When you start a new business, you start with an assumption of who your customers are going to be. That's what you begin to build your brand around.
But sometimes the market will surprise you with a demographic of interested customers that you didn't think about. And that's when you might need to pivot.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from an entrepreneur who evolved his store as he noticed other demographics latching onto his products and brand. And how he gracefully managed to change his marketing to pivot towards targeting new demographics.
Darin Hager is the founder of Heyday Footwear: unisex flat soled kicks for the freshest in fitness—go from leg day to cardio to date night in the same kicks.
“I don’t want to just jump on to a market if it’s not the right fit for the brand. You gotta be real.”
Tune in to learn
- How to pivot and serve a new demographic.
- The downside of marketing to multiple demographics at once.
- When to offer free shipping vs. charging for shipping.
Listen to Shopify Masters below…
Download this episode on Google Play, iTunes or here!
- Store: Heyday Footwear
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Robin Lewis' The New Rules of Retail (book), Shoptimized (theme), JudgeMe (app), SocialPhotos (app), Smile.io (app), Refersion (app), Searchanise (app), Shopify Entrepreneurs Facebook Group, Shopify Brand Academy Facebook Group, HeyCarson.com, Message Mate (app),JustUno (app), Shoelace (app), Kit (app), Stocky (app), SmartrMail (app), Klaviyo (app), Hubspot
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Darin Hager from Heyday Footwear. Heyday Footwear creates unisex flat-soled kicks for the freshest in fitness. You can go from leg day, to cardio, to date night in the same kicks. It was started in 2006 and based out of Framingham, Massachusetts. Welcome, Darin.
Darin: Hi, great to be here.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. So, the first thing I’ve seen … I think I was telling you off air about how I’ve heard your success stories, seen your success story already online. Then, when I checked your site, the shoes, the products that you sell definitely are kind of popping; or I can see why it’s an exciting product that you’re selling. Where did this idea come from to create a shoe like this?
Darin: I had been a corporate footwear designer for about 10 years, previous to starting Heyday. I was a designer at Puma and Sperry Top Sider, DKNY, a few other places; as well as being a toy designer for Marvel Comics when I got out of design school in the mid 90s. Maybe I was just a rebel, or I have ADD. Maybe that was it; but I didn’t really like working for people. I had some decent sized hits, as far as successful shoe designs at other brands. But I felt like I could do better, if they would just listen to me, listen to what I want to do.
In 2006, I left my cushy corporate job at Sperry Top Sider, and … went out on my own. Initially just consulting for other footwear brands, as a designer. In 2006, that’s sort of when the whole sneakerhead craze or … it really started … hitting the mainstream. There was a kid in Boston where I’m based who was sort of a … I don’t know. He was like the face man for basically the sneakerhead scene. He was asked I guess to do an interview with a local news magazine on … I think it was ABC. He had reached out to me, because he had seen … I was doing paintings. I was painting sneakers. I already had a relationship with some of the shoe stores and sneaker stores in the area from having been in the business. He had heard about me.
He said, “Hey man, I’m getting interviewed on ABC and they’re looking for other people to talk to about sneakers. Do you want to do it?”
I’m like, “Yeah, sure.” I had the camera crew and the producer come to my home design studio. I showed them my corporate design work. I showed them the paintings I was doing, freelance work I was doing. The camera man was filming some B roll in the office.
The producer said off camera, “Hey, you’ve been a corporate designer, a freelance designer. You paint sneakers. What do you want to do next?”
Just off the top of my head, I said, “Well, I’d like to have my own brand one day,” and didn’t think anything else of that conversation. A couple weeks later, the show airs. I wound up getting a decent amount of air time. When the host at the end was sort of recapping, they had my stuff up on the green screen behind them.
The host goes, “So what’s next for sneaker designer, Darin Hager? He’ll be launching his own brand later this year.” Now, I never said I was launching my own brand that year. They asked me what would I like to do. There’s three or five million people in New England, or the Boston area. I don’t know how many of them were actually watching that show that night in April of 2006; but they kind of outed me.
All the people I knew were like, “Oh my god, you’re starting your own brand?”
I’m like, “Well, I guess I am.” I had the connections in the industry. I said, “You know what? I’m going to do this.” Didn’t realize where it was going to go. Ten years later, here I am; but that’s kind of how it all started. It was just an offhand remark made to either the right or the wrong person, I guess you might say.
Felix: Yeah, I like how someone else made you publicly accountable and it wasn’t you that made that commitment; but it looks like it worked out in the end. Now, you, of course, like you were saying, you have experience working in corporate shoe … in corporate world designing shoes. Now you were going off on your own. What were you surprised by, by going off on your own, that you maybe took … that you had to learn, or that you had to develop yourself now that you were on your own and probably didn’t have the same resources that you had when you were working at a larger company?
Darin: I had to learn everything. When I was at Puma, I was one of maybe 20 designers. Then, there were probably 20 product developers who were the people who work between the designers and the factories to get the actual shoes made. Then, they obviously have a whole marketing team; and eCommerce was still in it’s infancy in the early 2000s at that point. The point is, is that there was a specific person for each role. I had to learn every role.
I came up with the … my own title about eight years ago, ‘Chief Everything Officer.’ It still says ‘CEO,’ but Chief Everything Officer … That really explains what I do, because I literally do everything. Footwear design for me, at this point, maybe it’s like five, maybe ten percent of what I do. The rest of it is running the business, marketing the business, social media, customer service, import, export. I do everything. There was a very steep learning curve, and I’m still learning. The business was originally, when I started out, we were just sort of a street wear brand, but like another sneaker brand. We sold wholesale.
I started small with a couple of boutiques that took a chance, and worked my way up. I was in five Bloomingdales, Revolve Clothing, ASOS, Finish Line, Oak in Brooklyn. I was doing a gamut of Finish Line, which is like a sporting goods store in the mall, to better department stores like Bloomingdale’s, to Oak, and Revolve, and ASOS, which are really contemporary clothing and footwear retailers. By 2009, the recession hit. We were in the middle of it. Business was taking a hit. The big retailers wanted faster sell-through, and all the independent retailers had no credit anymore.
We would show four times a year at trade shows, usually in Las Vegas and New York. They’d work a couple seasons ahead. You’d show your samples and the retailer buyers would come in.
They’d say, “Oh, we’re going to go with this line.” Then, we make the shoes, and then they pay for them; and then they take delivery of them months later.
All the little independent stores would order shoes and then tell me, “Oh, well you know what? We don’t have the money.”
“Well, I just made the shoes. You have a signed purchase order. We just made $10,000 worth of shoes for you.”
“Oh, yeah; but you know, we don’t have room in our stock room.” Or, any excuse you could think of.
I wasn’t doing well enough at the big guys to have them keep me going, season after season. The little guys were screwing me. I needed to figure out what to do. I had a whole sales team. My sales manager quit, because he just wasn’t making enough money. Took the sales, his sales team with him. It basically just me. I realized I had to figure something out, because I didn’t want to give out.
There was a really good book by a … I guess a well known retail expert in New York named Robin Lewis. The book is called ‘The New Rules of Retail.’ I had gotten my hands on that book. It basically takes you through retail from Sears Roebuck catalog and 1900s through the department stores in the 50s and 60s, to independent retailers, and then to now where brands are realizing that they don’t need retailers or middle men. They can sell direct and cut the middle man out completely. That book really struck a chord with me.
That’s when I was like, “You know what? I’m going to jettison all of my wholesale business, whatever I had left, and I’m going to start selling direct to consumer on the website.” That’s what I started doing in 2011, I think.
Felix: Got it. You are probably one of the first guests I’ve had on this podcast that’s been around long enough that had to go through the economic downturn, 2008, 2009. Now that you’ve gone through it and we’re kind of in the golden era right now of eCommerce where everything seems to be going well for a lot of people. There’s going to be a point where there’s going to be a downturn again, because that’s just the way the economy goes. The baseline of what you went through, how would you prepare in the future for a future economic downturn?
Darin: I think I’m able to protect myself because I’m not dealing with retailers anymore. Retailers … they want to sell the easiest thing for them to sell. They really don’t ever want to have to work hard to sell a product. If something sold well last season, they want to bring it back in; and they’ll just order the same thing over and over again. I moved away from that, because I knew that I had customers, end users, who loved my shoes. When I was selling to retailers, my whole business was in the hands of maybe 10 or 15 buyers. If the buyer didn’t like what I had that season, they wouldn’t come back. That doesn’t mean that the customers didn’t want the shoes. It just means that the buyer didn’t feel it.
I can tell you that … maybe three-quarters of the time, the buyers really didn’t know what they were talking about. I didn’t like leaving my business in the hands of someone else. By going direct to consumer, … which now, everybody’s doing it. When I started, Warby Parker had just started, Bonolo, [inaudible 00:12:53], however it is. They had just started and that was like a …
People would come to me like, “Why would you not want to be in Bloomingdales?”
“Well, because Bloomingdales had me on consignment for four seasons, and they didn’t want to pay me.” The way to protect myself from a downturn is by offering a really great product that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s not a commodity. We don’t sell it to other retailers, so you can only get it from me. The product itself is really unique and stands out. Because we’re selling direct to consumer, our prices are lower than they would be if we had to account for a middle man and mark-up; and because I’m the owner and I offer amazing customer service. I think when you have product and customer service, and uniqueness, I think you can withstand anything. As long as the customer, the end customer is still there, I’m going to have a business.
The interesting thing about my brand is I’ve pivoted a few times. It’s the same product, basically, but I’ve found different demographics each time who love the shoes because they’re so unique. Right now, we’re in the fitness market, body building, gym [inaudible 00:14:20]. Before I entered that market in 2014, we were really big with hiphop dancers. I had shoes on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ five seasons in a row, and ‘America’s Best Dance Crew,’ and ‘America’s Got Talent,’ a ton of places. We were in that market for two years.
We had also done a collaboration with a really big video game called ‘Saint’s Row.’ The shoes were actually in the game, coded into the game. Your character would go into the store to outfit themselves in the game, and you could buy Heydays in the game. Then, we sold those shoes directly to the customers on our website and on the software company’s website. I have that whole market of video gamers.
Before that, we were just sort of street wear, which is just cool kicks, you might say. The product really … I’ve certainly updated it, but it’s primarily the same product. Having a really unique product and being able to find new niches who have never seen it before, I think is really important.
Felix: Yeah. I love how you’ve been able to adapt with the market demand. Now that you mention it, I can certainly see these products fitting into those niches; but you’ve done such a great job on your site tying the product to the messaging of the fitness power lifter demographic that it … I wouldn’t have imagined that it would have worked for street wear or dancers, but now that you mention it, I can certainly see why it would fit. Now, how did you recognize that these were growing demographics enough for you to do a pivot and move … When I see your site, I don’t think about dancers at all. I think a lot about fitness, a lot about power lifters. Of course, a shoe can work it for any case. How are you in able to be so confident in knowing that this was demographic that you should move into and essentially away from what was already successful in the past?
Darin: Well, we can thank Instagram for that because I just randomly discovered some body builders wearing Heyday footwear to the gym. I started seeing more and more of them wearing Heydays and working out.
I realized, “Wow, this is … this is a big market.” In 2014 is when the whole fitness athleisure, organic food, wellness, all that stuff, wearables, all of that was starting to really coalesce and build. I just realized, “you know what? This is a huge market.” The shoes are functional. My shoes have a flat sole, and has basically a zero drop, so your foot is parallel with the floor; which is something that gym goers really want, because you want to have a stable platform when you’re squatting or doing dead lifts. You don’t want to be wearing running shoes, which have a higher heel that’s heavily cushioned, because it will push you forward. If you’re going really heavy, the cushioning in the EBA, which is the foam on a running shoe, it will compress. You don’t want that when you’re squatting 5 or 600 pounds, or dead lifting 500 pounds.
My shoes, just because of the way I had designed them, they have that feature built in. Also, gym goers … sort your gym rats, really; people that are in the gym all the time, they want to stand out. They’re going to gym. Obviously it’s healthy. It’s good for your body. It’s good for your mind. People like the way they look after you’re working out for a while. They want to stand out. It’s really like, ‘Hey, look at me.’ My shoes stand out.
We’re primarily all high tops. You’ll see most people are wearing Nike Frees or just running sneakers. They look like everyone else. My customers don’t want to look like everyone else. They really feel, down to their very core, that they are unique and that they’re hustlers, and they’re grinding. They’re doing stuff that no one else wants to do. No one wants to eat healthy or eat clean, or go to the gym every day.
My customer’s like, “Well, I’m going to the bar on Friday night.” They’ll post a picture on Instagram of them at the squat rack or doing bench press on a Friday night. That’s the ‘bar,’ and protein drinks are their cocktails.
Felix: That’s funny.
Darin: That’s not for everybody. Fitness is a huge market. They want to stand out. They want to … show the world that that’s their cult, that’s their culture, it’s that they work out. The shoes are totally functional. They look super cool; and I’ve managed to get them on a lot of celebrities both in the fitness world and out of the fitness world. It makes people think, ‘Wow, I think I got to go check those out. They look really unique, and I don’t want to look like everyone else.’
Felix: Now, let’s say that you’re … I’m not sure what the time on all of this was, but let’s say you were marketing to hiphop dancers at one point; saw on Instagram that gym rats were wearing your shoes a lot. You decided to pivot in that direction. The question I think will come up is why not just market to both hiphop dancers and gym rats at the same time?
Darin: I never turned away from the hiphop dancers, but I just did focus on fitness. Also, part of it is me. The brand is me. I should probably tell you how, afterwards, why the name is ‘Heyday.’ I wasn’t a dancer. I don’t dance. While I was in the mark … I was in that world, but I wasn’t really a part of it; because I’m not a dancer. I’ve always worked out. I just feel like I’m a part of that fitness world. Do I look like I’m as good as my customers? No, I don’t, because I’ve got a very busy life and I don’t get to go to the gym as much as I want to.
It just resonated with me. I felt like, ‘Okay, you know what? I always wanted to look good. I’m always in the gym.’ It just meant more to me than dancers. Also, just looking at the market, the world of hiphop dancers is just not a big market. There’s lots of teenage girls that dance competitively, or actively; but in looking at that market, teenage girls don’t really have a lot of disposable income. It was like, ‘Okay, their parents will pay for the shoes,’ but their parents don’t necessarily want to spend $150 on a pair of sneakers for a 14 year old girl.
Whereas with the fitness market, it’s generally people over 18. It’s 18 to 44, and it certainly goes higher than 44. People are generally out of high school, maybe they’re in college. Out of college, they’re working. They have disposable income. If you’re really into that, into the gym, you’re spending $150 a month on protein and supplements. The gym is your bar. It is your social scene. People want to look good when they go to the gym. They want to have shoes that match their outfit every day. It’s just a bigger opportunity.
I still have some dancers that wear the shoes, but I just … I saw more of an opportunity in fitness than there was in dance. Technically speaking, dancers are still athletes. It’s still the fitness world. It’s not like I excluded myself from dance. I’m still … You could be wearing Heydays, perform all you want as a dancer, and then go to the gym. You’re still wearing the same shoes, and not look like, ‘Oh, you know, you’re wearing Capezios to the gym?’ No. They’re not what would be considered traditional dance shoes. They’re sneakers.
Felix: Right. I think maybe the leading questions that I was trying to ask was do you think that it could hurt your overall business if you were to dilute your messaging in too many different directions? If you’re trying to cater to everybody, dancers, street wear, gym rats; could it hurt your business overall? What are your thoughts on that?
Darin: I think it’s definitely a possibility, especially at the level that I’m at. You can certainly bifurcate or split up a business to reach different markets; possibly with different products. At this point, I don’t want to dilute the brand. We’re now heavily in as a fitness brand. No, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to focus on the dance world. If dancers want to wear the shoes, they totally can and there’s certainly tons of video on YouTube of very famous dancers wearing the shoes. If someone wants the website, they’d see the same shoes. Yes, they would see that there’s a lot of body builders and bikini competitors, and whatever, wearing the shoes; but it’s still the same product.
Felix: Now, when you decided to pivot into a new market, what needs to change? It sounds like a pretty large hit list of things that you’d need to go through and revise. What was your top … top of your list to make sure to change when you do pivot into a new market?
Darin: Well, you got to make sure that the product is the right product for that demographic. If the dance … If was doing dance shoes and … If they weren’t the right shoes for a body builder, or for a gym rat to go work out in, then you can’t really pivot successfully into that market. You have to be authentic. The shoes are truly great for all sorts of training styles, cardio, leg day, boxing, Zumba. It doesn’t matter. The shoes work performance-wise for that demographic. I don’t want to be a poser and be like … I don’t want to just jump onto a market if it’s not the right fit for the brand. You got to be real.
Felix: Right, makes sense. Now, with shoe … A lot of listeners out there are … could be in apparel business, but they’re mostly … A lot of them are probably selling things like clothing or shirts. I don’t know much about shoe design, but it seems like there are certainly unique challenges with creating shoes; because you have to have not only the fit but it needs to function. There are so many different sizes. People don’t know exactly what size they are in different shoes. What’s been your experience? What have been the biggest headaches with creating your own shoe?
Darin: Well, there’s a really high barrier to entry in footwear. Anybody can really start a t-shirt brand. In the fitness world, you’ll see that there’s a million fitness t-shirt brands, and leggings, and whatever; that everybody out there wants to be sponsored. They want to win competitions. They want to have their own brand. Well, it’s very easy … with Shopify, even. I mean go on [inaudible 00:26:45]. You don’t even have to buy an inventory. Anyone can start a t-shirt [crosstalk 00:26:50] … doing that. Before those print-on-demand days, okay, so you find a local printer. You buy some blank t-shirts. You print something. Very easy to get into.
Well, footwear design and manufacturing … The manufacturing is all in Asia. I’ve been to China 52 times. My business is based in China, and working with our factories. If you don’t know China and have those connections with the factories, you just can’t … You can’t do it. You can’t get into the business. The cost of the molds for the outsoles and for the upper tooling, which is basically your pattern pieces for the shoes, is very, very expensive.
For a t-shirt, okay, I’m going to … You buy a 100 t-shirts and you come up with something in Illustrator or Photoshop, and you’re good to go. For each outsole, which is the sole. It’s almost $2,000 per size. Add maybe another 500 to $750 for patterns for the uppers. You’re now talking to have … let’s say a complete size run with one design, it could be $25,000. That keeps most people away.
Also, it’s very … You can’t really get into footwear and be successful by going on [Alibaba 00:28:27] and trying to find a manufacturer. You’re going to get screwed. I’ve been in the business … I was in the business for 10 years, corporate, prior to starting my own brand. I knew the business. I knew how to design shoes. I knew how to make shoes. You got to have that knowledge. You have to. There’s a high barrier to entry that will keep 99% of the people that maybe have thought about … Maybe they’re really into sneakers, or they really Air Jordans, or they sketch sneakers. That’s great. Go ahead and try and make a shoe brand. It’s very difficult.
Felix: Now, you mentioned that it’s not as just going onto Alibaba and looking for a manufacturer. How many manufacturers did you have to go through to find the one that you’re with today?
Darin: I’m on I think my fifth factory. Honestly, even the factory that I’m with now, and I’ve been with them for four or five years, they mess up all the time. They mess up with me being a 20 year veteran of the industry, and a partner that’s there. They still cannot get stuff right all the time. It’s very difficult. You have to have someone on the ground. There’s no way that you could manufacture in Asia without being there. They just … You just can’t. It can’t be done.
Felix: Other than having someone on the ground, let’s say that someone does have a partner there in China as well, at the factory. What else can you do to ensure, at least as much as possible, that you’re going to get what you expect?
Darin: Honestly, you need to be there. You need to go to China, or go to wherever the factory is and spend time there, and really teach them what you want; and also learn what is viable and what can be done. Lots of young designers create crazy things that really cannot be manufactured easily, or at all.
Then, the factory has to change the designs drastically in order to make them, and then the designer is like, “Oh, that’s not what I designed. It looks terrible.” Well, it’s because you probably don’t know the manufacturing end and how to design so that shoes can be made cheaply and easily, and something that can be repeated. Being able to make something once doesn’t help if you need to make 10,000 of them.
Felix: How do you make sure that, let’s say someone does have this crazy design or this design that is not … seen how the products and they want to see if it’s a viable design or viable product that they want to have made overseas. How do they … Let’s say they do go to China. How do they make sure that their product is going to be created in the right way? What kind of advice do you have to give for someone that is, let’s say, going to China for the first time and bringing their designs for the first time to these factories?
Darin: When you’re creating your specs, your specifications or your blueprints, you really have to … You really cannot leave anything left to the imagination. Whatever you think may be obvious that that’s how it should be done, you can’t assume that someone who doesn’t know your language is going to be able to interpret what is in your head. You have to spell out everything from the type of thread that you want to how many stitches per inch, to the exact color using pantones, the exact materials; preferably showing a swatch of the exact material that you want, showing as many different views as you can to communicate the idea effectively.
You have to be so redundant. You have to … Don’t think that you’re telling them too much information. There’s never too much information, because again, you’re basically dealing with people who, they don’t speak the language, and honestly, they don’t even have the same mindset that we do. People in China, they think differently than we do. What may be really obvious to us in the US or in Canada, or Europe regarding let’s say a design or the way to do something properly, they may not think that way there.
I’ve had plenty of experience where I’ve said, “I want you to use this material and do it this way,” and the manufacturer will say … think to themselves, ‘You know what? I actually have a cousin down the road from the factory who is a vendor. They own a leather,’ … whatever it is. Instead of using the material that you asked for, they’ll use their cousin’s material, or their friend’s material, because maybe they can save a couple pennies. Of course, they’re not going to tell you that they found something that’s cheaper than what you asked for. They were just going to do it without telling you and they … maybe they realize or maybe they don’t realize that it’s not what the designer asked for.
Maybe it’s totally inferior to what the designer asked for, but they think, ‘You know what? I can make a couple extra pennies, or dollars, doing it this way.’ They don’t really think long term, that ‘You know what? I should do this exactly the way my customer asked me to, and that way, they’ll get what they want and then they’ll come back and give me more business.’ Instead of thinking very short term, ‘Ah, you know what? I’m going to … I’m going to make a couple extra bucks right now and I’m going to do it the way I want to do it, with the materials that I want to use, instead of doing what the customer wants.’
Then, the customer realized, “Hey, that’s not what I asked for. You did it all wrong.” Then, that factory doesn’t care. They lose the business. The customer, the designer has to find a new factory and it’s just a … It makes a difficult situation. They don’t necessarily have the same mentality that we do as Westerners about problem solving. I’ve found that my factories generally want the easiest possible solution that there is, rather than what might be the right solution. To have long term success, you got to do things the right way, not cut corners.
Felix: Right, makes sense. Now, you mentioned earlier about your approach to marketing through influencers. You said that you had your product in a popular video game. You’ve also gotten your product onto fitness celebrities. What’s been your approach here? How have you been able to connect with … Well, let’s start with the video game. How were you able to get your product into a video game?
Darin: I have a distributor in the UK who is very successful. He was friends with, or I think the guy worked for him, who was the CEO of THQ; which was a big software, a big video game [inaudible 00:36:17]; who subsequently went bankrupt. Basically, it was an introduction.
Someone I knew, someone I worked with said, “Hey, this guy’s looking to put a cool sneaker into his video game,” and just recommended me. I was in early enough that they were actually able to code the shoes into the game on the disc. It just wound up being a very lucrative licensing deal. A lot of it really comes down to who you know. I was once featured in a TV commercial for a business card printer that I use called Moo, Moo.com. They use really cool business cards. I’m a good networker. I wound up meeting the CEO at South by Southwest. I was picking up some business cards from them, that they had made for me. They liked my story. A couple months later, they had featured me in a blog post.
A few weeks after that, they came to me and said, “Hey, we’re doing our first national and international TV campaign, and we want to feature our customers. We’d love you to do it, to have you do it.” They interviewed me at a recording studio for about five hours, asking me a million questions about being an entrepreneur and business. They edited down to 27 seconds. They had an animator in France then animate what I was saying, out of cut paper. It was like a stock motion animation. In the commercial, part of … They say what one piece of advice would you give?
I said, “My one piece of advice is to network, network, network. You never know when someone you meet somewhere could be important.” I really feel that that’s extremely important. You just never know where you’re going to meet someone; and how they could be important to your business or how you could be important to their business.
Look, I got connected with you because I’m pretty active in the Shopify entrepreneurs group, another one. Susan Bradley, who runs … one of those Facebook groups and is also owns a footwear brand. She liked my story. I think she gave me a shout-out to you and look, now we’re recording this.
Felix: Yeah, definitely full circle here. That’s a great example. Now, I think this is a really important point about how networking is … Essentially, that is what business comes down to a lot of times; having those connections, building those connections, and … going through that entire process based on what you’ve done, what you have experienced. What would you say is the most important thing that you’ve learned about what makes a successful … I guess what has helped you build your network? What’s an example of a mistake that you see a lot of entrepreneurs making when it comes to networking?
Darin: Part of it is you got to fearless. You may not like getting up in front of people; but if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to pitch your business. Literally, sometimes you have to be able to give a 30 second elevator pitch in an elevator. If you don’t feel comfortable or you’re shy, that’s going to be a hindrance. Yeah, you just have to be able to passionate about your business, and about what you’re doing. If you’re not really into it, it’s going to be really hard to get someone else into it. You have to just love what it is that you’re doing, and really believe in it; and then be able to communicate that love and that passion to someone else. That’s really key.
Felix: Now, I want to talk a little bit about your site. I’m looking at different prices all throughout your site. I’m just looking at a few products here, $110, $139, $115. Has the price always been the same or how did you come … How do you arrive at a price point for your products?
Darin: The pricing has always sort of been pretty much in that range. I used to be a little bit higher. My highest product was usually $165. I’ve since brought it down. One thing that impacts it … I mean, obviously how much margin do you need to make in order to be profitable, is certainly a thing. One thing that does affect the fluctuation in price is whether you’re going to do free shipping. Are you going to build your shipping costs into the price of the shoes, and offer free shipping on everything? Or, are you going to have a threshold and have maybe a lower product price on some of it, and then on your higher ticket items, or if someone’s buying multiple items, and you go over that threshold, and then you give free shipping. That can affect your pricing.
I am generally looking to make about 50 points, a 50% margin. Then, some of it just you have to play around with the pricing. How much are you going to be discounting? Are you doing a 10% discount on an email sign up? Are you doing affiliate marketing and you’re giving all your affiliates first a commission on sales, plus are they offering their fans, let’s say 10%, or some other dollar amount discount on product? Because that will affect your margin. You have to take outside factors into effect with what your pricing is going to be, and what you need to make to be profitable.
Felix: What’s your experience been with the shipping set-up? Do you find that it’s better to offer free shipping with the shipping baked into the price? Or, would you rather have a lower price point and charge for shipping?
Darin: I’ve done both. I’ve had the $150 free West shipping threshold for probably … maybe about 10 months now. For $150, basically if you’re buying one pair, you pretty much have to pay shipping. If you’re buying two pairs, then you get free shipping in the US. My shipping prices aren’t so huge that if someone sees it’s $8 or $14 for shipping on a pair of shoes that it … I don’t think it scares them away so much. I’m sort of more worried that okay, if I did free shipping, then my $99 style is … I’m going to have to charge $120. I think the $99, especially using psychological pricing, generally things ending in a nine, are more appealing to people’s brains for whatever reason. I don’t remember what it is, but having something that’s $99 and then okay, you add shipping. You’re upfront with what your shipping costs are. You’re not trying to hide it. … I think that is good. …
If my price points were 40 or $50, and then I had a $150 threshold, then, okay, then maybe people are like, “Oh, so I got to buy four pairs of whatever in order to get free shipping?” In my case, it’s generally … if they’re buying one pair, they got to pay for shipping. Multiple pairs, they get free shipping.
Felix: I’m looking at the site now, and you have a lot going on, on this site; not in a bad way. In a very what seems to be a very purposeful way. I think it’s a great case study for anyone that wants to see key items they could hit on to increase conversion rate and just for anyone listening, just going over a few different things, you can urgency and play a lot. It looks like you have this announcement bar that says, ‘New shoes have arrived. Click to shop now, or cry later.’ You have X number of 100 sold. You have a number of people looking at a product. What was the intention going into this? How did you know to create this kind of feeling for someone when they land on your site?
Darin: Well, a lot of the stuff, I have picked up being at the … in the Shopify Facebook groups, where I’m learning. I’m learning a lot about marketing, and sales, and psychology. Really a lot of the features that are on the site are from the theme. We’re using at third party theme called ‘Shoptimize.’ Most of that stuff is all built in. I do rely on a lot of apps.
I see lots of people say, “Oh, they slow down your store.” I don’t find that they do. People, I have probably 25 or 30 apps running. I’ve had people say, “Oh, why do you have so many apps?” Well, because there’s lots of stuff that you need to take care of.
Felix: What would you say are some of your favorite apps?
Darin: I use ‘Judge Me’ for reviews, and I think it’s great. I looked at ‘Yotpo,’ and Yotpo wanted … I believe it was $599 a month; $599 a month for reviews, and then they had another sort of sellable Instagram component for an additional $600 a month. I got a great review app from PJ at ‘Judge Me’ for $15 a month. It shows verified reviews. People can add photos to their reviews. You can set the number of days after someone makes a purchase or it’s fulfilled, that they receive an email with a really easy … ability to leave a review. You can share the reviews on Facebook. I have a dedicated page to shine all of the reviews, all 220 four and five star reviews. People want that social proof. They want to know what other people think of the product. It’s almost like they don’t want to believe what the brand says. They want to know what real customers, how they feel about the brand.
Reviews are really, really important. I think ‘Judge Me’ has been great, especially at that price point. I use ‘Social Photos’ for my Instagram feeds that are right on the site. When you go below the fold, you can see … curated Instagram posts. When you mouse over it, you get a ‘buy it’ button. You can buy right from there on the website, as well as product galleries of Instagram on each product page; because again, it’s really important for someone to read what someone’s review is. Almost more important is how do the shoes really look on a real person? Not on a model.
User generated content is just huge for me. Part of it, I think is, in the fitness market … everyone that goes to gym, everyone’s on Instagram. Everyone always wants to show off what their latest buy is, whether it’s shoes, t-shirt, hat, protein powder, weight belt, weight lifting gloves. Whatever it is, people want to show it off. Shoes are sort of a bigger ticket item in the fitness world. Yeah, Lululemon has very expensive apparel; but for the most part, people aren’t necessarily wearing expensive apparel. But, people will invest in a good pair of shoes. It’s really important to show people, ‘Hey, this is how real people are using the production.’
I use ‘Social photos’ for that. I use ‘Sweet Tooth,’ which is now ‘Smile.io,’ for my rewards program. I use ‘Refersion,’ for affiliate marketing. What else? I just started using an app last week … I think it’s called pronounced ‘Searchanise,’ or ‘Searchanise,’ like mayonnaise. I don’t know. I saw someone post about it on the Shopify entrepreneurs group. It [inaudible 00:49:15] … search feature on the website.
If you go to the search bar on the site, it will fill you … Let’s see, I’ll type in … Let’s see what comes up. I’ll type in ‘tactile.’ As a matter of fact, I just typed ‘tact.’ You get popular suggestions of tactile trainer, tactile boots; a synonym, camouflage. Categories, tactical trainer. It shows blog posts. It shows the product with a thumb nail with a description with a price. The search feature did not do that previously.
Felix: The auto-suggest feature.
Darin: Yeah. I had looked at a search app called ‘Nestopia,’ which I think was 3 or $400 a month for basically the same thing. This I think is 15 bucks a month, and I just love it. We found with the search bar, the original version of the site, the search bar was … It had a gray outline. The button was I think in gray. There was no text inside the search bar. No one was using it.
We went in and make a couple changes. I actually used ‘Hey Carson’ to do little coding tweaks. I had them basically just change the stroke of the search bar to red and the button to red, and add some ghost text inside; so search by size, color, or style. Then, people all of a sudden saw that they could search. That increased the use of it. Then, people who are using the search bar are far more likely to actually convert; because they have an intent. They’re looking for something specific. You want to make sure that they can find it.
We try to make the navigation as easy as possible. We use "Mega Menus,’ which are complicated to set up. Sometimes people just … They know what they want to look for, and [inaudible 00:51:34] … going through all the [inaudible 00:51:35] … To them, the ability to just use the search bar and find something really easily is, I think really important. Now our conversions are absolutely going up now that we’ve enhanced the search bar with this ‘Searchanise’ app.
Let’s see, what else am I using? … I was using a chat … box on the site for a long time, but I just switched to a new app called ‘Message Mates,’ which allows the customer to text me. You can just tap the thing to send me a text message, [inaudible 00:52:16] … back. I found that it’s easier to use than a chat window. Also, it’s sort of in a [inaudible 00:52:28]. Everybody uses chat windows these days. It works great on mobile, as well as desktop. It says right there, ‘Have a question? Tap the number to text us.’ It’s super easy. I don’t know. I think maybe it’s just something different for people who are used to seeing chat windows everywhere.
Felix: Yeah, definitely haven’t seen this before, but it certainly caught my eye when it popped up in the corner.
Darin: I use ‘[Justuno 00:52:56].’ That top floating bar that you mentioned earlier is ‘Justuno.’ We use ‘Shoelace’ for Facebook retargeting. I’m very happy with them, … using their new Journeys campaign; which is like a drip for retargeting. I’m back to using ‘Kit,’ since it went free a few weeks ago. I use an inventory app called ‘Stockee,’ which helps forecast what inventory you need to be reordering and shows you how much loot money you’re losing every day because you’re out of stock on [inaudible 00:53:32] …
I just switched to a new email provider called ‘SmartrMail,’ which uses some kind of predictive algorithm for product recommendations. You can send emails very, very quickly. It will send a different email to every single customer with different product recommendations.
Felix: This is called ‘Smart Mail,’ you said?
Darin: S-M-A-R-T-R. Smart-R mail. It’s very inexpensive for what they’re offering. It looks like they’re also really starting to really build out their feature set. They’ve been up for about a year. I’m also using ‘Cloudio.’ Though, I may wind up just going to ‘SmartrMail’ exclusively. I’m sort of … I’m testing different email providers right now. I’ve been on ‘Hubspot’ for the last year, and I’m moving away from them as quickly as I can. They’re ridiculously expensive. I was using them for more than just email, but I just … I don’t know. I’m trying to save money. ‘Hubspot’ is extremely expensive tool that’s really not that easy to use. I think ‘Cloudio’ is great also; but I may wind up choosing to go with ‘SmartrMail,’ in a few weeks, once I finish doing trials.
Felix: Awesome. Yeah, certainly a long list of apps. I’m on your site now and I don’t notice a slowdown at all. I don’t think that’s an issue at all, installing all of these apps that you’re talking about. Thank you so much for your time, Darin. HeydayFootwear.com, that’s H-E-Y-D-A-Y F-O-O-T-W-E-A-R dot com. Where do you want to see … Where do you want to take the brand next?
Darin: Well, we actually just … we just got an angel investor about a month ago. We finally have some funding. We are really looking to blow the brand up. I just got my first paid endorser, or influencer. I’ve had plenty of influencers … Everyone asks for shoes. You send them shoes, they do one post and that’s it. The post is gone in 45 minutes. With my new endorser, Martin Ford, who’s a 6’8", 320 pound body builder and actor. I’m working with him and he’s going to be posting four times a week for three months. I’m really interested in seeing if this having that consistency in an influencer with 820,000 followers on Instagram. Does that really boost things up? I’ve had plenty of people with big followings that, they do one or two posts and that’s it. Yeah, okay, I have the photo that I re-use a million times, but the whole point is to get their followers interested and excited about the brand.
Not just my customers and followers going, “Oh, hey, so-and-so is wearing the shoes.” I need to bring new business. The investment has allowed me to do this with Martin Ford. We are now talking again with a new video game publisher about getting back into doing collaborations with video games. Yeah, I mean things are really rocketing forward. After ten years in the business, I’m happy to say that I never … that I did not quit, even though there were a million times I wanted to quit; as recently as two months ago. I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.’ I was persistent and stuck it out. It all turned around; so just don’t give up.
Felix: Amazing. I think that’s probably the most important thing is that persistence and not to give up. Even at the stage that you’re at, you’re saying two months ago … probably tons of success at that point. Still, you were considering it. I think that it’s important that you have that kind of mindset that you have to constantly fight back against that urge to quit. Again, really appreciate you coming on, Darin. Again, HeydayFootwear.com. Thank you again so much for your time.
Darin: Thank you, Felix. I’m really, really excited to be able to share this with you and thanks so much for choosing me.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next ‘Shopify Masters’ episode.
Speaker 3: You don’t want to fight those big companies on a level playing field, because you’ll lose. If the playing field is even, they will beat you every time.
Felix: Thanks for listening to ‘Shopify Masters,’ the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit Shopify.com/Masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to Shopify.com/Blog.