Shu is a firm believer in the power of community building.
As the co-founder of shoelaces startup Slickieslaces, she’s helped build the fledgling company from a niche idea to an internationally recognized brand with thousands of customers all across the globe.
And it’s the power of the community — sneaker collectors and enthusiasts, as well as those who want their sneakers to be an extension of their artistic selves, that really catapulted the idea into the mainstream.
As is the case with most companies successfully able to differentiate their products, Slickieslaces was borne out of personal frustration. Zedd, Shu’s husband and co-founder, came up with the idea after wanting to swap his laces with custom designs. He searched around in Singapore for suitable products but in vain - most companies shipped from either the US or the UK and prices were out of reach. An avid sneaker collector himself, Zedd wanted a variety of laces to pair with but simply couldn’t find any. That’s when work on Slickieslaces started.
They found traction in the form of online communities. A Facebook group for sneaker collectors was set up in the early days and that helped them discuss design ideas for upcoming collections, crowdsource new items of interest, and receive feedback on the startup’s direction.
A focus on content marketing helped, too.
“We actively engage in blogging,” explains Shu. “Whenever there's a new, upcoming line of sneakers, we'll write a post detailing our product and a list of suggested sneaker pairings. Then we’ll boost that post within our community and that helps act as a sort of recommendation.”
References to the community are peppered throughout our chat. Shu talks about how passionate advocates of Slickies use social media to post humblebrags, helping build the brand organically. In other cases, the founders cultivated followings via Facebook groups where they handed out gift cards in exchange for help in shoelace design.
And that’s important because cultivating a community can bring your brand to life by converting customers into lifelong fans, help rake in partnerships with larger companies, attract the attention of influencers, and get invaluable feedback for your products.
In Slickieslaces’ case, it’s helped them achieve all that and more.
The startup partnered with brands like Timberland where customers could request custom designed shoelaces as well as other events with retail stores like The Social Foot. It uses influencer marketing, but not in the traditional sense where it pays over the odds for a celebrity to post a solitary picture. Influencers are sent free samples of the product and encouraged to post honest reviews. And it’s also by listening to the community that Slickieslaces been able to diversify its range of products, to new innovations like Slickiesstripes and Sneakerguard.
Not bad for a company that’s less than four years old. In this timeframe, Slickieslaces has gone from modest revenue to a well-entrenched presence in Singapore, neighboring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia as well as reaching sneaker communities in the US, Canada, the UK, and other parts of Europe. Its designs have attracted vibrant discussions on Reddit and other social media forums.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, however. The first year saw limited sales, to the point that Shu reminisces on how depressing it was. There was a small uptick towards the end of the first year of operations, but a steady income didn’t come in until later.
But the founders didn’t stray from their mission and remained committed towards serving what they believed was an innate market need.
Their decision to use Shopify for hosting the online store has also helped in building a robust product.
“At the start we analyzed several hosting platforms. There was a lot of places to choose from [...] we did trials across all platforms and really liked Shopify. The most pleasing part was the app community and the customization that followed. It is also more SEO enabled and that’s something we research constantly, how to make our store more SEO-friendly. We prefer Shopify because it is more clean cut,” affirms Shu.
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Other apps that the team regularly uses are Facebook & Instagram paid marketing, Mailchimp, and Google Analytics.
So what’s next for Slickieslaces?
“There are so many things to do,” laughs Shu.
“What we want to do is continue expanding internationally. When we first started, in 2015, Singapore didn’t have as much of a sneaker community as it does now. That forced us to look internationally for customers and we want to continue to do more of the same. Collaborations with overseas brands is a priority as well as to get our name out there. Product innovations are also in the pipeline.”
The innovations can’t hurt Slickieslaces’ bottom line. Shu reveals they’ve been expanding at a 50% growth rate every six months, raking in 5-digit revenues monthly.
Breaking into the cutthroat world of e-commerce is never easy. So, as a well-entrenched player, what advice does Shu have for others aspiring to be in her position?
She proffers three tactics:
Invest in content
“Write blog articles. We cannot emphasize how important this is. If you do not establish yourself as a leader, and that your site provides real value to the consumers, your Google ranking (SEO) will never be up to par and customers will never be able to find you. Organic traffic is the best way to sustainable income. Paid marketing ads should be used only as a supplement, and not as your only source of traffic..”
“Learn how to take great photos of your product. Your pictures will be the first thing your customers see and if it does not make a good impression, you've just lost a potential lead.”
“The first year we tried Facebook ads, we wasted thousands of dollars showing the ads to a non-targeted audience. Only on the 2nd year, where we did more studying, we learnt more about lookalike audiences etc. Research more on Facebook ads before delving into it. Learn how to do lookalike audiences to target your ads to potential customers who will be more receptive towards your ads.”
—Written by Osman Husain