South American eCommerce Pierre Larose of Calca Thai: delivery, virtual team, localisation (episode 152)

Pierre Larose is the founder of Calcathai who sell Thai pants in Brazil and beyond. He launched the business 3 years ago, with zero experience of fashion or retail, and has already built it to over £250k annual turnover.

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About the business

  • eCommerce Business Structure – Online Only
  • Product Range Scale – niche
  • On Shopify
  • Plugins: NowInStock, Beta Export by Estore Automate
  • Located in Bangkok
  • Selling into Brazil and beyond

Listen to learn why Pierre recommends NowInStock, and why he recommends Beta Export over Shopify’s system.

Getting Started

Calcathai is Pierre’s first and only eCommerce company. He got the idea in 2014, when his Brazilian ex-girlfriend used to wear Thai clothes and her friends would ask about them. He went to Thailand, researched how to set up selling Thai clothes in Brazil, what he would need, and how to make local contacts. In six months, he had a site online that was selling Thai pants.

Since he had spent about ten years in the online gaming industry, Pierre already knew about things like acquisition and retention, but with online games there’s no physical product. His learning curve was in the logistics and inventory management of having a physical product.

Now Pierre has three different, but very similar, websites selling to three different countries. Calcathai sells to Brazil, Pantalones Thai sells to Mexico, and Hippie Pants sells to the United States and a couple other countries.

Listen to learn about an early problem Calcathai had with color-matching artisanally hand-dyed fabrics.

Shipping Around the World

Pierre keeps his inventory stock in Thailand and dispatches all orders from Thailand. The brand is selling authenticity, and getting clothes straight from Thailand is the brand story. For many customers who have never received a package from Thailand, that’s an experience for them in and of itself. Since his target market is into the zen lifestyle, often also engaging in meditation and yoga, they tend to be a bit more patient in terms of delivery times.

Another part of the brand is transparency. For Pierre, that means bundling the shipping cost in with the product price. It’s annoying to get to the payment page of a website and suddenly have to pay more than expected. For Calcathai, the price you see on the product page is the price you pay, no matter where it’s being delivered to or what the payment method is.

Listen to learn how bundling the price, while excellent for the brand and for not annoying the customer, is a trade-off in terms of shipping costs.

The Team

Calcathai has about thirteen part-time employees scattered around the globe, using management software to keep everything together. Most of them are online doing customer service, social media, and the like. Pierre decided on hiring people who were specialized in a job to work that job, so his people running Instagram really know Instagram, his people doing customer service really know customer service, and so on. All of them are bilingual with English as a common language, and all of them are online-savvy. Pierre manages all the moving parts.

Listen to learn about the software the team uses to stay connected.

Selling to a South American Audience

Not many guests on the podcast have been selling largely to a South American audience. It’s similar enough to selling to United States and European audiences that he can use very similar websites, however, there are also notable differences. Security measures are different, and eCommerce is slightly less developed in South America, so those customers may be buying online for the first time and may need a little extra hand-holding. Because of the national culture and character, many of them will make impulsive, emotional purchases.

The key is having locals run the social media and customer service. In fact, Pierre believes it would be eCommerce suicide to do it any other way. The content has to not only be local, but chime with the local character and culture of the customers. Every touchpoint needs to speak to them. You can’t just take something in English, translate it, and send it out.

Expanding Across Borders

Pierre expanded Calcathai from Brazil to other locations nearly by accident. There was an issue with the payment methods in their first year of business, and they had about a month where they were unable to process efficiently. It didn’t make sense to spend time marketing until the issue was resolved, so they used their extra time to launch the English site.

Expanding in Mexico was more difficult, as it only happened in 2017 and the site had grown and was more complex.

When you expand across a border, it is key and vital to hire people in your new market who you can trust to help you grow. You’ll need their feedback and their knowledge of the culture. Hire a local.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

Instead of a specific book, Pierre recommends that you read whatever your customers are reading. Consume the content they are consuming, understand how they think, understand how they feel, and you will become more intuitive with what you need to do with your business. Once you understand your customer, then you can go read something more specific.

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Google shopping and adwords
  • User-generated content

Listen to learn why Pierre feels that adwords are becoming overlooked. Listen to hear how Calcathai runs a quarterly competition to generate user content nearly for free.

Tool Top Tip

  • Messenger bots

Listen to learn why it’s important for customers to not be writing to you and receiving no reply, even in different time zones, and how a bot can help.

Growth Top Tip

Have everything in place before you throw your cash at scaling. Look at data from your existing customers. Anticipate what it means to grow, what you need to make the scaling go smoothly, whether your production will keep pace with more sales, whether your systems can handle it, and what it would take to upgrade to systems that can handle it.

Listen to learn what data from existing customers is useful to consider when thinking about growth.

Interview Links

Enter promo code MasterPlan at the Calcathai websites to receive 10% off your order!