Live video, especially on Facebook, gives you a chance to pull in members of your audience and communicate with them in creative ways.
But by turning it into a recurring part of your social media strategy, you can take it to another level by creating your own interactive social media show.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn how these two entrepreneurs do most of their direct communication with their community through Facebook Live videos—even going so far as to crowdsource product names and perform product releases live.
Marley Marotta and Latif Hamilton are the founders of Spirit Hoods: the original manufacturer of animal-inspired faux fur accessories for men, women, and children.
We let people know via newsletters that we’ll be releasing something... At the bottom you might see information that says, “SpiritHoods TV is Tuesday and Thursdays at 9 a.m.”
Tune in to learn
- What is stopping power and why your brand needs it
- How to constantly design apparel that will sell out
- How to use Facebook Live for product launches
Listen to the podcast below (or download it for later):
- Store: SpiritHoods
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: FOMO (Shopify app), Yotpo (Shopify app)
Felix: Today I’m joined by Marley and Latif from SpiritHoods. SpiritHoods is the original manufacturer of animal inspired faux fur accessories for men, women and children. Started in 2008, and based out of Los Angeles. Welcome guys.
Latif: Hey, what’s up. Thanks for having us.
Felix: Yeah. Excited to have the both of you on. Tell us more about what is the most popular product that you guys sell in your store.
Marley: Well we have anything pretty much gray wolf. If you’re not familiar with SpiritHoods, we are a faux fur clothing brand and accessories brand and we sell … We’re trying to position ourselves as a healthy alternative to real fur. We’ve got a home goods line, we’ve got a jacket line right now, and we’ve got, which is what we originally started with, what we call a spirithood which is basically a faux fur hat that comes down into scarves and has paws.
Latif: Yeah, anything that is a gray wolf tends to sell pretty well.
Felix: Got it. You mentioned home goods now, and then the spirit hood, the jacket that you first started with. How many products or how many SKUs did you launch it with?
Felix: Yeah, from the beginning.
Latif: Yeah. In the beginning it was like 10 products because they were all hoods. In the beginning, they were all hoods. We didn’t know what we were doing, really to be honest.
Marley: We went to a trade show and somebody at the trade show was like, “Well, if you want to get into this trade show, you’re gonna need a lion sheet.” Then we Googled it. We’re like, “What’s a lion sheet.”
Latif: Yeah. We just dove in, and it was super fun, super stressful at the same time. But the hoods were what we started with. We had about 10 SKUs. Today, we have maybe 45 SKUs.
Marley: At any given time, we’ve got about 40 to 50 SKUs, but we’re constantly cycling in new products. A big part of our marketing success is limited run collector edition items that are only around for a short period of time. We have a nice community of people that are actually trading and selling these things on the second hand market. Rare ones and things like that. Which is one of our goals from the beginning.
Felix: Yeah, that kind of community is definitely important. Where did this idea first … Before you guys went to this trade show and tried to bust into it, where did the idea come from?
Marley: The idea originally came from we were making them for Burning Man, actually, for years, for personal use. A friend of ours taught us how to sew by hand, is kind of mutant awesome monster faux fur hoods.
Latif: It was like a … One of our original ones was like a goat with wonky ears, and really funny looking. We used to use them for burning man, and make them for burning man.
Marley: Thank you to Zoey if you’re out there, for teaching us the ins and outs of how to sew the original hoods, but yeah. It was years that we did that. We would make them for friends and family, for different events and what not. Then one of our partners at the time, we would get excited, start wearing them out like everyday things instead of just festival situations. People would freak out about them. That happened enough times.
Latif: Just walking down the street, a car would stop in the middle of traffic and be like, “Where’d you get that? What is that?” They were just freaking out.
Marley: It had stopping power, which we thought was one of the major things for our recipe for our product that would do well.
Latif: Marley and I were entrepreneurs before this. We were looking for something new to do and this fell int our laps, and we were able to just take it to where it is today.
Marley: Shout out to our old partner, Alex Mandeluke, who was integral in the creation and bringing to life of SpiritHoods.
Latif: Yeah, absolutely.
Marley: He’s on to different business ventures now, but we were all in it together from the beginning.
Felix: Got it. You guys were creating these for personal use, you were creating them for friends, then you recognized that people were super interested in it because they’re stopping you on the street, asking you, “What is that? Where did you get it at? How can I buy this from you?” The next step was to begin the process of what? Mass producing this? What was the very next step? Is it actually turning this into a business?
Latif: Yeah. Absolutely. What we did is we went to the trade show with samples. We had 10, maybe eight samples. We were talking about stopping power. I think for us, and for me personally when I look at brands or I look at things, I look at everything in terms of stopping power now. If you’ve got a product that has stopping power, that’s I don’t want to say half the battle, but it’s a huge aspect that can really, really help.
Marley: I think as a marketer, it makes your life easier, because you already have something that can start the conversation. It’s easier to pull people in to something.
Latif: Yeah, and then you’re just showing people the beauty of it, you know, the magic of it, which is fun. It’s harder to push something that nobody is noticing. It’s just harder.
We went to the trade show, we had probably eight styles, and we didn’t even have a manufacturer. The trade show was a huge success. It must have been over $40,000 in orders, which for us was mind blowing ’cause we didn’t realize it was gonna be that successful. To date our most successful show was the very first one we ever did. We didn’t know what we were doing in terms of manufacturing. We had to come down to LA. At least I did, I moved to LA pretty quickly in the beginning. Alexander was here in the beginning, already, and we had to find a manufacturing house.
Marley: We were like, “It’s cool. We’ll figure it out. It’ll be easy. You can figure that out.” That proved to be a pretty biblical thing. I think we went through two manufacturers.
Latif: Oh, more than that. Nobody wanted to take the product. Nobody wanted to because the faux fur is slow. When you sew, it’s expensive and slow to sew faux fur. That’s why nobody really does it in the U.S. It was a challenge. We got no’s, and no’s, and no’s. We got price quotes that were astronomical. We were like, “What now is it gonna cost?”
Marley: Or we would a yes, and they would try to do it and give up.
Latif: Yeah. The first yes we got was horrific. The garments were just produced terribly. We had a hundred of each SKU, and they started working on them, and we had to get them all redone by another manufacturer. It took some time to find the right person, but you just keep looking and eventually find somebody that’s resonating.
Felix: These days, what is the criteria, or what’s the testing period that you go through to find out if a manufacturer’s a good fit. Not just for you, but to your point, it also has to be a good fit for the manufacturer.
Latif: Yeah. Absolutely. For us, we’ve had this … We actually still use our old manufacturer, and we switch manufacturers maybe three years ago, but we had the same team. We kept our same team. For us, if you can hang on to a good team, that’s first and foremost, the best thing you can do. We’ve had the same guys for eight years now. Same people working on our products.
In order to find a manufacturer, if you’re gonna be local …
Marley: It’s a specialty thing for us, for ours. I think if you’re out there and you’re making jeans, you’re making T-shirts, it’s not gonna be as much as a hurdle as it is for us, which nobody was really doing what we were doing at the time.
Felix: So real quick, you mentioned that you switched manufactures but kept the team. That’s something that’s normal in the industry where you can just move?
Latif: No, no. That’s not normal. We just had this opportunity where our manufacturer gave us a really short window. She said, “I’m done. I’m selling.” She manufactured for multiple brands, three, when we were one of them. She was being bought by one of the larger manufacturers [inaudible 00:09:16].
Felix: I see.
Latif: We had the opportunity to take the best workers, and she must have had 50 people. We took 10 to 15, or something like that, I think. Yeah, it was 15 I think. We took our 15 best workers, and they wanted to come with us. They had been working on our products for years at that point. That is not normal. That’s definitely not normal.
Usually you’re not as integrated with your manufacturer. I actually think that that’s a con. I think that’s a negative point. There’s a lot of separation between the brand and the manufacturer. I think that’s not a great thing, at least in apparel.
Marley: Definitely lead to a little bit of disconnect with your …
Latif: Yeah. You need to know how long it takes to do this, how many people are required for X amount. Where does it become efficient. Does it become efficient at three people? Does it become efficient at eight people? How does that work? What happens when you change out … Why does a manufacturer require larger units?
A lot of people don’t even understand that. The reason that a lot of manufacturers are requiring larger units is because every time they have change the machines. If you have another order of something, you have a couple of different things in the whip or …
Latif: … styles that you’re working on. Thank you. [inaudible 00:10:31] This all takes time. If you want to build a proper relationship with your manufacturer, with they’re working for you, you’re working for them, there’s a [inaudible 00:10:42] respect, comradery in the process, it helps to really understand the process, spend time with the manufacturer.
Marley: I think an interesting point is we’ve had a lot of … We’ve had good years, we’ve had bad years, we’ve had every kind of different thing happen underneath the sun. Every year you’re trying to problem solve, but we became a pretty big fad very quickly based on the type of product that we had, and we got sucked up into pop culture.
Latif: I mean, it was instant. When he sucked up into pop culture, we went from decent si … Our first year was a million, and we skyrocketed.
Marley: But we also had made our mistakes [inaudible 00:11:30] but our manufacturer at that time basically came up with us at the same time. Our success was intrinsically linked to their success. It changed our lives and the experience that we got, and I think it also changed their lives as well.
Marley: That was probably one of the most successful years they ever had as well. One of the … The husband of the woman who was doing the manufacturing has a huge SpiritHoods tattoo down the side of his body.
Latif: Yeah. I mean, they love us. That’s something that’s really important because if your manufacturer is … It’s a symbiotic relationship. It’s a relationship that needs nurturing. There’s a lot of people that aren’t as familiar with that or they’re afraid to jump in, or they just keep things separate because they’ve got so many things to deal with that it’s hard to really get to know that piece, but that’s your backbone. If you don’t get a delivery, if you have a wholesale order, or you have online sales for Black Friday or something like that, and you don’t have a manufacturer that’s willing to bend over backwards to make sure you’re getting the product and grow with you, you’re gonna have problems. You cannot deliver, that is a problem. It will end your relationship with a big box retailer.
Felix: Because you guys have this experience of building a team over the last 10 years, a manufacturing team, what are some of the most important attributes that you see today when you are looking to hire a member to the team?
Latif: [inaudible 00:12:59] just talking about to the manufacturing team? Or to our SpiritHoods family?
Felix: I guess, specifically to the manufacturing team.
Latif: Yeah. I think for us, we still have … It’s not an internal team, it’s a subcontracted team. I think you need to have a good handle on the questions to ask a manufacturer, the looking and being able to determine who are the other brands they’re working for. Who else do you work for? Who do you currently working for? How do you operate your business? How do you do things? How do you build?
Marley: I would say from an operational standpoint to test the waters first before you switch 100% of your manufacturing based on the dream. You can do this. Well let’s prove to each other that we can do this, before we do it all the way.
Latif: The other thing is it’s not about cheapest production. We do not, we never went for just the cheapest production. That’s a recipe for disaster. There’s a lot of illegal operations going on that are sometimes hard to identify, but you definitely need to check their business license, check and see that they have workman’s comp. You have to get proof of those things. Especially, at least for us, we’re in apparel. I don’t know about the rest of the industries out there but I think it crosses the spectrum. You want to check their stats, and the business licenses, and the dealings that are regulated like that because that’s really important.
If you’re going over to Asia, it’s a completely different ballgame. Asia’s a … that’s something we’re working on right now and that’s a big beast. It’s hard to trust and be comfortable with an operation that’s outside of the country. You just have so much less visibility. You really, really requires a lot of trust. That process is a bit more intensive.
Marley: That’s where pre-existing relationships and connections come in handy instead of blindly looking somebody up and hoping for the best.
Latif: Yeah, it’s good to have mentors or people that are in the same field that can point you to a manufacturer that they work with or they know. As always, you need to go to the manufacturer. Whether it’s in Asia, or it’s in the U.S. If it’s in the U.S., you’re obviously going a lot. But if it’s in Asia, you’re gonna go less, but you need to go there. You need to see the operation. You need to be hands on. That’s really, really important.
Felix: Early on, it sounds like you wanted to go through a lot of this verification. There’s this level of verification you need to do yourself to make sure that they are running things the way that they’re saying they are, they’re the way that you want them to run it, and also to test this by doing this bu doing a smaller production run, just to see if the samples come back the way you expect.
These days, now that you’re 10 years in, what are the challenges that you face today when it comes to manufacturing?
Latif: Yeah. Lastly, just on your last point, I just want to say, visually inspect the place. Visually inspect. What does it look like in there? How do the workers look? Does it look like people are being taken care of? Is it clean? There are big aspects about manufacturing. There’s so many.
Marley: I think manufacturing is one of those things that’s a constant …
Latif: … fireball. It’s a constant …
Marley: It’s a very big job. It’s very important. There’s always … As good as you are, and as well planned as you can be, there’s always gonna be mishaps.
Latif: There’s always challenges. For us, moving to Asia is gonna be, that’s something we’re in the middle of doing. That’s a process. That definitely requires a lot of hands on work.
Marley: I would say that because we’re such a seasonal item and especially when the holidays roll around, we have this really big influx and need for product. It can be hard sometimes to keep up with that demand, especially when you’re working with, for most of the year a smaller team, so you have seasonal workers. I think that’s one of the …
Latif: Yeah. That’s super tough. That’s always been tough for us. We have plans to round that out, but we’re faux fur. For us, we’re highly seasonal and we do most of our business between September and February/March. Rotating workers can be challenging. It’s something that’s really hard because you need people that understand how to make the products. What we do is we actually have workers.
Because we don’t pay pennies, we pay proper wages, and then some, we tend to attract better workers. That means less customer service headaches. But what happens is … If you’re bringing in new workers that are making mistakes, so what we try to do is we have a list of workers that are able to come in during that seasonality and they’re familiar with the product, they worked for us in the past. They may not be our best workers ’cause our best workers are there full-time always, but these guys are very, very capable. A lot of times it’s just the fact that we don’t have the ability to support them full-time, so we bring on the seasonal aspect. But that’s something that can be tricky to do because you have to scale up, and you have to scale up ahead of time.
If you’re producing garments, or you’re producing something, you need product in advance of the month or the season that you’re going into. Otherwise you run out of product, and though that’s a great problem to have to be selling a lot of product when you can’t keep up with demand, it really is challenging ’cause you’re spending time and energy on marketing the products and doing all these things, and you’re not capitalizing and maximizing your revenue, which can be really frustrating.
On the flip side to that, you can make too much inventory, which is very dangerous. That’ll put you out of business. You have too much inventory, your cash flow is tied up, and raw materials, and finished goods. Then all of a sudden you’re into the season and you have too much. You don’t want to damage the brand by doing too heavy of discounts. Your brand has a reputation. If you’re putting things on sale all the time, that’s a problem, so what do you do at that point?
Marley: That’s often times why people will get rid of their inventory to these discount sites. Instead of selling them discounted.
Latif: But if you’re trying to keep a high brand equity, then what hap … For us we have collector’s edition and limited edition things. We don’t want to flip the market with items that can sell well. That’s just not an option for us because it devalues all the other merchandise that we have. It’s a balancing act, you know what I mean?
Felix: Today, how do you try to … Obviously it’s a work in progress, but how do you get the projections and the inventory projections more accurate over time?
Latif: Yeah. We’re kind of a just in time manufacturer. What we’re doing is splitting production between Asia for our core items, so things that are consistent and …
Marley: That’s what we will be doing in the future for part of our manufacturing.
Latif: Yeah. That’s what we’re doing this year. We’ll have a steady supply of core products. Then we have our limited edition and collector edition items. Now we sell a lot of core stuff. Limited edition/collector edition items, those are limited runs. Anywhere from under 50 to a few hundred, or 300 to 500, it just depends on the run.
Marley: I think for the most part, you look at the data, you try to project how are the months trending compared to last year. Are there certain products that are doing better? Are there certain categories that are growing faster than other categories. It’s a calculated guessing game and you try to get it as close as you possibly can. Sometimes you do a real good job, and other times you don’t do as good a job.
Latif: Yeah. It’s just the nature of it. I think you can protect yourself from producing too much inventory by obviously looking at your last year’s sale through, looking at your trajectory for the current year. If your sales are up, that’s a great indicator that you’re gonna do well in the season that you’re thriving in.
You never want to just shoot for the moon. You want to be consistently stepping it up, so small steps. Just like stepping up some stairs, you’re not gonna hop up to the top. You’re not gonna just all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, we’re doing great. ”You have spike in sales. You try to meet that demand, but it’s better to take 80% of the growth that’s happening than to try to hit 100% and then fall off to the other side of that spectrum where you’re having too much inventory. For us, we always keep a good amount of raw materials, and we don’t overproduce in the finished goods. Sometimes that means that things go on backorder.
Marley: I think that having some popular products sell out every now and then, is people realize like, “Oh, I should have got that when I could.”
Marley: It creates a type of demand in the market, which is good. We’ve definitely left some sales on the table in December before because we’ve had such good Novembers where we couldn’t actually get certain things [crosstalk 00:22:24] that we wanted to get done in time for December. Sometimes that hurts, but it’s also better than sitting on a ton of inventory that you can’t sell as quickly.
Yeah. We do operate a bit differently. We’re a little bit just in time. Our strategy is we’re not six months or a year out in production. We’re a few months out, we’re a quarter out. That works really well for us. We project and we’re constantly designing. We’re not designing just two seasons a year, Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter for us, we’re designing year around, constantly. Because of that, we’re able to front things into release blocks. We might be doing something for Spring, but we’re coming across stuff that we love for Fall, and we just bucket that into Fall and work on it at the same time as spring. That’s really helpful for us in terms of creating the products that are gonna be released during a time period, and we’re constantly doing that.
Marley: Especially being a fashion brand too, it’s expected that you have new things to talk about that you are innovating, that you are coming out with new designs and new combinations, and things like that. Whereas another company or product, you might make a new product once a year to add to the four SKUs that you have if you’re a technology product, or something else [inaudible 00:23:52], a very different landscape.
Latif: Yeah, exactly.
Felix: Yeah, so you are a quarter out and not six months out. I think this is different than other apparel brands. How come you guys can do it and the brands out there are not taking this approach?
Latif: Yeah. I think … Do you want to?
Marley: I think … I’ve seen a lot of different brands go this direction. When we first launched, we were big into wholesale. That was half the company’s sales. Now, we’re primary focused on direct to consumer. We’re not designing or selling at the trade shows anymore. We’re going straight to the source. I think that’s a big part of that.
Latif: Yeah, I would definitely say that. I also would say that even when we do wholesale … We’re launching wholesale towards the end of the year again. We used to do a significant wholesale business and we’re gonna re-open that. Part of that is the core product is gonna hold its own, in terms of wholesale. We’ll still be continuously designing. We may need to bump up a few things, a few items for the Spring/Summer buyers, and the Fall/Winter buyers, but we’ll still, because of that direct to consumer, we’re always gonna be constantly pumping out product and new ideas on a regular basis. That just works for us, primary because we’re so DTC focused, as Marley said.
Marley: Yeah. Not all our SKUs are gonna be open for wholesale. There’s gonna be a lot of website exclusives and things like that.
Latif: Yeah. Wholesale is gonna be the top selling core product, for the most part. Then we’ll be mixing in different colorways, and things like that. Wholesale in it of itself is completely different business. It’s beast in its own right.
Felix: So now because you are going through so many designs throughout the year, how do you test it. What is the process behind coming up with a new design and actually making sure that the market will be interested in it?
Marley: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think that as far as what we’re doing currently, we have … We’ve definitely taken ideas to market that we thought were gonna do really well. Having done well, we’ve also been pleasantly surprised by things that we didn’t necessarily think were gonna do that well.
It’s interesting when you put out a new product because that as a company, we’ve developed a certain customer base, and they come to you for certain things. If you stray too far from what you’re doing, doesn’t resonate, and we’ve noticed that a few times. But I think that there’s always a nice little … Sometimes it takes years to actually educate your customer or build it.
We did jackets three years ago. We had multiple jackets and nobody was really buying them. Then we started doing a little more, and we lowered the price a little bit.
Latif: We also put ears on them.
Marley: Then we also put [crosstalk 00:27:10] ears on them.
Latif: [inaudible 00:27:10] I think that’s really important to note. You can start with a product, you release the products or a new product line. For us it was coats. It doesn’t do well. You’re looking at it and you’re going, “Okay, we’re selling some, but are we just not able to do that? Is it just not something we’re capable of?” But if you spend a little more time on it, you look at it, you retool it, you redesign it, and we ended up putting ears on ours ’cause all of our products are animal related. At that point, we just saw a noticeable spike in sales. From that point on, we realized, “Okay, there’s the missing link.” We really need to draw it back to our brand, which is animal inspired. Without ears, at least at that point, when you’re launching a new product, it’s really got to stay within the framework of what your customers are expecting, and what they know of you as a brand.
Now, today, fast forward three or four years later, we have coats that don’t have any hoods on them at all. We have coats that have hoods and no ears. We have coats obviously that have ears. You can diversity that product line once you have established your brand as being re-tailoring that product.
Marley: I think that you can cater to the fanbase and the customers that you have already created, and that makes it a lot easier to then branch out and maybe bring in a different type of customer as well.
Latif: Ask question. We do surveys all the time. We’re always engaging our audience. What do you guys want to see? We need names for this garment. What do you want to call it? We do tons of things. People, because we’re always reaching out and getting information from our customers, they’re also always telling us what they want to see, what they need, what they would like, what they don’t like. Then at the end of the day, you just got to try stuff. You’ve got to try things, and you also have to know that it’s costly.
Every time you launch a new product line, there’s a lot of energy that goes into that.
Marley: From a marketing perspective, this is not something that we used yet, but if you are a … It’s almost like a Kickstarter for you Shopify website, in a way. If we sell 50 of these items, you put it on your product detail page … If 50 of you sign up and buy this them, then we will produce it, which I think is a really interesting idea.
Marley: Yeah. Exactly. For somebody who’s maybe starting and doesn’t want to necessarily invest a ton of money into inventory or doesn’t have the money to invest, or take that risk if they don’t know whether that’s gonna sell immediately.
Latif: Yeah, agreed. I think that’s a really powerful tool. For us, sometimes people will sign petitions. They’ll have … We require 200 petitions for us to make something, so that happens. Also, we notice the Back In Stock notifications. We have that, which works really well. If we have a certain of volume of Back In Stock notifications for signups for a SKU, we’ll reproduce it, because we know that that makes sense, and we see the demand for it.
Felix: Do you take approach of putting out designs early on, like on social media for people to see, before you produce it. Do you take that approach as well? Or do you launch with a product by the time a customer sees it?
Latif: Yeah, it depends. Sometimes we do that. For sure. Sometimes we do it and other times we don’t. Other times we definitely do not. It just depends on the season and what’s going on with us as a brand.
Marley: Yeah. I mean we have low, like we were saying earlier, we have low run launches, often times. There is a lead group of diehard customers who really want to know before something’s coming out, so they can be there right at 9:30 when it’s launched, so they don’t miss it if they want it.
Latif: Marley’s done a really good job of segmenting the email newsletters and segmenting the audience, which is really powerful as a arsenal in your marketing because some people want to know things and others don’t. You also don’t want to make people upset when your product runs out too early. You want to really inform your customers of what’s going on, what you’re releasing. But we don’t always showcase the product beforehand.
But I will say that when we do showcase the product beforehand, we do teasers, which we do do a lot of teasers. We do that in the form of BTS, like behind the scenes footage. Sometimes we’re just asking people what they prefer like, “Do you like this? What do you guys think about this? Should we make this?” Anything that can tease a little bit can definitely build momentum.
Felix: Yeah, I like the idea the behind the scene footage of you … of the product being and your hands right away, or that’s being worked on. I think that that brings that connection with your community. Then of course, also makes them excited for the product to come out.
The limited edition and collector’s runs that you guys do, was this something that you always did at the beginning? Or what made you decide to offer this in your store?
Marley: It is not something we did from the beginning. We had collections from the beginnings is [crosstalk 00:32:24][inaudible 00:32:25].
Latif: We had collections and then we would do releases intermittently. But we started to hone that a few years in. Again, as your evolving and growing with your brand, you’re starting to realize things that you want to do. We did always want, as a brand, to be …
Marley: Talked about at the beginning.
Latif: We talked about it from the beginning and we were not exactly sure how to put it into effect. We just played with it, and worked on it. We’ve seen a garment sell that was purchased for $129, retail for $2500.
Marley: [inaudible 00:32:59], not retail.
Latif: I’m sorry, not retail. On the secondary market, sell for 2500. If that’s something you’re interested in, you want to position yourself. You want to do thing … You want to sell out, you want to create something that is very unique. What we’re working on now is even taking that to the next level. You’re always taking whatever it is that you’re doing or whatever core pillar of your brand that you have, you want to evolve that further. That’s how every artist in the world is living their life. For us, we’re actually working on even more unique collaborations.
Marley: Specialty, like how do we make it more special.
Marley: What if this next release is a collaboration with an artist and what if it comes with something to inspire you to go outside? What if it comes with a high-end art print at the bottom of the box? What if the box is a custom wood, branded, engraved specialty [crosstalk 00:34:01] box that you want to keep around, you want to put stuff if, you would never get rid of? How do we take it to the next level?
Exactly. Also, think of your customers as much as you can because if you understand your customer, and their wants, and needs and desires, you can help build products that they are going to love. I mean, we love our customers, and we really want them to be happy with the things we create. We look at the things they love, and we also look at the things we love. It’s a collaboration between an audience and the creators. It’s a constant ebb and flow. Sometimes you’re doing it right and sometimes you’re a little off. That’s just the nature of it.
Felix: When you look at it just straight numbers wise, these limited edition runs, they “don’t make sense”. What’s the benefit of created a limited edition run versus focusing on these broad appeal, what you call your core products?
Latif: When you say it doesn’t make sense, do you mean because the amount of work and energy that goes into …
Felix: Yeah, I mean, when I say it don’t make sense I’m saying [inaudible 00:35:00] tongue in cheek. It’s like when you look at just straight numbers wise, because it’s a limited edition run, there’s not that many products that you’re selling versus your core products, which I’m assuming has a bigger appeal in terms of more of your market might want them. What makes you decide to release these limited edition runs versus just focusing on how can you create products that will sell way more than the limited edition runs would sell?
Latif: There’s a lot of … There’s many different answers and angles to look at that, because if you really look at the numbers, it does make sense depending on who you are and how you’re running it.
Marley: I think one side of that feeds the other side.
Marley: You need them together.
Latif: Right. If you’re always just selling something basic, and there’s a lot of people that do this and they do it really well. For us, it’s just not the strategy we took. For us, we say, we wanted to have fun and we love designing. We love creating. It’s something that we’re super passionate about.
On one side of the spectrum you have, yes, you have people are more driven towards core products. But on the other side, if you don’t want to run sales … Let’s say you don’t want to do discounts. I’ve met people who get caught in the discount cycle. The only way they can generate sales is if they put their product on discount. Now that creates a certain type of brand, and that’s fine, that brand works for some people. For us, we didn’t want to do that.
The other opportunity we had was to create more product, and more limited edition stuff, and things that were unique collaborations, so on and so forth, and to really dig in and do releases, and promote them instead of doing discount sales. For us, that was the strategy we took.
Felix: I see what you’re saying. I think that the end goal is the same for both types of companies. It’s to get that attention, and get those sales. In the one case, people do that by discounting, and that breaks someones attention when they’re looking through their emails, [inaudible 00:36:59] “Oh, there’s a discount. Let go check out the site.”
In your case, you actually do releases, pulls people in. They might not even buy a limited edition version, but it breaks their attention, it brings [crosstalk 00:37:08] them to the store and they might buy even something different from more of a core product, for example.
Marley: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.
Latif: They might see [inaudible 00:37:16] that they missed and there’s a new blanket that they missed and they like that. There’s a whole lifecycle to the buying behavior of a customer. If you’re resting too much on things that have already been done, you’re not gonna excite the people that have already seen that.
Felix: Yeah. This is not the first time I’ve heard this as well, where there is a company out there that has a flagship product or product that people really know, or people really associate with them that has a crazy colorway or crazy designs, but is not their top selling product. It’s just what brings people into the door in the first place, and they end up buying something else. I definitely see where you’re going with this.
You guys mentioned a couple times now about it is so important to really understand your customers. What do you find that you guys are doing, or what do you recommend store owners do on a day to day basis to make sure that they are a true study of their customers?
Latif: One of the big things that we do is understanding customer service and the stories that come from our products. We love that. We love hearing the ways in which our product has helped somebody. That just happens to be a part of our brand, but we get those stories and we also ask people to give us information, surveys, we do contests and things, we do a lot to get information from our customers.
Marley: I think that also our brand is a very social brand. It’s a conversation starter. You experience the world in a different way when you wear this product because people interact with you differently. People ask you questions, they stare at you, they come up to you and they pet you. It’s a massive conversation starter.
When the company first started, one of our other partners was more outgoing and would wear it all the time. I was like, “Oh, I don’t necessarily want that attention right now.” But then it became this thing where it was like, “Oh, okay. I’m changing my state when I wear this thing out.” It’s changing the way I also interact with my thought process and the way … That’s one of the crux of our marketing message is there’s a transformation that takes place when you put this thing on. You can see it really clearly.
Another thing is we’re on the ground level too. It started because we were out and we were having fun, and we were goin to festival. Before we knew how to market things to people, our marketing was just being ourselves, and going to these festivals, and wearing the thing that we loved to wear.
Latif: Even just at parties, and in the streets, and clubs, and random things. We were just out and about.
Marley: That was our marketing. People would ask us for cards. We would never push it on other people.
Latif: What’s funny is we would always see a spike in sales for the next couple of days, whenever we did that, so we would do it as often as we could because we knew it was helping the brand. That’s the exposure side. But you have to live it. If you want to understand the mind of your consumer, you have to live it, you have to live in it, you have to wear it out. You can’t just design something and not explore it. You know what I mean?
Marley: From first year we were having booths at festivals, and having a hub to interact with people.
Latif: Yeah, just grassroots marketing was big thing that we’ve always done, we do this day. Right now our team is at Lightning In A Bottle Festival. So it’s nonstop engagement with our fans and customers.
Felix: Within the community, I think there was mention before about how there segmentation goes on because those are your rabid fans, and there’s your customers that might not be buying every single item that you put out there. How do you recognize which one falls into which segment? In the actual data and the tools that you are using.
Latif: Half the time, you’re looking at it based on response. We’re also asking. We’re like, “Hey, do you want to be on this? Do you want to be a part of this early release? Do you want to be a part of the secret sale?” We’re asking.
Marley: Sign up for this if you want to be part of this. Our lifecycle email program has a lot of metrics that come in, like if you been to the website in the last 30 days, or if you’ve opened an email in this amount of time. We’re like, what categories have you purchased through? We try to keep it more focused because we don’t want to annoy our customers and we also don’t want to wear our list out.
I feel like your emails have become a little less intimate as they used to. There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of … I mean I get phishing emails from companies all the time that want to work with us from a marketing perspective because they somehow got my email somewhere, and I’ve never met this person before. It’s definitely the landscape of email marketing is changing a bit. I don’t think that we get the exact same response as we did three years ago when we used to send an email. I think that’s normal.
The landscape of marketing is constantly changing. Stories on Instagram weren’t there two years ago, and now everybody is looking at stories. When you have a company and you’re marketing your products or your services to someone, you definitely got to pay attention and figure out what is changing, and what you need to do to keep up with the times. Google’s always changing their algorithms. Facebook’s always changing [crosstalk 00:43:05] their algorithms.
Latif: Always changing. Instagram [inaudible 00:43:08].
Marley: When we first started with Facebook, that was our massive amount of our marketing. We could send a post and we wouldn’t have to pay for it. It would pretty much reach everybody. Now if you don’t pay for it, you reach 2% of the people that follow you on Facebook. You got to be constantly …
Latif: We know which … Facebook, the Facebook customers, the people who are on that channel, we’re gonna cater to that audience, We do Live feeds for product releases on our Facebook channel. We don’t do that on Instagram. We do something a little bit different. We do more create content, things like that. We might post both of those in different ways on either channel, but we might do it at different times, and we might have a slightly different message, or slightly different thing that’s going on per channel. You really just have to do [crosstalk 00:43:59] it and then …
Marley: I think that’s a very important point. A lot of people are like, “Okay, I’m gonna post on Facebook and my Facebook’s gonna go to my Instagram, and that’s gonna go to my Twitter. It’s all the same thing.” You got to cater to [crosstalk 00:44:12] the individual channel.
Latif: That doesn’t work.
Felix: I think comes across obvious too, when that does happen where it’s just reposting. But what you mentioned about these Live feeds on Facebook for product releases, I like this approach. Talk to us a little more about this. What happens during the Live feed for a product release?
Latif: It’s simple. For us, we’ve been exploring that last couple of months. We just, we keep it simple. We basically engage with our audience. We talk to them about what’s going on for the week because we do releases on Tuesdays and Thursdays most weeks. Not every week, but a lot of times we’re doing that. On Tuesday and Thursday well do a Live feed and just say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. We’ve got this coming out. This is a little bit of information about the product.” Then we’ll also talk about other things going on.
It’s an opportunity for you to say, “Hey, we’re doing a contest.” Or, “Hey, we’ve got a blog post we’ve just released.” Or, “Hey, we’re at Lightning In A Bottle. If you’re going to this festival, come check us out. Also here’s some sneak peeks of some items that we are gonna release in the next month or two. Check it out.” Then engage them with something because that audience is gonna respond really well, usually.
Marley: The last time from the video you did last week, we had suggestions for the name for a product. We actually went to market with a name that was a suggestion from one of our customers.
Latif: Yeah. They named the product.
Felix: Yeah, it’s probably the most direct way to communicate with your community so far, by doing these Live videos. What’s the reach been for that compared to other platforms. I think you will see something similar on Instagram Live as well. Have you guys played around with different platforms? Have you been happy with the type of reach you’ve had into the community through Facebook Live videos?
Latif: Yeah. Definitely. I think what we’ve done is, again, you have these different channels, so you need to make people aware. What we do is we let people know via email newsletters, we’ll be releasing something or whatever is going on. At the bottom you might see information that says, “SpiritHoods TVs is Tuesday, Thursdays at 9:00 a.m.,” or whatever it is. You’ll get a hit on one channel, you’ll get a hit on another channel. That momentum builds. Over time, you start seeing an increase in subscribers.
Marley: In your consistency you are showing people that they can count on the fact that that’s going to happen. The more people know when something’s going to happen and that it’s happening, that’s when your users start to go up.
Felix: Got it. Keeping the schedule is important in this case.
Marley: It’s really important.
Latif: Yeah, if you start to deviate from that, then your customers are gonna be confused and annoyed, I think. You need to be a rock for them at least to the best of your ability. Obviously we’re not 100%. I think that’s a great resource for people, especially how costly marketing has becomes. It’s become really just expensive.
Felix: Got. We’ll talk a little bit about the website. I think for anyone who wants to check it out, SpiritHoods.com. Was this website designed in-house? Did you guys hire out for [inaudible 00:47:19]? How was it done?
Latif: Yeah, Marley is extraordinary. That’s all you.
Marley: Yes. We’ve had a couple starting places from pretty amazing theme designers that design these for everyone, nothing special. Anybody can go out and buy this theme, but we do afterwards is we customize ours quite a bit to get the level of the experience that we’re looking for, to try to cut down the steps it takes to getting people where they need to go, and to organizing the information so that it makes sense and it doesn’t confuse the user.
Latif: Which is hard than you think.
Felix: What are some examples of changes that you’ve made to make that easier.
Marley: Yeah, absolutely. We actually launched a new website a month ago. We’ve consistently launched new websites ’cause we’re trying to stay with the times and get the most modern functionality out of what we’re trying to do in the user experience. One of the big things I think that is really helping customers get where they need to go faster is that we just installed a new theme. We customized it to get all everything we wanted, but this theme had the ability to do drop down menus in a big graphical way, which our theme prior to this did not have.
The ability to get people to go to women’s jackets versus men’s jackets, versus home goods, versus collector’s edition hoods, verus leggings, versus sale page, and have them have all that information in a visually appealing way that makes a lot of sense.
Latif: And easy, like really easy to navigate. That’s a huge thing.
Marley: Because you don’t want to wear out … If somebody’s going to the Spring collection and I see they’re shopping for … It’s a female and she’s shopping for herself, she doesn’t want to see whole bunch of pictures of men’s items, even though that might be a Spring item. That’s been a big help.
Latif: Marley’s done so many things that have helped us evolve. We have an international customer base, and so we have the ability to change currencies, and we have … There are so many little things that go into it. You want to pick the most important and prioritize what is most important for making your customers happy, and get to where they want to go, and optimizing conversions, and things like that. Then you’ve got a whole bunch of littler items that are also important, that you want to be able to implement.
Prioritizing things based off of what you know, as again, you’ve got to use the website, you’ve got to use the product, you’ve got to experience it, see what’s going on in order for you to understand the hiccups and hangups that people are experiencing, that are your customers.
Felix: Got it. What about applications? Do you guys use any apps to help power the website?
Marley: Absolutely. Let’s see. What’s some of the best apps we’re using right now? We are using Fomo for social recognition. I actually found out about Fomo from a different Shopify blog, through an interview you guys did with the brand Pura Vida. It’s basically showing all the different users. It’s not giving away any person information but it’s saying, “Sara from Connecticut just purchased this.” Or, “So and so from Germany just signed up for the newsletter.” It’s just showing me people that are active on the site and the different steps they are taking.
Felix: I think it’s possible to click on these notification to go to a specific product page or something like that. Do you see a bump in conversions from it?
Marley: Yeah. Exactly. We’re getting lots …
Latif: It definitely leads to trust. We also have a lot of reviews using Yotpo for review systems. It’s worked really well for us.
Marley: That’s huge. Just showing … It’s more for a brand to have somebody else say what you are, seems to be more important than you telling somebody what you are.
Latif: Yeah, it’s more authentic. It feels more real.
Marley: The people that they trust, some else, or they may trust a friend. If somebody buys a product and send their review to their social page, that’s huge for us because they’re gonna trust their friend more than they’re gonna trust us if we haven’t met before
Another big app that’s been doing really well for us is Attentive. Attentive is an SMS text campaign. We offer discounts to first-time users through that. The interaction that we’re getting through all these opt-ins for the SMS campaigns is really quite amazing, considering that there’s not that many people. You can send a newsletter to 60,000 people, and you might, in the end, get 600 people to the website that might click on it, or 600 to 1,000, depending on how relevant it is. But if you send an SMS campaign to 3,000 people, you might get the same amount of people to your website, because the interaction and the open rate is so much higher.
Felix: Got it. [inaudible 00:53:02] lots more engaging. For anyone who wants to check it out, SpiritHoods.com again is the website. What do you guys have plans for the next year? What are some big goals that you guys want to hit?
Latif: Yeah. Well, we definitely want to lock down our Asian production so we can better service our customers and not run out of product in November and December, which has happened to us a few times. We also are launching more home products. We’re launching more expansive line of coats, coming up with more accessories. We want to, in the near future, do dog stuff, like dog throws, and dog beds.
Marley: Faux fur rugs.
Latif: Faux fur rugs is a big one that we’re gonna do.
Marley: More pillow options. We’re gonna have bigger pillows, different size of pillow have been really good for us as well.
Latif: Yeah, the leggings. The leggins and the jumpsuits that we do, we’re gonna expand into that more fully. We’ve got a decent selection right now, but we want to really double that.
Marley: I think a point that we missed is that … I don’t think we addressed it at the beginning is that we are inspired by animals. We design a lot of hoods, and jackets, and stuff that are based on the likeness of endangered animals. We work with five non-profits currently, and we do a lot of smaller projects with non-profits as well, to give back to endangered species and the non-profits that are helping them.
A big goal of ours this year too is to do more projects. We always are doing more projects than even we are letting people know about, and I think that is maybe a lapse in our communication with our customers. We want to show people exactly what’s going on with the animals, and with the projects we’re working.
Latif: Could be a hard story to tell too. It’s like sometimes it’s excruciating. We still want to get that information out in a digestible way and educate people.
Marley: It’s an interesting thing because people want … We’re a company and we are a company with a cause, and we try to really activate with different communities, and stuff like that. But sometimes wen you send out too much messaging on endangered animals, the interaction rate goes down. We’re trying to really optimize and test ways to make it more fun to talk about things that are hard to talk about because it’s pretty sad what’s happening in the natural world to a lot of these endangered species.
Latif: There’s also great beauty in understanding what’s going on because you can make a difference. Each person has the opportunity to be aware and that in it of itself changes the planet and the lives of a lot of both humans and animals alike. Yeah, that’s really important for us in promoting awareness.
Another things is just having fun content creating. Sometimes you get so sucked into operating your business that you’re stressed, and you’re doing things, and then you realize you’ve neglected one of the most important aspects of your brand, that has happened to us. Really having fun with content creation, not being afraid to do things, and put out content [crosstalk 00:56:27] that’s interesting, and funny, or weird, learn as you go, you’re gonna get a response and there is no … I mean, there could be a wrong way to do that but there’s no …
Marley: Learn as you go.
Latif: Usually if you have sound mind and you’re testing things, then that’s perfect. You might not get great responses from one thing, but you get great responses from another. It just helps you curate your content and have fun doing it. Not taking things personally, but just having fun.
Felix: Awesome. Again, SpiritHoods.com for anyone who wants to follow along with the cause, or check out the store. Based on all of the things that we’ve learned. There’s lots of great things going on your store that the audience check out.
Again, thank you so much for your time Marley and Latif. I really appreciate you both coming on.
Marley: Thank you, Felix.
Latif: Yeah, thanks for your time.
Marley: We appreciate it. Thank you for the great questions, for helping us get our message out.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 4: We probably get 25, 30 a day of positive testimonials from people just arbitrarily sending this stuff to us.
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. Also for this episode’s show notes, head over to Shopify.com/blog.