Product Development, Branding and the power of Amazon with Monica Ferguson from The Sole Mates (episode 207)

In this episode we’re talking with a business who have appeared on Shark Tank, got Oprah’s endorsement, and sell across their own site, Amazon, and a wholesale retail network. Discussing brand, product development and a lot of marketing tips.

Monica Ferguson is the co-founder at The Sole Mates. After inventing the The Sole Mates heel cap in 2012 (keeps your heels from sinking into the grass), they developed the first natural brand of women’s shoe and foot care. They now have wholesale distribution to 10,000 stores in the US (including CVS (the US equivalent of Boots) and LK Bennett), and have strong growth with 7-digit sales.

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About the Business

the sole mates podcast
  • Based in the USA
  • Selling via wholesale and online
  • Platform – Shopify

Favourite Shopify Plugins

How The Sole Mates got Started in eCommerce

Monica says that the company started in eCommerce in a very conventional way when the team hired a web-site developer to create their eCommerce site. Initially, she says they made a lot of mistakes, but the main one was relying on a third party to manage their website.

While the team had made a commitment to outsource work they couldn’t do themselves, Monica says that after a year they really felt they wanted more control of their website.

The team began to hunt for a platform they could easily manage themselves–something that didn’t require a lot of coding and Monica says it wasn’t long before they had settled on using Shopify.

She says that Shopify has made their lives easier and has made it possible to connect all the pieces of the brand so that everything is cohesive and works together. The overall brand experience, she says, was something the team really wanted to take ownership of.

Listen to learn how platforms like Shopify can take care of the expert side of web development while still allowing users to easily manipulate their site.

The Sole Mates Team

The Sole Mates Team is made up of Monica and her co-founder, an in house marketing group, freelance graphic designer, tech support, and three to six people working in the warehouse based on need.

Monica says that she and her partner stay fluent in each others roles in order to maximize efficiency. The way the two have decided to split the workload is that Monica manages what people see on their online space, while her partner manages their customer experience in brick and mortar stores.

The direct company website started out as one of their biggest sales platforms, but Monica says that now Amazon dominates a significant part of their annual revenue.

A few years ago when the company noticed their keyword searches in decline, they decided to figure out where their customers were searching and they found them on Amazon.

Today, she says that as many as 8 times the number of searches are happening on Amazon as they are on Google.

Product Development

The Amazon marketplace has been a double edged sword for The Sole Mates.  

While it can be taxing on company revenues, Monica recognizes that the way Amazon works helps to speed up new product development.

Since the launch of the heel cap, Sole Mates has added several other products–a process that Monica says was much more effective on the Amazon platform.  

She says that the company most likely wouldn’t be able to develop new products at the same rate without using Amazon as a platform.

Listen to learn how launching product number one was different than products two and three.

Celebrity Endorsement

The success of the heel cap product was in large part due to the fact that it was worn and promoted by several celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Demi Lovato.

Today, the company has a much more established audience and relies on their own advertising. Monica says that they have kept their product line lean and all of their products come from a place of genuine need.

Rightly or wrongly, the company believes in safeguarding their integrity and only developing products they feel brings real value into their lives.

Finding a Brand Basis

Even though the company didn’t know it’s own brand identity right out of the gate, Monica says they feel very strongly about where it is today. The emotional connection to their heel protector product is what served as inspiration for developing the brand.

Monica says that anything that makes women feel more stable and more comfortable goes a long way in making them feel more beautiful.

The essence of giving women power through comfort and confidence is what became the foundation of their brand.

Today, The Sole Mates brand is all about developing products that make women feel more comfortable in their own shoes.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Pinterest

Tool Top Tip

  • Kit – Shopify and facebook plugin. Kit is a watchdog bot that texts
  • Clickly – Free Retargeting Campaign that only charges when someone transacts.

Growth Top Tip

Focus on influencers in your market. Get those people who really connect with your brand and who have real followers can help move the needle.

Interview Links

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