Why Founder of $40 Million eCommerce Store Talks To Clients In Person

Interview
 
06 November 2017 3468

Maintaining a large business is a challenging and responsible task that requires a significant amount of patience and persistence. Having decided to establish one’s own enterprise, one has to know for sure what they want to achieve and see clearly where they are going. What can motivate a person to try and take on a difficult objective of own business creation?

 

A hero of this article, co-founder and president of Quality Logo Products - Bret Bonnet, says that his initial driving force was a desire to do things on his own and, ultimately, to be his own boss. Eventually, he established a successful business that has been on the market for almost 14 years now and does not intend to drop its positions.   

Quality Logo Products (TwitterFacebookYouTube) is the leading distributor for promotional and branded products which has positioned itself as an expert in cutting business logos and putting them on custom t-shirts, pants and hats since 2003. Currently, it employs 110 workers and does up to $40 million in revenue as indicated by 2016 sales statistics.

The basement

Everything started in Bonnet’s basement where he and his “partner in crime” started working on implementation of their ambitious business idea.

 

“The business started very small and modest” - says Bonnet, “it was just the other owner and myself in the basement of the house I lived in at the time. We got a couple computers, one was a laptop that was pulled out from the dumpster and we spent every hour and week investing in our website and the technology that supports the website.”

Businessmen did not use any known ecommerce platform to build a website as there was no reasonably priced software that would fit their requirements at the time. Every part of the system was developed with their own effort, partners made every piece of software by themselves and, eventually, created a custom solution.

 

“We made everything ourselves so that every product we sell, and we got over 30,000 products on our website, can be fully customized in an unlimited number of fashions.” - Bonnet notes. “That requires storing, managing and manipulating countless variables in order to get the job done. There wasn't a solution out there that could help us with that.”

“The ability to scale in a meaningful and expedite fashion is very important.”

Bret Bonnet and his co-founder were friends in college when they started a company in 2003. Their initial investment was a $10,000 grant they got in school.

“We got $10,000 and we spent it all to launch the company, build the website and support the basic infrastructure.” - Bonnet says. “That took us about 3 weeks, the money went really fast and the rest just came from personal funds of my co-founder and myself.”

 

The first big challenge that Bonnet faced when he was at the beginning of his business career was company’s initial growing. He and his partner knew that they had a good product, a good approach to the market but scaling was a different thing which required much patience.

 

“I always envy these companies you don’t even know the name of, but then, overnight, they grow to 5,000 employees and get all this revenue.” - Bonnet notes. “The ability to scale in a meaningful and expedite fashion is very important. We’ve always been slow and steady. I think the scaling of the company and infrastructure, of the resources, the people, the services we provide was one of the biggest challenges.”

Current situation

Currently, Bret Bonnet’s routine as a business owner includes extensive work with people responsible for the website’s design, functionality and content.

 

“The majority of my day is spent figuring out how I can improve our platform and make it more user friendly, so I am either interviewing customers or watching customer interactions. We monitor user visits and activities and I am just really trying to perfect our systems on our side and make them as profitable and efficient as possible.”

“You need to get your name out there.”

According to Bonnet, real successful ecommerce business must provide perfect user experience. One of the key factors of elaborate business management is taking good care of your customers. They are the life support of your enterprise. Being a founder of a large company, Bonnet does not shy away from calling the customers personally to hear out their thoughts on the website’s services.

 

“I do call.” - Bonnet humbly notes. “I probably have 4-5 conversations a week with random customers just, you know, making sure that they are happy and just to see if they have anything that I think we can do better next time.”

Standing out among competitors

So what exactly did make Bret Bonnet’s business project stand out among competitors? According to co-founder himself, it is technology and people.

 

“The concept has been around for the hundreds of years, promotional products were used back in the days by the founding fathers, having branded goods has been around for ages.”

 

As a result of such ancient history of the concept, many representatives of the industry are still stuck in the old ways of doing things. For instance, some still use faxing and zip drives. Quality Logo Products never intended staying in one place and always grew in the aspect of technology and customer approach.

 

“We came up with a patented technology that is called "no surprise pricing".” - Bonnet tells. “It is really efficient and allows us to be competitive in pricing among other things. Initially, we developed customer visitor’s product page, so they can actually see the total delivered price for fully configured order with no hidden figures, no surprises, complete transparency and we're the only ones in the industry who does that.”

“I probably have 4-5 conversations a week with random customers…”

Mr. Bonnet gladly shares his wisdom as to starting one’s own business and making first sales. According to him, there are certain crucial things to pay attention to such as finding your “perfect customer”, getting a feel for the demand and doing some keyword research.

 

“I would look through a lot of Google requests to see what the people are typing in and see what is demand for a product I’m looking for.” - says our hero. “Once I determined that there is demand and competitiveness around the domain of that area, I would apply some contact strategy that would establish myself as an authoritative player in the field. You need to get your name out there.”

 

Paid advertising can help a lot initially. But, of course, attracting organic traffic should be primary.

 

“Pay-per-click is only about 15% what we make, the balance is primarily organic traffic.” - Our hero notes. “We produce a lot of content and website is very well built and designed and that's what really paid off. We’ve got extremely fast loading website, very high Google search speed index and everything on our website is unique from our product photography to our product descriptions.”

“I am just really trying to perfect our systems on our side and make them as profitable and efficient as possible.”

However, the co-founder notices that he is not sure if he were to achieve equally successful result if he started out nowadays. According to him, there are too many driving factors working against you in terms of number of participants. Also, innovations are becoming expensive.

 

“I don't perceive how I could have ever started the company that I built today, you know, in this current environment.” - says Bonnet. “There are just too many forces working against you, the expenses are increasing and I don't know if the chances of success justify the risks.”

 

Although, If you do want to start your own online-shop business and are not afraid of challenge, Bonnet recommends thorough competitive marketplace analysis. He also notes that your approach to market strategy must be substantial and unique in some way or another. Having decided on a product for distribution, our hero advices to make sure it’s patents are protected. That way your product will not be copied at the start of distribution and your business will have more time to grow and acquire initial customer base.

Recommendations to beginners

“I would start in my local area, I would not advertise nationwide initially because that’s expensive and more competitive.” - Bonnet recommends. “In terms of building a website I would want to encourage beginners to develop something unique and on their own. Focus on advertising through search engines using keywords.”

“You’ve got to put clients’ needs before yours and then it comes full circle.”

“Content-wise, usually if it’s a small business just starting out you probably don't have much time to generate your own content. So I would look for some third party content services like hiring a copywriter or to contract somebody to help you with that.”

The useful experience

Bret Bonnet has an extensive experience in his field of business. According to his own words, the key lesson that he learned from the long-running growth of his company is that one must “always be ready for everything and expect the worst, even if your success seems undeniable”. There can appear many challenges which can seem impossible to overcome at the first sight. If you want to be successful, be ready to face obstacles with confidence and persistence.

 

“In our 13 year history we’ve never had a month when our performance decreased.” - Bonnet notices. “Every month we grow. However, we had a transitional period where that wasn't the case for about two months, it was all items and factors that were out of our control and we’ve never been in such situation before. It's kind of like a perfect soccer season where you won every game but then you get to the championship and you lose. We haven't experienced that bitter taste of losing before and that was really a lesson.”

 

As to a bit unpleasant experience, when asked what was his biggest business management mistake from which he learned, Bonnet remembers the marketing approach he once tried to implement through his website. However, he ultimately underestimated the impact such approach had had on customers.

“...like a perfect soccer season where you won every game but then you get to the championship and you lose.”

“There’s “Domino’s” pizza delivery here in the States and their principle is that if you don't get a pizza in 30 minutes or less, it's free.” - tells Bonnet. “We instituted a similar program but our systems were not as well suited to accommodate that. Eventually, we had to give out a lot of free orders, because we would miss deadlines. We underestimated the impact of such marketing approach and it took us a little while to make our systems get it right.”

 

Nevertheless, he and his team knew the basis of the problem and that it was fixable. It took them a little while though to get everything fixed. Keeping themselves motivated and resistant to issue’s negative impact on morale, they managed just fine and never intend to repeat a mistake of not being ready for what is coming next.

According to Bonnet, a key to the employees’ high performance lies in providing them with means of comfort and relaxation as well as in getting together as a team and engaging in some collective activities. That way each worker stays positive knowing that their work is going to be rewarded with decent, either active or passive, motivating rest.

 

“We force everybody to take two fifteen minute breaks a day in addition to their lunch breaks.” - says Bonnet. “Also, we've got X-Boxes, Playstations, pool table, air hockey table. The other day we just drank wine and painted, no one in our office can paint, but that was fun. And then, a while back, we’ve got together and went to Weird Al Yankovic’s concert.”

Conclusion

We would like to conclude the article with Bret Bonnet’s three key ingredients to successful company which are customer focus, patience and a desire to overcome any fears that could lay in front of your dream.

 

“You’ve got to put clients’ needs before yours and then it comes full circle.” - states our hero. “It is also very important to be patient and not be afraid to travel the uncharted roads.”

 

Bret Bonnet started out in the basement of his own house. With the help of just another partner, a school grant and a desire to treat customers in a better way, he was able to establish a successful, long-running business. A business which currently employs over a hundred people and does outstanding revenues yearly. Let his success be an ultimate motivation and example for you. Do not be afraid to take on “impossible” challenges, stay honest and transparent with people and you will certainly be rewarded!

Author:
Petro Borysov

Digital marketer, content writer. Living the life, writing articles, getting things done.

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