Russell Saks is the founder of Campus Protein, the only one-stop shop for college students who want brand name supplements and vitamins for affordable prices.
In this episode you’ll learn how he built out a rep program that spread nationwide and helped him build a multi-million dollar business.
- How to build, manage and motivate a nationwide rep program.
- What kind of guidance to give your first salesperson.
- How to identify the areas of your business that will have the biggest impact on your growth.
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Felix: Today I am joined by Russell Saks from Campus Protein dot com. C-A-M-P-U-S-P-R-O-T-E-I-N dot com. Campus Protein is the only one stop shop for college students who want brand name supplements and vitamins for affordable prices and was started in 2010 and based out of New York, New York. Welcome Russell.
Russell: Thanks Felix. Appreciate you guys having me on today.
Felix: Yeah, I’m excited to have you on. Tell us a little bit more about your story. What are some of the most popular products that you sell?
Russell: Definitely, so started the company back in 2010 when I was a sophomore at Indiana University. At this point I had never lifted a weight a day in my life. I never went to the gym. Joined a fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, at Indiana University and they told me, and I realized pretty quickly, what they said was if you want to get with girls you better start hitting the gym.
These guys take me to the gym and it’s my first time there. I keep going back with them and once per month they’re stopping at our local vitamin store and spending 250, 300 dollars on supplements each. This was really shocking to me because these are the same guys that are complaining about not having enough money for beer on the weekends.
I was surprised that this was such a priority to them. I asked them afterward, I said, “I’m so surprised that you guys aren’t just buying this stuff online. I’m sure it’s cheaper. I’m sure that there are plenty of online places you could go.” And they said, “It is cheaper, however, we need it today.” What I figured out what college students really aren’t the best planners and they’re a little bit lazy.
I thought that if we could combine competitive online pricing with same-day delivery we would have a home run. That’s exactly what we did at Indiana University. We set up a storage unit. The first delivery of supplements ever was to my frat house and then we moved on to the storage unit, but we literally hand-delivered every single order. The orders would come through on the website and we would hand-deliver them to the customer. Same-day delivery.
Felix: That’s very cool. That’s very wise of you to recognize that there was opportunity too. Were you in school for business or entrepreneurship? What gave you this kind of business mindset to recognize that this was an opportunity to pursue.
Russell: Sure, so I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset. In high school I had a couple very small businesses, a couple of e-bay businesses, and my family’s very entrepreneurial. On my dad’s side they own luggage stores in the city, in Manhattan. On my mom’s side they own women’s shoe stores in Manhattan as well. I always really wanted to do something on my own and this was … I felt like my shot or my opportunity.
Felix: Hmm, makes sense. When you were getting started with this, what were some of the … I think listeners out there, I’m not sure how many of them are in college or are going to school or anything, but what some of the pros and cons of starting a business while in college or in school?
Russell: One of the hardest things was, obviously, balancing school and this new business. What I quickly found was that my life was pretty much consumed by this business. It was something that I really wanted to pursue and really wanted to make it as big as I possibly could. My first step in doing that was realizing that I couldn’t do this alone. I needed a sales guy. I reached out to my best friend, he went to Indiana University, he lived in the fraternity across the street, and pretty much knew everyone on campus. He was my go to sales guy.
I reached out to him. He said that he would have no problem selling supplements and within 2 weeks we had sold out of our entire batch of inventory from our first shipment. Thanks to my now business partner, Mike Yewdell.
Felix: You recognized that you needed a sales guy. How did you understand this fact? The reason I’m asking is because I think a lot of entrepreneurs out there, when they do get started for the first time, and are starting their own business as a solo founder, they feel like they have to be the sales person. No one else can take the reins necessarily because it’s such an intimate activity, I guess, that they feel like they should be the ones out there pitching and saleing and bringing in the revenue for the business. You recognized that this was something you needed and you were able to hand … Not necessarily hand it off, but you were able to bring someone in to help out with that part. How did you recognize this and did you ever have any hesitations about bringing somebody in to run the sales for you?
Russell: I realized that if this was something that we wanted to, at least, expand to the whole Indiana University campus; it wasn’t something I could do on my own. That’s 35,000 undergrad students. Very big campus and in my eyes the easiest target was fraternities. These guys work out a lot. They’re trying to get with girls and the whole reason why we started this business was to help college students look better naked.
I realized that, again, there’s no way I could do it myself. I think it’s important to figure out what your personal strengths are and really focus on that. I think one of the most important things is hire people who are smarter than you or better than you in certain areas that you’re not so great at.
Felix: When you hire your first sales person … Or when you did hire your first sales person, what kind of guidance do you … Should you give them to make sure that they are growing the business appropriately?
Russell: Sure. In the beginning I think it’s really tough to gauge that, especially with a new business. You don’t really have a lot to go off of. I think just closing as many sales as possible, building as many relationships as possible, making sure that those relationships are nurtured too are some of the most important things.
Felix: Was there a way for you track or manage all this or were you guys just hustling and trying to get everything out there?
Russell: This was just us hustling. We were doing everything we could to grow the market around Indiana University. We would hand out flyers, sticker dorm rooms. We would do tables at the gym. We would do everything that we could in order to get the word out there. At one point we had both of our fraternities go to the gym just wearing Campus Protein tank tops, so at the very least if you didn’t know what Campus Protein was, you probably at least googled it because you saw so many tank tops at the gym.
Felix: When you got started with this … Earlier on in the podcast you were mentioning that you had just gotten started lifting weights and just got started to understand the supplements and the supplement business. Did you feel like you knew the market well enough by the time you guys started?
Russell: Truthfully, I don’t think I knew the market as well as I probably should have. I was learning a lot as I went along. Truthfully, in the beginning we weren’t making any money on any products and in fact we were losing money on selling some products just so that we could really build up this reputation that we do have affordable pricing and we do also provide this awesome convenience of same-day delivery.
Unfortunately what we figured out was that the same-day delivery wasn’t scalable. Just to rewind a bit, that summer I went home, told my best friend from high school Tarun Singh about the business. He went to Boston University. He saw a lot of the same problems at Boston that I saw at Indiana. He said that, “he thought he would be able to expand the model.” He took it back to Boston University and it was a big success there.
Since Boston has so many schools, it’s so densely populated with different colleges, he was able to quickly expand Campus Protein to a bunch of colleges within the Boston area.
Felix: Very cool. If you didn’t know the market well enough, what did you … And I think it’s perfectly fine too, because I think … A lot of entrepreneurs do wait too long to get started, wait too long to get moving, because they feel like they need to understand everything before taking the very first steps. If you were to give advice to somebody that is just thinking about getting started, what do you think you need to know about your mar- … Like how much do you need to know before you can comfortably … Not necessarily comfortably, but you can at least know enough to not fall flat on your face.
Russell: Definitely. I think some of our biggest strengths were knowing which products are popular. We would go around, engage our pledge brothers and our friends, seeing which products were in the highest demands. That was really crucial for us because we didn’t have a lot of money at the time. We were mostly investing in inventory and if we invested in the wrong inventory then we wouldn’t be able to sell it and we’d be out of business. I think one of the most important things is knowing what’s hot, knowing what the hottest trends are, and that was a big strength for us early on.
Felix: I think that’s important because a lot of time we all think that if you start a business you have to basically reinvent the wheel and do something completely different, but there’s definitely a lot of very crucial information to be gleaned just from understanding what people’s buying habits are currently. Because once you learn that you can kind of figure out how to insert yourself or at least figure out how to replicate that kind of demand for your own products or at least get the kind of supply that people are already actively looking for.
When you hired a sales person and they were out there hustling and getting the sales for you, were you also running with sales or what was your responsibility early on, when you did have a sales person?
Russell: Absolutely. Yeah. Sales were key. Sales were the most important thing, so anyone that was involved in Campus Protein early on had one main goal and that was sales. If you weren’t great at sales, at the very least, you had to build awareness. Yes, we were selling wherever we could. We’d sell at the gym. We’d take orders over email and put them back into the website when we got home. We would do everything we could in order to get sales. I think sales is key early on and sales is one of the most important things for us and probably most businesses early on.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). When you say we, is it just … Was it just you and your sales person? Or were like your fraternity involved? How many people were involved in this operation?
Russell: It was me and my best friend from college, Mike, who ended up becoming my business partner at this time. Later on after that summer, my friend from high school … My best friend from high school Turan he joined in. It was really the 3 of us.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Let’s rewind a bit. When you guys have decided you have this market you’re trying to serve, you have these products that you know people like, and you are generating these sales offline, how did you transition this into an online business? What were the next steps towards scouting this up and actually turning into an e-commerce business?
Russell: Definitely. We always considered ourselves a virtual retail store, right? Because you can buy the products online but we were delivering them to you the same day. Like I was saying, unfortunately it wasn’t as scalable as we thought.
To give you some brief history on how we really grew, we were trying to make this our full-time jobs post graduation. When we started off none of us were really into lifting. It wasn’t that important to us, but as we developed this business we realized that health and nutrition are really important and we became really passionate about it. This may have started off as let’s help college students look better naked, but we realized that we actually, potentially were in a fortunate spot to have the ability to touch a lot of people and to help change a lot of people’s lives.
We wanted to do everything in our power to make this our full-time jobs post graduation. What we started doing was looking different ways to raise money. We were looking at different business competitions, we were looking at venture funding, angel funding, and as fate would have it we stumbled upon a business competition held by Indiana University, just by faith. It was the world’s largest business competition held by a university. It was right in Indiana. It was the fist year they were running it. You had to be senior to enter. We were like, oh man, this is meant to be.
We entered this competition and basically, imagine Shark Tank, but for college students. Basically a bunch of successful Indiana Univeristy alumni came together to start this fund. Matt Ferguson, the CEO of CareerBuilder, Scott Dorsey of ExactTarget, and the year after Mark Cuban joined into the competition and they put together this fund so that entrepreneurs could come out of IU year after year. They continued to promote entrepreneurship post graduation. We were fortunate enough to win a seed investment and win the competition.
Felix: That’s amazing. What did you feel like you needed the capital for? Because I think this is an important point too to discuss for other entrepreneurs, because I think there is always this nagging thought that I need more funding for my business but sometimes it’s not. It might not be the right direction to go in. How did you guys know that you needed capital for the business? What did you need it for at the time that you started looking for it?
Russell: Definitely, so there were a few things that we needed. The first thing is we needed to increase our gross margins. Our margins were super thin at the time, again we were buying products from our distributor and the margins weren’t great. We really wanted to go direct. In order to go direct, you really had to place some big purchase orders. That was one area for us.
A second area was creating a private line, which we now have. We have a pre-workout called Fuel and it’s really designed for college students. Everything down to the marketing, to the taste. One of our most popular selling flavors is called Jungle Juice. Our latest flavor is Orange Soda. That was a really big part for us. It was really important because that was really going to increase our gross margins.
The last piece of it was our rep program. At that point we were at Indiana University, we were at Boston University and we were looking to expand the model to as many colleges as we possibly could. In order to do that we wanted to invest in a sales rep program. As of today we are represented at a little over 275 college campuses across the country and we have a little over 1200 campus reps.
Felix: That’s amazing. I definitely do want to talk about your rep program, but before we get there, this competition you won. Can you say how much you won from this business competition?
Russell: Definitely, yeah. We won a seed investment of 100,000 dollars. That was in 2012, so that was the year we graduated. We’ve grown organically, fortunately, since then.
Felix: That’s amazing. When you did get this. When you won this competition, you got the seed investment. You knew it was sitting in your bank account, your business bank account. What were the first things you started to do with that funding?
Russell: First thing we did was reach out to a couple key partners. A couple key vendors that we wanted to really build our site up with. That we thought their messaging, their marketing, and their overall messaging really appealed to the college demographic. They were up and coming brands. We were fortunate enough to really get in early with a lot of these brands and built some really incredible relationships with them that they come to us to get their products into college students hands. Ages 18 to 24.
Felix: With the funding … I guess, with the competition, what do you think you guys did right to help you win the competition?
Russell: I think some of the things that we did correctly were to show a real … I don’t know want to say proven way, but a way that seems very feasible to scale this business and for us that was by expanding to more schools and hiring more sales reps. We were able to figure out that on average each sales rep would bring in X amount of dollars. If we hired X amount of sales reps at each school and we had X amount of schools, we could pretty confidentially project our revenue. We could say there’s pretty much a direct correlation between our revenue and the amount of sales reps and colleges that we’re represented at.
Felix: I love that you did or you were able to create a system or at least some kind of process for scaling this up and launching a new market. Speaking of that, I think a lot of store owners are looking to new markets to grow their business, to grow their top line revenue. When you are planning, or when you guys were planning to launch in new markets, is there … Is it possible to build a scalable model? Is it very easy to replicate the launch plan for one college onto the next, even if it’s in a completely different part of the country?
Russell: Sure, so kind of what you’re saying. We thought it would be easy. Turns out it wasn’t like everything else. Every schools a little bit different. We found that the demands in one area are very different in another area. For example, at Indiana Univeristy they were more into hard core supplements and more into powdered supplements that you mix yourself. Where at Boston University they were really into ready to drink stuff. Stuff that’s premixed that you buy out of the gym fridge basically.
Felix: That’s interesting. How did you learn that this was the case?
Russell: It wasn’t too hard for us to figure it out. We would basically get tons of messages whenever a certain product was out of stock from one region. They’d say why is this product out of stock or when are you getting it back in. Slowly but surely we started to figure out which areas demanded which products. Today we built out the rep system so that we actually have 4 territory managers across the country.
Felix: I guess when you talk about this business it sounds like it’s obviously very offline marketing heavy, especially with the rep program and especially how you guys got started initially. When you do start off a business that way, offline that is or the biggest focus is offline and you’re generating the sales offline, what were some of the more difficult challenges to turning it into more of an online business? In actually driving sales or driving traffic to an online store rather than just to their local rep?
Russell: Sure, so we always made it a focus and we always wanted to make it a focus that in order to make your purchase you had to come online. You had to come to our site. You had a … Unless the rep was putting the order in for you or it was early on and we were putting in the orders, we really stress that you had to come to the site in order to make the purchase. I think it would have been a lot more difficult had we not done that early on because wouldn’t have seen us as such an online e-commerce based business
Felix: Hmm, makes a lot of sense. You said that when you got the funding or when you were thinking about going after funding you wanted to do for 3 different reasons. Larger purchases, a private line, and then, of course, the rep program that helped you scale things up. Did you launch all of these at the same time? How did you prioritize which of these and for different projects?
Russell: We had a strategy. We had a plan. We definitely didn’t do it out all at the same time. At that point it was just the 3 of us and we could barely handle one of those things. We really prioritized which things were most important to us. The products that we knew that everyone already wanted from our third party vendors, we thought that would was one of the … Kind of a no-brainer for us. We needed higher margins on those products and we’re going to approach these vendors that we hopefully can build really great, long term relationships with. That was the first thing for us.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Let’s talk about this because I think that this is a great strategy for a lot of businesses in different industries to get funding so that you can make larger purchases to decrease, to improve your margins, and then sell your own products. Create your own line like you guys did and of course those rep programs.
Let’s break this down a little bit. With the improving your margins, dropping down the cost with your vendors. Talk to us about it. How did you negotiate better prices? Is it just coming to the table with more cash? Or like what else is involved?
Russell: Yeah, so again, I think it’s selling the story. Selling our vision. Selling to these vendors what we think Campus Protein can be in 3, 5, 10 years. We were the ones who may have recognized that gap in the industry that nobody was marketing towards college students, which did make up such a large portion of the market. All we really had to do was bring it to their attention for them to realize that this really is a great [inaudible 00:21:38] and if we could be that exclusive partner that’s able to bring supplements to the market to college students, then they had no problem with it.
Felix: Hmm, so do you feel like these vendors … Because a lot of them, I’m assuming, are kind of pitched these stories, right? You have a lot of businesses will come to them and say invest in us because we’re going to go places. Did you feel like they’ve heard it all or did you bring any hard cold facts that were convincing? How were able to speak to them in a way that made them realize that this was legit business with a lot of potential, rather than just a one trying to sell their pipe dream.
Russell: I think you have to have passion. We definitely have some facts with us, not a ton honestly. For us it was … We really sold on emotion quite honestly and fortunately it ended up working out. Again, it’s not an easy thing to do I don’t think. I think we definitely got a little bit lucky and we were fortunate enough that there wasn’t anyone targeting college students. It was an easily recognizable thing, we just really … We were the ones that brought it to their attention.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I want to take a quick little detour before we talk about the private lines. Because you mentioned that there was no one out there that was targeting college students, but there are tons of big brands, tons of big retailers today that already very much entrenched in the supplement and vitamin business. Were you guys ever concerned that they could just rear their head in, look at what you guys are doing, just come in and dominate the market that you guys had discovered?
Russell: Yeah, we always had that in the back of our minds, but at the end of the day we did know that no one knew our customer better than us. We were college students ourselves and no one knew better how college students thought than us. All the marketing, all the market research we did, all the research we really did in general, it was … We would go to our fraternity brothers, go to our friends, go to our sales reps who are college students, and figure out what they want and figure out what the best blend is between those things and so far it’s worked out really well for us.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Makes sense. Cool, so now moving on to the second reason why that you wanted to get funding, which was to create your private line. Tell us a little bit more about this. Is this a private line of supplements as well?
Russell: Yeah, right now we have one product it’s called Fuel and it’s a pre-workout that you take before going to the gym. You take it about 25 minutes before. It gives you energy, it gives you focus, and it gives you a pop. Think of it as a energy drink specialized for just when you’re working out.
Felix: Okay, makes sense. What are some skills or things you had to learn when you moved from buying and selling other vendors products to now creating your own private line?
Russell: Sure, so I think this goes back to knowing what your strengths are and finding people around you that have strengths that you don’t have and ways that you can compliment each other. My business partner, Mike, he is our supplement guru. This guy knows every ingredient that you’ve never heard of before. He was really crucial in helping us formulate and really formulating our private line product Fuel. We took a look at a lot of the products that were out there and again we figured out which ones were our favorite, which ones were our friends favorites, and we did the best job that we could. We kept tweaking it and tweaking it until we had something that was really, really awesome, and that was Fuel.
Felix: Awesome. What’s the process for creating your own supplements? How do you identify what ingredients to put in? How do you test it? How long is this entire process?
Russell: Sure, so it’s a decently long process. We have a third party manufacturer that manufactures everything in a lab. One of the hardest things believe it or not is the flavoring of the product. Anytime we want to come out with a new flavor we fly down to our manufacturer and spend 1 to 2 days figuring out exactly how we want it. For example, the last flavor that we came out with was orange soda. We really wanted this to replicate our favorite childhood drink growing up. Everyone loves orange soda. Especially orange soda that gives you energy and has no calories. We had to get the carbonation exactly right and we had to make sure the orange was just perfect. Even for jungle juice when we were making the jungle juice flavor, my business partner Turan actually concocted his own jungle juice that he used to make when he was in his fraternity, minus the alcohol, and we literally just kept testing our version until we had it exact.
Felix: Do you beta test this with customers? How do you know that it’s going to be a flavor they wanted before you place a large order?
Russell: Sure, so we talk to our reps. We don’t really talk to our customers, but we talk to our sales reps that are on the ground who do talk to some customers, a very select few. We like to keep it as private as possible. We talk to some close friends and that’s really it. That’s really how we gauge the [inaudible 00:26:47] on most things that we do.
Felix: Were you able to work with existing vendors that you had brought from previously when you were ready to launch your own private line or did you have to find completely new partners?
Russell: Yeah, it was a totally different relationship for that part of our business.
Felix: I see. How were you able to find a partner like this? What were the steps involved? How did you determine that it was going to be the right partnership.
Russell: It goes back to actually having really good relationships with our vendors. We were actually referred to a couple different people and we figured out which manufacturer we liked the best. We did a couple samples with each of them and that’s how we figured out who we thought we’d like to build a really long lasting relationship with.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Cool, so now I want to talk about the third reason that you needed funding. I think this one’s going to be really interesting because you … It sounds like it’s what really helped explode the growth of the business. Your rep and your affiliate network, your rep program, tell us a little bit more about this. How does it work?
Russell: If you never heard of Campus Protein before and you were at the gym with one of our Campus Protein reps, they’ll probably come up to you and tell you about Campus Protein. They’ll maybe give you a sample, maybe give you some work out tips, so they’re trained in everything from health, nutrition, exercise, all of that. They each have their own individual link. For example, Campus Protein dot com slash Felix. Once you went to that link it’s cookied into your browser and they’re your customer for life. If you came … If I came to the site through you link and you would get credit for that sale.
Felix: Awesome. Make sense. I think one important thing that you mentioned was about how you guys are able to train them to understand how to talk with the product, how to educate the customer. What’s that process like? How do you make sure that there’s quality reps in your program and not someone that’s out there that’s spreading the wrong message or basically potentially tainting the brand?
Russell: Definitely. Yeah, again focus is really important for us and maintaining our brand image and having a consistent brand image is super important for us as well. The rep training program is something that we spent a long time on. At one point when we were early on we were just reaching out to friends to friends. Basically anyone that we could talk to that wanted to be a Campus Protein sales rep. At this point we have basically a bank of thousands and thousands of college students who want to be Campus Protein reps. We’ve built out technology that actually will go through that … Will go though those applications and filter them basing the criteria that we feel is best to be a Campus Protein rep. From there we take it to an interview process and from there they go through a bunch of training.
Felix: Very cool. Do you provide them with any other additional material or … Other than the training of course, are there other ways to prepare a rep to basically present or pitch your product well?
Russell: Absolutely. We provide them with everything that they need to be successful. Flyers, stickers, door hangers, banners, anything that you can imagine marketing wise we provide them with. It’s really up to them how successful that they’re going to be.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Is there, because it sounds like a lot of these reps are on colleges because obviously your demographic is highly targeted at colleges, there’s obviously going to be a lot of turnover right? Because every 4 years at the most these people are leaving colleges and … Maybe they’re still working with you guys, but basically the market changes over so … It seems at least kind of rapidly. Is that an issue?
Russell: It’s actually more … It’s more of an asset to us actually because we do have … Not only do we have every year, although there are some really great campus reps that are leaving, the really, really great ones we have the ability, since we do have such great relationships with our partners to place them in full-time positions, if it’s not with Campus Protein, at one of our top vendors. We’ve done that with numerous reps at this point, so we’ve gotten a lot of our reps kind of their dream jobs which has been really humbling for us.
Felix: Makes sense. If someone out there is thinking about going down the same path and wants to launch a rep program, what are the first steps? How do you even begin to build out a rep program?
Russell: In the beginning it’s definitely tough, right? You don’t really have any basis to go off of. There’s no initial starting point. The most important thing is getting a couple of really, really great ambassadors or reps early on. Those people are really going to be the foundation and structure of your program. Those are the people who are going to contribute, not necessarily in a sales or marketing, but maybe more routes. We have a ton of sales reps who maybe aren’t the greatest at sales, but they can provide really good feedback of actual health and nutrition or somebody who’s going to be competing or weight lifting.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). In general what should you look for in a successful rep. How do you identify if someone is going to be good at sales?
Russell: It’s a tough thing to gauge because some people who think will hit it out of the park don’t, and other people who are super shy and you may not have a ton of confidence in end up being some of your key players. We found that true for ourselves. Trial and error is really the best way to go about it. When the reps originally are applying for the position we ask them a couple of key questions that we think will at least kind of gauge for us if they will be a good fit or not.
Felix: Are there any kind of general questions that you think that the listeners might want to ask their reps if they’re building out a rep program?
Russell: Hmm, that’s a tough question.
Felix: Do you ever gauge them on how much they know about the company? Or does that matter as much as other factors?
Russell: We found questions such as how much they know about our company … If you have somebody who’s …. Look, we’ve had people contact us who are super passionate about Campus Protein, really want to become a part of it, end up becoming a rep, and then don’t really do anything. Then on the other hand we’ve had people, like I was saying, who don’t really know about Campus Protein and we’re able to educate them through our rep program. I think what it comes down to having a really good education program and really making sure that your messaging and your focus of your company is consistent.
Felix: I think you touched on something important here about how you might think a person’s going to be a good rep early on, and then they might not turn out to be the best. What’s the protocol there? Do you ever cut off reps or like, I’m not going to say reprimand them, but how do you course correct, I guess, a rep that might not be going down the right direction?
Russell: Yeah, so we have territory managers who manage different parts of the country and they’re really in charge of that, but we definitely give people benefit of the doubt. We realize that sometimes coaching is necessary and coaching is needed, but after a certain period of time if you’re not holding your own weight then maybe this wasn’t the right match for you.
Felix: Okay. I think, did you mention earlier that there’s a rep program in almost 300 colleges? Was that the number?
Russell: Yeah, that’s correct.
Felix: That’s amazing. What’s the hierarchy needed to run a program like this. Because I know you mentioned that there are these regional, I guess, reps that … or territory reps. How does it all built out. Can you walk us through the hierarchy?
Russell: Definitely, so my business partner Mike, he heads the entire program. Underneath him there are 4 territory managers across the country. We have it split into demographics that make sense for our business, so based on where our top colleges are. Underneath them are the reps right now, but we’re actually in the process of breaking it out even further into sub-territories, so underneath the territory managers we’ll have sub-territories as we continue to grow. Like I said, we have over 1200 reps and the more reps you have the tougher it is to manage and really maintain that consistent messaging that I was talking about earlier.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). If you were to launch this entire program over again, are there things that you would do differently that would make things easier today when you’re operating at this scale?
Russell: Yes! I think that from day 1, and we didn’t have this from day 1, having a center … A one all-inclusive center where all the information you will ever need is there as well as a place to communicate and collaborate with your peers. I think that’s super important. We found that it’s super beneficial to the reps as far as getting new sales ideas or get new marketing ideas. A lot of them are able to learn from each other. It actually takes a lot off of the management side when they’re able to self service and learn from each other.
Felix: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. Connecting people together I think is very key to making sure that there are these ideas, you know opportunities to discuss different ways to improve what they’re doing in your case improve how they’re selling the product. With the rep program, once you guys launched that, can you give an idea how quickly this grew the business? How successful has the business today?
Russell: Yeah, I can’t unfortunately break out the exact revenue figures, but I can tell you that we are a 7 figure revenue business.
Felix: That’s amazing. Now in terms of actually running this rep program, are there particular tools or applications that you used that are readily available for others out there that they can also take a look at?
Russell: Definitely, I would highly recommend taking a look into LeadDyno. They’ve been really good to us. It’s a really great program. It simplifies everything a lot and it’s able to do a ton of different things and really lay it out in a neat and simple easy to use way.
Felix: One other interesting marketing channel that I saw you guys operating in is with Pinterest. I don’t think you guys are nearly as active on there as like, for Instagram for example. Which I think is probably the most popular social media platform for you guys. You still have over a thousand followers on the Pinterest page. Pinterest is typically associated more with the female demographic and when you think about supplements and working out, fitness, obviously it’s I guess, inclusive of both males and females, but it’s typically seen as a male dominated demographic. How are you able to make it work with Pinterest when it’s not necessarily typically considered the ideal demographic for your type of product?
Russell: Sure, so Instagram actually is decently big for us. We have a little over 50,000 followers on Instagram and it has been for us a really great converter to sales. We see one of our highest conversion rates actually coming from Instagram because our products are so visual and because transformations are so visual and because a lot of the products we sell have some really cool flavors. We sell one product that’s called sour batch kids and you know you can imagine what it tastes like after your favorite candy. Those things are really visual, but to Pinterest we recently started on Pinterest actually because of Shopify’s integrated buy button. That’s been really successful for us.
Felix: What are you … What’s your strategy on there? What are you guy pinning? I’m looking at it now and I do see that you kind of do cater to the more of the female demographic on here. Is it because that you recognize or you’ve seen the statics where it is more of a female dominated platform?
Russell: Yeah, and we have tried catering to males on Pinterest, it just didn’t work as well for us. Instagram seems to work really well for males for us. There is a really big growing portion of our business which is the female market. More women are looking to take supplements and are looking to get toned and are not looking to just … Maybe they are looking to just run or something like that, but you can take a pre workout for that and really enhance your workout.
Felix: I think this is an important topic then because if you do start off your business focusing on a specific demographic whether it be based on sex or based on whatever it is and you decide to start, not necessarily change the direction, but including or growing the scope of your target demographic or your target customers. Does that mean you have to change the way you brand? What does it mean when it comes down to the marketing itself when you do want to essentially go after an equally large demographic?
Russell: Definitely. We over time kind of changed the direction. At one point we were saying should we be more like an Axe, like very male dominated brand. What we figured out was there is such a growing portion of females using supplements and wanting to use supplements and wanting to learn more about them and wanting to do that, that it doesn’t really make sense to completely exclude that part of the market. There had been certain marketing campaigns that we have done a few years ago that maybe we wouldn’t do today. I think that if you took a look at the look and feel of our site over time, you would see that it’s kind of slowly evolved to be more neutral for male and female.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that makes sense. Speaking of your site, I saw a couple cool things on there that I wanted to touch on. One thing is your top 25 page. Tell us a little bit more about this. What is a top 25 page and how did you come up with the idea to display this page?
Russell: Sure, so for us it’s social proof, right? You want … When you’re working out, when you’re doing anything really involved in fitness … Whether people want to believe it or not everyone’s kind of looking at each other at the gym. Everyone’s kind of wondering, what’s that guy doing? What’s that girl taking? How did they get to that size? How did they get so cut? How did they so shredded? The best way for us to display that is in a top 25. These are our top 25 moving products that your peers are currently taking. It’s actually one of the … Next to our to our stacks page. We have a page called stacks, which actually takes different top products from different vendors and combines them at a discount for the customer. Next to that page it is one of our highest viewed pages on site.
Felix: Yeah, I really like this because I think a lot of times people just want to know what’s the best. They don’t want to spend too much time learning about all the specific details and they don’t want to have to think about it. For example, whenever I go shopping for something that I’m not too familiar with, I don’t want to … I don’t have the time or I just don’t have the energy or don’t care enough to dig too much into details. I just want to know what’s the best. What’s everyone else using. I’m just going to stick with that.
I think that’s the reason why I wanted to bring this up because I would like the idea of laying it out this way and showing people, like you’re saying, there’s social proof behind it. Showing what other people are buying. I think that helps take away a lot of the analysis paralysis that comes with shopping for products like this. Because there’s just so much to learn. Going to be so much education that’s required, but when you lay it out like this and say, hey these are the most popular products. Don’t have to think about it too much. I think that helps a lot with a buyer when they come shopping for your products.
Russell: Definitely. From what we found, people just want to see the products that work. If you’d stacked us up next to our biggest competitor, we only carry about 8% of the brands that they carry. I think having just a really simplified and really focused product mix is important. Because why carry anything but the best. If these are the best products then there really no reason to carry anything else.
Felix: Speaking of this, you said that you only 8& of the brands that your competitors carry. Do you spend a lot of time cutting out products, adding new products in, and see how they do and cutting them out. What’s your process behind that?
Russell: Constantly. We’ve actually built up a proprietary method in which we use to select a product. Let’s say we’re bringing on a new vendor. We won’t bring on the entire line in one shot. We’ll bring in one product at a time and there even are some brands on our site where we don’t carry the whole spectrum of products that they sell. The reason is that our demographic’s super specific and we think that’s one of the really great things about our business. We really have a niche and we know our customer really well. We also know which products they really aren’t going to like that much. It helps with inventory turnover obviously as well, but it also just helps our customers figure out which products are the best and we’ve already done a lot of the work for them.
Felix: Hmm. Amazing. What’s your day to day like? When you step into work in the mornings how are you spending your days?
Russell: Honestly every day’s very different. I do everything from sales, marketing, meetings, basically I still wear a ton of hats and my business partners still wear a ton of hats as well and it keeps us all really well versed on what’s going on in different parts of the business.
Felix: What do you think you add the most value for the company? If you could only pick one thing to spend your time on what would that be?
Russell: Growth strategy. I think for me, figuring out how to take our business to the next level, and what areas we need to focus in in order to make that happen, I think is one of my strengths.
Felix: I like that you do focus on growth strategy because that’s such a high leverage activity. Because if you spend your time on that end, the sales, the revenue comes through your doors. It solves a lot of problems for the rest of the business. How do you figure out where … What’s the process that you go through to identify what areas you should focus on to grow the business faster.
Russell: Definitely, so every quarter we kind of take a look at all of our different channels. Where do the most sales come from. Did they come from the reps this quarter. Did they come from all my marketing strategies that we’ve been doing. Or maybe they came from some place that we totally didn’t even realize and it’s something that we really need to focus on. For example, we all of a sudden started getting a bunch of really, really big orders. We thought at first oh man, are these maybe some fraudulent orders, but no it turns out that a bunch of colleges and universities themselves were looking to purchase products from us. We figured out that it’s definitely worth spending our time and building that out and seeing what other colleges and universities we could work directly with.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Makes a lot of sense. You mentioned LeadDyno earlier on. Are there any other apps or tools that you or your team relies on heavily to help run the business?
Russell: We found that for reviews Yotpo works really well. We use Yotpo for reviews. We’re testing out this feature for them it’s image curation, so you can actually take a photo of the product or if you do take a photo of the product on Instagram, we can tag it directly to that product’s page. We found that the pages that it’s on it’s converting really high, so that tool works really well for us. Nosto which is a product recommendation tool similar to kind of the one Amazon uses. It’s been working really well for us and our conversion rate on that is also very high. Let’s see. Off the top of my head I think those are some of the most important ones that we’re utilizing. Actually there is one other one that we recently picked up that’s been great for us as far as fulfillment and inventory management, all that stuff. It’s called Ship Hero. It’s kind of an all in one solution where they do inventory management, they do bar coding, and scanning and they also do label products. Instead of having bunch of different tools it’s kind of an all in one solution, which has so far been really great for us.
Felix: Very cool. In terms of the next year, what are you guys focusing on? What are some goals or what are some things that the listeners can look out for from you guys?
Russell: Definitely, so we’re looking to expand our private line of products again. It’s going to fun. It’s going to be college focused like we always have. We’re going to be expanding to some to more colleges and schools, so look out for that. We recently just landed an agreement with licensing some college logos, so we’ve been working on that a little bit as well.
Felix: Very cool, so thanks so much Russell. Campus Protein dot com again is the website. It’s a store. Anywhere else you recommend our listeners check out if they want to follow along what you guys are up?
Russell: Definitely check out our snap chat. We have different take overs every day. We have different reps, different vendors taking over and the handle’s just Campus Protein for that. Check out our Instagram as well. We’ve got a ton of great content on there. Everything from recipes to any new products that are coming out. The handle for that is just at Campus Protein.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much Russell.
Russell: Absolutely. Thanks so much Felix.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today visit Shopify dot com slash masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.