On this podcast, we talk about why he developed a hatred for intrusive ads, how he met Tobi before even working with Shopify, the local customer behavior of pre-shopping, and so much more!
Corey Hackett started working in retail at 14. He started guerrilla marketing for Top of the World at 19.
He went back to school for marketing and advertising at 21 to try and figure out exactly what he was doing.
After school, he worked at traditional marketing agencies for 10 years while helping Top of the World advance their brand on the side.
He took over ownership of Top of the World in 2011.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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You need to know your end goal. It's great to set up a strategy and be like, "I want to have an online website. I want to be able to do this. I want to... I want my score to be shown in this way." But don't forget to ask yourself why.
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 Chase Clymer.
And today I'm welcoming the show, Corey Hackett.
Corey is coming to us from Top of the World Skate and Snow in Ottawa, Canada.
Welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me.
Awesome. And so for those that are unfamiliar with the brand, can you just quickly let them know what you guys are selling? What are you guys doing?
So yeah. Well, obviously we're a skateboard and snowboard retail business. This is our 30th year in business.
And yeah, we're considered in the Canadian market one of the leading [or] what's known as core shops: Shops that are a corporate or mall experience.
And yeah, we've been supporting our local community and the greater Canadian skate snowboard community for the last 25 years.
And yeah, it's been an adventure but we're still kicking around, which is pretty good for a skate shop. So...
Absolutely. So I just want to point out here real quick, you said the brand is about 30 years old. So you've been around quite some time?
Yeah. Well, I personally have... I didn't start the business. So business was originally started by 2 brothers who started it out of the back of an old hearse.
And they were selling T-shirts, following the Grateful Dead around which although its fun is not a long-term career move, nor is it a long term move for your brand health. So they realized at a certain point that yeah, the shirts they were designing...
And they were importing a lot of this from Indonesia and different places, and they saw the opportunity for a retail store to open, which they did in '93.
To those who are familiar with Ottawa, the original store was in what's known as the ByWard Market. So it's a touristy shopping restaurant district.
And they were open for a couple of years until I came around. They brought me on board because they wanted to start selling more skateboard related-stuff: shoes, etc, and because they saw that market was trying to expand. But you can't sell that stuff myself, skateboards.
So I've been working in retail since I was a kid and I just moved back from the Rockies and whatever. It's [been] so boring for a few years and I was looking for something else to do.
So they brought me on board. I worked with them for a few years and [we] transitioned this shop from more of a hippie t-shirt score into, at that point, like a 3000 square foot skateboard shop and they were well on their way and started making lots of money.
And I realized I should probably go back to school. I'll give myself an opportunity to make some money. So that's what I did at that point.
And then transitioned from there to work for ad agencies doing web development and design and then work with them in the background over the next 10 years, just helping them with their marketing and that sort of thing.
They were kind of resistant to change. I think they got the model of "Well it doesn't seem to be broken so let's not fix anything." And they were very much a traditional brick and mortar store.
And yeah, about 12 years ago now they approached me and a friend of mine who was the GM at the shop.
And 2 two brothers said "Yeah, we're looking to move on." They got into real estate and wanted to change directions and they really realized that a business like that needed some day-to-day input and more hands-on ownership.
And so we took the opportunity to buy it at that point and transition into being the owner. I was tired working the advertising agency grind where every deadline is rewarded with another deadline.
And yeah. And get back to my roots in the skateboard and snowboard industry.
So that was, yeah, 2011, 2010, somewhere in there. And I walked into a place of business that I hadn't really been in their day-to-day. And 10 years as I started. And discovered...
Well, I knew. I had done a business analysis [before] I bought the place. It was exactly like when I left. And it was definitely broken at that point. And we needed to fix them. So...
Awesome. Awesome. So there's a lot of stuff there that I want to dive a little bit deeper into.
So I guess when you first started working with Top of The World back when you were 19, did you ever, in the back of your mind, think "Oh, it'd be cool to own this place someday".
In fact, at the time, I was in school for small business management. And that was my plan: "I'm gonna open a shop just like this." And I love living in Ottawa, and it's gonna be in Ottawa.
And then, as I approached the end of my, I guess, my third year in school, I was like, "Wait, I already established this shop in Ottawa and it's doing really well. And so now my only option is to compete against the thing that I already built."
And at that point, like the tech boom was just launching. And especially, we're nicknamed the "Silicon Valley North". There were so many job opportunities at that point. I was...
I just got married and I want to start a family and buy a house. And I was like, "Okay, it'd be silly for me, to compete against my friends in the same business. I should take the opportunity and switch my majors."
And that's just what I did. And got involved. That was crazy. (laughs)
Now, they're... Alright, so we talk a lot on the show...
I talk to a lot of brand founders and they're the ones that start it. They put in the grind, they built it, they found that product-market fit. But something that I often talk about is like...
Yeah, I'm talking to the people that struggled, they found the secret sauce, right?
That's the hardest part: Finding that product-market fit.
Now you have done it before, you have a track record, you helped break this brand in Ottawa. Why, as a business move, did it make more sense for you to buy that established brand, then start over when you knew how to do it?
Twofold. Well, there's always the classic: "You got to dance with who brung ya". So that was certainly one part of it.
As tempting as it was to start over again, which was certainly an option that my business partner and I discussed when we're looking at you on the purchase.
The goodwill that he and I had worked so hard to establish, but not being honest with the brand would have gone out the window. And we would have been starting from scratch again.
And so that was certainly a major one. It was much easier to get the ball rolling with a ball that was already rolling.
Yeah, it's definitely... Once the flywheel gets started, it's a lot easier to make it go faster. What would you say were some of the advantages of buying an established brand?
I was already familiar with the marketing because I made it all.
So it wasn't like, "Hey, where are you keeping these files? And what's our brand book dictate for this?" I was the brand book at that point.
So that from the advertising standpoint, it was a much easier thing to roll with. All of our relationships with our suppliers were established. Our credit was already established.
But the nitty gritty bookkeeping into things was certainly an easier thing.
There were no affiliate credit reports as soon as we shifted brands. It was just like, "Hey, there's new ownership in place. It's this with my business partner. He was the GM."
So it was like, "Hey, there's new ownership in place." It's exactly the same as everything you've been dealing with for the last, at that point, 20 years. So let's not...
Nobody wants to freak out over this.
And then from just a day to day operational point, nobody....
As I said, my business partner was the GM. So it was literally a turnkey business sale. The one owner turned the key one day and the new owners turned the key the next day. And from the staff standpoint, nothing changed. It was...
And then most important [point], from our customer standpoint, nothing changed. We certainly advertised that there was new ownership, but it was the owners that our customers...
It was the individuals that our customers were more familiar with anyway, so...
So you already kind of alluded to this a few minutes back, but the original owners were a little stuck in their ways, not open to change, not trying new things.
So what were the opportunities in buying this business?
What were you guys going to do to grow the business?
That's everyone's goal with buying something is to make it more...
Yeah. 100%. So when we were able to then because we were now the owners, we were able to dictate how these budgets were going to work. The other owners were either a little resistant to new ideas or just went with their old established models that have been working.
So why change it? And I certainly saw some opportunities there to change it. Also, just the way the business was being run was just... They did a great job.
But there were so many efficiencies that they had missed, just through 20 years of just doing it the same old way. I think you and I, when we were talking earlier, we…
Yeah, I walked in and I had a DOS-based cash system for the POS. The website was built in Flash. There was like, just a lot of really...
Well, at the time, I'm sure it seemed like a great idea. There was no inventory management system. When we did the purchase, I had to go in there and count everything. And I told myself that I was doing…
I'm like “This is the last time we're doing this. This is crazy.”
And yeah, so I also recognized the opportunity that that was there that I had a business that had established margins, that had all those things that that other business owners have to really grind for. It just didn't have a digital presence. It didn't...
It had this whole area where the business just wasn't taken advantage of. And I knew the previous owners looked at it as an impossible task.
But coming in with my experience over the previous 10 years in advertising and all the other phones they've been doing, I was like "This is not an impossible task. It's gonna be hard. But it's not impossible."
And so it was day one, step one, "Okay, let's turn this from a traditional brick and mortar into a modern-day retail store, which not only has the immediate brick and mortar reach of the people in the street.”
“But we're gonna establish a digital presence that is solid and based on a foundation of proper knowledge, proper software, proper advertising and do it with a strategy that I've guided other companies through at that point."
This is where the good things start.
(laughs) Alright, you talked about the DOS POS, obviously, that's getting replaced.
The website on Flash, that's not even supported by the internet anymore, by the way.
No, I know. Yeah. (laughs)
Well, so what were some of those big projects that you guys undertook in that first year to bring the brand up to the standards that you wanted it to be?
Well, I had to make a call right away. And it was again, a question of "Okay, well, what's broken, and what immediately needs to be fixed?" Yeah, the POS system running in DOS is broken. But DOS works for a reason.
So I knew in the short term, it wasn't gonna get worse. It was just garbage, but it's still going to operate. So I focused on the website to start.
And it was funny as we were doing the purchase, the previous owner had made the decision.
"Okay, we do need a new website because everybody's been complaining about this flashing that played music and moved around. And it was just horrific to deal with."
So he had gone with the lowest bidder. And we were then handed the keys to a WordPress site, which I think was hacked more than I've ever seen any site get hacked in a six-month period.
And so I was like, "Yeah, this isn't what we need either." It certainly functions better than Flash site.
But I was like, "No, we need to move to Ecommerce. We need to get a site on a platform that's stable and works."
And so at that point, I was like, "I gotta go talk to our neighbors." which was this little startup called Shopify, that was a block away.
And so I went and knocked on their door, literally.
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It's funny that it took us that long to get to Shopify. I knew it was coming, but I know the listeners didn't so you...
Yeah, Ottawa is where Shopify started. How many employees did they have when you guys asked them to help you embark on this project?
I don't know the exact number. Let me put it this way. I met them all in the break room.
[They were] not many.
What year is this? Can you remember?
This would have been, I would imagine, late 2012.
Awesome. So you go to them. And you've got... You're like, "I've got a skate and snowboard Shop." Obviously, Tobi has built Snowdevil there.
Was that any inspiration like that's why we need to get on this platform?
Well, it's funny, it wasn't the first time I met him. I actually met him years previous... He walked into my office at an ad agency I was working for.
And one of the ad execs came to me and said "You want...Can we meet this guy? I think he sells boards or something and he's got this idea."
And I said "Yeah, sure." We chatted and they were just shopping around the fundamentals, the foundation of Shopify and basically looking to market it.
And we had a few chats with them and I think they went a different direction at that point. But I was like "Oh wait, we've met before. We have a general understanding of each other."
And he assigned me to a great account exec and said "Here, work with this guy. And let's get your web presence established and we'll go from there." And it was great.
It was a pretty easy transition for us. Even at that point, the software...
It's funny, I've worked with it so long in comparison to how it is now. It was very rudimentary and a little clunky at times.
But it certainly gave us an immediate foundation to get a proper web presence to establish, to start uploading at least our own products to the website so we can promote our own brand and really be seen like we're not slowly becoming a dinosaur which was our... Which was the impression of us at that point.
I would love to know if there's like a number assigned to you like what brand you were coming over to join Shopify back then.
I'm sure they have a number in there somewhere but I don't know what my number is which leads into what happened after that once we launched the website. They called me over for a meeting.
And I was like, "Well, that's weird. Why are they asking me to come over?" And so we sat down and had a brief conversation. They were thrilled about how the site was working and that they were working with us.
And then there was an NDA signed. And we started talking about point of sale, which was interesting, because I, at that point, was then shopping for a point of sale system.
And they said, "Okay. Well, we actually have one in development. It's going to work seamlessly with the website, it's going to be an amalgamated inventory..."
They were basically just...
They were singing the tune I wanted to hear.
And it was... I wasn't going to have to try and marry my Shopify site to something else.
Although every company, off the shelf company, at that time for inventory management stuff says "Oh, yes, it won't be a problem."
I've been around long enough that I know that this is going to be a problem at some point. And so we started working with them. I, that day, looked at some wireframes, basically, of the POS layout how they were thinking it would work...
They basically picked my brain as to what my expectations of a POS is and what my expectations of a POS from them would be.
And I thought I maybe set the bar too high for them. But yeah, they knocked it out of the park.
So we ended up being beta testers before the public really saw it. We were testing an early version. We were...
They were using this as basically a real life lab...
Yeah. I would have the developers come over and watch my staff use it. And yeah, I remember it was February the following year, where my...
I came in one morning, and the old DOS monster died and it wouldn't turn on anymore.
And I thought, "Okay, today's the day. Today's the day we switch to Shopify." And I talked to my rep at Shopify and said "We're going to use this for real starting right now."
And he said, "Okay, let me know if it blows up."
And from that day forward, that's what we did. And certainly thePOS system has gotten much better. We ran into a few headaches over the years.
I stopped being a beta tester after about a year, as I explained to them.
Operating the business day-to-day on unstable software platforms was a little hectic after a while and they understood it.
And it worked out great. And that's what we've been running ever since.
Awesome. Awesome. So obviously, these days if some... If a listener out there is getting into it, they know that Shopify is probably gonna be the right solution for them.
Definitely take a look at the POS.
Outside of that, the marketing and advertising strategies, how did that change now that you could advertise and sell products direct-to-consumer?
I've been through this weird era of digital advertising, [from the] 2000s... '99 to 2009. Somewhere in there. And so that was the...
You saw this strange transition of a lot of animated ads, and email blasts, and pop-ups, and pop-overs, pop-unders and all this other crap that I had to develop.
And in developing [that], [I] developed a true hatred for that.
And I was like, there's a better way of doing this. And of course, all of us were on Facebook at that point.
And it was like, "Yeah, yeah. Facebook is fine. It is what it is. You get to see what your friends in high school, who's going bald, and what's going on with them."
And then right as my business partner Eric and I took over, this little app popped up and it was called Instagram.
And I saw it and I was like, "This is exactly what we need. It'd be really cool if this thing took off."
And yeah, as I'm sure your listeners know, Instagram did okay as a little photo app, and it became our main source of communication daily to our clientele. It is where our clients holler [at] us.
At this point, TikTok is certainly in the market, but I find [TikTok for Business] is a bit of a weird animal to take on. But we went...
When we opened our Instagram account, I think, by the end of the first day, we had 10 followers which we're like "Alright, there's 10 people we were talking to." which is probably a better open rate than what our emails are getting right now.
And yeah, I can say we've got 15,000 or something and it's a great platform for us. So that was certainly that...
The social media angle and the fact that Instagram took off rate as we were trying to establish ourselves in the digital marketplace was certainly a huge help. And then there's all the background stuff.
Once we had the site established, we came to the realization, I guess, 3 or 4 years after having the Shopify site established with our full inventory.
Once we had the POS and everything was amalgamated, and then we were able to upload our full inventory into the website and offer everything in store online, we started realizing that we were getting a lot of traffic. But it was...
A ton of it was local and what we were seeing...
It really took me a little bit to figure out what exactly we were seeing. And what it was was we were seeing pre-shopping.
And so it's people wanting to come in. But they're like "Before I go downtown and find parking and blah, blah, blah, and get over there, I want to make sure I know they have at least some of what I'm looking for."
So we will see a lot of stuff. We see the whole shopping process right up to it's in the cart and then abandoned. I'm like, "Okay, that's really weird."
But then I started correlating those same carts with daily sales. And I see the same carts through the POS, as I just saw on the website that morning.
And I'm like, "Okay, this is what's going on." So our locals are using it for pre-shopping, which is great. People shouldn't forget that that's the important part of the website, especially if you're a brick and mortar and have an online presence.
People like to see what's in the shop, without going "Oh yeah, I went down there and just got disappointed.
So you have an opportunity to not disappoint your customers, just by trying to show who you are and what you have, right from the get go, whatever way they come at you.
And then that's when we realize, "Okay, we need to expand our mark. We really need to look at search engine optimization, proper Google AdWords, proper Google advertising..." which is what we've done over the last 5 or 6 years.
And which, thank god, they positioned us really well at the beginning of the pandemic when all of a sudden, brick and mortar gets shut down and you're entirely online. I knew...
I had a lot of calls from a lot of skate shop owners across the country saying, "Hey, how did you guys do this? And how quickly can I do it?"
I was like, "You got a challenge. But it's possible."
But we were just thrilled that we had all the pieces in place that we were able to just transition seamlessly.
So long story short, there was social media, all of it is super important but all of it has to be done with a strategy, with an end goal strategy.
Absolutely. Corey, you shared so much with us today. Is there anything that I didn't ask you about that you think would resonate with our audience?
No, I don't think so. Like I said, you need to know your end goal.
It's great to set up a strategy and be like, "I want to have an online website, I want to be able to do this, I want to... I want my story to be shown in this way". But don't forget to ask yourself why.
There are a million opportunities out there to spend a whole lot of money.
And believe me, I've spent a lot of money in places where I'm like, "Man, that could have been done in a much better way or there could have been a much better use of the capital from a company."
So yeah, try not to lose sight of your end goal. And make sure that you've established one.
It's really easy to start a job with half a plan.
Absolutely. Corey, if people are interested in checking out the skate shop, where should they go?
Oh topoftheworld.com. Easy peasy. And if you want to see us on Instagram, it's just @totw because we were in there long enough, we got a four letter acronym, so...
Awesome. Corey, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
I appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity.
We 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.
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Until next time!