Lessons Learned: 5.11 Tactical Grows to $10 Million in Six Years

5.11 Tactical is a company that sells specialized clothing and gear to law enforcement and fire protection professionals. Its business model largely relies on a dealer network, but even so, its ecommerce site grosses roughly $10 million per year. That’s not bad for a small portion of the business, and we recently spoke with 5.11 Tactical’s ecommerce manager Brian Rogers to learn how the site got to that level of revenue.

PeC: Tell us about 5.11 Tactical.

Brian Rogers: “The current ecommerce model has been in existence for a little over six years. We are a manufacturer of apparel for the public safety market that includes police, fire, EMTs, and any public safety professional.

“Our business generates approximately $130 million annually, and ecommerce is about 7 to 8 percent of that.”

PeC: How many SKUs are on the site?

Rogers: “We load and unload many SKUs throughout the year as new products become available and we discontinue some, but it’s roughly about 15,000 SKUs.”

PeC: Do you have a physical location as well as the website?

Rogers: “We don’t. We’re a dealer-based company in which most of our distribution goes to our dealers. Our physical address is in Modesto [California], but we do not sell products in our physical location. It’s just mainly our warehouse and all of our company offices.”

PeC: Do you have a catalog operation?

Rogers: “We do. We send about 1.5 million catalogs out to public safety organizations out there in the marketplace.”

PeC: Tell us about the shopping cart and order management system used by your company.

Rogers: “We have a good partnership with a company called eOne Web Commerce, a division of MICROS-Retail. They designed our shopping cart and that’s the system we own. The order management system is through ABS (Apparel Business Systems).”

PeC: What about accounting software?

Rogers: “It is enterprise level accounting software that is all done through a big financial team, and I am not sure what software we use for that.”

PeC: Do you do any email marketing?

Rogers: “We actually do a lot. We try to hit our customer base approximately once a week. Our main marketing provider for that is Lyris, and we blast out approximately 600,000 emails per month.

“Mainly our offers are driven off previous purchase behavior. We have all of our customers segmented into buying cycles–when was the last time they bought, and what they bought–and it helps us make a unique offer for them. However, most of our emails are merely informational because of the conflict that can exist between our dealer base and our ecommerce operation. Approximately 90 percent of our emails are informational, mainly just to illustrate new product offerings, like a December reminder of top gifts for the holiday season.”

PeC: What are the main marketing vehicles for your ecommerce site?

Rogers: “Our main marketing vehicle is through a lot of SEO [search engine optimization] and a lot of search engine marketing [pay-per-click]. We believe those are the two best sources with which we can make the biggest impact for our business.

“For search engines, we’re optimized. We’re currently around 10,000 keywords. We have that all the way through our trademarks and most of our core products [because] we really like to maintain the top spot. We found that our natural search generates approximately 60 percent of our overall business.

“Search engine marketing is used to fill in the gaps where we don’t have a strong SEO presence. Moreover, we use the search engine marketing side to drive business to our dealers, as well. Pay-per-click is our main vehicle. We advertise some on Yahoo! and MSN, but mostly it’s through Google. Where we have gaps in which we’re not number one, or we’re not on the first page, we use pay-per-click to fill in the gaps ”

PeC: Do you manage marketing activities in-house or do you outsource it?

Rogers: “It’s kind of a hybrid model. We use a company called Pepperjam to manage our affiliate network, another big marketing avenue we use. And, Pepperjam helps us manage that and our PPC campaigns. In-house, we do all the keyword analysis and research to figure out what our best keywords are going to be. Like most merchants and retailers on the Internet, we know our business better than anyone, and so we basically hand those keywords off and let Pepperjam do the buys for us.”

PeC: Tell us some of the successes that you’ve had along the way and perhaps mistakes that may have been made.

Rogers: “One of the main things that we learned most about our business is who our customer was. When we were smaller, we had a tough time determining what type of business we could expect year after year from repeat customers, and then figuring out how many customers we would need to bring into our site to hit our revenue goals. So, we took all of our data and looked at who’s bought from us, what they bought from us, and how many times they bought. We put it out over the course of five years and then did a lot of analysis on who the customer was. That helped us more than anything to understand budgeting and how we could use some of these techniques to increase our business.

“Another thing is pay-per-click. A lot of people think you simply need to throw some money at PPC, put up a landing page, and you’re going to have instant success, which was not the case for us. We had to do very targeted landing pages and very targeted ads to make sure we were honed in on what we wanted to do with the company.

“For instance, our keyword, 511 tactical (which we do a lot of bidding on)– when we first started, we just simply put the landing page and [a message that said] ‘come to 511 tactical, direct supplier of all your tactical gear.’ And then we threw the landing page to our homepage, which converted very low and we ended up spending a lot of money. So, we [pointed the landing pages] to our category pages and our product pages and found that our conversions went significantly higher. When we first started sending to our homepage, we were getting about 1.5 percent conversion off those people, but when we took them to category pages, we saw that increase to around 100 to 150 percent across the board.”

PeC: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Rogers: “Be careful with SEO. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there that believe they can do a lot of stuff with SEO. It takes hard work, it takes time, it takes a commitment to excellence, and making sure your content is aligned with your keywords. Specifically, it takes writing a lot of content, putting it on your site and learning how to intertwine those keywords in your content so it makes sense.

“Get professional advice on SEO because it can make or break your business.”

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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