Honest Ecommerce

Bonus Episode: Building Experiences and Relationships Through Subscriptions with Chris George

Episode Summary

On this bonus episode of Honest Ecommerce, we have Chris from SubSummit. We talk about one of the 3 things that you should offer as a subscription service, entrepreneurs not really knowing what the customers want, tips and examples of how to implement a recurring revenue model for your brand, and so much more!

Episode Notes

Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has successfully invested in and launched eight businesses, two of which have been acquired. 

As one of the creators of the wildly popular and recently acquired Gentleman's Box, a high-end subscription box for men, Chris has spoken to aspiring entrepreneurs and established industry professionals at events like Digital Summit, SubSummit and several academic institutions such as Columbia Business School and George Washington University. 

His strong business acumen and understanding of the role of marketing and branding solidify him as a leading force in the realm of entrepreneurs. 

Propelled by the notion that you can always give back, Chris regularly supports emerging brands by investing in and mentoring individuals and companies that lead with purpose over profit.

In This Conversation We Discuss: 


If you’re enjoying the show, we’d love it if you left Honest Ecommerce a review on Apple Podcasts. It makes a huge impact on the success of the podcast, and we love reading every one of your reviews!

Episode Transcription

Chris George  

For those listening in the Ecommerce space, know that there's so much out there. The only thing stopping you from building a really good business is yourself.

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. 

Today, I'm bringing an amazing serial entrepreneur to the show, Chris George, co-founder and CEO of SubSummit and a bunch of other properties. We'll get into that in a minute. 

Welcome to the show, Chris.

Chris George  

Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Chase Clymer  

I'm excited to get to it. So like I said, right now you're the CEO at SubSummit. Do you want to quickly let the listeners know what that's all about before we dive into your backstory and some of the other fun stuff you've been up to?

Chris George  

Yeah, we book the largest event in the world for all consumer subscription brands. So we bring them together in an event over 3 days called SubSummit. 

So if you're in the subscription space of membership, recurring revenue apps, or autoship... 

Any sort of subscription business, SubSummit is a place you go to come together, learn, meet solution providers, network, and really try and build and grow your business.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. And I'll tell you guys, I love conferences. I'm very passionate about my job. It's why I do this kind of content and whatnot. 

So I will be at SubSummit and this is coming out well before it. So if you find me there, give me a high five. I'd love to talk to you. 

But SubSummit wasn't your first passion, your first love. Let's go back in time. Where do you want to start kind of in your entrepreneurial journey?

Chris George  

I started my first business when I was 21. And it was in a very, very different industry. So I was in the collection space. 

But I think we started Gentleman's Box, which was about 9 years ago now, because that was the first where I started touching Ecommerce and it kind of led to where I'm at now. 

But I was originally the co-founder and CEO of the Gentleman's Box. That's what got me into the subscription space. 

And we sent you ties, dress socks, and tie clips monthly. Anything to help you look and feel dapper. 

Back in 2014, subscription boxes were starting to get popular but there was a lot in the beauty space, targeting more of the female demographic and nobody was going after the male demographic. 

And so we launched the Gentleman's Box and that led to where we got to now.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So back then, I feel like Shopify was definitely in its infancy. What technology were you guys using to launch this?

Chris George  

So we're built on WooCommerce with Woo Subscriptions. There was no Shopify, there was no Recharge plugin, no Bold plugin... 

There wasn't much in terms of technology so we had to build it ourselves. And I remember we were connected on Slack with the Woo Subscription guys and we were communicating back and forth, trying to optimize the technology in the tech stack. 

So we had to ad hoc a lot of stuff but it worked. We were on them the whole time till we got acquired.

Chase Clymer  

That's fantastic. Now, in launching a subscription business, you mentioned that they were getting pretty popular back [then] and I remember this. 

This is way back before I was really in Ecommerce. But a boss of mine at a previous job was  thinking about launching a subscription box as a side hustle. So I remember this really clearly this time. 

There were like a bunch of box marketplaces back then as well. Can you talk about why you decided to build your own versus put it up on one of these marketplaces?

Chris George  

Yeah, that was Cratejoy, right? I think that was really the biggest one. I feel like even when we built or started building Gentleman's Box, I don't even know how big Crate[joy would be]... 

I don't know if we knew it existed. And so we were at a time... We were at a very early stage so we have to custom build. 

And at the time, Birchbox was the subscription box that was setting the tone for the industry. And so there weren't a lot of tech stacks. And that's why we didn't even... 

We didn't know any other option besides building it ourselves.

Chase Clymer  

And now these days, you can... 

Chris George  

...build one overnight. 

Chase Clymer  


Chris George  

Yeah. (laughs)

Chase Clymer  

It's definitely a different world. So, I guess, here's a very direct question.

If someone believes they have a good idea for a subscription business, should they go custom like you did or find an off-the-shelf solution? 

Chris George  

No. Look at everything about building a business. A lot of times, if you can identify the way of building out an MVP, you start there. 

And there are too many tools now and resources to allow you to build one of those quickly. I think the more important question is, how can I build a subscription where I can provide an experience that the customer will really enjoy? 

There's a subscription for a lot of things. And you have to identify like "What are you going to provide?" When we started, nobody was competing with us. We were... 

It's a very different landscape now than it was 10 years ago. And the importance, though, is that you should be building some sort of subscription or membership arm to any business you're building now, because it's your way to build a relationship with a consumer. 

If you want to just sell something online, you are going to compete with Amazon. Amazon's gonna sell to you faster and ship it to you quicker. I'm sorry, sell it to you cheaper and ship it to you faster than you ever will. 

I don't care who you are. You're not competing with them in those two parts of the business. 

Even at the Gentleman's Box, if you wanted to go buy a tie and some socks, you probably would have got it cheaper on Amazon. 

But we didn't just provide you with a tie and socks. We provided you with a whole experience. We include a lookbook and how to wear the items that came into the box. 

If you call one of our customer service reps and say, "Hey, I'm about to go on a date. Can I pair this shirt with this tie color?" We would have answered the question. We were building an experience for the customer. 

We said "Don't worry about shopping anymore for men's accessories. We're going to deliver it to you." And so if you're... 

And it's like Dollar Shave Club. They're a subscription. They said "Stop going to the store and buying a razor. We're going to deliver it to you monthly." And then they wanted to own the bathroom. 

So then they went after the shampoo and the conditioner and the face wash and it's very, very smart of them. 

With subscriptions, you gotta provide value, convenience, or access. 

Why do you sign up for Netflix? You want access to original content. 

Why are you signed up for Dollar Shave Club? Its convenience and value: Razors for cheap delivered to your door never have to think about buying another one. 

So if you're providing one of those 3 things, that's the first step towards building a really successful business.

Chase Clymer  

You're over here just saying so many golden nuggets that I want to scrape out whenever I get my TikTok working. 

Alright, let's go back a little bit though. So let's go back to where you guys are getting Gentleman's Box off the ground.

Now one of the biggest sticking points for entrepreneurs is finding those initial customers beyond their friends and family. How do you guys do it? 

Chris George  

Yeah, really good question. I've got a load of bunch of different answers to go with this. I think the number one that's important is like... 

The nail on the head there is [that] ideas are cheap. So if you're going to build a business, the number one thing you need to build is the go-to-market strategy: "How are we going to get customers to make the purchase?" 

You're right. My first 50 customers were friends and family. And it wasn't until we hit 500 that we knew like, "Oh, we're building something here."

We were really scrappy early on. I built a partnership with GQ Magazine which helped with a lot of brand association. 

We leaned heavy on Facebook ads and influencer marketing. Again, 10 years ago, a very different landscape. 

Now, I think what's important is how... 

When you're building out your go-to-market strategy, how do I identify the customer that's most likely to make this purchase? 

So if you've already identified the product that's gonna give you value, access, or convenience, how do we get in front of the right customer? 

The biggest mistake brands will make is they'll say to me, “We spend $50,000 a month on marketing. It's not... On Facebook ads, it's not working.”

"Okay. Well, who are you targeting? How many different segments or groups do you have? How many different ad sets are you A/B testing? Have you identified that one ad set is working really well towards this specific demographic and why are you not doubling down on it?" 

And then it's like... So for example, if we knew that at Gentleman's Box, males living in New York making more than $95,000 a year, over the age of 25, were our best customers, let's also identify now "Where else is their attention? Is their attention in the Wall Street Journal? Okay, run an ad in there." 

Again, I'm making this up. 

Chase Clymer  


Chris George  

"Is their attention on Instagram vs. TikTok? Is their attention on YouTube versus Facebook?" The most important question is "Where's my audience's attention? And that's where I'm gonna put my ad dollars towards.". 

But you don't want to take a bunch of spaghetti, throw it at the wall, and see what sticks. If I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna throw it at a wall where a majority of the wall is sticky. 

And I'm not saying it's all gonna stick. But I think that that's how we thought about it. And we were very customer focused. 

We were almost obsessed over what the customer was thinking. 

So we would call 20 customers a month, both current customers and canceled. "Why'd you cancel? Give us any sort of feedback. I'll give you a free box. Just tell us what we can do better." 

The ones that stayed on: "What do you love about us?" And so when you become hyper-focused on what the customer wants... 

We as entrepreneurs can think we know the answer. The truth is the customer will tell you. You just have to ask them. 

And you sit in a room and you think you've got an idea and you think it's the best move... 

I'll give you a perfect example. One of the months... 

This was In October of, I don't know, '18 or something. There was this floral tie. I thought it was hideous. I don't even wear ties. I haven't worn a tie in 10 years. 

But I said "This tie is hideous." It was the most liked tie we'd ever put in a box. Why? 

The customers told us, "You know what, I would have never bought this if it was sitting on the shelf. But because it came in the box, I wore it out and I got all these compliments."

I would have thought it was hideous. But, I'm one person. And the customers told us how much you liked it. 

So what did we do the next spring, another floral tie. So those are the types of things we learn. 

Chase Clymer  

I love that. And that's a little bit like, when you're a founder, you're so close to it that you start to have blinders on to not only the product selection that you guys are doing in your box, but maybe even just the user experience of your website, or other choices that are being made. 

And there's definitely an inflection point where you have to realize "At this point, I gotta stop making decisions and start letting the customers drive everything that we're doing." 

Chris George  


Chase Clymer  

So you had a successful exit on Gentleman's Box a couple years back. And I believe you had another subscription company. Do you care to speak to that one?

Chris George  

You know, I've definitely consulted for a ton of different subscription brands. 

There's another brand called Capsiva that I invested in where it's a topical healing cream that helps with arthritis, and joint pain, and any sort of pain actually. 

We put it on Subscribe & Save.

But really the move was from Gentleman's Box to SubSummit.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. I definitely want to pivot here in a minute and talk a lot more about SubSummit and some cool stuff that you're doing there, especially for smaller brands, really some cool offers for them to get to this thing. But in regards to building a subscription business...

Chris George  


Chase Clymer  

...if I've got an established brand, we're doing it. But my model out of the box, pardon the pun, wasn't a subscription model. 

What are some ways for me to build on this recurring revenue? 

Because earlier you said every business should do this. So what are some other ways to think about this? 

Chris George  

Yeah, I firmly believe every brand should have some sort of membership or subscription model. And so the way you think about it is, "What can I offer my customer?" 

So depending on what the product offering is, I might identify, "Is there some element of it that's a depleting product? And if so, then can I sell that product on a subscription basis?" 

Okay, that's one example. Another thing is "Can I build a membership where I'm giving perks to people that are part of the membership?" 

They always get discounts on the product, they get exclusive access to certain experiences, they get credit towards making purchases, because they're a part of our $20 a month subscription. The $20 goes towards purchases, and you also get 10% off. 

That's gonna incentivize somebody, though, to want to consistently buy from you. 

But I'll give you an example. So there's a company that I'm involved in and we're a streetwear brand. And we sell really nice exclusive streetwear that when it sells out, it sells out. 

Well, then you say, "Well, how do we build a subscription?" 

Okay, maybe we can build a quarterly subscription box where people can sign up and they get a full-on outfit every quarter. It's going to work really well for our diehards, especially because the way our business model is one of the products sells out, it sells out. 

But then we said, "Well, what if we come out with shoe wipes?" which we are. And we put the shoe wipes called Sneaker Wipes. It's called Sneaker Wipes...

Chase Clymer  


Chris George  

...it goes well with the sneaker, with a streetwear brand. We put that on Subscribe & Save. We give you enough Sneaker Wipes for a month's worth, and then you pay recurring and gets delivered to your door. These are like throwaway sneaker wipes. 

So you think about ways to add that it's going to enhance the customer experience, it's going to continue the relationship with them. And it's almost guaranteed that you get more purchases per month with the brand. 

Here's a really good example. I had a friend, she went to a massage place [named] Lux Spa. The one-hour massage was $130. 

If she joined the membership, it was $99 a month and it included one massage. So right away, you're like "Well, I'm gonna sign up for this because I'm saving $30." 

And now she's never going to go anywhere else to get a massage if she wants to get one every month because she knows she has one at this specific place. 

Chase Clymer  


Chris George  

They now have the customer coming back there. You're not thinking about going anywhere else. Why would you get a massage somewhere else if you've got one at this one place every month no matter what? 

So it's a way to really build a relationship with the customer.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, that's a great example. And I'm gonna steal that, Chris. I really am. 

Chris George  

Yeah. Of course. (laughs)

Chase Clymer  

Let's talk about what's going on in Dallas, May 31 to June 2 of this year.

Chris George  

Yeah. So we're bringing together over 1700 attendees to Dallas. We're working towards getting 2000 people. It's everybody from HBO Max, Peacock, HelloFresh, DoorDash to your Hunt A Killer, FabFitFun, Coterie, to your startup and growth phase businesses. 

We got multiple tracks based on what stage of your business that you're at. We got a startup track, we got a mid-level track, we got a growth track. 

We got an exhibit hall with 100+ exhibitors, all solution providers to help you build and grow your business. Tons of networking opportunities. 

We built this event to help businesses and entrepreneurs build better subscription-based companies. It's your way to meet with leaders in the space, it's your way to network, it's your way to come up with partnerships. 

It's 3 days, a ton of fun, it's a lot of young entrepreneurs doing really, really cool stuff. And I'm excited.

My favorite time of every year is that week of SubSummit. And we're just like 4 weeks away. So I can't wait. I'll tell you that

Chase Clymer  

I can... You're probably buzzing. When I used to be in events in my previous life, when [it's] the week of it's like "Oohh..." 

Chris George  


Chase Clymer  

"It's a rush." Can you tell me a little bit about your guys' Hosted Buyer Program? I think this is like a fantastic opportunity for a particular type of merchant

Chris George  

For sure. Yeah, if you're a business that's doing more than $500k a year in revenue, we actually have a way for you to come to the conference for free and also get travel reimbursement through the Hosted Buyer Program. 

If you apply and get approved, you get anywhere from $250 to $750 in travel reimbursement, you get a free ticket, and you've got to take 6 meetings with solution providers. But you'll use an app that pairs you. 

So you might say "I'm interested in learning more about customer service." It's going to pair you with customer service solution providers.

It's a way for solution providers to identify new brands to work with. And it's a way for brands to find new solutions that will help grow their business. 

If you're under 500k in revenue, please reach out to us because we've got some like underwritten tickets. 

Some of the sponsors are covering costs to help brands get to the event. So we've got tons of different ways to help people get there. We also have group packages. You can get... 

For us, we want to fill the room with as many merchant brands as possible. The more of you that are there, the more networking that happens, the more collaboration that happens, the more opportunity for them to grow their business.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Chris, is there anything I didn't ask you about that you think would resonate with our audience?

Chris George  

For those that are listening that are just an Ecommerce and don't have a subscription model, SubSummit is the place where you go to learn about how to build it. 

And I think it's so prevalent. If you're a brand, especially in E commerce, you need to think about “How do you build a subscription vertical?” It is the most important way to build a relationship with the customer. 

We have to, as brands, build relationships with the customer. There's too much competition with the big elephant in the room: The Walmart.com, the Target, the Amazon

You have to build the relationship in order to separate yourself from those brands. And it happens through subscriptions. It happens through loyalty. It happens through a membership. And I think that's what's important. 

If you're an Ecommerce brand, you don't have this model, you need to think about how you can build it. And coming to SubSummit is one way to do that. The other side of it, I think what's important to know is... 

For those that are listening that are in the Ecommerce space, know that there's so many resources out there to help you build and grow your business. It's never been easier to make money. 

20 years ago, we couldn't Google, --maybe 20 years ago, now. We'll just say 30 years ago-- we couldn't google "How do I build and grow my business?" We couldn't google how to fix the sink if something broke, not even just YouTube it. 

And so there's no excuse to build and grow your business, all the resources out there. They're all free. And you just have to go out there and do it. And if you want to learn how to build a subscription model, there's a ton of free resources online. 

You can come to SubSummit essentially for free based on what I'm telling you. That's a great way to learn a ton of things. 

But I think that's what's most important is that for those listening in the Ecommerce space, know that there's so much out there. 

The only thing stopping you from building a really good business is yourself.

Chase Clymer  

Those were some wise words to end on there. 

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

Chris George  

Of course. Thanks, Chase. Appreciate it. 

Chase Clymer  

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. 

You can subscribe to the newsletter at honestecommerce.co to get each episode delivered right to your inbox. 

If you're enjoying this content, consider leaving a review on iTunes, that really helps us out. 

Lastly, if you're a store owner looking for an amazing partner to help get your Shopify store to the next level, reach out to Electric Eye at electriceye.io/connect.

Until next time!