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Chris Cardell

Interview with Will Royall (Factory EStores)

Factory EStores is an online furniture store.

I interviewed Will Royall, Factory EStores owner to find out more. This interview is the fifth in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Will!

How would you describe Factory EStores in under 50 words?

Factory EStores is a multi-million dollar e-commerce conglomerate, specializing in furniture, hot tubs, hardwood flooring, and playgrounds. The company started in 2010 with youth furniture. Currently the company has 20 employees, 15 websites, 6,400SF of space downtown Orlando, and 150,000SF of warehouse space in Sanford, FL.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Determined, Intelligent, Decisive.

Tell us a bit about your background. What made you decide to set up Factory EStores?

I also own an advertising agency, Royall, and made a lot of other companies a lot of money. As a full service agency we’ve worked with big brands such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, Hilton Grand Vacations, CiCi’s Pizza, and other smaller local companies too. We’ve learned a great deal working with so many large companies, and seem to have an advantage over other ad agencies in the online marketing, search, paid search, and e-commerce areas. This advantage translated into us watching as we made our clients more and more money (tracked from our online marketing efforts) and as the amount we were making them was outpacing what we were charging them, we thought – why not do something like this for ourselves?

I was waiting for the right opportunity, and one day my neighbor took me to lunch and presented a possible partnership with a children’s bunk bed manufacturer. After looking at the numbers, and doing some due diligence online, we jumped in with $12,000 and two year’s later are doing close to $10 million in revenue. We could do this over and over… we just need more opportunities for great products, backed by great numbers and margins.

Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what ways?

The company is definitely competitive – we sell a lot of the same things some other e-commerce guys bigger than us do, so we’re always on top of pricing, and our customer service is over the top. We want to stand out there so we personally call every customer who orders from us twice, once to thank them after the order, and a second time after they get the product to make sure everything is OK. If it’s not, we send replacement pieces to make it right, and a sorry card with a gift. If everything is OK even after the phone calls we follow up with a Thank You card in the mail. If you spend over $2,000 with us you get placed in our VIP club and you then get a second thank you card from our customer service team with a VIP gift. Everything we do is over the top – and we think it’s paying dividends.

Personally, I would say I’m very competitive. Always at the top, and if I’m not, I’m determined to get there. The truth is, all it takes to win, is to put in a bit more than the other guy – and while a lot of the time that means working harder, and working longer- it’s not always about that, it also means working a little bit smarter too.

What was the reason for recently redesigning and relaunching your websites?

Back in July we did a complete redesign of the sites to help increase conversions and take them to the next level. The new design was cleaner, and had better navigation, as well as included video on product pages. The conversion rate has doubled, meaning for the same marketing dollar we’re driving twice as much revenue and have increased the profit margin considerably.

We’re no where near done either and have a lot more split testing we’ll be running to continue increasing the conversion ratio. A lot of smaller design changes will be following. Honestly, we’ve been moving so fast, we’re already discussing the next redesign and may possibly be starting over with a newer version of our e-commerce platform. We’ll see how soon before we do it again.

The updated sites include videos of behind-the-scenes tours, product demos, and manufacturer interviews. With your interest in video production, how involved have you been with this?

Actually, I’m at High Point, NC right now grabbing more manufacturers on camera for our site. We’ve seen that conversions are 50-100% higher on product pages with video so this is key for us moving forward. Personally I’ve been doing video production stuff since middle school so I’m the guy at Factory EStores who knows this the best. We’re creating a position though whom we may already have a candidate for going forward. We want to do more than product videos and such, focusing on some educational and how to type things… teaching people about the types of furniture out there, helping them to make better informed decisions about what their buying – not focused specifically on one product at a time. If we can be a resource for people, they’ll come back time and time again.

We also want to eventually stumble upon a great viral video idea for promotion. Dollar Shave Club for example is one of my favorites that really helped build their e-commerce business for razors – YouTube it if you haven’t watched it.

Once purchased items are put in the hands of the delivery service, the quality of customer service is in their hands. What efforts have you made to ensure the quality of the delivery service meets your standards?

We actually used to use purely LTL Freight companies to do deliveries, but you hit the nail on the head that the customer service with these companies is not always top noch. Damages too tend to be higher and we were running a damage and re-shipment cost, of about 5.5% of revenue (low actually for this vertical).

Recently, we started to send about 50% of our shipments through a new white glove service for our customers. This company makes extra calls to our customers and our customers never not know where their shipments are. They’re delivered in a van with two people and the product can even be brought into an upstairs room, and they’ll remove and throw away the packaging for you (upgraded shipping).

What we’re finding is that many of our customers are appreciative of the added services they can upgrade when deciding on their shipping type, and the amount of damage as a cost of revenue is going down, while customer service is going up. The added cost of using the service is made up by the fact that the damage cost is going down. It’s a win win all around as basically we’ve shifted the money we were spending in damage to provide a better customer experience. We’re looking for ways to send more shipments now through the new white glove home delivery company because of this.

Has Factory EStores got the growth you expected?

Factory EStores is growing way faster than I expected. It’s exciting, and scary all at the same time. 16,700% growth actually since month 1.

Where do you see Factory EStores in 10 years time?

It’s so hard to answer this question regarding where we’ll be in 10 years. The industry changes so fast, and since we’re growing so fast I couldn’t tell you the types of things we’ll be doing by then. I know that mobile will become a bigger and bigger focus for us, but I think in 10 years it will be something else all together. Honestly, by then, we’ll either be bought up by a giant, taken public, or at least have had a VC step in and inject some cash to further our growth rate.

How do you plan to stay ahead of the competition?

Right now, our size allows us to be nimble, quick, etc. So being faster at reacting is one way. However, as we grow that will get tougher and tougher. Truth is, it’s all about the customer. We’re going to be so damn customer focused that anyone who’s done business with us once, will only think about doing business with us again.

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Big Data. That’s about all I need to say about that. Once your database gets to a certain size, it becomes very difficult to manage. Speed becomes affected. Small issues that pop up can cause other issues which you may not even see affecting the way things function. Big data is hard to deal with. Period.

What mistakes have you made, and what did you learn from them?

Biggest mistake was probably growing our product line too fast. Doing so, some of our product team Factorians, pushed with deadlines, threw up a lot of products without really well built out descriptions and some duplicate content. We’re going back now and cleaning all of this up, but in hindsight we were just trying to get as much on the site as fast as possible. Really to convert and sell online you need quality, not quantity. We knew this but growing so fast didn’t really pay attention to it. Clean up crew is on it now though.

What advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?

Find a great product, with some great numbers and margins, make sure people online are looking for it, and then call me. ;-)

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We’re wrapping up some big integrations right now that is going to allow us to process orders faster with our vendors, and streamline marketing. We’ve already done the math and these integrations will show a 2,500% increase in productivity for the fulfillment, finance, and marketing departments, and if we had to hire additional Factorians to do the same job, saves us an estimated $30,000 / month in overhead costs. Just imagine what you can do if you were 2,500% more productive and an extra $30,000 in your pocket monthly! (Hint: We’ll be reinvesting that in our growth)

Can you convince the reader to visit Factory EStores in under 50 words?

If you need something for home, you’ve got to check with us first. We’ve got a low price guarantee, and the customer experience is over the top. Heck, if you reference this article, I’ll put you in the VIP club even if you don’t hit the minimum spend limit.

Finished reading? Check out Factory EStores!

Interview with Allan Stevens (InstallerParts)

InstallerParts provides a vast catalogue of cables and accessories for home systems.

I interviewed Allan Stevens, InstallerParts co-founder to find out more. This interview is the fourth in a series of DW ecommerce interviews. Big thank you to Allan!

Give us the elevator pitch for InstallerParts.

Nearly everyone today has a TV, computer, or ten of each. We recently launched a website, InstallerParts.com, that sells virtually every cable, adapter, connector, TV wall mount, and accessory you could ever need to properly setup your equipment.

Our pitch is that we, the guys who founded InstallerParts.com, have spent the last 15 years, hooking these devices up for you in your homes and business. We’ve used our experience and knowledge to source over 5,000 products we know you’ll like, at prices that make Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus.

Additionally, we’re here to help you with your audio/video project questions, and as experienced industry professionals, we’re confident we can.

What are your most popular products?

We have incredible prices on Cat5 & Cat6 patch cables and sell a ton every month as a result. TV/monitor arm mounts of all sizes, and oddly enough a DC power plug that apparently everyone loses or cat chews through.

Where are you based?

Bellevue, WA.

What is your background? What made you and your cousin, Denny, decide to set up InstallerParts?

I started installing car stereos in 1995 then switched to home system installations a few years later, eventually ended up starting and building a home automation company, which was acquired by a larger company in 2005. The housing market was booming back then and we were fortunate to have some very good clients. Some of the projects we worked on would blow your mind. One house had a man-made river running through the hallway and another had a 50-car garage packed full of American muscle cars in flawless condition.

I left the audio video world to pursue a social network startup, but unfortunately it wasn’t the next Facebook. The audio video mafia lured me back in and this time I partnered with my cousin Denny to once again run an integration company. When we got together, this was after the 2008 crash. This was not the same market I once knew. The big whole-home new construction projects were few and far between and now customers were going online to shop our bids against Amazon prices. Ask any audio/video installer how they feel about this and you’ll get an ear full of fun words.

When we started finding cheaper prices online then at our wholesale distributors, it became ultimately clear that times were changing and rather than fighting them we decided to take our specialized knowledge and join them.

What’s it like working with family?

I’ve advocated against working with family and friends to anyone who says they plan to do it, then, started this venture with both. When everything is going great, it’s fantastic. Who better to share the successes with than your family and friends. The problems come when something isn’t going great. No sane person wants to fire a family member or lose a friend over some pointless dispute. Fortunately for us, business is good and we make a great team. Ultimately, I’m extremely thankful that I’m able to work with them, even if I’m a hypocrite.

What has been the most insane moment of running your own business?

In 2005 I had just finished a pretty massive audio/video system for a new sports bar in Seattle, and was invited to attend a small private grand opening party for the investors. There were 48 HDTVs scattered throughout the place and a custom programmed touchscreen that operated them all. The real reason I was invited was to show everyone how to use the equipment! One of the notable investors attending this party was the King himself, LeBron James. He was there with his family and half of the Cleveland Cavilers who had just played a game and lost to the Sonics across the street at Key Arena. After spending some time showing him how the touchscreen controlled everything, we hit it off and decided to go hit a couple local nightclubs together.

The stars had aligned; we had just completed some work for another club owner where the SuperSonic’s frequented after games. I called him up and was able to get the whole place setup for us before we even got there. We left the sports bar to head that direction and I had Lebron in my car with half the Cavs following closely behind. As a huge NBA fan at the time, this was just a surreal moment for me. I ended up flying to Cleveland and doing some work for Lebron in his first house later that year.

Where do you see InstallerParts in 5 years time?

I heard a comment recently that we’ve reached a time in history where technology is advancing so quickly that it’s virtually impossible to imagine even 5 years out. Selling technology products on a technology platform makes this a real tough question to address seriously. Our plan is to continue to identify the needs of our customers, source out products that provide great value, and make our purchasing experience as positive and efficient as humanly and technologically possible. And we’d like to have a private space program.

Has InstallerParts got the demand and growth you expected?

Yes and no. Initially, we thought it would be easier to convince Installers to visit our website simply by mentioning our insanely low prices and incredible selection. Turns out people are so busy and numb to solicitation, even if you truly have a unique and valuable offer, a very low number of customers will actually follow through and end up making a purchase as a result. The good news is that our online marketing efforts are working very well and we have an incredible number of repeat customers with compounding sales growth.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

When we were first developing our website we had it hosted on a basic, cheap hosting plan so we could save some money until we launched. The hosting company advertised nightly backups with a money back guarantee plus all the usual promises. We assumed that because it was nicely designed and advertised on their site with a big green check by it — it was a matter of fact. Turns out it wasn’t, and yep; their database server crashed. We had local copies of our application files but two and half months of product data entry was instantly vaporized on their database machine. We got our money back for that month of hosting as promised, $15. The hard lesson learned; even if you trust your hosting company, you should always make your own provisions for a backup of their backup.

Name the toughest challenge of starting your own business.

I’d say the toughest challenge when starting up would be making time for everything that your business will require of you if you really want to be competitive and successful. It’s best if you can build it when you’re single without kids because you need to put in the time or your competition will simply outpace you.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting an e-commerce business?

Tell your ambitions to wait or you’ll find yourself spread too thin to be really good at any one thing. It’s easy to convince yourself you need to spend time & money on all sorts of must haves, but most of the time in retrospect they’re not absolutely necessary. Start thinking in absolute terms early on, focus on the one thing you’re really good at and grow up instead of out.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Right now, our value proposition to customers is basically three things; we have really good pricing on parts that virtually everyone uses, we have a much wider selection of audio video parts than you’ll typically find at other retailers, and finally, we are installers ourselves, so we really understand the products and their application better than most.

Price and selection are important, but only really matter if you’re making a purchase. A lot of people are just looking for information to help them plan a project, which we have plenty of. The problem is it’s in our heads and you have to call or email us if you want it. What we’re most excited to be working on is our solution to this problem. We’re in the process of adding some features to our site that we believe installers and do-it-yourselfers will greatly benefit from.

Can you convince the reader to check out InstallerParts in under 50 words?

If you own a TV, computer, or both; InstallerParts.com can help. We have over 5,000 cables, adapters, connectors, TV mounts and accessories, at prices that make Wal-Mart look like Neiman Marcus. Check us out and see why companies like Red Bull, Nissan, and UPS shop with InstallerParts!

Finished reading? Check out InstallerParts!