Chris Reighley from Totes/ISOTONER – Podcast Transcript

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Shaun Ryan:  [0:13] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and this is the Ecommerce Podcast. Today I’m talking to Chris Reighley from Totes ISOTONER. Chris is the Director of Ecommerce there. Welcome, Chris.

Chris Reighley:  [0:24] Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Shaun:  [0:26] You’re welcome. First question to get us going, Chris, what’s the first thing you ever bought online?

Chris:  [0:31] I think the first thing I ever bought online was a book. But I’ve got to tell you, I’m not 100% sure because it seems like anymore that’s all I do is buy stuff online. So it’s tough to remember that first thing but that’s what I think it was.

Shaun:  [0:48] A book probably from Amazon, I’m guessing?

Chris:  [0:51] Oh, probably.

Shaun:  [0:52] Yeah. How about the most recent thing? What was the most recent thing you bought online?

Chris:  [0:56] Actually, I did all of my Christmas shopping just over the weekend. The last thing I purchased online ‑‑ and hopefully my wife doesn’t know about this podcast ‑‑ was a NEMO tent for backpack hiking. So it was a present for myself that my kids are going to graciously be able to give me this Christmas.

Shaun:  [1:20] Oh, fantastic. And where did you buy that from?

Chris:  [1:24] Amazon.

Shaun:  [1:25] It was from Amazon as well. [laughs]

Chris:  [1:27] It was from Amazon, yes.

Shaun:  [1:28] Yeah, they’re the giants of ecommerce. How was the buying experience?

Chris:  [1:34] Well, I shop online for almost everything so I’m pretty tolerant. Amazon is pretty good. This happened to be something that I had in my wish list so it was a pretty easy find and a pretty easy buy.

Shaun:  [1:50] OK, great. Chris, can you give me a little bit of background about yourself? How did you get to be where you are today?

Chris:  [1:57] Well, I’m not really sure how I got to be who I am. Really, my background is actually in music performance. Somehow, someway, I got from music performance to ecommerce. In 1996 I was with Baldwin Piano as a brand manager and they went really belly up. When they went belly up I decided to start my own ecommerce store, basically a music equipment store out of my garage. [2:34] I did that for about 10 years until I ran out of money. Then I had to come back and work for somebody else. In some circular fashion I’ve got back, got to Totes ISOTONER and really have been in this ecommerce world since, like I said, ’96 was when I started my first store.

Shaun:  [2:55] Wow. That’s very early in terms of ecommerce. I think that’s about when Amazon started, wasn’t it? Or even before Amazon.

Chris:  [3:02] It was pretty close because there was no Google at that time.

Shaun:  [3:06] No.

Chris:  [3:08] There was no Google and there wasn’t a lot of rules. So it was definitely fun to be in it in the beginning because you really were sort of trailblazing at that point.

Shaun:  [3:21] Yeah. I mean, ecommerce has changed enormously in the 15 years since you had started.

Chris:  [3:30] Oh, yeah.

Shaun:  [laughs] [3:32] So how long have you been at Totes?

Chris:  [3:35] I’ve been at Totes now, this is going on my second year.

Shaun:  [3:38] OK.

Chris:  [3:40] They were really young in ecommerce, although they were in it for a while. It was sort of a typical branded manufacturer where they bought up a website, didn’t really know what to do with it and then after a couple years finally, I’d like to say saw the light and said, “We really need to run this like a business.” For better or for worse they brought me on and it’s been good so far.

Shaun:  [4:08] It sounds like someone of your experience would be fantastic for a company like Totes. So just give us a little bit of background about Totes ISOTONER. How long has the company been around? What do they do?

Chris:  [4:19] OK. Well, Totes ISOTONER really is a collection of apparel accessory brands. So Totes itself is really rainwear and rain protection. So we’re the world’s largest manufacturer of umbrellas and raincoats, galoshes, things like that. Totes has been around since, I want to say the ’60s. Don’t quote me on that. [4:54] Then ISOTONER, which is another one of our brands, is really cold weather ‑‑ ISOTONER gloves, we’ve got ISOTONER slippers. Really all that cold weather protection. We also have with ISOTONER some slip wear, some slippers and things like that.

[5:10] Then more recently to the Totes ISOTONER family we’ve just recently acquired two other brands. One is Acorn. Acorn makes footwear, really, really fine footwear. Then just recently, in fact it’s not really even live yet, is Manzella, which is an outdoor glove company. Really where ISOTONER is much more fashion related, Manzella is much more outdoor activity, skiing, biking, things like that.

[5:41] So we are a collection of apparel accessories which in a lot of ways complement each other very nicely.

Shaun:  [5:48] So the companies traditionally sold through retailers? Did they have their own stores?

Chris:  [5:55] Yeah, absolutely. We’re really your traditional branded manufacturer. We sell a lot into the big box and specialty stores, the mass stores, from a retail standpoint. We do have our own set of outlet stores. I think we have right around 100 outlet stores in the United States. Then obviously now our ecommerce division.

Shaun:  [6:19] Cool. So tell us about the ecommerce. You said it started off, it sounds like, as an afterthought almost and have got more serious more recently. So what are you doing online? Just tell us a little bit about it because there’s a little bit of a challenge there. You’ve got quite a few different brands. How is your online store working?

Chris:  [6:39] Well, it’s really grown pretty well. So when I started it was really less than a half percent of our overall North American division. So basically of our wholesale business, we were less than a half percent. [6:57] We’ve grown over the last two years where we’re knocking on the door of being a little bit over 2% of our wholesale business. Our ultimate goal is to get to anywhere from 7% to 10% of our wholesale business in the United States.

[7:11] One of the real key things I think that Totes ISOTONER is trying to do is really get closer to our consumer. As a traditional branded manufacturer, one of the things that you never had is that direct contact with the consumer.

[7:29] With the online presence we now touch the consumer. We talk to them every day, whether it be with our own website, with social media or with our call center, whatever it may be. We are touching those customers a lot closer than we ever did before.

[7:47] Part of what that’s doing that we’re really trying to figure out how to do is take that, really, consumer intelligence and take that and just make it a wildfire through the organization from not only how the product is being used but how the consumers feel about the product. Just all that intelligence, who our consumer is.

[8:13] The ecommerce division, we’re really able to get that direct connection and really get it out to the organization. That’s been the fun part, is really us being able to understand our consumers in a much deeper way than we ever were when there was a channel between us.

Shaun:  [8:32] Yeah, because I suppose pre‑ecommerce your customers were primarily the retailers. That channel just created a division between you and the end customers. So that’s interesting that that’s one of the things you highlight about ecommerce as it brings you closer to your customers. [8:52] So is that mainly working through social media or is it direct contact through email and call centers? How are you mainly working with the customers?

Chris:  [9:02] Well, it’s a lot. It’s a lot of different ways. It’s a lot of what you talked about: the social media, the direct contact with the consumer through the website, whether it’s eNow or whether it’s the call center. [9:17] One of the things that we added to our site is really a surveying tool that asks about the consumer experience while you’re on the website. That gives us a rich insight into the way that our customers are looking for our products but then also how they feel about their customer satisfaction during that time that we have them on our own property.

[9:43] But some of the things that we look at are really things that the customer is giving us information on but they don’t know they’re giving us information on. That is how they come into the site, what words they’re using in the search engines to come to our site.

[10:00] When they get onto the site, how are they searching for products? Meaning, what words are they using? What combinations of words are they using? Really, when you get into the facet of navigation, what’s important to them? Is it color? Is it function? Is it size?

[10:16] It’s all that information that they’ve giving to us just in their normal purchasing behavior and purchasing path. All those are really interesting because, I take Totes from an umbrella standpoint, the way that we design a product and what we call it.

[10:37] Meaning do we call it a micro umbrella or do we call it a mini umbrella? The customer is searching for mini umbrella but we call it a micro umbrella. So all of a sudden, hmm, there’s a gap in the thinking of our design team and our marketing team and the way that the customer is looking for a product.

[10:59] That insight is pretty rich and what you can do with it.

Shaun:  [11:04] Yeah, that’s really useful because that’s a classic example of you’re using a different language than what your customers are using to describe your own products. It’s really, really useful to know that. [11:15] So does that mean that’s coming through the rest of the organization? So rather than calling it a micro umbrella, just on the website but in the stores and in the packaging and your advertising, any more likely to call that a mini umbrella now given that information?

Chris:  [11:30] That’s what you hope. [laughs] You hope that. In my position, what I’m trying to do is really take that information and push it up to our categories so that they can do something with it and at least know how the customers are behaving. Then what does that mean when we design a product? [11:56] It’s just another bit of information that we can gain, which is great.

Shaun:  [12:01] So tell me about the survey tool you mentioned. What tool are you using and what sort of stuff have you find out from that survey?

Chris:  [12:08] Sure. We’re using a tool from ForeSee Results, which is basically a primary survey tool, a customer satisfaction index tool. What we’re doing is it’s making us smarter in how we work on the site and what we do on the site, and then what those things that we do, how it relates to things offline, future behaviors. [12:40] Not to really detail too much ForeSee, but what it does is it breaks down the site into elements. And those elements then are surveyed from a customer satisfaction standpoint, and they get a score. Well, that score then really gives us what’s known as an impact. So, mainly, what has the most impact to our customers’ satisfaction.

[13:03] Well, we take that information and then it really gives us a nice roadmap of, OK, our customers think that product navigation is the most important thing to them. So, well, we work on that and what it does is it really crystallizes our organization. I’ll have internal battles with different brands that, “Oh, we need to look and see the site to be this or that. We need just prettier pictures.”

[13:33] And it’s like, “Well, I understand that you think that but our customers are telling us something totally different.”

Shaun:  [13:38] Right. So, that gives you the data to have one of those arguments?

Chris:  [13:43] It really puts not so much the design but the focus of what we’re doing on the e‑commerce platform. We don’t make those decisions.

Shaun:  [13:56] The customers do.

Chris:  [13:57] The customers tell us what’s important to them and what we’re finding is it just makes life so much easier. If the customer tells you what’s important and it matches up with your strategic vision of what you want these brands and this Web site to be, it’s perfect. And if we can relate that then to what the future behavior is, meaning, if I am producer of product navigation and I knew that, that’s going to have an effect on really the desire and the loyalty of my brand. I mean, basically, it relates just like that, cool.

Shaun:  [14:37] So, product navigation was one of the areas that was a highlight by ForeSee Results?

Chris:  [14:42] Yes. It was two big, basically, high impact areas that were the lower scores, and product navigation was one and merchandising was another. Merchandising, when we really dug deep into it, had to do with people coming back looking for a branded product that we no longer made, so a style that we no longer make. So, part of what that did for us, it told us we need to have a historical archive of all of our products and relate that back to a current product, a current style. [15:16] So, that was like, we could do that. But if the navigation really is where ‑‑ and quite honestly not to be a pitchman for SLI, but this is really where the SLI integration with our Web site is key because, basically, that guided navigation and that ability to find a product in as limited amount access as possible is where we’re really seeing the most improvement with how we use the SLI tool within our platform and I think it’s pretty cool.

Shaun:  [15:51] Cool. That’s great to hear. Tell us a little bit more about the platform that you’re using. What e‑commerce platform are you using?

Chris:  [16:00] Sure. We’re using Market Live is our core Web platform. And we’ve been on Market Live since 2007. We’ve been on for a while. What we’ve done is we’ve taken that Market Live platform and really taken what we consider the best in class as applications out there and integrating it within the platform to really get a rich experience from the consumer.

Shaun:  [16:30] Great. So, what other applications have you been looking to integrate?

Chris:  [16:33] Well, I mean, we did a lot of building this year. So we integrated SLI. We talked about ForeSee. We’ve also integrated Bazaarvoice for our product building our user generated content engine. We use Bronto for our email service provider, and we’re using MyBuy as our recommendation engine. I think I got everybody.

Shaun:  [16:57] Great. So, that’s a lot of changes you’ve be doing. And that’s all been in the last 12 months or so?

Chris:  [17:05] Yes, it has.

Shaun:  [17:06] So you’ve been busy. What’s coming up for the next 12 months in?

Chris:  [17:11] Well, we’ve got a couple of things coming up. We’re launching our B2B platform where we’re basically going to start selling direct to our specialty retailers through e‑commerce platform. That’s coming up in the first quarter. In the summer months, we’re going to be launching Canada or planning on launching Canada. We have a division, a physical presence in Canada right now that doesn’t have an e‑commerce platform. So, that’ll be something that we’re going to launch. [17:48] And then towards the end of next year, we’re launching Asia. We’ll launch many different country specific sites for Asia. So, that’s sort of the infrastructure. We’ve got a big, big ‑‑ two of our big focuses coming up this year is really mobile and really what we call our mobile 2.0 where we’re seeing such a big adoption of mobile as a percentage of our overall site traffic and site sales that we just have to be so much better in the different devices and the different user interfaces.

[18:28] And then part of that really has to do with trying to integrate user generated content so much deeper throughout every aspect of the experience, the site experience.

Shaun:  [18:41] Wow, you just touched on three huge big points. E‑commerce, I suppose, is selling internationally, mobile and user generated content. So, just to drill into some of those a little bit, what are you doing for mobile now and what are you planning on changing?

Chris:  [18:56] Well, we have a mobile optimized site right now. And one of the things that I truly believe we’re going to have to do is really create three different user experiences. You’ve got the traditional roster of user experience. Great. We have right now the mobile experience which is OK. It can be better. That is, really that’s smart touch, small phone experience. But, one of the things, I think, we’re missing the boat on is the tablets, the iPads of the world. [19:32] We’re going to really have to have a unified experience that can customer with the different devices. And we’re going to have to be able to not only present our site in those experiences, but then be able to test and really prove the effectiveness of each one of those experiences. And it’s going to be seamless for the consumer and intelligent for us easy to manage. It’ll be interesting. That will be very, very interesting.

Shaun:  [20:04] Optimizing for the tablet is something that’s reasonably new, I mean, because obviously the iPad only came out last year and it’s had enormous adoption. But, I’ve been amazed to see how many people using iPads on various customer sites and, obviously, you’re saying that as well. And the question you were grappling with and a lot of other people are, should you be grappling on an iPad or a tablet optimized site. And you’re thinking that’s the way you’re going to go. So, you have to write three versions of your site. You’ll have a PC, a smartphone and a tablet optimized site?

Chris:  [20:37] Absolutely. Yes. It’s very subtle when you think about it. I mean, rollovers, you can’t have rollovers on a tablet. You know, it’s just the little things. I’m looking right now at the traffic that we saw over Black Friday. Nine percent of our site traffic came from the iPad.

Shaun:  [21:03] Wow. That’s 9%, wow.

Chris:  [21:06] 9% of our traffic. I mean, mobile, overall, represented almost 17% on Black Friday of our site traffic. And it’s here, it’s here to stay, and we’re going to have to really be on top of it and keep those up.

Shaun:  [21:23] Just to be clear, you’re counting the iPad as part of that mobile since the iPad is non‑specific.

Chris:  [21:27] Absolutely.

Shaun:  [21:28] OK, great. I mean, that’s phenomenal. And for those listening, we’re recording this on Cyber Monday, so you see a lot of traffic today as well?

Chris:  [21:40] Yes. I am refreshing, I’m not sure, about every two or three minutes to see where we’re at. And so far it’s good. We had a phenomenal Thanksgiving week, I mean, just phenomenal, to the point that we were about 121% above last year in revenue. It was pretty good. Now, we’ll see how Cyber Monday plays out. It’s still a little too early to know but so far it’s looking good. It’ll be interesting to see how it flexes out.

Shaun:  [22:18] So, just out of interest, did you see the buying start on Thanksgiving Day or was it mostly on the Friday?

Chris:  [22:26] No, it started earlier this year. It started on Thanksgiving Day. We saw an incredible jump on Thanksgiving Day and really it flew into the weekend too. I mean, our weekend, our Saturday and Sunday was really, really strong.

Shaun:  [22:43] And so the growth you’ve seen from your year to the next, do you put it down to a lot of these changes you’ve made over the last 12 months? Do you think it’s partly the economy? What do you put it down to?

Chris:  [22:56] I think we’re better prepared for the season than we had in the past. I think we have more product offering than we did in the past. I do think that consumers are smarter than they’ve ever been before, so, not only from a price conscious standpoint, but where they’re buying. There’s definitely a shift and I don’t think especially anybody listening that’s in e‑commerce, there’s a definite shift to the convenience of online versus the brick and mortar store. [23:32] I just think that it’s a combination of a lot of things. And everybody talks about, especially in the U.S., the economy being down but it sure looks all right for us. People are buying and that’s a great thing.

Shaun:  [23:47] And is that something you’re also seeing in your retail stores, do you know? Do you have visibility into that part?

Chris:  [23:52] I have a little bit of visibility. I haven’t seen their weekend numbers, but they had a pretty strong Thanksgiving, a pretty strong Thanksgiving which is great. So, we’ll see that flesh out here in the next couple of days.

Shaun:  [24:07] That’s fantastic. It sounds like you’re going to have a very good holiday season ahead of you?

Chris:  [24:12] We’ve got a long way to go. It just started. Don’t want to jinx it yet.

Shaun:  [24:18] Well, Chris, I think we’ll wrap things up here. It’s been a fascinating interview. It’s amazing how much you’ve done on your site over the last 12 months, and it sounds like you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. But, I’d just like to thank you very much for your time today and for your insights.

Chris:  [24:35] Again, I’m glad to be able to talk to you. It’s sort of fun talking to people about what’s going on and I really appreciate SLI and what they’ve done and how they’ve helped our business. And that’s a good thing. That’s a real good thing.

Shaun:  [24:51] Excellent. Well, I’m pleased to hear you’re a happy customer and all the best for the future.

Chris:  [24:56] Thank you very much.

Shaun:  [24:57] Thank you, and that is another e‑commerce podcast in the bag. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems. Tune in next time.