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Revolutionizing Ecommerce and the Flooring Industry with Marc Bacher - Honest Ecommerce Ep. 145

Marc Bacher is a hardwood floor industry veteran who founded Stuga to make purchasing high quality, thoughtfully designed Swedish floors a simple and modern process. 

Early in his career, Marc realized the impact interiors have on health, wellness, and how design can improve people’s lives and has since made it his mission in life to help people create homes that not only look good, but feel good. Follow Stuga

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [00:58] Why Marc chose flooring
  • [03:46] How to fight against an incumbent
  • [05:15] initial challenges of launching a DTC brand
  • [07:05] Building trust and acquiring new customers
  • [08:35] Are Stuga using influencers?
  • [09:27] What Marc would say to his past self
  • [10:51] Million ways to do a business
  • [11:14] What is the purpose of your business
  • [12:55] Marc’s biggest business learnings
  • [14:38] Don’t have to be pristine to launch
  • [15:39] Making faster decisions
  • [16:21] You’ll never know unless you try
  • [17:20] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
  • [17:41] Sponsor: Mesa apps.shopify.com/mesa
  • [18:25] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest 
  • [19:52] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
  • [20:24] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
  • [21:11] Stuga’s approach to customers
  • [22:08] The typical flooring customer journey
  • [24:05] Improving the customer’s unboxing 
  • [24:59] Automating the customer experience
  • [26:39] You can’t just start a flooring business
  • [27:15] Financing to increase conversion
  • [28:02] Capitalize on what you’re good at
  • [29:20] Being passionate about your business

Resources:

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  Transcript:

Marc Bacher  

No matter how much you think something's gonna work, you have no idea until you do it.

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 am your host, Chase Clymer. And today I'm welcoming to the show, Marc Bacher

Marc is the CEO of Stuga

Stuga is a collection of modern floors from the world's happiest forest, thoughtfully designed by Scandinavians to transform your home. 

Marc, welcome to the show.

Marc Bacher  

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So let's just dive right in. Building a direct-to-consumer flooring brand sounds pretty insane to me. Let's just put it out there. It seems it's a very interesting concept. And I would say... 

Well, my assumption would be that probably one of the biggest  challenges you have is the competition of all the big box retail stores that exist in that space. 

So I guess my first question would be, why flooring?

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. So my history back when I first got out of college was working for a Swedish hardwood flooring company. 

And so I worked for them in the US for 4 years, managed some warehouses and worked with some of their distributors. 

And then they offered me a job to live in Sweden and be a product manager. So I lived in Sweden and was a Global Product Manager for them. So I had a lot of knowledge of Swedish wood flooring, and just wood flooring generally in the US. 

But I took a long break. I left the industry in 2008 and took a long break, did a lot of different things, and then ended up starting Stuga, about 5 years ago. 

So I grew up in the industry, but I hated it after a while (laughs). It's super traditional,and wasn't anything that I was interested in making a career out of, at least at the time. But it all kind of pops back up about 4 or 5 years ago, again. 

Buying a hardwood floor is not an easy experience. It's not enjoyable for most people. It's a lot of smoke and mirrors. 

You got to drive around the car and visit all these stores, and hopefully they have what you want, and it's not really clear what pricing is and you might not know a lot about the product. 

So I know there's a lot of competition out there. But the experience for the consumer generally is pretty terrible. 

So that was the opportunity that we saw, "How do we create a better shopping experience, first and foremost?"

And this idea of someone going online finding a floor that they really loved, and then having to find it in person to get an understanding of pricing or to learn more about it or to even buy it is just not easy. 

So that's our model. We want to capture people once they go online and they want to remodel their house and they're looking for a new floor. And how do we start talking to them online and then work with them throughout the process.

So at a high level, I think it's extremely simple. It's just we have big products that we have to ship. And there's some challenges logistically with that. 

But generally speaking, we just want to inspire people, bring them beautiful floors, we want to make it easy and we want to meet them where they are. And that's really what Stuga is all about.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Yeah, I think that is usually one of the key opportunities with most new startups, going up against an incumbent or whatnot. It's like the opportunities are just to have better customer service, have it be a better experience. 

Because those older brands are... They get to the point where they're stuck in their way, very process driven. and sometimes it's a nightmare to get the level of service you need. 

So that's definitely something I would like to highlight there. The opportunity against an incumbent is usually just [to] be better at serving your customer.

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And the company, we work with some companies that sell a few of their products in the US. They do it through the traditional channels. 

So we're kinda disrupting their business model, if that makes sense. But they're benefiting because they're selling to us. 

So it's an interesting scenario. But due to my history with some of these brands, there's a lot of trust built in. 

So I have their interests in mind. I have our interests in mind. And most of all, we're thinking about the customer day in and day out and there's some tricky days. 

But at the end of the day, I have no doubt that we're going to get to where we want to go for sure.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So let's go back to 4 or 5 years ago, the beginning of it when you decided... 

You're like, "You know what? We're gonna take on flooring, use all of my industry knowledge now that I've come full circle back to it." 

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

What were some of the first initial challenges of launching with a direct-to-consumer brand?

Marc Bacher  

Let's see. There are a bunch of challenges. One of the biggest ones was... We're selling a natural material. People have to see it. 

And that means we have to ship out samples [and] they have to get them in a reasonable period of time. The sample has to be a pretty accurate representation of the product. 

And so there's a lot of things that we pay attention to when we're actually shipping physical pieces of wood flooring anywhere in the US. And so there's some challenges with that. 

But I would say one of the bigger overall challenges was trust because the average price for hardware for houses are high. 

You're looking at anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000, that someone's gonna spend online. And it's a lot of money to spend with someone that you've never met.  

And it's rare to spend that amount of money on an online purchase. So there's a lot of trust that needs to be built. And that takes a while to do. 

We're not just going to get people right when we launch all of a sudden spending a ton of money. There were a lot of conversations back and forth. 

There are a lot of, yeah, one-to-one conversations with the customer that I think a lot of Ecommerce companies don't do and we had to do in the beginning until we built some social proof, so to speak. But that was the biggest challenge. 

And it's still, I think, a challenge for us. The average... Our average customer is a woman and she's either buying it herself, or she's making that joint decision with her husband or partner, and that person is coming into the process pretty late. 

And they're typically the least trustworthy of the buyer. And so we really need to talk to both of them and understand what their concerns are. But it's a challenge.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, absolutely. And then obviously, you're sending out these free samples to everybody. 

What was the first way that you were building out that trust and trying to acquire new customers? What did that strategy look like? 

Because this obviously is a... It's an expensive product. I'm going to draw a parallel between this product and any other luxury product. 

It's definitely probably a higher cost per acquisition and definitely a bit more invested on the awareness side of things.

Marc Bacher  

I guess. Yeah. For us, social has been a big part of that. You working with a few key people in different social channels has helped legitimize us in the very beginning. 

Our strategy is much more broad now. But social really helped in the beginning. 

Getting a couple people using our products then their followers seeing that they're using Stuga. And that's building trust. And so that was a really big deal. 

And then the other thing, I think that worked well for us and we're gonna continue to do is free samples. We don't want to nickel and dime anyone. We want to make it super easy. 

Because as a customer, we want it to be easy. And so that's something that's really been helpful for us. I think it costs a lot of money to do it, because we have to buy the material and we're not making any money on samples. 

And it takes a lot to produce them and ship them because they're heavy when we send them out and all that. So there's some challenges with it. 

But at the end of the day, it's just a core part of our model that we've chosen to operate around.

Chase Clymer  

So when you said that, when you first got started, you were using social to drive some initial traffic. Now is that with partnering with social influencers and giving them products to utilize in projects?

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. We don't do a lot of that anymore, necessarily. But in the beginning, we had a couple people that just wanted to use our products in their house. And so it was just one of these opportunities where we gave a pretty substantial discount to this person. 

And then we don't want to divulge a lot of our overall strategy. But I think today we had some luck. 

I think I was involved in the very beginning of getting the right people using us at the right time. And then it took off from there. 

But these days, if you're working with any people on social you have to invest a lot in these partnerships. It costs a lot of money to do that. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So if you could kind of go back in time for years, you had just got things started. Is there anything that you'd want to tell yourself like, "Hey, don't do this."

Marc Bacher  

I have this recurring thought... I don't want to say every day but it probably... 

Chase Clymer  

(laughs)

Marc Bacher  

...close to every day, which is when you need to go out and raise money. I saw the opportunity. It's a huge opportunity. 

And with what we want to do and what I believe we --not just are doing but can do-- the market opportunity is tremendous. 

And I was limited for cash at the time and so I kept on thinking "Should I raise money? Should I raise money?" 

And ended up talking to people about it, whether it's friends and family, and people that I knew ran businesses and started businesses, and got pretty close to actually taking an investment. 

But it was just this back and forth of "I need investment." "No, I don't need an investment." "I should go get investors." "Maybe I don't need it." And it was just this back and forth. That was really challenging. 

If I'd go back in time, I'll just say "No, you don't need it. Just continue to stay on the path. Use banks as a way to finance the growth of the business rather than giving up ownership for outside investment." At least at this time.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Not everybody needs investment. It really depends on your overall goals with the company, your growth strategy. 

And obviously, everyone can do what they want to do. But I mean, just notably, there as far as... You guys have a bootstrapped company is what they would say. 

Marc Bacher  

That's right.

Chase Clymer  

Everything you've everything, you've done that you've done yourself. The latest news I heard of a bootstrap company was Mailchimp [and] is about to get acquired for $10 billion

And they are 100% bootstrapped. So I don't think necessarily the concept that you have to take financing to hit insane growth goals is actually the only way to do it. There's a million ways to run a business.

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. And I think there's a million ways... It depends on what you want to do, like you said. 

Do you want to just start and sell this business, which means you just you're doing it because you want to make a bunch of money? Or do you want to just build a business and a lifestyle for yourself. 

And for me, I'm more focused on that. I want to live a great life. I want to have some flexibility.I want to employ people and have them be a part of a company that they love to work with. 

I want to sell great products. and I want to make an impact. And the best way for me to do that is to invest in the long term and really build a solid foundation in the company. 

And I think it's impossible to do when you're taking on a ton of investment,cash and spending it like crazy trying to grow as fast as you can. 

It's just not gonna really work out. You got to get scrappy and that's what we had to do. 

It's stressful, I'll tell you that, but it makes you really know the business in and out because you're in all of it every day. 

And you're not just hiring all these people to help you grow it. So I enjoy that. 

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think that's a conversation that, you know, young entrepreneurs need to have with themselves. What is my goal here? 

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

There's nothing wrong with building a lifestyle business at all. And if that's your goal, understand where you need to get. 

But if you do want to sell eventually, usually capital for advertising or something similar to that natural fuel to run the growth engine, which is usually cash. 

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

It's something that investment probably makes a little bit more sense with. 

Marc Bacher  

That's right. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So we touched on mistakes or whatnot. But let's talk more about learnings. What was one of the biggest business learnings getting the business off the ground?

Marc Bacher  

I think we struggled until we invested in actually building our brand. And so we created a brand identity and a brand strategy, which really gave us an outline for who we are, what we care about, how we look and feel, how we talk.... 

We were lost before that. And this... When we did it, it was about almost 2 years ago now, it really just transformed us because it really... It gave us a true north. 

Anytime we had a decision that we needed to make about something we maybe should or shouldn't do, we check back in with our brand: "Who are we? Is this in line with who we are? Is this not aligned with who we are? Does this look how we want to look?" It just really helped with day to day decision making. 

And also then allows us of course, what we need to do is build a brand, we're an Ecommerce company, we have to have a great brand. 

And if we're not investing in a very thorough brand identity, you're just going to get lost. And that was one of the biggest challenges, I think, before we had that was... It was a lot of money to pay for someone to come in and actually create a brand for us. 

And any money you're spending, that's not going directly to sales is always hard to justify. But what I didn't know at the time was that that's actually the best investment in sales I could ever make. It's just a longer term investment. 

So yeah, we had to suck it up and spend the money for it. But now, it drives everything. And I feel like we have one of the best absolutely the best flooring Ecommerce companies. 

We're about to launch our new website here in a couple of weeks and it's going to be incredible. 

But I actually think we're one of the best hardwood flooring companies out there online, whether Ecommerce or not.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. I can't agree even more. I think you did it in the right order to I think first and foremost, get things started. 

Don't let you know some of the more intangible things get in your way I.e. you don't have to wait till the brand is like 100% buttoned up to launch things because there's 10,000 other things you're gonna have to figure out when you're trying to sell this product as well. 

But something that has really helped fuel growth is once you get off the ground, you're starting to get that product-market fit worked out, and you're starting to identify who that customer is. Then doubling down on what works within the form of a brand. That really helps to accelerate growth. 

We actually have... Just over at the agency, we did a lot of work over the last 3 months building out our customer avatar. 

And it just makes every decision so much easier, because you go "Does this..."  

Sid and Nancy are our customer avatars. "Does this... This thing... Does it resonate with Sid and Nancy? Yes or no?" 

Marc Bacher  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

It's just a binary thing.

Marc Bacher  

It's so hard making decisions because you have to make countless decisions every day. So anything that you can do to make that process easier is a win. 

It's just an absolute no brainer at the end of the day. And making good decisions is even harder than just making a decision and that helps you make good decisions. 

Yeah, it's a constant onslaught of decision making, and you don't know what to do sometimes. And anything you can can do to help that process is obviously beneficial. 

Chase Clymer  

It kind of doesn't matter the decision, sometimes it's just that you made one. 

Marc Bacher  

That's right, yeah.

Chase Clymer  

Because you keep moving forward. And when you make mistakes, it's like, "Okay." (laughs)

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

Nothing's ever really going to be detrimental to the business.

Marc Bacher  

It reminds me of what you asked about [earlier]: "What would you tell yourself 3 or 4 years ago?" I would say, no matter how much you think something's gonna work, you have no idea until you do it. 

There were things that I thought wouldn't work or people wouldn't care about that they cared about a lot. And there were other things that I thought, "Man, this is just really going to make a big impact." 

And it fell completely flat. And so you have... You really don't know until you do it. And so my advice to myself and any other entrepreneur would say, don't make... 

Don't bet everything on this one specific investment or initiative to transform the company. Because if that doesn't work and it knocks you out of the game, you're done. And so that's what you really have to be careful about. 

You don't want anything to knock you out of the game unnecessarily, right. And if you're making a big bet and you know it then that's fine. 

But just don't assume that any large investment is going to transform the business because you honestly have no idea until you actually test it.

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Chase Clymer  

So let's fast forward a bit to now. Obviously, you've tried and tested a whole bunch of stuff. 

Is there anything else that you can share with what's working for you just in parallel to how you might suggest other luxury products think about marketing or customer acquisition in general?

Marc Bacher  

We know our customers extremely well. And so we're constantly thinking about how we want to look and feel to them and how we want to speak their language. And that's, I think, just really working well for us because we're consumers ourselves. 

I love interior design. I love Scandinavian design. I respect a good interior. And we're just thinking about that and everything that we do. 

And thinking about the customer 100% every day non-stop. Because I am just convinced that if we continue to do that, no one can beat us. Simple as that. Really.

Chase Clymer  

Oh absolutely. Now I was playing around on the website, you guys have some amazing products here. What's the typical customer journey look like? They're obviously getting a free sample. 

Are you guys following up with trying to help them with their decision making? Like you said, a $10,000 to $15,000 purchase online. 

Now is probably a lot more common than it was 5 years ago. But it's still a pretty, pretty big incentive. So how does that whole education part work?

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. Our current site, I've been looking at it every day for I don't know how long now. I just think it's not great. Our new site is going to do so much more for the customer, which I'm really excited about. 

But today, they typically either hear about us on social, like Pinterest or Instagram. Or they're searching for hardwood flooring online and end up stumbling upon Stuga to come to the site and typically order free samples first. 

And we have a really nice customer experience when they get that first sample box. And we also want to make it very easy for them to contact us if they need it. 

Email us. We have an 800 number on the site, just call us. There's no extensions or anything like that. We can talk to anyone. We love that. 

It also helps us learn a lot about the customer: What are their questions all the time? What do they need? What do they want? And how do we solve that problem for them?

But rarely does anyone buy without talking to us whether it's email or phone because it is such a big decision. 

But yeah. They'll order the free samples first, they'll probably talk to us after that and ask the questions about the products, and then they'll come back and order a larger sample, which is what we always want them to do. It's a better representation of the product. 

And then once they have that,they can make the purchase. Sometimes we hold it for them and ship it at a later date because their products are delayed or we can ship it right away. It just depends on what they want. It's pretty straightforward. 

But there's a lot of conversation. For sure.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Some nuance in it. The free samples, the box... The unboxing looks amazing. I'm sure you guys spent a lot of time and energy on trying to make that experience what it is.

Marc Bacher  

That's right. We didn't have a great experience before that. It was just some samples with very small labels in a FedEx bubble mailer. And now it's a really beautiful box [that] answers a lot of questions for them [and] inspires them. 

We want everything to be beautiful for them. We want every step to be beautiful. That's really our driving force. 

And anything we can do around that it's beneficial for us and the customer. But yeah, just can't... It's a constant effort trying to improve the customer experience, which can be challenging with wood flooring.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So I'm just assuming that within the box, there's obviously the sample of whatever product they're looking to order and an educational material to go alongside it. 

Marc Bacher  

That's right. Yep. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. That's amazing. And then with those people that order those free samples, the nerd in me is thinking that there's probably some automations in place to keep touching base with them. And... 

Marc Bacher  

Yes. 

Chase Clymer  

...try to answer the questions. 

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. There's, of course, a technology component to it. We have a nice CRM that really helps us do a lot of heavy lifting, we're on Shopify Plus, which is extremely beneficial. 

But I think also at the end of day, we haven't really talked about it, which is funny. But our products are some of the highest quality engineered hardwood floors you can buy from companies that invented engineered hardwood flooring. 

So these companies are not new. They've been around for a very long time. These are some of the highest quality forests you can find out there. We sourced them from a carbon negative factor. 

There's no added formaldehyde or there's no added formaldehyde in the glues or harsh chemicals in the product. So we have a great product. We know that. 

If you start asking about other details of other products, either people aren't going to know it, or they don't really know where their product comes from, or where it's made, or where it's sourced. 

And there's a lot of smoke and mirrors in the hardwood flooring industry because most of the time, it's just a brand on a package from the same factory that everyone else is pulling for. 

So we're trying to do it a little bit differently and putting trust in these companies that have been doing it right for a very long time in Scandinavia.

Chase Clymer  

I've been playing around here, looking at all the products while I've been talking. And there's some really cool stuff here. 

I am kind of a nerd with that kind of stuff, because we've been doing some rehab stuff outside of the agency and looking at flooring is a very fun part of the project.

Marc Bacher  

Yeah. Well, another thing... The benefit for us is that you can't just start a flooring company. There are decades and decades of knowledge that go into making a quality product. 

And there's only so many factories in the world that do it right, as far as I'm concerned. 

So it's not easy to just jump into the game like you can with some other products in a direct to consumer category, right? So...

Chase Clymer  

Mm-hmm.

Marc Bacher  

...we're operating in a more of a legacy industry, which is beneficial for us because we have a completely revolutionary business model. 

Chase Clymer  

So, alright, I've got two questions for you before we go here. First and foremost, obviously, this is a bit of a luxury product. 

And I see that you have product financing on the website, was that a decision that helped to increase the conversion rate or you  drive a bit more sales for you?

Marc Bacher  

Yeah, it's meant to test and see what would happen, right? 

Chase Clymer  

Yep. 

Marc Bacher  

Would that really drive revenue for us or not? And it's okay, but it's not a game changer by any means... 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely.

Marc Bacher  

...which really surprised us

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. That does surprise me. But I guess if you're taking on a big project like that, you probably are already budgeting for it. So you have the solution in place, through other means. 

And then my last question is: Is there anything I forgot to ask you about today that you think would resonate with our audience?

Marc Bacher  

Not necessarily. If I'm thinking... Are we talking about advice for other entrepreneurs, I guess? 

Chase Clymer  

Sure. Yeah. 

Marc Bacher  

I'd say the biggest thing is find your lane, like, what are you good at and how do you do more of that. I think so many people these days start businesses because they just want to start a business. 

And it has nothing to do with who they are and what they're really good at or what their unique skill is. Because at the end of the day, it's going to be hard no matter what. You got to maximize your opportunity. 

And I try and think about my position in this company as: I don't think there's anyone else in the world that can actually do this specific thing better than me, based on all the knowledge I have in the flooring industry, all the knowledge I have in Scandinavia, knowledge I have in selling technology, because I used to sell technology... 

And if I look at all those things combined, it gives me a pretty unique skill set. And that gives me some peace of mind when things are really tough at the end of the day.

And I'd say that's definitely something that people need to spend some more time thinking about. I'm 42. It took me a long time to really figure out that I actually even wanted to start something and I did it when I was, I think 35-36. Something like that. 

So I had a lot of experience doing a lot of different things working for a lot of people. And that's all culminated in this opportunity. 

So if I would have tried it when I was 25, I would have fell flat on my face. I could tell you that. But everyone's different. That's just how it worked out for me though.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, I think that you need to really be passionate about what you do because the wall... The ups are ups the downs are they are pretty down. 

And you want to make sure you're passionate about what you're doing because it allows you to roll through the walls and continue on doing it and then eventually hopefully find that success. 

Marc Bacher  

That's right. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. Mark, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Marc Bacher  

Yeah, man. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Chase Clymer  

And for those that are interested in the hardwood floors, maybe they have a project coming up or should they check out the product?

Marc Bacher  

Yes. stugastudio.com S-T-U-G-A-studio.com

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, by the time this comes out, the new website will probably be live, I'm guessing. So I'll be circling back when I see it go live just to check out whatever it looks like 

Marc, thanks again. It was a blast.

Marc Bacher  

Yeah, thanks a lot. 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.