Lizzy Klein from Folica – Podcast Transcript

Shaun Ryan: [0:03] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and this is the e‑commerce podcast. Today I’m talking to Lizzy Klein, vice president of product development at Hi Lizzy.

Lizzy Klein: [0:13] Hi Shaun, nice to talk to you.

Shaun: [0:15] Yeah, thanks very much for coming onto the podcast.

Lizzy: [0:18] Thanks for having me.

Shaun: [0:20] Now, traditional first question: What’s the first thing you ever bought online?

Lizzy: [0:25] I can’t remember exactly the very first thing, but it was probably from Eddie Bauer, which was the first merchant that I launched on Time Warner’s Dreamshop back in 1995.

Shaun: [0:36] All right, so you launched their Website?

Lizzy: [0:41] We launched a Website called “Dreamshop.” Actually, originally it was called “Catalogue One” and it was Time Warner’s sort of first foray into e‑commerce back then.

Shaun: [0:49] Oh, wow. But you can’t remember exactly what you bought?

Lizzy: [0:56] No, but it was probably something rugged.

Shaun: [0:59] Rugged, very good. What was the most recent thing you bought online?

Lizzy: [1:04] Custom Neighbor Hoodie sweatshirts for my nieces’ birthdays.

Shaun: [1:08] Oh, wonderful.

Lizzy: [1:09] There’s a company in Brooklyn called “Neighbor Hoodies” and they make custom zip‑up hoodie sweatshirts that can say whatever you want on the front.

Shaun: [1:16] And what did your ones say?

Lizzy: [1:18] “Seamonkeys.”

Shaun: [1:20] “Seamonkeys.” How was the shopping experience?

Lizzy: [1:25] I wish I could say it lived up to the store and the products. I’ve ordered from them before and have had fantastic experiences. This one is not the best.

Shaun: [1:33] Not the best? What went wrong?

Lizzy: [1:36] The order just never came and three and a half weeks later, when I contacted them, they sent it the next day with no explanation. It was sort of a bummer.

Shaun: [1:43] Ah, that’s the perfect opportunity to say, “Sorry, here’s some free shipping and a discount off your next purchase.”

Lizzy: [1:51] Something. Exactly. When it’s presents for little girls…

Shaun: [1:55] Yeah. So, Lizzy, can you give me some background on yourself? How did you get to be where you are today?

Lizzy: [2:02] Sure. It started, as I just noted ‑ oh my goodness ‑ about 15 years ago. About 15 years ago I switched from working in fashion to working in the sort of burgeoning e‑commerce project at Time Warner and have worked in the Internet business in New York ever since. [2:20] I started in e‑commerce working on content projects at Microsoft, working on all kinds of products. Health and fitness with Waterfront media ‑ you may have seen or “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” or “Everyday Health.” Most recently, prior to Folica, I was at “Zagat Survey,” the restaurant guidebook company, running their online property. A variety of people online.

Shaun: [2:44] Wow, that sounds like a really interesting career. How long have you been at Folica?

Lizzy: [2:50] Just about a year. December will be my anniversary.

Shaun: [2:53] Excellent. And you’re enjoying it there?

Lizzy: [2:55] I am, thank you.

Shaun: [2:57] Good! So tell me a little bit about Folica. What do they do there? And what do they sell?

Lizzy: [3:01] Sure. We sell everything there is to sell around hair. So we sort of aim to be the best place there is in the world to find and buy what you need for your hair. From a flatiron or a blowdryer, to a wet shampoo or mousse and everything in between.

Shaun: [3:21] So how many hair care products do you carry?

Lizzy: [3:25] We carry over 5,000 products. And I don’t have scientific proof, but I’m pretty sure I carry more flatirons than anyone else does. About 275 flatirons.

Shaun: [3:36] 275 flatirons? Wow. I’m a little ignorant of this. I didn’t know there was a need for that many flatirons in the world.

Lizzy: [3:45] Apparently there is.

Shaun: [3:47] There is. Well, tell me, how fast is your company growing? How much demand is there for the hair care products you’re selling?

Lizzy: [3:58] Luckily for us, the need to feel beautiful does no go away. Business is good. We’re growing year over year. Lots of customers are looking for better value so salon brand hair products, you might. Where as a typical customer who typically buys it at their hair salon, a brand like Cariastuff or Paul Mitchell or Evita. If they buy it on Folica, chances are we can probably beat the price a little bit. [4:25] So we’re offering the best products at a good value, which helps a lot, I think, in terms of growth. We’ve been around for 10 years so this isn’t an overnight phenomenon.

Shaun: [4:34] Yeah. And so how is the site growing? How do you attract new customers to your site?

Lizzy: [4:42] We do a whole lot of search engine marketing, both natural search and paid placement. So we use all those typical channels that I’m sure you guys are intimately familiar with. [4:55] Recently we started moving into social media. Our Twitter feed ‑ we’ve got a couple thousand followers on Twitter and we’re looking at other things. We have customers who actually will, when they get their box from us, create a video and upload it to YouTube, which is a fantastic way. Who better than customers talk about how great you are.

Shaun: [5:14] Yeah, and that’s fantastic. What is your Twitter name?

Lizzy: [5:20] @Folica. We tweet about not just what’s going on at our site in terms of special sales, but we have freebies and giveaways. We also follow what’s going on in the world of hair, whether it’s the afros at Louis Vuitton during Fashion Week or some crazy new hairstyle on Jessica Simpson or Rihanna. So we cover everything hair.

Shaun: [5:41] Excellent. Now, for your search engine marketing efforts, do you do that all in‑house or do you do get someone else in to help you with that?

Lizzy: [5:52] We do it all in‑house. We use Omnitures’ Tools, but we run the program in‑house.

Shaun: [5:58] Yeah, excellent. So is there a marketing campaign you’ve participated in that you’ve been particularly proud of and you should share with us?

Lizzy: [6:09] I would say the customers posting their own videos about us. We didn’t drive that, but I’m thrilled that they came up with it. I would say that would be what we’re most proud of. We really strive to build something that makes our customers happy and it feels really like great confirmation that we’ve been successful at that.

Shaun: [6:29] So you’ve had more than one customer doing that, obviously.

Lizzy: [6:31] Yeah, if you go on YouTube and Google for Folica, you get a whole bunch of videos.

Shaun: [6:36] Crazy. Do you do much to support, to highlight that when it happens? Do you tweet about it or blog about it or anything like that?

Lizzy: [6:48] Occasionally we’ll tweet it. Our current Website is not super flexible, so we’re not able to do as many of those real time things as we want in terms of, just because I notice something great. We take advantage of Twitter and we’re actually working on a redesign that will launch early next year with the whole goal of making our system ‑ [7:07] As I said, we launched 10 years ago and some of the pieces of our software are actually 10 years old. They’re just not ready for all this user‑generated content. People, for instance, don’t always know that we have over 50,000 member reviews on the site. If you’re looking for hair products, we’re the place to get the real scoop.

[7:25] And I want to be able to showcase that content a whole lot better than we do. So all of that stuff is part of our Q1 redesign.

Shaun: [7:33] Yeah, that’s one of the problems with being sort of early to the market with this, because before too long you’ve got old technology.

Lizzy: [7:41] Exactly.

Shaun: [7:43] So you are actually putting in a new e‑commerce platform?

Lizzy: [7:47] We are. We’re migrating from elastic text to open text.

Shaun: [7:52] To open text? Excellent. And so how have you found the process so far?

Lizzy: [7:57] So far so good. We’re really happy with what we’re finding with open text. All the flexibility and there’s so many people working on it that there’s an answer to every question.

Shaun: [8:08] That’s great. So, the major new features are the ability to incorporate the user‑generated content?

Lizzy: [8:17] We’re going to do a better job incorporating that. We’re going to do a better job of helping people to find the right product for them. So if you watch the customer ‑ we think about hair all the time. [8:26] We’re a bunch of hair junkies in this office. If you watch a typical customer, whether they are in the grocery store aisle or at the drug store or at their salon, we try to observe how they really shop for hair care. What are their priorities? What’s important to them? And we’re restructuring the site to match that. So it will be a systematically different experience.

Shaun: [8:47] So how is that going to change the experience? What are people thinking about when they’re looking for hair care products?

Lizzy: [8:53] What we’ve understood is people ‑ women in particular ‑ really identify with their hair. So the curly girls, they’re curly. “Don’t talk to me about anything but curly hair.” So we want to create channels for them to shop. They don’t have to go to shampoo and then pick the curly. Let’s start with shampoo and give me a system. Things like that.

Shaun: [9:14] Yeah, so you’re really listening to the customers and using that to change the way the site works.

Lizzy: [9:21] Exactly. I think another great example is we do have a pretty healthy business in the hair loss and hair growth market for primarily men and giving them a channel, giving them a way to shop for that without getting in the middle of the flatirons and the hairdryers is kind of a nice way to go too.

Shaun: [9:39] Yeah, I’m sure that, as a man, if I came to a site like that I’d very quickly want to get away from all that stuff and onto the ‑

Lizzy: [9:48] Exactly. And we are also incorporate a ton of expert content. I don’t know if you’re as familiar with some of the big names in hair care here in the U.S., but Oscar Blandi, Frederick Fekkai and Sally Hershberger are giving us all kinds of quotes and tips to include on the site. [10:02] So we want to give people not just the products but information and a guide to how do they choose what’s right for them.

Shaun: [10:09] Actually, that’s a trend I’ve seen across other customers where that non‑product content is a very important part of the overall site in terms of helping both to draw people to the site and engaging them once they’re there and establishing your credibility as the place to come back to.

Lizzy: [10:26] Exactly.

Shaun: [10:29] That’s really interesting to see how you’re doing that with hair care products.

Lizzy: [10:35] Yes, and people really trust it. In our particular category, hairstylists are some of the people that people trust most in their lives. People really carry a tremendous amount of weight disproportionate, perhaps, to others.

Shaun: [10:54] And that is a good thing, I’m sure. Now tell me, is there any kind of site that you look to for ideas that your particularly admire.

Lizzy: [11:08] That’s a great question. I have always followed Zappos. I think their message is fantastic. And I think about what they’re doing, I can’t help but follow Amazon because they’re so big. Any feature they include or add, our customers are going to ask us for. So those are people that I watch for from that perspective. [11:29] From another angle, I sort of look to people like Gilt Groupe, who kind of came out of nowhere two years ago and they were the first ones to pilot this “members only” limited time shopping experience. And they’ve exploded. So understanding how they’ve built a brand and how they sort of maintain that cache while scaling. It’s pretty impressive.

Shaun: [11:52] Right, well, I’m not familiar with them. I’ve missed out on that phenomenon.

Lizzy: [11:56] Shaun, you clearly don’t shop as much as I do.

Shaun: [12:01] Guilty. So they have a member’s only shopping experience? Is that correct?

Lizzy: [12:09] Exactly. So what they do is they have limited time sales. So they get special offers from designers or stores that generally don’t do this kind of thing. They don’t liquidate, they don’t do junkie sales. But you know what? These days everybody has got a bunch of merchandise leftover. [12:26] So they do limited ‑ it starts at noon and it only runs for three hours, first come first served. And they sell out of whatever they’ve got.

Shaun: [12:37] Wow, that’s interesting. I can imagine you have some capacity issues with your Website if you have large spikes.

Lizzy: [12:43] Yeah, and they’ve got an amazing customer base. I’ve seen testimonials from all kinds of Hollywood celebrities. It’s sort of a game. They’ve taken something that existed already that we’re all doing in terms of selling merchandise online and found a way to make it feel much more urgent.

Shaun: [12:58] Yes. That’s great. Have you got any inspiration from that model? Do you have any member’s specials that you run on Folica?

Lizzy: [13:09] We don’t today and we may in the future. One thing that is interesting is some of the brands that I’d like to carry are brands that you can’t mark down at all and it’s difficult for me to compete. There are people who might sell them, for instance, sort of go around the backdoor and sell them at a discount. So it’s really difficult for me to compete if I’m coming in the front door. [13:29] So there are brands like that where I might want to come up with a way to offer something to special customers and offer special discounts. But we’re looking at it.

Shaun: [13:43] Yeah, that’s interesting. Now, you talked a little bit about the technologies used to run your store and how you’re moving your e‑commerce platform. Are there any other third party technologies you use that you could recommend?

Lizzy: [13:59] Yeah, we use Omniture for managing our search and we’re about to start using them for test and target. We work with you guys, our happy search providers. That’s a good spot in our stuff. I think that’s about it right now.

Shaun: [14:15] How about your reviews? Are you doing that in‑house?

Lizzy: [14:18] We are today. That may change later next year but for now we’re able to manage the load. We get tons of user photos and that’s where we also find out about the videos because they’ll add the links to the review.

Shaun: [14:32] Yep, yep. Great. So what are the biggest headaches you’ve got at the moment?

Lizzy: [14:37] I’m sorry, what are the biggest…?

Shaun: [14:40] Headaches. What are the biggest problems you’ve got on the Website.

Lizzy: [14:43] Too much work to do and not enough developers. Always.

Shaun: [14:46] Right. And so it’s hard to find developers in New York and keep them?

Lizzy: [14:51] It’s a combination: we have that many big ideas and it’s hard to find great developers.

Shaun: [14:56] Yeah, that’s interesting. Now, just finally because I know you’re short on time. How do you keep up with the latest trends in e‑commerce, apart from your avid shopping yourself, for research purposes.

Lizzy: [15:13] Well that would be my favorite method. I think my second favorite method is after working in this industry for the last 15 years, I have a lot of friends who are in this space. So finding out through my network what’s going on or even the beauty of working on something like e‑commerce is you hear about what’s going on. People talk about it at the dinner table. You hear what’s going on. [15:35] I mean of course I follow some of the industry bogs and things like that, but you can get overloaded pretty quickly. And I’d rather know what people are really talking about.

Shaun: [15:45] Yeah. And so plain old listening to what people around you are talking about is a good way of seeing what’s happening in e‑commerce.

Lizzy: [15:54] Yeah, absolutely. I mean I’m in consumer marketing, really, at the end of the day. So knowing what people are talking about, knowing what’s going on in the beauty industry, it’s a struggle. But I read the magazines and do my best to keep up with all of those things.

Shaun: [16:09] Excellent. Well, Lizzy, I’ll wrap it up there. I want to thank you very much for your time. You’ve given us some very interesting insights from your experience. And I wish you all the best.

Lizzy: [16:19] Well, thanks so much. I appreciate your having me and I will look forward to talking to you again soon.

Shaun: [16:25] Well, thank you Lizzy. And that was the e‑commerce podcast. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems. Tune in next time.