How Gary Nealon Scaled His Ecommerce Store to $40M/year By Building Social Media Assets | Ep.1
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How Gary Nealon Scaled His Ecommerce Store to $40M/year By Building Social Media Assets | Ep.1

– Welcome to the Minds
of E-Commerce podcast where you’ll learn one key strategy that made leading E-Commerce
companies grow exponentially. We cut the bullshit and keep the meat. In a 15 minute episode, founders and executives take us through a deep dive of a strategy so you get to learn and
grow your online sales. This is the very first
episode of that podcast, and I couldn’t be more excited. In today’s episode, you’ll
learn from Gary Nealon who founded RTA Cabinet
Store that he now sold, and he’ll walk us through
a social media strategy that allowed him to scale
RTA’s E-Commerce sales to over 40 million dollars a year. That’s quite a feat
considering cabinets are likely some of the hardest things
you could sell online. So, of course, through this episode, you’ll also get to learn how he was able to convert
and acquire customers for products so large, complex,
and expensive as cabinets. I’m your host, Raphael Paulin-Daigle, and I’m the founder of SplitBase, a conversion optimization agency for lifestyle, luxury, and
fashion E-Commerce brands. This is Minds of E-Commerce. All right Gary, welcome,
and thank you so much for coming here on the
Minds of E-Commerce podcast, and I’m super excited to
hear what you have to say– – Yeah, man. – About your growth of RTA Cabinet store that you’ve now sold. – Yes. – So congrats, by the way. – Thank you. – And now, as you know,
this podcast is really about diving deep into one
strategy that was really key in growing one of your
E-Commerce companies. And here we’re gonna focus
on RTA Cabinet Store, and we’re gonna focus
on an approach called The Wagon Wheel Approach, which is essentially using
non-branded social media assets around the company to grow fan base and an audience that would be interested in
the products you’re selling. Now, before we dive into that though, I’d love to know a little bit more. What are some of the juicy stats throughout the growth that
you’ve been able to achieve with RTA Cabinet Store? And also, you know, maybe that approach. – Yeah, so I mean, part of selling, we didn’t have a single year where we grew less than 25% which, once you get into
the eight figure range, that’s really hard to keep going. The other cool thing,
especially with this process that we did was we were able to drop our cost per acquisition
from about$120 per customer down to about 15.
– Wow. – So huge drop in cost per acquisition. That doesn’t factor in sort of the cost to build out these assets, but yeah, those were kind of the
two staggering ones. It allowed us to continue to grow where our competition didn’t
really know what we were doing, and then at the same time, drop our cost per
acquisition simply through leveraging a couple things that Facebook doesn’t always take into account. Yeah, kinda the context
behind how we got there was we were growing pretty fast, but once we hit a certain level, our competition was
knocking off everything we were doing from our website to our ads, like, we literally were
just having to reinvent the wheel every single week almost. So we kinda did some brainstorming, we’re like, how do we
avoid them finding out what we’re doing, and still
kind of insulate the company? And as you mentioned, we kinda called it the Wagon Wheel Approach, ’cause it was the closest
thing we could think of. When you think about it, it’s like the main business was the
center, the hub of it, and then everything
else was kind of spokes that came off of it. But they all funneled
back into the main asset. And sort of our process for doing that, so what we did was we
did a really deep dive on the avatar of our customer, ’cause we really wanted to
understand who they were. And when we looked at
it, we figured out like what their hobbies were. For us, we had a really
wide mix of customers, but we knew that the female of the house was kinda making, you
know, pick the cabinets, and then the husband kinda made the, kick the tires, and made
sure the quality was good. – Gary.
– Yeah. – Just a question on this, because I think that’s something super, super valuable for the audience that I want
them to really understand how they do this. So you’re saying you’re diving deep into the customer avatar, and you know, being a huge fan of qualitative research, and being one of the
strengths of my agency, I’d love to know how did you
dive into that customer avatar? What type of research methods
did you use to get that? – Yeah, so we did, I mean this was already a couple years in, so we
did have a track record, we had a database of customers that we can kind of pull from. But since we had that, when we really broke down the customers, just kinda give you a
quick high level review, we knew we had five different customers. Four of them were professionals, and one of them was kind of
the homeowner side of it. So we took all the professionals and we ran them through clear bit to attach business, to
append business information to those email accounts so we could see if there was any patterns
within what they were doing. And then on the homeowner side, we dumped that into tower data, and got a really deep
profile of income levels, where they’re loc- well, we already knew
where they were located, but income levels, number of children, like everything that we
would really need to know. Buying habits, shopping patterns, any of those kind of things. We dumped them all and just
appended all those emails and just looked for patterns in there. We also took that, we put
it into look alike audience, or a custom audience on Facebook, created a look alike audience so that we can get an idea of what pages they were frequenting and all those kind of things. And that led us to basically some of the hobbies that they had. We knew as an E-Commerce business, especially as we were
kind of brick and mortar, people didn’t wanna talk to us. They just either wanted, you know, if they wanted to buy a kitchen, they wanted to buy it. They didn’t wanna like
have this long relationship where you know, they’re reading articles and all this stuff on our Facebook page. So we couldn’t get any engagement. So we essentially said, what if we just made it so
it wasn’t even branded to us? We literally just created
non-branded pages. So we targeted things like cooking, baking, golf, barbecuing, cars, all those things that we knew people were talking about
that were in our group. And we were able to build these massive Facebook pages just through doing that. And we had a lot of engagement, ’cause there was no salesy stuff. It was literally just, you know, for the cooking site, it
might’ve been recipes, and you know, free product launches, those kind of things. So we got a really high
level of engagement. We were able to build up an audience of about 1.5 million
between all the different platform assets that we had. And then once we got them
kinda built up, we were like, okay, now let’s engage
them on other platforms. So we would pull them off
through free giveaways and different things to
get them on email lists. But the really powerful
aspect of this is that Facebook saw that as part of our audience ’cause it was all under our umbrella even though it didn’t
have our brand on it. So when we were running sales ads, or any kind of, you know, any big offers, we were getting it as basically, they saw them as one of our clients versus a cold traffic. So we were paying, you know, our cost per acquisition
normally was about $120. We were gettin’ it from anywhere from $15 to $18 by using these audiences. So when we figured that out, we were like, we wanna scale
these as much as we can. So we just started creating
more and more of these. Not all of them worked. We would test them out, give
it a couple hundred dollars just to see if we could
get some traction on it, and if we got some traction, we’d dump more money into it. But if not, we’d just drop
it, move on to the next one. So yeah, it was a really
interesting concept and you know, people were
able to engage with us and talk to us not realizing that it was an actual cabinet store
that they were talking to. And then once we get
them onto an email list, we’d softly introduce them to the aspect of new kitchen, and we’d
have free kitchen giveaway, and all these different things. So we had a really intricate system to pull these guys off of
these social media pages and get them into our ecosystem. – That is amazing. So in summary, you’re selling a product that’s very complicated
and something that people are likely not just gonna browse, you know, on Facebook just for
the sake of browsing, right? These are, I’m guessing most
of them are custom as well. You know, the dimensions are
custom, things like that. So pretty hard customer to pull in and get them to buy online. Those are custom, complicated products. You drastically reduced
your cost per acquisition for a pretty high average
order value, I’m guessing. Which is fascinating, but
that was really the root. Understanding that audience and creating sort of pages
and social media assets that was really focused on those interests and not on your brand, so it’s
really staying away from it, but kinda pulling people back in using the interest as a hook, I guess. – Exactly. – Get them there. So I’m interested in knowing, so you know, when you started this, it seems like it was
Facebook based, right? So you would create Facebook pages with recipes and things like that. Now, you know, Facebook’s
organic reach has gone down. It seems like pages aren’t as important as they used to be, right? Now you gotta put much more money towards your posts for them to be seen. So how does that approach translate into this world where we’re a little more an Instagram world than a Facebook world? And how do you see this
approach being adapted? – Yeah, so when we would do that, we would actually create a
social media page for each one. So for cooking one, we’d
have a Pinterest page, Instagram page, and Facebook. Facebook was the easiest for us to scale ’cause we, you know, at the time, was really easiest for us to target their likes, and hobbies, and everything else. Instagram’s obviously caught up with that. I still have Facebook because
now with Messenger bots, you can pull them into the Messenger bots and really have much
better engagement with them than you even do on email. So we’ve been shifting that way for any of the assets
that we’re building now is okay, Facebook’s
still a great platform. Let’s just make sure that we get them over into the Messenger
bot at the same time as liking the page, and following it, and there are little tips
and tricks you can do to kind of get that
initial boost of a page, like you know, small five
dollar, ten dollar boost for a post that you see are doing well. Making sure that if
somebody likes the post, you actually invite them to like the page. Just those little things
that can help it grow at least to 10, 20 thousand
followers pretty fast, and then start pulling them off onto these other platforms,
or onto Messenger bot, or onto email, and those kind of things. – Awesome, so I wanna
dive deeper into this, but now if we go to
step one which is really identifying and
understanding your audience. When you look at your database of thousands of customers, do you usually focus on the customers with the highest frequency, highest average order value? And now I’m guessing with kitchens, people don’t come in and buy
cabinets a few times a year. What segment do you pick to analyze? – So for us we knew half of our database, or half of our customer
base was professional, half of them were homeowners. So we knew that the professionals might be a little harder to target in terms of hobbies and
everything else like that, so we focused really on the homeowners that we knew we could have
the most engagement with, and that if we could get them before they were ready to buy, get
them even thinking about it, we could catch them before
all of our competitors were running their ads. ‘Cause really all their
ads were running towards the buying aspect, or the buying intent. – Way deeper. – Yeah, we wanted to go way before that and talk to them before
they were even thinking about buying, and actually
convince them they wanna buy. So that was kind of how we
honed in on the homeowners. In terms of segmentation, you’re right. Like if you have a type of product where you’ll have repeat
buyers or something like that, you really wanna look
at the lifetime value. And you might even have
three separate buckets, or four separate buckets based on the value of that customer. So that’s like any other
products that we look at, it would really be the lifetime value. But since, with kitchens, it
was really a one and done, it was, you know, how do we target them and look at their
hobbies that we know like maybe of a higher value
house or something like that, we look at those aspects as well. – Awesome, so that’s step one. Now step two is once you understand those interests and hobbies,
you create pages around it. So can you give us a few examples of types of pages that you’ve created? – Yeah, so the easiest
one, at least for us, to kind of do the transition
was anything around cooking, because you’re already in the
kitchen when you’re doing it, so people are very passionate about it. So those were the ones that
kind of scaled fastest, like barbecuing, cooking, baking. Ironically we had like a coffee page that grew to 150 or 60 thousand followers. Really nothing to do with kitchens, but we knew that they had
passion for tasting coffee and all these other things
that kind of led towards it. The harder ones were the
automobile ones and the golf ones. Like, how do you correlate that back? But it’s really, it’s a long 60, 90 day email campaign that just
kind of manipulates, not manipulates, but convinces them that they wanna start shopping for a kitchen. – Totally.
– So yeah. – That’s fascinating. So now you’ve got, let’s say, a golf page or a cooking page with 100,000 likes, or you know, followers if
it’s Instagram, whatever. Now, how do you lead from talking about barbecuing or golf to cabinet shopping? – Yeah, so what ended up happening was we would then go out. The golf one was probably the hardest. We would go out and we’d
actually find golf products that we could convince, you know, they were either free giveaways, or giveaway contests, something like that, to get them into an email system, or just gather their email. Then we would you use
sort of the ASK method, Ryan Levesque’s process to kind of segment them down into different buckets. And in those questions,
we’d get really creative of like how we can start
talking about that, and like introduce the idea of it. It might be, you know,
how old is your house? Or something like that. Just get information from them that we can then start dripping
into an email campaign. So that was really the process. It was build up an audience, either give something away
or have some sort of contest to get their email address, put them into sort of the ASK
Method segmentation system, put them into different buckets, and then in those different buckets, talk to them about different topics. The cooking ones were
the easiest transfer, but yeah, everything
else we figured out ways to sort of segment them
and put them into buckets. – Interesting. So how long would it take to go from, let’s say, someone signing up to actually going to the topic
of cabinets, for example? – It would really depend on the process. So if anything related
to cooking or baking, we would do that pretty fast. It would be, you know, we would
literally ask the questions of how old is their kitchen, is it functional for you
to be able to cook or bake, have you thought about
remodeling your kitchen. And then all those questions
would kind of dictate how quickly we started talking about it. So if we knew that they’d even
thought about it recently, we’d immediately put them into a system where like, hey, by the way, we’re doing a free
kitchen giveaway contest. If you wanna enter it, here you go. And then we’d segment them down further. – Amazing. – And a lot of times it
was sort of that abrupt where we would literally
just in the sequence just be like, hey, by the way, our partner company over is
giving away a free kitchen. If you’re interested, enter. And if they entered, then we knew that they were somewhere at least thinking about remodeling a kitchen
or fixing up their house. – Fantastic. That’s fascinating. Now, let’s say there’s a company that would wanna replicate that approach with you know, whatever
product they’re selling. What would be the main pieces of advice you wouldd give them if they
wanted to do that today? Like, how can they be successful doing it? – Obviously really understand
the avatar of your customer. You know, when I talk to clients now, most of them think they
know who they’re talking to, but they really don’t. It’s kind of shocking when they kind of dump all that information,
and they’re like, oh, that’s not who I
thought we were selling to. So really understand that and understand the
language that they’re using and figuring out what it is they do. It may be some of the same hobbies that I was just referencing as well. But you’d really wanna hone in on those, kind of like the core hobbies, the ones that you see that are viral. Like, there’s certain things that really resonate well like recipes. People download recipes,
they’ll share them all the time. Whereas some other things they may not. So focus on the ones that you know have a lot of shareability
and a lot of virality, and just start with one. Don’t dump a bunch of money into it. Start with like short increments and just see if you can get any traction. Like, if there’s not any
organic, natural people liking the page, then
you’re probably on a topic that they’re not gonna share. So focus on the ones that you
know that they’re gonna share, and just build the audience first. Don’t worry about how you’re
gonna get them off right away. Just start building that audience and start engaging them,
getting them used to a rhythm of communication, whether it’s three times a week, three times a day, whatever
you’re comfortable with, just get them in that routine. And then once you get that audience going, and you see that they’re
starting to have a conversation, then start to look at ways like, okay, how do we transition them off? Is it a free giveaway? Is it just free downloads? What is it? And just start testing different things ’cause each audience that we had was a little bit different. It wasn’t like a cookie cutter where we did the same
thing for every single one. – So always be testing. – Yes, always be testing. – Awesome, so one of my
final questions, Gary, because you’ve given so much gold, but you also have tons
of E-Commerce experience and I’d love to know, now, if
you were to start over again with a new E-Commerce company and you were at one million,
two five million mark, and you wanted to scale
the company further, what would you do differently? – Oh, what would I do differently? That’s a good question. I guess it would depend on the product, but I would diversify traffic flow as quickly as possible. I think we waited. It was something that we learned in probably year four or five, but you know, when I
look at guys on Amazon or even on just their own storefront, they get comfortable
with one traffic source because they’ve become good at it, and they don’t really test
out the waters on other stuff because they either don’t understand it or don’t have the experience in it, but I would say once you hit
that million dollar mark, you wanna diversify as much as possible because you know, as you
know, with like Amazon or any of these platforms, even Facebook ad services, the TOS can
change any moment now. And if they do, you can
literally lose all your traffic so for us, our business,
we never had more- when I sold it, we never
had one traffic source that was more than I
think 18% of our business. So even if one source
went down, it would hurt, but it wouldn’t completely
cripple the company. So that, I would say, diversify as quickly as possible once you get comfortable with a platform. Either hand it off to somebody below you that you can train to take it over, or outsource for the other
aspects, other platforms. – Fantastic. Well, Gary, thank you so much. So much value, you know, if
we look at what you said, well, first of all, it’s really about you wanna understand your audience. And that will help, I’m guessing with, even more than just
creating Facebook pages, you know, if I look at how we work with E-Commerce companies and try to understand their audience, that helps us understand, okay, what are the objections
on the product pages? That I’m sure on your
side custom cabinetry, lots of objections, questions, and doubts. And when you understand your audience, the questions they are asking, and doubt, that helps you improve the product pages and increase conversions. So really understand your audience of who’s buying from you. Then what you get is
you took their hobbies, and you created social media pages like on Pinterest, on
Instagram, on Facebook that were based on those interests. And your goal was to get
these people to sign up to a giveaway, or to related bonus offers, or things like that that’s
related to the hobby, and then from there you transitioned them into a cabinetry topic where eventually they would be segmented into people that were interested
in having a new kitchen or buying cabinets, and
there you could put them in a sequence and eventually they would become customers that
really scaled your company. – Exactly. – Did I miss anything? – Nope, that’s a good overview there. – Fantastic. All right, well thank you
so much for all this gold. Now if people wanna learn more about all you’re doing, and all your fantastic tips and strategies for marketing because you’re incredibly sharp
when it comes to growing E-Commerce companies into the millions. Where can they follow you? – Yeah, if they just go to my blog. It’s just I literally just do a
brain dump every week. I’ll just put a bunch of stuff up there based off little things I remember that we did through the business. And even things I’m helping
clients with right now. So you get a lot of
good resources on there, and it’s all free. So come on over.
– Perfect. Awesome, thanks Gary. – All right, thanks a lot. – All right, that’s it
for today’s episode. And in the next episode, you’ll learn from Catherine Lavery co-founder of Best Self Co, and you’ll learn how to
utilize user generated content to disarm objections, drive engagement, and build an eight
figure E-commerce brand. To make sure you don’t miss
any of the new episodes, subscribe to the podcast, and if you like what you’ve heard, make sure to leave your
review in the iTunes store. That would truly mean the world to me. Now, if you’re working
on an E-Commerce store that does over a million
dollars in online sales and increasing conversions
is currently a priority, make sure to go to That’s to get a free analysis of your website and find out what’s the
number one action item our conversion experts recommend that you do next to boost conversions. Now, if you have any guest requests, questions, or comments,
tweet me at rpaulindaigle. That’s R-P-A-U-L-I-N-D-A-I-G-L-E. And I’ll be happy to hear from you. Thanks again for listening.

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