San Diego Paddle Board Brand's Volusion Interview
Questions and answers with Stephan and Volusion on the Success of Tower’s Online Store
Last year, Volusion, who hosts the Tower online
store, did an awesome
on our success. They recently reached out
to me to see how things were going and we did some
Q&A that I’d like to share with you as
loyal fans of the business. Thank you to Volusion
for being there to support us as we’ve seen
the business grow over the last couple of years.
Enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at our success!
V: Have you encountered any new milestones
since we wrote the blog on your success last year?
S: The past year has been a whirlwind
at Tower Paddle Boards. We exceeded our 2012 projected
sales estimates of $1.5 million and closed out the
year at $1.7 million. That was growth of over 500%
in one year! Take a look at the most recent monthly
sales figures year over year and you’ll see
the astounding growth our company has experienced.
On the sales front Tower has gone global. We expanded
to about 40 countries in the middle of 2012, and
now sell to pretty much every country worldwide.
We even ship our inflatable boards for free, worldwide.
On the production front, Tower is taking steps
to bring a chunk of our production to the USA and
Mexico. This is a marked change of strategy in the
paddleboard industry since most production has been
going to Asia over the past 20 years.
On the innovation front, we've introduced an amazingly
rigid 14' x 8"
racing/touring paddle board
, which rolls up
the size of a sleeping bag when deflated. We've
also connected with one of the best stand up paddle
board makers in the world to develop a best-in-class
traditional EPS/Epoxy construction 12'6" recreational
touring/racing SUP board that will sell for $500
less than the competition due to our direct distribution
On the customer engagement front, we've served
over 5000 satisfied customers and have grown our
email newsletter circulation to over 10,000 stand
up paddle boarding enthusiasts. In addition to more
traditional online marketing strategies, such as
an affiliate program and PPC, we're rolling out
a fairly progressive, high-touch brand ambassador
program in 2013.
On the workplace front, Tower has attracted some
impressive talent and doubled the size of our staff.
Just this month, we're moving into a new office
and flagship storefront a block from the beach and
right on the main retail strip in San Diego's lively
Pacific Beach neighborhood.
V: What has the media attention been like
for Tower Paddles in the past year?
S: Since our ABC Shark Tank appearance
and investment by Mark Cuban, the continued success
of Tower has also garnered us a good deal of continued
media attention. In addition to many articles in
local newspapers and industry news outlets, over
the past year, Tower has got a good deal of larger
press features including:
- Forbes (June 2012) - "Shark Tank Roundtable
- Their Best and Worst Deals" - Mark Cuban
lists Tower as one of his best Shark Tank deals.
- Miami Living (July 2012) - Tower iSUPs featured
in "Hot Products" section of Miami Living.
- Good Morning San Diego (Aug 2012) - KUSI's morning
show host Brad Perry spends the morning with Tower
- Woot! (Aug 2012) - Woot, the originator of the
"Daily Deal" phenomenon has a Tower
paddle board day on August 11th, and sells 100s
of boards in a single day.
- Entrepreneur Magazine (Sept 2012) - "The
Shark Tank Effect: Top Success Stories from the
First 3 Seasons" - Tower listed as a top
10 Shark Tank success story of all time.
- Hollywood Reporter (Sept 2012) - Tower's "Paddle
Boards" featured in lead in photo for Hollywood
Reporter article on ABC's Shark Tank
- ABC's Shark Tank (Sept 2012) - A one minute
update on Tower's success aired to 7 Million viewers
on Episode 3 of Season 4.
- Shape Magazine (Dec 2012) - "20 Super-Fit
Chicks Who Don't Run" Features Tower's Director
of Marketing, Ashley Hannawacker, on her paddle
boarding fitness routine.
- The Price is Right (Feb 2013) - Tower's inflatable
paddle boards were the lead-off prize package
on the February 13 episode that aired to 5 million
V: How has the Volusion software been helpful
in terms of your company’s growth?
S: Since our original Shark Tank
airing in March of 2012, we've been featured on
TV shows with 5M+ viewers a number of times. Each
time we need to be able to scale up and prepare
our site for a major traffic spike. For a niche
product site, due to our SEO expertise, we actually
see a good amount of traffic in the ballpark of
30,000 to 40,000 unique users per month. But that's
spread out fairly evenly, so maybe 1000-1200 users
per day. When we have been featured on a major network
show, we get a traffic spike of maybe 15,000 users
in a single day with the lion's share of that all
To handle that spike, we've leveraged the Volusion
technical team to move our site to a dedicated hosting
environment with a back-up server and load balancing.
Typically, we also go to back-up UPS rates and throw
a simplified home page to minimize server load and
focus conversion. After a few days time (to allow
for the very real Tivo effect), we drop back down
to our standard hosting environment. The ability
to scale up with a weeks' notice and then back down
again is invaluable. We don't have a technical team
to handle any of this, so we just leverage Volusion.
It's a perfect, cost-effective solution for us.
When I was first building Tower, I was using a
pretty basic plan because I had very little money
to burn. It was like $40/mo. Once the site was built
and I started to gain a little traction, I upgraded
to the top standard plan and it was still only like
$150/mo. That worked fine, even after our original
Shark Tank airing, and it was accommodating $100K
sales months. As the business has grown, we're finding
ourselves in the press more frequently so for now
we're parked in a semi-dedicated environment. It's
a little more expensive at about $500/mo, but it
provides us peace of mind that small spikes won't
create issues and the cost is frankly less of a
concern now than having anything less than a highly
responsive and highly reliable site. That's what
we bank on now.
V: Have you taken advantage of any of the
new tools or features in the Volusion software?
S: I love the new functionality
that has been added into Volusion's
, particularly the review system. We
turned on the automated "review request"
email follow-ups that get sent out a few weeks after
someone orders and that has really ratcheted up
the quantity of our reviews. We've gotten close
to 400 product reviews now across our line of SKUs.
Equally important to us, being an SEO-centric company,
is the new inclusion of the customer review "star
rating" in our organic Google listings. This
is huge for generating click-thrus and conversion!
V: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs
who feel like their business is plateauing? How
can they keep moving forward?
S: My advice would be, "Don't
get complacent." I've had a little experience
with a business that is plateauing. I have a separate
Volusion store that sells high-end poker chips that
I created during the poker boom in 2003.
took off like a rocket initially and it is what
allowed me to jump out of the corporate world and
work for myself. After a few years, the boom wore
off and annual sales leveled off at about $500K/yr.
Then the business just became about not back-sliding,
which isn't ideal. As they say, "If you're
not growing, you're dying." On the web, especially
in ecommerce, it's even more pronounced because
competition is attracted quickly and puts pressure
on prices and margins.
I did find some success in setting annual goals
that divided out everything into distinct revenue
streams and new business development initiatives.
I taped that sheet of paper right by my desk. By
breaking it out and having those quantified goals
right in your face, it seems to help you keep focus
and not let anything slip by. Still, that's just
a way to take better advantage of an existing opportunity.
The better tactic to combat a business that stalls,
in my opinion, is to constantly keep an eye out
for new opportunities that leverage your existing
assets, and that's what I did after a few years.
This can be entirely new business development ideas
related to your core business, or even things completely
outside of your existing business pursuits. Over
time there will be a number of flops and other pursuits
that are mildly successful, but if you keep plugging
away, eventually you will hit one out of the park.
Persistence is the key here.
I heard a quote once about success that went something
to the effect of, "Success is easy if you think
of it like rust: It's inevitable if you keep at
it." Your continual scanning for growth or
new business opportunities is like the rain and
wind, and over time that focused continual effort
will just wear down whatever goal you are working
on. Given enough time, success is inevitable.
V: Is Mark Cuban still involved in the
business and if so, how?
S: Mark Cuban is still very active
in the strategic guidance of Tower Paddle Boards
and has been instrumental in our success on several
fronts. I give Mark weekly status reports on everything
that’s going on with Tower, and he chimes
in whenever he feels compelled, or whenever I ask
to bounce something off him. He is invaluable in
that regard from a strategic guidance standpoint.
There are many instances of where I was going to
test out something and he weighs in with insight
from his experience, so I've been able to not only
learn from my mistakes and successes, but to benefit
from his as well. As an investor, I believe he's
very happy with our success to date and confident
about the future of Tower.
Growing a product based business from $260K in
2011 to $1.7M in the span of a year with relatively
limited working capital (his investment was only
$150K) puts a lot of pressure on cash flows, as
you can imagine. While top line revenue and profitability
growth is extremely healthy, we’re at the
stage where growth is consuming cash and not spitting
it out. In fact, our sales growth would have been
a lot higher but we were frequently stocked out
of boards at critical times. In June at the start
of our busy season, we were stocked out of 3 out
of 4 of our main boards. In December, we stocked
out just after Black Friday and kind of missed the
boat on the holiday season. Sounds stupid, but when
you did $12K last November and somewhat aggressively
predict maybe $40-$50K this November, it's hard
to accommodate $170K in sales!
The harsh reality is that without sufficient access
to capital, you can only do so much when a business
of this nature grows this fast. Fortunately, just
recently, Mark has personally extended Tower a line
of credit for $300K. I simply laid out my projections
for 2013 and made my argument of what's possible
with a little cash injection, and he replied by
email 10 minutes later with simply, "You have
just been authorized for a $300k line."
While there will always be a ton of obstacles and
challenges when growing a business, like funding
for one, perhaps the greatest part about being an
entrepreneur today is that I can focus the majority
of my efforts on the "Business building part,"
as there are inexpensive tools that expertly handle
what used to be very expensive and time consuming
tasks. Instead of building out a world class ecommerce
platform at the cost of hundreds of thousands or
even millions of dollars, we simply leverage Volusion's
platform for a few hundred a month. Tools like these
build automation into our business without us having
to think about much of it.
That's a large part of what allows a company like
Tower to grow from $3000 in annual sales to $1.7
million in a period of 2 years with a staff of only
four people. A lot of people think I'm kidding when
I tell them there's only four people in the company,
but the funny thing is that it could actually be
maintained with just two people. The extra two people
are pretty much 100% focused on just growing the