Own website, Amazon, eBay and Walmart
eDesk, Google Campaigns
MyBoatStore offers a range of boat maintenance and restoration products that have been personally tested, researched, and ultimately recommended by the in-house team. The company sells on Amazon, eBay and their own website and uses eDesk to manage its customer support.
MyBoatStore began in earnest in 2001 with Ohio native Greg Ulrich and it’s been a wild ride.
While other stores suffered great setbacks during the recession of 2008 and more recently, during the covid-19 pandemic, MyBoatStore had some of its busiest periods. The company went from selling two products to offering over 20,000. Sales went from predominantly webstore-based to almost entirely on marketplaces.
Frustratingly for Greg and his team, the company also went from having a direct connection with its customer base to relying on third-party marketplaces as an intermediary.
We sat down with Greg to discuss the journey, and he started by telling us where it all began.
”I took over a two-product company that my father had started out of his garage. He probably had one of the first million websites that ever existed. It started off as a boutique store. We sold (and still sell) products that keep boats looking their best.
The other side of the business involved carrying out our own independent research of boat maintenance products. We would look at hundreds of products that were all doing the same thing. Then, after research and testing, we’d decide which product was best and only sell that. For example, instead of selling loads of different types of boat wax, we’d only sell the one. When a customer came to us saying “Hey, we need to wax a boat.”, we’d say “Use this. If it doesn’t work, you need to look at a different product category.” We had one product per category, so to speak.”
MyBoatStore’s deep domain knowledge became its key selling point. Customers trusted their judgement and kept coming back for more.
”50% of customers would come to buy only one product but they’d have such a great experience, that they’d pick up another item. Our business started to grow because of the confidence that customers had in us.”
The challenge of increased inventory and greater support challenges
As the business grew and online marketplaces became more prevalent, MyBoatStore had to adapt their strategy. Having started out selling only a handful of products, with 100% of sales coming from their webstore, MyBoatStore had to increase distribution channels and widen their catalogue.
“We began offering a few products on Amazon because there was a competitor doing it. We thought it was just a one-off. We listed our first products on Amazon in 2007. In 2009, we went into eBay. A few years later we started offering products on smaller marketplaces. Things started to change after that. There was a period of time when we were selling 95% of our products through our own branded websites. A few years later, it flipped and we were then selling 95% of our products through the marketplaces.”
“We added products through our distribution partners so quickly because we wanted to increase the numbers of transactions. These online marketplaces can be very unforgiving. If you mess up an order, it can severely damage your reputation. We bumped up the volume to negate a bad experience. It’s what you have to do. If an order gets misplaced for whatever reason when you are selling five products a day, that’s an issue with 20% of your order total. If you sell 50 products, it’s only 2%. We ended up growing at a very fast rate. It’s also a lot of work to stay on top of various channels, logging in and out of them all to tackle support.”
MyBoatStore has lived through some of the most testing economic times. There was the financial crash of 2008 and now the global Covid-19 pandemic. As Greg describes, the outcome wasn’t what you’d expect.
“When the 2008 recession hit, we thought there would be a huge impact. Ironically it turns out that the products we sell are fairly insulated. People have to look after their boats even during a recession. If they want to sell the boat, it has to look good. And presumably, whoever buys their boat can afford to maintain it from that point on. So the need for boat maintenance and restoration products never really wavers.”
“We saw the same thing recently with COVID-19. When COVID first happened, people had to find something to do. Strangely, we saw a big spike because people were sitting at home with lots of free time to work on their boats.”
“MyBoatStore lives in a curious little niche that reacts a lot differently than you would think.”
While MyBoatStore has been protected in many ways, having such a heavy reliance on online marketplaces has left it exposed to lots of variables that are outside of Greg’s control. Greg and his team have adapted to this in many ways.
“One of the ways that we’re reducing risk is by moving away from only selling other people’s products. We’ve started developing our own brands, which gives us greater market resilience and we’ve had great international success with those.”
“We also introduced more smart tools such as eDesk, Repricer.com and Google Shopping, to gain competitive advantage. eDesk streamlines our customer support, which means we meet our SLAs. The Google Shopping integration in eDesk has been a dream, I 10x’d my return on ad spend in month one alone.”
So much of MyBoatStore’s success was built on deep connections with the customer. Customers kept coming back because they valued their expertise and trusted their judgement.
Over the years, Greg and the team nurtured that connection as best they could. This included a twice-weekly newsletter. When they started putting products on online marketplaces, they did so reluctantly as they feared they’d lose the close customer connection.
As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. Once MyBoatStore hit 20,000 SKUs, the close customer relationship slowly began to fade away. It wasn’t MyBoatStore’s fault. That is just the nature of operating within online marketplaces. It creates a barrier to direct customer conversations, which is a far cry from MyBoatStore’s roots.
Not only was there a sudden increase in orders, driven mostly by concerns about supply and delivery, but ticket volumes also increased by about 40%.
Greg and his team started using eDesk to handle the increased demand for customer support. It was during this time that they realised it was time to focus on re-establishing the relationship with its customer base. The company’s twenty-year journey, with all its tacking and gybing, had pulled them away from the community that it loved. And in order to keep moving forward, MyBoatStore needed to reconnect with its people.
By providing a centralized inbox for all incoming customer messages from Amazon and eBay, eDesk enabled Greg and his team to do just that.
“When we first started using online marketplaces, it was difficult. We had customers who had always bought through us that were suddenly buying our products through the marketplaces. We had to deal with the intermediaries of, ‘okay, who’s dealing with customer service?’ We kind of backed away and started looking at ourselves as a logistics company.”
“Since the time that we started branding our own products, we have been making a concerted effort to get back in touch with the end-user. We want to be the ones interacting with our customers. We’ve now returned to a point where we want to get to know our customers again and have those connections.”
“You can do incredible things when you’re the one in front of the customers, having those all-important conversations. And that’s what it’s all about.”
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