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BJ Minson, founder of Grip6 inspecting his product made in USA

Grip6’s BJ Minson talks belt flaps, Chinese manufacturing, and marketing mess-ups

Grip6 Work Belt

Taking risks, accepting failure and doing things himself are all part of Grip6 founder BJ Minson’s recipe for success. The American belt manufacturer, and ShopCreatify client, sold 350,000 belts in 2019.

Grip6 has humble beginnings. For 10 years after school, Minson did odd jobs from construction to painting houses. He also tried to start a business making and selling specialized hospital beds, but was frustrated when he was faced with structural problems he couldn’t solve.  

“I was sawing and welding and doing what an engineer without a degree would do. I realized projects weren’t working out as well as I’d hoped,” says Minson. During this time, he started a family and soon realized he couldn’t afford a house or reach his other financial goals on odd jobs alone. So Minson went back to school. It was a long process and he had to take six semesters of math before he was at the level of the other mechanical engineering students.

While Minson wrapped up his studies, he worked as a junior engineer for a medical company. He continued with his own side-projects in the hope it would give him the experience he needed to apply for a product design job.

The beginnings of a belt

One of Minson’s side-projects was a wallet: small, flat and rectangular. It fitted six cards which popped up when the sides were squeezed. “The wallets were fairly complicated inside, mechanically, and I couldn’t just make them myself because I knew nothing about manufacturing.” After failing to find an affordable, local manufacturer, he gave up on the wallet.

BJ Minson demonstrating the strength of the Grip6 beltDemonstrating the strength of the G6 belt in a video on the Kickstarter campaign back in 2014

Soon after that he designed a belt – Grip6’s signature product – after being irritated by his own belts. He’d thought cutting his leather belt shorter to stop it from flapping around was a good solution, but his wife disagreed. “She said it was the ugliest belt she’d ever seen and that it looked ridiculous!” He then used a nylon army belt, but didn’t like how the thick buckle stuck out under his shirt.

“I then thought if I design a belt that’s really simple, it should be easy enough to manufacture myself.” The belt he designed uses a single piece of webbing, a single piece of metal for the buckle, doesn’t require any sewing and has no buckle holes. Unlike traditional belts, the material properties of the Grip6 belt creates friction that holds it in place without slipping.

Marketing and manufacturing mishaps

In 2014 Minson launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. He was stunned when he received 10,000 belt orders. He reached out to local manufacturers to make the belts but was met with slow responses, long timelines and quotes that were much higher than he’d priced the belts. Even worse, Minson was repeatedly encouraged to manufacture his belts in China. “Everybody told us that if you don’t make your belts in China, you’re dumb and probably not going to succeed.”

Minson was dead set against this. He’d been astounded by the bad quality of his children’s toys, most of which were made in China. “They’d use the toys once before they’d break. It made no sense from a moral perspective that people were producing garbage and shipping it around the world just to be thrown away almost immediately.

“I wanted to make the belts locally in the United States, so that the quality would be high and to reinvest in ourselves as a country and in manufacturing.”

Without a manufacturer, Minson and a friend set about making the 10,000 belts themselves, by hand. “I bought a couple of small hand tools and started production in my garage. For six months we worked our butts off. We’d finish at our full-time jobs and then work another eight to 10 hours at night. I had got myself stuck in a situation that I hadn’t thought through very well, but at least I had a product people wanted.”

Minson spent the following year figuring out how to market his belts. “We didn’t know anything about marketing and that scared me.” He hired the best marketing company he could find, paying them with money left over from his Kickstarter campaign and by selling belts at county fairs and trade shows.

But the marketing company let Minson down with a website that despite being attractive, was built on the wrong platform and marketing campaigns that lead nowhere. He then hired someone a friend recommended to do Facebook marketing for his company. It worked and Grip6 sold 70,000 belts in its third year.

Now in its sixth year, Grip6 employs 43 people and its sales are up 80% from 2019.

Grip6’s belt sales have increased significantly since it launched in 2014

We do it ourselves

After his negative experiences with manufacturers and marketers, Minson decided to do as much as he could inhouse.

“If we can do something ourselves, we should so that when a problem comes along, we’re not relying on somebody else to fix it. We like to be in control. This concept of relying on somebody else just means you’re running away from gaining the knowledge yourself.”

This philosophy has seen Grip6 invest significant amounts in machinery, people and learning processes. “Ultimately that’s meant we’ve been able to do things cheaper, more efficiently and at a better quality.”  

Grip6 Product PageGrip6's conversion optimized product page showcasing their unique products.

Despite this, Minson says it wouldn’t have made financial sense to hire a full-time web developer. After using numerous Shopify developers, they found ShopCreatify two years ago and have been a client ever since. “Ross [Allchorn] fills that gap and his team does well as an extension of Grip6. If you have to use outside people, use those who are as close philosophically and capability-wise as you are.”

Take risks, learn from failures

Minson’s philosophy doesn’t stop at doing things in-house. He isn’t afraid of taking risks or failing, so much so that the Grip6 website says: “Follow us as we struggle, misstep and learn.”

He’s trying to add two new products to the Grip6 range: the wallet he designed eight years ago, and socks. Both have already seen Grip6 make significant investments into failed manufacturing, new machinery and time spent learning how to use the machines. Six months after starting on the wallet and a year after starting on the socks, Grip6 is at last producing test products before being manufactured for sale. The socks endeavor alone cost the company around $250,000.

“If we’re not risking something, we get into a mental state where we’re too afraid to grow, because growth involves risks. We’re willing to take many risks as long as it’s not so big it puts the company out of business. It might cost us a lot of money but if we’re successful it really pays off. I’m perfectly fine with failure as long as it comes with a lesson to be learnt.”

Minson says that despite taking so many risks he’s actually financially conservative. Grip6 has only ever taken out a loan to buy a particularly expensive laser cutting machine. “Every other machine in our shop, millions of dollars’ worth, has been paid for in cash. We’ve been cash positive from the garage onwards. We don’t believe in getting into debt.”

Covid-19 and the future

Minson believes that these philosophies have helped Grip6 weather the Covid-19 crisis. When the virus hit the USA, sales dropped by 25%. But Minson’s best friend, who is now in charge of Grip6’s marketing, noticed that online advertising had become significantly cheaper after many people stopped advertising when the pandemic started. Grip6 decided to increase their ad spend and “all of a sudden we’re hitting months that are far above what we’re used to and very similar to our busiest time of year”.

And because Grip6 manufactures everything itself, it wasn’t affected when international trade came to a grinding halt. It’s business as usual at the Salt Lake City, Utah plant, with staff wearing masks and adhering to other safety and social distancing protocol.

Despite this, Minson is nervous about the future. He knows that Covid-19 is likely to slow the world economy down for the next 12 to 18 months and is aware that his good business run is unlikely to continue indefinitely.

“We’re being extra cautious financially and building up the bank account in the expectation that the sales will probably drop off in the near future. We’re saving our money, launching new products and looking for other growth opportunities.”

He has encouraging words for other online businesses:

“There’s this once in a lifetime thing happening, and it’s pretty bad. But if you’re smart and you look around, there are opportunities to grow and to find silver linings.”

BJ Minson, founder of Grip6 inspecting his product made in USA

Taking risks, accepting failure and doing things himself are all part of Grip6 founder BJ Minson’s recipe for success. The American belt manufacturer, and ShopCreatify client, sold 350,000 belts in 2019. BJ Minson talks belt flaps, Chinese manufacturing, and marketing mess-ups.

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Chase Clymer, host of Honest Ecommerce's interviewed ShopCreatify's Ross Allchorn in a recent podcast. In this episode they discuss how the pandemic has affected Ecommerce in South Africa and around the world, and what merchants should be focusing on during this time. 

While ShopCreatify has a distributed team that spans the world, there are a couple of teammates and customers with Ecommerce stores based in South Africa, giving Ross a unique perspective to offer.

Chase Clymer, Ross Allchorn

Chase Clymer, host of Honest Ecommerce's interviewed ShopCreatify's Ross Allchorn in a recent podcast. In this episode they discuss how the pandemic has affected Ecommerce in South Africa and around the world, and what merchants should be focusing on during this time. 

While ShopCreatify has a distributed team that spans the world, there are a couple of teammates and customers with Ecommerce stores based in South Africa, giving Ross a unique perspective to offer.

read time.

Read More

Ecommerce order being fulfilled
Photo by Bench

If ever there was a time to focus on boosting your online sales, it would be now.

Despite the extenuating circumstances of what is facing the world right now, eCommerce is booming and it’s time to get on top of your conversion optimisation. First things first, if you want to accurately monitor your sales and revenue and ultimately your sales conversion rate, you need to set up Google Analytics on your site and set your conversion rate goals. Now you’re ready to take a deeper look at your ecommerce store. 

We’ve set down a list to help you identify where your website might be losing sales - and a few things to consider if you want to be more likely to make a sale. We’re not focusing on ads or general marketing right now, but rather the ways you can tweak and improve your site to better convert your current traffic and see a marked growth in sales and revenue.

If you’d rather have a Shopify Expert optimise your store then take a look at our ConversionBoost product, for a limited time only we are offering 20% off for COVID-19 relief. Apply now to reserve your ConversionBoost slot.

Home Page

There are a number of things you can do to optimise your Home Page for supporting better sales conversions, including the following:

Don’t use it as a landing page

The Home Page is designed for every kind of visitor and so does not work well as a landing page for marketing of a particular product. This is why a lot of Home Pages have such high bounce rates. Rather use your product pages as landing pages and optimise them better, or custom dedicated landing pages for special offers. 

Improve your navigation

Most Shopify themes come with "sufficient" navigation options with the ability for dropdown and fly-out menus, but merely sufficient isn't going to earn you any extra points with your customers. Make use of a good mega nav type structure, which allows you to merchandise products from within your navigation and drastically improve findability and subsequently your customer's user experience. Also, make your navigation laser-focused by segmenting it into logical groupings such as keeping product related navigation together and your "other" information like customer service, returns, t's & c's and account related stuff in their own place.

Enhance your Search 

Search is an expected feature on every eCommerce website, and it can help your customers navigate through your catalogue of products as well as even help you convert better - provided they can easily find what they are looking for. Ensure that yours has error tolerance for misspellings, is enhanced for mobile search capabilities, offers autocomplete for faster results and better suggestions, and includes merchandising capabilities like pricing and even images. Use your Search to your advantage, it’s more than a navigation tool.

Add a Site-wide Promo Bar

Offer promotions or communicate value propositions like free shipping or a link to a clearance collection by implementing a site-wide promo bar. It enables you to provide value to the customer as well as drive traffic to your easier converting pages. 

Product Pages

This is where you need to spend the most resources on optimisation. The buyer makes their decision to purchase here; they have a lot of questions and concerns that you need to adequately address. Product pages have high abandonment rates and you won’t be able to increase your conversion rate unless you fix this. Our answer? Create solid product pages that convert! 

Better product descriptions

Avoid sticking to a template when it comes to providing information on your product pages, rather serve the information to the customer that will help them make an informed buying decision. Use well-written product descriptions that answer the questions that your customers might have, and lead with the good stuff. Don’t make them dig for the information they need. Include videos, demonstrations, how-to guidelines, size guidelines, dimensions, etc. to help put your product “in their hands”. 

Professional photos

Product photography is a way for customers to verify the quality and value of your product. It is important that what you sell and what you have on your website are identical, as your transparency and trust hinge on this as a brand. It always looks better to do your own photography, rather than using what is supplied by suppliers as it lends more legitimacy to the product. You will also have the added benefit of getting less returns. 

Stock Level indication

To promote urgency, it's useful to show the customer how many items are still in stock. This sense of urgency can inspire the customer to purchase sooner for fear of losing out. This can be done quite simply with an app like While Stocks Last or if you have a suitably skilled Shopify coder at hand, they should be able to implement a solution fairly quickly in liquid. Similarly, provide a back-in-stock notification rather than leaving “empty shelves”, no one likes finding the product they’ve been searching for only to find a dead end and a red “Out Of Stock” label.

Clear Call to Action

Make sure your Call to Action (Add to Cart button in most cases) is impossible to miss, but without being gaudy. To make them stand out, you can use any or all of the following techniques:

  1. Placement - Fairly simply, make sure your call-to-action is placed in a location where your customers will expect it to be.
  2. Isolation - If you can separate the call-to-action from the rest of the content on the page with physical whitespace, it'll draw attention to itself and stand out more on the page.
  3. Contrast - The more different the call-to-action looks in relation to the rest of the content, the more it will stand out. You can use colour, size and shape to create contrast between your call-to-action and the rest of the page.
  4. Proportion - Related to the contrast technique above, having your call-to-action proportionately different in size to the rest of the content on the page allows it to stand out and draw the user's eye.

 

Use customer reviews

User reviews heavily influence buyer decisions, in fact they’ve become so powerful that 95% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase. They are proven sales drivers, and customers now expect to see them on all Ecommerce stores. Don’t fear the negative reviews, they are opportunities for you to react in a way that gives all future customers a glimpse into how you handle customer care issues. We have a detailed article as to why customer reviews can be your secret weapon to boosting conversions.

Cart and Checkout

Abandoned carts are a major hurdle for merchants, however there are a lot of ways that you can take back this platform to your advantage. 

Smooth, fast and easy

Customers want fuss-free, and simple checkout. If there are too many steps, they will likely drop off - especially if they checkout on mobile. Limit the amount of steps by not enforcing sign in (by offering guest checkout), not having a CAPTCHA, or by offering tools like Shopify Pay. This enables customers to opt-in to save their personal and shipping information, so that they can checkout with just one tap or click.

Be upfront about extra fees

Extra fees like shipping costs can be major sticking points for online shoppers, and it can be quite a shock when the first time they see the cost is right before making the purchase. Be upfront about the costs and you will have less abandoned carts, or offer free shipping if you are able to. 

The Follow Up

It is a missed opportunity if your interaction with a new customer ends at their first purchase. Also, don’t give up on your abandoned carts - they are low hanging fruit and there are ways to recover them. 

Recover your Abandoned Carts

Make sure that your first step in your checkout process is getting their email address, that way if they abandon you can contact them and try to recover the sale. There are a number of ways that you can do this, which include offering a discount, offering to save their cart for checking out another time, or offer free shipping if it’s within your budget.

Up-sell, Cross-sell and Bundle

While technically not conversion optimisation, offering your customers superior alternatives, accessories and items that commonly go with the one they're buying is going to increase your average order value (AOV) which is much the same thing in the long run. You can use your promotional newsletter to promote these or optimise your transactional emails to do this automatically for you. We wrote a dedicated article about transactional emails if you’d like to know more. There are a large number of apps to choose from when looking to provide up-selling on your store but our usual go-to apps are the ones offered by Bold. We prefer Spently for transactional emails.

Ecommerce order being fulfilled
Photo by Bench

If ever there was a time to focus on boosting your online sales, it would be now. Despite the extenuating circumstances of what is facing the world right now, eCommerce is booming and it’s time to get on top of your conversion optimisation.

read time.

Read More