Tim: Episode 175 of the world’s favorite, yep, the world’s favorite small business marketing show. Sit back and relax as the founder of Australia’s largest online furniture retailer and third-generation furniture designer shares exactly how he did it, plus I give a listener a bit of tough marketing love.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the Small Business Big Marketing show, where successful small business owners share their secrets to take your marketing to the next level. Now, here’s your host, Tim Reid.
Tim: Good day, motivated business owners everywhere. It is Timbo Reid here, and a very big well done to you for finding your way back inside the world that is lovingly referred to as the Small Business Big Marketing show. Let’s get stuck right into some marketing gold, because that’s how we roll around here.
You know, just these past few weeks, I’ve been trying to get in touch with the right person at one of those big social networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, blah, blah. My reason for contacting them was because I wanted to interview their leading small business marketing expert, someone who could take you and I inside, behind the curtains, and share how to make best use of that particular social media channel.
“Yeah, love to! When do you want to do it?” was the response I was looking for. Yep, right. Who was I kidding? So firstly, I’m warmly introduced, via an email from a very influential friend by the way, to their local head honcho. I’m also given his mobile number. I call him and leave a message telling him who I am and the fact that I’d love to have a fireside chat with him. He responded saying he wasn’t the best person to chat to, and advised he’d just been told that the best contact is, here we go, email@example.com. They’ll be able pass your request on to the most suitable contact, he says. No name, just a generic email address. We all know where those puppies go.
So, I did. I emailed that mysterious “press at” email address. Since then, bagel. Nothing. Tumbleweeds. A big fat silence. Now I get the fact that these guys are busy, inundated with interview requests maybe? I don’t know. I assume so. But they’re also inundated with money. Their coffers are big and I reckon they could afford to employ enough people to handle the demand that being popular creates. This is not an isolated case. I hears stories of a lot of these social networks making it difficult to be contacted. Why? What happens when the gravy train slows and they need us?
My point is this, though, team. I’m not going to bang on about how hard it is to contact the big guys. I’m here to remind us little guys and girls of the importance of being contactable and responsive. No matter what your size, make it easy. Make it easy for people to contact you. Have clear contact details on every page of your website, in your email signature, on your marketing collateral. Shout it from the nearest rooftop if you have to. Respond in a timely manner, even if it’s just a quick, “Hey, got your email. I’ll be back to you shortly.” Simple, really. By the way, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your thoughts in the Show Notes of episode 175. I would love to hear from you, and I’ll respond. Crazy, huh?
All righty, now, we have got an action-packed show for you today. I’ve got a fireside chat with a fan of Australia’s number one, that would be largest, online furniture retailer in Milan Direct. I will also give a New Zealand listener an answer to her marketing question she may not have been expecting. Plus, I share a recorded testimonial I received recently from a listener who’s been motivated to start his own podcast. Oh, I love that, when I move someone into a bit of podcasting action.
First, let me tell you about how our good friends at, you guessed it, Netregistry, can help you crank out some great marketing. You know, the online marketing world is full of acronyms; SEO, PPC, DNS, SEM. Seriously, as a small business owner, my advice is not to worry about them. But do worry about marketing your business online. It’s kind of a mandatory these days. You see, motivated small business owners are running pay-per-click campaigns on Google, are optimizing their site for the search engines, do have secure website hosting, have great website design.
Motivated small business owners are also not doing it all themselves. That’s where Netregistry step in, team. Netregistry exists to get your marketing online sorted, or maybe even get your online marketing sorted. It’s what they do. If you’re not marketing your business online, then really, guys, you are leaving money on the table. Check them out, netregistry.com.au and tell them Timbo sent you.
Also, lots of great feedback, thank you so much everyone for your support of Swiftly, who came on as a sponsor in just last week’s episode. More on them later, but now, let’s get stuck in to Dean Ramler. Let’s get him around the fire for a fireside chat. Dean is just 31 years old and has built a global online furniture retailing business that has sold … wait for it … more than 500,000 pieces of designer furniture to over 120,000 very happy customers. His business is Milan Direct. You may well have heard of it if you are living in Australia. If you haven’t heard of it and you are living in Australia, you’re probably living under a rock. Quite a popular little brand, this, with a simple idea.
Dean makes great design affordable and accessible to the masses. That’s what I love about it. He’s got some beautiful design going and he’s kind of made it accessible to us who do like a bit of design action in the lounge room, or outdoors, or wherever else in the home. It was launched in 2006 and he is cranking it out. He’s actually a third generation furniture manufacturer. He’s the first one to take the business online. He’s going to take us behind the scenes as to how he did it, how he convinced the family, more to the point, and how he’s built it to be the biggest online furniture retailer going around.
Song: Empty chairs and empty tables where my friends will meet no more.
Dean: My background is in furniture, my family’s been making furniture in Australia for over 60 years, so I was brought up from a very young age being taught by my granddad and my dad all aspects on how to make the best quality furniture and several different marketing channels and all about business. After my studies, I did my marketing business degrees, took a gap year off and started traveling all throughout Europe, but mainly in Italy and I kept on going back through the Milan Central train station because that’s the central hub in Italy, sorry, in Europe for all the trains.
It was when I was in Milan I spotted this incredible furniture. When I came back to Australia, caught up with a very good mate of mine from high school, Ruslan Kogan, who’d started Kogan Technologies probably 12 months prior. We got chatting over some pizza and $4 beers and I said to Ruslan … this is before Facebook and it’s hard to communicated before Facebook … but I said,
“What have you been up to the last 12 months?” and he filled me in about he’s making TVs in China selling them on the internet direct to the public.
I’m like that’s really interesting because I spotted a trend of designer furniture over in Italy and I’ve got experience in making furniture overseas and in Australia and I want to do a similar thing. We quickly … The idea just popped out just like that. I’m like, all right, why don’t we use a similar business model that Ruslan had already used but for furniture? Pretty quickly Milan Direct got up and running.
Tim: Just back peddling, your family, 60 years manufacturing furniture in Australia?
Dean: Yeah, that’s correct.
Tim: Retailers or wholesalers?
Dean: A little bit of everything. Their business model, they still operate in Australia today, their model has constantly evolved. My grandfather, when he came to Australia from Europe after the war in the 1950s set up a furniture manufacturing factory out in Cheltenham in Melbourne. There he started making furniture for [Myer’s 00:09:01] and selling it through their retail channel. At one point I think my grandfather was responsible for making the most outdoor furniture in the country.
Dean: Yeah, which I’ve still got today. It’s like the quality’s lasted all this time.
Tim: What was their retail brand, Dean?
Dean: It’s my family’s name, Ramler Furniture. Today, their business model’s evolved and they do big contract furniture and did the London Olympics, all the furniture for the Games, and then they’re out doing the Commonwealth Games in Scotland this year, and now they just do major projects and not so much retail.
Tim: The London Olympics, not an insignificant contract.
Dean: Yeah, it’s quite a big one. I did the Sydney Olympics, too, which is what got me started on that, contract-wise.
Tim: I’m going to digress here. We will come back to Milan, but keep it all in the family. Just to be clear, a small … well clearly, not small … a furniture manufacturer out of Cheltenham Victoria in Australia did all the furniture for the London and Sydney Olympics or athletes’ village … What did they actually do?
Dean: They definitely did all the athletes’ village. Also for the Melbourne Commonwealth games going back to 2006. At that point I was working for my dad, still, so I had the pleasure for nine months getting it was something crazy like 500,000 pieces of furniture into 23 venues across Victoria. At one point I spent three days inside the MCG fitting out 80-odd rooms in there, like chairs, tables, everything for the whole venue. It was a really great project. My family, like my brothers, sister, their partners, all now work with my dad on these projects and they’re having a good time.
Tim: So you grew up around furniture, which kind of sounds weird, because so did I. But I just sat on it. Did your passion, then, as you’re going around Europe and keep going back to Milan and seeing this furniture, is your passion about style and design? Is it about functionality? Is it about business?
Dean: A little bit of both. The business side comes from just being in an entrepreneurial family, we’ve all got a passion for that. As dorky and geeky as it sounds, we all do actually love furniture. Whenever we’d go on family holidays, we’d be walking around the casino, my dad or grandfather, they’d pick up a chair, turn it upside down and go, “Hey boys, look, that’s our name under that seat there.”
Tim: Gather round boys. It sounds like the Griswolds.
Dean: My friends give me a fair bit of shit for it because we’ll be traveling through Europe, meant to be backpacking, it’s 19, 20 year olds and maybe girls and having beers and stuff, and I’d just be spotting all this furniture. Like we’d go into a store, my friends would buy clothes and I’d go spot that one chair in the corner and be like, “That’s cool.”
Tim: That’s a classic. Furniture geek.
Dean: Proud furniture geek.
Tim: Proud furniture geek, yeah, yeah. That whole heading overseas, spotting an idea, bringing it back to Australia, it’s not the first time it’s been mentioned on this show. I had at least one guest, David, well Geoff Harris at Flight Centre, David Milne, Noodle Box. David, I remember, saw these things called a noodle box as he was coming back home from a backpacking holiday. He saw them at Singapore Hawker’s markets, and he goes, “We’ve got to eat out of …” and he’d seen them on Seinfeld. He’s, “Oh, we got to bring them back.”
What’s that whole overseas thing? Is Australia often behind and we have to head overseas to find the good stuff?
Dean: I think when you’re overseas you just get different inspiration and you’ll see things that … In Australia you’ve seen the same thing done the same way every day and then you go overseas and new experiences in your life. Well, yeah, it’s really interesting and it’s not really been done in Australia and you could bring that idea with your own twist to it back here. I just think it’s a benefit, generally, of opening your horizons and getting out there and meeting new people and having new experiences. That’s really good ideas come.
Tim: I think you’re right. It’s probably not about Australia being behind, it’s about wherever you are in the world running a business. Actually stopping and getting out of your comfort zone, getting out of your geographical area, getting out of where you normally are into a new space. You probably do see things that you wouldn’t normally see.
Dean: Yeah, that’s it. I’m sure many entrepreneurs come to Australia and go back to their home country and maybe set up a boomerang business, something pretty Aussie. Flyswatters.
Tim: A boomerang business. I wonder what the return policy would be on that?
Dean: Yeah. Full returns.
Tim: Now, Dean, my next question might answer itself because I kind of didn’t realize 60 years in the furniture business, all of a sudden young Dean now goes off and says I’m going to start selling online. My last guest was the owner of health.com.au and he’s a completely online business. He did have a lot of naysayers. “Oh, what are you doing going into a crowded marketplace and selling completely online? It’ll never work.” It’s working. Did you have any resistance within the family or was it like, yeah, that’s an obvious next progression?
Dean: Back in 2006, nobody was selling furniture purely online. There were some stores that maybe had a showroom and a website on the side. At the time, it was a crazy idea. A lot of our friends and family were saying it’s never going to work. People want to touch and feel a chair and sit in it and see how it feels. But my business partner and I knew that online was the future and funnily enough, actually, I got a little bit of resistance from immediate family, but then my grandfather, who was in his 80s at the time, he’s like, “Dean, I can see, this is definitely the future. I don’t understand online.” He was having computer lessons twice a week to try to understand it. We got full support from the family even though people thought we were a little bit crazy.
Tim: Your grandfather, the computer lessons, trying to understand it just because it was something to do or he actually, at the age of 80, wanted to explore this new thing called the internet because it might be good for business?
Dean: A little bit of both. I think entrepreneurs always want to learn and improve no matter at what age. My grandfather had seen that all his grandkids were on the internet all the time. We started selling furniture on the internet, so he was just interested in … He’s probably the only 80 year old that’s still having a computer lesson. He was probably more switched on to the computer than my parents were.
Tim: Fantastic. Yeah, well, we’re going to talk online marketing further down this interview and we can talk about who’s online, because I think that myth of it’s just for the young people is clearly well and truly busted. I’d love to know, get a profile of who’s buying, but before we do, let’s just talk some.
Milan Direct launched eight years ago. Pretty new selling furniture 100% online, no retail outlet. Quite an interesting concept. At what point, Dean, did you think, huh, this is getting big, this is going to work? Was it early, or did it take years?
Dean: It started off as like a hobby and a passion of mine, so we never actually set out to create Australia’s number one online furniture retailer. That was never really a goal. It was more about [inaudible 00:16:38] furniture. I wanted to bring it to the public because at the time there was a massive gap price-wise. Like the chairs we were selling were three or four times the price. For us it was just a pretty cool experience to test out the model. We found any big investment … We started off with a 20 foot container, which is the smallest size you can get. That container sold out pretty quick, so then the next order we doubled and we got a 40 foot container. That sold out pretty quick so we doubled that. We got four containers, eight containers, and then it basically just evolved organically from there.
After a year or two I’m like, okay, I can probably keep doing this now and don’t have to worry about … it may be a job security because it seems to be working. At the time, I was living at home in my parent’s house. There’s not that much reason … I was 23 when we started Milan Direct and we just went at it with like this is our passion of ours. We love it, let’s just give it a crack. We were lucky enough to have organic growth and never had to borrow a dollar to get the business up and running.
Tim: Doesn’t sound like there was a point in those past eight years where you’ve gone, “Ooh, it’s getting a bit wobbly here; may not work.”
Dean: Never it may not work. The truth is about business is that we have hardcore challenges every single day.
Tim: Like what?
Dean: On almost day one, our first container that arrived, I had flown over to China. I’d spent weeks and weeks with our factories teaching them everything I know about making furniture. I taught them how to improve the quality of the chairs that we were making. I spent all that focus on the quality of the chair because I want our customers to have the best quality chair. Then flew back to Australia. We presold 90% of that container. We had customer literally line up at our warehouse door.
Ruslan and I, at the time, my partner, we decided to save our money and we’d unload that first container ourselves. We thought we don’t want to increase our costs and spend 300 bucks for a warehouse and all that. That was our first mistake because it took us like a day-and-a-half to unload a container when if you pay a warehouse who specializes in that, they’ll get a forklift in and unload it within 30 minutes. That was the first mistake, to unload that container.
We found out that … I assumed that if I make a great quality product, our factory partners, they would put all our products in good, high-quality packaging. I was like really annoyed. I got all the chairs and all the chairs came in a bag. We’re selling individual chairs to individual customers and our factory had packed these great quality chairs on top of each other without any packaging. I get on the phone to the factory and I’m like, “How am I to send the product out to the customer?”
Basically, Chinese manufacturing is all about starting and finishing the job, and they use the retail model where people were driving to like the [inaudible 00:19:36] and pick up the product and take it home. Packaging’s not important.
Tim: That’s so interesting, like being aware of … There’s such a big lesson there. I remember reading an interview somewhere along the line with Sir Jonathan Ives from Apple. You’d thing well he’d just be responsible for making the iPod look good and work well and just the product design and look and feel and functionality, but he spends a lot of time getting the packaging right. I’m sure you’d be in tune with this, but when you do get an Apple product, the unboxing is quite an exciting moment.
Dean: Yes, an experience. Fantastic, yeah. For us, the experience is to ensure the product gets to the customer in perfect condition. Australia’s a really big country so you need like bulletproof packaging. From that day, we had to tell all our customers, “Look, we’re really sorry. Can you please come back tomorrow morning? We’ll have your product for you then. There’s been a bit of a delay.” Then we had to scramble overnight to find all the right size boxes in Melbourne and repackage everything ourselves and we got it to the customer the next morning.
From that point on, we’ve learned a lesson. Never assume anything in business and triple check every single data.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Again, sorry for all the Apple references, but Jobs was just like anal about every single detail, which I find amazing but I also completely understand because, like for you, Milan Direct is your dream, your passion, it’s your idea. To make sure that it is delivered on brand every step of the way, it’s critical. It’s like that for any business owner, isn’t it?
Dean: Yeah, 100%. You take pride in the product and the service you’re delivering. I know if I was a customer what I’d expect. I’d want my best quality product. I’d want the best customer service. If we fail to deliver that at any point, I get really frustrated and quickly look to fix issues like that to make sure that we’re always providing the service that I’d want to receive as a customer throughout Milan Direct customer base.
Tim: Specific to furniture, Dean, I’ve had the experience … I’d be interested to know how you would control this because it almost sounds out of your control but … we had some furniture delivered once. I wasn’t home, my wife was. She took delivery of it. The removal, the delivery guys came in. It was couches and beds, right? We were moving to a new house. We’d had a great experience buying these couches and beds. We got them delivered. The two guys who delivered it were unsavory characters, to say the least. My wife actually rang me and said, “I don’t feel actually that safe. Can you come home while they’re setting it up?” They were rough. They were deliver guys, you know? That absolutely reflected, from our point of view, back on the people we bought that stuff off. How do you control that?
Dean: That’s probably the biggest challenge we have in business today because, you’re right, from the customer’s point of view, our warehouse use … even though it’s a third party, that’s Milan Direct; the freight company, even though it’s a third party, that’s Milan Direct; the whole way through. In Australia it’s especially challenging because it’s such a big country and we don’t have the best freight providers in this country because compared to Milan Direct, we operate in the UK. In the UK you have DHL and UPS and all the big global companies. They’re not coming to Australia. They do a fantastic job in the UK. They’ll deliver our product anywhere in the UK within one day. It also helps that UK is much smaller, you know, more people in a smaller area.
All these big and great freight companies, they don’t come into Australia to give the investment here because it’s not worth it for the 20 million people in such a big country, it’s not worth the investment for them. As a result, we’re left with like … Yeah, it’s just challenging. We believe we partnered with the best freight providers, but there definitely could be better options out there. There’s just not at this stage.
Tim: I recommend that’ll change. Online getting massive, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was just like a dedicated business that started up that would just completely focus on the online, on delivering for the online retailer and understanding their unique set of problems.
Dean: Actually, Australia Post is one company doing it really well. They’ve started to realize in the last few years that online’s the future, especially for parcel and package delivery. We use Australia Post whenever we can, but they’ve got size restrictions, so anything for us from homewares up to an office chair we’ll send with them, and they do get the product to our customer in record time with great customer service and friendly delivery people. The only issue is they can’t take our big outdoor wicker sets and larger products. We keep telling Aussie Post men that are here all the time like, “Guys, you’re doing it great. We’ll give you all our business if you just fill out for any size box.” Hopefully, Australia Post see the benefits there and expanding to all sizes.
Dean: Yeah, they’re a good one.
Tim: Dean, I want to move on. By the way, listeners, I’m talking to Dean Ramler who is co-founder of Milan Direct, one of the biggest online furniture retailers going around. I want to talk about selling online and how you go about marketing Milan Direct, Dean. Just to stack some numbers around where you’ve got to in the last eight years. I know you’re a private company and reluctant to reveal too much, but from what I understand, and correct me if I’m wrong, the industry in which you operate in Australia, $300 million industry?
Dean: Yup, that’s right.
Tim: You, Milan Direct, are experiencing 100% growth year on year, which is tremendous. Can you wrap some numbers around website traffic, average sale price, number of employees, countries that you operate in? Just give us a sense of size.
Dean: Milan Direct, IBIS World came out with a report last year which … that’s an independent research company … IBIS World ranked Milan Direct as the number one online furniture retailer, showing that we’re selling more furniture online than IKEA, Harvey Norman and [Freedom 00:25:48] Furniture, so all the big players in the industry.
Tim: In Australia.
Dean: In Australia online. We’re looking to continue to maintain our number one position and we’re always expanding. We’ve gone from having a couple years ago maybe 100 products in the range. Today, we’ve got 3-4,000 on the Australian website alone. We’re aiming to have over 10,000 by products by June and 20,000 by the end of the year. We’re really scaling up now. Globally, we’ve sold furniture to over 40 countries. We have a warehouse in the UK. We’ve had warehouses in New Zealand before. We sell right throughout Europe. We’ve sold to Gibraltar, Spain, Greece, Israel. Actually, the orders to Greece never made it there, but we still sold there. They got lost in transit, so we don’t ship there anymore.
So, yeah, shipping all around the world. The beauty about online is that we’re doing all this out of our little office in Alma Park in Melbourne. All our UK operations and customer service, the call center’s run out of here. With online, people don’t where in the world you’re buying from. The people in Australia don’t know exactly where we are. As long as you’re providing fantastic customer service, you can run an online business from anywhere.
Tim: Let’s talk about that. One of the things that I think any business owner … bricks and mortar, online, offline … can learn from in terms of you online retailers, is how to remove fear from the purchase decision, right? Fear offline can be done because you can go into a shop or you can meet with someone and you can eyeball them and you can touch and feel and talk, right? How do you … maybe, is there a top three things that you do on your website to remove any fear that people have?
Dean: It’s definitely an important part of online. We call those having certain trust elements and factors built into the website to make people feel comfortable. A few ways we do that, actually one really new and exciting way which only started two months ago is Google rolled out a program called Google Trusted Stores for this exact reason. They want customers to feel safe. Milan Direct was selected as one of four companies in Australia to test and pilot the program.
Basically there’s a little badge on our homepage with the Milan Direct website which says we have over 90% on-time, fast delivery. Average delivery time is between one to two days, which is pretty good. Our customer service rating is over, I believe, around 97%. If those ratings drop to under 90% Google’s going to remove that from your website because they only want the absolute best online retailers to have that badge, so customers can be reassured.
Tim: What was that Google piece of software called?
Dean: It’s called Google Trusted Stores. It was only launched …
Tim: Stores. Still in Beta?
Dean: Yeah, it’s still in Beta and Milan Direct, yeah, it’s just one full company, so it has it on their website.
Dean: If you have a look, it’d be in the bottom right-hand corner of our homepage or any page on our site.
Tim: Right, okay.
Dean: Google understands the importance of trust. Other ways we do that is we would have … We spend a lot of money and time taking really fantastic photos of our products. We wanted to take any guesswork away from the customer and show this is exactly the product that you’ll be receiving. We’ll take up to eight photos of each product and every different angle. We started taking product videos of all our new and latest products. That basically takes the showroom into the customer’s home and eliminates any perceived risk because the customer, they see exactly what they’re getting.
We also think it’s important for trust to … We back all our products with a 14-day money-back guarantee, which says to the customer, “Take it home, and if for any reason you’re not happy with it you can send it back for a full refund.”
Tim: How do they send it back?
Dean: We’ll pick it up. They contact us. We’ll send them the label, they’ll put it on the box, then we’ll send our freight companies and pick it up.
Tim: Completely free of charge?
Dean: Less the delivery fee. Many of our products run free shipping, so they’re all free of charge, for sure. As a result, nobody ever takes it up because we often get calls when they receive the product or email us. They’re like guys, thank you so much. You’ve exceeded my expectations. It’s much better than I was picturing from an online retailer. I’m like, hang on a minute, I’m still a furniture retailer here.
Tim: Yeah, yeah, yeah, the [inaudible 00:30:27].
Dean: We think we’ve got a great quality product and that’s proven in the fact that 30 to 40 percent of our customers are repeat customers. We find that often a customer will make a small purchase of, say, one office chair, and then they’ll come back and buy 39 extra office chairs for the whole office fit-out, once they’ve seen the quality the quality of our first one.
Tim: Right. One thing I notice you do, and I don’t mind them, these light boxes, I call them, or these popups, which as soon as you go onto the Milan Direct site, I’ve just gone onto it, I’ve refreshed twice. I’ve had a Facebook popup saying “Like us on Facebook,” and I’ve had another one say join your email list to be first to hear about new deals. What percentage increase do you see of take-up or grabbing someone’s email address when you put that light box up?
Dean: It definitely adds significantly because people, they do want to stay in touch and see what our … At Milan Direct we do super aggressive discounted deals by our e-newsletters. That’s the thing. It’s one thing taking a person’s email address, but then if you send them a newsletter with a boring deal or a deal that’s like $10 off, they’re going to unsubscribe. It [may not kill to 00:31:37] never disrespect our customers and only send them emails with fantastic discounts. We’re often doing products at under cost for us just to wow the customers and be like, “Wow, how do you sell a chair for that price?” That’s how you get repeat business and get to number one I guess.
Tim: Let’s talk discounting, because it can end in tears. You can only be so cheap before it’s not worth selling anymore. Is discounting something that you use strategically as what we call like a loss-leader? Wow, that chair is cheap. I might go and see what else they’ve got and then once they’re in the store, they buy a product at decent margin?
Dean: Yeah, that’s pretty much a general rule of retail. At the end of the day, the customer benefits out of that. We’ve done many products at well below cost. Like the other day, we did a kitchen utensil set at $4. The product cost to us would have been closer to $20. For us to deliver that product costs at least 10.
Tim: So why did you do that?
Dean: Well, one, we’ve got thousands of them, so well I considered having thousands of product sit in your warehouse getting dust, we’d rather our customers enjoy that, even though it’s costing us around $15 to give that to the customer. The idea is to get people talking about you. People then posted this deal on forums online saying, “Check this price deal out.” As a result, we get thousands of people coming to our store to see our whole offering and we find that’s a good way to renew customers, I guess.
Tim: That all of a sudden becomes like an advertising expense.
Dean: Yeah, exactly. Instead of spending five grand for a newspaper advertisement, we’ll spend five grand to give a product away. The customers benefit most out of that more than an ad in the paper.
Tim: Yeah, got you. What do you think, Dean, about this trend … There does seem to be a trend of online retailers taking an offline presence, a High Street presence, but opening up stores where you can’t buy, you can only go and view?
Dean: Yeah. I find that pretty silly and frustrating, I guess. It’s something I’d never do at Milan Direct because, one, it would be completely against our business model of being a pure client online retailer. The whole reason we do that is not because we don’t want to talk to customers face-to-face or show our product. We back all our products, we back our customer service. We do that to ensure we can offer the absolute rock-bottom price for our customers. If we open up a popup store or a physical store on a High Street, our costs are going increase. Then you have to raise your prices.
What we find is that customers today, especially with the internet, especially with shopping comparison websites, people want the best deal, so we would never risk not having the best deal in Australia by opening the store, especially when then you can’t purchase. It’s kind of like, what’s the point? If you’re going to open a store, have a cash register there and make a transaction.
Tim: What do you see, then, as the next big development, because I imagine you’d kind of want to be on the leading edge of online retail?
Dean: I think it might actually move back a bit to what retail would have been like 10-20 years ago, and things are going to start becoming more customizable again and more personal. You see a lot of the good clothing companies like Nike or [inaudible 00:34:58] where you can go into the store, jump on their computer, or do this online, and make your own shoe, for example. [inaudible 00:35:06] a couple years ago. I designed my own shoe, I wrote my name on it, I picked all these random colors that you’d never see on a normal shoe, and I did that and I was happy to pay double the price because that shoe was tailored to my taste. I think that’s the future for online retail and all retail, giving customers back the power to choose exactly what they want instead of what defines value is mainly just mass offerings of similar product.
Tim: Cookie-cutter kind of stuff.
Tim: Yeah, that’s interesting. I imagine, too … Well, in fact, only this morning I read where we are now at the tipping point where more online purchases are done through mobile devices, tablets and smartphones, versus laptops and desktops. You seeing that?
Dean: Yeah, definitely. I’d say a majority of our traffic is through mobile. The issue is for a furniture retailer is not many people still are going to buy furniture off the mobile because it’s generally a high ticket value item and you’d probably want to open up on a PC and see the big image of the big chair. What we find is even at Milan Direct, people still searching off their mobile. You really have to have a good mobile site, a good mobile offering. Everything we do from a marketing point of view we test on the mobile. If we send a newsletter draft amongst the team, we’re all checking it on our mobile phones to see how it looks, because the formatting’s going to be a little bit different.
Tim: Yeah. How many people don’t do that? I’ve been doing that too. You just don’t realize just how different things can look on the mobile; illegible to the point of [crosstalk 00:36:45].
Dean: Yeah. Even subject lines. On a mobile you’re only going to see half a subject line, which means don’t crap on a subject line. Get [inaudible 00:36:52] message right up front or people are not going to read it.
Tim: I even find that with podcasts on iTunes, where most people find them, that subject line, and they’re listening to them on their iPads or iPods or iPhones, that subject line, you’ve got literally like three or four words. If you start with “Today’s guest is …” it’s like big deal. You got to cut to the chase. That’s interesting.
How far can you go, dispelling the myth thing, that it’s just young people buying online?
Dean: It’s definitely not just young people buying online. I’m in Google Analytics, my team’s in Google Analytics all day every day. It’s a great dashboard that Google provides. You can actually, there’s a new feature in Analytics now called Demographics. You can enable Demographics for anyone who visits your site. That shows you exactly how old people are, whether they’re male or female, what their interests are. What we’re finding as an online furniture retailer is our target market is getting a little bit older and older as, I guess, people my parent’s age coming online and learning to shop and browse. There’s really no [inaudible 00:38:13] restriction, where a few years ago maybe it was only people in their 20s that were shopping online.
Tim: Right. Okay. Well and truly myth busted right there.
You’re a big, big fan of Google tools, Dean. I know you’ve mentioned so far Google Analytics and Google … what was that other one called?
Dean: Trusted Stores.
Tim: Trusted Stores. Previously we had a chat, you talked about Google Trends. Not something I use a lot. How do you use Google Trends?
Dean: Google Trends is probably the best free tool available on the internet for an online retailer. Hundred percent free. If you just go to Google and search Google Trend the site will pop up. It’s basically a tool which shows you what people are searching for. It allows you to … It takes the guesswork out of business. Instead of thinking like, I kind of feel like this product might work. I’m going to give it a shot, it’ll show you are people searching for that product range. You can break it down by country, by year. You can look over the last five years or the last 60 days or 120 days.
I’ll give you some examples. When Milan Direct decided to launch in the UK back in 2009, we used Google Trends, it was called Google Insights at the time. We punched in our top five product categories into Google Trends and it showed that what people search for in Australia is very different to the UK, for many different reasons. So outdoor furniture, which is really popular for us here, we didn’t really launch with our full range in the UK because people are not searching for it. It broke it down in every different category level like that. As a result, when we launched in the UK, we’ve been like a success from day one because using this tool, it took out a lot of that guesswork and we could see will the products work.
Obviously, you can’t just use that tool. You have to back it with your own internal knowledge and systems and stuff. It should be the number one starting point for any product decision.
Tim: That’s tremendous. I imagine you can drill down, but you can literally go in there key in your category, your industry, a product type and Google’s going to say well, you’ve just keyed in couches, here’s specific search terms that people are keying in when they’re looking for couches.
Dean: Yeah, and it will show you which are like the rising terms in popularity.
Dean: Relative to other key words, correct. A few years ago in Australia, we knew that outdoor furniture was popular, and we started having a look at which outdoor furniture was popular. It said there was a growing trend for timber outdoor furniture. We saw this growing trend on a chart, and like it’s come out of nowhere a bit. More and more Australians were searching for outdoor timber furniture online. Based on that, we launched a range of outdoor timber furniture, which has been a huge hit from day one, so definitely a good citing point.
Tim: Can I give you a business idea, Dean?
Tim: We just moved into a new house and we’ve got a pool. I have been trying to find good quality, good looking pool furniture and I’m really struggling. I can only find those Lilos that you and I would have would have grown up with down at the beach. I’ve found the odd good looking beanbag type thing, but it fills up with water. I bought a couple of those. I think there’s an opportunity for Milan Direct to go into pool furniture.
Dean: To use in the pool.
Tim: In the pool.
Dean: Cool. I was going to say to use next to the pool, we’ve got a great range you can check out. That’s a good idea actually, in the water, yeah.
Tim: Thank you, 20%.
Okay, now, Dean, before we wrap up, mate, I just want to talk specifically marketing of Milan Direct in terms of what else you do, your view on traditional advising; TV, radio, outdoor.
Dean: We’ve done a lot of traditional advertising over the years. We’ve spent a lot of money on billboards, outdoor billboards, and magazine advertising. Never tried TV and probably never would. We’re pretty much [inaudible 00:42:27] and keeping 95% of our ads spent online. The reason we’re doing that is because online is measureable. We can what every single dollar, whether that for a [key word 00:42:39] whether it’s leading to a sale or if it’s causing the customer to exit from our site. Being 100% measurable we can constantly optimize and improve our online advertising on a minute by minute basis.
We’ve got a deep in-house marketing team who are constantly analyzing over 100,000 plus keywords on a given day and making constant improvement to those. As a result, we know how online advertising is at least breaking even, if not being profitable. Again, we’re using Google AdWords and we’re monitoring all that through Google Analytics. Because it’s measureable and we’ve got control over it, we’re happy to … Our budget’s unlimited basically. When Google comes to us and they’re like, “Milan Direct, how much are you going to spend this month?” We’re like, “Google, it’s unlimited.” As long as we’re breaking even, we don’t need you to tell us if we’re going well or not. We can track through the tools you provide, so we’re in complete control.
Whereas, magazines, billboards, it may be working. I like seeing my name up on a billboard. It’s pretty exciting. I’ve taken a few photos standing next to a billboard. Who know if it works or not? There’s a famous marketing quote from years back, “I know if 50% of my marketing’s been working, I just don’t know which 50%.” As a result, online you don’t have that problem. You know 100% of your marketing’s been working, so that’s pretty much [crosstalk 00:44:02].
Tim: When you talk online advertising, Dean, there’s AdWords, there’s Facebook ads, there’s banner ads, there’s SEO. Where’s the majority of that money being spent? Is it on Google AdWords, or is it across the board?
Dean: It’s mainly on Google AdWords. We do a bit on other platforms and some content banners and through online producers shopping comparison sites are important. Actually, an interesting one for your listeners, which not many people would ever be aware about, but there’s something to be careful with with online advertising. I’ve never had this problem with Google, so I’ll just say that. It was on other providers that are not Google but are competitors with Google, in that we would set up online advertising accounts with them, and we’ve spotted through Google Analytics that 80% of the clicks of our spend was being done by basically a bot overseas and not by an actual human.
We found this because on Google Analytics you see that 80% of your traffic’s coming from it was like Kentucky in America. Now how many people in Kentucky are going to shop on an Australian online retail store? Then, you can track through Analytics that the time on site was zero seconds. How do you spend no time on the site? And, out of all that, you didn’t have one sale. Obviously a bot can’t make a purchase.
Tim: Dean, that’s scary. I image that wouldn’t be Google, that would be one of the smaller players.
Dean: [inaudible 00:45:35] might think they’re deep players.
Tim: Right, okay. Talking SEO, one of the things … Google have made massive changes. I imagine SEO from Milan Direct in the early days was a gold mine, because you would just be keyword stacking, you’d have all your metadata sorted out, it’d be very, very controllable. The most recent update which is the hummingbird update to the algorithm demands now that really metadata ain’t as important as just creating amazing content. Google want you, the website owner, the online retailer, to solve problems to make website to make the internet more interesting.
Have you had to make a big change to your SEO, your search engine optimization, strategy?
Dean: No, we’ve always had the exact same strategy from day one and we’ve never had to change it and we’re always ranking at the very top of Google, it doesn’t matter what the changes are. The whole idea of SEO is to not try to fool Google. If you’re a good company with a good product range and will set up website with good categories, you will rank well. For example, office chairs, on our office chair page we have 80-odd office chairs. As a result when Google trolls your website, they go, okay, office chairs, the meta title says it’s office chairs. Oh, look, there’s 80 office chairs, bam, number one on Google. We’ve never tried to trick Google because you don’t have to.
The companies are that trying to, keyword spamming and all these SEO tricks, that’s because they’re a company that doesn’t actually have a good range. They don’t have a good offering. If you have to try to trick Google, then you’re doomed to fail no matter what anyway.
Tim: I like that reverse approach. Just don’t try and trick Google. Write for the human. Create content for the human.
Dean: Yeah. You can’t outsmart Google anyway, so just focus on running a good business and the rest will take care of itself.
Tim: You’re active in social media. Facebook I’m guessing would be your, if you had to use one channel, one social channel, would Facebook be it?
Dean: Yeah, Facebook for us is or preferred channel because Milan Direct, our products are very visual. They’re great looking finished pieces and Facebook is a visual medium. You can post really big and nice photos on there and then people can engage and discuss on different design topics. We find that a better platform for our business compared to like Twitter, which is short text [posts 00:48:06] whatever it is. Yeah, we invest a lot of time in our Facebook community.
Facebook is great to engage with your customer and fan base and get direct feedback. We’re always asking our customers would they like us to add this product and this color and what are their thoughts on this range compared to that range. It’s really great market research. We take all that feedback onboard and base a lot of our product decision-making on what our customers are wanting, because if you really listen to what your customers want, making profit’s the easy part. All you have to do is … We know how to source the furniture, how to manufacture the furniture. We know how to deliver it. By using the free tools on Google, plus listening to your customers, you can really deliver products that people are wanting and searching for.
Tim: I love your use of Facebook in helping, giving the tribe, as I would call them, the opportunity to contribute to the growth of Milan Direct. What do you think of these colors, this shape, this design? Should we go into pool furniture may be the next question you ask them. It gives them a sense as if they’re contributing to the brand?
Dean: Yeah, 100%. It’s a bit of like brand ownership. Then they feel [inaudible 00:49:23] and maybe a small part of loyalty to the brand. Maybe next time they’re looking to buy some furniture hopefully they choose us over another company. We do some fun things on Facebook. We ran a competition, it was like two years ago now, where we had a new range of office chairs coming out and we posted the photo on Facebook. We said, all right, here’s the competition. We want our customers to name this new range of chairs. Whoever comes up with the best name and winning name, one, we’ll use that name, which we have, and, two, we’ll send you a free chair. We got like over 100, 200 really smart and clever entries for that chair. To this day, that’s now the name of the Rover office chair series that we have.
Tim: Love it. Crowd sourcing right there. Do you have a small group of raving fans, Milan Direct?
Dean: You tend to find there’s definitely a small percentage that keep on posting and engaging. What we find is great because they’re design love … is their passionate about great design. We’re always posting design topics and, yeah, there’s a handful of people that contribute the most. When you run competitions, a lot of those people are winning competitions. It’s just great to have people that are passionate, share the same passion that we do for furniture and great design. That’s probably the most enjoyable part of business, to be able to share that.
Tim: Is there any way you nurture that small group of raving fans?
Dean: I guess you nurture them by, one, providing great and free content on social media. You obviously don’t charge people to read the blogs that we spend a lot of time and effort writing, which we post for our fans. Then, really to not waste their time by providing … when we post a deal on Facebook, it’s going to be a great deal. It’s going to be under cost price or 50% off. It’s a really saving that they could never find in a brick and mortar store or most likely at any other online retailer. Basically just to respect people’s time, then they’ll maintain their engagement with you.
Tim: Love it, Dean. Mate, I really appreciate you sharing some insights from what is categorically, confirmed Australia’s largest, most successful online furniture retailer. It’s invaluable. Thanks so much for coming on this Small Business Big Marketing show, Dean.
Dean: No problem. Thanks for your time, Tim. It’s good to chat.
Song: Empty chairs and empty tables where my friends will meet no more.
Tim: Wowee, wowee, wee. How much marketing gold was dripping from that little fireside chat with Dean? Now, before I get stuck into my top four learnings, let me quickly tell you about swiftly.com. I say quickly, because that is exactly what Swiftly is all about. Small design fixes fast, real fast actually. I’ve had a couple of listeners already surprised at just how quickly they had some design tweaks made to some of their marketing collateral this week. Swiftly is ideal for altering your business card details, your logo alteration, banner ad updates, even photo touchups. Who couldn’t do with a little photo touchup love? You simply upload the artwork that needs fixing, tell them what needs doing, and boom, within one hour that puppy is done. All for just 15 bucks. Check them out, swiftly.com. That’s S-W-I-F-T-L-Y dot com. You are going to love them.
Now, I’ve got to say there were quite a few learnings. Getting it down to my top four from my fireside chat with Dean is no mean feat. However, here’s what I reckon.
Number one. Get out of your comfort zone. We’ve all got to do it. Get out and look for new ideas in places that we just wouldn’t normally go to. Go to a course you wouldn’t normally go to, buy a magazine you wouldn’t normally read, ring someone you wouldn’t normally ask a question of. Get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. It changes something in our brain. I don’t know how it works. I was saying to my son the other night, he’s not a big fan of math, but he’s loving his art. I said, “Mate, you know, break your math up by going and doing some drawing.” That’s not getting out of your comfort zone, it’s leaving a discomfort zone and going to a comfort zone and drawing, but it just breaks it up. It gets us thinking differently.
Number two learning from my chat with Dean, get those trust elements built into your website. Figure out where the fear points are with your buyers when they come to your website and have, insert some trust elements. Have a look at milandirect.com and see the trust elements that are scattered throughout that website. It makes you feel at ease. It makes you feel like, yeah, I can give these people my money. I trust them. Trust, big word in marketing.
Number three. Google Trends. Wow! None of us are using that enough I’m guessing. Seeing what people are searching for online, real time, right now, and then breaking it down into all the various different categories and brands and different areas of your business. Go and check out Google Trends. I’d bookmark, I have bookmarked Google Trends since that chat with Dean.
Number four. The whole idea of SEO, search engine optimization, is not to fool Google. It’s a big concept to get your head around, but I think for many years people have been trying to fool Google, whether it be through keyword stacking or writing unnatural copy for their search engines and not for the human. That time has changed. Create great content. Put good stuff on your website. Google will pick it up if it’s well marked, well labeled, well described, and you are home and host from a search engine optimization point of view, and Dean focuses on that as opposed to any other aspect of search engine optimization. Not to say there isn’t other aspects, but they’re the ones that Dean focuses on.
So team, I hope you loved that fireside chat with Dean. There are so many more fireside chats coming up. If you did like that chat … If you didn’t like that chat, head over to the Show Notes for episode 175 of the Small Business Big Marketing show and tell me what you thought.
Okay, time for a listener question. This one is from Simone de Cunha or de Cunha. She’s from New Zealand. Her business is mumtothecore.co.nz. She says, “Hey, Tim. One of my roles is with an IT in markcoms.” That would be Marketing/Communications. “All well and good. When it comes to marketing my own business, however, I promote, well, using the conventional methods and have done Facebook push promos via large online databases of mums here in New Zealand; however, the mind boggles as to what first when it comes to driving my online marketing campaign. Should I do content, blogging, Google AdWords, etc. etc.? What do you suggest I do first? Thanks. Simone” with a big smile.
Simone, I am going to take a step back. I’m not necessarily going to give you the answer you are looking for because your first step is to get your website sorted out. That’s what Netregistry do, but I’m not here to promote Netregistry right this moment, but I do need you to get your website sorted because, it’s a little bit all over the place.
Here’s some tips. Number one. You have got a massive amount of online real-estate dedicated to an image, that’s kind of cutoff, but it’s a mum holding a baby. Your logo’s messy. It says “Mum to the Core.” I think you need to allocate some of that space that you’re currently using to telling us what this website, what this business is all about. Give me a line that just describes what Mum to the Core is all about. I honestly don’t know what it is looking at the site right now. That would be number one.
You’ve got a blank field with a “Go” button there. Don’t know what that’s for. Again, it’s top right-hand corner, prime real estate. Lose it. If it’s not serving a role, lose it. On your homepage, I’d love to see an introductory video of you. I’m guessing this is some kind of service that you offer mums. I’d love to see you introduce yourself, maybe, and tell people what they can expect in this site. Alternatively, a nice little explainer video, if the Mum to the Core offer is a bit complicated, then a nice little 30-60 second explainer video, an animated video could do the trick. I’d love to see that. If I scroll down, you’ve got Book, Welcome, and About Us, but still you’re not really telling me what the business is all about.
I think one of the things many of us do, we kind of forget to look at our businesses with the customer hat on and we look at it with our hat on. Look at this website, Simone, with customers’ hat on and have a look to see what you see through those lenses.
The About Us page is, again, it’s not a picture of you, there’s not a picture of your team. There’s lots of copy. Again, lots of space dedicated to that image and no introduction of the team. I’d love to see the people behind the business. People buy from people. You’ve got a Testimonials button on the Nav bar. I don’t know. Nah. Lose it. Lose it. Scatter the testimonials throughout the website would be my view. Glad to see you’ve got some FAQs. You could probably create little blog posts out of them.
Under the Resources page, you’ve got Blog and Press. I don’t know. Lose Press. You haven’t got enough Press to really make that a valid section of your website. Your blog is not that up-to-date. If you’re going to blog, here’s the thing. Get clear on your editorial mission and you would have heard me talk about that many times before. Go back to past episodes if you want to kind of dig deep on that. Then you’ve got your Contact Us page which is kind of big. What about a street address? What about a phone number? What about a photo? Make it easy for people to contact you as I said at the start of the show in my little editorial rant.
Simone, before you worry about all that other online marketing stuff, I think it’s time to get your website sorted. I hope that helps. Thanks so much for your question, Simone. Anyone else, feel free to send me a question, email@example.com. I love to answer them.
That’s it, team, for another episode of the Small Business Big Marketing show. Remember, I am inside the Small Business Big Marketing forum every day answering your marketing questions on an ongoing basis. I reckon it’s the best 49 bucks you will ever spend on the marketing of your business. There’s a great crew of people in there, all with the one intent of growing their business through great marketing. We’re helping each other day by day to do that. Some great stories forming in there.
Head over to smallbusinessbigmarketing.com. Click on the Forum button, and you will be in there faster than you can say, “How come I didn’t get into this Small Business Big Marketing forum quicker?”
Now, what else have we got? Lots of big interviews coming up. If there’s someone you would love me to interview, by all means go over to smallbusinessbigmarketing.com and click on the Contact Us page. There is a little field there where you can send me your interview suggestions.
Hang around after the [inaudible 01:00:54] because I am going to share some list of testimonials and reviews, but until then, may your marketing be the best marketing. See you later.
Speaker 2: You’ve been listening to the Small Business Big Marketing show with Tim Reid. Want more marketing goodness? Then visit smallbusinessbigmarketing.com.
Rodney: Good day, ladies and gentlemen. My name’s Rodney Holder and I produce an educational music business podcast called Music Business Facts. My podcast has recently been featured on the new and noteworthy section on the Australian iTunes Store and I’d like to give a big shoutout to Tim Reid for helping me achieve this little but exciting milestone.
I first discovered Tim’s awesome podcast Small Business Big Marketing quite a few years ago, and it has consistently delivered quality and cutting-edge business and marketing information, delivered in an entertaining and often humorous manner. I then followed Tim over to his other podcast with James Schramko called Freedom Ocean, where I was consistently blown away by the incredible online business information freely and regularly given away.
Thanks again, Tim, for helping me achieve this small milestone with my own podcast. You’ve been an inspiration and a mentor, mate. I strongly advise anyone who is interested in both traditional and online marketing look into Tim Reid’s quality products and services. I promise you’ll learn a lot. This is Rodney Holder from Music Business Facts signing off.
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