With a hundred dollars and a dream, Brian Lim launched a business from the trunk of his car destined to become a multimillion-dollar empire.
In this special case study, The Emazing Group is revealing how it:
- Scaled sales from $15M in 2016 to $30M in 2018
- Automates workflows to optimize marketing and margins
- Executes multi-channel, multi-brand ecommerce across sites, marketplaces, social platforms, and O2O retail
“We’re constantly experimenting to identify the biggest growth opportunities,” says Brian Lim, founder and CEO of The Emazing Group.
“Once we pinpoint a needle-mover, we build and optimize processes that allow us to scale rapidly. This includes automating as much as possible and Shopify Flow helps us do that.”
Long before the son of hardworking immigrants became a self-made millionaire. Prior to world-famous investors fighting to give him money in front of millions of TV viewers.
Even before receiving letters from customers who credit his products with saving their lives …
“We got kicked out of a lot of parking lots,” Lim recalls with a laugh.
Less than a decade ago, Lim was hawking a brand new type of LED-embedded gloves out of his trunk. It was a bootstrapped effort started with one hundred dollars, a category-creating idea, and enough hustle to overcome his long shot in life.
We don’t normally do this
Given the value and depth of this multi-brand ecommerce case study, Brian Lim and The Emazing Group have agreed to let us make the entire article available for download.
You can jump ahead to any of the below sections:
- Falling in “Love” with More Than a Product
- Making Them Feel Like “Superstars”
- Overcoming the “Shittiest” Day Ever
- Saving a “Half-Million Dollars the First Year
- Bra-Killing and SEO Backend Chaos
- Scaling Multiple Channels Online and Off
- Growing Multi-Brand Ecommerce: $15M to $30M
- Getting Older and Sustaining Culture
Or, if you don’t have time to digest and apply the lessons right now …
1. Falling in “Love” with More Than a Product
Lim was hooked.
Not only on the beautiful woman who would years later become his wife but also on the gloves she had introduced him to.
“I’m a glover,” Lim says with a grin. “I love it.”
LED light gloves, as Lim describes, are the creative medium for light show artists who use them to choreograph mind-blowing dance performances to the tune of their favorite music.
Unfortunately, first-generation glove lights left a lot to be desired.
“The first gloves off the shelf were terrible,” Lim says. “They were big and bulky and didn’t allow us to perform the way we wanted. I didn’t like the product we were using and wanted to create something better”
So, Lim took the money he made reselling gloves out of his car trunk, hired an engineer, and began producing what would lay a foundation for the future of gloving.
It was a decision that would dramatically change Lim’s life and save many others.
2. Making Them Feel Like “Superstars”
“Our customers were not the cool kids in school,” Lim says proudly. Far from it.
Instead, they were the shy and unpopular kids. Never feeling as if they fit in, according to Lim, caused some to experience potentially deadly mental health issues.
We have saved some of these kids from suicide. We have a bigger mission, and that’s saving lives.
Every day, Lim gets messages from customers who say the gloves he sells via EmazingLights have changed their lives in ways they never thought imaginable.
“Gloving makes you feel like a superstar,” Lim explains. “When you perform for an audience of one like many glovers do it’s the first time some of these kids have ever felt like a superstar.”
Image via EmazingLights’ Glove 4 Glove
The performances, especially when well received, build confidence.
Serving that subculture helped Lim grow The Emazing Group into an $11 million dollar business by 2015.
“I feel I’m actually making a difference in the world,” Lim says. “To effect these many lives so positively, I can’t imagine doing anything I’m more passionate about.”
That passion, however, was soon to be tested.
3. Overcoming the “Shittiest” Day Ever
One hundred people elbowed their way into EmazingLights’ headquarters.
Lim’s friends, family, and co-workers had come together to celebrate the biggest opportunity in the company’s history …
While the episode only aired 10 minutes of Lim’s segment, the Sharks, as Lim explains, “actually grilled me for a solid hour-and-a-half on why I deserved a $650,000 investment for 5% of EmazingLights.”
The first offer came from Kevin O’Leary: a $650,000 loan.
“No,” was Lim’s response. “I’ve never gone into debt for this company, so why start now?” Then, the bidding began.
“These were some of the biggest deals ever offered on the show. There was nothing easy about this choice. I kept coming back to the fact that it wasn’t about the money, it was about the value the investor would bring to the company.
“Lori and Robert are incredible at what they do, but at the end of the day, Mark and Daymond had the experience we needed to grow Emazing in the direction we wanted. And haven’t been the same since.”
Back at headquarters, Lim’s team and supporters had planned to watch the episode live on one large screen and monitor site traffic and sales on an adjacent screen.
They thought they were ready for the spike in traffic that often accompanies an appearance on Shark Tank. EmazingLights scaled up to thirty servers, load tested its site, and prepared for the show an entire year.
“We spent an arm and a leg,” Lim says. Nonetheless … the site went down.
It was terrible,” Lim recalls. “No one could purchase anything. When you get a massive amount of traffic like that, you have to capitalize or you’re screwed.
Despite spending as much as $200,000 to bulletproof the site against the surge, Lim says the crash not only cost him countless sales but opportunities to impact young lives.
“It made what should’ve been one of the happiest days of my life into the shittiest,” Lim says of the crash.
Worse, the meltdown continued as the site performed only marginally better for the West Coast rebroadcast.
Lim could no longer trust his ecommerce platform to build the company of his dreams. He needed a platform that could scale on demand if he was to save lives and make an even bigger difference.
4. Saving a “Half-Million Dollars the First Year”
What about Shark Tank reruns?
That was just one of the questions Lim asked after the site crash. Investing so much money in a platform that didn’t work the first time would not be a mistake Lim would make again.
Shortly after the Shark Tank crash, Lim replatformed EmazingLights and its two sister companies, iHeartRaves and IntoTheAM, to Shopify Plus, an enterprise ecommerce solution for high-volume merchants.
“Oh, absolutely, I wish we had switched to Shopify sooner,” Lim says. “Everything was such a struggle with Magento but with Shopify Plus, it’s so easy.”
Besides the Shark Tank debacle, Lim says the old site routinely crashed when EmazingLights would offer big sales that attracted lots of traffic.
Today, his team no longer feels as if it’s wasting time preparing for and marketing sales as the new site automatically scales to meet demand without any effort or additional preparation.
“The best part is I don’t even have to plan for surprise reruns,” Lim says. “I didn’t even know the episode was re-airing recently, and all of a sudden traffic and conversions were both up. It’s heaven with Shopify Plus, man!”
“Switching to Shopify Plus saved us as much as a half-million dollars the first year,” Lim says.
But before Lim reveals how he uses the savings to experiment for growth and double The Emazing Group’s sales in just three years …
Migrating also resulted in something just as valuable as gold: finding a once lost sequin bra.
5. Bra-Killing and SEO Backend Chaos
Katie Knoll, the company’s Digital Marketing Manager, was proud of her bra …
Well, not her bra per say, but the popular sequin bra she marketed via iHeartRaves and held the hard-earned top organic search result on Google.
It was one of the brand’s best-selling products until, Knoll says, Magento cost the product its top spot and an untold number of sales.
Specifically, Knoll cites that URLs would randomly change for products, which caused its brands to lose backlinks and drop dramatically in search results.
“The problem just became worse over time and we would have never been able to scale our SEO strategy if we wanted to continue using Magento,” Knoll says. “We lost a lot of money thanks to Magento’s backend chaos.”
The company’s search rankings would spike fifty spots one week and plunge fifty spots the next.
After migrating, with help from Traffic Control — an integration that allows merchants to automatically generate unlimited redirects — Knoll and her team were able to fix years of “404 error pages”: 650,000 pages, to be precise.
As the brands moved forward, says Knoll, Shopify Plus made it relatively easy to optimize for page titles, meta descriptions, SEO friendly URLs, and a solid internal linking structure.
Even more important, Knoll says the company’s SEO strategy resulted in material sales growth:
- 31% YoY increase in organic traffic over a recent six month period at its EmazingLights brand
- 130% YoY increase in organic traffic and a 22.59% increase in conversion rates which culminated in a 227% increase in revenue, or $98,000, for an average month at its iHeartRaves brand
Google Incognito results for sequin bra
Similarly, EmazingLights now ranks number one for a host of bottom-line-driving keywords:
Google Incognito results for light gloves
The impact that Shopify had on our SEO strategies was groundbreaking. We could have never achieved such results with Magento.
“We were able to lock down top spots for some of our most valuable keywords, bringing in new customers and more revenue than ever before,” Knoll says. “We would have never been able to scale without Shopify!”
6. Scaling Multiple Channels Online and Off
The strategies and tactics Lim used to turn one hundred dollars into his first million are certainly not adequate to continue expanding. “Each department in the company has to scale to keep up with growth,” Lim says.
The Emazing Group’s sales increases look like this:
- $15 million in 2016
- $20 million sold in 2017
- $30 million projected in 2018
To achieve this — and outline a roadmap for future growth — Lim suggests the company is in a perpetual state of experimentation:
We’re constantly experimenting to identify the biggest growth opportunities. Once we pinpoint a needle-mover, we build and optimize processes that allow us to scale rapidly.
With needle-moving opportunities identified, Lim and his team then spread the growth driver across multiple channels in a way that creatively blends the digital and physical worlds.
In fact, The Emazing Group generates 30% of its yearly revenue from channels outside its branded online stores:
To ensure it’s protecting profit, The Emazing Group uses Amazon to sell higher margin products.
With the company’s sales growing so rapidly, Lim and his team have not forgotten about also scaling up their backend operations, in part, to ensure they remain in good standing with Amazon and its strict fulfillment requirements.
The Emazing Group’s Amazon pages create a multi-brand experience while protecting margins
“We’re now shipping more than 250-thousand orders a year,” Lim says. “It means we’re constantly focusing on our warehouse, constantly hiring, and measuring our success so we can become even more efficient.”
Across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, The Emazing Group operates no less than 13 social media accounts with over 2.5 million followers.
To give you a window into their strategy …
Each of its three verified Instagram accounts leverage both organic engagement as well as Shoppable Instagram posts and Stories:
Through Facebook, the brands not only focus on new customer acquisition but also product-page-level retargeting to create personalized ad journeys that lift conversion rates:
Notice that the same products visited below in the Custom Checkout section were served up via IntoTheAM’s retargeting on Facebook
Lastly, EmazingLights’ YouTube channel — 100k subscribers strong — plays host to a thriving community:
It should come as no surprise that Amazon itself is planning to open three thousand retail locations when you consider that online-to-offline (O2O) commerce is estimated to be a $1 trillion opportunity.
It’s why The Emazing Group has already made its way from online to offline with its own branded two-thousand-square-foot retail location in Covina, California.
“It generates about $750,000 a year in sales,” Lim says. “Even more important is that it offers us an opportunity to interact with our customers face to face which offers important insight for product development.”
The Emazing Group regularly hosts pop-up stores to coincide with events its audience already attends.
Its largest pop-up partnership is with the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for the annual Lux-Rave, which recently attracted an estimated 50,000 visitors.
“This is our fifth year and it was the biggest yet,” Lim says. “We had to add more cash registers and double the number of dressing rooms. In 2018, we covered 10,000 sq. feet. In 2019, we’re doubling that.”
Sure, we’ve described how Lim and his team have built a culture based on experimentation. But where do those ideas come from and how are they prioritized?
7. Growing Multi-Brand Ecommerce: $15M to $30M 💡
You’ve heard the cliche: what got you here won’t get you there.
It’s a mantra that may be a bit tired but it’s most definitely true of The Emazing Group’s rapid ascent from $15 million to $30 million in sales.
“We’re proud of what we were doing three years ago but we certainly wouldn’t have doubled sales so rapidly by continuing to do the same things at the same scale,” Lim says.
The recipe: one part experiments, one part scaling the things that work.
“The committee’s job is to figure out which opportunities will make us the most money,” Lim says.
Where might the committee begin its search?
To start, the committee conducts a traditional SWOT analysis:
- Strengths to invest in more
- Weaknesses to address or abandon
- Opportunities to invest in aggressively
- Threats to rank and then ignore or address
In the case of opportunities, that’s where the team’s commitment to experimentation and moving rapidly on areas that generate the greatest ROI or meet IRR (internal rate of return) requirements comes in.
How do you tactically double down on strengths, address weaknesses, experiment with growth opportunities, and extinguish threats?
“We brainstorm ideas based on Shopify Plus’ product releases,” Lim reveals.
Initially, Lim’s team tests a product on one of its brands. If it works and meets IRR requirements, the product is scaled across each of The Emazing Group’s brands.
Here are two products Lim and his team have integrated across The Emazing Group:
The Emazing Group uses Shopify Scripts to offer an ultra-custom checkout experience that personalizes, drives larger AOV, maximizes shipping costs, and lifts conversion rates.
Specifically, Lim and his team make it easier to checkout by offering social logins that auto-populate and expedite the checkout process.
When a user is logged in using social credentials, The Emazing Group can use the data available to personalize and offer the customer a better, more valuable experience. “Knowing who the customer is allows us to offer them tailored incentives,” Lim says.
The company’s custom checkout also allows customers to save their credit card information to expedite the checkout process for future purposes.
Shopify Flow is the first ecommerce automation software that can automate business processes in just a few clicks. Since its launch, merchants have already offloaded 45 million decisions, letting them focus on growing bigger, faster.
Using a three-step visual builder, Shopify Flow lets you put repetitive and time-consuming tasks on autopilot.
The Emazing Group uses Flow to automate many backend processes. One of the most important achieves an impressive trifecta: protects profit margins, informs marketing spend, and matches the right products with the right sales channels.
“We’re using Flow to help us better allocate marketing spend and protect profit margins,” Knoll says. “With Flow we tag our less profitable items which automatically informs our decisions regarding which channels to sell through and how much to spend on PPC campaigns.”
Given the value and depth of this multi-brand ecommerce case study, The Emazing Group has let us make the entire article available for download.
8. Getting Older and Sustaining Culture
It happens to us all if we’re lucky …
But getting older can be a significant risk to business if your target market and workforce are relatively young.
It’s something Lim is guarding against with the creation of a culture committee. Many of The Emazing Group’s sixty full-time employees are the same age as the company’s target market. Hence, they’re better positioned to take the temperature of the customer and ensure The Emazing Group remains in sync — both internally and externally.
“The executives are getting older and are not as in touch with younger team members,” Lim says. “We want to give younger team members a voice so our culture evolves.”
Recently, executives dangled a reward — popular festival tickets — to encourage the committee to make suggestions on company culture. Twenty-five submissions came in and the executives learned the company was wasteful in using too many plastic cups.
Within a week, the cups were gone in favor of reusable and more sustainable hydroflasks.
The message is the best ideas are the winners regardless of whether they come from the top or bottom of the organization. It’s a cultural improvement that also resulted in a business efficiency; so it’s a double win.
Not bad for something that started from love with roots in a fast-food parking lot and has grown into a $30 million business that’s saving lives and changed Lims’ own.