Jamin Arvig from WaterFilters.net – Podcast Transcript

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Shaun Ryan:  [0:04] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and this is the Ecommerce Podcast. Today, I’m talking to Jamin Arvig, president and founder of WaterFilters.net. Welcome Jamin.

Jamin Arvig:  [0:13] Thank you Shaun.

Shaun:  [0:14] Now, traditional question to get us going. What was the first thing you ever bought online?

Jamin:  [0:19] I suppose that would have been textbooks. It was in the college years and that was one of the things that was first available online.

Shaun:  [0:27] Textbooks, OK. Where did you buy them from?

Jamin:  [0:30] You know, I don’t even remember. I wish I had that… It’s funny. I don’t shop much, but most of the shopping I do online. Now that holds true as well. My wife does most of the shopping, but the shopping I do is online. I do prefer to do that when I can.

Shaun:  [0:48] Yep. I’m very much the same. What was your most recent purchase?

Jamin:  [0:53] Yesterday, I subscribed to OnStar for a GMC vehicle.

Shaun:  [1:01] OnStar. What is that, a magazine?

Jamin:  [1:05] No. It’s a safety service, a security service that you can press the button in your car and it allows a satellite connection, I believe, for communication with their people. It was available for purchase through the Internet.

Shaun:  [1:20] Cool. How was the shopping experience for you?

Jamin:  [1:25] Very good, very good. Very clear. You have an account, like many companies. You can see the data on your account and make a quick purchase.

Shaun:  [1:35] OK, great. Tell me, can you give me some background on yourself? How did you get to be president and founder of WaterFilters.net?

Jamin:  [1:45] Well, my educational background is that I’m an electrical engineer with a computer engineering focus. I’ve got a law degree as well. My education doesn’t line up perfectly with my career path here, but I’ve always been very involved in entrepreneurial activities and real estate ventures. It turned out during my college years that this opportunity surfaced. I thought it was worth a shot. It was a good decision. I’ve grown to love it. At the time, I wouldn’t have expected this is what I’d be doing, but it’s perfect for me.

Shaun:  [2:32] So you started this business straight out of college?

Jamin:  [2:36] Right. In fact, I was still in college at the time.

Shaun:  [2:40] Great. Why water filters?

Jamin:  [2:45] There were some trends in the world that seemed appealing. There was the growing need for pure water. There wasn’t nearly as much awareness then as there is now. But it did seem like there was a growing awareness of this. Of course, the e‑commerce industry was starting to get pretty exciting. That was a no‑brainer, that something could be sold well online.

[3:14] The green industry was still early, but it did seem like there were environmentally‑friendly interests emerging in the consumer market. The health and fitness market too, it seemed strong. I think the health and fitness market didn’t take off as much as I thought it would at the time, although it’s very strong and stable. But the green consciousness of the consumer has certainly grown much more than I would have guessed.

[3:44] But with all of these overlapping positive trends, it seemed like there was a good opportunity here for selling water filters online. It’s good there were a lot of these positive factors. It’s been quite a journey. Anyone growing a business with rapid growth knows there are lots of mistakes. When there are lots of positive trends, that can help as you make mistakes and learn and improve.

Shaun:  [4:18] What year did you start?

Jamin:  [4:20] We founded the company in 2002.

Shaun:  [4:22] 2002. Cool, so you’re coming up to your 10‑year anniversary, next year.

Jamin:  [4:27] Right, right.

Shaun:  [4:29] Tell me a little bit about WaterFilters.net. What is it ‑ your name is sort of self‑explanatory, but tell us what you do and why people shop on your site rather than somewhere else.

Jamin:  [4:39] Sure. We sell water filters, of course online. We’re the prominent website that sells water filters on the net. We try to make it very easy for customers. We’ve found that this is one of the struggles with buying water filters is that it’s a very complex purchase. It’s complex because there is not adequate selection in most locations.

[5:07] People have many different types of water filters, many different brands in their homes or different brands that they’re looking to buy that they don’t already have in their homes. But they’re stuck with just a few options in a store. Really what people need is an enormous selection or a superstore that has everything.

[5:27] That’s one thing that we do to simplify the purchase process. We make a great selection so people can find what they need.

[5:36] We also make it very easy to understand the water filter market and the water filter technically. This is something that has also historically been complex. But our website does a great job of laying out the options and presenting information in a simple way, and making something that’s generally very complicated simple. That’s been effective.

Shaun:  [6:05] Right. You’re not just selling the product, but there’s the information around it is important. How’s that information conveyed to the customer? Is it just text like a description of the different filters and why you need to replace them frequently, presumably? Or do you have videos as well?

Jamin:  [6:27] We have a lot of different things. We’ve got a water university on our site. We’ve got a lot of videos. We’ve got one of the people on our team that is Aquaman. He does a lot of Aquaman videos and he teaches people about a lot of common questions ‑ installation, changing filters, why this filter instead of that filter, all the common questions, all the common problems.

[6:51] We’ve got a lot of resources on each page. Each product has as much information as possible. We’ve got a team that is constantly modifying that.

[7:01] If we find out that there’s a question from a customer, it wasn’t clear; if we find out that someone ordered the wrong product in the website and have any wrong information, we try to find a way to make it more clear. It’s a constant process to make it more educational.

[7:23] Our customer service team is a very integral part of educating the customer. Our team is highly trained. We’ve got a certified water specialist. Someone can call in and be educated on water quality 101. They can learn generally what they need if they’ve done this before, or if they’re experts themselves, we can certainly help them get to the next step or help troubleshoot their problems.

Shaun:  [7:51] Great. That must be quite a challenge for you to get the right staff and train them up so that they have the knowledge to handle those questions from your customers.

Jamin:  [8:02] Absolutely, but it’s something that we take very seriously and focus on. It’s necessary for our team to be the best we can be in order to provide that top‑notch customer experience.

Shaun:  [8:14] Fantastic. Now, I imagine it must be quite a good business in terms of the fact that people need to regularly replace these filters. Once they find you and know that you have the filters, they’ll come back and purchase regularly. Is that right?

Jamin:  [8:30] Right. That is, of course, a nice feature about our industry is that it’s a product that we’re selling, but it’s also a service. We are able to advise people on when a particular filter needs to be changed in a particular application. We have reminders for customers that they can set up and modify for each of their products on their account. It can help provide that continuing service so they know how to maintain their systems.

[9:02] We have auto‑ship programs too, when people are interested in just subscribing to the water filtration. Then they don’t need to worry at all. They just have water filters arrive to them when necessary.

Shaun:  [9:16] Yeah. That must be quite a nice business model. I imagine you must put a lot of effort into attracting customers so you can get them into one of those programs, and then have them as long‑term customers.

Jamin:  [9:29] Right, right.

Shaun:  [9:31] So you guys are purely online? Do you have a physical store?

Jamin:  [9:35] We don’t have a retail storefront. We have a distribution center in Minnesota. We allow people to come in and pick up things on will call. Occasionally people do come in, but it’s not something that we heavily push.

Shaun:  [9:53] OK. In terms of getting people to your site, how do you get new customers to your site? What sort of marketing activities work for you?

Jamin:  [10:00] You’ve got the standards that are out there. People use AdWords. We’re using AdWords and different pay‑per‑click methods, search engine optimization, social media. Everything you can think of. We’re out there using the best practices in the industry. We do try to really emphasize word of mouth as well. We provide the best customer experience and we find that that’s really the best marketing you can do.

Shaun:  [10:34] Yeah. I presume your social media efforts are supporting that word of mouth marketing.

Jamin:  [10:40] Right, yep.

Shaun:  [10:42] What do you do in terms of social media? You have a Facebook page?

Jamin:  [10:46] Yeah. We’ve got Facebook, we’ve got Twitter, we’ve got YouTube, blogs, forums. We’ve got a lot of Q&A on a forum. We’ve got a pretty good presence.

[11:00] YouTube is interesting. We get a lot of people subscribing to that and watching the videos. It’s a pretty popular outlet for water filters.

Shaun:  [laughs] [11:12] Those videos, are they mainly… I suppose they’re a combination of the education that you’ve talked about, but also how‑tos? Like how to actually change the filters?

Jamin:  [11:22] Absolutely, yep. Some are overviews on a brand or a product line or a product type. Some are more the how‑to.

Shaun:  [11:30] Yep. Do people find those videos on YouTube themselves, or are they finding them more on your site?

Jamin:  [11:37] On both. I think we drive a lot of the traffic, but the traffic is originated on YouTube at times as well.

Shaun:  [11:45] OK, great. What do you see as the biggest opportunities you have?

Jamin:  [11:48] In terms of marketing?

Shaun:  [11:49] Yeah.

Jamin:  [11:50] In terms of marketing, I think it is the word of mouth. You look at some of the companies that have grown the quickest on e‑commerce and they are outstanding at customer service. It’s something that we take great pride in as well. If we’re really focusing on delighting the customer on every order, then they’re much more likely to talk about that and spread the word. That’s much more effective. We’ve kept customers happy, we’re happy here as customers are happy and things continue well.

[12:29] In terms of growth in general, it’s an enormous market that we’re in. We’re the leader in terms of selection already, but we’re constantly adding and improving to our selection. That’s a big opportunity for us.

Shaun:  [12:46] In order to broaden that selection, how do work out what else you need to have? How do you work out what you add to your selection, and how do you source it?

Jamin:  [12:55] Sure. In the early days, it was more challenging. I think smaller companies now have this challenge. We’ve fortunately gotten to the stage where we’ve got more bandwidth and can do this the right way. That requires product managers that are very experienced in certain areas.

They understand the market for certain areas, a certain type or a certain brand of product. They can know the competitive landscape. They can know the opportunities for the customer, the total of the market, our strategy and position. They can create projections and general strategies around this. Then suggest the… well, I guess prioritize these based on their analysis. Prioritize these projects and make sure that we complete them efficiently.

[13:52] With each department, they might be coming into the strategy, which would involve merchandising and sourcing and sales and marketing. Then they can look at the P&L as well. Track the progress and the ROI of our efforts and success with this product in the hands of our customer.

Shaun:  [14:18] I’ve got to say, you don’t sound a lot like an electrical engineer.

[laughter]

And I say that… I’m an electrical engineer as well, but it’s kind of interesting…

Jamin:  [14:28] Oh, are you? All right. Maybe we’re both not meant to be electrical engineers, then. But it’s a great background. The engineering background is good, I think. We’re a paperless office. We have as much web‑based technology as we can. We do as much as we can on the cutting edge of technology, a lot of programming. It’s definitely helpful in running the business.

Shaun:  [14:54] Yeah. Tell me, is there a website that you particularly admire, that you look to for inspiration.

Jamin:  [15:00] Well there’s a lot of great ones. This year, we were at the conference in San Diego and talked to a lot of the people that are involved in some of the leading websites. One that comes to mind at the moment, it’s Giggle. They focus on products for babies. They do things right.

[15:22] They focus on customer service as well. They think very highly of that. They try to help the customer find the right product. They do it in a way so they don’t overwhelm customers with having too many products. But they’re careful about selecting the product for the customer and guiding customers to that product. They’ve got a great presence online, a nice look and feel to the site. It’s overall a great site.

Shaun:  [15:51] Cool. I’ll have to check it out. I haven’t seen… So that’s Giggle.com, is it?

Jamin:  [15:56] That’s right.

Shaun:  [15:58] Got it. What a great domain name. Now tell me, what are you planning on changing in the next year? What’s coming up for you?

Jamin:  [16:06] Well, we mentioned the product additions. That’s going to be one thing. We’re investing a lot more into that, into product management. I was investing more in technology and so we’ll see some more changes there.

Shaun:  [16:23] OK. Now, you are using the SLI on your site. How have you found that?

Jamin:  [16:29] It’s great. We looked at a few different options and settled on SLI. I guess it’s been a little while, since we’ve been on there now for over a year, maybe a year and a half. We’re happy with it. It’s a good site search. It’s customizable. It learns, it improves on its own. Its learning can be accelerated by our own input that we provide. In the backend, it’s a good web‑based, full‑service interface that works well for us.

Shaun:  [17:04] I’m pleased to hear that. How many products do you have online?

Jamin:  [17:06] We’ve got somewhere in the 5,000‑10,000 online at the moment.

Shaun:  [17:13] Wow. It must be quite a challenge, actually trying to find that right filter.

Jamin:  [17:19] It is. It is, and that’s… We need to help make that experience not overwhelming but enjoyable, somehow. That’s our challenge.

Shaun:  [17:30] Excellent. Well, it sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job. I really admire the focus on customer service. I think it’s extremely smart of you to be doing that. I think it’ll pay off for you.

[17:45] So Jamin, I think we can wrap it up there. I just want to say thank you very much for your time today. It’s a really interesting business you’ve got. You’re coming up to 10 years, that’s quite a milestone. I want to congratulate you on the business. Thank you very much for your time today.

Jamin:  [17:58] I appreciate it, Shaun. Nice speaking with you.

Shaun:  [18:00] Thank you. And that is another Ecommerce Podcast in the bag. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems. Tune in next time.