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Ep. 130 - A “Mistake” That Earned Half a Million Dollars with Ian Leslie

Ian is the chief marketing officer of Industry West, a pure play ecommerce furniture company based out of Florida and a showroom in SoHo, NYC. 

With more than 10 years of experience in integrated marketing communications, he has built highly effective campaigns within both the retail and higher education verticals, including work for the US Navy. 

Ian’s focus is on creating data-driven campaigns across multiple channels that empower people to evangelize on a brand’s behalf, while allowing the brand to measure campaign effectiveness on a cost-per-acquisition basis. 

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:05] Secret sale with cool results
  • [02:13] Ian’s career before Industry West
  • [03:48] Industry West’s growth state when Ian came in
  • [07:16] Getting help from partners
  • [10:14] Industry West’s marketing stack
  • [12:27] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
  • [12:47] Sponsor: Mesa getmesa.com/honest
  • [13:50] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
  • [14:25] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [16:06] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [17:02] Benefits of having a longer sales cycle
  • [19:19] Innovation isn’t just about reinventing the wheel
  • [20:56] Cut your losses and just look ahead
  • [21:34] Why Industry West chose Magento
  • [23:26] The awesome warehouse sale tactic
  • [26:56] If founded today, could IW succeed?

Resources:

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 Transcript:

Ian Leslie  

Try to look at the long term, you know, goal as opposed to just Hey, I've invested this time and money. 

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results. 

I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.

Let's get on with the show.

Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. 

Today we're welcoming to the show a very, very brilliant gentleman, Ian Leslie is the CMO at US housewares brands, Industry West and Favor

His journey has spanned almost a decade now. He's done some pretty, pretty incredible things with both those brands. So welcome to the show today, Ian. How are you doing? 

Ian Leslie  

Hey man. Good. Appreciate it. Thanks for having me. 

Chase Clymer  

I'm super excited to get in and talk about all this cool stuff. 

But I think we should tease the audience a bit and talk about how, I guess, perhaps, you ended up on my radar, which was like a secret sale that had some pretty cool results. 

So let's tease them a bit. Let's not give it all away. Make them wait a bit. 

Ian Leslie  

Alright. 

Chase Clymer  

What was that all about? 

Ian Leslie  

So yeah, we were running a warehouse sale. Spun up a new site for warehouse sale. We've done this in the past. 

This was our first attempt at running like a PWA headless site for it. 

And we were doing a friends and family thing early access for the first weekend. And I got a little antsy and decided, "I wanted to go broader than friends and family to our owned audience." So I spun up a little ad hoc thing. 

And it led to a crazy, crazy weekend. Lots of pings of the site and the sales. And I guess you don't want to give it all away. So I guess... What do they say? "Find out the rest of the story after the break." I guess or whatever.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So you've been at Industry West now for over 10 years. Take me back to, I guess, right before that. What's your career journey been like and how did you end up there?

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. So actually, Industry West is about 10 years old - 11 years old. This is our 10 year anniversary, actually, right around this month. And I've been there for 5-6 years. Prior to that I was with Savannah College of Art Design

I was leading their interactive marketing teams. So basically all web email, social, digital properties, as it related to lead generation for high school students trying to get high schoolers to raise their hand and say they wanted to attend university. 

Prior to that, I was actually out of school. I was a journalist. And then got out of print journalism as that dinosaur started to die. And I've known Industry West since its inception. I worked with one of its co-founders, Jordan England at a prior gig. 

And he and I got to know each other, he went off to find it. He found industry West and I went to work at SCAD. And then about 5 years after it was founded, joined back up with him. 

Company is founded by him and his wife and is a totally bootstrapped company. 

And then like you mentioned, we've since spun off a sister brand called Favor, where we sell accessories, home decor items with  lower AOV. But yeah.

Yeah. That's me. That's the brand in a nutshell. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So when you were first offered the job over at Industry West, what was the position? What were you trying to help them out with? 

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. So I was leaving SCAD and Industry West was based in Florida. I live in coastal South Carolina and wasn't wanting to move, but had a good relationship with Jordan. And so we thought we'd try it on a contract basis. So I was sort of offering fractional CMO services. 

So I was on a contract basis with them, and then was working a few other small gigs, doing some digital consultation for Gamut Media, which is a Cox property up north.

And then a few other just small social media projects. So I was doing that, basically. 

So I was basically an outsourced CMO for the company for the first year. And that first year was just a lot of getting best practice on email campaigns, employees, tearing down the SEM, and rebuilding it with a new agency... 

And just getting some stuff to best practice. Industry West had succeeded despite not having a lot of that best practice stuff in place in the first 5 years on the digital side. 

So yeah, that was the first year there. Then after the first year, we realized things were working well remotely and I came on full-time as a full-time employee. The only thing really changed was I got benefits.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. That's crucial these days. 

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. No doubt. No doubt.

Chase Clymer  

When you started working with Industry West, even as a consultant, or a contractor, --However you want to spend that term --Where were they at in their business journey? You can share as much or as little as you can.

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. So, we're very trade focused at the time. So I say [we're] B2B. And I always like to define that as not wholesale, but rather, interior designers, coffee shops, Mom and Pop [shops], pizza, bars, restaurants... 

And then from that all the way to internal and external procurement per se. Facebook HQ, or Airbnb HQ, or a food court at Yankee Stadium, or Atlanta Hartsfield food court. So we have furnished all of those. 

So the first 5 years, they were very heavy into that. It was when I started that we definitely started to expand the actual Ecommerce sales, even though we've always been Ecommerce. 

An overwhelming majority of sales had actually gone through sales reps, like the trade calling or emailing in and wanting to quote and transacting offline. So when I started, it was... 

We know, definitely, the hockey stick of growth in terms of actually getting people to transact online, and some of that being the B2B side, but are expanding the consumer side. 

And then in the last year with COVID, the consumer side, and the Ecommerce side has just exploded to the point where... When I started, we were looking at Ecommerce. 

Well, once I got our Ecommerce up and running, we were looking at an accounting for in the neighborhood of 20% to 25% of monthly revenue. Whereas now we're looking at Ecommerce accounting for in the neighborhood of 50% to 55% of revenue.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, when he took the job, and then now you're working full-time, and you're coming in, and you're taking a look at things you're trying to put in best practices in place. 

You mentioned that you had consulted around for a bit at some other things. Is that something that you find happens to most brands as they're growing, they get to a certain point... 

I guess what I'm saying is, from my perspective, I find brands that have hit that... They've gone from zero to one. They found product-market fit

And when you get someone in place that knows what they're doing, helping them get those best practices, just the trajectory and the growth just spins up really... 

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

...because they got... They have all this other stuff already in place, which is super helpful.

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. Yeah. I think that was... I know Jordan. I knew the company. I knew the founders. And I liked them. And I loved them. 

They're some of my best friends and I love the product, but it was the fact that it was succeeding as well as it was, despite the fact that a lot of those best practices weren't in place where I jumped at the opportunity. 

Chase Clymer  

It's exciting. 

Ian Leslie  

Yeah, exactly. So it we talked a lot about "could this company happened today?" Like, and I don't know that it could. But Jordan, just kinda... It's a bootstrapped company. In the first 5 years, Jordan just just grinded. 

And a lot of it was word of mouth. And a lot of it was the fact that we were a company that stocked furniture. And if... A story that we always tell is that in the first couple years, there was a burger joint in Pittsburgh that needed 50 bar stools or 75 bar stools. 

And Jordan rented the U-Haul, and packed it up and drove the U-Haul from Jacksonville, Florida up to Pittsburgh and delivered the barstools himself. 

And then when you have a service like that from the owner of the company, word of mouth travels and so then it is okay. "Well, we have this great trade consumer base or trade base. How do we build up the consumer base?" 

And so we're starting to build up all those other best practices. And then for me I wrote... I blogged about this years ago. Yeah, that initial hockey stick of '"Okay, now we're doing email or our sem is actually working. 

And we're doing some social advertising." "Okay, so you get that initial hockey stick, but then how do you sustain it?" You're right. And I think like, what we saw was... Yeah. We saw... My first year we saw that hockey stick of growth. 

Then maybe years 3 and 4, we were growing, but not at the same clip. And now you're 5, particularly on the Ecommerce side. It's crazy. Typically year over year, for any given month, we're reaching the previous year's total within the first 15-17 days of a month. 

So yeah. The growth is crazy. But yeah, I think you put those practices in place and you see the initial hockey stick of growth, and then it's a matter of "Okay, what can you do next to sustain that or to continue to grow?"

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So I guess let's talk about what you did next. So obviously, as you mentioned earlier, you're a big fan of owned marketing. 

Could you break down what the stack looks like these days? How you guys are acquiring new customers, how you're keeping customers happy? Like what that journey might look like. 

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. When I started, we were pretty heavy into Google Advertising. An overwhelming majority of our budget went to search, display shopping, and started to do a little bit more social advertising. 

And then I think and then over the past year, I mean, we've really divested a ton from Google. Other than Google Shopping, we're not on Google much at all. In terms of new customer acquisition, we do a ton on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest

And then we're doing a lot of influencer stuff. And then we're also really having great success and doing a lot of white label advertising through some publisher networks and some partners... Sorry. 

Some partner magazines and sites like Elle Decor or Architectural Digest or that sort of thing. And using those channels as a platform. And then I think, yeah. And then I think we find that we're an aspirational brand, to an extent. 

So a lot of the time we'll collect a new contact, a new customer contact, and it'll take them a bit of time. We know we're waiting for a sale or something before they'll order. So continuing to email them and just be top of mind for them. 

Whether it's through retargeting or through emails. But yeah, I think more than ever, and also more so now with the economy as it is and post-COVID, I think we've been more invested in print the past year than we have probably in all my years prior. And I think that's just because there's some value there due to the economy. 

So yeah, I think that's where we're at.

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Chase Clymer  

Could you talk a little bit more about how you are okay with just acquiring email and not necessarily getting the sale right off the rip...

Ian Leslie  

 Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

...and having a longer sales cycle? What I'm gonna say you're... A lot of your offering is more on the luxury side of things.

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. So our AOVs are generally in the neighborhood of $900 to $1100. So, I mean, that's not a spontaneous purchase. 

So, we typically see a --I don't know-- 2 to 4 week shopping cycle, before someone will actually transact. So I think like, we're constantly filling the funnel with a new audience and awareness play and being deliberate in terms of targeting. 

And we target our ads and  where the person is whether it's, you know, mid, top, [or] bottom funnel. And so we are a bootstrapped company. And so I can't afford like 6 month, 9 month awareness plays. But so everything has to transact relatively soon. But it's cyclical. 

And I think we have an understanding that you need a couple of days or a couple of weeks before you're going to decide to place an order for a $2500 sofa online. So that's totally understood. 

So I think we have a pretty good understanding of daily traffic and daily carts and daily volume of carts and knowing "Okay, these carts will end up converting, within X amount of days or whatever." 

And as long as we're seeing the traffic volume and the cart volume, we feel pretty good that the checkouts are going to be there within a certain amount of time.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. And then assuming that you are reaching out to these new emails through whatever email software you're using, and just really educating them about the products and the benefits and the values of shopping at Industry West.

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. We're continuing to educate them with a lot of emails, a lot of UGC. We're doing some UGC ads. And yeah, just trying to, like I said, just trying to stay front of mind, depending on where they are on the funnel. 

Chase Clymer    

Awesome. And now, before we get into the big win of the last couple months...

Ian Leslie  

(laughs) Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

...is there anything that comes to mind in your experience in the last decade that was perhaps the opposite side of the spectrum, maybe a mistake that you guys have made that you try to let the audience know, "Hey, you probably shouldn't try this because we did and it wasn't the best."

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. I don't think there was any major faux pas. But I think like one thing I always looked at is, with our trade audience, we were trying to like recreate the wheel to an extent and allow them to build a mood board that they could then share with their own clients and get approval of through a website as sort of a sourcing platform as opposed to just like a pure Ecommerce platform. And that really didn't resonate. 

The interior design community didn't use it. So basically, like we had just revamped Magento’s wishlist program and created it more like a "lookbook". I forgot exactly what we even called it. 

But yeah, we're hoping interior designers would like to add 5 or 6 chairs and then send that to their clients and say, "I found these amazing chairs on Industry West. Which one do you like? And can I source for you?" And it just didn't really resonate. 

So we spent a decent amount of money creating that functionality on the site and it just sort of bonked. And I'm always one to... I hate the phrase "Fail fast." But I mean, I also am always willing to pilot something. 

So I'm gonna think there are plenty of times I've piloted things that didn't work out. But thankfully, I haven't been cancelled on Twitter or anything yet, for something that really went wrong.

Chase Clymer  

I think that's this part of marketing. You're going to try a lot of different things, but the ones that win are going to offset the ones that didn't.

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. The rising tide lifts all boats and all that jazz. And I think, at the end of the day, we're seeing growth and we're seeing the numbers --top and bottom line numbers-- worked out right. 

It's all good. I think it's just not being too proud to cut your losses, whether it's an initiative, a marketing campaign, a piece of software, or whatever it may be, try to look at the long term goal, as opposed to just "Hey, I've invested this time and money."

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. And you mentioned that you are built on Magento. Obviously, Shopify is a big player in the space these days. And but there are... These are just tools. 

So it doesn't really... At the end of the day, any tool can kind of serve the purpose that you need. So I guess what was the reasoning behind moving forward with Magento?

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. We were in the Magento community/open source before I started. Originally, the site was a Drupal site, but it moved to Magento. 

And then I was with the company for a year or 2. We knew open source was sunsetting, in terms of security, patches, etc. So we had to decide, "Did we want to redesign/rebuild our enterprise commerce cloud? Or did we want to move over to Shopify?" 

At the time, Shopify Plus wasn't what it is now. But even if it was, I think we still would have made this decision. Really, a lot of it was what we wanted to do on the site. 

But also a lot of it was just the complexity of our SKUs. A lot of configurables, a lot of kits. Selling furniture is a lot different than selling sneakers or selling t-shirts. 

So I think just Magento in terms of the complexity of our SKUs and the complexity of tying into our ERP was just the right move. And since then, I think, it's paid tons of dividends, because we're currently running 3, soon to be 4, websites from the same Magento instance. 

And that doesn't include when we were running a POS, we were running out of Magento, as well. So basically, I like to say we're not... We have a platform now. So we built a platform, our own platform, through Magento, as opposed to running these disparate websites.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. And that makes sense to me. Magento is extremely powerful. And it does have its place in the ecosystem. And I agree with you, the configurability of that and the high SKU counts. 

Oftentimes, Magento is always going to win out. So let's give the people what they have been waiting around the last 20 minutes for. Let's talk about the insider sale and how that worked out for you. 

Ian Leslie  

Yeah. So like I said, we're running this warehouse sale. We've run it before. This is the first time we hacked a website together in the past. This time, we did a PWA install of our Magento installation. 

So this is now our 3rd website in addition to our www site and Favor. And it was a big deal. The launch was a big deal again, because we were doing this PWA and there's a lot that came with that. And so we were like, "Hey, let's just soft launch it to some friends and family." 

So we sent an email out on Friday. Adobe actually got the email so they sent it out to all of Adobe. So it was like not going to be quite friends and family. And then Friday, Saturday... Some point late Friday, early Saturday... 

I was like "You know what, (laughs), I just want to sell it all now." So I went to my Notes app on my phone, my iPhone, and I just wrote out this note, as if I was keeping... 

I was gonna send this note to my team of "Hey, let's keep this behind a password. The warehouse sale about the launch, let's keep it behind a password because it blew up last time and everything went so quickly. But we'll open it to the public..." 

And it was like... The date was a week from then. And I posted that on our Industry West Instagram account. And it made it look like it was a mistake. I hadn't meant to post the website and the password. 

And I mean that it just blew up from there. We did... I think we did like half a million dollars or something like that today in 48 hours. It was insane. 

And I think just that whole exclusivity and FOMO and like, "Oh my gosh. They messed up. And they didn't mean to post this. Let's hop on this opportunity." 

And I think people also saw it for what it was, which was just sort of like a gimmick. But it worked out really well. We just killed it. We totally, we just destroyed our previous warehouse sale numbers. 

And I think for me to say (laughs) I'm slightly held up even though I told everyone we were going to soft launch it. But the soft launch became THE launch. And yeah, for me the inspiration of that was... And some people have asked me before, but just... 

I'd seen a lot of people, a lot of celebrities using their iPad/their iPhone Notes app as a way just to write messages to their community and post on Instagram. The Notes app has become sort of stationary of the generation or at least at the moment. 

They say "Hey, let's just put it on the Notes app. Doesn't have to look pretty and glossy. Let's just put it out there." And it worked.

Chase Clymer  

Oh. No. Yeah, it worked fantastic. And is a super cool idea. And I'm sure that there's going to be a few imitators out there. 

Ian Leslie  

(laughs)

Chase Clymer  

Pulling some inspiration from the success that you saw. Is there anything that I forgot to ask you about today that you think would be worthwhile to share with our audience?

Ian Leslie  

Oh no. I just think. I would like to point out again, like we are a bootstrap company. And I think more and more we've been given thought to the fact that could this company have started today to succeed to the extent that it has and I don't know that it could? 

I think it's such a crowded vertical and DTC brands are just starting up left and right. And the cost of acquisition is so high. I think it would be very difficult to do this today or start it from day one today. 

And I think... I do think the bootstrap narrative gets underplayed across all verticals. Not just our story, but really all stories. So I mean, I think that's really important. But yeah, I think it's been a great ride. I think there's... 

And there's still so much runway. I'm not too proud to say that. I could walk down the street and ask 100 people if they've heard of Industry West then and I would imagine 99 haven't. 

So it just tells me there's a ton of opportunity there and looking forward to getting them all learning about us.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Ian, thank you so much for coming on today.

Ian Leslie  

Yeah, man. Thanks. I appreciate it.

Chase Clymer  

Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. 

We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have. Make sure you subscribe, leave a review

And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.