Jason Miller from Motorcycle Superstore – Podcast Transcript

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Shaun Ryan:  [0:02] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and this is the Ecommerce podcast. Today I’m talking to Jason Miller, VP of Technology from Motorcycle USA. Hi, Jason.

Jason Miller:  [0:12] Hi.

Shaun:  [0:13] Now, Jason, traditional first question. What was the first thing you ever bought online?

Jason:  [0:18] Computer or books.

Shaun:  [0:18] Computers or books, OK. What was the most recent thing you bought?

Jason:  [0:25] Actually, I just bought the Zune HD.

Shaun:  [0:29] Oh, have you got it?

Jason:  [0:31] Yeah. I actually I just got to start playing with it a little bit.

Shaun:  [0:35] What do you think?

Jason:  [0:37] I like it. It’s a lot smaller form factor and good interface.

Shaun:  [0:42] Fantastic. Now, Jason, can you give me a little bit of background on yourself. How did you get to be where you are today?

Jason:  [0:50] Well, I’ve been working in IT since about ’95 building servers, writing software. I did a lot of contract work for a while, and then I kind of stumbled into my own backyard. Motorcycle Super Store was a start up back then, about four people. I just always loved computers and software, and it kind of all came together in one shot, and I ended up not having to travel and worked from my home town pretty much.

Shaun:  [1:22] Fantastic. And where is your home town?

Jason:  [1:24] Medford, Oregon.

Shaun:  [1:26] Excellent. So, you’ve been here pretty much from the start then?

Jason:  [1:32] Yeah, I’ve been with the company for 10 years now.

Shaun:  [1:35] Fantastic. So, tell me about the company. What do you do? What do you sell? There’s kind of a hint in the name, I think.

Jason:  [1:42] Yeah, well, we do motorcycle helmets, apparel, tires, accessory parts, anything after market you might need for a motorcycle, we pretty much carry it.

Shaun:  [1:52] You’re almost exclusively online, or you do have one physical store, I believe?

Jason:  [1:59] Yeah, we do have one physical store here locally in Medford that we use as an outlet for different venues, but we pretty much appear online locally.

Shaun:  [2:09] OK. So, what’s special about the company? Why do people come to your site rather than somewhere else?

Jason:  [2:17] Well, we have a combination of ecommerce and content in the motorcycle enthusiast category. We have a Motorcycle USA web magazine which has a kind of loyal following. We also have a print magazine, and in our ecommerce store we kind of pride ourselves on customer service and focus on really customer centric focus. So, the motorcycle riders continue, we have a really good base of customers who come back, and we have a lot of customers who like both the content and then when they need something they know the store’s there. So, it’s worked out really well for us.

Shaun:  [2:52] Fantastic, I mean, service definitely sells. It’s a cliché but it’s a cliché for a good reason. Now, can you tell me, how much do you sell on line per month?

Jason:  [3:04] We do about an average of about six million dollars a month.

Shaun:  [3:08] Six million, fantastic. Is that growing?

Jason:  [3:12] Yeah, we’ve actually, even in this down economy, we’ve had a really growth rate. We’re probably close to 60 percent this year.

Shaun:  [3:21] 60 percent, that’s amazing during a recession. How have you managed to do that?

Jason:  [3:26] Well, a lot of it, some of our competitors who didn’t have as good a business model have kind of fallen by the wayside which helped us out a lot, and being that it’s kind of a niche enthusiast market I think even in a down economy people still‑they want to do their thing they enjoy, and I think they pull back from things they don’t enjoy as much and focus on their one or two really important things. I think for a lot of people the motorcycle industry is that thing. So, it’s worked out really good for us.

Shaun:  [3:57] That’s interesting. How do you get people to your site? I presume it’s by traditional methods. Can you tell me what works particularly well for you?

Jason:  [4:11] Well, we do really well organically in SEO. We also do all the normal channels. We have page search. We do comparison shopping engines, affiliate programs, email, even traditional advertising, but primarily our traditional focus is on sponsoring different events. Different riding events, you know, get right to our core base of users. Overall, I’d say we’ve seen a lot of growth out of our organic SEO stuff.

Shaun:  [4:42] What do you do so well there? What’s your secret?

Jason:  [4:45] I don’t know that it’s a secret so much as just making the pages and the products really easy for people to find, the way you name the product, the way you present the product in a logical, navigational structure that the search engines like and that they follow through. Really, it’s been, yeah…

Shaun:  [5:09] It sounds like it’s following the basics, and it works for you. I suppose there are a lot of sites out there that don’t understand some of the core search engine optimization tactics and it costs them.

Jason:  [5:25] It definitely does, and finding out what people are really searching for really has helped us a lot, too; learning what people are going that call a product or how they are going to reference when they are looking for that product. We used a lot of different tools to figure out that the popular searches are SLI, Google Trends, everything like that. We really try to make sure that the way we’re presenting our products is the way our customers want to find our products. It’s paid off really well for us.

Shaun:  [5:56] Interesting. That’s great. So, do you have a marketing campaign that your business has done that you’re particularly proud of that’s given you outstanding results?

Jason:  [6:08] Well we’ve got really good results out of our, like I said, our organic SEO which ties into, from our marketing, into our popular search. We’re getting really good traction off our popular search, and we also have a really successful email campaign. We’re doing a lot of integrated customer stuff in our emails so we get a lot of return customers.

Shaun:  [6:36] So, the email campaign, are they personalized to the individuals, to the motorbikes or to their preferences?

Jason:  [6:46] To their preferences, not necessarily to their bikes specifically, but some are targeted that way. But, the targeted emails that we know the person either is going to look at it in their cart or they bought a similar item, that stuff. We’re presenting them that information, and the customer feedback is really good.

Shaun:  [7:07] Excellent. What’s the technologies to your email campaigns?

Jason:  [7:12] Right now we’re using Exact Target, and we’ve integrated it with our web trends on the back end. So, we’re sort of data mining in reverse.

Shaun:  [7:23] OK, that makes sense. So, what do you say are the biggest opportunities you have going forward?

Jason:  [7:29] Well, for us it’s expanding outside the U. S. and Canada with more international sales. We’re targeting the U.K. market soon. So, that’s got a lot of potential for us because motorcycling is even probably bigger over there than it is here in the States.

Shaun:  [7:49] How are you going to do that logistically? Will you have a distribution facility over there, or will you be shipping from where you are?

Jason:  [7:59] For now, our plan is to ship from the East Coast. Shortly, actually we’re opening a new distribution center in Louisville, Kentucky. So, we’re expanding just from our West Coast facility.

Shaun:  [8:15] OK. Why did you choose Louisville?

Jason:  [8:19] A couple of reasons. We like the area better than a few of the others that we previewed but it’s also really close to the UPS shipping hub. It gives us a big advantage on time and transit. It lines up well with a lot of our other vendors and getting inbound inventory and that sort of logistical stuff. It’s also the easiest place for us to ship international out of the places we looked at.

Shaun:  [8:45] OK. That’s interesting. It must be a fairly expensive operation setting up a distribution center like that. Is it?

Jason:  [8:53] Yeah there’s a lot of, not just money and buying things to go in to it, but a lot of time and effort into setting it up and getting everybody going in the right direction, staffing and all that. We plan on having that up probably around Christmas time this year.

Shaun:  [9:11] Great. Now to dig into your international expansion effort, from the Website point of view, what are you going to change to try to market to the U.K., for example?

Jason:  [9:24] Well we’re actually going to have a U.K. specific driven store. Once again you get right back into naming things and how people talk about things even though you’re all speaking English. You’re speaking slightly different ways and the way you reference things and stuff like that. It’s going to be a lot better if we have a site that’s sort of focused on that market. You have different seasonality and everything so we will have a store just focused for the U.K. market.

Shaun:  [9:51] That sounds very sensible to me. We all speak slightly different version of English. In fact that can be completely different sometimes. Tell me, do you have an ecommerce site that you hold up there that you pay a lot of attention to and are looking to for ideas?

Jason:  [10:10] I don’t know so much for looking at ideas. I know that the one I use the most, because I like to travel, I use Expedia quite a bit. I do look to them for their customer loyalty programs and stuff like that that I want to model some of our customer loyalty stuff off of but I guess that’s not a real direct ecommerce place for a product but it’s still selling on line.

Shaun:  [10:37] Yep. Do you have any customer loyalty programs at the moment?

Jason:  [10:42] No we’re actually really near launching our customer loyalty program which is going to be called Rider Rewards. It should actually go up here real shortly. It’s in the late phase testing right now.

Shaun:  [10:55] Have you developed that in house or did you use somebody outside parties?

Jason:  [10:59] We actually did develop that all in house. We had some really fine tune things we wanted to do with it and integration with our own backend, so the majority of that has all done in house.

Shaun:  [11:13] Was it a reasonable size project?

Jason:  [11:18] Yeah. We’ve done a lot bigger ones because we do have the web magazine and the store. So we’ve done a lot of different kinds of projects but it’s fairly involved to make sure it integrates and make sure it makes since to the customer. Make sure that we can then feed our personal shopping assistant concept off of it with our SLI search, actually. Getting that all connected has been a pretty decent size project.

Shaun:  [11:46] OK. So, tell me a little bit more about the personal shopping assistant. What is that?

Jason:  [11:51] What we’re going to do is using parameterized queries with SLI we are going to get users to fill in optional information based on sizes, colors, and things that they like, brands, or whatever it may be. Then we’re going to build them a custom page showing them the available products in the sizes, colors, and brands that they like as their personal shopper home page. I think that comparing this to what we’ve done with email campaigns and that sort of thing, that the customers will really like it and it will boost sales definitely.

Shaun:  [12:26] That’s interesting. I suppose the same information you clicked in for email can be used to create these pages.

Jason:  [12:33] True. We could just datum line it but we’re actually going to go another step and ask the user what they want to choose, what they want to see. If people bought gifts and things like that, you can filter out a little bit more of the data that you would have in a web trends that really wouldn’t directly apply to that person when they are shopping for themselves. Give them a changeable criterion.

Shaun:  [12:55] That’s going to be really interesting to see how that pans out. Tell me a little bit about the technologies that you’re using on your side. What sort of ecommerce platform do you have?

Jason:  [13:08] Well our ecommerce platform, we’ve grown it over the years. We wrote it all in house. This current revision is on the .net frame work, the 3.5. We use Windows Server 2008 and SQL 2008. We’re pretty much a Microsoft shop development. We use the SLI for our search and a few third party things like the exact target for our email.

Shaun:  [13:34] What have you found that has been working best for you? You’ve already mentioned the search engine optimization.

Jason:  [13:43] From a standpoint of development, generally depending on how tight the constraints of the project are, we build a lot of things in house because we have a lot of development staff and we do a lot of custom work but then we’ve been really focused on the customer and the best experience possible. If it’s something that we don’t have the proper skill set, then partnering with someone third party to bring it in and actually make sure the customer experience is the best possible. It has worked out for us too.

Shaun:  [14:14] Fantastic. How many people do you actually have on your team?

Jason:  [14:19] Between development operations and network support we have 15 people.

Shaun:  [14:24] That’s a good size team. What are your biggest headaches?

Jason:  [14:33] Really right, now because we’re focused on this international long term plan, is trying to optimize the way we approach the international business so it’s easy on the customer and we don’t have to duplicate a lot of effort and work that’s already been done within the company to get the international to work properly.

Shaun:  [14:53] Just out of interest, how do you go about making sure that these things are easy for the customer? Do you get customers in and talk to them and say “would you like something like this?” Do you have these user groups?

Jason:  [15:06] We do a little bit of focus group stuff. We also do a lot of after the fact stuff like BizRate and different things where people go through and rate their experience. We proactively respond to people. If someone complains on BizRate that they didn’t like the checkout or they didn’t like a feature or whatever it is, we’ll actually personally contact that person, if they left their email, and say “hey go ahead and explain to us what you didn’t’ like about that and what didn’t work for you.” We really do take an interest in making it better.

Shaun:  [15:40] Fantastic. That circles back to one of the things that you said that makes you different, the service. I think people really appreciate being listened to and being asked those sorts of questions.

Jason:  [15:53] Yeah I think so. We have across the board, in our customer service and in our different reports like BizRate, Google Checkout, and stuff like that or anything, that the customers are generally really happy with us. We’re in the 90th percentile for customer satisfaction. It’s because we really do make a goal of staying out there and making sure people are happy.

Shaun:  [16:14] You have a lot on your plate so I’ll try to keep this short. Just one final question, how do you keep up with the latest trends in ecommerce?

Jason:  [16:26] As the company and as development staff, we actually hold several different training events throughout the year. Depending on what the road map looks like, we train on either new technology or better using the current technologies of where we’re at. We also do a lot of the different conference in Shop.org, Devconnections, and VSLive to try to make sure we are always out there seeing what the new things are and applying that road map properly.

Shaun:  [16:56] Well Jason, you’ve shared some valuable insights with us. I want to thank you very much for your time.

Jason:  [17:04] Thanks.

Shaun:  [17:05] I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and this is the ecommerce podcast. Tune in next time.