “Oh, absolutely. That’s awesome. Thank you so much.” I would show up with like 30 pairs of shades and I would give everybody a pair of shades. That would be the challenge, where people would, they would take the shades and it would be whoever got the best photo and posted it and got the most likes, we would give away a $200 card to the site or $200 in sunglasses or something like that. It was a cool way to incentivize all the photographers to get creative and stuff. In exchange, we got unbelievable photos and super cool stuff. Yeah, it was a lot of fun.
Felix: Wow, I really like the strategy. How often were you doing those? Are you taking this approach today?
Chase: Yeah. We’re still doing it today. We were doing this for a good two years. It was cool because I got to meet a lot of new people and it just expanded us. Not only expanded our network, but it just expanded our horizon of just that there’s a lot of cool people that you can meet through Instagram and Instagram’s not a creepy platform by any means. It’s completely normal. Yeah, it’s been awesome.
Felix: One strategy that I’ve heard recently is almost an offshoot of the influencer marketing method, or marketing style, which is more focused on micro-influencers. Brand out there are looking for … Instagram influencers, or Facebook or YouTube influencers, they have very targeted, very specific audiences. Now when you were finding these photographers and going to these InstaMeets, did you care so much about what their audience was like, or were you willing to meet any and all photographers? How specific or how much of a criteria did you have before reaching out to a photographer and going to these InstaMeets?
Chase: For sure. When we first started it wasn’t so much of like, “Oh, I don’t like his style,” or, “I like his style.” It was a numbers game at that point. We were small and we needed the reach. We didn’t care about who saw it. It was like, “If this guy has 400,000 followers, then that’s 400,000 new people that are going to hear about us.” We weren’t as selective back then especially with photographers. A lot of photographers have really cool, creative style. In terms of the influencer marketing for people that actually wear the product and that take pictures of themselves and post about it, that’s something that we’re a little bit more selective on. In terms of photography, we like to let the photographer just work its magic and really add its special sauce to all the photos that they’re taking. We don’t really provide too much guideline and stuff like that. We just say, “Hey, check out our feed. This is what our style is. Add your special sauce to it.” As a photographer, you really like that creativeness. Instagram really gives you that avenue to show that.
Felix: Clearly, the network that you built has been very powerful and helpful for your business. One aspect of growing a network and a network that gets really large is that it can also become overwhelming to manage and just to stay in touch with all these people that you’re working with, all these people that you worked with. What’s your method? If you’re growing a network so quickly so large, how do you make sure that you’re able to stay in touch with everybody and stay relevant in their lives?
Chase: For sure. That’s also another thing is it’s hard to be able to talk to everybody at once. We got a couple interns and we got some help to keep everything all together. We just really adopted a really solid footprint here in San Diego. We have photographers coming into our office all day, I mean all day, picking up sunglasses and stuff. It was really cool because they would just pop in say, “Hey, I’m going to shoot. You guys mind if I grab a couple pairs?” Sometimes we’d get five, sometimes we’d get ten people walking in and we’ll get photos from all different angles at different times. The content that we were getting at that time really made it worth it. Just because we had so much cool stuff to share and it made us want to grow our followers even more so more people can see it. In terms of influencer marketing and trying to keep in touch with certain people, it wasn’t so much of an issue for us. Obviously we wanted to reach as many people as possible, but we were just getting such good content at that time that we were just more focused on how do we get more existing customers to our page and stuff like that.
Felix: It’s a funny image thinking about just photographers walking into your office and picking up glasses, just walk in pick up sunglasses from you guys. Do you look at the numbers, or the ROI for something like this? It sounds like it could get expensive very quickly if you don’t control some of it. Did you have any issues with that?
Chase: Absolutely. When we first started we could budget out, we would have a couple boxes and we would burn through. A lot of the products that we’re using were samples and stuff, so they were either returns or they were stuff that we couldn’t really sell. They were photograph-able. We would really pick and choose. Obviously we knew that product was cash at that point and cash was crucial to hang onto and manage. At the same time, it’s like the photos we were getting we knew were so strong that we can eventually use for years to come. Photographers themselves aren’t very promotional people. They’re not going to shout you out on Instagram and say, “Hey, follow @BlendersEyewear.” You know what I mean? They’re more conscious on the words they use and stuff they post as opposed to influencers where they just want a check for 400 bucks and a caption that’s five characters. It wasn’t as bad for us.
Felix: Makes sense. Do you let the photographers, or these influencers, choose the products that they want themselves? I think there is also this debate that goes on internally when someone’s thinking about work with influencers, which is to push specific products that they’re launching, they’re trying to release. Then in the other end, you want to make sure that it’s as organic of a shout-out or as organic as a promotion as possible so that the influencer actually picks a product that they want themselves. How do you guys straddle between these two, this range?
Chase: Back then it was like any sunglasses we had in stock we were going to have for awhile, just because we were slow moving. We weren’t particular on what we sent out and what the photographer wanted and what they didn’t want. Now it’s like we want to make sure we’re getting the photographer A, stuff that they’re going to want to wear and B, stuff that we know that we are either going to be launching soon or are going to be talking about. There’s more of a strategic approach to it now as opposed to back then. Yeah, moving forward it’s still a great tool that we still use. Our business was built on relationships and networking through these different platforms. Obviously they change with time and they change quickly. With how everything’s moving now, it’s like everything has a dollar sign to it. It’s harder to get your brand out there. There’s more brands to compete against and there’s more content to compete against. It’s a constant challenge for sure, but we still have very strong content and it’s only getting better.
Felix: Once you worked with a photographer for the first time, maybe you met just through the InstaMeet and they’re taking photos for you, once you’ve built that relationship, made that relationship in the first place, what happens next? Are you selective with which ones you follow up with afterwards? How do you continue to work with these photographers and continue to build the relationship?
Chase: Then for us it’s like then we’re going out seeking new photographers of guys that are getting really good. We’re keeping a very close eye on some of those guys. Not only do we wait for the photographers to reach out to us, but we’re going actively after new photographers that we all like and we think are really cool and have a cool style. That’s important because as a brand your products evolve, the company evolves, you get bigger. You want to adapt that image and adapt that look. We don’t want to be posting the exact same photos that we were posting four years ago. We need to adapt with that change and innovate and progress and continue to show really strong and creative content. We’re actively looking for new photographers and new influencers to partner with and stuff like that.
Felix: I see. You’re looking for new photographers, new influencers, new styles. You usually don’t return back to the photographers that you’ve worked with the first time?
Chase: Yeah, we still have a handful of guys that we do work with. Some of the photographers that we worked with back in the day, they are limited to where they can go. They shoot a lot of the same places and they shoot a lot of the same things. There’s only so many times where you can look at a pair of shades on a rock at the same angle. For us we realized like, “Okay, although the content is strong we need to expand that because our brand’s getting bigger, our products are getting better, our reach is getting larger. We need to be expanding our content reach.” From that point on, we’re actively looking for new people to partner with and content to get just because it is getting better every day. It’s important that we are front running that.
Felix: That makes sense too. Once you work with an influencer once, the next impression, that next shout-out, next promotion that they might do for you, organically or paid, there is a point of diminishing returns where each successive promotion will become less and less profitable because it’s the same audience. It might have grown but it’s still in large part the same audience. Now I want to talk about the pricing of your products. Like you were saying, this $20 to $45 price range didn’t see anywhere else in the marketplace. Everyone else fell way below that or way above that. Were you ever worried that another company or brand might see your success and see that there’s a market that is underserved and decide to move into it, either from going from $5 and building a more premium version of their glasses or someone that is a Gucci, or maybe not Gucci, but a much more expensive brand deciding to move down to your price point?
Chase: That was one of the biggest things that kept us going every single day is we knew that we had something solid here and we knew that it was going to get crowded quickly. The end goal was that, or not the end goal but just that we knew as we got into it furthermore that there was only going to be a handful of companies that can actually withstand the test of time and hit this market. We knew we had to move quickly. When we first started, there was only about a few … There’s a few companies doing it. There was a few. There wasn’t a handful. It seems like everyday we’re finding new sunglass companies, new competitors, that are all trying to do the exact same thing. It’s funny because as an e-commerce store it’s like you can be California, but be in Minnesota. It makes it a challenge for us just because we have a lot of things that work to our advantage, but e-commerce is moving so quickly and there’s so much demand for our products right now that we have competitors literally piling in every single day. They’re not all great and there’s some really good ones but it keeps us on our toes constantly. It’s one of those things where you just can’t slow down. You got to be quick on everything.
Felix: You noticed that there was this market but you knew that the window to get in was shrinking so you had to move quickly, you had to execute quickly, but now that you’re in it and then you see all these competitors popping up, moving into the space, what do you guys do, maybe not on a daily basis, but on a frequent basis to entrench yourself into the market as one of the true competitors, one of the long lasting competitors at this price point, at this range, serving these type of customers?
Chase: I think for us we pride ourselves on passion. We pride ourselves on customer attention and customer support. We’re very close with our customers. They’re like family to us. We try to hold onto that as long as we can. As a brand that’s growing quickly, you lose that touch and you lose that special sauce and that interaction and that engagement. We try to hold onto that for as long as we can, just because that’s what people … People love that. When they get to interact with the brand, when they get to talk to us or meet us or call us or when they get their order in the mail, they’re instantly so stoked and so happy. That comes from just living an authentic lifestyle that we actively promote, that we actively live. It’s very real. I think trying to tell that story and to continue to make good products and to stay true to our messaging and to our customers and what they want is crucial for our success going forward.
Felix: What have you found to work well when you want to stay in touch with your customers, when you want to provide that great customer service? What are some key things that you guys try to make sure you hit on at every interaction or at least hit on at some point with a customer to make sure that they do stay close in touch with you guys?
Chase: All those little things. When customers leave order notes on their order say, “Hey, I would love a few extra stickers.” We’ll toss in ten. When customers say, “Hey, I had a scratch in my lens. Is there anything you guys can do?” Sure, we’re going to give you a free pair. We just go above and beyond in any sort of way we can. Sometimes we’ll send out the wrong order by accident. We’ll get 300 orders and we’ll send out a few orders that are actually wrong, where a customer ordered a pair and they received a pair that they didn’t order. They’ll call us be like, “Hey, I received the wrong pair,” they’re kind of upset. We’ll be like, “No problem. Keep that pair. Pass it onto a friend. We’re going to go ahead and send you out another pair.” They’re like, “Oh my God. That’s so cool.” It’s really that interaction that we have with our customers in different ways that we hold onto and that we cherish and that we pride ourselves on. Any sort of way we can add that extra value to them to be personable is really important for us.
Felix: You also mentioned that one of the ways that you are able to compete so much in the marketplace is to let that passion bleed through, right? Live that lifestyle. Now when you are an ideal customer, when you are in that lifestyle, I think one of the difficult things is that you might be so close to it that you might not recognize key traits, I guess, that are representative of that market that you’re in. How do you translate your lifestyle, the way that you guys live your life, the things that you believe in, into your messaging and into your marketing? Is there an approach that has worked well for you to make that kind of transition from this is the way we live into this is how we can represent our brand?
Chase: Yeah, I think that trickles in to everybody that works for us. We all share similar values, we all like the same things, we all love surfing, we all love going to the beach, we love going to music festivals and stuff like that. That’s really we go to see all the new trends and all the traits and the different styles that are actually hitting the market is going to these big events and seeing all these different … These big brand building events where hundreds of thousands of people are coming together and that’s really a time for us to look at what everybody’s doing and stuff like that. Just being in San Diego, it’s America’s finest city and people travel here all the time and they vacation here. This city’s constantly evolving. We’re in a really good place, selling a good product that’s naturally fitting for our demographic in our location. It’s been good.
Felix: Yeah, I guess you can’t really complain about that kind of market research. It sounds like a lot of fun. You mentioned that, I think in the pre-interview notes, about how, or questionnaire, is about how you do a lot of brand collaborations for brand awareness and credibility. Can you say more about this? What is an example of a brand collaboration?
Chase: That started early on in San Diego with just teaming up with all the clubs and all the day parties and all the different music concerts. That was embedded in us very early. Now it’s on a much larger scale where we’re partnering with music festivals, like the Groove Cruise, which is a big music festival on a cruise ship and it goes to Miami and it goes to Mexico, and Lollapalooza which is a huge music festival in Chicago. What we do is there’s a couple different ways that we actually work through those. One is we actually team up and create custom glasses for their entire event. We’ll say, “Hey, we want to team up. We want to make you guys custom sunglasses. You guys have 100,000 staring at these stages with no sunglasses. We want to come in and really craft a cool product that works for you, works for us.”
Then we’ll do a revenue share on something like that, or we’ll go a different route and actually sell the glasses to the company or to the venue or event what have you at a wholesale cost or a really good deal. They’ll buy those from us. We’ll manufacture for them and then we go to market with them and they basically sell all the product on their website, they sell them at the event and stuff like that. In terms of brand awareness and brand presence, those two have been by far the biggest because we have people and customers that are emailing us, “Oh my God. I saw you at Lollapalooza,” or, “You guys are working with the Groove Cruise,” or, “You guys are with Gareth Emery.” It gives the customers validation and it gives the brand validation that they’re buying into something that’s cool, that’s unique and that’s real. That’s kind of on the rise in important trending places.
Felix: Do all these brands that you want to collaborate with, they all say yes right off the bat or how do you convince them to … I guess, how do you begin to pitch them on collaborating with you especially early on when you weren’t as big as you are today?
Chase: Totally. That’s definitely a tough sell, especially on some of the bigger fish. When you start working with people, you can start really working through some of the kinks and bouncing more ideas off them. To get the time of day from the big music festivals is slim to none. You’ve got to know the right people, you’ve got to have the right approach and you’ve got to have a track record. You’ve got to be able to show them what you’ve done. For us, we had to start small. We had to start small here in San Diego with the Hard Rock Hotel and work our way up that ladder.
I think for us we use the shades as another form of currency. We’re basically like, “Hey, it’s no risk for you. We love your venue. We support it. We go to it every year. We want to create an awesome style sunglass and product that you guys can put your name behind and we can co-brand and you can sell to your customers or to everybody attending the event.” When we show it in that light, it’s a natural fit for them, it’s a natural fit for us and stuff like that.
Felix: How do you know which, especially today when you can work with so many different brands, can collaborate with so many different brands, how do you filter it down and narrow down the right brands to collaborate with?
Chase: We like to do stuff that we are all invested in personally. We love the Coachellas, we love the Lollapaloozas, we love all the mainstream festivals and stuff like that. A lot of that stuff starts here in San Diego. We’re always looking for new different ways to work with new people and different ideas for glasses to come out with. Then we just start reaching out. I’ve developed quite a extensive background of different connections I’ve met throughout the time. That’s a huge part of it as well. It’s just meeting new people and start working with people. Really getting out of the office a little bit more and get away from being behind the screen and more real life stuff. It really helps because we are selling sunglasses and all of these people are going to these events. They all need sunglasses. They sure don’t want to lose their $200 Ray Bans when they go. If we can show that in the right messaging, it works.
Felix: You also mentioned that these brand collaborations raise credibility. Can you say more about that? How does that work?
Chase: For the credibility, it’s we get to co-brand together. We’re making sunglasses with their logo, our logo on it. We get to basically partner up with them and say, “Hey, you can see our sunglasses at Lollapalooza or you can check us out here.” For us, it’s like selling to Nordstrom. It’s like, “Oh, okay, Nordstrom isn’t going to be your best account because they’re hard to work with, but it’s bait to get other stores.” For us it does get a lot of awareness because they post about it, they talk about it. It’s not the best return in terms of ad spend, but for us we know we’re getting the marketing value and the brand presence value which is very, very, very important these days. People need to see your product in big settings, in popular settings, in trending places. For us, we know that there’s a lot of value in that and we know that we’re going to hopefully make that up on the back end by just talking about it and promoting it and posting about it on social media.
Felix: Speaking of making it up on the back end, how do you usually measure the success of a brand collaboration?
Chase: That’s a tough one. It’s not apples to apples, that’s for sure. We know that we’re going to set aside a certain budget. We know what that budget’s going to translate into how many sunglasses we can create. If we can do a rev share, if we can do a rev share that’s where we can really look at the metrics and the performance of it is because it purely is performance based. For example, for the Groove Cruise which is the festival on the cruise ship, we go out and say, "Okay, we’re going to make 2,000 pairs of shades. We’re going to team up on the marketing. You’re going to post about it, we’re going to post about it. We’re going to cover all the costs.
We’re going to cover all the manufacturing costs for you and we’re going to basically take all that on financially as well, but we’re going to lean on you for the marketing. We want your email list. We want you to talk about it on Instagram. We want to do giveaways on your Instagram,“ and stuff like that. Whatever we sell, we share. It’s a split. Depending on the split, it really depends on the people or the companies that we’re working with. That really makes it a mutual bind. That makes them invested in it. That makes them want to talk about it. For us, those are always the most fun. After we manufacture the products, then it’s like, ”Okay, let’s team up on the marketing. Let’s sell these things as quickly as we can. How can we do that?" That’s always the next piece to the puzzle or the next game to figure out. We get a lot of value from that too.
Felix: I like how you make sure that the other partner has skin in the game and it’s not just all you doing all the work. Not just so much because there is that shared risk, but because they are now invested in the success of that particular campaign, that program, whatever you are running together. Were you able to make these kind of demands to get them to send an email to their list, get them to post on their social media? Were you able to make those kind of demands early on or was it something that only came -
Chase: Yes. We definitely were. It varies from company or brand to brand. Sometimes people will be like, “Oh no, we won’t post on Instagram because we have too many followers,” or blah, blah, blah. If we can find a mutual meeting ground on that then it works. We basically say, “You know what, we’re taking all the risk. We’re putting out all the money. We’re manufacturing. We’re doing all the production for you. We’re going to come up with all creative assets, all the photography, everything for it. Alls we need you guys to do is just post about and talk about it.” They’re invested in that and they see that as a lot of value. For us, we get to team up, we get to work together, both companies get to know each other better and we get to really take things to the next level and really build it around the social interaction on social media too which is always really fun. People love new products. They love giveaways. They love seeing new updates and stuff like that. That’s a blast but it’s definitely a lot of work too, for sure.
Felix: To make sure that all this goes smoothly, are there legal or paperwork that needs to happen for all of these collaborations?
Chase: Some of them there are. Some of them are just a good faith where we’ve been working with them long enough to where we know we’re both going to carry our weight. On the newer ones, definitely. We’ve had our fair share of ones that went south. We’ve definitely got to be cautious of that as we get bigger and as we grow and people that we work with. You’ve got to be careful, for sure. There’s definitely some guidelines and some red tape you got to watch out for.
Felix: Looking back on these successful or these failed collaborations, were there any red flags that you see nowadays that you look out for when you are reaching out or when brands reach out to you.
Chase: When we get a 10 or 12 page contract back, we’re like, “Okay, let’s send this over to our attorney. Let us know if there’s any issues.” We’re not legal masters by any means so we take his advice and stuff. Yeah, we just try to be as objective as possible. We were so accustomed to being a yes man and saying yes to everything that came our way. We loved it. Anytime someone brought a new idea to use, we’re like, “Okay, yeah. Let’s definitely do that now. Sounds awesome.” Then we’d go down this path completely off course of what we’re normally doing. We find out it’d just be a dead end and we just wasted our time. For now, we look at things very objectively and try to see it all the way through to make sure that we’re not wasting our time and this is something that could provide value and potentially a good idea for us.
Felix: I think there’s another stage, another area that we can trip a lot of entrepreneurs up which is saying yes to everything. Do you find that you would have had to say yes more often early on or do you think that you would have been even more successful if you were selective with what you said yes to early on?
Chase: I ask myself that every single day. My mom always raised me to be an opportunity guy, just to keep your options open, growing up and throughout my life. For me, I’ve always loved to keep opportunity open but I know it’s been a gift and a curse at the same time. I still find myself saying yes to things that are off course but I don’t want to close the door. I want to keep it open so I’ll say yes but maybe not right now. Just being affirmative on yes and no it like, my God, you really learn the value of time. You could just be spinning your wheels for so long by just saying yes to everything without really having a clear path or a main goal that you’re going after. Yeah, it goes both ways for sure.
Felix: You would say that you would be more critical early on? You think that would have been more helpful?
Chase: I think probably to keep things focused a little bit more. I think those options and opportunities that did come our way at the beginning stages wouldn’t have gone away. It wasn’t like, “Oh, you’ve got to do this now or never.” I think early on if were a little bit more focused and we were more affirmative on yes this sounds good but we don’t have the time. We need to wait until six months or next year, something like that I think would have definitely helped us. I also think being a yes man got us so many opportunities and so many different options as well. It kept our horizon very, very large.
Felix: Makes sense. For these handshake, or even written deals, what terms in a brand collaboration deal do you need to pay attention to or do you need to really focus on to make sure that it is successful?
Chase: For us, the number one red flag is when we get, “Okay, you need to spend $10,000 or $15,000 or you need to have some sort of monetary sponsorship with this.” For us, it’s like, “No, we don’t want any part of that.” Unless you’re Coachella, unless you’re the biggest of the big, we don’t want to fork over a check. For us, the value isn’t creating more product. We would rather put that money into more product that we could get out on the market that people can touch, that they can wear. For us, that’s the number one thing. If we talk to a new company or a new brand or a new event and they’re like, “Hey, this all sounds great but you’re going to need to spend $15,000 up front,” we’re like, “Nope, sorry.” If we can put that $15,000 into more product, then that’s worth a discussion. For us, we definitely like to use the product as another form of currency in certain situations like that.
Felix: Makes sense. Cool. Can tell us a little bit more about successful the business is today? How much has it grown to?
Chase: We’ll do about two million this year, which is super cool. We’ve been hustling every year, every day. We built this thing from a shoestring, from a $2,000 investment to hopefully two million if all goes well for the holidays.
Felix: Speaking of the holiday, I know Black Friday and Cyber Monday is coming up. The week that we’re recording this, this is the beginning of that big week. You were just telling me before you got on air that it’s been hectic for you. Tell us a little bit more about the preparation that goes into a big sales season like this.
Chase: For sure. Black Friday and Cyber Monday is always the last hurrah of the year. It’s the time to wrap everything up and to see how the whole year’s been. There’s a lot on the line for sure. I think for us, being sunglasses and even though we are in San Diego when it’s 70 degrees all year round, we’re heavily seasonal. After September and August, things kind of slow down a bit. We use Black Friday as a way to push us through the off season and carry us into spring. There’s a lot on the line. There’s a lot of preparation on all the back end and all the internal assets and different things we need to get ready. It’s always stressful but it’s always fun to work through it all and to see how big we can make it.
Felix: Very cool. In order to manage this big holiday rush and also just general running the company, are there any apps or services that you rely on to help run the business?
Chase: Yeah. We use Basecamp for our project management system, which is awesome. It keeps everybody in the loop. You can assign certain projects to certain people and really keep a good grasp on everybody’s tasks. We have Friendbuy as a referral program, so we make sure that’s ready to go for Black Friday and Cyber Monday so we can hit everybody with that. Zendesk for customer service, 460 which is awesome for a shop-able Instagram feed. Shout-out to Michael over there. He’s been awesome for helping us out. They’ve really allowed us to show our Instagram and make that into a shopping experience, which is really cool.
Hypervisual, which is a landing page app. Toby does a phenomenal job. His app’s actually still in beta but we’ve actually been working with him to build that app because we are showing our products in new ways now. We’re starting to take a landing page approach where we’re talking about it more in depth and we’re telling more of a story. That’s been awesome. ShippingEasy for all the fulfillment and operations side. The Google Analytics for just the data and all the tracking, like on the website and stuff like that. Klaviyo for all of our emails. Yeah, I mean it goes on and on. We have all the apps and all the tools. We’re always looking for new ones as well.
Felix: Very cool. What do you want to see the brand, the company, be in a year from now?
Chase: In a year from now, we have a lot planned out for the next 12 months. We’re coming out with snowboard goggles, which is really cool and we’re super excited for, which is going to hopefully open up a new market for us. We have new frames with new styles to keep things fresh consistently. We had a really good recipe last year for just bringing new products, so if we continue to do that more frequently, we’re confident that that should work. We’re launching prescription as well. Our customers always ask about RX, so we’re looking to bring in a strong prescription lens and offer it throughout all of our frames and come in a little bit under Warby Parker, hopefully, fingers crossed. Really just continue to grow. We think we can double in size next year. If we do all the little things right, if we right through our wrongs from last year and integrate and implement some of those new systems and some of those new product drops and continue to just do everything we’re now but just do it 10X. We’re confident that we can be in a good place.
Felix: Awesome. Sounds like an exciting year. Thanks so much again for your time, Chase. BlendersEyewear.com is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners go and check out if they want to follow along with what you guys are doing?
Chase: Yeah, just make sure to check us out on Instagram. It’ll be your daily dose of cool, vibrant style photos and Facebook. If you’re ever in San Diego, come on by our office. We’re in Pacific Beach. Our door’s always open. We’d love to meet you guys. Thanks so much, Felix. It’s been awesome and we will talk to you soon.
Felix: Cool. Thanks, Chase.
Chase: Thanks buddy.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the E-commerce Marketing Podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.