When Jeanne Foley was planning her wedding and plagued with logistics, pricing, and fit issues when trying to find ideal suits for her groomsmen, she was motivated to create a brand of black tie attire that costs the same as rentals. Together with childhood friend Diana Ganz, the duo launched The Groomsman Suit. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Jeanne and Diana share why SEO and customer service is crucial for the growth of their company.
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Fostering trust with a free trial
Felix: Tell us where did the idea behind the business come from?
Jeanne: The idea came from planning my own wedding. Like most ideas, you go through an experience and realize that it really isn’t the best experience. Those are the best moments to create a concept that will work for others as well. We decided to do black tie when we got married, it was New Year’s Eve wedding, and I was doing so much planning that I handed that job off to him. He went to the typical big box store and set all of the nine groomsmen up with rentals. It wasn’t until after the wedding that I realized that each of the guys had spent around $250 for one-time wear, and frankly they didn’t really look or fit very well.
That was sort of the aha moment. At first, it was like, “What have I done?” I feel so bad that I made them go through that experience. I thought I dropped the ball and just didn’t do enough research to find a better option. After looking into it, I realized there really wasn’t a better option and this is the process that most guys go through when getting suited up for weddings. I have extensive product development, technical design background. Diana has an incredible business background. We partnered together and decided to try to create a better option for men.
Felix: What did the process look like, from when you decided this was an area that could be improved, to your launch date?
Jeanne: My husband and I lived in Columbus, Ohio at the time and while I loved the idea of creating a concept around this, it seemed a little bit daunting resource wise. A few months after my wedding, my husband received a promotion with his company, and we moved to New York. That’s really when the resources opened up, and the possibility of developing this concept became a reality. It took some time to find the right production partner, manufacturer, the materials and really fine-tune the product.
What’s interesting is that in the suiting industry, a lot of suits you find in retail shops even today are wholesale products. There are designer brands that have huge markups along the way, and by the time it gets into the store the customer is purchasing something that’s gone through layers of markup and margin increase. That’s where we realized the opportunity was to provide this direct to consumer option, where we would find a supplier to manufacture a high-quality suit, and retail it for around the same price as a rental. It took a lot of time to develop the product, which is why we only launched 3 years later. Then it was about partnering with Diana to really build out this business model and find our customers.
Felix: The suits you make cost the same as rentals. Do you ever get incredulous customers? How do you address that with them?
Jeanne: That was the number one barrier we had when launching. The first thing we always got asked is do you offer refunds for returns? Because I don’t really trust that I’m buying a great suit here at an under $200 price point. Very quickly we decided the best way to overcome that is to say, “Hey, we’ll ship you a suit or tuxedo for free, try it on, check it out. If you don’t love it, you can send it back. Shipping is on us.” We launched a free trial which was an expensive test to do early on in that stage., We were really risking a huge investment in shipping products that we weren’t getting paid for like you would on a normal retail website.
But we knew that if we got the product into people’s hands, they were going to be blown away and they were going to keep it. That’s pretty much the key to our early growth, being able to ship out the product quickly to customers that were interested, at super low risk for the customer, and then a huge reward on our end, because people realized that this was a great new option.
Felix: You mentioned you no longer do this, do you still get incredulous remarks from your prospective customers?
Diana: Customers are still super pleasantly surprised by it all. We look back on it, and as Jeanne mentioned, it was super expensive. As you’re starting out and you’re building your company, you are not very sophisticated. We’re not doing this anymore but we were literally sending products out without having pre-authorized credit card information and all that stuff. It was a risk we knew we were willing to take because we believed in the product so much. We still have a super high conversion rate on those free trials, they’ve even become more important now that so many people are planning their weddings from home and COVID has prevented people from going into stores.
Felix: What are some things you’ve learned along the way about either conversion rates or just the process of running a free trial?
Diana: Yeah, so part of our success too is offering services to our couples. We like to think that we’re more than just our suiting, but that we’re a service to anyone planning their wedding attire. The free trial is one way that we serve people and give them a great experience in wedding suit shopping and making it really convenient and affordable. That’s been a whole evolution regarding what the free trial looked like. We went from sending products out to anyone, to a customized checkout that authorizes credit card information. Everybody has these stories when you’re building a company but we once had a customer that we sent hundreds of dollars worth of products and he had used a gift card that only had $5 on it.
You learn these things as you go. That process became much more buttoned-up and refined, but we now also send free fabric swatches as another point of engagement with customers planning their wedding style. There’s a whole funnel of touch-points that we’ve built to bring people along in their wedding planning process, and then ultimately, the final service that we provide is group coordination.
Typically our customers start out with requesting free fabric swatches. Then they typically transition to seeing a whole suit in person, and then they’re ready to register their group. We’ve really identified and streamlined this customer journey and built out email flows and drips that help bring them along. There’s a whole series of communication that is supportive of transitioning them from one stage to another.
Felix: This always moving forward mindset as opposed to meticulously planning every step, was that a conscious effort, or coincidence?
Jeanne: It was just out of necessity. I will say when we started the company it was really daunting to think about competing with other businesses that felt more sophisticated. We would even say, “Well, how is this person doing a free trial and collecting payment information?” We felt like it was really daunting but Shopify is amazing for multiple reasons, but the App Store, it’s incredible, right? A lot of what we did early on was find really affordable, sometimes free apps, that allowed us to piece together what our bigger vision was. It was kind of a band aid approach. We wanted to offer a sophisticated service but we couldn’t afford a really sophisticated and custom platform, so we found our band aids, and we would just do some research about these amazing apps, connect them, play around with them, some worked, some didn’t.
A great app for any entrepreneur starting out that is interested in offering a free trial option, is the DeferPay app. It was wonderful in allowing us to send a link to our customers that could fill out the payment information. Then it would be securely stored, their items sent. After that they would then get back to us about whether or not they wanted to keep them, what items they wanted to keep what they wanted to return, and then we could go into that app and charge their card on file. That worked really great for the slow growth free trial requests in the beginning. As that started to take off for us, that’s when we would evolve that process and try to find something else that worked.
At that point you hope your volume is getting higher, your revenues are higher as well, and you start to have a little bit more cash to play with. That’s our philosophy with almost every service we provide and Shopify allowed us to do that.
“Shopify is amazing for multiple reasons, but the App Store, it’s incredible.”
Diana: We never really have anything fully fleshed out. That’s where a lot of founders and entrepreneurs get stuck. They feel like it has to be 100% buffed out. I’ve never been so okay with starting out and doing things in a mediocre way. We could have spent all this time building out the perfect free trial system and nobody would have taken advantage of it. We would have spent so much time and resources. It’s been a great philosophy for us as we continue to build the business, is just to test things. It’s helped us expand our product categories significantly, because we tested small quantities of accessories to see how popular they were, and when we found out they were popular, then we would figure out how to produce them on a larger scale and everything like that.
Felix: That’s a good but hard lesson to learn for entrepreneurs because it goes against their ambitious nature. How do you know when something is good enough for you to move on to the next challenge?
Diana: For us, everything comes back to numbers, profitability, and conversion rates. We are pretty data-driven. Sometimes I think we’re almost as much of a tech company as we are a retail company. We know what conversion rates are on all types of engagement. We also know what the ROI is on various efforts, and so we’re always quick to turn things off if they’re not working. Especially with marketing. We’re still in the phase where a lot of times what we’re testing, especially from a customer-facing perspective, is really interesting to customers and they do absorb it.
Right now we’re facing a very interesting situation where we rolled out virtual appointments, and those took off like crazy. They have become as popular or more popular than our actual physical showroom appointments. That is something that we’re still watching very closely and we don’t have an answer yet. Will that continue to be important or will that be something that we would reduce the time and resources on as people kind of get back to the way they used to shop and they’d like to go into showrooms? We don’t know. That’s how we keep looking at things and analyzing and comparing them to other things or avenues that we have going on. We’re still a pretty small team so we don’t have time to continue something that’s not bringing in value.
Jeanne: I also think customers will tell you a lot about what you need to be doing better or if we’re missing products. That’s the number one way of testing something, is really just listening to the customers. If we feel like there’s a gap in customer service, that’s where we start to focus or a gap in the product. Sometimes customers will ask us for things that we don’t have on our website and if we hear that enough, or we see that they’re searching for certain keywords that we’re not providing a product for, that’s really where we focus our time and energy because you already know that it’s something people want.
Felix: You mentioned earlier that you ran a Kickstarter. Tell us about that campaign and its goals.
Jeanne: The Kickstarter campaign is pretty simple. We just wanted to sell 50 suits, so the dollar amount was 7500. We did very minimal marketing. We put together a video, and then some package deals for people. We just wanted to know if people would buy a suit online because at the time suiting was something scary to buy online, because of sizing and fit. Now, you fast forward to today and everybody buys everything online. It’s not as scary but that was the biggest question mark in our minds. Will people buy suiting online when there are millions of stores around the US that sell suits that they can hop into?
We quickly realized that people do want to buy suiting online because we sold 100 suits in 30 days and doubled our goal. That was an exciting moment for us.
Targeting industry professionals as a marketing strategy
Felix: So the main purpose of the Kickstarter was validation, what was the next step after the campaign ?
Diana: We had to get a website. I mean, we’d already started a website but we had some things that we wanted to buff out. That’s when we started our website on Shopify .The Kickstarter ended in March and so this was end of April or early May by the time we really launched our full-fledged website. It’s been crazy. We’ve worked really hard but we’ve also gotten lucky in a lot of ways. Jeanne and I are childhood best friends. I was at that wedding that she had, I was actually in that wedding. She neglected to say this, but she was also the one returning everything the day after her own wedding, which was like a real aha moment.
It was just great timing that we were both in a place in our lives where we could join forces on this and since we launched the full-fledged website in May 2016 we’ve really been scrambling to keep up with it. We’ve grown to be a multi-million dollar company in a couple of short years. In 2018, we were facing the problem where we were literally selling out of everything that we had. Everybody’s like, “Oh, this is a great problem to have.” But it was also very stressful. It’s been quite the journey and we now have 10 employees and a fulfillment center and are continuing to grow. We’ve evolved the brand to offer not only men suiting, but we also now offer women’s which we’re really proud of because women are wanting an alternative to a wedding dress or bridesmaids dress. So it’s been really fun.
Felix: After that Kickstarter campaign, how did you guys get your first customers?
Jeanne: Diana could probably speak to that more but it was really grassroots, sharing with our friends and family. Then we’d go to the source, who are the leaders in weddings? Those are your wedding planner professionals and photographers and these people that are in constant contact and interaction with engaged couples. Diana would sit at the table and email hundreds of thousands of wedding planners, industry professionals etc. We would basically say, “Can we send you a suit? Can we send you a suit?” Or swatches, or “Can I hop on a call with you?”
Diana is the most outgoing, bubbly, friendly personality and she really connected with so many of these planners who are still in our network today and consistently refer us to weddings. That was really the driver for the volume of orders and referrals we got early on. Then what happens is, as you outfit these wedding parties, and you provide this really personalized customer service, the guys just love it and they have such a good experience that they share that with their friends, or when they then get married they use us again. We have this incredible network effect and kind of a viralness, natural viral scenario where we didn’t pay for marketing, we just had to treat our customers really well.
Diana: Yeah, we were like, “Well, we have no marketing dollars. So what can we do?” We can email thousands of wedding planners and also we decided early on to focus on SEO because what is the gift that keeps on giving? Website traffic. You can slowly start that ball rolling, gaining strength and important keywords, and we’ve done a ton of blogging and writing for even other websites to link back to us. The biggest thing too, was the network effect that we didn’t really anticipate.
“Identify who are the people who influence our target audience. We don’t have the brand visibility yet, and we can’t pay for ads, but we can build relationships with influencers of that audience.”
Felix: Identifying key people in the industry really heightened this network effect for you. What approach did you take when reaching out to these wedding planning professionals?
Diana: We looked at like, okay, we know who our audience is, but who are the people that influence that audience? Because we don’t have the brand visibility yet and we can’t pay to put ads in front of that audience directly, but we can build relationships with influencers of that audience. We can build relationships with that audience directly through wedding expos, through our current customers that refer us to their friends. We can build those relationships within that audience but then there’s like a periphery of relationships that we can build on that with the wedding planner industry.
The wedding planning industry has its own sort of virality too. For wedding planners suiting is not a sexy thing to help their couples plan. It’s a necessary thing and sloppy suiting has the power to ruin wedding photos but it’s not like the dress, it’s not the venue. What we realized with wedding planners, is if we can make the wedding planner feel comfortable with who they’re handing the guys over to in the wedding party, who they’re giving suiting to make sure that those guys just show up and they look great on the wedding day, we have won with them for a lifetime.
We have relationships from that first year with great wedding planners that we love that we’ve never even met face to face but are so happy with how we help their wedding parties look on the day of the wedding that it’s enough for them.
Felix: SEO is something that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with, it’s daunting and it’s a long game. Did either of you have experience with SEO before getting started?
Diana: No, not at all. We ordered SEO for dummies and we just learned. Jeanne had the fashion background and I had some business background, but as far as web development and tech, we learned as we went along. The key for us there was we just started small. We identified 20 keywords that would be great for us, if we started ranking well for them and we doubled down on those in blogging, in our company, and our website. In October, we started showing up on the first page for those few important keywords, groomsmen suits, wedding suits etc. Then we could slowly evolve and expand the keywords that we were targeting, and become more sophisticated in identifying a structure of keywords that were focusing on certain pages and it’s just gone from there.
Felix: Once you had identified those keywords, how did you proceed? What best practices do you implement to achieve that rank?
Diana: We looked at competitors, we knew what we wanted to be and who our audience was and how they were searching. We looked at a whole range of keywords and you really have to find the keywords that A, make the most sense for your brand and B, might not be so hard to start ranking for. There’s like a competitive score that can help you identify. So looking for some of those less competitive words early on to start ranking for.
But if I could go back, I would have looked at our website and I would have taken all of our pages that we have, our collection pages, our product pages, our about us page, and our contact page and I would have allocated two keywords to each page that I would have written body copy around that I would have rejiggered the page title to be specific to the alt text on the photos, to the meta description.
If I would have come up with a framework of keywords to target for each page and then made all of those various components on each page align, We would have even had more SEO success. But we’ve done very well. We’re four years in and we’re pushing 80,000 to 100,000 visitors a month to our website, which we’re pretty proud of for not spending much.
Taking your SEO to the next level with guest blogging
Felix: You mentioned you also did guest blogging. Is that a strategy you still use today? How did you find these connections?
Diana: Yeah, definitely, backlinks are huge. Being an expert on your product is huge. The way you do that is by contributing to other platforms when they want to write about wedding suiting, we need to be the person that’s giving them information. Very simply, it was with our wedding planners. All the wedding planners that we were reaching out to, most of them have their own websites. They’re so interested in adding content to their own personal blog pages and oftentimes what they don’t have is men’s wedding style guides. So it was very attractive to them for us to be able to say, “We will write something for your website.” Like, let us write a little tip about X, Y, and Z and obviously we hyperlink the Groomsman Suit in that. It was super easy.
Especially for these smaller grassroots micro-influencers. They love getting content that you’ll provide for them. As you build more brand recognition, then you can go to the big websites, the big wedding platforms, the big wedding publications. We started small. We’d still pitch it to the big brands too and they’d shoot us down in the beginning but we would also offer to send them a product and eventually we worked our way into having good relationships with editors.
Felix: How many blogs or guest blogs were you writing collectively?
Diana: Jeanne’s writing a lot of them now. Hundreds we’ve written hundreds. We have some blog pages that we’ve written what to wear as a wedding guest. That is a blog topic that brings in several thousand visitors to our website a month. People search for that and they want to know as a guest, what to wear. While conversion of that visit isn’t super high, it puts our brand in front of our demographic. We hope a lot of people who haven’t gotten married yet are looking to find something to wear to their friend’s wedding, we hope they come across this helpful tip on our website and then they remember us when it’s time for their wedding.
Jeanne: It’s daunting. It was for me, like Diana did the vast majority of the writing to start. If you don’t think of yourself as a great writer, it can be very intimidating to start writing articles about different topics and posting them on your blog. But, if you just start once a week and decide at the beginning of the week, what the topic is you want to talk about. It doesn’t have to be a really long article, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Going back to when we were talking about not worrying and about perfection, and just understanding that this is part of the process and you’ll get better at it. It was hard to think of topics at the beginning and now like every day a topic will pop up that we feel like we need to write about just based on a customer question.
We started with two articles a week, maybe once a week, and then it grew and grew and grew. Right now we try to do at least one a week and then we now reach out to writers of complementary businesses to see if they want to write a blog for us that backlinks to them. So that could be wedding planners, even fitness experts etc. We’ve even built out an entire program to allow us to advertise these services that we offer of either co-writing a blog or sharing blogs on our website from other people. It’s called our insider program. That developed over the years by realizing that we have services outside of just fulfilling our customer orders and coordinating groups. We offer suit loans to wedding planners and photographers that want to do styled shoots and that’s a huge part of the industry now. It’s just providing products to people that are just creating beautiful content, and we get to be part of that and half the time people are so thrilled to realize that they don’t have to purchase a suit for a one-time styled shoot with a model that they’ve hired.
These are expenses that those professionals deal with and we’re alleviating that stress for them. Then also sharing their beautiful photos that they share with us afterwards. We’ve now managed those relationships in a little bit more formal of a way and can now get people to sign up on our professional insider program.
Felix: What key elements do you think have helped you maintain profitability are you’ve scaled the business?
Diana: We haven’t had to spend a lot of money on marketing. Jeanne and I are pretty frugal. We grew up in a small town in Michigan, so we’ve never been accustomed to spending a ton of money on anything. Together we like to do the most we can with less. The fact that we haven’t had to burn a ton of our budget in marketing to grow this business to get sales is truly the key to our profitability. Let me tell you, being a profitable business these days, especially a young E-commerce company, is very rare and it pays off in so many other ways down the road.
As you’re starting your business, you really have to be cognizant of what you are spending in marketing and what your return on investment is because it’s a slippery slope and it’s really easy to still be like, “The more money I spend, the more sales I’m going to get.” But if you are having to spend a ton of money in marketing, just to get sales, then you really have to ask yourself like, “Is this good product market fit? Am I building a business? Did I create something that is truly wanted or am I just spending money to make people want it?”
We got really lucky with that early on and not needing to spend that money. Now we’re in the place where we’ve done a lot of testing, we have some cash, now we’re in the place where we are spending more money in marketing but our returns are amazing. Any agency that we work with is always super impressed with the average return we’re getting on social ads or paid advertising because we’ve organically built into that.
“As you’re starting your business, you really have to be cognizant of what you are spending in marketing and what your return on investment is because it’s a slippery slope.”
Felix: Have there been things that you spent money on so far in terms of marketing that just didn’t work at the time?
Diana: We’ve tested some various things on social media that have been kind of a hit on us. We’ve tested different agencies that weren’t a great fit for us because we are a weird brand in the sense that we don’t do sales, we don’t offer discounts to get customers. We do have repeat purchases when people share us with their friends, and then they’re in their wedding, and then they need another suit because they’re groomsmen. But we don’t have the luxury of offering major discounts to get that first sale, and then hoping we’ll be profitable on the second or third purchase. That’s tough for a lot of marketing companies to wrap their head around. Everybody likes to do like 10% off to join our mailing list and like all this stuff, and we can’t do that. We’ve learned a lot about who we can and can’t work with.
Jeanne: Yeah, it’s very easy to get caught up in the hype of talking to a marketing expert or an agency. We used to get on calls with different agencies and hear these huge budget numbers and promises of ROI. Those are where we feel the biggest disappointment because anytime it sounds a little too good to be true, or you feel like it might be a stretch is when you kind of want to say, oh, go to the tried and true thing, build your business up in little increments. What we’ve always thought is one profitable sale is better than 500 that are unprofitable because then you have cash to use to make another sale and build on that.
You have to really think, am I just trying to throw money at this to feel like it’s growing fast enough? Or is this $5 ads investment going to make me 10 and then I can spend that 10 and make 20. That’s where our head has been and social media has been great for us at that because you can sort of have whatever small or large budget you like, and grow it intentionally, as opposed to just jumping ahead to these huge ad spends that you feel like you might have to do just to compete, when it’s just not necessary.
Customer satisfaction: the ultimate arbiter of start up success
Felix: You’ve built this company primarily off of word of mouth customer referrals. Do you have any key best practices you use to exceed customer expectations?
Jeanne: Yeah, every point of contact we’ve tried to make really high touch. Early on when Diana and I were talking to every single customer personally through our email accounts or over the phone, we realized that men are really underserved when it comes to getting suited up for weddings. So it was very little effort to create a good experience. We just had to do with following up, giving them sizing assistance when they weren’t really sure what size to order, fast and free shipping, fast and free exchanges for sizing just being there when a customer reaches out and responding quickly is worth everything.
We made it a point to make sure that we responded very quickly to any kind of customer outreach so that they got that instant response and felt like there’s a real person behind this company, they’re not going to forget about my order. I ordered the wrong size, I feel bad, but now I need somebody to rush me a new one overnight. We decided we were going to go above and beyond because every happy customer would lead to more referrals and this natural network effect that we always relied on from a marketing perspective.
You can start at small by replying to customers quickly, and by taking every unique scenario. Don’t blanket your customer service policy. We’ve had cases where a customer was on the way to the wedding by train the night before, with his suit, and left and on the train. In those moments you have to decide what you’re going to do for that customer. In a lot of cases you would say, “I can overnight it to you for a fee, but you have to purchase a whole new suit and track down that other suit if you want to refund.” We asked ourselves how would we want to be treated in that moment and how would that impact this one customer’s experience working with us? Those are the moments where we said, “Okay, we’ll overnight you the suit, you’ll have it tomorrow and you follow up with the train station and try to track down that suit.” That did everything.
“We decided we were going to go above and beyond because every happy customer would lead to more referrals and this natural network effect.”
Diana: It’s a couple of hundred dollars that that costs us but it’s endless amount of customer love. As we’ve realized what are our customers responding to? Jeanne and I were just being nice. Then We’ve realized customers really love the fact that they do feel like there are people taking care of their guys and they will catch things like their guys forgetting to order a vest or ordering the wrong color. So that peace of mind that we’ve also been able to give our customers is another level of service that we’ve been able to build some technology around. That’s our wedding group coordination system that couples can set their group up in and literally let it be and we will send them reminders, we will follow up. There’s always a straggler, they don’t have to worry about it, we’re on it. It’s been pretty fun to evolve in our approach to how we’re supporting our customers.
Felix: Tell us about your virtual appointments, how does that work?
Diana: We have showrooms in Chicago, Philly, and Denver, that started shutting down in March because of COVID. When we were starting this company out of our New York apartments, Jeanne and I never really thought we would have showrooms. We always wanted this to be an online experience and a great online option. As we kind of grew and we had good people in different cities, we took the opportunity to put up a small physical showroom. When those were shutting down we knew that we still wanted to connect with our customers, it is truly the part of the business that we love.
Maybe we were going stir crazy too in our homes in Chicago, but we needed to rebuild that customer connection and so we launched the virtual appointment. We didn’t know how popular they would be, but we hoped that despite this pandemic people would still want to plan their weddings and that they knew that eventually large group gatherings would be permitted again. We also knew that people had more time at home, and they weren’t going out as much and they might have a little break during their work day because everybody’s working from home.
So we rolled that out and they have become incredibly popular. It’s actually allowed us to expand our range of customers. Now that we’re able to “connect with” them, see their faces. We’ve taken appointments with couples from the East Coast to Hawaii. We’ve brought the brand into people’s homes in a really special way.
Felix: Are there certain tools or apps you’ve used, either for the virtual appointments or in general, that have helped you run the business?
Diana: Currently we use Calandly for our bookings and Zandesk for our customer service. Jeanne, you were just talking about a really great new app today.
Jeanne: Yeah, apps have been like our thing for solving problems. As far as the virtuals are concerned, it’s very simple to connect with people. As long as you have a calendar, they can book their appointment online and then we just use a Google Hangout link you click in and everybody kind of has their calendar to manage that. That’s been super easy. We do use a ton of apps and Zendesk has been a really, really wonderful customer service tool like Diana mentioned. We love Klaviyo for our email marketing. We use Yotpo. We love DeferPay early on as a way to capture payment outside of the traditional checkout process. Even little apps to make your shipping slips, when you ship an order. There are apps to design out your shipping forms, which is really, really helpful from a branding perspective. Collecting sales tax is a real thing. We use Avalara to collect our sales tax. We are big app people and we’re always poking in on the Shopify App Store to figure out ways that we can fine-tune our processes.
When you get to the point where you have a great volume of orders, and you’re really looking for that next level of support, Shopify Plus is something that we moved on to once we felt we were ready for that next stage of development. Having that flexibility with Shopify Plus has been so excellent for giving us the tools to build out some customizations. Every business is unique and every business will have that unique thing where piecing together a few apps works for a little while, but then you really need to build out something more sophisticated. You need to decide when that point happens for your business and that’s when sort of Shopify Plus comes in as a great tool.
Felix: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the last year in business that will impact your direction moving forward?
Jeanne: Our biggest lesson and our biggest suggestion is really that profitability, focus on profitability. In the last 18 months, we’ve hit some major moments, relying on a fulfillment center and relying on our physical showrooms for store traffic. You realize you do need to make sure that you are a profitable business to overcome moments of struggle, which are going to happen and it’s inevitable that you’re going to hit a hiccup. Being that healthy, profitable business from the start has been the key for us to get through those moments. Especially with COVID a lot of businesses are struggling. We have struggled through it, but because we run our business so intentionally to keep that profitability on every sale, we have survived COVID, we will survive COVID and will come out stronger for it. That would be my number one, Diana may want to add something else.
Diana: Yeah, that’s been key. It’s led to giving us so much leverage in so many different situations. When we say we’re profitable, I mean, we’re profitable but we’re not like millions of dollars profitable, but we’re in the green and that is significantly important. As we’ve gotten to be a little bit more mature: there is no one right way of doing things. It’s so hard. I went to MIT Sloan for business school. Back your startup was only as good as the amount of money you could fundraise and you had to follow this track. There was a lot of hype and competition about what stage you were at and all this stuff.
Honestly, none of that matters. You can really carve out your own path as far as what type of business you’re creating. There are some common scenarios around how you fundraise or founder’s agreements. What you start off with regarding a founder agreement can evolve, it’s not totally locked in place. Your business is yours to work on and guide. As you go along, you realize that nobody knows your business better than you do. But in the beginning years, you would get approached by marketing companies that would try to tell you that they knew your business better than you.
I love where we’re at. We feel really empowered and we’re making the best possible decisions now because we’re confident in what we’ve built, and it’s happened over time. Don’t let anybody tell you what your business has to be, you figure that out and listen to what the market is telling you, and the customers are telling you. Customers will tell you everything you need to know about your business.