We have been working with the good folks at Gathre for a while now. We help them with all kinds of development tasks to keep their website cutting edge. Recently we spent some time talking with Devin Killpack – serial entrepreneur and Gathre’s CEO – to talk about startups, building a business, and achieving success in eCommerce today.
Who Is Gathre?
Gathre creates and markets their own line of cleanable mats for infants and young children. They are designed to protect floors, tables, and other surfaces from the messiness of food, toys, and coloring books that naturally follow children. And the play mats and all-purpose mats also protect family members from the roughness and messiness of the environment around them.
Gathre started out as the brainchild of best friends Marilee Killpack and Jessica Eraso. As mothers themselves, they certainly understood the need. Soon they were designing and crafting their first Gathre mats and selling them in pop-up stores around town. The products were so well-received that a Kickstarter campaign followed to get the business off the ground. Various sales channels were tried – including wholesaling and retail outlets, but their real success has been online, and that’s where the efforts of their eight employees are focused today.
Gathre on the Shopify eCommerce Platform
The first thing that you should know is that the Gathre Shopify website is gorgeous and the photography is great. You should check it out. It’s built on the Shopify platform and they really took the time to do it right from the start. They purchased the Grid theme by Pixel Union and then brought in graphic design and customized everything. TaskHusky helped code the modifications, prepare apps, and a bunch of other tweaks. We think it turned out great.
When they started selling online, their first eCommerce site was on Squarespace, but it didn’t have the features and functionality that they needed. Devin told us that they even considered moving to a WordPress solution. But they really needed a platform with a community, apps, and all the functionality so that it was ready to grow when they were. No one wanted to have to go through this process again, so it had to be right this time from the start. Once they saw Shopify, he they knew that would be their next move.
What Was the Hardest Part of Starting Your eCommerce Business?
Devin told us that he remembers three hurdles that they had to overcome. First – since there were no direct competitors when they started – explaining the product was both a challenge and a blessing. It was a challenge because they had to make the public understand what they were doing. It was a blessing because it forced them to spend a lot of time boiling their core message down to a pitch that could be quickly understood and effective. It helped them understand their own product and business better and it also proved to them that their idea was a unique one.
The second big challenge was managing cash flow. Devin said that when a business is new you are making all kinds of decisions about what to spend and where to spend it. A lot of those are guesses because you don’t know what is going to work and what isn’t. So, startups should spend carefully and watch and manage expenses like the investments that they are.
And finally, once the business started to grow they had to really learn how to properly hire staff properly. When you are growing, sometimes all you know is that you’re too busy and need help. But before you hire any position, stop and plan out exactly what that person is going to do and how they are going to do it. If you can’t be specific about the tasks, you’re not ready to hire anyone.
What is Your eCommerce Marketing Strategy?
So many small online merchants struggle with marketing. So, we were really interested to hear what Gathre did to become so successful. Devin distilled it down to a few core ideas for us:
- Every business has to find its own channels, but “wherever people are … go there.” In other words, you shouldn’t do radio ads unless your target customers are listening to the radio, and you don’t HAVE to be on Instagram unless your customers are using Instagram.
- “Don’t be over-bearing of over-sell. Just create good branded content that dives a feeling … make them a part of your community and the feeling that brings.”
- “Social platforms lend themselves to companies that have a story.” Gathre has a good story, so social media is a natural fit.
- If you have a physical product and you want to get some attention, give it away. When you do, people will will talk about it. And if you find the right influencer, “pay them in dollars or pay them in product” and watch what happens.
- And my personal favorite piece of marketing advice, “Try and fail and test and experiment.”
What Influences You? (The Reading List)
Devin is more of a hands-on scientist … experimenting with different things and learning from the results. But there are definitely some books that he said really helped him learn how to take the business higher.
Books Devin loves:
- “Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice” by Clayton Christianson (introduces the Theory of Jobs to Be Done)
- “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When new Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail” also by Clayton Christianson
- “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber
More Important Advice From the eCommerce Trenches
Devin is a natural in an interview and very generous in sharing his time and insights. Here are a few more nuggets from our time together:
- “We all gather biases as we go through life. Set them aside. Listen to what your customers tell you without any bias.”
- “You have to ALWAYS be building and getting outside of your comfort zone.”
- “Business is always changing and it’s not a level playing field. You can’t assume that what worked for other companies will work for you.”
What’s the Best Piece of Business Advice You Ever Received?
“Every business lives or dies by how they take care of their customers. Without taking care of your customers and putting your customers first you will go the way of all the earth.”
We couldn’t agree more, Devin.
If you’d like to learn more about Gathre’s products and business, visit their website. If their experience has inspired you to take the leap and start your own Shopify eCommerce business, use this link and you’ll get where you need to go.
And as always, let us know if you have any questions or want to implement some of the same solutions in your eCommerce store. We are always happy to help.Thanks for reading! Make sure to share this article with someone you know who wants to start their own business and needs a little inspiration.