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How This Dinnerware Brand Grew Through Influencer Gifting

Keywords: Brand, Grew

When Joe Parenteau had difficulties finding simple, timeless, and sustainably made dinnerware as a gift for his mom, he decided to create Fable as the answer. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Joe shares with us his approach of launching in one city at a time and the importance of influencer gifting. 

For the full transcript of this episode, click here.

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Show Notes

Starting a business outside of your background

Felix: Tell us about the journey that led you to start this business. It began with the search for the perfect gift?

Joe: That all happened in 2018. My mom had renovated her kitchen. She was really excited about it, and my sister and I actually decided we were going to outfit that entire space for her. After searching high and low in Vancouver, I was able to find some pots and pans, at The Bay, if you’re familiar with them. But I was really struggling with the dinnerware and the dining room table itself.

After going in and out of many different box stores and traditional sellers, I was overwhelmed and frustrated. I ended up settling for some dinnerware from TheBay for my mom, which is lovely, but the biggest challenge I faced was that it was a 12-inch plate. A 12-inch plate is not the standard diameter to fit into your cabinet.

It was this big, expensive set that I bought her, that I was really excited about, and she couldn’t use them for her dinner plates. She had to store them on the top shelf, completely sideways. She’s really short, so she couldn’t reach them. I was very appalled and frustrated with this experience.

Felix: So you had this frustrating experience. How did this lead to solving the problem yourself by starting a business? 

Joe: That was the first time I had really encountered that or actually really encountered trying to buy home decor anywhere other than IKEA. About a year later I was trying to upgrade my own home. I was now working at a tech company in Vancouver. I was getting my first place, and I thought to myself, “Hey, I don’t really go to the bars or do that. I have a lot of friends over, we do wine tastings. Why don’t I upgrade my IKEA dinnerware to something a bit more special, more memorable, and something I could really show off to my friends?”

I turned to the same stores because that’s really all that’s available in Vancouver. I went up and down the street, in and out of all these home decor stores that claim to have the most beautiful dinnerware and home accessories. Again, I was faced with the same challenge that I couldn’t find dinnerware that I really enjoyed.

The greater problem was dinnerware that matched. I’m not an interior designer, and I found it very challenging and very frustrating to find plates that would match cutlery, wine glasses, mugs, and essentially my entire table. It’s a mishmash of different pieces, and I really couldn’t put together a set that looked great.

Felix: You mentioned you’re not an interior designer, what is your background? Why start your own home decor business? 

Joe: That’s a great question, one I ask myself all the time because that was not my background at all. I was previously an accountant. I worked at an accounting firm. I’m from Regina, Saskatchewan, from the Prairies. Nothing to do with tech whatsoever. I ended up moving to Vancouver to seek warmer weather. I found this accounting company called Bench Accounting.

I was very fortunate to join when they were a bit younger, and I was one of their early employees. I got to take advantage of that entire tech experience and watch the company grow from 30 employees all the way up to 250, by the time I had left. At that point, I was amazed and jealous and envious. I wanted it for myself, I wanted to create a startup. At that point, I was really just looking for the right idea, the right problem that I was passionate about, or that really got under my skin in the right way. It just so happened to be these two experiences with dinnerware.

A set of four speckled white bowls topped with some flatware.
An accountant by trade, Joe Parenteau was itching to start his own company after working for a startup. Fable

Felix: Do you see yourself more as a tech company, or a home accessory business?

Joe: We definitely view ourselves as a tech company and an innovator. We’ve taken a lot of what we’ve learned from our experience in tech. Both of the co-founders are from tech as well. The way that we work and the theories that we apply to the problems we’re solving are very much with that tech high-growth mindset.

Felix: What have you adopted from your experience in the tech industry that you’ve applied to this space?

Joe: Some of the most basic concepts where we talk about MVPs and trying to just get something in the market that you can test and you can see how people adapt to it. As opposed to trying to develop the most perfect product in the entire world. We really look at Fable as a journey and something we’re constantly iterating and building upon.

One thing we learned at Bench was the concept of getting something into the wild, and getting something in the hands of users. See what they think. Listen to their feedback, iterate on it, and make changes really quickly. At the core of Fable, that’s really how we operate and how we’ve progressed the company.

Felix: How does that tech startup approach differ when it comes to physical products, such as developing your MVP? 

Joe: A lot longer lead times for things. In tech, my experience was, “Oh, we have this bug here, and it can be fixed in minutes.” Our website can do that, but if we create a product that has a deficiency or a serious issue, that actually has a lot of work to go back and replace it. It’s not a quick fix that you can do in a week or two, or in a quick sprint. It’s actually something you’ve got to go replace over the next six months because you have to go develop it and create it, and then the supply chain components.

We need to think a bit more long term. Maybe not as quick and as agile, because we’ve got to plan for some of these longer lead times for the products.

“We need to think about the long term, because we’ve got to plan for the longer lead times of the products.”

Felix: Tell us about your MVP, what was the first product you launched as a business? 

Joe: We talked about the business launching in November 2019. We had actually already launched a different MVP under a completely different name and learned a ton. We sold maybe 200 dinner plates, something very, very small. We were really excited about it, but we ended up starting by sourcing some products from Alibaba. Not really designing them ourselves.

We were looking for a creator that could do mass production for us. We didn’t really have a huge hand in the design side of that. What we found is we learned very quickly, it’s very important to find the right creator that matches what you are looking for. We did not have a focus or as much of a focus on sustainability at that time either. A lot of the products that we received, and I don’t think many people know this story, but they actually all came scratched.

We had 200 plus dinner plates, completely scratched. I remember Max, Tina, and I sitting in our storage space with all 200 plates on the ground. We were trying to count all of them and photograph all the scratches to try and get reimbursed, and it was a complete nightmare. That was the learning point for us, when we said, “We’re only going to work with suppliers who think about the world in the same way we do.”

Why missteps can be invaluable to your company’s growth

Felix: This is a step a lot of people have to take when starting a business. Looking back, was this experience a valuable first step? Or would you have skipped it from the beginning? 

Joe: It was certainly valuable. I will not discount that. I learned a lot at that point. I would skip it if I would’ve known that it was the wrong first step, absolutely. That being said, I’m really proud of our journey and where we’re at. I wouldn’t change the past, but I do wish we wouldn’t have had to do that. I would not recommend someone doing that going forward.

Felix: How did this misstep inform your search for the second round? What specifically were you looking for, and how did you find it?

Joe: One of the really positive outcomes of that situation was we had some products, a very small batch, very low Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) that we were able to get in the hands of consumers. As soon as we were able to get them into the hands of these consumers, it became even more clear what they were looking for. There were parts about that product that they really enjoyed. Some of the essences of that product still exist today. There were things that they did not enjoy, and they did not love whatsoever. That helped guide us to figure out who we wanted to work with and what that system needed to be. 

When we would share the products with people, one of the things they really wanted to know was who made it, how it was made, and what types of materials. Was it non-toxic? Was it good for the earth? What’s our look at sustainability? Part of that is because we’re in Vancouver, and it’s very much in that mindset in that location. That being said, when people think about ceramics, they think about the earth, and it reflects them back to sustainability. We were able to take a lot of those conversations, a lot of those customer interviews and learnings, and then apply them into our next iteration of Fable.

Felix: How did you find the right supplier, not that you knew this was the list of criteria you were looking for?

Joe: I wish I could say it was some glorious effort, but it wasn’t really. We identified two locations that we felt made a lot of ceramics. We were able to narrow it down to Portugal and China. Both of these countries compete for ceramic creation. What we were able to find was a government database from Portugal that had a list of every person who makes ceramics. It was a business list of hundreds of businesses that make ceramics. Not just dinnerware, but any type of ceramics.

I would stay up through the night, because we are in very different time zones, eight hours difference. I would just call all these locations, not many of them have a website, and just ask them, “Hey, do you make dinnerware? This is what we’re trying to make,” and follow up with an email after email. We were able to narrow that list down to 10 key different creators in different teams here in Portugal.

That led to me quitting my job and flying over to Portugal the very next day to go meet with them all.

Felix: What did you see about that opportunity that made you so confident to do all of that?

Joe: A lot of this comes back to our original launch or the most MVP version of Fable, and the feedback we received from customers. We received a lot of validation. The problem we were trying to solve existed. There wasn’t a clear solution out there for them at the time. They really wanted us to go solve it, and they were really passionate about that. It became more and more clear that working a full-time job in the tech industry was not going to allow me to make Fable successful or to allow our team to do that.

“We received a lot of validation. The problem we were trying to solve existed. There wasn’t a clear solution out there for them at the time. They really wanted us to go solve it.”

Felix: How long did this process take to find the new supplier? 

Joe: Maybe two months. Not very long at all. From the moment that I found that list on the government website through the moment that I met them in Portugal and we had purchased the first purchase order, it was about two months or so.

Felix: When you landed in Portugal what was the exact mission?

Joe: Rent a Fiat, start driving, and go from location to location. I had a list of criteria questions the team and I had created, the two other co-founders, Tina and Max. I would go visit these different creators. I would share with them what we wanted. We had some samples of the different pieces and the styles we were hoping to go create. And these teams would always say, “No, no, no. We can’t do that. You’re the wrong fit for us.”

Or, “Hey, we can. This is what it would look like. Here’s some pricing, here are some different things that we’ve done in the past.” Then I would call Max and Tina every night, and I would video time them and share. Say like, “Hey, this is what this looks like.” Or “What do you guys think?” We went through that process really quickly. I was in Portugal for about 10 days, and we had made the decision by the end of those days.

Felix: How did you find your very first customers to get your MVP in front of, and gather all this data? 

Joe: Some of the first customers we ever found was we relied on friends and family to really spread the word. After we ran out of that sales channel, we actually did a few different things. Lots did not work, and one did work. The one that did work really well was when we attended a local, very small, almost like a craft show, but for local small businesses in Vancouver.

They had maybe 2,000 people walk through this location on these weekends, and we would buy a booth. We didn’t have any products to sell at this point. So we couldn’t really sell anything but what we would do is we’d show people the pieces. We would put it in their hands and try to understand what they liked about it, what they didn’t like. We would pitch them almost as if we were cold calling and say, “Oh yeah, these plates are like this.” Or “They have this feature,” or “They have this.”

By reading the person’s interaction with them, how they lit up when we said certain words, or they would be like, “Oh, that makes no sense. Why did you say that?” We were able to take that feedback and really quickly, apply that to our go-to-market strategy when we were about to launch in November.

An array of blush pink dinnerware by Fable backdropped a linen tablecloth.
Getting a small order of products to customers allowed Fable to nail down on characteristics of their products to improve for the next run of production. Fable

Felix: Did you attend that event once? How many times did you feel was necessary to get enough feedback to inform your plans to move forward? 

Joe: We did that event three times after we had found our creators. We did this event three different times, and it was really about product positioning and product marketing. The second thing we did that worked really well was in Vancouver, there’s a street called A in Granville South. It’s where all of the home decor stores are like your Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma, EQ3, CB2, Indigo. They are all on the same street.

We’d stand outside and we would offer people a $50 Amazon gift card to be entered into this draw, where we could interview them and ask them questions about their dinnerware. We would pretty much just stand out there every Saturday for a few hours, ask people questions, and take as many notes as we could to try and obtain as much information on what people cared about when they think about their dining room table or their home in general.

Felix: At what point did you feel confident enough to actually go ahead with launching the business? 

Joe: I’m not quite sure I was ever a hundred percent confident. I knew that we had something that could work, but I knew that it was never going to be a hundred percent right. I knew there was still going to be work to do. We knew we had good product positioning from a marketing standpoint the day we launched. That was the first time we said, “I think we are onto something here that could actually work.”

A creator-first approach to marketing: the benefits and drawbacks

Felix: Tell us about the value proposition your product has. What makes your product stand out from the rest of the market?

Joe: Our unique insight, that we continually come back to, is that our products have a story. Our products are created by people. We feature those people, and we’re really proud of where they come from and the products’ heritage. A lot of the main brand, put a veil between you and the product, and they say, “We designed this,” but won’t really tell you who made it. That’s not really important. What’s important is it’s a plate.

We’ve removed that. We like to think of it as more, “This product has a story, it came from somewhere, and it has a very rich and interesting story. Let us share that with you.” That is one of the most overarching product concepts across our entire brand.

“Our unique insight, that we continually come back to, is that our products have a story. Our products are created by people.”

Felix: How do you market that story? 

Joe: It’s a very evolving concept on that front. Right now, if you were to look at our site today or at our marketing today, it wouldn’t be as much on the imagery. It’d be more on the language and the copy, but I’m actually in Portugal right now to do shoots with our different creators. It’s going to change here very quickly, where we’ll be able to share video content of those creators all the way through still photography on those creation stories.

It’s definitely something we’re always building on. I would say we’re not even a hundred percent there yet.

Felix: This is interesting. You’re taking a creator-first approach to marketing. Is it difficult to find creators whose story matches up with the one you want to tell as a business? 

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It definitely poses a challenge for us and it makes things very tricky. For example, we are always looking for new products, and we have a lot of products we’re really excited to release next year. One of the most prominent being glassware. It wasn’t an easy process to go find a glassware creator that had a story that we could be really proud of that focuses on sustainability and ethical craftsmanship. That wasn’t an easy task. Frankly, that’s over half of the battle. Then there’s the second part, which is the actual product in itself.

Felix: This emphasis on the story behind manufacturing, how they create your product, is becoming more important for entrepreneurs. When you’re talking to the people that are involved in creating this product, how do you pull that story from them?

Joe: It’s a long list of Q&A questions we’ve built out and that we ask each creator. We didn’t start off that way. It was a lot of we didn’t quite know the story, then we had to re-ask. Now it’s transitioned more into a process for us, like, “Here’s the setlist of 30 questions we need you to answer. Let us know what the responses are.” We have an interview with them. We chat through all the answers. We then make sure that they’re really aligned to our standards and who we’re looking to work with.

Felix: What’s your favorite question to ask a creator?

Joe: My favorite question is really wrapping our heads around their relationship with their employees and their staff. Are they fairly paid? That resonates really well with me, and it matters a lot to me. Are they fairly paid, and are men and women being paid the same amounts for the same roles?

Felix: You mentioned that physical products have longer lead times than in the software startup world. What procedures do you take to avoid missteps when you’re trying to achieve this rapid development? 

Joe: That’s a really good question. We do a pretty rigorous sampling process now that we didn’t do at the start. We really do request a lot of samples. We really test all the products ourselves and you use them ourselves for a long period of time before we’re willing to even go potentially sell the product. We also do pretty standard things, such as third-party certifications for safety and hazards in some of those components, which are really table stakes at this point.

At the start, it was a lot about speed. The learning lesson for us has been to slow down a little bit. Because there is such a long lead time, if you release a product that isn’t up to the standard that you had hoped for, it could be very costly.

A speckle white plate and bowl with pieces of kiwi.
By focusing on the story and creators behind their dinnerware, Fable is able to stand out in an otherwise homogeneous industry. Fable

Felix: You mentioned that this niche isn’t your background. A lot of entrepreneurs face this dilemma, where they feel like they don’t have enough expertise in an industry. How did you overcome these gaps when you were starting up? 

Joe: I wish I had a really interesting story here, but I don’t. A lot of Googling and a lot of YouTube videos. A lot of asking friends and family. We’ve been very fortunate to have some great mentors on our team. These mentors have founded other directly to consumer brands, which have really helped accelerate us. They’ve been able to pass along these learnings to our team. It’s been a challenge, but we’ve been relying on a lot of different people to help support us on that front.

Felix: Were there any specific obstacles due to you being a new entrant into the space that was particularly challenging?

Joe: Yeah. The challenge was we didn’t really know anything. It’s a challenge and an advantage. We had no real expectations of how things worked. We came in and thought, “What’s the quickest way from point A to point B?” And while I think we were able to shortcut a lot of traditional processes and you skirt around those, which helped us operate with a bit more speed, there are also some challenges.

A really simple one is, “Who is the best freight forwarder to work with when you’re exporting out of Portugal?” I had no idea. I’m calling all these different freight forwarders that I Google. Google is not super helpful if you google freight forwarder. It doesn’t really tell you. It’s more meant for a consumer, not for a business. It’s actually hard to find that information, “Oh, you could work with X,” or “You could work with Y, but Y is better from this location to this location.” That was hard to overcome.

Another interesting challenge was, “Which port should we be exporting out of in Portugal, that has the quickest boat times, so we don’t have stops off in London randomly? Which pro boat providers should we be using?” It’s challenges like that, that while you can have a lot of mentors in the world, You don’t even know to ask those questions. We’ve been faced with different challenges because we didn’t even know that that was going to be a problem.

Felix: How long did it take to get your first production run that was ready to be sold?

Joe: Four months. Four months until we had the product in Canada.

Why optimizing for geography can enhance word of mouth marketing

Felix: What was the launch strategy once you had those products?

Joe: One of our insights was that it was going to be very hard to launch to an entire country or an entire continent of the United States and Canada. We tried to keep our marketing efforts very focused in one geographic location, and try to be someone to a smaller group of people. We actually launched in Vancouver only, and we did a few different things. 

The first thing we realized in Vancouver is that no one had ever heard of us or our products. And it was going to be really hard for people to trust our brand online. We ended up trying to find as many different influencers or influential people on Instagram or on Facebook that we could gift our product to. We reached out to hundreds of different content creators asking if we could gift them our product.

At this point, we hadn’t fundraised. We were completely bootstrapped. We had no money. We really were in a position where it was like, “We can’t pay you for anything. All we can do is give you our product. If you like it, we’d appreciate it if you share it. But there’s no obligation. Just take the product. Let us know what you think. We’d be excited to hear.”

We curated these groups of content creators who had an audience in that region, in the Vancouver region. What ended up transpiring was 30 to 60 different content creators all around the same time, because everyone was getting delivered their products on the same day, were posting about us. How excited they were about our products. That really kickstarted us to sell in that location. We still use that strategy of by market today. 

“In order for a person to buy a product, to trust a brand, and to want to commit money to something, they need to hear about it three to five different times.”

Felix: Why did you decide to go with this strategy of marketing by geographical area, as opposed to something like demographics? 

Joe: I don’t know if there’s any mathematical science behind this that actually proves this point right, or we just got very lucky. One of our early concepts was that in order for a person to buy a product, to trust a brand, and to want to commit money to something, they need to hear about it three to five different times. They need to see it. They need to hear it. And ideally, someone they trust has talked about it, or they’ve heard it from someone they trust.

Our concept was that if we can center an audience into a very particular location, it’ll be easier to get that many touchpoints out to those people and be much more cost-effective.

A stack of speckled white plates and bowls in the background of a mug stacked with some flatware.
Integrating tracking within influencer marketing allows Fable to better understand the results of their campaigns and partnerships. Fable

Felix: How many influencers did you launch with initially?

Joe: I’d have to pull up the old spreadsheet, but I think it was anywhere between 30 to 60, within the first 10 to 15 days.

Felix: How has this strategy evolved as you’ve grown and expanded as a company? 

Joe: It’s evolved. It’s a lot more robust now. It’s much more sophisticated. We have a little bit more tracking. We have different ways to graduate these different partnerships into different paths. We don’t really do affiliates for example, but whether that be a content creator that we’re constantly re-gifting things to when we release new products, which would be on the more very basic level. We recently did a full product launch with a content creator, and we were able to co-collaborate on a color line and launch it together. The partnerships progress in different ways, but it’s definitely much more sophisticated now. We have software that helps us track everything and it’s not in a Google spreadsheet, fortunately.

Felix: I know that influencer marketing can be difficult to track. How do you measure the success of working with any given influencer? 

Joe: Today, we give them a swipe up link that they can send people to, and then we use a standard 30-day cookie on that to track the success. In the past, we didn’t do that. In the very early days, we gave out a 10% off discount code and we just tracked off of those sales from that point. But we’ve actually moved to this software called GRIN. Would highly recommend it as you’re starting to hit a bit more scale. It helps you pretty much manage all of these different campaigns and really lays it out in the most simple, intuitive platform that I’ve ever seen.

Felix: How do you determine whether to collaborate with an influencer or pursue a more traditional influencer marketing partnership? 

Joe: What it came down to was we really liked this person. We were able to meet with her a few different times, and once in person. We had done some smaller works in the past together, and we knew that her audience, her demographic, was really excited about what we’re doing, but we also really loved what she was doing. She is a nutritionist. Very focused on food, but also a nice level of lifestyle is built into her content. It was really a great match. We just really liked working with her. So for that reason, we felt like she aligned with the brand. We decided that maybe we could approach her with this idea. We came to her with this concept and it seemed to work out.

Felix: When you do reach out to a new influencer, what seems to work to get their attention? What do you find that influencers care about?

Joe: We just reach out on DMs. We send a DM, and say, “Hey.” We share why we like what they’re doing. We try and engage in their audience and be a part of their audience. I don’t think we would ever just reach out to someone who we weren’t already really excited about or who we had been watching from afar for a little bit of time.

For our prospective content creators, we’ll find ones that we’re interested in. We’ll follow along. We’ll join their community, engage in their community, get more involved with what they’re doing. Really understand what they’re doing, and then we reach out on a DM just asking if they’d be interested to do something together.

Felix: Most of these are through Instagram?

Joe: Yeah. Through Instagram or email. We’ve done both. 

Felix: The promotions that these influencers are doing, where they’re posting content, that’s mostly through Instagram?

Joe: Exactly. Yeah. We haven’t been able to get on the other platforms yet, but we’re really excited. We’re hoping to be on TikTok here in the next couple of months.

Felix: Have you seen more success by providing an influencer with a link for their stories as opposed to a post on the actual feed?

Joe: Yeah. A hundred percent would recommend an unboxing video on the stories.

Felix: How do you manage and oversee all these relationships? 

Joe: We use a tool called GRIN. GRIN allows you to manage and oversee all these different campaigns and partnerships with different content creators and influencers. We put them all into the system and we can do our emailing and messaging out of there. We also track the results. We can capture all of the different photography and different stories through this system as well. It allows us to get access to those assets. That tool in itself has been a game-changer for us.

Felix: Are there any steps you take to ensure there’s a profitable deliverable? Do you give them any guidance for what they’re posting? 

Joe: We don’t give any guidance, honestly. Because we’re gifting the products for free in most cases, we don’t ask for anything in return, and we just ask if they like it to share about it. We do a lot of our work upfront to understand the type of content that they already do, the brands that they work with. We try and understand who they are before we even reach out and want to associate ourselves with them. Most of that work is already done upfront, and then we really let them take it from there.

Knowing when to pivot your marketing strategy

Felix: Where did you turn your marketing efforts, after Vancouver? 

Joe: We went to Eastern Canada. We went to Toronto and Ottawa and focused our efforts out there.

Felix: What was the driving factor behind shifting the marketing strategy to those locations? 

Joe: It was twofold. The first part was that we import our products from Portugal, and we were taking them from Portugal all the way around the Panama Canal and up to our warehouse in Vancouver. We realized that that shipping time was crazy. It took so long. We decided that we were actually going to open a warehouse on the East Coast. But since most of our sales were on the West Coast, it made that decision more challenging.

It was a no-brainer for us to move our marketing efforts out to the East Coast to reduce the freight time of getting our products into Canada because we could cut that lead time in half if we moved out of our warehouse to the East Coast. That was part of the decision. 

The second part was we were really fortunate in the spring to get accepted into a tech accelerator called Techstars in Toronto. Our team was actually moving out to the East Coast anyways for this accelerator program. What that then enabled us to do was we could be more a part of that community. It was a no brainer for Toronto to be the next stop.

Felix: How did you know when it was time to expand to another city? 

Joe: It was around our growth goals and how many different customers we wanted to have joined the Fable family and how many customers we wanted to acquire. While Vancouver is a very big city, we were also conscious that we weren’t going to be able to expand forever in that location. When we took a step back and we thought about the growth we wanted to see in 2020, it was a lot about we needed to have a bit bigger of an audience to try and obtain customers from. For that reason, it made sense for us to start looking into another market to expand.

A shelf full of blush pink and speckled white dinnerware from Fable.
Foucing on launching in one city at a time allowed Fable to cater their marketing efforts to preferences of each market. Fable

Felix: How many cities would you say you’re focused on today?

Joe: Just the two regions. The region of the lower mainland of British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest, you could actually call that. And then the second region would be Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. So that’s the eastern side of Canada.

Felix: Are there any differences in the approach you take from city to city? 

Joe: Yeah. The people are very different, in good ways. The subtle things of what products people are exposed to in different cities are vastly different. What shapes and colors people like in different cities is completely different, all the way through. As we’re more prominent in Quebec now, we get a lot of questions in French. Luckily, we have someone that’s bilingual that can help out with French questions, but it’s definitely a bit different as you move across the entire country.

Felix: Let’s talk about the website. Was this designed in house, or did you refer to an agency? 

Joe: It was designed in-house. The site you’re seeing right now is maybe our sixth iteration. We’ve gone through so many different ones that we thought we liked. Just the other day, someone posted in our Slack channel, the very first iteration. It’s so embarrassing to look at. But yeah, we’ve gone through multiple different iterations. We did it all in-house.

Felix: Through the iterations, what are some changes that you’ve made that you would credit for enhancing conversion rates? 

Joe: A lot of it stems from the photography. We did a lot of photography in-house at the start. For this most recent iteration, we actually hired an agency to help with some of the photography, and the photography level has drastically gone up. And I would say, what has mostly helped with the raising conversion rate was introducing more lifestyle photography.

More photography where people can relate to the pieces. They could see the pieces in their own home. Less just the standard e-commerce photo of a plate on a white background, which is where we started.

Felix: When shooting for lifestyle, how do you determine the kind of lifestyle content that will resonate with your customers? 

Joe: A lot of different customer interviews and feedback has gone into that. We’re very fortunate that we actually brought on this great creative director in the summer. She’s been able to really help spearhead that on the different style and the different approach to what does the Fable brand look like and what does it feel like? But a lot of it has always stemmed from our customer feedback.

Felix: What kind of information do the customers provide that is most useful for informing these lifestyle photoshoots? 

Joe: Yeah, exactly. Learning more about their home and their space, their lifestyle. Are they a business executive that lives in a small condo that travels around all the time? It’s a very different style than someone who lives in the suburbs, has a family, a bit more of a slow living style. That drastically shifts how we think about lighting and shadows, for example, or even the spaces that we feature our products in.

It’s a lot about trying to really understand who that person is. What do they do for work? What is their family like? Do they have a dog? Don’t they have a dog? How old is their kid, roughly? Where do they live? And really trying to dissect that information to help influence our decisions.

Felix: And these interviews are being done with past customers?

Joe: Exactly.

“If something’s not working, understand the root cause, and just try and fix the root of the problem. Don’t try and just trim around it.”

Felix: How do you approach a customer to get this information from them? 

Joe: In the past, we would send them an email and ask them if they wanted to do this for X, Y, Z gift card or to be entered into a draw for X, Y, Z product. Honestly, in the most simple way. We also have all the addresses, because we have all the shipping addresses. We’re able to build different demographics off of some of that information as well. So it’s twofold.

Felix: You mentioned GRIN. Are there any other tools or apps you use to keep the business running? 

Joe: We use Gorgias. I’m sure a lot of people know of that, but it’s a great tool to manage all of your customer support requests. It links right into Shopify, so you can edit orders right out of Gorgias, and you’re not fumbling around in the Shopify UI. Gorgias is fantastic. Some of the other tools or apps we’ve added on in the past, which I really love, would be In Cart Upsell.

That allows your customer to add on those add-on items right in the cart, and you can get those nice product suggestions. The other one we use is a review platform called Loox. It provides all the reviews your customers submit. Then it features them in a really unique way that I think stands out. All of the images are there, and it really encourages your customer to take an image of their products in their home.

Felix: You attributed to word of mouth marketing as one of the biggest factors to your success. What are some of the biggest factors in your product or brand strategy that are conducive to the word of mouth marketing? 

Joe: We’ve been very fortunate, because people and myself included, when I cook something at home, I’m going to stand over it and take an overhead photo and post it on Instagram. You better bet my friends are going to find out that I cooked up some Erin Ireland’s lentil meatloaf. You better bet they’re going to know I put all that effort in. 

So at that point, a lot of our customers are also tagging #dinewithfable, and they’re really excited because it’s in their new Fable plates. We’re really a part of that step in their life, when they share what they cooked and they share what’s going on in their home, Fable is featured there.

Felix: That’s an element that’s difficult to design into a product. Your product is being featured in the behavior that the customer takes, by snapping a picture of their food. You almost have to choose the right industry for your product to be featured in that way. 

Joe: I imagine if you’re a debt consolidator company, it’s pretty hard to get your customers to be bragging that they use this app or this tool. I imagine that that’s an uphill battle, and it’s hard to do. We’re very fortunate that we picked a product that is conducive to sharing and sharing on social media.

Felix: What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned this year, that you want to implement moving forward with product development and expansion? 

Joe: The biggest lesson for us is when something’s not working, to move away from it quickly, and to take that feedback in, no matter what sunk cost is. For example, when we first launched our plate collection in 2019, we launched with this glaze, a very matte glaze.

For a long time, we were getting customer feedback. “Hey, this glaze, it’s not great. It leaves these artificial cutlery marks. It’s not that great. I’m not super happy with it.” And we just kept going around in circles as a team of like, “Oh, maybe we can explain it better. Maybe we can change this or change that,” as opposed to just getting to the root cause and cutting our losses by essentially and moving glazes. It took us maybe six months before we decided, “Okay, now’s the time. We can’t get around this. We need to actually go back to the drawing board and re-examine this thing.” And I wish we would have taken in that customer feedback earlier and made that adjustment right away because we were essentially just digging ourselves into a hole for a period of time.

That was a learning lesson for us, that if something’s not working, understand the root cause, and just try and fix the root of the problem. Don’t try and just trim around it.

Special thanks to our friends at Shopify for their insights on this topic.
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