Mike Stearns from Tea Collection – Podcast Transcript

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Shaun Ryan: [0:12] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and this is the E-commerce podcast. Today, I’m talking to Mike Stearns, E-commerce Manager at Tea Collection. Welcome Mike.

Mike Stearns: [0:21] Hi Shaun, thanks for having me.

Shaun: [0:22] Yeah. You’re welcome. Thanks for coming along. And a traditional question to get us started. What was the first thing you ever bought online? Can you remember?

Mike: [0:31] I had to think about that. I think the first thing that I probably bought online was travel, buying airline tickets.

Shaun: [0:39] Yeah, well take a seat.

Mike: [0:40] And then, probably clothes somewhere around the similar time.

Shaun: [0:42] Right. How about your, how about your most recent purchase? Can you remember what you bought most recently?

Mike: [0:48] So, I would say in the last few, few weeks I’ve, I’ve, I’ve bought dog food. I’ve bought clothes. More travel, bought an airline ticket. So, quite a bit of everything at this point.

Shaun: [1:00] Yeah, and that’s just a reflection on how E-commerce is everywhere now really.

Mike: [1:04] Exactly.

Shaun: [1:07] So can you give me a little bit of background about yourself? How did you come to be E-commerce Manager at Tea Collection?

Mike: [1:13] Sure. So I, I started off my career in IT and then kind of took a complete U-turn and, and I worked in the golf industry, actually for a while, in operations. I went back to school and ended up getting into online media where I managed a lot of lead generation and, and media companies like that. Then transitioned over to E-commerce when that came to Tea Collection. So then, then involves with online media and websites for, for quite a while now. So…

Shaun: [1:46] And how long have you been at Tea Collection?

Mike: [1:48] Almost a year.

Shaun: [1:49] Almost a year, okay. And so, tell us a little bit about the company. What do you guys do?

Mike: [1:54] So we’re kind of a high end children’s clothing company. We sell, we have a line of baby and toddler’s clothes we sell from 0-12 years. And then we also have a women’s line which we launched recently, and we actually just came out with some more products for that. So, I’m really targeting moms and kids, and we’re kind of higher end fashion forward company. So, you know, we take a lot of pride in our design and our inspiration behind our products.

Shaun: [2:27] And are you online only or do you have physical stores as well?

Mike: [2:30] We’re a wholesaler. So in online. So our business is about 50/50. We don’t, we don’t own any stores ourselves, but we sell in, we’re in over 300, kind of high-end children’s boutiques across the country. And they were also in Nordstrom and Saks, and a couple of those kinds of places.

Shaun: [2:50] Okay, great. And that, and that was an interesting situation when you’re selling to those retailers and then you’re selling online as well, ’cause you’ve, in someways you end up competing with them, right?

Mike: [3:00] Correct, correct, correct. Yeah, we it’s … it’s always one our big challenges is, is managing our, our store expectations, and then how we want to run our business online and, you know, they were, you can think of it as we’re kind of competing with each other. But at the same time we’re also working together to build brand awareness, you know.

Shaun: [3:23] Yup.

Mike: [3:24] Shoppers are nowadays are shopping online and offline, and every other which way. And it’s, it’s, it’s really about brand awareness for us.

Shaun: [3:32] Yup, yeah, understood. So how long have Tea Collection been around?

Mike: [3:35] We’re actually are celebrating our 10th year anniversary this year.

Shaun: [3:40] Oh, congratulations.

Mike: [3:41] Yeah. Thank you. We have a… we actually have a special 10th anniversary collection we launched last month and we’ve got a few items on our site that are, during pretty well so there’s a special, special anniversary for that.

Shaun: [3:56] Great. And so who are the founders and how did the company get started?

Mike: [4:00] So let’s go back in 2002, our founders Emily and Leigh. Emily designed, it started off with a Pima Cotton Sweater that she, she designed and started selling around to some local boutiques in the area and then a couple years after that we launched what we call our Daily Tea line, and that kind of expanded our products to, to things kids could wear every day. And then as we started growing, we got into Nordstrom and started growing our boutiques. In our retail side and then a few years after that we started our online business. So our online business is relatively new compared to how long the stores go up, our retail side went around. But we’ve had tremendous growth on both side actually and now we’re, you know, about split even with how our business to set up between retail and online.

Shaun: [5:03] Yeah, that’s, that’s interesting. And the online’s still continuing to grow faster than your wholesale business?

Mike: [5:11] For the most part, we’ve actually had a very, very good year with our wholesale business. So we’re seeing great, great growth online, obviously. That’s been very consistent. But our, our retail is actually growing at a pretty fast pace, too, so, we’re trying to, trying to keep up and eventually surpass them.

Shaun: [5:29] So, the labels you have on your clothes do they have your website address. Does that drive people to your website or do they just search for your name brand?

Mike: [5:38] That’s actually something we’re implementing right now. We, we don’t, we haven’t had that in the past, and we’re gonna, we’re actually in the process of designing new tags. So when people see our brand in Nordstrom or wherever it may be, any boutique, they can associate our website with it and we’re gonna, we’re thinking about doing some, like, QR codes that can take you to some different, you know, marketing pieces and certain different things. But we’ve been doing that a lot more this past year with our catalog. We, we also have a big catalog that drives a lot of people to store on the website and we’ve made a much more conscious effort this past, past seasons to really promote the website more and associate our products and our different categories with our website as long, as well as just promoting the products and the description and so forth.

Shaun: [6:29] Right. So tell me about the website? When did you come online, just a few years ago, right?

Mike: [6:34] I think we came on I think we we’re online probably in ’06 or ’07.

Shaun: [6:40] Yup.

Mike: [6:41] But we’ve seen the really big growth over the last maybe four years.

Shaun: [6:45] Right, and so when you came on board what things have changed since you’ve been there with Tea Collection?

Mike: [6:51] So, when I, when I came on board, we were just finishing up a rollover to a new E-commerce platform its called “Up Shot Commerce” and it’s a smaller company and we were able to completely customize and build the system to, to how we wanted. So that, that project was kind of wrapping up. So I got involved with kind of finishing that off. So at that point we were really kind of changing our strategy on how we treated the site. We were really merchandise focused in the past and we wanted to switch to be, to be more sales focused on selling our products online rather than just, kind of, supporting the merchandising leverage. So a lot of the efforts over the past year, has been really about selling the products, higher conversion, getting people to understand our brand. We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of new visitors, our traffics been growing quite a bit. So we have a lot of new visitors that are new to the site and new to the brand. So we want to get our brand messaging across to new visitors and, kind of, get them to understand who we are because we we definitely have a unique market position with our products. So we, we want to be able to get that across right away for new people.

Shaun: [8:15] And so these new visitors, are they coming because they’ve seen the product in stores? Like, do, do you know why they’re coming to your site and how they’re coming to your site?

Mike: [8:24] So we’ve had, a large portion of it, we’ve had huge organic growth. When we went, when we built our new platform, our new site on the platform, we put a lot in to, just improving SEO in general. So that we’ve had a lot of success just in general growing our organic traffic. But we’ve also just, we have, we have a lot of partners and a lot of affiliates, where we try to run new promotions and, and, and hit new market segments that we haven’t touched in the past. So we’re growing new visitors and new customers. And then, kind of the third aspect to that is our search for the media where we have a very active social media base with our Facebook profile and on Twitter you know, we do a lot of things there and get a lot of users engaged through that as well.

Shaun: [9:17] Right. And so that’s moms who have bought some clothes in them and they’ll post a picture of them on there, or something like that?

Mike: [9:23] Exactly, exactly. And we actually, we don’t have a traditional “reviews” tool on our site. We actually use a Facebook, Facebook comment plug-in. So our reviews are actual users who are talking about the products and they can share with their friends and family. And, I mean we sell children’s clothes so we have a very narrow demographic with moms who are shopping for their kids. So and it’s the generation where every one of them is on Facebook and talking with their friends so you just, kind of, get natural, natural growth through them … kind of preaching for us.

Shaun: [10:03] Yeah, I suppose you got to just make sure you don’t put up any barriers and … and do what you can to encourage it.

Mike: [10:10] Exactly.

Shaun: [10:11] So you mentioned that you’ve been focusing on improving conversions since you’ve been there. What have you done to help improve conversions and help your sales.

Mike: [10:19] So we’ve done a lot of site optimization, just kind of making sure the user pass, that they’re getting what  they want, where they need. Like I mentioned, we’ve had a lot of growth in our organic traffic. So people are landing deeper into our site and the deeper they get into our site then they actually understand the brand.

Shaun: [10:43] Yup.

Mike: [10:44] So we’ve done a lot of just getting that message across in different layers of our site. And we’ve also, we’ve tried to do a better job of multi-messaging. So we were, previously were very focused on selling like I was, like I mentioned earlier, we were focused on a merch-message. That was very focused, and it kind of neglected the rest of the site and the rest of the parts of the business. So we want to, when people come into our site we want to be able to funnel them to the right areas on our site. So mostly just, the big thing was just really kind of getting people to know who we are and directing them and letting them know what products we have so they could search and navigate. So we, we did a lot of tweaks, and… and… tests on our site to see where we can improve navigation and make it easier for people to navigate. We need some user testing so we could actually see what people are, what road blocks they’re hitting and because, you know… we stare at our site all day without necessarily know what’s going on. So it’s always good to get the actual user feedback. We also implemented Monetate, so we’ve been doing a lot of testing just to incrementally improve conversion, you know, just simple things like testing buttons, promoting banners where there’s, we have promotions, and, and those kinds of things. So, just anything that can give us that little incremental edge. All those add up to a much higher conversion.

Shaun: [12:20] So I believe you’ve improved your search too, could tell me a little bit about that?

Mike: [12:25] Yeah, sure. So we started talking with you guys a few months back and we knew we had a big opportunity to improve our search functionality, the search that we had in the past just didn’t do a very good job of matching up results with what people are researching and being very smart about it. So, we talked with you and decided we wanted to move forward to improve our search, and the real driving factor for that was just the, the instant incremental conversion improvement you get from that. Just, you know, just people who are searching, you know, inherently know what they want. They are pre-selecting and so on, and pre-selecting the products they want. So, we were able to launch with you guys and you know, we’ve seen some really huge improvements in our conversions through our search and we’re trying to promote it more now, so we can get more people to use it and be able to filter through the products and find what they were looking for at a much faster and smarter way for how they’re using the site.

Shaun: [13:35] Yeah, that’s something we often see with our customers once they see that people who search convert so much, you know, they converts so well.

Mike: [13:42] Yeah.

Shaun: [13:43] They then say, how can we drive more people to search. You know, with a larger search box and that type of thing.

Mike: [13:48] Yeah. Our initial results we saw 4-5x in conversion and, you know, the, the, just the revenue we’re generating through the first month was incredible. And now we’re, we’re trying to promote it a little bit more, we’re redesigning the head of our site a little bit so we can make the search box a little more prominent and, and hopefully drive more people to use it.

Shaun: [14:15] Great, so apart from those changes what else have you got planned in the, in the coming year?

Mike: [14:21] We are going to continue do the same types of things. Continue to try to improve conversion, improve the user experience, get our brand messaging across. We, we want to improve our products pages so people can more easily see what we offer and what price we have and make it easier for them to add in the cart. We’re gonna try to do a better job of matching products. So, when somebody selects a product, you know, how can we outfit that with, with other products. And then the other big opportunity we have in the short term is our mobile site. We currently don’t have a fully-fledged mobile site, so that’s, that’s a huge opportunity for us right now, too.

Shaun: [15:07] Right. When are you planning on getting a mobile site, up and going?

Mike: [15:11] So we’ve started the process already getting the design and kind of get the initial specs put together. So we’re hopefully by the end of the year, Q4, or Q1 next year, we’ll have something ready to, to get going.

Shaun: [15:26] And, are you using your existing E-commerce platform on that or do you have to bring some sort of third party to help you with that?

Mike: [15:34] We’re still evaluating that. We haven’t made any decisions yet. We’ve been looking around but, we’re, we’re looking at both options.

Shaun: [15:43] Great. It’s sounds like you’ve got your hands full, you’ve had, you’re sort of making continuous progress and there’s a bunch of interesting stuff coming up. It’s a really interesting story and I know our time’s just about up here. So I’d just like to say thank you very much for coming along to the podcast. I really appreciate your time. As I said, it’s been a fantastic story, and I wish you all, all the best for your upcoming changes.

Mike: [16:06] Yeah, thanks for having me here. I appreciate it. And we, you know, we can’t endorse SLI enough, we just had great results right off the bat. Our thanks to the Implementation Manager is been great and getting our implementation with everything. So we thank you as well.

Shaun: [16:25] Excellent. Thanks very much and that is another E-commerce Podcast in the bag. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems. Tune in next time.