In mature industries, established brands can start to sound the same.
That's when going against the grain can help you grab attention. It might seem risky to break from tradition, but what's riskier is getting lost in the crowd.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Adam Klosowiak, the founder of KLOS Guitars: cool, durable, comfortable, portable carbon fiber guitars and ukuleles.
Find out how his company used outlandish durability test videos to get millions of views on Facebook, from golfing with guitars to dropping cinder blocks on them.
The Facebook algorithm has changed much, very much, in terms of what gets shared, what can go viral in the newsfeed.
Tune in to learn
- How to perform quality assurance on your products as your business grows
- The benefits of moving from part-time workers to full-time employees
- How to encourage your customers to create your social media content
Listen to the podcast below (or download it for later):
- Store: KLOS Guitars
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: b8ta, Sliced Bread (LA-based agency), Turbo Theme (from Out of the Sandbox), Quickbooks, JustUno (Shopify app), ReCart (Shopify app)
Felix: Today, I’ll be joined by Adam Klosowiak, from KLOS Guitars. KLOS Guitars makes the coolest, durable, comfortable, and portable carbon fiber guitars and ukuleles. It was started in 2015 and based out of Provo, Utah. Welcome, Adam.
Adam: Hey, thank you.
Felix: Yeah, so tell us a little more about your products, and what makes it different than what’s out there in the market?
Adam: Yeah, so we started with a carbon fiber travel guitar, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on for almost the first three years, just short of three years. Now we have a ukulele and a full-size guitar, but I’ll get to that after.
Yeah, what differentiates our product is mainly the carbon fiber aspect. As most people assume, most guitars are made out of wood, which is great. Wooden instruments sound fantastic. However, when it comes to traveling with your instrument or having an instrument that’s durable, wood is not the greatest material, just because for a wooden guitar to sound good, you inherently have to have fairly fragile wood. It has to be thin, so that it can resonate well.
That creates some issues with … For example, when temperature or humidity changes arise, your instrument can bend or change shape with those changes. If you go camping, and you knock the guitar aside, it can get dented or cracked very easily. Carbon fiber solves all those issues. It’s a material that’s used in high-end sports equipment. It’s used to make airplanes. If people cycle, many professional bikes are now made out of carbon fiber. That’s been happening for many, many years.
It’s a really good material to use for guitars. However, traditionally, it’s been very expensive in guitars, and so we’ve introduced a new, innovative manufacturing method, which allows us to be about half the price point of other carbon fiber guitars out there. That’s the unique aspect of it.
Felix: I’m assuming this unique manufacturing style, that’s a trade secret that you guys have. How did you come across … How did you approach designing … You don’t have to go into too much details if you don’t want to, but how did you approach this process of figuring out how to make this affordable.
Adam: Yeah, totally. Some of the process is a trade secret, but some of it is actually quite obvious, and we market it. Most carbon fiber guitars are full carbon fibers. The main three components of a guitar are the neck; the soundboard, which is the flat panel on the front; and the body, in the back. All these carbon fiber guitar makers use 100% carbon fiber for all three parts. We realized the most important part of a guitar is the soundboard, because that’s what flexes and creates the sound, so that has to be durable. That has to be protected. The body is the biggest part, so that has to be protected, as well, and that’s attached to the soundboard, but the neck … A wooden neck is … It’s like a baseball bat. It’s pretty thick, so it’s already quite durable, and it’s also the most intricate shape. There are many angles on it, a lot of different contours that are difficult to shape with carbon fiber.
Our approach was let’s make the sound producing part, the most important part of the guitar, out of the durable material, because that solves the pain point. Let’s keep everything else out of wood, so the neck and the bridge, which is already a very established product that is quite cheap to source, and let’s just start with that hybrid design and go from there.
The body, essentially, is a bowl, which is quite easy to manufacture, and the soundboard is a flat panel, which is very easy to manufacture. That allowed us to reduce the number of expensive parts significantly, and then we also reduced the number of parts within the body and soundboard quite a bit, as well. Simplicity is our mantra, when it comes to design, and that’s allowed us to drop the price point.
Felix: You’re basically creating a brand new product or a brand new way to create an existing old product. I’m assuming that there was a lot of testing involved during this process. It looks like a product … Well, the price point is obviously a higher price point. I’m assuming it’s also probably costly for you to manufacture, as well, so you want to get this right. How were you able to test … How was the development process, between testing the product with customers and then going back to the manufacturers to make tweaks and make sure that it was actually you were creating a product that the customers wanted?
Adam: Oh, yeah, so there were a couple of different tools that we used. My brother and I started the company together, and before we started the company, my brother had actually made this first guitar for a school project. This was while he was still a senior in college.
He made the first one, and he showed it to everyone in his class, showed it to all of his friends, and so he got feedback that way. The initial feedback stage was family and friends. Then I was visiting him for a ski trip. He lived in Utah at the time. I lived in New Jersey. We started thinking about it as a company, rather than just a project for fun.
Then, that’s where the market feedback came back. We looked at what currently exists, what doesn’t exist, and we realized there was no affordable carbon fiber travel guitar, or no affordable durable guitar. That was the market feedback.
Then, I would say, the customer feedback, the last stage, came in our first Kickstarter. After getting the family and friends and market feedback, we came up with our MVP, and we launched a Kickstarter. This was June of 2015, so just short of three years ago. We got our first 70 customers there.
These people, as most people find with Kickstarter, were the most willing to give us feedback, even before they got the product. Many people asked, “Hey, are you going to add an electric pickup,” “Hey, can you make this lefty?” Then we realized, oh, yeah, there are lefty guitar players. Things like that started coming up, and that … Because we were manufacturing everything ourselves at first, we were able to incorporate those changes quite easily, and so, yeah, those are the three stages, I’d say.
Felix: Got it, so there was already a market out there for a carbon fiber guitar, so you knew that there was demand for it, but it was just way more expensive than what most people could afford. You already knew that there was a market there. Then, in terms of trying to get the customers to be interested in your particular product, you launched a crowdfunding campaign, which was a success, it sounded like.
Now, you’ve mentioned that you’re manufacturing the products yourselves. What does that mean? Are you guys guitar makers? Are you doing this in your garage? How were you able to create those guitars early on?
Adam: When we first started, Ian made … That’s my brother. Ian made the first guitar just on campus in the school labs. He was a mechanical engineer. He used those facilities to make the first one. He bought the neck from a pawnshop, made the carbon fiber parts himself, and then we won a Summer Accelerator at Princeton University. That was that first summer of 2015. We were there for 10 weeks. We started manufacturing them in the dorm, which turned out to not be allowed, so that operation actually got shut down pretty quickly. We found a warehouse in Provo, where Ian went to school. Yeah, with this warehouse, we had a lot of room. We knew all the production that had to happen, and we just started iterating.
The goal eventually is to outsource most of the part production, but to always remain the assemblers, because when it comes to a guitar, when you pick up a guitar … When you pick up, and you say, “Wow, this feels amazing,” usually that effect is produced in the last hour of the production of that guitar, so action is the name for the height of the strings, between the strings and the fretboard. Usually, when people don’t like the feel of a guitar, it means the action is way too high, and so it hurts their fingers to play. Making sure that action is just right, making sure all the frets are very smooth and level … We always want to control that, because that is really the first impression that someone gets with a guitar. As far as scaling goes, outsourcing part production is the wise move for us.
Felix: I think that’s a very valuable skill, to be able to understand what you can outsource and what you need to keep in house. How were you able to determine the … How were you able to differentiate the two different tasks? How did you know that the assembly should be done in house versus the part production done outsourced?
Adam: I think usually it starts with the question, what is the most important to a customer? What would we never … What are we not willing to compromise on, ever? The answer, for us, is the feel of the guitar has to be correct. For us, that means that we would like to see each guitar before it gets shipped out, so that rules out third party logistic companies where we’d have it made somewhere. We wouldn’t even see it before it gets to the customer.
Then it gets to, like the production of the neck. We could do it ourselves, but if we had to double our order in a month, then that would mean we’d have to hire more employees, so we’d have to recruit. We’d have to interview. We’d have to hire. We’d have to train. It’d be quite a process, so it’d be tricky to scale. Whereas, if we have a supplier that produces 100,000 necks a month for many different guitar companies, then us doubling 1000 to 2000 isn’t a problem at all for them.
That question is what part in our process would be very difficult to scale, and does that impact the other question? Does that really impact the user experience, if we make it or if they make it? I think balancing between those two of being forward looking and thinking how can I scale this effectively without compromising our brand quality, is really the way to answer that question.
Felix: Now, you mentioned that you want to see every one of your products before it goes out. You want to be able to put your hands on it. You want to make sure it’s something you want to put out there. How do you scale that part of it? What’s the operation like, to make sure that you guys are able to do some quality assurance on each product before it goes out?
Adam: Right, so now we have one bigger warehouse. We expanded about a year ago, and the assembly processor snakes around the warehouse, so it starts with combining many of the parts together, so the soundboard to body to neck. The final step is what we call final inspection, and it’s just a desk where we have one of our employees, who is most knowledgeable on all parts of the guitar. He goes through a checklist and goes through each part of the guitar, makes sure that this is correct, that that’s correct, and then once it passes his approval, it goes onto the final inspected cart, and then that goes to the packaging station.
We try to quantify our manufacturing, as much as possible, so for the final inspection, we have an internal Google survey that we’ve developed, so the checklist is actually going through this Google survey, and whenever we have issues, for example, let’s say there’s a scratch on the neck that shouldn’t be there, we check that box.
Then, when we look at the data of that survey, we see, oh, this week we had 10 scratches on the neck. That must indicate that there’s something wrong in one of the processes, because something is getting scratched, that it shouldn’t, and so we start analyzing where could that scratch be being produced? Is it our supplier? Is it us? If it’s us, what station? Then, once we identify where it’s happening, we try to find a solution, for example putting plastic Saran wrap on the neck as it goes around, that prevents all mistakes from happening. Final inspection is the endpoint, but it gives feedback to all the other parts in the manufacturing process.
Felix: I love that. I love that you actually try to improve the manufacturing process. I think a lot of times when people do add in quality assurance, it’s just a matter of, okay, this product isn’t going to pass the filters, so let’s just remove it, but then it doesn’t send that feedback back to try to avoid having those issues in the first place. Now, when someone is hired for that position, that desk that you’re talking about, if someone else out there is listening and wants to have someone that does quality assurance for their product, what is that first day like? How do you begin to teach them how to check the product and ensure that it is of a quality that you want?
Adam: We have never hired for that position, in particular, externally. The way we train almost all of our employees, and we have 15 manufacturing employees now, is everyone starts with one task. We have a training program that they receive for that task. We have a video for the task. We have a written checklist, and there’s also an instructor that walks through the new person on how to learn that task. They quickly become the master of that task, and they quickly have the sole responsibility for all those parts.
We’ve broken down the process of building into just over 100 different steps. Some steps take five minutes. Some take 30 minutes. Yeah, each person progresses through these different tasks, and eventually they might know 20 to 50 tasks. Some of the employees that have been with us the longest, they’ve cycled through almost all of them. When we hire for, or when we choose a person for the final inspection stage, that person typically has many tasks under their belt, because they understand what they’re looking at in the final inspection phase, and they’re not just looking, “Oh, okay, I’m trying to see if there’s a scratch.” Rather, they’re thinking, so the neck is most processed in these three steps, and so if I’m seeing this here, that means that’s the first place I should look.
They understand how the guitar came together. They’re able to very effectively inspect, and also provide feedback. Yeah, so we usually have people that have a little bit more experience within the company get to that position, rather than hiring someone cold, off the bat.
Felix: Are these shared employees with other people that need assembly, or are they solely focused on KLOS Guitars?
Adam: Just KLOS Guitars, yeah. Not everyone is full-time. We have many part-time, as well. We employ many college students, who look for 20-hour per week jobs. We’re moving towards more of a full-time employee focus, but in the very beginning, the labor pool is much more available with college students, and it is definitely a bit more affordable, too, which, being a very lean startup, we always appreciate that.
Felix: What are your thoughts on that transition, going from a part-time workforce to more of a full-time workforce, and what kind of benefits come with that for your company?
Adam: The main benefit I would say is regularity in scheduling, so that’s one big benefit. It’s quite difficult to run an assembly line, when you have … At our peak, we’ve had 21 employees. When you have 21 mostly part-time employees, and you’re trying to pump out products that have deadlines, and you have to schedule, like okay, this person’s coming from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and he’s doing this step. Then the next step builds off of that step, but this person’s not coming in until two days from now, at 11:00 in the morning. It sort of becomes this logistical nightmare. To have a core team that’s smaller, that is there all the time, and can be robust, in terms of switching tasks as demand fluctuates, that is very, very useful.
Another benefit is if someone’s there full-time for a longer period of time, their experience just builds up, and that really helps with quality control. That experience starts diminishing error rates, and so there’s a big advantage there, too.
Felix: Makes sense. You mentioned something in our pre-interview, which was about how you’re able to apply a successful eCommerce approach that’s different than, or very different than, the traditional guitar industry. Can you speak more about this? How does the traditional guitar industry approach eCommerce or retail in general? How do you guys try to approach it?
Adam: When we were first starting, we had this “innovative guitar,” but if you take a step back and look at our company at a high level, you’d say, “Oh yeah, they make an interesting guitar, but it’s still just a guitar.” In the beginning, we were thinking, how can we further differentiate ourselves? How can we be different, so that when someone sees our guitar, they don’t think, oh, this is just another guitar?
We realized that most guitar companies, they’re approach is let’s make a guitar and then try to get into guitar centers as fast as possible, because that’s where people buy guitars, and that’s the lowest effort, in terms of getting your brand out in front of customers. Around when we were starting, 2015, the buzzwords in eCommerce were Casper Mattresses, Warby Parker, Bonobos. They were-
Felix: Straight to consumer.
Adam: Right, direct to consumer, and so they were taking a product that is very physical, that people usually want to try on, touch, feel, smell, and they were selling it online, and it was working really well. We thought, why not try the same thing with guitars. Most people really aren’t taking that approach to remain direct to consumer, and so that’s what we started honing in on, and that led us to another strategy that was very different than what other guitar companies did, and that was namely producing marketing videos that were very funny and eye-catching, and not really traditional guitar.
To give you an example, we came out with a YouTube video of me golfing with one of our guitars. The inspiration came from Blendtec. Are you familiar with that company?
Felix: Yeah, will it blend?
Adam: Yeah, exactly. They have a blender, right? They blend these iPhones, and everyone’s just like, “Oh, my God, what are you doing?” But it’s hilarious and it catches views, and people love it. They share it. They spread it.
We were thinking, okay, our guitar’s durable. We can either tell people it’s durable, or we can show them it’s durable in a funny way. You would never see Martin Guitars or Taylor Guitars taking one of their guitars and hitting a golf ball with it. That’d be such a brand no-no for them, but for us, we didn’t have a brand when we were starting. We were essentially nobody, so we could do anything. We didn’t have anything to damage, so that’s what we started on the marketing side.
We started producing these funny videos and releasing them, and the golf one almost got three million views that first summer. That was great top of the funnel marketing, and that really fueled our desire to remain direct to consumer for a long time, so replicating that in-store experience by having amazing demos with our guitars, amazing images, high resolution images, a good Instagram, good Facebook, a blog. Reviews are key. We now have hundreds of five-star reviews, and oftentimes, when I’m talking to customers, they’ll say something along the lines of, “Yeah, the reviews are great. I’m really looking forward to it.”
That builds a lot of credibility. I really haven’t seen many other guitars taking this route. I think it definitely risky, going direct to consumer. I still think that most guitar sales do happen in physical retail, and physical retail is on our horizon. We’re actually partnering with a store called b8ta, which has been labeled as the Shopify of physical retail, and we’re launching with five of their stores in three weeks. That’ll be our first test in physical retail, to see what this guitar does when it’s in front of people and in their hands.
Felix: Yeah, I think even if you are not currently in physical retail, just having that online presence will certainly help, once you do transition into physical retail. These videos that you’re producing, how many videos are we talking about? How often were you putting out videos, and are you still putting out videos today?
Adam: That first summer, we made the most of them. Let’s see. We’ve made a golfing video. We went kayaking with the guitars. We played tennis. We played baseball with it. The goal wasn’t to always keep making these videos every week. We only made a handful, less than 10. The goal was to have that be the initial funnel, the initial … Get someone’s attention, and then re-market to them with a demo showing, “Hey, okay, the guitar is durable. You saw this funny ad, but it actually sounds amazing. People love it. It feels great, and it’s unique for X, Y, and Z reasons.”
That was the strategy there. Now, we’re moving more into really showing that the brand is high quality, but we do still use those clips. Our latest effort on that front was actually with our ukulele. We designed a durability test series, so we wanted to break our carbon fiber ukulele, because we wanted to see how durable is it? A lot of people ask us that question, so we first hit it with a metal hammer, and then we stood on it, about 250 pounds. Two people together stood on it. We then dropped a 30-pound cinder block on it from six feet. Then we ran it over with a Prius, and it survived all those tests.
Adam: It only broke when we ran it over with a Toyota 4Runner. Yeah, those videos were definitely captivating.
Felix: Yeah, I think that what you were going for is just having this evergreen content, and it’s certainly still working to this day, to get people into your brand’s universe, for them to first hear about it. Were all of these videos done in house? Did you hire a company to help you produce them?
Adam: We did do them in house, yeah. One of our other cofounders, who we brought on as a cofounder later, he was excellent at video production. That was his side passion. Most of the videos you see on KLOS Guitars are produced by him. Jacob Sheffield is his name. Yeah, so we produced them in house, which gave us a lot of flexibility, in terms of iterating, tweaking, and that was really, really essential to the early stages of the company.
Felix: This three million YouTube video views over just a few months for one of your videos … How do you get the ball rolling on a video like that? How do you even kickstart, I guess, the virality?
Adam: Those views were actually on Facebook. Virality … Everyone analyzes virality, and I think the conclusion most people come to is you can sort of engineer virality, to a certain degree. If you produce a video, and then release it with some partners, all at the same time, and coordinate, you can ensure maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of views, but to get to the millions stage, it’s a big luck component.
I’d love to be able to say, “Oh, you know, we did these 10 things, and if you do this, then it will produce the same result,” but it was kind of lucky, to be honest. I mean, we released it. We put some money behind it. I had a few friends, who were working at Facebook, and they had some Facebook Ad credit vouchers, because at that early stage, we didn’t have any money, so we were trying to find resources wherever we could. Only an $800 ad spend got us almost those three million views. It was just a very share-worthy video. It was under a minute long. It was really funny.
It was released in the fall, which was timed well with golfing season, which was wrapping up. It was relevant to the time. Yeah, that’s what happened.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), were you able to … have you been able to replicate the success?
Adam: We actually haven’t. No. We’ve tried, and we’ve gotten some videos to have half a million views after that, but most of those videos had much more ad spend behind it. I think it’s also important to note that, even in the last three years, the Facebook algorithm has changed much, very much, in terms of what gets shared, what can go viral in the newsfeed and all that. I think virality is great, but it’s something that you can’t count on, because it’s not really sustainable. It can give you these pushes that will help for a week or a month, but in terms of building a sustainable business, I think it’s much more effective to think about what can you do that’s regular and stable and predictable, and then, now and then, focus on maybe a viral video attempt, and see if that can take off.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), so what does that mean for you guys today, in terms of the path into the top of the funnel? Previously, or maybe even to this day, it was that video, but then, when you want more regular traffic coming into the top of the funnel, where do you focus your attention?
Adam: I think one channel that’s very good for that, specifically, is AdWords. AdWords is more … Because it’s keyword based, and you can find customers that are looking for that exact keyword, that’s a source of traffic that is very predictable. We’re transitioning into more Google AdWords spend, as we become more mature. For example, if someone searches travel guitar, we absolutely want to be there at the top results. We’re still doing a lot of Facebook Ads. We actually are still doing crowdfunding, and so we … For the longest time, I thought crowdfunding is an early stage company type of activity, and we need to move away from it as fast as possible, to become a sustainable Shopify site.
Over time, I’ve realized that I think product launches in general, and you see this with some companies that are very mature, they still release their products over crowdfunding. We still do that. We’ve done six Kickstarters until now, and with Kickstarter, Facebook advertising works much better than Google AdWords, so that’s the channel we use for crowdfunding, then regularly reaching out to blogs.
We come out with regular YouTube videos, regular Instagram postings. I think looking at a bunch of different platforms and figuring out how can we create content regularly that will keep people coming back? Also, when we get a new user onto that channel, so a new follower on Instagram, they’ll remain a follower, and they’ll keep coming back to their feed or keep checking back to see what’s new.
Felix: Yeah, because you’re trying to be on all of these different platforms. You’re talking about you want to run AdWords campaigns. You want to run Facebook Ads. You want to create content on Facebook, on Instagram, all these platforms. What’s the process for managing all of that, to make sure that you are generating enough content to get people to keep coming back, well first, to discover you, and then to keep coming back?
Adam: Yeah, each platform’s different. In terms of content creation, this was actually one of our earliest ideas, which didn’t prove to work until only maybe a year ago. Most of the content that we now put on Instagram is actually customer created. People get very passionate about our guitars. I think our branding promotes that, where our mantra or hashtag is Keep it KLOS, and what we mean by that is no matter how busy you get, no matter where you are, don’t allow your hobbies to get lost in the past.
If you play guitar, then play guitar for five minutes a day. Don’t let five months go by without you touching your guitar, or if you go on a trip to Costa Rica, and you’re worried about the temperature or humidity damaging your wooden guitar, we make a guitar that allows you to take it with you and bring that hobby with you. We promote that throughout all of our channels. When our customers get their guitar, many of them are thinking, “Awesome! I now have my KLOS guitar, and I’m going to take it with me to this next place that I’m going to.”
A lot of our customers send us pictures of their trips, and whenever someone says they have a trip, we always say, “Very cool! Tell us about it afterwards.” Sometimes they write a blog post about it. Our customers are very passionate, and they are our content creators, too, and they’re kind of mini-brand ambassadors.
In terms of scheduling everything, we do some channels better than others. I won’t pretend that we’re an expert in everything. We’re still trying to figure out how to grow our Instagram even faster. There’s so many different channels, and so many of them are different in very niche ways. There’s Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook. Each one should be approached with a unique strategy.
Right now, we’re focusing on Instagram and Facebook. Pinterest and Twitter, we definitely need some more work on those fronts, but yeah, in general, I think it’s analyzing what does each platform offer? Who are the most successful people on those platforms? What do they do well? How can we emulate that? Then we create our own strategy. Then it’s just a matter of executing that strategy. That’s typically how we approach each different channel.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), so for the customer-created content, what is that usually in the form of? Is it Instagram posts or a blog? What’s usually the outcome?
Adam: Oftentimes, it’s just images. People will send us pictures from their most recent trip with them with their guitar or the guitar in nature. Sometimes our more professional customers actually use the guitar on sets, and so they might have YouTube videos of them playing at a gig with our guitar. Some of our customers are insane, to be honest.
A few examples … One guy hiked or climbed the tallest mountain in North America, Denali, with his KLOS guitar and played Stairway to Heaven at 21,000 feet. He sent us a picture. That was really incredible. He also wrote a blog post about that, and so we have a guest post on our website about him. Another guy is sailing around the world with our guitar. One person biked from Montreal to San Diego, 10,000 kilometers, with our guitar.
Some of our customers, they embody the brand that we’ve created. That, to be honest, for me, is the most humbling and amazing part of starting this company at all, because for someone to understand the brand, and then take it into their own hands and shape it to something that impacts their life, I think, is the goal of what every lifestyle brand has.
Felix: Yeah, I think these in the wild photos that you’re talking about are the most valuable and the best forms of content to get people to trust the product that they’re going to buy for the first time, because it’s a combination of an unboxing video with a lifestyle that you can create with that particular product, like a review all wrapped together because it’s produced by … It’s also unbiased, because it’s produced by a customer.
How did you … It sounds like you tried this approach a bunch of times, but it didn’t really take off until about a year ago. What were you doing to encourage people to, or encourage your customers to, share and create this kind of content?
Adam: In the very beginning, the reason … This strategy we had right from the very beginning, but in the beginning we didn’t have any customers, and we didn’t have any guitars.
Adam: We had to wait until we had both of those, to really start enacting this plan. There are a few different ways. One, in our newsletters and our crowdfunding updates, we always promote the brand, and we request that people send us stuff. We tell them we will … If you want the exposure, we will post your stuff to our social media, so if that’s definitely, if that’s something you’re interested in, we’re happy to help.
When customers email us specifically, oftentimes we’ll have a chain back and forth about … Someone says, “Hey, I’m going to this place. I’m thinking of buying a guitar. I have so-and-so question.” Then, if they do become a customer, I always say, “Let us know how it goes on the trip.” Building that personal relationship definitely has been, I think, the most successful. When I’ve had personal contact with a customer going on some travel, that’s typically where we see the most images coming in.
Then just the website, the way we designed the website, the way all of our content is produced, I think what we’re going for is creating this lifestyle brand that hopefully people get. Then, when they see that we have guest posts, that also nudges people more in that direction.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, I think if you can get the ball rolling and start putting out these customer content pieces, people are going to be like, “Oh, I want to submit my content, too,” because it’s going to get this kind of exposure, and they want to … It just looks cool, to be a part of something like that.
Felix: I think it important that you were saying try not to let the relationship with your customer just die off after they place an order. Have that kind of followup, because they obviously are giving you rewarding stories, just because you’re now hearing about how people are taking your product and changing their lives with it. Then, of course, they’re producing all this great content that you can share with your customer base after.
If you don’t have any customers yet, which was the problem that you guys faced … You had to wait for customers to buy your product, to have a big enough pool for people to start producing this kind of content. You can always work [or hire, inaudible 00:40:23] influencers, help replicate some of this. I think that’s something that you guys have done recently, which is to work with established influencers to get the word out. Can you talk a little bit more about this? What kind of influencers are you working with?
Adam: Yeah. There are many, many guitar influencers on YouTube. YouTube, I think, is the biggest channel that we’re targeting with influencers. These YouTubers do unboxing videos all the tie. They do demos and reviews of products. Usually, it’s quite simple. The way I approach it, it’s just … I try to find the influencers that have the most subscribers, the most views, and someone who, when I watch their content, I think they do a really good job. I just reach out to them via their email on YouTube, and I usually propose, “Hey, we have this guitar. It’s cool for these few reasons. Would you be interested in doing an unboxing or a review or maybe incorporating it into your YouTube channel a little bit?”
People have been very receptive to those reach-out efforts. I think now … I think there’s a wider trend, and you’d know this better than I would, since you talk to so many Shopify owners, but it seems like people are supporting smaller companies more and more. I think the vibe that I get is that people are trying to support their local brands. They’re trying to support entrepreneurs more.
It might be just because I’m now getting more and more into that space, and I’m getting older, that that seems like it, but I think that effect is very useful. That trend is very useful for people like us. When I reach out to people and I say, “Hey, we have this new guitar,” I think a lot of influencers appreciate that people are still trying to innovate in the guitar space, which is very established and has many established players.
People are receptive to it, and it’s really helped. I mean, if you see … For example, our best review is by this guy named Tony Polecastro. He’s done over 500 guitar reviews, and he does them all the same, and he plays all the same songs on all the guitars. When you see that video, you get a very unbiased view and very unbiased explanation of the guitar. That is invaluable, when it comes to trying to convince a potential customer online if they should buy it or not.
Felix: Hmm, makes sense. I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense, which is about the smaller brands that are now popping up and people wanting to support them. I think, a lot of times, it comes down to the connection with a person behind a company, right? They have their own personal story, and that resonates with a lot of influencers. It resonates with your customer base. I think that you can also see this a lot with the success in crowdfunding. I think you hear all the time, or see all the time, that the most successful campaigns are the ones where there’s a founder’s story, where people talk about why they’re building something, rather than what they’re building or what product they’re putting out there.
I think what you’re saying has a lot of merit, and it goes back to being able to level with the customer and be able to talk to them eye to eyes. I think that that’s an advantage that more brands should take advantage of, which I think you guys are certainly doing.
I want to talk a little bit about your … You mentioned that you had a very clear vision, and you set priorities from the very beginning. You mentioned to us that you knew that you would launch with a travel guitar, then ukulele, then full-size guitar, go to crowdfunding, go to website sales, and eventually you’d build a brand that people would save up months or years to purchase. Why that particular order of events?
Adam: Yeah, that’s a really good question. To me, it seems very logical to go that route, and the reason being the travel guitar was our first product, and that was a very applicable use case of carbon fiber. The question of is a wooden travel guitar durable? No, it’s not. That’s the pain point. What’s the solution? Boom! Travel guitar. That would really make sense, and so we started there, as far as product goes.
I always knew that, once we develop all that expertise, to make a ukulele is extremely similar. A ukulele is also a body, a soundboard and a neck, slightly different design, but same supply chain, same sourcing, same materials, very similar pitch. The ukulele is slightly different for us, because it’s a very premium price point; whereas, our travel guitar price point is very average. The average acoustic guitar price in the U.S. is around $450. Our guitar being at $600 is not that high of a deviation from the mean.
The average ukulele price is $70, and ours start at $440. We’re way above the average price point, so the pitch is a little bit different for the ukulele. Then, for the full-sized guitar, that … The carbon fiber definitely applies to the full-sized guitar, as well, but slightly less, because you’re not going to be traveling with a full-sized guitar as much, so the pitch changes with the full-sized guitar slightly, because rather than saying, “You would never travel with your wooden guitar,” it’s more, “A carbon fiber full-sized guitar is going to be more resistant to temperature and humidity changes, and it’s going to be a guitar that will look the same in 20 years.” We don’t really pitch it as much as the travel guitar.
The reason that we came out with the full-sized is because, again, same supply chain, similar design. We already had all the resources and expertise to launch it, and the acoustic full-sized guitar market is bigger than both the ukulele and travel-size guitar marked combined, so that was a very lucrative market expansion for us. That’s the progression of instrument lines.
As far as crowdfunding to Shopify to maybe eventually physical retail, that also has many advantages. When you do crowdfunding … I think crowdfunding is one of the most amazing inventions for entrepreneurs in recent years, because if we were … Our first crowdfunding campaign raised $30,000 about. The next one was $103, and then $303, $109, $135, and now our current, full-sized guitar is at, I think, $68 or so.
If we were to go to a bank and get a loan, then we would have the money upfront, which is the same as crowdfunding. You get the money upfront, but then we’d still have the challenge of proving a product market fit, and we’d still have to get customers, who then give us feedback. In crowdfunding, you get all that at once. You get all the money upfront. You get the customers. You get a product market fit. These customers, because they preordered, and because they have to wait several months to get it, they get very excited about the product. They’re extremely willing to give feedback. They’re willing to leave reviews. They’re willing to spread the word with word of mouth.
That was a no-brainer for me, as far as starting the company with crowdfunding. I think Shopify … Eventually, once you get past that crowdfunding stage, you do have to have some sort of stable website sales to be sustainable, and so that’s where the Shopify stage comes in. The reason that comes before physical retail, in my mind, is because, one, physical retailers need large inventory amounts, which most scrappy, lean startups cannot afford the upfront capital to build, let’s say, a thousand guitars and distribute them to a guitar center before those sales are made, nor can they really support the margin that they use by going to retailers when they’re very young.
Physical retail, to me, didn’t make much sense in the beginning, and Shopify and then online store did make a lot of sense, because you can advertise as you have more money. You can control that demand a little bit. You can scale at an organic and safe pace. You never really get outpaced on demand or supply on an online store, because you can kind of control it.
That’s how the progression works. Now that we’re a bit more established online, now is the time, I think, to start looking towards physical retail, because we do have the inventory, the capital, and the stable website sales to allow us to experiment with physical retail.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), so now that you’re in this stage of eCommerce, owning your own Shopify site, I want to talk a little bit about the site itself. Was the website design in house? Did you guys hire out for that?
Adam: We designed most of it ourselves. We had the help of this one agency called Sliced Bread. They’re based in L.A. and they’re really good. They do a lot of stuff from Google advertising to Facebook to website design. They’re a Shopify partner. They were helping us with a website audit, so more back-end Shopify stuff. As far as front end goes, we designed that ourselves, and a lot of it was just the content. Choosing a theme was definitely stressful in the very beginning. It seems like a very big decision, which theme to choose, just because there are hundreds of them. We went with the Turbo theme from Out of the Sandbox, which was a very robust theme that didn’t have to be modified too much to fit our needs.
We also had the help of … There’s an app that’s not yet released. It’s called Crowd Control. It basically combines Shopify and crowdfunding, so if you have a crowdfunding campaign, you can then transfer your customers to your Shopify site and sell them add-ons and accessories on your store, rather than going through. CrowdOx and BackerKit are two other popular sites that do that, as well. The owner of that app, Jason, he helped a little bit with the developing of the custom features on our site, as well.
Felix: Nice. What other applications do you use on your Shopify site?
Adam: We don’t use a ton. I think that’s definitely an area … I’ve listened actually to some of the other podcasts that you’ve done, and I’ve heard some really good suggestions on there. One that I really like is called Justuno. That’s a popup app that you can customize and design really neat popups very quickly. You can also send emails through there.
We use QuickBooks, but that’s not the sexiest app. That’s more back-end accounting. We have used Recart.
Felix: That’s for cart abandonment recovery?
Adam: Yeah, exactly, yeah so abandoned cart, abandonment. You can create three emails with them that go out. You can plan each one differently. You can time it, change the messaging accordingly, yeah.
Felix: Is there a certain timing that works well for you?
Adam: I don’t really have any fast rule or necessarily data that proves one time better than another. I think, in general, it’s good to have a followup very thoroughly after someone abandons a cart, so maybe one to two hours, and then you want to remind them after a period of time where you’re out of sight, out of mind, so maybe a day later. Then if that doesn’t work, a last ditch effort may be three to four days later. That’s how I’ve spaced it, but I could see other timeframes working, as well.
Felix: Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, Adam. Klosguitars.com is the website. K-L-O-S-G-U-I-T-A-R-S dot com. I know that you have crowdfunding campaigns going on. What other goals do you have for this year?
Adam: We’ve never had a holiday season yet where we’ve been completely prepared, so I’m most looking forward to holiday season where we have inventory and we have budget to advertise. That’ll be a first for us. Then, also, the physical retail expansion, so we’re launching in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Houston, Austin, and Seattle in five b8ta stores. That’s B–8-T-A. I’m very excited to see what happens in those stores. If that is effective, then we might be pursuing physical retail more.
We have a big trade show on the horizon at the end of June in Nashville, which is the hub of music and guitar. We’ll see how our interactions with retailers go there. Yeah, potentially by the end of the year, we might have a fairly big number of physical retailers, so a lot of different things going on. I’m also excited to get the ukulele and the full-sized guitar on our Shopify site. Right now, they’re just in the preorder phase, so I think, come August, those will be readily available. Yeah, a lot of different things we’re working on, but all of them are exciting.
Felix: Awesome, good. Thank you so much for your time, Adam.
Adam: Yeah, thank you, Felix.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peak for what’s in store on the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: I mean, there’s still times now where there’s a little bit of self-doubt, like is this the real thing? I don’t think there’s ever a moment of pure clarity.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial. Also, for this episode’s show notes, head over to shopify.com/blog.