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MOST CRUCIAL Pillar of eCom Operations - eCom Ops Podcast Episode #18

MOST CRUCIAL Pillar of eCom Operations - eCom Ops Podcast Episode #18

by Norbert Strappler

3 years ago

We are proud to have had the chance to host John Roman from BattlBox in our eighteenth episode of eCom Ops Podcast.

Join us today for some valuable insight on:
• John’s passion-driven journey and beyond
• Why customer satisfaction is the most crucial pillar
• An insight into BattlBox’s operation

Transcript from video:

Norbert: hello and welcome to the ecom ops podcast my name is Norbert i'm your host and today i'd like to welcome John Roman hi John
John: hey Norbert how are you
Norbert: i'm fine thank you how are you John
John: doing well
Norbert: that's great while John has such a great uh tool our business the Battlbox um it's it's really uh amazing it's a niche but but John tell us a bit more about that
John: sure so Battlbox started we started it back in 2015 uh it's a monthly subscription box outdoor survival gear um and we've continued growing year over year and uh we actually in uh last month we released our uh season one of our tv show on netflix which talks about the company and um it's kind of been just the growth the growth we've seen from from an idea and a concept now we have our own show on netflix
Norbert: amazing what are you doing um you've been featured on forbes and uh and business leader
John: yeah we've we've been uh on quite a few things just um kind of a natural byproduct when you see the exponential growth we saw um i think we were on the inc five we were only five thousand last year we've won um best men's subscription box um in a few different uh award ceremonies so yeah i think i think we're onto something at this point
Norbert: great and how did you get first into e-commerce
John: so not not by design at all um so with Battlbox there's there's three there's three principal owners and um our ceo and my business partner Daniel he his his wife was getting fiancee at the time was getting a birchbox in the mail and he'd watch her open it up and you know you could see the excitement and the experience that she had with with the traditional subscription box and um uh Daniel's an outdoorsman so he was like man he's like i want i want this experience so he looked online and he couldn't find kind of a uh box like he wanted and that was kind of like the opportunity in the aha moment um so we're no longer on great joy but uh if you're familiar with the creature platform makes it really easy to launch an idea in in subscription box form so so we were able to throw together a website and launch it in a couple of weeks and uh just off off to the races and then from that um we learned we learned e-commerce uh none of us none of us had e-commerce experience previously and um you know in a few years span we we managed to become kind of marketing experts if you will in in the digital space so it's uh it's been a fun journey and if you would have asked me in january 2015 if this is what we would be doing what i would be focused on absolutely not it was unplanned
Norbert: that's cool uh same for your colleagues Ryan
John: yeah no it's uh i don't think any of us planned planned uh on on where we are today
Norbert: and that's nice how many customers customers do you have
John: so it's it's um a number we don't typically throw out there per se um but i can tell you last month um last month i want to say we shipped 28 000 boxes
Norbert: oh that's huge
John: i think i might be a little bit off on that number but it's definitely in that range
Norbert: yeah
John: it might be actually greater i just
Norbert: that's great that's awesome and what what are you using what's your currently com stack
John: so um on the the stack it's uh shopify plus and then we use recharge for the subscription billing counterpart um and uh our site obviously has a lot of custom development we have a um agency we work with called hulk apps that uh has really allowed us to customize and take a proactive approach with a lot of the the parts of the business that typically get overlooked like retention um and then obviously traditional stuff like conversion rate optimization and search engine optimization
Norbert: that's important and and how do you start did you start with shopify and then upgrade it to plus or um did you dive right away into shopify plus
John: so we dived straight into shopify plus so we were on crate joy um for the first two two years and um we outgrew them and uh you know i think at the time we were their largest merchant and uh creature it was great to get us from you know a to b but um as we were looking at what was important for us on kind of business initiatives moving forward we wanted to kind of diversify and have a strong marketplace just one time traditional e-commerce shop and um there were a couple other things we wanted to and the reality we weren't gonna accomplish it and build it how we wanted uh two on create choice so we um we were actually planning and and not too far along we were a couple months along in a building our own platform and then um shopify i think randomly reached out to us in in a campaign and we engaged and we quickly realized that everything shopify was doing you know made sense and it was something that sounded good for the business and and obviously making that choice um you know two and a half three years ago and and seeing where they've come in that in that short span too kind of uh solidifies that we made the right decision to go to shopify but we went we went straight to shopify plus so we have um under our umbrella we have several other brands uh Carnivore Club um Grenade soap the shirt i have on um going gear and um we're not on shopify plus on all of them so Battlbox and and Carnivore Club we use shopify plus but um all the other ones were just on you know the traditional the traditional shopify account
Norbert: and uh do you want to sell on marketplaces
John: um yeah so we marketplaces and like an amazon
Norbert: yeah
John: yeah yeah so we're um so we're on amazon and ebay um amazon uh for Battlbox and Carnivore Club where uh we offer traditional marketplace e-commerce on both on on for both brands on the amazon platform but we're also enrolled in amazon uh subscription box which is uh offering so you can you can get the complete description uh subscription box experience directly from amazon
Norbert: oh nice and and what percentage of your sales go through um uh platforms versus uh own store
John: so it's it's it's actually not that large uh the marketplace side i would say the marketplace um estimate probably somewhere in the two to three percent
Norbert: oh really
John: very very tiny
Norbert: very tiny yeah absolutely um and it makes sense for you to be there
John: yeah it's it's one of those things like you have to be there now you know let's look at the the marketplace traditional e-commerce you're going to give them 15 off the top you have to do fulfilled by amazon right you don't have a choice there if you
don't good luck getting momentum and picking up steam so that's another 15 so to give away 30 percent um you know that's not super attractive it is dependent on your business and and your margins it might be great um but if we're not running insane ridiculous margins we can focus we don't we do it but we don't focus on the marketplace
Norbert: yeah
John: focus on bringing him to our site because it's a better margin we can acquire customers for for a fraction and the end result is is more profitability for us
Norbert: i understand yeah and and of course you're maybe listing on google shopping or so or facebook shop
John: yeah yeah so we're on we're on google shopping um facebook shopping we're not on um one of the the interesting things
about uh Battlbox is even though all of our ads are in policy and i actually wrote about this uh my on my blog today it gets published tomorrow but we have a really interesting relationship with facebook um so we're all of our ads full compliance and policy you know it's a subscription box outdoor gear adventure gear it's it's geared to get you outside right and everything that has to do with outside but that means occasionally there's a knife in our box now it's not it's not for a weapon used it's for a practical use if you're camping right but you know a knife is technically a weapon so we have a very very very uh complicated relationship with facebook
Norbert: very good described
John: yeah it's complicated
Norbert: i know what you mean i understand yeah and and do you have a specific person in your team that is focused on operations
John: yeah so we um it's you don't hear it too often but our um fulfillment warehousing everything's done in-house so we yeah so we have um uh two thirteen thousand square feet um warehouses one is uh one that we own the company owns and that is where our entire operation staff is our team that does the pick and packing team that does assembly um the operations that works closely with me on the tech side and making sure that that everything we code actually works and spits out on the back end to them correctly and then we the the other 13 000 square foot um we actually just got and we're just leasing that and it's purely just for uh access inventory that we don't need immediately
Norbert: okay and how many people do you do you have that do the picking and the packing i mean 28 000 packages uh in the last month that is quite a lot of work
John: yeah no it's um it's a lot of work and and then with uh with everything uh regarding the pandemic and covet it's it's it's a challenge i'm i'm glad that uh that i'm not on the day-to-day non-stop um over there because i know it's been a it's been a challenge um so we're actually in so we're located our off or two of our offices are in Georgia um in the states and one of them is um in a college town so we it's it's ironically where we all went to school so we have the relationships there and it's it's a lot of um i'd say probably 20 on average at any given time 20 part-time college students um they're they're not full-time they just you know they want to earn some beer money and uh you know we give them an opportunity to help us build the boxes during the busy time and um and then of course we have we have full-time staff down there as well but um it's about 20 that are always like packing the boxes shipping stuff out
Norbert: worldwide or uh just in the states
John: so it's a good question um and so right now um as of today august 13th we ship um just in uh the us in canada but hopefully by the end of this week we'll be launching um in all of europe and australia
Norbert: and the shipping goes from from from the us or uh do you have local uh storages
John: so so right now initially it's going to be us and we if we see success in a certain country right so if if a certain country picks up and we see a lot of success there i think at that point we'll have to figure out how do we get um an actual facility there because the shipping costs are not fun nobody wants to pay duties like it's just it's just not a good it's not the best customer experience um so as soon as we see success somewhere i think the logical next step is is figuring out how do we how do we bring the product over there and and make it a better better experience for the customer
Norbert: yeah i understand and what do you do that um you ensure that your customers really have currently the the um a good and awesome experience with your brand
John: so we we have a few pillars of of things for it at our company that just are of the utmost importance and customer service and customer experience are at the front um so we do we do a lot of things we have a lot of touches um when someone signs up sure there's a welcome series automation email there's also manual outreach from our customer service team typically one of the leaders and they're introducing themselves as well um and it's it's just simply an actual email it's not automated uh it's a it's a manual email that we do because we want to form that bond um we also have a members only group on facebook where if you're an active subscriber you're you're you're allowed to be in the group and they can think of it almost like a a fast lane to to to interacting with us so if there's ever an issue you know people can post something in and our entire team on our side is in that group as well so we get tagged and stuff that typically we probably shouldn't get tagged in but uh it allows us to stay connected with them and then we have exclusive um uh stuff we'll do in the group like we'll do exclusive facebook lives and interact with everybody um and it's just it's i think the biggest part of the experience is also the community and in building that um obviously you have to send quality product as well
Norbert: yeah absolutely this is the most important part
John: correct and you have to get to send it when you're supposed to it needs to be delivered when when the expectations are but if you can do both of those and you can build a good community um they all kind of just mesh together so well
Norbert: and um what role does this automation play in your operations
John: so we we have a a a certain degree of automation but um if you saw if you saw our warehouse um a lot of stuff is is is old school like we have that the traditional uh assembly line and a box is coming down and if i'm if i'm on the line that day you know i have item item one and maybe 12 that are going in the box and it comes down and i'm manually grabbing and i'm putting it in there um and then at the end we we actually have we don't even have a machine putting the label on we have we have a guy sticking just sticking the labels
Norbert: sticking at the label and cool
John: yeah so we we do a lot of stuff um a lot of stuff manually um
Norbert: and in terms of uh technical automation so that uh let's say order coming in uh is there anything that goes directly to your shipping centers or um today counting or uh what else
John: yeah so so when it comes to that side we're we're very very very bleeding edge when it comes to tech um so we have uh obviously everything flows through so we use ship station on our back end for management of of the shipments um so because we have several brands um obviously they have to flow through into different sections but it's the same warehouse facility um that's fulfilling it so we have different teams um but we have multiple works so we have obviously some computers in the front end in the office for the for the team but then we have workstations um throughout the actual warehouse based on that brand where they can pull everything out and everything's flowing through correctly to them and printing so so it's a it's a very smooth process
Norbert: and when i sign up today for a box um is there a chance for me to get the old boxes or do i jump in at some point of a
subscription and do i get it anyway or how does this work
John: sure so we're up to mission 66 right now and we started at one and you know month two was two month three was three so we we've we've come a long way we've actually switched how we've done that a few times um we used to around mission 13s shortly after year one it was a welcome box and you always got mission 13 as your first mission and then the following month you would fall in line with the current mission everybody else was getting um and uh we then continued that we had a new mission that was a the new welcome box mission which i think was 34. and then shortly after that uh we made a change where when you signed up you got to select a pass mission so we'd have a pop-up purchase and you'd pick your first mission and it was uh you could get the current mission or you could get one of our past missions and you know we have we had a bunch of different options when it came to pass missions you know sending out over 60. um post covid we sold out of all of our past missions we have we have no inventory and with with you know traditional uh operational challenges when it comes to supply chain right now um you know we're we're lucky just to get the the current inventory in and um so now when you sign up you're you're given you are given an option and uh so right now we just shipped out mission 66 when you sign up uh today you have the option of mission 65 um or surprise me and if we do have some kind of random pass mission we'll send that to you and then the following month you'll fall in line with everybody else and get 67. um now the the tech we built uh post checkout when they
get 65 or surprise me we can swap that out and change that in real time takes less than a minute and um so if we do end up having extra 66 we can then uh give them two options 65 66 uh or a surprise me so um it's built by design where we can um audible as needed based on inventory levels
Norbert: how do you build those missions um um do you sit together drink beer uh be outside at the bonfire
John: so um the the missions is actually um so so there's three of the three principles myself Patrick and Daniel uh we all have our our uh our skill set in our wheelhouse so i'm the sales the marketing the attack uh operations from the sense of of tack Patrick is operations and he he's he runs the fulfillment center um and everything that falls on it from from getting the packages in uh shipping him out he owns that and then Daniel uh the guy that came up with the idea he is he him and his team um they come up with the boxes where i'm i'm not even involved Patrick's not even involved in coming up with the boxes uh Daniel has that has that ability to to build these i don't know how he does it um but him and his team are able to and uh spoiler alert if you watch the show on Netflix you can see a little bit into the process of all the testing we do on product um you know to ensure it's quality before we put it in the box um now it's it's a tv show so there's probably more explosives that that would happen on it than a traditional tuesday
Norbert: yeah
John: it kind of gives a little bit of the insight into Daniel and his team and how they how they decide what goes in the box
Norbert: i need to see if this is also available in Australia i really need to watch this
John: it is
Norbert: it's amazing
John: it's available all regions
Norbert: perfect that's great i know what to do tonight going to the tv show um and and why are you focused on the next year what is your main focus
John: um our our main focus is to continue growth um it seems almost like a silly answer but um it's it's the truth so yeah with the
show we saw exponential growth we were um getting around 150 to 200 000 visitors a month uh in a traditional month but then last month show drops we had 1.2 million visitors so while that was a peak and you know netflix will stop showing it on the algorithm and people will stop watching so the traffic will come down there will be a new norm and we just got to figure out how to
capitalize um on this opportunity right like how do we how do we keep this momentum going
Norbert: that's something that that um that really makes uh a sense that that you're on shopify um i always hear from people about the stability of shopify and then it really doesn't break um did you see the same thing so is is did it break at some point or everything
John: no
Norbert: no
John: so so you know we we haven't had um any any major major major outages there's been an occasional once or twice where the back end the management was down but we've never had our actual front loading front customer uh facing website go down
Norbert: and that's really amazing
John: yeah so it's it's it's been a great experience they when we were prepping for the show we had we had some meetings with them so we have an office in toronto and they have an office in toronto when i was up there we met with our um our shopify msm in person and we're kind of going through the game plan making sure you know with this traffic we're expecting you know what's what's our plan are we going to be okay and um they they kind of showed us some of and talked us through some of their infrastructure they have and uh the redundancy and disaster recovery they have customers that um are processing during during a peak time when there's a flash sale they might be processing up to 2 000 transactions in a minute and they explain their infrastructure allows that and you know i was worried about the uptake of a million visitors in a month if we sold 2 000 products in a minute we'd be sold out um in a short period of time and would just be done uh for another 90 to 128 so we can get new products
Norbert: yeah these are amazing numbers so that's really great um who has taught you the most about e-commerce in your career
John: um it's it's not the good answer that everyone wants to hear where i can say check out uh this person um it's self-taught yeah um it really is self-taught and it's it's a a a group think group effort where i'll go to a e-commerce conference and i'll talk to you know 10 people that all had valuable insight and are very smart people on the top of their game and i'll take a little tidbit of a best practice he said and a best practice he said and this sounded like a best practice but if we tweak it we can make it even better and um it's it's just staying staying tuned to everything and self-taught um you know people have great ideas but not all great ideas uh apply to your business and it's a lot of trial and error and um we're we're always testing right like we're running at all point multiple a b tests and multivariate tests and not just traditional on the website we're doing it all throughout our business and um yeah it's it's not it's not a single person it's it's literally just trial and error and us learning it ourselves through experience yeah experience is the best is the best uh lesson
Norbert: absolutely um yeah and google and use google learn how to use google and ask questions um for the audience give us again how can i find your show on netflix
John: sure so just open up netflix it's all regions this show is called southern survival um you could you could type in Battlbox and it's still gonna pop up too um but the show is called southern survival and it's streaming uh season one eight episodes they're about 30 minutes a piece so you can binge the whole thing in in a long evening
Norbert: yeah great thank you so much for your time John it was really a pleasure talking to you learning more about your product about Battlbox i didn't expect that you're on netflix it's really it's really great and i just can agree to what you said so going out to e-commerce conferences talking to people learn from them um improve things try to implement new things um make it better and simply grow
John: yeah and and you're right on your point about google i can't tell you how many times a day i asked google something and there's there's four or five people that have written articles about it yeah that have there it's it's uh self learning is where it's at Norbert thanks so much for having me this was this was a lot of fun
Norbert: absolutely thanks again and have a great time bye bye
John: thanks have a good one