The Next Big Thing discusses topics that other e-commerce entrepreneurs will find useful, such as user acquisition, manufacturing, financing and tools the companies use to keep them moving forward.
In episode 9 of The Next Big Thing, we chat with Daniel Wesley, the owner of Blush and Bar. Blush and Bar makes small dollar jewelry that they sell 100% online. We discuss why he bought this brand over others, relationships with vendors and user acquisition costs.
Company: Blush and Bar
Product: Small dollar jewelry in the ‘mestige’ (mass market luxury) market
Founded: Company was acquired in 2019
Sales channels: 100% online
Location: Tampa, FL
Team: 1 FTE + virtual assistants + 1 subcontractor
Revenue / month: $150k
Gross margins: 65%
What is Blush and Bar?
Blush and Bar is a business I acquired back in 2019. It’s a small dollar jewelry business, with an average order value of about $90.
What got you interested in selling jewelry through eCommerce channels?
I come from the lead generation space and wanted to have a brand for the very first time. With lead generation we are the people who facilitate the transaction or master the handoff; we would have no lifetime value component and no full funnel visibility.
So I think the macroeconomic forces of something with the ubiquity of jewelry and full funnel visibility is what led me to e-commerce
Was there a specific reason you decided to purchase Blush and Bar rather than another online jewelry brand?
I was looking for a good opportunity with good momentum and obviously needed to consider the acquisition cost [if I could] run the business. I think it was a very unique name. The name Blush and Bar has a good interplay between feminine and masculine.
Did you use your own cash for the purchase and how do you think about financing going forward?
This is completely bootstrapped. I’ve had a couple of exits so I used those proceeds to acquire Blush and Bar. Going back to 2003, I’ve had a business that I bootstrapped to an exit and then another business that exited with the aid of a private equity firm.
I’ve seen both sides and I think in the future it is possible to do another joint venture with probably more of a venture firm than private equity, but I think it is a possibility down the road.
How do you think that capital would be used if you were to raise it? Inventory, R&D, testing marketing channels?
It’s just myself doing this. I’d love to build out a more formal type of setting and have a few folks that are dedicated to the cause.
I think the biggest ones would be human resources and multichannel syndication. We’d love to expand more aggressively into Amazon and especially getting accepted into Walmart. We’d love to really get aggressive on multichannel syndication.
My presumption with a product like jewelry is the quality of the components are important. How do you go about filtering your manufacturers and suppliers?
One of the biggest keys for me in any relationship I enter is really trying to set the right expectations from the get-go.
A new manufacturing partner has to have an understanding of what’s expected of them. It’s just going to be best for both parties longer term if the scope is very clear and concise. Every business organization is different and you definitely can’t have a one size fits all.
Do you have a process about how you evaluate new product lines with your manufacturer?
Just a month prior to the pandemic we were converting our supply chain model from drop shipping to owned inventory. So we went through the process of sending them physical samples and the manufacturer then created lookalikes, shipped those to us for inspection and then commissioning the actual production.
How did you filtrate who’d be a good vendor for you, especially for logistics since small products like jewelry can be easily misplaced?
You know, we found a website called Sourcify. It wasn’t very easy finding sources, a supplier or the right manufacturer. We were just kinda lost until we found Sourcify.
What user acquisition channels have you found to be most powerful?
This lies right in my core competency. For me, the most successful has been organic search. I think in my lifetime I’ve generated over $50 million in organic revenues, and I’ve always had the philosophy: ‘if you can pay for it, why don’t you try to rank for it?’ I think the duality with having an organic SEO approach is in order to really generate organic traffic you have to create value. So for me it’s a two for one if you have to put something together that is going to create a valuable user experience and at the same time I’m going to get an evergreen asset.
We accomplish through content, which is kind of the coined currency of the web and that concept builds trust. Obviously we know relationships are built on trust and trust is the primary driver of revenues. With organic traffic, I think the perception is that the cost sink is very expensive but one of the key takeaways is that it’s only paid once and then that becomes more annuity in nature. So I’m a huge fan of organic search.
What is your current UA cost?
The KPIs we focused on are repeat customer rates and really trying to understand those LTV to CAC ratios. How many people that we acquired for $90 day one, what do those folks look like at day 30, day 60 and day 90?
We’ve really had to focus on the deferred lifetime value aspects because those front end acquisition costs are wildly expensive. I guess around $80 or so has been the average CPA.
Have you found any UA channels to be a flop?
Influencer marketing. I believe it’s just saturation. Everyone today is an influencer. The lines between ad and authenticity are blurred.
Only 1% of millennials say that a compelling advertisement would make them trust the brand more. I’d argue 1% of non-millennials would probably say the same thing. We always find a way to make lemonade out of lemons. One thing we did get out of that was perpetuity rights to the content.
We’ve had great success repackaging and slicing and dicing that influencer content to new Facebook ads. So not all was lost, but certainly I just thought with our product and the platforms, such as Instagram, this would be a silver bullet. It’s been more of a challenge.
How have you convinced people that eCommerce is a great channel of buying it rather than going into a physical store?
We just launched a new virtual try-on tool. It certainly doesn’t replace the ability to try it on, but you can take any one of our rings, put them on a kind of a demo hand and at least get some kind of idea of how they would look or how they would stack.
The other thing is a risk reversal. We do stand behind our products and we offer a 60 day money back guarantee and lifetime warranty. Essentially any issue that someone would come across, it’s our goal to fix it.
My mind immediately went to Warby Parker’s initial process of having 5 pairs of glasses to try on at home. Would that work for jewelry as well?
It’s something we’re looking at. We’ve actually had many, many conversations with a company called BlackCart and gone as far as integrating them and trying to figure out the user flow and model. There’s definitely potential to increase average order value and allow consumers to get what they want by giving essentially zero up front risk.
eCommerce companies live and die by their margins. What has the biggest impact on your margins and how do you try and solve for that?
Exchange rates have been a challenge. 10% of orders the consumer essentially picks the wrong size. So as part of our risk reversal, we not only offer lifetime warranty and 60 day money back guarantee, but we also offer free returns for resizing. So those costs add up and no matter what we do we’ve just had a hard time controlling that.
I would say our defect rates are within normal e-commerce jewelry type of percentages. So we’ve been fortunate there, but one that just feels like we could solve is the resizing.
How has Covid-19 affected the business?
The clearest, most immediate impact of COVID was really just disruption to all the components of our supply chain. From sourcing, to demand planning, inventory to fulfillment. It will take us years to recover, but, I’m glad to say we are much better off today, but still nowhere near pre-pandemic.
Talk me through some of the tools that you guys use to keep the business running on a daily basis
Segments – It was created by a former data scientist from LinkedIn who I’ve gotten to know really well. But I tell you having Segments, it really gives you the kind of analytical powers without the price tag. So anything from prebuilt segmentation to using it as a decision engine for your marketing, it’s been very, very helpful.
So how do you use Segments?
Automated customer segments. I get an idea of who’s most likely to purchase and who’s most likely to churn. I can see customers moving through the different buyer stages and get some really cool cohort-type of reporting–from repeat rates to average order value per unique user.
The prebuilt segmentation is the key. I can take [the date] and then with the click of a button just syndicate to Facebook and create custom audiences as well.
So you’re essentially using it for kind of remarketing purposes either for customers who have already purchased or people who have not yet become a customer?
I would say it’s probably for someone who has become a customer to really understand where are those cliffs, right. We found that at 59 days most of our customers had churned. So we decided to try another medium, direct mail. That worked out really well to intercept that churn. Insights that were hidden came to the surface just based off of their dashboard.
So finishing up, but what advice would you give other eCommerce entrepreneurs?
I have holistic ones and very specific ones. I’d say a very specific one is conversion rate optimization. As a process, CRO will yield your highest ROI, because it is nothing but efficient. Always try those marginal gains. Those 1% to 2% daily or monthly wins. However those add up and make the difference.
Aside from that, if you don’t have a mess to clean up, you may not have anything at all. The two businesses I exited, it was a nightmare from an accounting perspective, commingling of personal and business. In hindsight I know how to go about that and avoid that pain. But I almost lost selling one of my businesses because it took six months to clean up my accounting, but that’s okay.
I think the last one would probably be, you should have a camera lens when you look at your business, not a magnifying glass, and be willing to zoom in and zoom out–really understand what’s going on, and don’t get too overly fixated on one thing.
If you are an eCommerce business wanting to access more capital to deal with changes in demand, user acquisition and logistics we are here to help. Come say 👋to the team here.