Mike Feiman from PoolDawg – Podcast Transcript

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Shaun Ryan:  [0:03] Hi, I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems. This is the Ecommerce podcast. Today, I’m talking to Mike Feiman, director of marketing for Pooldawg. Welcome, Mike.

Mike:  [0:13] Feiman: How are you?

Shaun:  [0:13] I’m very good, thanks. I hope you’re well. Now the traditional question to get us started: What was the first thing you ever bought online?

Mike:  [0:21] The first thing I ever bought online was a book from Amazon, and that was probably back in ’96.

Shaun:  [0:30] That was fairly early on. Can you remember what it was?

Mike:  [0:35] I cannot remember the name of the book.

Shaun:  [0:38] What was the most recent thing you bought online?

Mike:  [0:42] Just a week or so ago, we bought a few bottles of wine from the King Estate Winery, over in Eugene, Oregon.

Shaun:  [0:52] Alright. And how was that experience?

Mike:  [0:54] It was great. We loved the winery, and we loved the wine that they make. The shopping experience was nice and easy. E‑commerce has definitely come a long way in the past 10‑12 years.

Shaun:  [1:15] And the wine arrived in good condition?

Mike:  [1:19] Absolutely.

Shaun:  [1:19] Fantastic. So Mike, can you give me some background on yourself? How did you come to be marketing director at Pooldawg?

Mike:  [1:28] Sure. I started working in the dot.com world back in ’96, for an educational software company, and I have worked in a number of industries over the years. I did educational software. I did online learning. I did toys with a couple of different companies. Online gaming. Racquetball. Nutritional supplements. And for the past five‑and‑a‑half years, I’ve been the director of marketing here at Pooldawg.

Shaun:  [2:06] Cool. I see you’ve been in quite of few industries, but you’ve been there at Pooldawg for a while. And where are you based?

Mike:  [2:17] Just outside of Boulder, Colorado.

Shaun:  [2:20] Great. And can you tell me a little bit about Pooldawg? What do you guys do?

Mike:  [2:27] Sure. We are retailers of billiards equipment: pool cues, pool cue cases, shaft cleaning products, tip tools, and all that good stuff; as well as table cleaners, ball sets. Just about anything you could need for playing pool, except the table.

Shaun:  [2:47] Except the table.

Mike:  [2:48] Yeah. Tables have been an interesting challenge. There’s a last mile issue with pool tables. You get them delivered to somebody’s house, and they do curbside delivery. It really takes a bit of expertise to put the table together, and building a network of installers has been challenging. So right now, we’ve stuck with the cue cases and accessories. And we have about 3,000 products on the website.

Shaun:  [3:29] Wow. I can see that. Pool tables are big and they’re heavy. But obviously, you’ve looked into the market to expand into the tables as well.

Mike:  [3:43] Yeah. It’s something that we’re looking at, and it’s something that we’ve been looking at for a while. Like I said, the issue is the installation portion of it. We don’t want to offer something that we can’t fully support. So once we’re able to get an installer base, then we’ll be able to start offering table sales. But we don’t want to deliver a pool table to somebody and then just leave them on their own to find an installer.

Shaun:  [4:20] Yeah, because they could have a bad experience. And even if you did your part of the deal right, it still reflects badly on you.

Mike:  [4:28] Exactly.

Shaun:  [4:29] I think that’s admirable. And to be clear, you guys are online only, or do you have a physical store as well?

Mike:  [4:36] We don’t have any physical stores. We do have a catalog.

Shaun:  [4:38] Great. Is everyone who works there passionate about pool? I took a look at your site, and it pretty much looks like you guys are.

Mike:  [4:51] Yeah. We’re all pretty passionate about the game, and most of us gave tables at home. We’ve all got our own cues. Some of us play in league. So yeah, we’re all pretty into it.

Shaun:  [5:03] Do you have a table at work?

Mike:  [5:06] It’s funny. We used to have two tables at work. And in the process of growing and expanding, we needed the space, so we had to get rid of the tables.

Shaun:  [5:17] Oh no.

Mike:  [5:19] Yeah. It meant the end of the weekly office tournaments, but you’ve got to expand and make room.

Shaun:  [5:33] They do take up a lot of room. So tell me a little bit about the history of the company? How did it get started?

Mike:  [5:41] The founders have a history in the industry, and the company’s been around for about six years. So I came on shortly after the company was rolled out. And really it’s just a passionate situation where everybody really enjoys the game, and we have an interest in the industry. So that’s where it all came from.

Shaun:  [6:15] OK. It’s very specialized. How fast have you guys grown over the past year?

Mike:  [6:25] It’s tough to say because the company has only been around for six years, so the growth has been somewhat exponential in that time period. But we’re doing very well despite the economy, which I know is hurting a lot of people out there. But we’re still growing at a really nice pace.

Shaun:  [6:49] That’s great. And people are still buying cues even in the recession.

Mike:  [6:55] Absolutely.

Shaun:  [6:57] Great. Tell me a little bit about your website. You’ve got 3,000 products? What technology are you using to run the website?

Mike:  [7:09] The bulk of our website was built by a company by the name of Acumium, out of Madison, Wisconsin. And they also serve as our de facto tech team because we don’t have tech guys over here. We just have Acumium take care of all that. Our search is obviously taken care of by SLI Systems. We really like it. We’re looking at adding some other things, but really it’s a custom built solution.

Shaun:  [7:48] Custom built. That’s interesting. How do you get new customers to your site? How do you market yourselves?

Mike:  [7:54] All the standard ways: Google, AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing. We do some SEO stuff. We participate quite a bit with billiards‑specific websites and advertise there. We sponsor events. We’re sponsors of the WPBA, the women’s professional tour. And we’re also sponsors of the BABA, which is the largest amateur league in the United States with about 250,000 people in that league. And then we do television advertising and print. We run the whole gamut.

Shaun:  [8:43] So do you have a campaign that you’re particularly proud of that may be a little bit different or a little bit unusual?

Mike:  [8:57] We have this mascot. It’s some kind of gold dog named Frank. And he’s got his own blog, and he starred in our most recent commercial. And we sponsor a pro player who takes Frank around to the different pool halls and do different tournaments and stuff like that and people take pictures with him and everything like that. [9:23] Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It goes very well with the personality of the company and we have been doing that for the past couple of years now. It has been a lot of fun.

Shaun:  [9:36] OK, cool. So you have got the character. Frank, the Pooldawg; is he a big stuffed animal or…?

Mike:  [9:47] No. He is a ceramic bulldog. He is about 10 inches tall, 15 inches long. So yeah, he is very realistic looking. And everybody, when we go to tournaments and stuff, everybody is always asking where Frank is. [10:08] And so it’s definitely, it is a real ‑ it’s a nice icebreaker to introduce the company and it gives our customers something to remember us by, because there’s a lot of websites out there that sell billiards equipment. So you have got to find ways to make us stand out from the crowd.

Shaun:  [10:27] Yeah. And that’s a good idea. You mentioned the blog, how often has that been sort of updated and you know, how often you are writing articles on that and how many people are contributing to that?

Mike:  [10:41] Sure. The blog during the season it gets updated more often because there’s so much more stuff to talk about. So usually it is getting updated about once a month or I’m sorry, once a week, so about four to five times a month and just different little things here and there from the mind of a ceramic bulldog. [laughter] and I have the pleasure of writing that blog myself. So, it’s been pretty entertaining.

Shaun:  [11:20] So you are able to put yourself in the mind of that ceramic bulldog?

Mike:  [11:24] Exactly.

Shaun:  [11:26] And I see you are also doing some other social media stuff. You are on Twitter and Facebook, is that right? And how are they going?

Mike:  [11:35] Yeah. Facebook is great. Facebook is sort of a very natural way for us to communicate with other people who are on Facebook. Twitter has been a little more of a challenge. For me personally it is hard to communicate in 140 characters or less or whatever the limit is, and to a certain degree you don’t want to use the thing just to…

Shaun:  [12:14] Promote yourself.

Mike:  [12:15] …just for non‑stop sales pitch.

Shaun:  [12:16] Yeah.

Mike:  [12:18] So, it’s been challenging. And it’s something that we are still trying to work out and sort of find our voice with.

Shaun:  [12:29] Yeah. It is definitely not easy to write and to create compelling content in such a short little space. And have you taken a look at ‑‑ Google Buzz was announced recently. Have you taken a look at that, of value adding other social media avenues?

Mike:  [12:49] You know I haven’t had a chance to take a look at Google’s new thing yet, but yeah, I mean, we are always looking at different ‑‑ what’s up and coming and things like that. With the customer base that we work with, they are a little slower to embrace new technologies like Twitter. We do want to be at the forefront of these things but it’s not always a perfect match for our audience.

Shaun:  [13:25] Yeah, understood. So who is your typical customer?

Mike:  [13:30] You know, our typical customer is a week player. It’s predominantly male and…

Shaun:  [13:39] And do they range in ages or are they typically older?

Mike:  [13:45] It definitely skews a little bit older, but it’s in that 35‑ to 45‑age range typically, a much more blue collar audience.

Shaun:  [14:00] Yeah. And that sort of makes sense why someone like Twitter hasn’t been ‑‑ the early adopters are probably the young hip technically savvy people. So that makes sense that that’s not necessarily working really well for you yet?

Mike:  [14:16] Right.

Shaun:  [14:17] So tell me what’s coming up for you; what are you working on at the moment?

Mike:  [14:23] Well, we are looking at adding some different tools. We are taking a look at some different cart abandonment solutions. You know if people abandon their carts and leave the site, ways to essentially get them back and get them to complete their order.

Shaun:  [14:46] And are they email‑based solutions you are looking at or…?

Mike:  [14:52] Yeah. Primarily email‑based solutions we are looking at. We have added few new payment options. We are working with SLI to upgrade our search. So we are looking forward to that. We are also looking at potentially adding some additional social shopping types of features so people can review products more so than just giving it a star rating and things like that.

Shaun:  [15:22] Yeah. We are seeing now a lot of our customers adding their ratings and reviews onto their stores. It seems to help a lot with increasing conversion rates because people just feel more comfortable buying the product if they can read a few reviews.

Mike:  [15:39] Yeah. And then there is also the SEO aspect of it that you are by default getting keyword rich reviews of products.

Shaun:  [15:53] Yes. They love the user generated content.

Mike:  [15:55] Yeah.

Shaun:  [15:57] And do you have sort of any major issues, any big headaches at the moment that you are trying to solve?

Mike:  [16:06] You know, the biggest headache is always credit card fraud. We have a number of filters that we have put in place in order to help us deal with credit card fraud and our chargeback rate is exceptionally low, but it is never fun feeling to see that envelope come in the mail with the charge‑back people working there. So we are always looking for new ways to improve our fraud scoring system.

Shaun:  [16:43] Right. And that’s also a very common problem. And when you get into a business like that, you never sort of think, oh that’s going to be one of the things I am dealing with, you are thinking about the core business. It’s just painful isn’t it?

Mike:  [17:01] Yeah. It really is. One of the real big challenges for us is that we have a ‑ pool is very, very popular especially in Far East. And unfortunately in some of the countries where pool is very popular, there is also a lot of credit card fraud, and it presents a really interesting challenge for us because we want to enter these markets, but we need to find a way to do it safely, so we don’t end up losing our shirts on charge‑backs.

Shaun:  [17:38] Yeah. So you obviously are selling outside the U.S. now?

Mike:  [17:45] Yes. We are selling to quite a few different countries. The largest amount of international business that we do probably comes from Canada and the U.K.

Shaun:  [18:00] Yep.

Mike:  [18:02] And then we do a nice amount of business in Germany and some business in Spain and Portugal and places like that as well.

Shaun:  [18:12] I suppose it’s a game that’s played all over the world, isn’t it?

Mike:  [18:15] Huh‑uh.

Shaun:  [18:16] Very good. Well, Mike, I want to thank you very much for your time today. You have given us some interesting insights to your business and I want to thank you very much for your time.

Mike:  [18:26] Well, it’s my pleasure.

Shaun:  [18:27] Cool. Thank you, Mike. And, that was Mike Feiman from Pooldawg. I’m Shaun Ryan from SLI Systems and that was the Ecommerce Podcast. Tune in next time.