Practical Ecommerce

Technology stack for Beardbrand

I’ve always appreciated other companies opening up about their business. So I’d like to share a bit of details on our technology platform. As of January 2016, our business is in its fourth year. We are privately held, and have bootstrapped our way to growth. We are now a seven-figure (revenue) business. It’s always challenging to grow through profits. It forces you to make decisions that may move you forward but aren’t necessarily the best for the long run.

The thing with building a business is there is no one right or wrong way. Every day you are taking risks and making decisions based on the current information, the available options, and time constraints. Since we bootstrapped, we didn’t have the cash to invest in what is required to build our technology from the ground up.

Beardbrand is a men’s grooming company. Most of our revenue comes from our two online retail stores: one for European shipments, and the other for the rest of the world. Roughly 20 percent of revenue is generated through our wholesale channel.

Our day-one decision, based on a recommendation of a friend, was to go with Shopify. At the time, Shopify charged a percentage of revenue for the standard package. But the unlimited platform did not charge that percentage. We looked at our goals for the business, where we wanted to take it, and decided we could bear the costs of the unlimited package, to get off the ground. We were able to launch our online store within a couple of days of that decision.

At that time we only had three products and business was 100 percent ecommerce. Once we got a little volume, we found that a shipping-software solution was a huge benefit in cost savings and operations. We used — and still use — ShipStation. But we have heard good things about ShippingEasy, too.

Once we added the wholesale channel, we needed a better way to manage inventory. That led us to Stitch Labs. We were a fairly early customer and have been through some of Stitch’s growing pains. But its system has improved over the years and serves as a core unit within our business. We use Stitch Labs for our wholesale and retail orders.

On the marketing spectrum, we use Yotpo for our review engine. We signed up with that company because of the pricing — it was free — and because it was very easy to integrate with Shopify. As we’ve grown, we’ve upgraded to Yotpo’s premium features.

We also integrate our Shopify store with MailChimp, for email marketing. We use ReCharge to handle our subscription service. Like most other ecommerce businesses, we use Google Analytics to keep an eye on traffic patterns. To improve the experience of our shoppers, we use Visual Website Optimizer — VWO — for A/B testing.

The thing with cloud-based providers is that they frequently change their pricing and features. Packages that were available to us early on may not be available in the current model — or pricing may have changed. We’ve been loyal customers to these companies and it’s been interesting to watch how they have changed, upgraded, and improved.

There are limitations to Shopify. It doesn’t serve our business perfectly. At times it feels like we are tying our technology stack together with a shoestring. But, there are plenty advantages to this route.

The biggest advantage is that we never have to worry about our website going down because Shopify has built a robust infrastructure. We’ve been on the Shark Tank television show and the episode has rerun twice. Our website didn’t flinch. In theory, building a custom platform would help our business. But when you factor in the time to develop the platform, the costs of development, and the risk of downtime, it becomes clear that cloud solutions are the way to go.

There are plenty of risks, however. What if Shopify or Stitch Labs goes out of business? How would that affect us? How quickly could we change to other providers? We are putting faith in these companies that they will develop technologies that will make our business better. We recently launched a completely redesigned website. We decided that Shopify will suit our needs for at least the next three years. We are looking forward to Shopify and the other providers taking us to an eight-figure business.

Ultimately, we are a men’s grooming company — not a technology company. The energy and brainpower we devote to technology is time we could spend making the experience better with our customers, developing better products, or working on our marketing message. Having that core vision for what your company is will help you make technology decisions.

Here are the software platforms we use.

Get the Practical Ecommerce RSS feed

Comments ( 8 )

  1. Jessica January 12, 2016 Reply

    Eric,

    Great article. We too feel as though we’ve shoestrung things together as we’ve grown. We’re currently looking at review platforms and the cost of Yotpo is a HUGE deterrent for us as it seems that all of our transactional e-mails would need to be sent through them and that’s a seemingly large number. If you had to pay for Yotpo from the onset would you have still gone with them do you think?

    Also, are you looking at other e-mail platforms for the near future and if so, which ones? We’re pretty darn happy with Mail Chimp but we’re being approached by Bronto, Robly and a few others and we’re curious as to what others are experiencing as well?

    And with the Zopim chat built into Zendesk why did you opt for LiveChat instead?

    Sorry, I know it’s a lot of questions but in my role as both the Customer Service Manager and Marketing Lead, I have a lot of say in which technology we’ll be adopting and I’m curious as to the choices you’ve made and why. You’ve been wildly successful, your customer service is superb (I’m a customer,) and your branding is consistent.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. Ben Schwartz January 12, 2016 Reply

    Eric,

    Great article and thanks for sharing your technology stack.

    We have a similar stack and we used shopify to bootstrap our site. It got us off the ground faster but we now feel that we have outgrown it. We still do not want to

    Have you considered other alternatives to Stitchlabs ? We have started shipping close to 300 packages a day and we are considering using something like an ERP system to do multiple functions. Having multiple softwares in the stack is now beginning to be a pain with training people and making sure these softwares talk to each other.

    There seems to be several options in the space. We are currently evaluating NetSuite (https://www.netsuite.com), Brightpearl (brightpearl.com) and FulFil.IO (https://www.fulfil.io). Have you considered any ERP system for Beardbrand ?

    • Peter Keller January 13, 2016 Reply

      Hey Ben! I use BrightPearl for FringeSport.com. If you want to chat re: my experiences, hit me up- peter@fringesport.com

    • Chad Rubin January 26, 2016 Reply

      Hey Ben,

      This is Chad, CEO of Skubana (http://www.skubana.com). To refrain from being too advertorial on this really awesome and informative post from Eric Bandholz, I think I’ll just say that our software may be what you’re looking for.

      As a very large online seller myself, I felt the pain of using several fragmented apps to run my own business with Crucial. We created a software that would become your central hub for everything after the checkout. From any way you fulfill, Inventory to PO’s and state-of-the-art profitability reports with 1-click integrations.

      Our software is a game changer. Please feel free to call us, schedule a demo and try us out for 14 days. You will be blown away with what we have and what’s on the roadmap :wink:. Thanks Ben!

  3. Eric Bandholz January 13, 2016 Reply

    Jessica,

    I wasn’t aware that Zendesk had that option through Zopim. I’ll have to check them out and possibly make the switch. Seems to make more sense. Thanks for sharing!

    We currently do pay for YotPo, and I feel like it’s expensive, but reviews were very instrumental to the success of our business. It’s something that builds instant trust with your customers and can really set you apart from your competition.

    We have pretty simple email marketing strategy currently, but we’ll be using Mailchimp’s automation ability in the future. I think Bronto / Klaviyo offer great tools, we just aren’t there yet as a business.

    Ben,

    When shopping for StitchLabs we compared it to BrightPearl and weren’t too impressed with that solution. I’ve got friends who have used the software and it doesn’t seem to be as effective as they tout. I haven’t done a deep look into NetSuite or Fulfil.io, but we are always evaluating what works for us.

    Having something more robust would be a lot more beneficial; but I’ve also been burned in the past from software companies that can claim to do everything. I almost prefer having multiple vendors who do one thing well.

    We’ve upgraded to Shopify Plus and I know they offer features that the standard plans don’t and in the future will roll out even more technology to differentiate between the plans. Based on what I hear, they’ll be a good long term platform for our needs.

    Eric

  4. Diane Melen January 14, 2016 Reply

    Eric,

    This is a refreshing thread to speak “user to user” – thanks for sharing your story.

    I purchased my business and changed the dinosaur website to Shopify after attending the Practical E commerce Ignite Conference in Dallas. Best thing I ever did (both the conference and the switch).

    I HAD a completely custom website which at first looked great for the needs of the company, but as a non-tech person in a home based business selling 6 figures, I quickly realized I was spending way too much time and money chasing the changes to the ecommerce industry and paying a “web guy” who really didn’t understand e-commerce large sums to chase Google-led changes to web tracking/mobile-friendly changes etc etc. The website became a burden rather than an asset. I took a deep breath and made the switch just before the Christmas season and can’t believe how much time has been freed up to be able to make changes myself to landing pages, home pages etc.

    I’m still struggling with the email part of Shopify, and the strange reporting functions, but will get there.

    Reviews: I use Ekomi and can’t say enough good things about them. Reviews ARE hugely important and they have boosted my sales by at least 10% possibly more since I started one year ago. Their pricing for small business is far more reasonable than most 3rd party review systems, and quite flexible implementation too. In fact I’d like to see a thread about Review Management here! It’s a bit of a minefield – are reviews from legitimate customers only? Or can anyone leave a review? How much cost? Are they scale-able for review management? Are they Google Certified for the “gold star” extensions in Google Search (very important).

    Thanks again, always enjoy hearing other’s stories of success and challenges!
    Diane
    Secret Storage Books.com

    • Jon January 15, 2016 Reply

      Eric,

      Thanks for the insight. Good point on keeping it simple and reliable vs covering every single little feature you may wish for.

      Diane,

      Thanks for the Ekomi mention, I hadn’t heard of them before. They have some huge clients, and i would have probably not approached them for a small store without your endorsement.

      Quick note: your domain doesn’t work without the www. part. You may want to check Shopify’s guide for domain setup.

      Jon

  5. Scott Palmer January 26, 2016 Reply

    Hey Eric, Scott Palmer here. COO at Spikeball (www.spikeball.com). Shark Tank Survivor and recently number #139 on Inc 500 First want to say, Love your product! Big fan. Have been using them for a few years now. Love seeing the progress you guys have made. Great article. Really appreciate you sharing

    Looks like we use a lot of the same platforms. Big fan of Shopify, Shipstation and Yotpo. As we grew, we found that we needed a platform that played well with Shopify and Shipstation. After testing out almost all “ERP” systems that integrate with the 2, we landed on Brightpearl (brightpearl.com). We were looking to expand to new sales channels, and Brightpearl allowed us to do so at a quicker rate than most all other platforms. At the moment we sell on 5 Shopify sites, 3 Amazon stores (US, Canada, UK,) have product in 6 warehouses in 5 countries and service 4000+ retail locations. Brightpearl is the center of our universe and has been an awesome asset. Would highly recommend you take a look at them.

    Always looking to connect with other software/ops-minded individuals like yourself. If you ever want to compare notes, please feel free to reach out. Thanks again for posting such a great write-up.

    Best,
    Scott