Sometimes faith in the product and familiarity with the niche is enough for a struggling entrepreneur with no experience to eventually grow into the owner of a successful business.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear from one of these entrepreneurs who built a $5 million shoecare business by tapping into the content and influencers that sneakerheads care about.
Stephen Grear is the founder of Reshoevn8r: premium shoe care products for stylish individuals who like to wear their shoes with confidence.
It was our target audience. It was a page that had 1.5 million followers. We paid $1,000, and I think that is what took us from $200 a day to $400 a day every day.
Tune in to learn
- How to find an Instagram influencer to be your brand ambassador
- How to re-use your content on different platforms
- How a brand can create their own YouTube channel
- Store: Reshoevn8r
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Judge.me (Shopify app) Advanced Shipping Manager (Shopify app)
Felix: Today I’m joined by Steve Grear from Reshoevn8r. Reshoevn8r makes premium shoe care products for stylish individuals who like to wear their shoes with confidence. They were started in 2011 and based out of Phoenix, Arizona with annual revenues over $5 million. Welcome, Steve.
Stephen: Welcome. Thank you.
Felix: So you mentioned to me that you notice an opportunity in the market, and then decided that you had a process for cleaning shoes that was better than what was already out there. Tell us more about this. How did you notice the opportunity?
Stephen: Just being into sneakers my whole life. Not growing up with a ton of money, I always had to take care of ’em. I had a process where I put ’em in a pillowcase, washed ’em in the washing machine, you know pretreated them prior to that, and let them go in the washing machine, and after the washing machine, the knot to untie to get ’em out took like ten minutes to get the knot out.
Stephen: So one night I was just doing it, and kind of thought to myself, “How come there isn’t an easier way or a product out there that I could do this same process and it would be just more effective and easier?” So I started doing research and really that’s how it all started.
Felix: So you didn’t see anything out in the marketplace, you didn’t see any competition that was already doing something that might’ve met your needs?
Stephen: Correct. There were other shoe cleaners on the market, but it was just like a simple brush and cleaning solution. Which works great for certain shoes, but other shoes that need a deep clean like mesh and other materials, you really can’t get that clean with just a brush and solution. I felt that there were other people that would be interested in it.
Felix: Right. Got it. So once you had this idea, you were talking about you had the idea that essentially the year before you officially started. So what were you doing between the time that you had this inkling of an idea and the time you launched?
Stephen: I mean, I don’t know how detailed you wanna get, but I have recently gotten into some trouble. I basically was thinking of ways that I could support myself and kind of change my life around. And starting a business. I’ve always been somewhat of an entrepreneur. Some of the time it maybe wasn’t that legal, but that’s really kind of where I was at that point. I’d just gotten in some trouble, and I was thinking, “Hey, what can I do to support myself and better my life?” And that was just one of the ideas that I had that I stuck with and saw some opportunity.
Felix: Yeah, I think that makes sense. You are looking for a way to support yourself, and a lot of people turn into starting a business, but it still takes a while, right, to start bringing in that cash flow. How long did it take before you were feeling like you were being able to support yourself with the business?
Stephen: I mean, that was years. It was probably two years before we saw traction. Obviously, I started it pretty much all by myself, and from everything … I mean, I did every job. From stringing the bags to filling the bottles, labeling the bottles, you name it. I’ve done it. I had to learn graphic design and I assumed that I could just have a website built, and then put it online, and then people would start buying it. Doesn’t really work like that.
Stephen: So it took a couple of years to really get going. Once I brought somebody on that was really into the sneaker world in more depth than me, and we really started using Instagram and social media, that’s when we started seeing some traction. And we were in the early days. You know, with 2012. Instagram was before really a lot of people were doing it.
Felix: Right. So I’m not sure how much you want to get into it, but it sounded like you were in a pretty kind of desperate situation, but took a couple of years before you’re able to support yourself. And you said that one of the reasons why you were able to create this successful business is because you didn’t give up when it got tough. During those two years, I’m sure it got very tough. And you continued to work on it. So can you give me some examples of times that were tough during those two years, and what maybe brought you close to quitting, and how you overcame those?
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, obviously if there’s no traction and it feels like whenever it isn’t working and you don’t know, you feel overwhelmed because again I had never done it before. This was something completely new to me. So no experience. Just knowing that the product was by far the most effective on the market. Everyone that I gave it to or bought it really really liked it and said that I had something there.
Stephen: I actually also got called back by Shark Tank in the earlier stages, but since I had a felony on my record, they will not put you on the show. So that was like a high and low. You know, all within that first two years. So those are the kind of things that really kept me going I would say is just the belief in knowing that if I kept going I would figure it out.
Felix: Right. You saw size of traction. You saw validation. What gave you the confidence to know that even though you don’t know the answers today that you will figure it out? What made you sure of that?
Stephen: Just the belief in myself that I could do whatever I set my mind to, really. It just depends on how bad you want it. You really almost have to obsess. You have to obsess about it. I mean, if you think about it for 6 hours out of the day, in the early stages, it’s never gonna work. I’m talking 12–15 hour days every day. Just always thinking about what I can do to make this thing work. That’s what it took for me anyways.
Felix: Right. So you mentioned that things really took off when you brought someone on that was deeper into the sneaker world that was helping you with the social media side. Can you say more about this? How did you find someone to help you out?
Stephen: I’ve had a few people lend a hand throughout the process which has been great because it’s really tough to do on your own. And so I just kept running into a buddy of mine that I’ve known from years past, and our girlfriends were friends so we had met, and I knew that he was really into sneakers so I pitched him an idea. I said, “Hey, man. I’ve got this thing. I need some help to get this off the ground,” and he’s like, “Yeah, let me think about it.” And basically came back four or five days and said, “Hey, dude. I’ve been thinking about that. I was in Vegas. Let’s see what we can do.”
Stephen: So we just really started spending a bunch of time together just coming up with ideas. You know, Instagram was really what helped us gain some traction. As soon as we started … I mean, we were on Instagram before you could do videos. So we were like one of the first businesses probably to start using video a lot.
Felix: Got it. So you guys were focusing on Instagram. Tell us more about this strategy here. Was this the platform that really took things to the next level for you?
Stephen: It was. And because there’s certain … In the early days of Instagram, they would have these dollar pages where a lot of the sneakerheads and shoe enthusiasts, you could go sell your shoes on somebody’s page. You just pay ’em a dollar or two for the post. And you could basically sell the shoes that you had, and then you could get Paypalled and you’d ship the shoes. So we would create ads for those pages and get it in front of a bunch of people. And then just grow our own audience obviously.
Stephen: I mean, I would say within the first year we probably had 50,000 subscribers, followers, on Instagram.
Felix: What year was this? What year did you start doing this?
Stephen: This is late 2012–13.
Felix: Got it. So you were looking for profiles that had your potential customers on there …
Felix: … and you’re buying as to show your product on those pages.
Felix: How did you identify it? Like, those profiles. How did you know it was a good fit for your product?
Stephen: Just by the sneakers that we on there, the shoes, and the activity. I mean you know if it’s your target audience or not.
Stephen: I think that’s helpful too is having a target audience, a niche market almost. It’s just easier to target than mass market because it’s just easier to pinpoint those people.
Felix: Right. Have you bought ads from a page that you maybe didn’t think would be as successful as it ended up being?
Stephen: We’ve made purchases on pages that didn’t work, and we’ve made purchases for pages that did work.
Felix: Can you give examples of it, though? Looking back, what did you notice about it now that maybe you didn’t see at the time? Starting with the pages that maybe you didn’t expect to work as well as it did.
Stephen: Well, the first big expense that … The biggest dollar amount that we spent on Instagram at that point, we spent $1,000 for one post, and we were kind of just going for it. You know, it’s not like we had a bunch of money in the bank so we were kind of just going for it. It was our target audience. It was a page that had 1.5 million followers or something. And we paid $1,000, and I think that is what took us from let’s say $200 a day to $400 a day every day. You hit these little milestones, and then as long as you stay consistent with everything you’re doing, you should stay at that sales volume, right?
Stephen: So once we did that, we gained a bunch of followers, and our sales increased on a daily basis. And then there are some that you post and nothing happens at all. So you kind of have to be strategic with what you’re doing and thoughtful, and to not waste money too. One of the reasons that we became successful, I think, is because I was very careful with where I spent money.
Felix: Got it. So you spent $1,000 for one post, and this turned out to basically double your daily revenue. Did you guys keep on buying ads on that page? How often were you doing it?
Stephen: We did it a couple times, but it tended, as Instagram became more popular and it became a little bit more watered down so it wasn’t as effective.
Felix: Right, so this is a strategy that you still use today?
Stephen: We still do some of that stuff, yeah. Most of the stuff we do now is Facebook, with paid ads on Facebook and Instagram. Because now you can advertise on Instagram without paying people’s pages, but we do that too.
Felix: I see.
Stephen: It all depends.
Felix: This was before you took kind of buy ads through Facebook’s ad manager on Instagram?
Felix: Got it. So is this strategy recommending for people starting today to start with looking for profiles on Instagram to sponsor their posts?
Stephen: I would for sure. It’s a good way to get in front of like-minded people. And if you find a good ambassador or influencer that really loves your brand, I would say that’s a great place to start and get your name out there in front of people for sure.
Felix: So you look for the best type of profile to sponsor is one that’s already a big fan of your products?
Stephen: Yeah, I mean that definitely helps. You can send people stuff for free and let them try it. You really want to make sure that they genuinely support you and like your product. A lot of things now are super transactional which is kind of disappointing. A lot has changed in the last eight or nine years. I’ll tell you that.
Felix: When you say transaction, you mean like a lot of them are looking to get paid or condition or something or?
Stephen: Yeah, they’re just … it’s like a one time deal where we like to build relationships with people. You know, so it’s just you just gotta be careful. A lot of people, all they want is to make as much money as they possibly can from me. They don’t care if it’s successful at all. So you want to make sure you align yourself with people that actually … they care at least a little bit on the success of what they’re doing for you.
Felix: Right. Is there anything specific that you look for on a profile or any questions that you ask someone before working with them in this fashion?
Stephen: We … Yeah, I mean just communicating with them. You’ll know if they’re genuine or if they’re just out to take your money and run. I always explain to them that we’re looking for long-term partnerships up front. And I would rather … I try to explain to people that long money’s better than short money when it comes to that type of marketing. Me personally, the people that I work with would rather make … I’m just throwing this number out there, $500 a month to promote the product than $2,000 one time, and it doesn’t work if that makes sense.
Stephen: If you could find a happy medium that works for both people, then the success of it is gonna be much higher, and the longevity’s gonna be better too.
Felix: Right. Are there any red flags that you look for these days when you look for a profile to work with?
Stephen: I mean, no. I use my gut a lot, but again if they’re not willing to work with you in some capacity and it’s just this or that, like, “No, I want ten grand or I’m not gonna do anything,” it may not be the right fit. But again, I don’t know. You know, I don’t know.
Felix: Right. That makes sense. So what does this actually look like? So what does the … maybe we’ll start with the photo itself. Like if you were to do this today, I guess you still do it a little bit today, but if you were to give advice for someone doing this today, what were some key elements of the photo, or even video I guess in these days, that they should include in the post?
Stephen: I mean, as organic as possible if that makes sense. So in use, dependent on what the product is. I mean our product is very visual so the people we work with to use the product and actually show before and afters of the shoes and whenever they clean, but it really depends on the product obviously if you’re selling hats or something, as long as the person’s wearing your hat, you know and making sure they tag you in the photo, it just really depends on the product.
Felix: How do they link back to the … How does the profile link back to the product if the viewers want it?
Stephen: I mean, there’s multiple ways. They could obviously just put a link in their description or on their page or I mean, they can … You can do it multiple ways. They can just tag your page so people go to your page. It really just depends on what the influencer is comfortable with.
Felix: What do you like the most?
Stephen: I would say tagging our page is probably good. Or if they’re using a specific product to be product specific. Like, “Check out the link below if you want to purchase this product.” We’ve really moved into YouTube though because YouTube is … The lifespan of a YouTube video is so much longer than an Instagram post that we really are focusing most of our attention on YouTube now.
Felix: What’s the strategy there?
Stephen: Similar, same. Find people that would resonate with your brand and you know, reach out to them. We’ve got relationships that we’ve had for three or four years now that we continuously use them to promote our products. They use our products when they’re doing restorations or they’re cleaning shoes or whatever the case may be.
Felix: The content’s probably different though, on YouTube, because it sounds like on Instagram it probably looks more like a commercial or an ad, but on YouTube it has to be less salesy content. Does that sound right?
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, it’s just a totally different beast. I mean, we have our own YouTube channel. I would recommend anybody that’s building a brand to start a YouTube channel. The challenge is you have to be consistent. So if you’re not gonna consistently put up videos or content, then it’s not really worth the time and energy.
Stephen: So we have our own YouTube channel now. I think we have close to 90 million views total since we started. That has really been a game changer for us too, I think.
Felix: Okay so you recommend brands starting a YouTube channel. What was your strategy? Like, how did you build up to 90 million views? What’s your content strategy?
Stephen: We started by doing regular cleaning videos. So how-to videos. How to clean certain shoes. There’s so many different types of shoes and materials and styles and brands that there wasn’t really any place to go to learn how to clean a specific shoe. So that’s really where we started doing that pretty consistently. Then we brought in a guy named Vick Almighty who is a restorer and customizer for shoes. So he’ll take an old pair of Jordans off eBay, and he’ll completely refurbish them so they look like they’re brand new, and people really get a kick out of watching that.
Stephen: So he’ll use our products to clean ’em, and then he’ll repaint them and sole or whatever. So we still do one of those videos every Monday. Restorations or custom, and then we do a cleaning tutorial every Thursday. And we’re trying to add additional content this year. It’s just, you know, it’s a lot of work. So you’ve got to dedicate a whole team to it if you’re gonna keep pumping out content like that.
Felix: Right. And when you say consistency you mean like you’ve gotta release on a center schedule every week, or-
Felix: What does it look like?
Stephen: Yes. It’s ideal to be able to release stuff the same day and the same time because the people know when to tune in. So if it’s more sporadic, you may not get the views. At least from our experience.
Felix: That makes sense. Now how does the … That makes sense from your own YouTube channel, creating your own content. How does that work or integrate with you working with other channels?
Stephen: It’s similar. So you, you know, everybody’s different. So every influencer ambassador we work with is a little bit different in the way that they want to promote. Some do slight mention in this video is sponsored by Reshoevn8r. Some people will actually clean the shoes and do a comparison before and after. One of our longest partners is a guy named ToNYD2WiLD, and he basically did a skit where he dressed up as a doctor and threw shoes in the mud, and then came back and cleaned them, and it’s his most successful video to date. I think he’s got … I haven’t looked in a while, but it’s probably close to 2 million views on that video. So it really depends on the person and what they wanna do.
Felix: Right. So this is type of content people are searching for? Like people restoring shoes?
Stephen: Oh yeah. It’s huge.
Felix: So there’s search behind it.
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, YouTube is so big. The first time I realized how big it was, we were at a sneaker show, and these kids wait in line to get into the show for three or four hours, right? And the doors open, and they ran from waiting in line for four hours to wait in line to see a youtuber. You know, I’m a little older, and YouTube is relatively new. But kids don’t even watch TV these days. So they all watch YouTube. So that’s when it really hit me like, “Damn. YouTube is powerful.” I mean, people are getting famous on YouTube. It’s crazy.
Felix: Yeah, definitely is crazy that there’s this ability for anyone to kind of blow up out of nowhere if you are able to reach out to people.
Felix: So when you do these videos yourself, or when you are working with sponsoring other channels’ content, is the goal to drive them to the Reshoevn8r homepage or a specific product page, or what seems to work best for you guys?
Stephen: I mean, it’s brand awareness. It’s all of the above. So obviously the more eyeballs that see it, the better. So really it’s all of the above. We want to drive sales, we want to brand awareness. It really just depends on if we’re doing the specific targeted campaign or having a sale or whatever, but it’s really just being consistent.
Stephen: For instance, if we’re feeding people ads on Facebook and then they see it on YouTube, there’s a better chance that they’ll say, “hey, you know what, let me check that out.” So we’re just trying to get eyeballs on the product.
Felix: Got it. So speaking of Facebook, what’s the strategy there? What’s the focus on Facebook?
Stephen: Similar. Facebook’s nice because you can strategically target certain demographics. I know they’re getting a lot of flack lately, but for business it can be life changing. Because you have access to a huge, huge audience. We basically tailor our content to be interesting for sneaker enthusiasts, basically.
Felix: And are videos or images working better for you guys in terms of with driving traffic back to the site?
Stephen: It depends. Videos tend to work longer. Their longevity’s better, but images work as well.
Felix: What kind of content are you trying to put out through the video or images? You mentioned that you want to cater towards the audience so these aren’t like product shots probably, right? They are content that could be interesting on their own?
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, we tend to take … We kind of cheat a little. So we tend to take our Thursday cleaning videos and maybe some of the Monday videos and cut ’em down. So we kind of are able to use that content again. So we repurpose it in a sense. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best way to do it.
Felix: I think it certainly gets more mileage out of the content that you’re creating, and I’m assuming you have to really edit them down, right? Because if it’s on Facebook, people might not be watching as long as on YouTube. How do you know what to keep … Actually, how long are the videos usually that are going up on Facebook?
Stephen: We tend to do 10–15 seconds. It used to be 30, but we’ve brought it down to 15 or 30 seconds. We’ve taken it down to about 15.
Felix: So these are 10–15 second videos on Facebook, how long are they coming from YouTube?
Stephen: We try to do it immediately. So we’ll do it all at the same time.
Felix: I meant the length of the video originally [crosstalk 00:27:35].
Stephen: Oh, I’m sorry. It depends. I mean, about ten minutes. Five to … We’ve done ’em five to twenty minutes before. So it just all depends.
Felix: Wow. So that’s a pretty big … You cut out a ton of stuff, right? So what do you know to include in the ten to fifteen seconds?
Stephen: The most important parts. So you just want to get a little bit of each section depending on what you’re doing. So you know, obviously if we’re using a specific product, you want to show pieces of that, and then the most important is the before and after after you’ve actually cleaned one shoe. For us, anyway. So we’ll clean one shoe, and we’ll leave one shoe dirty.
Felix: Got it. So you said to me that in print review that you should have a vision even if it’s not totally clear. Can you say a little bit more about this? Like, what does it mean to you to have a vision even if it’s not totally clear?
Stephen: I mean, so I think without some type of vision of where it’s going, it’s not even possible to get anywhere. So my original vision has changed slightly now that we’ve gone on, but I’ve always at least been able to see, in my mind, the future of where things are going. And you know, as time goes on, things change slightly, but I think being able to really picture where you want it to be and where you want to go is crucial.
Felix: Yeah, I think one of the benefits of being a smaller startup company … I mean, you guys are beyond this stage, but when you’re first starting out, is that flexibility and agility to be able to adapt-
Stephen: For sure.
Felix: But you also kind of need to have … Like you’re saying, you have a vision that you’re focused on, but how do you know which parts of your vision you should allow to change versus ones that you’re like steadfast and you’re not going to budge from this aspect of the vision?
Stephen: You’re careful, I guess. I mean, I’ve made some mistakes. Really being careful with money is where I would … If your vision doesn’t align with common sense or smart spending then you may need to change some things.
Felix: Yeah, you said this before too about how you had to be realistic with your goals, and don’t be afraid to take shots. Just be careful about how you spend your money. So just hearing it, it sounds like you learned some tough lessons here. Can you say a little bit more about those?
Stephen: Yeah, as I mention, I’ve been pretty careful, but we’ve made some … Or I. I shouldn’t say we, but I have made some decisions that they haven’t put us in a bad position necessarily, but they … I would’ve done it differently. One is like displays for product. Our business is 90% online, and we’ve been wanting to entertain getting into the retail market a little bit more, and I made a pretty big purchase for product displays that I mean, I made the buy probably two and a half years ago, and we still have ’em. We’re using them, but not like I thought we were gonna. I didn’t quite think that one out correctly.
Felix: Is this an example of a goal that might’ve been too much of a stretch, or what are some examples of goals that you have to come to take a step back from and say, “You know what? Let’s be more practical. Let’s be more realistic.”
Stephen: I mean, I’m normally pretty realistic I would say. So I’ve pretty much hit most of the goals that we’ve set. Maybe I need to set ’em, set bigger goals.
Felix: Why’s that important? Why’s it important to have realistic goals in your mind?
Stephen: Well so you don’t get … For me, it’s so you don’t get discouraged, I guess. Because there’s reality and then there’s goals that just aren’t realistic at all. If you expect or set goals or you have these visions that just may not be possible, it might discourage you. It’s baby steps. It’s all, you know.
Felix: How do you balance that then between this kind of larger vision that may take years to realize versus realistic goals? How do you keep that in your mind both at the same time?
Stephen: We’ve recently introduced an OKR system, goal setting system. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but Google used it. There’s a bunch of big companies that have used it, and it kind of helps with that aspect, I guess. Because you set a really large goal, and then you set key results or key metrics that you can chip away at to get to that goal. So it keeps things in line, I guess, and what it allows you to do is keep your eye on the big prize but also focus on the small things that it’s gonna take to get there.
Felix: Got it. So I wanna talk a little bit about how you run the company. How large is the team today?
Stephen: I think there’s 13 of us in the building now. We have a guy, a couple guys, in the UK. So there’s close to 15 employees right now. We’re looking to hire a couple more. So if there’s any good people out there, let me know.
Felix: What do you like to do with your days? How do you like to focus your days on the business?
Stephen: It depends. We just bought a new building. So we’re in the process of kind of building out our corporate headquarters world, but in the store it’s a lot of time and energy’s going into that. We’re trying to hire a couple more people soon in the next couple months. That’s also a challenge too. Finding good people can be challenging.
Felix: Right. What about the website [inaudible 00:34:39]. Were there any kind of tools or apps that you’d like to use to help run the website, e-commerce side of things.
Stephen: Yeah. Obviously Shopify is our website of choice. When I first started, we used WordPress. But it wasn’t … It didn’t have the functionality that I was looking for so we luckily switched to Shopify. As Shopify has grown, they’ve actually taken a lot of the apps, the previous apps, out of the equation and it’s just built into the programming and system now which is nice.
Stephen: But there’s apps like Judge.me for reviews that we use. There’s advance shipping manager that allows us to really fine tune our shipping and not offer certain products internationally that can’t ship. Stuff like that. You know, those are the two that ring a bell. I don’t really handle that stuff anymore.
Felix: Right. I’m sure you had a hand in the design of the website. What kind of decisions have you guys made consciously to improve the conversion rate on the site?
Stephen: That’s an interesting question. I mean, making the checkout process as smooth and as easy as possible. Our conversion rate is actually been doing really well, and I don’t know if that’s just because of over time or we’re driving more qualified or quality people to our site, but I know that a couple years ago we were at just below a 2.0 conversion rate. Now we’re hovering at 3.5, and we’re staying there which is pretty good from what I know about online [inaudible 00:36:39].
Felix: That’s awesome. Thanks so much for your time, Steve. So Reshoevn8r.com R-e-s-h-o-e-v-n–8-r dot com. Where do you want to focus your time over the next year? Like where do you want to see the business go?
Stephen: We’re gonna open the store so we’re gonna open a sneaker store drop off cleaning service. And then just continue to develop the team and add some more people and keep it going.
Felix: Awesome. Again, thank you so much for your time, Steve.
Stephen: Thank you. Appreciate it.