[Watch] Refrigiwear Grows Online 1,500% in Five Years

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We are excited to announce our new web series: The eCommerce Growth Series.

Over the past decade that we have been in business, we have acquired an immense amount of knowledge from our clients. As much as we’ve helped them, they’ve helped us become better marketers.

When deciding how best we could share this knowledge and information, we realized the best way to do so was to go straight to the source.

In this episode, our CMO, Ronald Dod, sits down with Jason McClain, the Director of Marketing at Refrigiwear, to discuss how they were able to grow Refrigwear’s online storefront.

RefrigiWear, was started in 1954 with a vision to create a “modern way to keep warm” for workers that faced cold, demanding conditions.

For the longest time online (or eCommerce) was nonexistent for their company. Jason McLain, the Director of Marketing, was brought on to make this a viable channel.

Fast forward five years and Refigiwear has grown 1,500% online by utilizing creative marketing campaigns in addition to focusing on the user experience.

For this episode, Jason sits down with us to discuss the journey they experienced with this growth and how they were able to do it.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Why lifestyle imagery is important
  • How to choose which channels to optimize for
  • How search engines helped capture customers
  • And more…

For the full version click here (~22 minutes) and for the audio version click here.

Shameless plug: see how Visiture partnered with Refrigiwear to grow their AdWords revenue 3,667%.




Here is the full transcript:

Ronald: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the eCommerce Growth Series where we profile eCommerce businesses. My name is Ronald Dod, chief marketing officer, and partner at Visiture. I’m here today with a good friend and partner Jason McClain, director of Marketing of RefrigiWear, and we have a great story to share with you today about this company growing 1500 percent in five years. Can you just give us a little bit of information on RefrigiWear and who you guys are? 

Jason: Sure! We’re a company that’s been around for over 65 years. We provide all sorts of apparel for people who are working in tough conditions and we provide them with pretty durable rugged apparel for working in those especially extreme cold conditions. I mean what we shoot for is really making something that’s going to withstand the daily rigors of working and doing all the tasks that people need to do. And that is a huge differentiator for us. I mean, there’s lots of companies out there who make puffer jackets or make insulated jackets but they don’t make insulated jackets that are made to last for years that are good to -50 degrees, you know. So, it’s really in some ways a very specialized niche that we live in to making these kinds of garments and making these types of products. But we do have people who pass the products down to their sons and we have many examples just since I’ve been here. But people send in the product that’s been passed down from their father and, you know, been around for 30 years. The jacket’s pocket tore on it and they just want to replace the pocket. “Hey, send me the jacket back. I just want to replace the pocket.” 

Ronald: You’ve been B2B for 65 years. What was it like transitioning to be B2C online and really get an organizational buy-in to adopt a B2C model, both directed to that B2C consumer? 

[01:56] 

Jason: Well, the B2B side we’ve been serving are core industries and food service industries for that 65 years and people who work in warehouses. Those 15, 20, 30 warehouses that have steak, seafood and ice cream is where our food comes from. And those guys are in those conditions all day so they need this type of apparel. What we realized–as an opportunity for us–is there’s a whole segment of the population out there who work in tough conditions, who work in cold conditions, who aren’t in our core industries, you know. They’re construction, they’re agriculture, they’re ranchers, they work at the Air Force, they’re utility workers and telecommunication workers who are working in sub-conditions, in a lot of times extremely cold conditions. And their company doesn’t buy stuff for them so they have to go out and buy for themselves and we’re just a perfect fit for them. That core blue-collar American worker who builds stuff is our audience. We know that’s our audience and you know there was a huge untapped potential for us. We’re not in stores, we’re not in sporting goods stores so eCommerce became a way for us to reach them. And because we know our audience so well–because we know that’s who we need to be reaching–we can employ things like SEO, pay-per-click and paid advertising programs. And knowing our audience so well, it’s easy to transition to the eCommerce side of the business because you know what they’re looking for. 

Ronald: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, over five years he’s been able to grow 1500 percent. eCommerce was less than one percent and now it’s a much more substantial percent of your business. What was that kind of growth like and what do you attribute the success to?  

Jason: Well, you really have to do the basics well and I consider the basics in eCommerce as PPC and SEO. It is just a customer journey on your own website making sure it’s easy to check out, easy to find stuff. But if you don’t do those things well, then you really don’t have a chance. You know people are out there searching. This is the reason why Google is a verb now.  

[04:00] 

I mean people are searching and that’s what they use the internet for primarily. I think a lot of our growth is attributable to doing that. You know, not just kind of walking through it and doing just a little bit on pay-per-click or doing just a little bit on SEO, but really throwing ourselves into it by hiring the right people and hiring the right partners. If you don’t do that, yeah, you’re going to make up some ground and eventually you’re going to make it up over time. But if you really throw yourself into it, you can have an experience like what we’ve had where you do a couple hundred thousand dollars a year by doing nothing and you do $5 million by doing a lot. Again, that applies to B2B as well. It’s not just B2C that benefits from those things. You have a whole halo effect of being discovered–whether it’s through SEO or whether it’s through paid advertising. 

Ronald: Yeah. Well, what was it like when you started that? Did you have goals that you were trying to tell your organization like, “Hey, if we do this, here’s what we could probably see in a year or five years.” Sure, it wasn’t, you know, 1500 percent growth? [laughter] 

Jason: Yeah, well it takes some guidance and you really have to tamp down. You know everybody uses the web. Everybody sees advertising so everybody in this company–from the CFO down to the warehouse worker–has opinions about what we can be doing. And by tamping down, you really have to put everything into focus. I think that’s one of the things my team has helped this company do is to bring into focus what we needed to do to grow and you just have to put a strategy in place. If your goal is X amount of dollars, then your strategies are really important and also its traffic, conversion rate and cart size. I mean, those are the things that really matter. And it doesn’t matter if you own the store or are running a website, you’ve got to get people there, you’ve got to get them to convert and you’ve got to get them to increase maybe their cart size or lifetime value. If you do those things, then you’re going to grow. But those strategies are really key because that’s where all the tactics filter down from. We’ve got traffic, conversion rate, cart size.  

[06:00] 

Okay, what am I going to do to increase cart size? What am I going to do to increase traffic? Traffic is one of the easier parts you can talk about because you’ve got paid advertising, you’ve got SEO. Those are all about getting qualified traffic to your site. Then, when they’re on their site conversion rate, their landing pages banner swaths deals and promotions–whatever you’re using to try to get that conversion. 

Ronald: Yeah, absolutely, and it is so interesting about you increasing cart size and average order value. One thing that really stuck on me that we talked preshow about is photography and creating that lifestyle photography to really create that emotional connection. Can you tell us a little more about that? 

Jason: Yeah, I mean, every experience that the customer has with you, especially in this world–you know, the eCommerce world–there’s a trust deficit. You know if you don’t come across as authentic, then automatically you’re going to be discarded by many consumers online because there is that trust. People aren’t just going to give out their credit card information and their contact information. So, the more authentic that you seem and come across to people, the better. So, they see it being worn in actual situations where they would wear it. I mean, it’s about identifying emotionally with a brand and they’re like, “Oh, that’s me,” and “Oh yeah, I do think this is potentially a product for me.” Again, that authenticity is so important. When we hire models, we don’t go out and hire the prettiest. In doing that, we say, hey, we want some people who have done some modeling. The last time, we had models who were backhoe operators. I mean, those were authentic guys putting on our stuff. 

Ronald: It’s something I touched on a little bit earlier, you know, about retaining clients and so forth. Has email marketing been a big focal point in just using that to retain clients and getting them back and keeping your customers coming back?  

Jason: Well, again, I put everything through the prism of the traffic conversion and cart size. And email falls squarely in the cart size. You know it could fall in a conversion if you have people just sign up for your email list who’ve never bought from you before, but, primarily, it’s about keeping communications open with those customers who have experienced your brand and getting that lifetime value and everything out of it.  

[08:06] 

So, you know lots of companies out there sign up thousands and hundreds of thousands of people a year and you usually have an engagement rate of about six percent. I’m on an email list. But if you know that you’re focusing on conversion rate, if you know you’re focusing in on cart size, then you can tailor that content and have a much higher engagement rate because you know why you’re doing it. If you’re not just sending out emails and doing the swing away, hit and hope. Yeah, you know what I mean. It’s really important that you know why you’re doing your email program, not just that you’re doing it. There again, everybody in this company doesn’t need me as a marketing person to say, “Hey, we need to do emails” or “Hey, we need to do banner ads” or “Hey, we need to video”–whatever plenty of people experience every day so everybody in the company could say, “Hey, marketing should be doing this.” But see, if you don’t do it with purpose, then you really can’t measure it and can’t know if is it working for you. You really can’t know if it is actually feeding a revenue channel that is important for us or if it is something that we’re doing just to make us feel better. 

Ronald: Yeah, absolutely, and the other bucket you’re talking about is traffic. I mean, obviously, you need traffic to get customers, right? So, what are some things you’ve done there to really get that traffic and earn that customer? 

Jason: Well, a lot of it goes to that discoverability–you know, whether it’s through paid advertising, paid search, programmatic advertising. You can go down the line. You know you can go down the geo-targeting path and all sorts of great technology that’s out there. You’ve got to pick what’s going to be right for you and your audience. And for us, being a brand that’s been around a while, we have a lot of content, a lot of products and a lot of proven-in-the-field stories that we can tell. So, SEO is a great fit for us. I mean that organic search that goes back to that trustworthiness.  

[09:59] 

If you find somebody who knows or seems to know what they’re talking about, then they’re like a trusted source and you know pay-per-click. I mean, even just doing a brand campaign. If you’re out there in the eCommerce company and you’re not doing brand campaigns and in pay-per-click and Google and Bing, then you’re missing a huge opportunity because you know people hear about you and then they go and search. So, again, that discoverability is critical for the traffic–especially if you’re not a well-known brand. You’ve got to be discoverable. 

Ronald: Yeah, I have to be there when they’re searching for you, especially when you don’t have that brand recognition, so it’s just like grander when you know who your distributors are. We talked about Amazon. How big a part does it play for you all and even in the future? 

Jason: I think right now it’s about a third of our eCommerce for the consumer side and I think as consumers it’s a trusted thing once you’ve been on there and you’ve got your information in there. If I buy from Amazon, it is trusted, it’s Amazon. So, it’s the big box of today’s eCommerce world. You have to do it if you really want to grow and grow fast and you have to do it well. I mean, you can’t just throw a product on there. You have to know your seller ratings and you have your reviews as well as customers who are asking questions. Amazon is really good about saying, “Hey, if you’re going to be selling on here, you have to answer questions in 24 hours.” I mean, you can’t just throw stuff out there and expect– 

Ronald: People hire standards. 

Jason: Yes, expect overnight success but it also expands your audience so much. You have millions of searches that start on Amazon and you know you have people who are dedicated to buy through that channel. Even if they find you on Google and they work with your website and say “I want this,” there are lots of people that the first thing they do is say, “I want this on Amazon,” because that’s their trusted source and that’s where they can just go in and with one click of a button, they bought it. So, it’s a must. 

[12:00] 

Ronald: The most interesting you told me is that you’re trying to be like Amazon. That’s something that you said a lot and that you know people expect you to be like Amazon. 

Jason: They do. I mean people expect a certain experience online today and if you don’t offer that quality experience, then you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. It’s not that we want to grow and be a marketplace like Amazon, but that customer experience on Amazon–whether it’s free, no hassle returns or quick customer service. We offer a chat on our website so people can ask questions of our customer service department on their first visit. You know that quality experience is something that Amazon does well. I know people who love to hate on Amazon sometimes because they’re the big dog, but they do a pretty good job. As a personal shopper, I’ve never had a problem–you know what I mean. I always have had good customer service from the vendors who are on there and it’s because they’re held to a high standard. And if we don’t hold ourselves with that same high standard and somebody has a bad experience with us, they’re going to tell 20 people about that bad experience. 

Ronald: That’s a good point absolutely. Switching gears a little bit, I find it fascinating because you have both a B2B side and a B2C side. I feel like that’s a really big, I’ll say, struggle point but challenge maybe for a lot of organizations and having their sales team integrate with our website and use their website. What are some things that you’ve done that’s helped integrate your sales team with your website? 

Jason: Well, again, I think one of the big hurdles for any company is that web experience–and especially on the B2B side–is almost more important because those guys who are sitting in an office who have 20 other vendors they deal with who are buying for a team don’t have the luxury of surfing for hours and instead just searching for what they need. So, you’ve got to provide a really good customer experience for them. And we’ve actually grown on the B2B side for our eCommerce channel as an eCommerce channel.  

[13:59] 

And it’s because of focusing on that experience. So, you know especially in the world we live in now, as more and more people and companies become less dependent on a person sitting in front of them, they’re able to go out and search on their own, they’re able to go out and buy on their own all through the web–and our sales team relies on it a lot. I mean they rely on being able to, at any given point, send a link to the person. Here’s the product I was talking to you about. It’s instantaneous. You know you can deal with a customer’s needs instantaneously by just sending them a few links. The oldest part of the web really is like, “Hey, check out this link,” and it really translates on the B2B into a good customer experience.  

Ronald: Speaking of experience, you all have distributors that are online, too. What’s been kind of that process dealing with them, dealing with pricing and challenges? 

Jason: Well, you have to know if you’re going to sell to other people who are also going to sell on the web–you know, distributors and other outlets, even Amazon–you’re going to have to deal with a MAPP policy, a Minimum Advertised Price Policy, so that you don’t cross wires and you also don’t give anybody a particular advantage over somebody else. All of these distributors may buy from us at different prices, so we don’t want distributor A to have such an advantage on price that they can offer it at X dollars and really blow out all the other distributors who are doing it–and as well as us–from an eCommerce standpoint. So, you really don’t want to just leave it in the Wild Wild West when you have your distributors who you’re working with because you know they can advertise something because they’ve bought it so much cheaper than what a consumer could buy it for that they can advertise it cheaper. And what a Minimum Advertised Price Policy really does, though, is say, “Well, it’s in the wide world. This is the price you have to set it at.”  

[15:57] 

I don’t really care once somebody logs into your site what discount you give them, but to the wide world, your advertised price needs to be X. That not only protects us as the manufacturer and as the eCommerce company ourselves, but also the other distributors who might be smaller and can’t afford to offer such discounts or whatever to the world.  

So, it is really important that you don’t let it get out of control. You don’t let it be the Wild Wild West where they can just set the pricing and whatever they want to their advertised price. But it’s also great in the sense that that’s another voice out there telling your story. So you definitely want to work with them to set up a feed to feed them content, feed them your images, feed them your bullet points in your description so that basically that experience for the customer–when they experience the RefrigiWear brand for the first time–they’re getting the best possible experience. And there’s no better entity that’s set up to really be the voice of the brand better than the manufacturer themselves. You don’t want to lose control of the price, but you also don’t want to lose control of the story and the brand. 

Ronald: So, Jason, one thing I want to ask you, too, is that you have a big marketing team now and to be able to grow, what you did over the past five years you can’t do it all yourself, right? I know you have someone handling Amazon, someone handling advertising. What was it like growing that marketing team and how are you able to hire them, train, figure out who’s doing what, those kinds of things? 

Jason: Well, there’s certain elements I think, from a marketing operations standpoint, that any marketing team benefits from–graphic designers and you’ve got communications people who are doing copywriting. To be able to accomplish a lot internally–especially in the company where, you know, any company really–because things are changing all the time, you can’t keep up with that just by hiring agencies or just by trying to do it yourself. So, you do need that support structure to be able to learn from what’s going on and then adjust, which almost happens on a daily basis in the eCommerce world. You know if you find a product that is getting a lot of visits but not a lot of conversions, that’s a great example.  

[18:02] 

Okay, what do we do to that page? What do we do to that product page? Do we add pictures? Do we add more content or video? We’ve got to get conversion on this page because it’s getting a lot of traffic. So, you can’t really do that if you don’t really have that support structure and I call it marketing operations–and that’s your graphic designers, your web developer or your writers. Just the daily operations of marketing are so important in the eCommerce world. And whether you’re a company our size or a company that’s billions of dollars, they’ve got that support structure internally and can make adjustments on the fly. You know being nimble in the eCommerce world is a must. 

Ronald: Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And with that, I mean, for the past five years, have you had any big challenges that you’ve really encountered along the way? Any big roadblocks? [Laughter] 

Jason: Oh yeah, all the time. Yeah. Sometimes it’s the company getting in the way of itself and you can’t, as you know, come into a company that’s never been really doing eCommerce. It’s 65 years old and you know everything with the marketing team and get so far out ahead of the organization that everybody hates you. And nobody wants to really support what you’re doing because when you talk about eCommerce from a marketing standpoint, it’s really exciting, it’s the pictures, it’s the paid advertising, it is video, but that filters down the distribution. If we sell 1500 percent more, we’ve got to have the distribution systems set up to handle that, we’ve got to have the customer service set up to handle that, we’ve got to have the finance team set up to handle that. Dealing with B2B returns, where a company is buying for 30 people and you’re dealing with one person who’s going to send that back and they’re going to send a very detailed RMA about what needs to be done with this return, is different than dealing with 30,000 consumers and that’s one of the biggest hurdles for any company to make in that transition from traditional B2B to eCommerce.  

[20:05] 

That’s huge for us as a company that we’ve been able to grow the way that we have and all of our operations have been there to support it along the way. 

Ronald: Yeah, and experts in it. Just building on that, what are you most proud of for your past five years and your biggest successes? 

Jason: I mean, I think obviously building a team–that’s very much it. Good synergy not only internally but with other departments. Another thing, too, this goes directly to the creativity of the team and the real brainpower we have behind branding is actually building a brand and really starting with those building blocks of style and a brand corporate profile–what is our voice, what is our persona. Story is everything. If you’re not making some sort of emotional connection or at least a personal connection with those consumers, then why would they want to trust you? They’ve got so many choices in the world. Why you? Why are we going to jump on your bandwagon? Why are we going to trust you to be the person who protects us in -30 degrees?  

Long after I’m gone and retired, you know that that brand story and those brand-building activities of this company that is sixty-five years old, we started this in earnest five years ago. It’s so important and will hopefully be a foundation this company can use to build on for years to come. 

Ronald: Any advice out there for eCommerce brands trying to grow as quickly as you all did? 

Jason: Other than buckle up [laughter], I’d say you’ve got to do the basics really well. You can’t just jump from point A to point Z. You’ve got to build your campaigns. You’ve got see what works for you.  

[22:00] 

You’ve got to analyze and adjust constantly. And you can’t really expect it to just blossom by itself. The same thing is true with all your marketing activities, and I’d say definitely build that foundation and build the story of your brand. If people don’t relate to your story or if they don’t relate to who you are and it doesn’t mesh well with who they are, then they’re not going to buy from you. 

Ronald: All right. Jason, thank you so much. This is great. I appreciate you being on the show. And thanks for everyone joining us. 

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