Ronald: My name is Ronald Dod, chief marketing officer, and partner of Visiture. I’m here with Kelley Thornton, a partner and at a museum brand that I’m excited to share a story with called Tiege Hanley. A really shared story about astronomical growth as Kelley said and how they’ve grown over the past three years to become one of the successful online brands selling skincare to men. So, thanks for being here.
Kelley: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Ronald: Tiege Hanley… How did you come up with the name? Can you tell me more about it?
Kelley: Yep. So, I’m one of those guys who has been, you know, purchasing URLs–that kind of a URL habit and it usually happens after I’ve had a few drinks and my buddies and I are out late at night talking about really cool ideas. I don’t know if you’ve heard the saying, “All great businesses start in the bar.” I don’t really think that’s true, but people say that and so, you know, I’d go out and talk with my friends and go on and try to buy our URL.
So, I really was fascinated one day when my father brought down the family Bible. The family Bible–the concept is literally 23 and Me–and those families would actually write from generation to generation that family tree in the back 30 pages. I didn’t really know that we had this before. I finally came down and left this out on the table and literally had no idea what it was. Unfolded it, unwrapped it and it had this kind of ceremonial wrap on it. I started looking through it. When I went back to the back of it, I saw this family tree.
Anyway, Hanley is on my grandmother’s side and Thornton on my grandfather’s side. Back in the 1400s, there was great-great-great Uncle Tiege Hanley, and I thought that was such a great name I could do something with it sometime. And that night, I happened to be able to buy a five-letter URL that’s Tiege.com–and this was a long time back, at least 10 years or more, and I thought that one day I could do something fun with the name. That’s kind of how it came about.
Ronald: That’s great. Is that around the time you met Rob? Was he at the bar with you?
Kelley: I met Rob later on. I had a global design business, and that path led me to kind of globally understand how guys shop at retail, and it led me to the huge epiphany that guys actually don’t like to shop. And I really thought that and I really liked the space of skincare because I was doing a lot of research in the skincare space globally. It was super-hot and really doing well. We were in triple-digit growth categories in Southeast Asia. So, I called Rob with the idea of looking into this concept I had. It was really about the idea of bringing men’s skincare online and making it simpler for a guy to understand the category.
Ronald: I remember I spoke to Rob, let’s say about a year and a half ago, at a happy hour and he was telling me you were just starting out with the business and had maybe a couple of pain points and were able to really expedite that growth. I believe that is when you met Aaron Marino.
Ronald: So, can you tell me more about that and how that happened?
Kelley: So, common verbiage going on in the entrepreneurial business world is fail fast. We had a very much real-life fail fast experience at Tiege Hanley. Like I said, Rob kind of developed with me this concept of bringing men’s skincare online. We brought it online. We were very much about following the routine, and we were very much about education in helping guys understand. We just wanted to simplify it, follow routine, and add education. So, that was the impetus for Tiege and the direct consumer.
But, we hadn’t developed our own brand–that Tiege Hanley brand. We had just developed the Tiege Hanley concept as a business. And that business started in the summer of 2015, and we put it up online. We have this advisory board, and the advisor said, “You know this is a really bad idea for all these reasons.” This was more encouragement to do something. Well, we’re going to do it and show them that they’re wrong. They were right. You know, the only boxes we ever sold were like to his family and my family and a couple of friends.
So, we did fail pretty quickly, but we got the wherewithal for Rob to actually look out into kind of the digital space. Rob looked out into the digital space and found Aaron Marino. Aaron’s one of the best and first-ever male grooming influencer. He was at a fraction of where he is now in terms of his popularity at the time, but it was huge. Even though it’s a fraction of where he is today, he is a very big influencer–somewhere in the six to seven hundred thousand followers on YouTube, which was really big at the time–and Aaron was interested in what we were, so we reached out to him to talk to him about the Tiege Hanley story. And in that process, he said, “I really love it a lot.” And he was very eager to take our money.
But he talked so much about his passion for skincare that it led me to call him back the next day and say, “You know, Aaron, you sounded so into this idea. Would you consider some sort of partnership?” And that’s how it got started. So, pretty quickly he said, “Yeah I’m really-really interested in a partnership and I’d really promote your brand instead of you spending an exorbitant amount of money helping me promote the brand that I believe in, but I think you need to make some changes before I could get behind it.” Those two changes were that we wanted to be a subscription and we wanted to have the Tiege Hanley brand. So, those are the things that we were very adamant about and that Aaron was really adamant about–creating our own brand and doing it as a subscription.
Ronald: Yeah, it’s almost like you’re uncomplicating it, too. I see that catchphrase. Sure it was uncomplicated, right? How much do you think that attributed? Because I feel like in eCommerce, it can be always so complicated, like what do I buy? I feel like you guys just kept it really simple, right?
Ronald: Do you feel that really helped your growth?
Kelley: Yeah. I mean, I’d have to go back a little bit to kind of how I, you know, got engaged with this category. I was known for a lot of research for this company. I was describing this company I previously owned in the design space, and I was literally doing shopper research. And so, I was going to these retail stores and trying to understand how guys were shopping for the skincare category. It was a total disaster, right? I mean, it was like you go and look, and there’s no context to skincare for guys. My father taught me to shave like one time for like one minute, and maybe he gave me the follow-up tutorial for 30 seconds. But there’s no context to skincare.
As a guy, you walk up to this counter and it’s someone who knows about skincare–usually, it’s someone who’s in the know and has been around. In my experience, it happens to be women at the men’s counter, kind of with that you know very much and her with that let-me-help-you kind of mentality. I was completely overwhelmed by it. It was just a total disaster.
The first time I came home, my wife said, “Oh, like how’d the research go?” I said, “Really complicated.” She’s like, “Well, maybe you should buy something because you’re not looking any younger.” Thanks! That’s exactly the encouragement I needed. But anyway, I just went back down there and a lady put some BB10 on the counter and she’s like, “This is the hottest thing that I’ve got.” I was like, give me some, of course. I need BB10. Give me some of that. No idea what I was buying. So complicated! You know, toners, washers, pads and scrubs and different moisturizers and nighttime pieces. That’s a disaster. So, we just really went back to the Aaron thing. Aaron, Rob and I really wanted to simplify things for guys.
Ronald: That makes perfect sense. So, Kelley, one thing that was really interesting I heard in a Roxanna Podcast is you’re very “customer-centric.” What have y’all really done to focus on customer experience and give people basic experience so they can be successful?
Kelley: Yeah, I think that’s where eCommerce companies that are successful really excel. I mean, what’s different is it seems simple, but what’s really different about us and the eCommerce companies in general and in larger global CPGs is that we have the ability to have a direct relationship with our customer. I don’t mean global CPGs don’t, but you know our customer is directly our customer. Our customer is not Target or Walmart. It’s actually the run of the world.
So, it’s about being able to have a better kind of relationship with our customers and being able to talk to them on a regular basis. When I say talk to them, you know, I mean tell them about what’s going on at Tiege and for them to tell us about their experiences and what they like and don’t like is absolutely positively the core of our business.
Ronald: Yeah. You know one thing that I found just so fascinating is you literally have someone who works here in a booth calling your customers who purchase your products. I thought that was amazing for customer experience. I mean, I can only imagine getting my box and somebody calling me and asking about this. It’s so credible to see that kind of level of detail you have here.
Kelley: Yeah, it’s really important. I mean, it’s actually the most important thing. You know Aaron really brought that to us originally, Ron, because he has a sense for how important it is to have a direct dialogue that’s that kind of YouTube mentality and direct dialogue with your customers or your fans or your audience. So, he brought that mentality to us. As a matter of fact, this wall behind us is a testimonial to that. It’s pictures that guys sent in that like our products and like our brand and want to be part of our brand–so they sent us a picture. So, we think it’s really important and that’s why we put pictures of guys on our wall because they’re our customers and everything for us is about the customer.
Ronald: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something that I always found interesting. I remember talking to Aaron a year and a half ago and he’s telling me about this amazing brand that you all have and I remember looking at two thousand people search a month for men’s skincare brands. So, for you all, you had to be out there and get in front of men and tell your story. There are so many channels out there: Paid Media, Influencer, SEO content, PPC. How are you all really managing all those channels to be successful in front of these men to get them into your store?
Kelley: Good question to have a magical answer. I honestly don’t have the ultimate answer. I mean, what we’re striving for is to be part of the conversation with men about what it means to take care of yourself and what it means to be a healthy male.
And that means different things for different guys–whether it’s just going to the gym regularly, watching what you eat or caring about how you look and how you feel. So, Tiege wants to be part of that conversation and I think it’s hard because to have a voice and the market is really difficult. We’ve just managed to have a pretty good voice through this way that we just described about having a direct relationship with the consumer. It’s all about finding our way out there and having a voice in the marketplace. It’s kind of what we’re talking about saying and doing that resonates with guys and we just hope that continues to grow.
Ronald: Yeah, it’s so fascinating. I know speaking with people that work here in education is a big partner, right? Because men don’t know how to use skincare products and regimens.
Ronald: What are some things education-wise that you’ve done that has really helped you retain your men and stay on and so forth?
Kelley: Yeah, I mean look, we really were very early on wrong. We were really into the concept of like educating guys on how you use skincare products and we still think that that’s critical. But, you know, I think it’s really about helping guys understand why skincare is important. And it’s things like more men than women got skin cancer last year. Melanoma’s dramatically on the rise–increasing for men, decreasing for women.
Ronald: One in five, right? It’s crazy here.
Kelley: One in five men. So, just like it being part of the conversation around skin health, it does mean looking and feeling good. I mean, that’s at the root of kind of what we’re doing–for guys to want to take care of their skin, but really core to it is just like making sure guys understand you’ve got to protect your skin against harmful rays.
We kind of fell into, you know, kind of having a cause. I say that kind of loosely because early on we had a cause. We just didn’t realize it. Rob’s father passed away at 54 of melanoma.
Ronald: I’m sorry to hear that.
Kelley: Yeah, you know it’s very traumatic. Rob was just out of high school and it was a really bad situation. The good news is melanoma is a preventable type of cancer. It’s not only preventable, but you know you can cure melanoma. You just need to be in the know and be proactive. So, right away, we started giving money to the Skin Cancer Foundation. As a matter of fact, I even tell Aaron and Rob, the partners in Tiege Hanley, about that. Rob was really passionate and brought that out in some of our additional conversations about the importance of putting an SPF in our skincare products and developing the future products that had SPF in it. So, you know we started donating right away, but it wasn’t until this year, 2019, that we really memorialized our position as helping guys really understand what it’s like to care for themselves and protect their skin. So, we’ve gotten a closer relationship with Skin Cancer Foundation, and we encourage guys to donate a single dollar at checkout. We’re actually sponsoring a Skin Cancer Foundation bus that travels across the U.S. It allows and gives the opportunity for people to have a skin cancer check by going to the bus where it currently is and having a free consultation with the dermatologist.
Kelley: So, Tiege Hanley started at the beginning of this year, donating on a more regular basis and a higher dollar value. We also frequently match dollar-for-dollar for donations that our consumers make. You know what we found is that it wasn’t just us. I mean, there’s a lot of guys out there that really understand that being part of something and having a cause and trying to do some good is an important thing. We just were a little hesitant because we don’t want to wear it on our shoulders just like a badge–like, oh, we’ve got this thing. So, that’s an important part. Visiture has done such a phenomenal job of helping us understand how we can talk and help educate guys through content creation and how we can really lean into the fact that taking care of your skin is an important topic. And that’s one of many ways that Visiture really helped us drive a lot of traffic. Because when we start talking about men’s health and skin health, there’s a lot of guys out there that are interested.
Ronald: Yeah, and it’s just so important to be in front and that men searching for you just never knew you existed. Because before I knew you all, I never thought of a skincare regimen for men, right? I’ve only known through the women in my life showing me a skincare regimen. It’s like, what is this? It’s so weird, and now I use your skincare and, oh, this makes the whole difference, and it makes total sense. It works so much better since it can take me about one or five minutes I use a lot more of the AM moisturizer than I did before. Now, I’m running out of that.
Kelley: The same way. I mean, the concept of a routine is really hard for guys. A contextual conversation around skincare is kind of hard for guys. It’s not like you and I would be watching a sports game like the Super Bowl and say, “Man, that Tom Brady. That was an unbelievable pass. Did you see that? Hey, should we go down to Nordstrom’s after the game and see what’s new in skincare?” That kind of stuff doesn’t happen at all, but when we talk about it in terms of skin health, we tell guys it’s important to take off your skin and following a routine. That’s the same thing as oral care health. You need to do it twice a day. You know, if you don’t do it, you’re probably not going to do too well with–as Aaron says–the “Spicy Senoritas”–his term and it’s just important. So, that’s something that we talk about a lot. We try to put it in context and try to help guys understand you have to follow a routine.
Ronald: What is probably the biggest thing or most successful thing you’re most proud of since your three years here with Tiege?
Kelley: Yeah, that’s a tough question. The thing that I’m most proud of I would say that, you know, I’m sorry but going back to that concept of team. Developing a team–I’m really proud of that and it’s hard. Ron, you’re a business owner and it’s not easy developing and adding people to your team, finding the right people, bringing the right culture. I think I’m really proud of that. You know I’m really proud of just being challenged every day and solving problems. I think you know I think successful businesses fail, try new things, try to pivot and maintain a level of agility. I’m proud we’ve been able, as we’ve grown, to still keep some of that–a lot of that–part of our culture about remaining agile, listening to our guys, hiring the right people, having the right culture. So far, it’s continued to work for us so I’m really proud of that.
Ronald: Yeah, I mean, it’s incredible office space you have now and how many incredible people you have working here. So, it’s been such a fun run to see you throughout the years. Any general advice out there for fast-growing eCommerce businesses?
Kelley: Yeah, absolutely. I would say I think it really comes down to being focused. I’m not going to give you any advice you haven’t heard before so I’ll just reinforce some of this stuff. But it really comes down to staying focused on what works for you. You know we talked about going an inch deep versus going a mile deep and a couple of inches wide and I think the concept there is that you go really deep on the things that you’re good at. Staying agile, I think, is really important. Not trying to chase after the shiny object. I mean, these are all things that I think most small businesses struggle with. But yeah, trying to add the right amount of processes in your business to keep your business doing the right things without…
Ronald: Willing to publish.
Kelley: I live around the corner from some of the quote-unquote “best deep dish companies.” I’m a thin crust pizza guy. I grew up in the East. Spent a lot of time in New York and started my career there. Man, I do love the Cubs on the Northside. I get with Cubs over Socks but, unfortunately, I think I would have to.
Ronald: Save a little face for your Chicago audience.
Kelley: I’d have to keep with my roots and stay with a thin crust.
Ronald: Sounds good.
Kelley: Okay. Thank you very much.
Ronald: Yeah, thanks again for being here. This is great. Thanks again for watching The eCommerce Growth Series and see you next time.
Kelley: See you next time. Thanks, guys.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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