A Mission-Based Manufacturing Process: Creating Mobile Jobs for Military Spouses
by Felix Thea Podcasts Mar 6, 2018 28 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
One way for a business to have an social impact is to donate a portion of profits to a cause. Another is to bake it into their products themselves, through the manufacturing process for example.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll learn from two military spouses who became entrepreneurs to create a network of independent manufacturers to produce their products and to provide jobs for others like them.
Lisa Bradley and Cameron Cruse are the founders of R. Riveter: a company that employs military spouses to make handmade leather and canvas handbags.
[We] wanted to start this company to create a sense of community for military spouses, create mobile flexible income, and just be a positive force for the military community.
Tune in to learn
How these entrepreneurs determined what product to sellHow to onboard new employees and contractorsHow to encourage customer reviews of your products
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Store: R.RiveterSocial Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, InstagramRecommendations: Yotpo, Zoom
Felix: Today, I’m joined by Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley from R. Riveter. R. Riveter employs military spouses to make handmade leather and canvas handbags, and was started in 2011, and based out of Southern Pines, North Carolina. Welcome Cameron and Lisa.
Lisa: Hi, thanks so much for having us.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have the both of you on. Tell us a bit more about the … your companies, particularly like what are some of the most popular products that you sell?
Cameron: Our most popular style at R. Riveter is the Otto handbag. I think that is because of the style and function, and size.
Felix: Awesome. I introduced the both of you, and talked about the background a little bit. Can you explain a little bit more about the cause and the idea behind this business?
Lisa: For sure, yeah. The reason why we started the company was really two fold. As military spouses, we became very good friends over the shared hardship of not being able to find employment as military spouses. The first issue is moving every two to three years, and the interviews, and the job search can be so difficult. You just see employers taking your resumes and just putting them on the bottom of the pile, because they don’t want to hire you because they know that you’re just going to be leaving.
Then, the second part about it, about being a military spouse, is with those constant moves, just how difficult it can be to have a sense of identity when you have new friends, new employers. You just kind of feel yourself … not really knowing who you are anymore. That was one of the big reasons why Cameron and I wanted to start this company is to create a sense of community for military spouses, create mobile flexible income, and just be … a source of … positive force for the military community.
Felix: Makes sense. Was this the first business for both of you, or have you started businesses in the past?
Cameron: This was our first venture. Funny enough, it was my first job completely out of college, and one of Lisa’s … I mean my first real job and then Lisa had only had a couple of jobs before that. Just moving around with the military so much, I think Lisa had moved six times at the time that we had started the company. We just jumped in with both feet.
Felix: Yeah, it must been a ton of learning then, along the way of figuring out what you didn’t know and figuring out how to learn those skills to operate a business. What were some of the key things that you found most helpful early on to learn?
Lisa: Well, just to kind of go through a few of them, we didn’t even … When we decided to start the company, it was the why. We formulated the business idea of eventually having a national network of military spouses that would be located across the country near military … posts and bases; and that they could make the sub assemblies of the product that we decide on. So they would have mobile flexible income.
Early on, when it was just Cameron and I in the attic, we didn’t know what product we were going to make. We eventually settled on handbags, because they’re such a great representation of a customer choosing something to carry with them every day. We also needed a product that had quite a few parts and pieces to it, so that it would support the business model.
Some of the early learning curves were … literally how to make a handbag. We’ve never done that before, so we were … We were in the attic going through prototyping, and figuring out … the different ways that we can assemble a handbag. It’s just trial and error at every turn, for sure.
Cameron: I think learning, too, as an entrepreneur, it never stops. I mean it was like a floodgate back then, and it’s a floodgate today. When you get to every stage of your business, there’s always something to learn and something else to conquer. I don’t know … It was definitely intense early on, but I don’t think it’s ever slowed down.
Felix: Right, so it sounds like one of the very first exercises, first things you needed to learn how to do was to discover a product; right? Because like you were saying, you have this cause, you have this idea for wanting to start a business; but no product yet. I think that’s a situation a lot of entrepreneurs find themselves in that they are motivated and passionate to create some kind of life for themselves, but then they’re now stuck at this big void of where … ‘Which direction should I go?’ Talk to us about that process that you walked through to settle ultimately on handbags, and what other products did you find on the way? Talk to us a little bit more about the criteria that you looked at to … say, ‘You know what? Handbags is the right choice for our business.’
Cameron: What’s funny about that is when we first started R. Riveter, there were … probably ten different directions we were taking the company all at one time. We were going to make and sell handbags, military spouses were going to make and sell handbags. It was custom business. There’s limited edition involved, which we were upcycling recycled military materials to make handbags. We were selling … new material handbags. There was so much that we were doing all at one time.
In the last five years, I think what we’ve gotten really good at is paring down to make … be really good at one thing, and not overextend ourselves. I think …
Lisa: Yeah, and we actually didn’t have any other products that we were even prototyping prior to handbags. We knew that a handbag is something that a person chooses every day to carry. It’s … somewhat like their chosen skin. It’s the brand, the style, that they are choosing to represent themselves. Our customers, when we first started are the same as the customers of today that, the reason why our handbags are successful is because … that individual knows what their purchasing power is going towards. It’s going towards a community of military spouses and empowering them every day.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and this concept of paring down, I think is another challenge that a lot of entrepreneurs have a little bit further along in their business … maybe even from the beginning, where they’re being pulled in so many different directions. There’s just so much opportunity in their heads that they want to pursue. It sounds like you’re recognizing that the more you focus, the more you pared down, the more successful you become. Talk to us about that. How do you decide what you should be focusing your time on?
Lisa: All right, well it’s a natural progression, I think just from trial and error to really honing a skill all the way from product development to building a team … when it was just Cameron and I in the attic. We were doing everything for the business, from customer service to sewing. I quickly got fired from sewing early on. It was probably one of the best things that happened for us was early on, deciding what paths Cameron and I were going to each take towards growing this business.
Then, you soon realize that every turn, you become the bottleneck in the company. That’s when it’s important to know when the right time is to bring on team members. It’s you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. We always try and remember growth … takes that risk to know when is the right time to expand.
Felix: What do you pay attention to, to recognize that … you are the bottleneck, and it’s better for you to hire someone, or assign this particular task to someone else; so that you can focus on something and have the other person essentially do it better than you can. How do you recognize that a task or a particular job is something that you should hand off?
Lisa: Well, I think it’s constantly looking at your ability to complete a task in a timely manner, and make sure that you’re not becoming what’s holding things up. Then, that has to be balanced with … cash planning and if you can afford to bring on more people. It’s just very important that you know that that’s something that you can do, because once it’s beyond you and your co-founder, you’re … People are then relying on you for an income, … for a daily … place in a community. It’s really important to take those next steps wisely, but that’s truly where you can start growing.
Felix: Got it. This is a skill that any entrepreneur needs to learn from their first hire to their tenth, hundredth hire. I’m sure that you’re learning a ton going through this process over and over again. How do you offboard a task and onboard someone else? What have you found as an effective way to essentially transition task without dropping any balls?
Cameron: I think one of the ways that I found … especially when you work with somebody, and you bring them onto a team, and they’re connecting really well, is just to give clear … guidance of what the end state that you expect it. So clear guidance, clear end state, and any perimeters involved. As long as you do that and give the perfect … give really good expectations for what the end state is; let them kind of figure that out along the way. Then, be constantly checking in. I think for me, it’s always about drawing that end state for them, and then letting them find their own style and own path in that.
Lisa: Right, and I think anybody that joins a small business kind of has an entrepreneurial heart. Joining a small business is risky, and you probably have to know how to wear many hats. Those key people early on and … many of which are still with us today, they started with … many wide tasks. Then, as we started to grow, we saw what their best skill sets were, and what things they truly enjoyed doing.
Then, they took that role in … more of a wider and deep area, and then we opened up those other tasks to someone else. It’s just kind of this beautiful thing of eventually, you’ve got people doing specific things, and they’re able to do them more fully and more aptly; when you start to grow.
Felix: How large is the team today?
Cameron: We have 34 employees, and a little over 30 [inaudible 00:10:45] contractors all across the country.
Felix: That’s amazing. How did you … what’s the hiring process that you go through? How do you find employees for the business? Especially since you’re looking to employ military spouses?
Lisa: Right, so the … kind of the … a mission lock at R. Riveter is that the independent contractors that are the independent military spouses across the country that are making this sub assembles of our products. They’re sewing the liners. They’re sewing the canvas shell, the handbag. They’re cutting the leather. They will remain … military spouses. We’ve been so fortunate to be able to have our storyline out there, that they know that that type of … opportunity is available to them. We have … hundreds of individuals on our website that have expressed in an interest in becoming what we call a ‘riveter.’ Whenever we go through a riveter … bringing on riveters onto the team, that’s the first place that we go.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa: Then, as far as employees go, it’s kind of a … a natural thing of someone knows somebody, or we’re looking for something specific so we put a job listing out.
Cameron: Yeah, we’ve been fortunate enough, too, to grow very organically within our team. A lot of our individuals have been able to move up from very … beginner jobs, if you will, and kind of move very naturally up into leadership roles. Then, recruiting and hiring in outside … position is probably one of the most difficult things I feel like an entrepreneur will ever do.
It takes a lot of time, it shouldn’t be underestimated. It can be something that is … there’s no corner cutting in recruiting on a team member, because … One of my biggest lessons is you hire the right person, and they can learn the skills; but the right person for a small team is everything.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), well what’s the production process like? Do you have … I think you said 30 to 40 contractors that are … These are contractors … are the ones that are putting together the handbags?
Cameron: Yeah, so they make parts and pieces all across the country, and then they ship individual sub assemblies to our fab shop in North Carolina; and we assemble everything there. Every riveter who moves from Colorado to Georgia to North Carolina will be able to take their very specific contract with them no matter where the military takes them. They’re going to take a very specific job all across the country, sort of providing that community and that mobile flexible income. Then, we put everything together in a centralized fab shop. We have about 5,000 square feet where all the assembling and quality control is done.
Felix: That’s very cool. I’ve never heard of a business that’s been able to operate at scale with 30, 40 … essentially manufacturers spread … or producers, at least, spread throughout the country. What’s the process like for managing a team like that?
Cameron: All the online productivity tools.
Lisa: Yeah, we … It’s interesting that we started out kind of a remote company from the very beginning; whereas a lot of companies grow into that with growth. We started off, right off the bat, Cameron and I moved apart from each other … after six or seven months. We just really started to leverage online … communication tools, such as Skype, and Zoom. I’ve tried … I think all of them. … [inaudible 00:14:18], and … Office 365, those are all kind of the tools that we use in order to communicate with one another, and make sure that we … have consistency in our work and product, … and able to pick up even though we’re not in the same room as each other.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Now I want to talk a little bit about your … the kind of story and the marketing that goes behind your brand. Obviously you have a very clear social cause, as we’re talking about this of your authentic story. How do you make sure that this is told, that people know about it; because it’s something that a lot of times, your brand … People might not … understand the story behind that, so they come onto to the site and read more about it. What do you in terms of outreach to make sure people understand or hear more about your story?
Lisa: Right, yeah. It’s definitely … There’s so much to our story that it’s hard to just capture the understanding in a short, quick glance, like some … other business models. A lot of our story is told by the consumer.
One of my favorite things that I heard from a customer was, “I would love … carrying the R. Riveter bag, because I want to tell the story. There’s … It’s a conversation starter.” We see a lot of word of mouth … marketing for our company. Then, on our website, we just try to be as … succinct as we can to tell the story; and so that our customers know that manufacturing process. At R. Riveter, it’s the journey that the handbag takes … from all corners of our country where those parts and pieces are being made, by … up to 12 military spouses per one product. Then, those parts and pieces are coming together in North Carolina to become a finalized product.
It’s more about just getting … an item. It’s about the whole manufacturing process.
Felix: Yeah, that’s one of the most important … That’s why it’s so important to have a cause that your customers and your market are passionate about, because they will be your biggest brand ambassadors. They want to talk to about your products. They want to talk about your company and the cause behind it. What about from your side, in terms of like PR? What kind of … What’s the strategy there to hope for you as a company, for you guys as a company, to get the word out?
Lisa: Well, as we’re … growing and getting used to the model of growth, it is a … three dimensional chess game for sure. Even after ‘Shark Tank,’ we’ve entirely remained made here in America and with military spouses making our sub assemblies. We’ve been actually pretty sleepy on finding PR for the company. We’re just now kind of being more proactive about that. But just been extremely fortunate that … national media and local media have been wanting to tell our story.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), that’s a good … I think … topic, so, right because I think a lot of entrepreneurs are at that stage, too, where they don’t have a … full blown PR strategy yet. Your team is just getting started on that approach. What have you learned very early so far that … about the process of getting PR, where you’re actively reaching out to outlets rather than them covering you because they just have found out about your story themselves? What have you learned about this process so far of outreach yourself?
Lisa: Well, I think it’s finding key contacts that know about PR, and have contacts in PR, and news … outlets, for sure. That’s one of the … things that we’re doing now is finding a PR rep, where we have one continuing to grow in our relationship with her. Then also, … the … being far enough out in advance from product launches and other key campaigns that marketing’s putting out so that … you’re able to … make sure that if it is going to be newsworthy, that you … put it in such a way that it can get out there and not just being so short sighted where we’re putting things up in such a quick time frame that we weren’t even able to take advantage of the PR aspects of it.
Felix: Got it. When you are looking for a rep, PR rep, you’re looking for … One of the most important things is look for someone that has the contacts, the publications, the radio shows, the TV shows that you’re interested in getting into.
Lisa: Correct, for sure. That’s … a big one, and knowing what that individual has been able to get other companies in the past; that they have a track record of success there. Then, … also, I think a big part of it is … just knowing and them coaching you on … what you should do when you’re in an interview, … and the steps of before and after, and that’s been a huge part is … instead of just figuring it out, you’ve got somebody kind of coaching you through those aspects.
Cameron: Yeah, so many times as an entrepreneur, you are the story. So many people have come and helped Lisa and I in this idea that we are our greatest asset as a PR pitch. Having a PR … a firm, or somebody that represents you, so many times as a … entrepreneur, you are also wearing ten other hats; so you need that person that’s going to back you, not only to get those contacts and to get the shows and the radio, and the newspapers; but who’s going to keep your messaging consistent? Who’s going to follow through and follow up, and make sure that all the assets are there? Kind of that … one person that’s their only job.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and when you do look at a rep and you’re looking to see what kind of contacts they have, is that something easy to get ahold of? Like how do you figure out which avenues, which shows they have been able to get their clients onto?
Lisa: Yeah, I think … Well, that’s kind of a good question. I think it depends on what type of product you have, what your target market is … looking at for news, or where they’re going for information, and knowing those types of things before you reach out to a PR rep; because they have particular contacts in different fields. I think it’s kind of also dependent on what your product is a little bit, too.
Felix: Gotcha. You’re saying that you should come into this search knowing where you want to be, rather than just looking for a rep kind of blindly?
Lisa: Definitely, definitely.
Felix: Got it, and so you mentioned that there are some things that you’ve been coached on so far about going into an interview. I think that this is important because I think at some stage, most entrepreneurs will get a chance at press. What are some key … areas of focus that you try to make sure that are covered during an opportunity in the press?
Lisa: Right. It’s definitely knowing what you want to get across to your potential consumer. No matter what questions the … anchors or the person conducting the interview ask you is … figuring out ways that you can still get your points across; even if they didn’t ask you that exact question. That’s something that … I think everyone can continue to learn how to hone that skill, and it can definitely be difficult at first.
Felix: Yeah, it’s like the skill of being a politician, right?
Felix: Making sure that you get your message across. That makes sense. Now, you mentioned ‘Shark Tank’ earlier, and yeah. So you were on ‘Shark Tank,’ and … Well first, tell us about that? How did you get on the show?
Cameron: We were actually discovered on Kickstarter for our ‘Shark Tank’ episode. We went through the whole process, and were lucky enough to fly out to California and pitch to the sharks … and came out with a deal.
Felix: Yeah, and can you talk a little bit about the deal? I think you ended up getting a deal from Mark Cuban, is that correct?
Cameron: We did. He is a 20% equity investor.
Felix: That’s awesome. What’s the experience been like working with him? Do you get to work with him closely, you work with his team? What is the process like when you do get to do a deal with a shark like Mark?
Lisa: Right, yeah. When you have Mark on your team, you also get a whole team of individuals that … specialize in different areas of the business. There’s people that can help out with accounting, … and marketing. We’ve really … lean on them for a lot of marketing help. They’ve helped us with our website in certain areas, and social media. Then, I think one of the … greatest things about having Mark as an investor is … his desire to help military families and … veteran owned businesses.
He has … three or four key … veteran owned companies that we really have grown close with, and collaborate a lot with … and learn from each other. I think that’s one of the … been one of the most rewarding business relationships we could have.
Felix: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense where when you do … take an investment from someone, whether it be as big as someone like Mark Cuban, or a smaller investor, knowing where else they’ve invested, those are also doors or opportunities to work with those companies that they’ve worked with; especially if they’re in the same industry as you. Luckily for your company, you have four companies that are in the same industry, so I’m sure there’s lots of opportunities to cross promote-
Lisa: Yeah, I think that … the amazing thing about veteran companies is it’s very collaborative. Bottle Breacher, Combat Flip Flops, … We all talk quite a bit and share success stories, also [inaudible 00:24:02] … where maybe they’ve learned what not to do. I think it’s a really … great thing to build those relationships, even if they’re not in your industry, just …
Lisa: [crosstalk 00:24:12] … in some way.
Felix: Definitely. Sometimes the best advice comes from outside industry, because no one else in your industry is focused on or has seen it from that perspective. I think you should certainly tap any resource you have in other industries. You mentioned that the team, Mark Cuban’s team helped you with the website. Can you say a little bit more about that? Like what were some changes that, whether they be big or large, that they recommended you do for your site?
Lisa: I think the big things that they helped with were, … was prepping for our ‘Shark Tank’ airing, just making sure that everything was tested and bulletproof. One of the best things we did early on was actually get on the Shopify platform back in 2011. Literally one of the first things we did was start our Shopify website. We’ve probably been through like ten different themes at that point, at this point; but … it’s still the same website from when we first started. Then, … all these different events that bring quite a bit of traffic that has come to our Shopify site, we’ve had no problems with. It was definitely one of the best things we did early on was start our Shopify site.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), now you mentioned a bunch of different redesigns. Can you say a little bit more about that? What’s your approach when the both of you, when your team sit down and decide to redesign the website? What do you focus on trying to achieve?
Cameron: Well, there’s a lot that goes into that. That’s a big question. From customer and user experience, to mobile optimization, to being able to visually merchandise your stuff. I think the last redesign that we did, we partnered with a great company who has also specialized in Shopify. We wanted to make sure that our website was easily understood by our customers from ages 20 to 65, and that it was mobilely optimized; because that’s a huge one now. I think 70% of our traffic is mobile, so that’s huge. Just something that authentically … reflects the brand, but is also easily understood.
Lisa: [crosstalk 00:26:20] Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, some of the big changes that we’ve made are the navigation bars, we’ve just … We wanted it to be … our products to be more easily searched, so that was a big overhaul was the navigation. We also moved to Shopify plus, and I feel like that’s been a really good move for us; just the consistent … user experience from browsing all the way through the … cart checkout with the plus platform has been really nice … Where you don’t get redirected to checkout.
Felix: Right, and so one of the key decisions that you made was to design the site so that it’s understood by what … it sounded like your target demographic. How do you determine … How do you, I guess, measure that? How do you know if your site, the copy, the images, are speaking to your target customers well enough?
Lisa: Well, yeah, I think that’s something you kind of learn throughout years of business, and seeing trends. We … really try to make sure that … our product can resonate with … as diverse of people as possible. But it is really important to know … when and where your customers are searching, and how they search; and optimizing your website for that.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), makes sense. So a couple other things I’ve noticed about this site that I really like and want to talk about. The first thing I see here towards the bottom is a ‘Shop our Instagram,’ kind of feed. Can you explain what this is? Like what’s the application used for, and how does it work?
Lisa: It’s actually through an integration that we have with Yotpo. Yotpo is a Shopify app, or it integrates with Shopify and it helps … with your customer reviews. That’s been really helpful, because we’re predominantly an online … or eCommerce, so people are coming online to shop our products. For us, for Cameron and I, that was one of the big things we wanted to implement, because we also look at customer reviews a lot when we’re shopping online. We wanted to give our customers the opportunity to know what our customers are saying.
The first weekend that I turned it on, … we had 400 reviews, and I read every single one of them. I was just absolutely blown away with the comments from how much the company meant to them from a military aspect, all the way over to the quality of the product. It was neat for me as a business owner as well, to … that … is not answering customer emails anymore; although that was one of the many hats I wore in the past … to be able to just really see what the customers are thinking, and … about your products. It was a really cool thing.
Yotpo has that shop to Instagram integration down at the bottom of our website, and we’ve really enjoyed that.
Felix: Yeah, I see that the reviews that are scrolling through here. When you … Can you, for anyone out there that hasn’t used the Yotpo application, that is clearly related to reviews, can you explain more about how the entire Yotpo system works to help you with the reviews?
Lisa: Yes, yes; and you could probably reach out to them. They’ll probably do a much better job of this, and I might totally botch it. It’s a great review system where they have … a very specific way of ensuring that customers review your product. They send out a specific email, and you can … leverage the customer by giving out coupon codes for either a) reviewing, or sharing; and so you can incentivize your customers for giving that review in a really easy and integrative way. We’ve really enjoyed Yotpo.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), so when … for your setup of the encouraging reviews, do you look to give discount codes, gift cards? What’s the approach that has helped the most to give you a little extra push to come write a review?
Lisa: Right, yeah. We definitely leverage by giving a review for giving … Or excuse me, a coupon for giving a review. It’s something extra that the customer has to do and they don’t have to do that, so we want to offer something to come back to, to our website and enjoy being able to tell what they think about our products. I think it’s a great way, and then also an additional discount on top of that for sharing.
Felix: Oh, so you offer both, a discount of for the review and then another one for sharing. What’s the ideal number … I guess the percentage discount that you found works?
Lisa: It was 10 and 15%.
Felix: Okay, so definitely not insignificant. That’s pretty … definitely a motivating amount of a break for someone to write a review and to share it.
Lisa: For sure.
Felix: Yeah, also saw that … or heard you mention that social media was also another area of focus for the team and Mark Cuban help you. What are some of the changes that they came with, or what kind of advice did they offer in that area?
Lisa: Well, they have an individual that helps with Facebook paid ads. That’s been really helpful, because when you’re a small company, you … It’s difficult to hire a full time people that know all these different aspects. It’s nice to be able to leverage the Mark Cuban companies to be able to some of that for our small team. They also helped us with Instagram, and becoming verified. It’s been a good relationship.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and on Instagram or on these social platforms, other than the paid ads, what kind of … what is the strategy there? What kind of content are you putting out?
Lisa: It depends on the campaign, and then we also have ads that we call ‘evergreen ads.’ They’re just kind of like the … ads that be shown all throughout the year. The customer, we can kind of put them in between our more larger big campaigns. That’s kind of the cadence that we follow with the … with all Facebook and Google ads.
Felix: Got it, now when you mention these evergreen ads, like how are they different than the more I guess seasonal, or more … I guess … seasonal ads that you run?
Lisa: Yeah, I would say that our evergreen ads are more about our story, and … educating the customer on how the products are made. Without that type of education, no one would know that, that up to 12 military spouses go into a making product, or that R. Riveter has helped over 100 military spouses this year.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and basically when you … think about creating a targeted or more specific campaign, how do you determine what kind of … campaign, essentially, to design?
Lisa: Right, well that kind of depends on what’s going on. So if we’re going on Fox and Friends, we’ll do an AB test ad [inaudible 00:33:11] … watching … Fox Network. There’s just … Or, if we’re doing something geographically, we will try it [inaudible 00:33:22] people in different areas. Then, we’ll see the [inaudible 00:33:25] from that, and learn from that for the next campaign that we do.
Felix: Got it, makes sense. Now that you have a team of 30 employees, and you said 30, 40 contractors, how do you … how do the both of you spend your days? How do you … What do you like to focus on during your workdays?
Lisa: Mm-hmm (affirmative), well, we’ve basically split the company with … in kind of two directions. Cameron takes operation and product development, and I take sales, marketing, finance, and IT. It’s … a [inaudible 00:33:58] of making sure that we keep our team members in departments all talking, and in sync. I spend most of my time on the phone, on [inaudible 00:34:08] all day long.
Then, I think the beautiful thing about Zoom is you know when someone’s in a meeting, and when they’re not. I think a lot of people just sit and watch for my bubble to be green.
Felix: And jump on it.
Lisa: And jump on it. That’s how I never eat lunch.
Felix: Now, when it comes to product development, it sounds like the team is constantly working on the next iteration, the next product lines. What’s that process like? How does a … product go from idea generation to actually being available for sale?
Cameron: It starts with customer listening and social listening. We have to understand exactly what the next opportunity for R. Riveter is, and then we get together as a team and decide what version of that we want to put out into the world. Then, we … I have a team in North Carolina that just prototypes after prototypes; and tons of iterations and edits, and coming back to the drawing board every time we get together and decide we like this about that product, or we don’t.
Once you get a finalized design with a tight pack and stats, at that point, it’s … That’s where the hard part is, because we have to push it out to all of our remote riveters who then need to be able to master those skills. Then, it goes from the remote riveters to all the way into our assembly production … line. There’s a ton of training that happens in North Carolina, just getting everybody on the same page. Once you have produced that product, then we have to tell sales, marketing, and finance, and kind of re-update everybody on what we … have now.
I can make the best product in the world, but if our team doesn’t know how to pitch it, or answer questions about it, or … understand it themselves, then it’s not going to go very far; and our customers might be a little disappointed. It’s just a big … it’s a big, big project, but it’s … very exciting; and it’s what I love to do.
Felix: Yeah, that is a good point that creating a great product can only take you so far, that handoff to the marketing is sales teams and their functions is vital to making sure that it’s a season that launches successfully. So what’s that launch process like once a product is well into the development and ready to go to manufacture, go into production mode? How does it get handed off to the marketing and sales team?
Cameron: First things first is they all get product. We’ve kind of started this system where everybody on the marketing, and sales, and customer service team will get the product themselves. They can get hands on and use it, and … understand it to its fullest extent. Then from there, they’ll decide whether or not they’re going to do some sort of PR stunts, or …
Early on, we decided what the opportunity was, which means you’ve decided what the target market for this product is, how are we going to style it, how are we going to merchandise it? Is it something that’s just going to run through a holiday season, or is it now part of our permanent collection? There’s a lot that drives that conversation, but as soon as we know all of those … different questions, they can start to make smart decisions on the marketing side. It also gets pushed out to our network and brand ambassadors, who are a huge part of our marketing department.
Felix: These brand ambassadors, they … are customers, or how did you get in touch with … or how did you build a team of brand ambassadors?
Lisa: We actually did a brand ambassadors search. We put it out on social lines that anyone that’s interested in being a brand ambassador … send in a request, and tell us more about yourself and what this brand means to you. We’ve picked a group of individuals that truly … understand and care about growing the brand. It’s been a phenomenal relationship, and it’s kind of a community within a community. It’s really fun to see … those individuals now getting together in cities, and taking pictures. It’s a really fun thing to see.
Felix: Do you look for coverage in the sense that you try to look for somebody in every major city, or what’s the approach towards … building out a team of brand ambassadors?
Lisa: Right, well I think it’s a little bit of that. We like to have content, a big part of brand ambassadors is them creating content for you for your social and other marketing … aspects. It’s getting … photography and assets from all across the countries so that we don’t just have one look to our company. Our customer can then understand and … all different customers can resonate with the brand. That was a big part of it. Also, just their … kind of what they told us was important to them about the brand; from the military spouse aspect to empowering woman, American made, the high quality aspect of our products. As in each one of them kind of has … a unique look at the company, and what’s most important to them.
Felix: So obviously these folks are all very passionate about the cause, very passionate about the business. Are they getting free products, or I guess what’s the relationship there? Are they getting the free products and they’re responsible for creating content around it, or is there more to that arrangement? How do you usually, I guess create a … incentive program for brand ambassadors?
Lisa: Yeah, there’s product incentives, and I think a big part of it is being part of the community, too. I think it’s not just a traditional brand ambassador program that … they really are getting together and collaborating. I think that they’re really having a good time with it.
I think also being able for us to post on our website, and tag their social, it helps grow their following as well. It’s a mutually … beneficial for both parties.
Felix: How is this organized? So there’s a new product that’s coming out, or there’s a product that you want to put some push behind? You’re sending some email or something to all the brand ambassadors, or how do you keep all of this organized, essentially?
Lisa: Yeah, they do … My marketing team does an amazing job with it. They plan everything … a month … two months out in advance, and have themes for that month, and hand that out to the brand ambassadors so we have consistent themes, and content. THey’ve done a phenomenal job building that out and sticking to it.
Felix: Very cool. So RRiveter.com, R-R-I-V-E-T-E-R dot com. Where do you want to see the business go next?
Cameron: We’re going to take over the world. No, [inaudible 00:40:40] … We’re just going to keep growing a network, and we’re going to keep growing it one remote riveter at a time, one team member at a time, one bag at time. I think if you get out of your own way and stop overthinking your progress, and just keep putting one foot in front of the next.
I know over the last five or six years, we’ve been able to do that and just look up and see how far we’ve come. I think it’s just a slow and steady progression of what we’re already doing.
Lisa: Right, and … this is interesting. I think … Cameron and I have both said throughout the years of growing this company, that when we start to felt comfortable in what we were doing, we both knew looking back that it was an area where we were getting sleepy and we needed to … push on, and grow the company in a different way, or get back out there in our own learning as a business owner. I think that’s one thing that I can say to entrepreneurs is continue to learn, continue to push, and … don’t get too comfortable.
Felix: Yeah, I think that you both hit the nail on the head. There’s no secret to it, that that persistence and that self awareness can take you very far. Obviously it’s done amazing for you and your teams. Thank you so much, Cameron and Lisa, for coming on and sharing your story.
Lisa: Thank you so much for having us.
Cameron: Yeah, thank you.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek for what’s in store the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 4: I think with the older demographic, I think building a rapport is really important; maybe opening up a booth at a farmer’s market, and inviting people in to come and talk.
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.
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About the author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.