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Unzipping The Secret To Overcoming Challenges And Scaling This Menswear Brand

unzipping-the-secret-to-overcoming-challenges-and-scaling-this-menswear-brand

Teddy Stratford is a brand of athletic button-down shirts that zip to offer a better fit and no gaping between buttons. Founder Bryan Davis accidentally discovered the concept when he was getting pulled over by police in Thailand. Since that fateful day, Bryan has worked through major breaking points to grow the business. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Bryan shares how to educate customers on a new product and how to find a marketing agency that aligns with your values and interests.

For the full transcript of this episode, click here.

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Show Notes

How a run-in with a Thai police officer inspired a business idea 

Felix: The idea behind the business came from a story about getting pulled over by the police. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? 

Bryan: I was in Thailand–I had run to Thailand to get away from a hectic business situation. I had opened and closed a restaurant in Miami and I needed a break, but I was broke after the business. So I went to Thailand where things are less expensive. One day I’m driving my friend’s car through Bangkok, and this police officer steps out into the middle of the road and motions me to the side of the road. I pull over and as he’s approaching the car, I notice that his uniform looks really cool. The shirt was this slim-fit shirt. Even though he wasn’t particularly fit himself, he looked really sharp. I’m thinking, I have got to get one of these shirts.

He comes up to the window, and my friend who’s riding shotgun has to translate the whole conversation. She says to me, “He says to take 200 baht, which is about seven bucks, fold it up, put it behind your license, and hand him your license.” I said, “Tell him, I’ll give him 400 Baht if he tells me where I can get one of these uniforms.” The guy of course agreed to that. I folded up 400 Baht, put it behind my driver’s license, and handed it to him. He pulled out his notepad and instead of writing me a ticket, he wrote the address to his tailor down on the notepad. It turns out the tailor was really right around the corner from where we got pulled over.

We go into the tailor and again, there’s no English. My friend is working as a translator. The guy sizes me up and realizes that I don’t look, Thai. He thought this guy can’t impersonate a police officer so yeah, I’ll make you a police uniform. He’s going through the paces of, “Do you want cuffs on your pants? Do you want this? Do you want that?” He gets to this point where my friend can’t translate, she says, “He says, do you want buttons or do you want something else?” I said, “What do you mean something else?” The guy goes into the back and he brings out two examples of shirts. One of them is a regular button-down. The other one looks like a button-down but actually has a zipper behind the buttons and I’d never seen this before.

Founder of Teddy Stratford, Bryan Davis in a blue dress shirt with the zipper design that his brand is known for.
While being pulled over in Thailand, Bryan Davis was mesmerised by the officer’s dress shirt and wanted to recreate it for the North American market. Teddy Stratford 

I thought, “this is interesting. I’ll take the zipper.” I placed the order. A week later, I go in to pick up my police uniform and I’m trying it on in the fitting room and the pants fit great, but I’m really disappointed as I put the shirt on because it’s so tight. It was like a wetsuit. I was bummed out because I was looking forward to wearing my new shirt when I got back to the United States. It was so tight that there was no way that I could wear it as anything other than a Halloween costume, which actually is what I did that Halloween. One of the things that I noticed was that it’s so tight, but there’s no gaps between the buttons.

This is actually a problem that I had had wearing slim fit shirts–the gaping between the buttons at the chest. I thought, “huh, that’s why these guys look so good in their shirts because they can wear closer fitting shirts, and they don’t look like they’re busting out of them because of the gaps between the buttons.” That was the seed of the idea. I brought the shirt back to New York and I showed it to one of my best friends who worked at Bloomingdale’s and he’d been buying men’s dress shirts for years. He had never seen this before and liked the idea. I worked with Bloomingdale’s almost immediately to develop a zipper shirt for their store line. We released the first zipper shirt.

It was a replica of the Thai police shirt, but less fitted. We released the shirt to seven different Bloomingdale’s stores. We made about a thousand of them. It was a very poor selling project. Apparently, they had to sell about 50% of them at a deep discount. It sold so terribly that they did not reorder. The thing that came from that failure was I got to see why it was that the shirt didn’t sell. There were lots of different reasons. One of the things was that the manufacturer had used a cheap zipper. This is the way that you close the shirt, you can’t skimp on the zipper. You have to have a good zipper.

The other thing was that there was something wrong with the center plaque that didn’t keep it covering the zipper. When you zipped it up, you could see the zipper. The most important thing was that the item got lost in the entire collection of men’s stuff among their cashmere sweaters and their pants. Nobody was there to tell the story or put the shirt into context.

It has to be said that this was really kind of a side project for me. I had moved back to New York from Miami after I closed the restaurant and was working on this tech product and pushing that forward. In the meantime, that wasn’t making any money, so I was also working as a bartender and a DJ. I didn’t have a lot of time to work on it, but I kept pushing it forward. One day I discovered this custom shirt maker called Seago custom shirts. I walked in and I met the owner. His name’s Carl Goldberg. I told him about the shirt and he thought it was interesting. Then I brought him a sample of the shirt and he agreed to make me a prototype. What I wanted to do is make a regular-looking button-down or button-up shirt with the zipper and see whether or not that worked. It’s a good idea to pause here and just say, in addition to Carl who had been in the shirt business for 30 years, and my friend at Bloomingdale’s who had also been in the shirt business for over a decade, neither of them had ever seen this before. It struck them as a good idea.

For decades actually, police uniforms and security shirts, even in the United States had been made with a zipper shirt option. This zipper was not something exclusive to the Thai police department nor to the tailor who I had met. It was being sold by uniform shirts all over the United States and I would assume different countries around the world. It was not an idea that was actually owned by anyone. Carl and I made the first prototype and it worked. It was great. It looked like a regular button-down shirt. That was the beginning of Teddy Stratford. I had a roommate at the time who also really liked the idea. I had come up with the name for the brand, and then he and I worked on the logo and we pushed things forward. He put some money in, I put some money in. It took us a couple of years from the time that we had the first prototype made, to the time that we launched our Kickstarter campaign. In 2014 is when we actually launched our Kickstarter campaign. I had been working on it and pushing it forward little by little, for a few years before that.

Felix: After the Bloomingdale’s encounter, and even before that, without knowing if it would be a hit, how did you have the conviction to stick with the business? 

Bryan: You have to look at what problem does the product solves. For me, I had already started wearing slim-fit shirts and I’m in relatively good shape. I’m semi-athletic. I have a bit of a broader chest and a slimmer waist because I stay in shape. There are a lot of people like me. The problem with regular slim-fit shirts and the way that almost every brand is made is that they want their product to fit as many people as possible. They get a fit model who’s a person of average proportions and build their shirt around this average proportioned person.

In doing that, they’re able to fit as many people as possible. You get an athletic-framed person who fits inside of the shirt. Someone who’s a few pounds also fits inside of that shirt. What happens when an athletic guy puts on a shirt like that is if it fits him in the chest, but it’s generally too baggy around the waist. You get that extra billowing situation. If it fits him in the waist, it’s usually too tight in the chest, and you get what we refer to as the pec gap, which is the gap that opens between your buttons, right at the chest.

On the surface, the zipper itself solves this problem. You can wear a closer fitting shirt, even if it’s not tight. When you move in a shirt without a zipper, if it’s fitting close, there’s always a gap that opens at the chest. The zipper solves that problem. But in addition to that, we decided to approach the fit, which is kind of our secret sauce. You come for the zipper and then you stay for the fit.

We decided to approach the fit in a different way from the way that any brand has approached it so far. We started with the philosophy that the shirt is a frame around your torso. Remember I talked about building it around an average proportion. When you put an average proportion frame around someone’s torso, it makes them look average. We thought, what happens if you take an “ideal proportioned frame” and put that around someone’s torso? I started doing some research on men’s bodies and the way that they have been depicted by artists over the centuries. I came across this concept called the golden ratio. All of the artists were building their statues and doing their paintings and so on and so forth, according to the golden ratio, which was a shoulder’s chest to waist, to arms ratio.

That ratio is pleasing to the eye and they built their statues and art around it. I started looking at modern-day men who are considered to have good bodies. These guys, when you looked at the ratio of their upper bodies, it was very similar to the way that artists were depicting a hero’s body back in the Renaissance. We came up with a ratio and built our shirt around that ratio. Then we took that shirt and started trying it on different, mostly athletic guys. I play hockey and tried it on my teammates. I was doing CrossFit at the time, and gave some to the guys at the gym. I would take notes about what doesn’t fit, what does fit, what works, what doesn’t.

We would change the shirt according to these notes and then bring out the next version and try it on guys. We ended up on our own golden ratio, where every one of our shirts is built around this golden ratio. Regardless of if it’s an extra small up to the double XL, it all has this same ratio. The result of this is that it fits athletic guys, almost like it’s custom made. We have people who leave reviews on our site that say, “I’ve never been able to find a shirt that fits like this. Even custom shirts don’t fit like this.” What it also does is it takes a guy who’s not in incredible shape, but because of the shape of the shirt, it makes him look more athletic. We get reviews that say, “I look like I’m in great shape and I’m not.” This is where we started and what we’ve grown on. 

Learning from the sales floor and production runs to improve your products 

Felix: Let’s talk about Bloomingdales. You had a connection that worked there and then was able to get your product into the store? 

Bryan: He recognized it as an interesting idea. He liked the way that the shirt functioned. He just said, “Hey, I want to test it out and see if it works?” They have a factory that makes their dress shirts, “Would you consult with our factory and they’ll make a zipper shirt and we’ll release it?” I got paid a very small commission off of what was made. And he said, “It’ll be a good way to test out this concept and see if it works.” The only answer I could come up with was yes.

Felix: Recognizing and pursuing a real problem can get you far, is what I’m hearing from this? 

Bryan: One of the reasons why it failed is that the people who were selling the product on the floor didn’t understand that it actually solved the problem. There was a disconnect there and a lack of context.

Felix: How did you pinpoint the things you wanted to improve from that initial run with Bloomingdale’s? 

Bryan: They gave me a few samples from their production run and I was wearing them myself. I was washing them and realized that the zipper was sticky. That front plaque thing that I was talking about, there was a very soft, inner lining, which was allowing the plaque to pull back and expose the zipper while you were wearing it. Those were two things that I identified right away. Those were the two main fixes that came from Bloomingdale’s experience.

A model in a beige dress shirt by Teddy Strateford and patterned shorts in a grassy field.
Learning from mistakes made by sales associates and through various product runs, the Teddy Stratford team was able to reinvent their products. Teddy Stratford 

Felix: Were these fixes made on gut instinct, or did you do some feedback research with those initial buyers? 

Bryan: It was more instinctual, or what I noticed when I had the product. I wasn’t able to talk to any of their customers because they were Bloomingdale’s customers. I didn’t even think to ask them to put me in touch with someone who had purchased the shirt.

Felix: Did you have to do any work convincing the customer to overcome any preconceived notions of the shirt in order for them to buy in? How much education did you have to do? 

Bryan: That is probably the biggest stumbling block that we hit. I was excited that I had discovered something new. It was difficult at first for me to understand how someone who was not myself would see it at first. It’s strange because our shirt when you look at it being worn properly, looks like a regular shirt, although I would argue that it fits a lot better. It’s totally different because it has a zipper. There’s a perception when it’s taken out of context that this is like a clip-on tie–it’s a shortcut or a cheat. Some people see it and they say, “People are so lazy that they can’t button up their shirts nowadays?”

It was a challenge at first. Another thing that people say is, “Oh, this is a great shirt for a stripper,” which is probably true. Putting it into context, okay, yes, the shirt has a zipper, but it’s not because it’s a cheat, like a clip-on tie or Velcro shoes. It’s not because people are too lazy to button up their shirts. It’s because it actually solves a problem. If our messaging talks about that problem, shows the problem and the solution, the perception of it is a little bit different.

Felix: What messaging or marketing tactics did you use to get the point across that this shirt solves a very specific problem? 

Bryan: One of the things that we knew from the get-go was that we needed to get past the perception that it was a gimmick. I had shown it to someone who was in fashion at first. His immediate feedback was, “Oh, it’s like a clip-on tie.” That was the first time I had heard that. I thought, “oh my God, I have to figure out how to get around that objection.” I gave him a shirt and he wore it for a little while. He came back to me and said, “This shirt is incredible.” I thought, “okay, so this guy’s first impression was that it’s a clip-on tie and then after he had it, he thought it was incredible.” We created, very early on, a north star for our brand, which has actually become our slogan, which is, “The best-fitted shirt on the planet.”

We didn’t set out to just make a shirt that had a zipper. We also have a patented collar on our shirt, so that the collar doesn’t fall down. We set out to create the best-fitted shirt on the planet. If you want to create the best shirt, you have to start with quality. We lean into quality. We use premium fabrics and materials. We have a custom design zipper that we teamed up with YKK to produce for our shirt. All of our stuff is handmade. We use single-needle tailoring. Carl, my partner, has a background in custom shirting so we brought a lot of custom shirting manufacturing elements to the shirt. We use single-needle tailoring and flat-felled seams, which keep the shirt super strong at the seams.

When people get the shirt, if they know what they’re looking at, they can feel the fabric, and then when they put it on, they can feel that it’s quality. That’s the most important thing for us. This and the fit is what gets people to reorder. We lean on that story, the fit, the quality, and the novelty part of it. We have a design patent on the shirt and the collar is a utility patent. We say it’s a patented, handmade, premium quality athletic cut. We lead with those other things before we get to the zipper.

Felix: What did you find really helped convert that first-time buyer? 

Bryan: Unless it’s word of mouth or Kickstarter, the way that people normally encounter us for the first time is through digital ads. Almost all of our customer acquisition is done on Facebook and Instagram. The nice thing about our product is it is demonstrable and it works very well in videos. In those videos, we show and tell how the shirt is different, first of all. That the shirt looks normal, that’s another part of it that’s very important because men especially are not willing to try something new if they’re going to look weird in it. Then we touch on what problems it solves and the benefits of wearing the shirt.

Why saying no to opportunities is important during scaling 

Felix: When you started this business, you had a lot of things either on the go, or closing down. I think a lot of entrepreneurs can relate to the feeling of having so many irons in the fire. How do you decide what to stick with and what to end? 

Bryan: The bartending and DJing truly was just to pay the bills. It was something that I knew how to do. I used to be a bar and nightclub owner in New York before the restaurant in Miami. I learned how to bartend there. I learned how to DJ by coaching my DJs. I needed to have some money coming in so I could pay the bills so that I could push my projects forward. The other thing is, I lived in a three-bedroom apartment in New York. Once my roommates moved out, I started renting the spare bedrooms on Airbnb. I found out in the next few years that the “dirty little secret” behind the startup world was that every single person with who I was in the startup community within New York was renting at least one of their bedrooms on Airbnb.

That was covering my rent. If I was lucky, I was making money on top of that. I started managing other people’s spare bedrooms on Airbnb as well. Turned it into a little business. I had someone working with me, doing that. That became almost automated. I had a semi-automated income coming in from these Airbnb things, and then I was able to stop bartending and only DJ. Eventually, I was able to stop DJing altogether once the shirt company started making enough money to pay my bills as well. You have to have that main thing that you’re making money off of. For me, it was bartending, DJing, and then eventually it was some Airbnb stuff.

Then you’re pushing your dream forward with the money that you’re getting from the things that you’re using to make money. To be honest with you, it’s a juggle. It’s a grind. Most entrepreneurs, we didn’t go out and raise money. Perhaps we could have, but I didn’t want to give up equity in the company until it was doing a significant amount of business because I thought I’d be giving it away for less than it was worth. 

A model in a striped dress shirt by Teddy Stratford and shorts in a boating setting.
When Bryan was scaling the business, it was important to him to prioritize opportunities and know when to turn them down. Teddy Stratford 

Felix: Were there opportunities that you ever passed up? If so, how did you determine to let that particular opportunity pass? 

Bryan: A hundred percent. It’s really important. The things that you decide not to do are sometimes as important, if not more important, than things you decide to do. That restaurant that I opened in Miami was a very bad decision. In hindsight I shouldn’t have done it. It was underfunded. There were lots of different reasons why I shouldn’t have done it. So, yes, I do say no to things. Frankly, my bandwidth is not very big. If I’m taking up something that’s not useful, it prevents me from moving the better things forward.

“The things that you decide not to do are sometimes as important, if not more important, than things you decide to do.”

Felix: Entrepreneurs have big goals and dreams, and sometimes that means they take on more than they can handle. How did you make sure you weren’t spreading yourself too thin? 

Bryan: I don’t know if you’re familiar–you probably are–with the concept of feature creep, which is when you’re designing a product and you keep adding new things to it. With the shirt, like, oh, now what if we put a pocket over here or we put something over here and we put a place for you to keep your iPhone or whatever. All of a sudden, you have this thing that you keep adding things onto, and then it becomes something different from what it originally was supposed to be. It’s confusing. I had been through a number of projects where we let feature creep take over our project and then we had to dial it back. I learned to only take things that were going to make the most impact and put them into your life, your product, or your business. Now that you’ve asked, it was definitely something that took time to develop because yeah, I have ADD and shiny objects distract me especially if they have money attached to them. It’s definitely something that I honed over the years.

Felix: Throughout product iteration, when did you really start to think you were getting close to being on the right track?

Bryan: It’s interesting. Because of Kickstarter, we sold almost a hundred thousand dollars worth of shirts. We had 800 or so customers at the end of the Kickstarter. Over the next few years, we leaned on those customers for revenue, but it didn’t take off right away. Partially because I had other things going on and it was still even after the Kickstarter, a bit of a side project. Mainly because we couldn’t crack the marketing. Kickstarter is this incredible platform where there’s this massive audience of people. If you launch a product and it gains a little bit of traction, you get a lot of eyes on it. We couldn’t figure out how to do that outside of Kickstarter. Again, because I was doing other things I needed to have an agency help me with it–I couldn’t do it myself.

This is one of the things that I think could help new people in this field. In this emerging field of digital advertising, there are so many people who talk a good game. You start to realize they’re very good at marketing their services, but not your product. We went through a bunch of misses with different agencies that just couldn’t figure out how to market the product. They would get a bunch of money upfront and then they’d have a monthly retainer. The first month didn’t get any traction, but they’d ask you for another month and you continued to pay.

“In this emerging field of digital advertising, there are so many people who talk a good game. You start to realize they’re very good at marketing their services, but not your product.”

You were also paying for ads. The amount of money that you were sinking into working with this agency was piling up. I got to a point where I was running out of money and I had to stop. Then I’d have to earn money, fill the coffers again, and push that Boulder back up the hill and then look for another agency. What I realized was I needed to find an agency whose interests were aligned with my own, which was selling my shirts and finding customers for my shirts at a price or cost that made sense. I finally found an agency–actually there are quite a few of them out there now that work on this model–that was willing to work for a commission of all the sales that their ads had gotten us.

I work with two marketing agencies and these guys get paid on a sliding scale, according to what the ROAS is–the Return On Ad Spend. When the return on ad spend is high, they get a higher percentage of our sales. When it’s lower, they get a lower percentage of our sales. Once I found this agency to work on that contingency, that combined with the proper content, allowed us to really take off, but it took about three years to crack that knot.

Finding the resilience to work past three years of grunt work 

Felix: What gave you the conviction to stick out those first three years, before you really started seeing success? 

Bryan: One thing was, I knew our product was awesome. I knew that people who bought our product loved it. Keeping those two things in mind, I knew that my biggest challenge was to figure out how to get it into the hands of people who were going to think our product was awesome. That was the main thing. One of the reasons why it took so long is because I was DJing, bartending, running my Airbnb business, and making enough money to do the next marketing push. In addition to that, I was traveling. I loved to travel and I was living my life as well. I was not desperate financially. If I had been a little bit more desperate, maybe it would’ve happened quicker. But I just knew I had something. I just needed to figure out how to get it into people’s hands that were going to agree with me.

Felix: You mentioned a pretty negative experience with a marketing agency that you went though. What are some of the key learnings from that experience? 

Bryan: What I would recommend–and it’s hard at the beginning of launching a product because you don’t have a track record you can point to with the marketing agency–but if you have a marketing agency or other vendors, pay them on a commission basis. If they create an ad that ends up getting us a lot of sales, they get paid more for that ad. If the ad is a dud, then they get paid less for it. If you are looking for a marketing agency and the marketing agency is not willing to work on this commission type basis, it tells you something either A, about their confidence in being able to sell your product. Or B, it tells you something possibly about your product.

Anytime you give a company or a vendor an opportunity to make money, if they see the opportunity, they’re going to take it. If they’re not taking it, they’re either just interested in taking your money, jumping through a few hoops and then saying it didn’t work, or they don’t believe in your product. That doesn’t mean your product isn’t going to work or that your brand isn’t good. It means that you have to figure out how to communicate why it is going to work or why it is good to the next marketing agency. Eventually, you’re going to have to communicate that to the world anyway. Your first job is selling a marketing agency on a commission basis.

A model wearing an olive coloured dress shirt by Teddy Stratford next to a pool.
For Bryan, getting Teddy Stratford off the ground took three years—but the trust in his product concept urged him to keep on building. Teddy Stratford 

Felix: Was it is a difficult model to get others on board with?

Bryan: Yes, it is. Especially if we’re talking at the beginning. One of the reasons why the first marketing agency that agreed to work this way agreed to do it, is because I could point to the Kickstarter campaign and say, “Hey, look, $95,000 in sales. If you communicate the message well and target it well, you’re going to get some sales.” They looked at that and they said, yeah, you’re right. That at the outset, is very difficult to do if you don’t have something that you can point to. I almost always recommend that people who are starting out do some sort of Kickstarter because if you can’t get people who you don’t know to buy your product, you don’t have a business. Kickstarter is the easiest, lowest friction way to put your product out to the world without sinking a ton of money into it. It’s a good way to test things out, even seven years later, Kickstarter is good for that.

How to use Kickstarter campaigns beyond fundraising 

Felix: Did they come up with new ways of positioning the product to sell? 

Bryan: It’s funny that you should say that because what I discovered after going through three separate agencies before we found the right one, was that the first agencies were showing still photos of the product. I thought, “Hey, wait a second, we have this Kickstarter video that was compelling enough to get people to buy $95,000 worth of shirts. Why don’t we run this video?” We retrofit it so it wasn’t a Kickstarter video where at the end, I say, “Will you support our campaign?” We retrofit it and turn it into an ad. Our first significant customers that came from online advertising, we’re seeing the same pitch as our Kickstarter customers.

Felix: What about the video worked so well? 

Bryan: I think so. I’m a big believer in storytelling whenever you can. I knew that the origin story of the brand is interesting. It’s unexpected. It takes people to a foreign land and there’re police involved. I made a video that told that story and then talked about the product and stuff. When I created that video, I thought about it as if I were creating a YouTube video where people can just press skip ad after five seconds. So you want to capture their attention right away. That’s what I did. In the first five seconds, I set it up, like, “Okay, hey, I’m going to tell you this story”, and then maybe you get people to watch the next five seconds. If they’re interesting enough, then they’ll watch the next five seconds. If you can tell a story–an interesting story–then that’s what you should do.

Felix: What’s your strategy for releasing new products? 

Bryan: That’s a good question. We do have an evergreen collection. In the background of our brand is running these shirts that you’ll always be able to get. If you like our white Oxford, you’re always going to be able to get our white Oxford. Everybody’s going to need light blue shirts, black shirts, so on and so forth. We cast new products and the factory we work with–by the way, they’re in Istanbul and it took a little while to find them as well–they are really incredible. They are not just making our shirts, but they’re helping me find new materials, identify color trends. They’re very smart fashion-wise as well. They are willing to do small batches. Actually, every one of our shirts, even the evergreen ones, are made in small batches.

We almost never make more than 200 shirts at a time, but they can do batches as small as say, 25 shirts. If we want to try this new plaid out, or if we want to try out a Western shirt or a short sleeve, whatever it is that we want to give it a shot, we can do small batches. What’s really cool about the small batches is that it gives our existing customers something to be excited about. A reason to open our emails. Then it allows us to see how quickly it sold. What’s the feedback from the people who bought it? We might run another small batch on the same shirt, if it was moderately successful the first time around. If it’s a runaway success, then we may end up adding it into the evergreen collection. The small batch program allows us to test new things, but it also allows us to get our customers excited about something that’s limited edition and new.

A model in an all black outfit with a videographer filming.
The Teddy Stratford team took the aspects of their Kickstarter campaign and recreated them into digital ads. Teddy Stratford 

Felix: What’s the process for launching these test batches? 

Bryan: Our customer acquisition comes through Facebook and Instagram marketing, and we’re going to start doing some YouTube stuff soon. All of our other sales, like when we launch new things, this is all through email. Over the years, we’ve amassed a pretty big list of customers and people who’ve signed up to be on the email list. We segment those lists into VIPs–those are people who’ve purchased many times–regular customers, and people who haven’t bought yet. That’s how we roll it out. We roll out the small batches through email and we have a pretty good open rate.

Felix: Is it typically just less economical to do the smaller test batches? Or have you figured out a way not to take that manufacturing hit? 

Bryan: No, no. It’s hard to find factories that will do stuff like that for you. We are lucky to be working with the factory we’re working with. It is more expensive. So they charge more to manufacture it. Also, when you buy fabric in a lower quantity, it costs more per meter. They are more expensive, but we bake them into the system. It brings the average price of our shirt up, but we roll with the small-batch shirts. They’re slightly more expensive than the stuff that’s normally in stock. We pass part of that expense onto the consumer because they’re exclusive and they’re a small batch, people don’t seem to mind paying a little bit more for it.

Felix: What apps do you rely on to run the business? 

Bryan: Yeah, we use Klaviyo and we had someone go in and program cadence flows for us. You have the cart abandonment and the welcome to the site, that goes out automatically. Then every time we have a new release, that’s actually something that generally either I or Rachel, who’s a consultant who works for us–I’m the only full-time employee if you could even consider me an employee at the company. Everything that we do is outsourced. Our outsourcers are really our team. We know them very well. Rachel who’s like my right-hand person knows the brand and the company better than anyone besides myself. She has her own digital consulting agency and she works part-time for us.

Our customer service people, the factory, and our digital agencies, and work with a Conversion Rate Optimization firm as well. Everything’s outsourced, but we have close relationships with everybody. We use return to magic, which is awesome. Shopify acquired return magic. We are using Shopify fulfillment networks now, so all of our stuff is fulfilled by Shopify. We got accepted into the beta program. It’s great because Shopify and our fulfillment center, everybody’s interests are aligned because it’s owned by Shopify. Then return magic makes it easy, because it hooks up to the Shopify fulfillment network really well. We also use Inventory Planner.

This one is really good. Part of the thing about online business especially when you don’t have a ton of money to throw at inventory, is you find yourself running out of things and you have to make it, and it’s hard to forecast it because if one of your ads is working really well, you might deplete a certain product quicker than you thought you were going to. The owner of the factory that we work with is also a systems guy. He has taken this app Inventory Planner and done some programming around it that essentially every month creates an automated order for everything that we need to replenish. I can’t say enough about Inventory Planner if you learn how to run it.

The other one that we use is called Judge.Me, which is a reviews app. We had previously been working with another company that was great, but they had all these features on it that we weren’t using. As a result, they were super expensive. We were spending like 13 or 14 grand a year working with this other app. Then we found Judge.me, which was actually recommended by our developer. It’s basically free. It does just as much as the other app did–we weren’t using those ancillary things. I recommend Judge.Me wholeheartedly for reviews.

Tailormade conversion rate optimization tactics that scaled the business 

Felix: Can you tell us more about the conversion rate optimization and how you’ve used it to grow the business?

Bryan: The single biggest change that we made this year was that we re-themed our website. That’s the biggest change that we made to the site. The thing that we did that made the biggest impact on revenue was we started working with this CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) company called Mobile-First. Mobile-First is a good name because about 80% of our customers are visiting and buying on mobile phones. What the CRO company does is they come in and look at the website. They identify different changes that can be made that might have an impact on revenue. Some of the changes are really small, but they also AB test the change. If it’s statistically significant, we make the change to the website. Obviously, the goal is to increase conversions and then also increase average order value.

A model wearing a dress shirt from Teddy Stratford against a sunny blue skyed backdrop.
Tweaking web pages and purchasing experiences allowed Teddy Stratford to see an increase in their conversion rates. Teddy Stratford 

A couple of the things that they did was on the homepage, they put images of the products right below the hero image. We had previously had a bunch of value props right below the hero image. That turned out to be significantly better than how we had it. We made that change. In a year we ran about 19 tests and 11 of them came back as statistically significant. We made those changes. When we first started working with them, our conversion rate was around 2%, which is not horrible, but it’s also not great.

Now today, after a year of working with them, we’re up to 3.15%. For the last two months, it’s 3.45%. It’s made a huge impact. Our average order value has gone up by about 20% as well. When I do the math of the impact of working with this company, it resulted in about $600,000 in sales. This was absolutely huge. I had really been skeptical about working with a company like this before, but I can tell you at least with this company, it really does make a huge impact.

Felix: What do you think is going to be your top focus over the next year?

Bryan: In 2022, we have a bunch of different things happening. One of them is launching our women’s line. Women actually have a much bigger, painful problem with the gaping between the buttons. You can see their bras, and a lot of women don’t wear button-down shirts just because of this. We’re going to be launching the women’s line in early 2022. We’ve also taken our fit ratio for men and applied it to t-shirts and we’re going to be launching our t-shirts as well. Because of the improvement in the way that our inventory is being managed, we’ll be able to scale a lot this year. I’m hoping to grow to 100, 200%.

This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.

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