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Episodes > Season 3 Episode 24

Swanky are a leading agency in Shopify Plus ecommerce design

How to scale your food and beverage brand with Swanky

Dan McIvor, CFO, Swanky

What's in this episode?

On this episode of Hit Subscribe, we talk to Dan McIvor, Chief Future Officer at Swanky, a leading Shopify Plus agency with a focus on subscriptions in the food and beverage industry.

Dan discusses his experience in food and bev and why they decided to double down in the fastest growing vertical in DTC. In addition to the wide variety of opportunities within the food and bev vertical, Dan believes it is one of the few recession-proof verticals and there is still lots of VC money available for brands.

Additionally, we dig deep on an article Swanky just posted on their blog, detailing their 12 steps for a successful ecommerce website. We pull out 4 major topics, detailing the Customer Portal, churn, influencer partnerships and partnerships in general, and building a community.

Connect with Dan on LinkedIn. Check out Swanky.

Episode transcript

Chase Alderton: On this episode we talk to Dan McIvor, Chief Future Officer at Swanky, a leading Shopify Plus Agency with a focus on subscriptions in the food and beverage industry. Dan discusses his experience in food and bev, and why they decided to double down in the fastest-growing vertical in DTC. In addition to the wide variety of opportunities within the food and bev vertical, Dan believes it's one of the few recession-proof verticals and there's still lots of VC money available for brands.
Additionally, we dig deep on an article Swanky just posted on their blog, detailing their 12 steps for a successful ecommerce website. We pull out four major topics detailing the customer portal, churn, influencer partnerships, and partnerships in general in building a community. So, let's hop in. Dan, thank you for joining us.

Dan McIvor: Hi. A pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Chase Alderton: Tell us about yourself and about Swanky.

Dan McIvor: Sure. Well, I'm the founder of Swanky. I come from a computer technology background. And around about 12 years ago I decided that I should probably do something a bit more than I was, and decided to start an agency. And that's where Swanky was born. That was 2010, that's when the company's house documents were filed. We didn't really do much, though, for a couple of years. So, round about 2012 we found Shopify, launched our first Shopify store. That's when we really say that Swanky was born.
Yeah. And nowadays ... It's been a long journey. We're 75, something like that, people across three locations globally, and we're pretty much the go-to agency for subscription internationally. And nowadays working on both the design and build of stores and also the ongoing growth, so conversion, re-optimization, acquisition and that kind of thing, to help brands grow once they've launched.

Chase Alderton: Love it. You mentioned you're the go-to agency for subscriptions internationally. You are based in the UK. Correct?

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Based in the UK, and then we have offices in Montpellier in France, and over in Australia in Brisbane.

Chase Alderton: Love it. Let's get into some of our content today. I know that Swanky has a specialization in food and bev merchants. Let's just start there generally. Why food and bev? Is that something specific? Is that company something you fell into? What's the story there?

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Again, this goes back maybe 2016, something like that. We were working, lucky enough at that time, to begin working with what was then a very, very tiny brand called Huel. And-

Chase Alderton: [inaudible 00:02:48] Yeah, everyone knows the tiny brand Huel, yeah.

Dan McIvor: A tiny brand called Huel. We implemented Recharge for them as their subscription engine on Shopify, and it took off, obviously. And that was a moment for us because as a founder, as someone who's fascinated by entrepreneurialism and growing businesses and so on, I saw something quite extraordinary in the pace of growth of Huel. And I realized that was probably... Yeah, Huel is a very, very special brand, but there's huge growth in other subscription brands as well, and so that really excited me.
I think as an agency, we were also quite excited by the variety, the sort of the breadth of creativity that can be applied in the [inaudible 00:03:36] food and beverage space. Not saying anything bad about fashion, but you tend to get quite a lot of websites which are quite similar, and that serves its purpose. But for us, I think we love that variety of being able to ... One day we're working on a baby food brand in Switzerland, and the next day it's a beer company out of San Francisco. So, we love that variety.

Chase Alderton: Food and bev's really cool too, because it's ... You mentioned fashion. There really only is one way to do subscriptions in a vertical, like fashion. Food and bev opens everything up and there's a lot of different variants within there, from just plain supply and demand replenishment subscriptions. So, something like Huel, you like the chocolate brand every month, you get the same thing over and over again, or you do something like a meal delivery kit where it's ... Maybe you could pick what kind of meal you want every week, every two weeks, whatever it is.
There's an element of curation there as well, where the brand can pick and choose and say, "Hey, we're sending you these five things." So, there's a lot of variance within that. Like you said, it makes for a really exciting vertical.

Dan McIvor: Yeah, it definitely does. And yeah, you're right. On that strategy and growth level we can apply so many different ideas to help brands to attract and retain customers. And it does ... It changes by the vertical. Loyalty is such a powerful thing for so many brands, but if your product is a vitamin supplement, actually you might not be so worried about loyalty. It might be a great product. People might just ... There might be lifetime subscribers, no matter what you do.

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: But actually you might want to give people more ... Great content so they can understand those products better, and understand their health needs, and so on, better. So, yeah, lots of different strategies for lots of different types of business, which is really exciting.

Chase Alderton: What is it about the food and bev space that we keep seeing merchants pop up in this new space? Why are they choosing this space? You mentioned loyalty is a really good one. Loyalty builds itself in. It's one of our fastest growing subscriptions that we see every year of verticals, at least. Why do you think on your side that we keep seeing some of these food and bev brands pop up?

Dan McIvor: I think at the moment what we see is ... Yeah, recharging your own reports, I think you've noted that food and beverage is the fastest perhaps growing vertical in the subscription market. That manifests itself for us, I suppose, in a lot of investor interest in the brands that we're working with. So, most of the brands that we are actively engaged by are investor-backed, or working very hard on getting investment.

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: And working with us through a consultancy and so on, to make sure they can get that investment. And I think that there's a lot of attraction to that in an environment perhaps with economic headwinds globally, actually. Food and drink and so on, these are a little bit more recession-proof than some products and brands.

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: I think people are also often quite excited by new food and drink brands. There's a kind of hunger, if you'll excuse the phrase, to try new things and getting via subscription, where you're going to get something completely new every month. That's really quite ... It's quite a low-cost way to actually be surprised and try new things, and so on. And I think we saw that in the pandemic. Suddenly everyone's at home, they can't go out to the cinema, to the restaurant, and so on.
What's the next thing that we can do to be a little bit surprised, to have something new to experience? And it turned out that obviously online and subscription food and drink was one of those things that people went to. Yeah.

Chase Alderton: You're spot on. And I think you hit all of the novelty pieces there. There's a lot of loyalty. There's a lot of people looking for new things. Obviously, beer is an awesome category. I guess [inaudible 00:07:45], that's a really fun one to point at and see a bunch of the variants within there. Sorry to bring up a dumb point, but everybody needs to eat, and everybody needs to drink. So, if you're trying to be a little more creative, or if you're stuck in your rut with breakfast, lunch, dinner, or whatever it is, delivery kits are an awesome way to do that.
Or something like Huel. If you're working a ton, you can't really leave and get up and make something fresh. That's an awesome meal replacement shake right there for you, different flavors and all that. So, a lot of variance. I know we keep talking about that, but a lot of opportunity within the food and bev space, and a lot of ways to be creative as well.

Dan McIvor: Yeah.

Chase Alderton: On the creative note, you mentioned Huel, obviously. What are a couple of other brands that you are working with?

Dan McIvor: Yeah. So, we have, as I say, been doing food and bev subscription since 2016 or so. So, there are a lot.

Chase Alderton: Quite a few.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. And they're based all around the world as well. I think most recently, one of the most exciting ones we've worked with is HelloFresh. I think your American listeners will recognize that brand. They are, I think, the largest food box subscription brand in the world. They're a unicorn, which is crazy. And then a little bit closer to home in the UK, we've got a fantastic national business called Union Roasted Coffee, who ... Yeah, just find and roast, this just fantastic coffee, we've worked with them. But there are ... For us, there are brands in almost every kind of area of food and drink. Yeah, we just love that variety.

Chase Alderton: Yeah. So, just drilling in on their kind of sub-verticals, if you will, Huel is really obviously meal replacement-

Dan McIvor: [inaudible 00:09:28].

Chase Alderton: ...they do shakes, high in your carbs and proteins, everything you need. I think that they were originally targeted at developers, so they don't have to unplug and make a meal. They can just have it right there sitting next to them. That's an interesting one, especially for the field we're in. HelloFresh, obviously a meal delivery service, like you said. So, totally different than a meal replacement.
And then Union Roasted. Again, everyone always forgets it's coffee, it's obviously in the food and bev vertical. So, there's a lot of coffee roasters, a lot of people who are trying to reinvent things and do things differently, fresh-grown coffee and all the roasting, and all that kind of stuff. So, tons and tons of opportunity in the food and bev space. I think it's really cool. And Swanky, obviously being the leader in that space, is one of our better partners.

Dan McIvor: Yeah.

Chase Alderton: Shifting gears a little bit, you just launched an article on your site, called "The 12 Features of Successful Health and Wellness Websites." I want to drill into that. We're going to use that as the meat of our conversation today. A lot of really good stuff here. We can link this in the show notes for everyone to have access to this. But I want to talk through, I think, four of the really bigger points that you make out of those 12. Anything off the top that you want to talk through about what successful ingredients make a really solid ecommerce story?

Dan McIvor: Gosh, yeah. The list that we published is 12, but I think anyone who reads the list article, it's a good 15 minutes of reading, so it's pretty comprehensive. But yeah, anyone who's looking around the web will know that there are more than 12 things to consider. So, I think probably the first thing to say is, this is our headline items, I suppose. There's a heck of a lot more to it. But yeah, it'd be lovely to start perhaps with some of the functionality in Recharge that we particularly liked, like the customer portal.

Chase Alderton: Perfect.

Dan McIvor: Yeah.

Chase Alderton: So, customer portal being the first one. Just a quick definition. Once a person actually subscribes to a product, they have their own site where they can log into, manage their subscription, be able to change custom, cancel, whatever it is. So, a lot of people obviously say that this is the first place to start, customizing that, and having a really, really seamless customer portal. So, what can you and Swanky add to a flexible customer portal?

Dan McIvor: Sure. Well, yeah, the customer portal is pretty exciting, I think, particularly for brands that are growing fast, looking to generate more revenue from their existing client base. For a start, yes, you get more flexibility and ability to customize the basic controls. I think you could say around how customers cancel or pause their subscription and things like that. And that's really, really valuable. But actually, if you've already got a loyal subscription base, any number I suppose that you would ... Where it becomes affordable for you to do the development work, the design and development work, you could definitely benefit from adding single-click purchasing through that.
And that just allows your customers ... Yes, they already love the products that they're subscribed to, and they're receiving on that weekly or monthly basis, whatever it is. But it allows them to then also see associated products, perhaps complementary products. A really simple example I suppose would be, if you're a shaving brand, you might be sending blades as part of the subscription, but you could add one-offs of shaving foam balms, that kind of thing, as single-click purchases.
Within the customer portal area we have a brand, actually, who did something very similar, and they saw their revenue per customer quite comfortably double as a result of that. So, it can be really-

Chase Alderton: Doubled, really?

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Quite comfortably. Yeah.

Chase Alderton: Wow!

Dan McIvor: So, it can be a really, really yeah powerful way to increase your revenue per customer. And of course, higher margins means more marketing budget, better products, better customer service, and so on.

Chase Alderton: We love higher marketing budgets. We'll always take that. So, what you're referring to is really cross-sells and up-sells. It's really, really easy in the customer portal for loyal customers to see what's going on, and then pick and choose across or up and down. Do you want more of it? Do you want higher quality? Do you want, for coffee brands, maybe something like a pour-over device, maybe a coffee mug, something like that? Lots of ways to be more engaged with the brand, other than just, "Here's your subscription month over month."

Dan McIvor: Yeah, exactly. Yes. And there's a lot of value there, isn't there? But I think also, this opportunity to brand the customer experience all the way through from their first click onto the site, through to their ongoing experience. There's a lot of value in that as well. And yeah, I think where we see customers enjoying their subscription management experience, not just dealing with it as a piece of admin, that's a really exciting moment. And then that can be achieved with customization of the customer portal.

Chase Alderton: It's pretty impressive if you can get a customer to actively engage with and enjoy the subscription management experience, because you've got to think ... You just nailed it right there. It is a piece of admin when you drill it all the way down, and it's a basic functionality. But getting people to actually buy into that and say, "Okay, this is a cool experience here. Here are the options I have."
There are cross-sell opportunities, there are very cool branding things. There's ways to really even double down on these tuck local events. There's plugin links to your portal in there, a lot of different opportunities in the portal. I think it's a great first place to start when you're looking to build a site.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. You can be really, really creative with it. And like you say, yes, you can bring in offers into the portal depending upon customer loyalty, and so on. So, yeah, there's so much that you can do that will help customers to feel special, cared for, appreciated, I suppose, as a customer and just to elevate the experience beyond admin, which is, again, super valuable, I think.

Chase Alderton: So, let's take the next logical step. All of these pieces that we're talking about, all the customization options, cross-sell, up-sell, all those kind of things in the portal, the main goal for that is to reduce churn. That's really what we're trying to do. We're trying to have customers stay a little bit longer, purchase a little bit extra. So, your number-two point on here we're going to talk through today is incentives to reduce churn. So, are there any in the portal that you want to talk through, or is this all outside of the portal?

Dan McIvor: Oh, I say, yeah. You're knocking around in various areas, I think. So, churn is amazing because actually when you get into your churn figures, you kind of, I don't know, break down. If you get an analyst in the room and you break down your cost to acquire that customer, and your conversion rates for each customer, and then your churn, suddenly churn becomes ... Very slight changes in your churn rate become really significant, last to profit and revenue.
So, yeah, it's a really, really powerful lever. And there are a wealth of things. I almost feel a bit sort of ... I feel like I want to be a bit careful about suggesting things, because actually I think the best ways to reduce churn are often very brand-specific. And they're about being really creative with how you communicate with your customers, and what you offer them as incentives to reduce churn, and so on.

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: But the principle, I suppose, is that at some point customers either are going to legitimately and straightforwardly not want or need your product at a particular moment. So, as an example with Huel, perhaps every month they're just getting a little bit more than they need in the pack that's arriving, and they just need to pause.

Chase Alderton: So, at some point it's just a surplus.

Dan McIvor: It's literally a surplus. There's no point in them receiving more, and there's not really anything that you could reasonably do to convince them that they should have more. Maybe you could say, "Give a pack to your friend," and there you go, that's a creative approach. But actually it's just a rational decision to not have any more Huel at that particular moment.

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: So, in that instance, you just need a really simple, straightforward way to allow customers to pause. And pausing is an incentive that reduces churn, because the alternative is phoning customer services, and going through a survey, and having a tough time. And that slightly old fashioned approach, perhaps, to reducing churn, when actually your customers are a very low cusp. They love the products, they love the subscription. They just don't need it at that moment and they just need to pause for a moment.
So, actually having really simple ways to pause and manage subscriptions, that's really important for that moment when it's just very practical. They just need to pause for a moment. And then you have customers who maybe they feel like they've reached the end of the road. They're kind of ... We talked about that kind of experience, having new experiences with subscription brands through surprises and so on, and a new beer every month, and so on. Now, those customers need to be convinced that actually it's not the end of the road. They're still going to receive something that's exciting, and engaging, and going to broaden their horizon a little bit.
And that could be about all kinds of things. Firstly, obviously you need a product strategy that's going to keep them engaged in that way. But if you're looking at it from a churn reduction, onsite churn reduction perspective, you need to think about that creativity. So, how can you add more creativity or a more fun kind of experience and engagement to their subscription?

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: You can throw in a discount. That's dead easy. That they get to ... Their value equation for cost to experience, balance is a little bit-

Chase Alderton: The literal dollar is a value there.

Dan McIvor: The literal change in the value of the subscription for that new experience changes for them, and maybe they'll stick around to resolve that. And that's actually ... That's very possible. If they're going through the subscription cancellation flow, you can find out the reason and then you can offer them an incentive in that way.

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: But maybe you also want to offer them the new experiences through an app. Maybe you can create services which go beyond the subscription experience, like communities, forums, maybe it's an editorial, which is personalized, or gated, I suppose, for subscription customers.

Chase Alderton: So, you only get access to it if you're a subscriber through your portal or something like that?

Dan McIvor: Yeah, exactly. So, you only have access through the portal, and so on. I think my main message is that there's lots and lots of functionality that, through that subscription management interface, you can identify why the customer is going to leave or thinking of leaving. And then you can create something which is really specific to your brand, and really specific to what your customers are looking for in their subscription. And you can respond in that way with that item. And there are some really straightforward ways of doing it, and there are some much more creative ways of doing it.

Chase Alderton: And I love that you started that whole conversation with, every brand is different. Everything is going to look totally different and feel totally different. Because even if you're comparing apples to apples, like coffee brands, you may have one coffee brand that's really, really in deep on customer community, and feedback, and all that kind of stuff. And then you may have one on maybe execution. So, there's one on how to brew coffee, or what kind of technological features you have, or actual products.
So, there are different routes to go with it. Now you need to understand what your brand does and then you act accordingly. That's a great PSA to kick that one off.

Dan McIvor: Yeah, exactly. Yes. Yeah. One that obviously I didn't mention is sort of ... But using other partners you can leverage loyalty. So, length of the subscription can count towards a progressive discount, or count towards an occasional freebie that that customer receives, and so on. So, you can incentivize through keeping track, I suppose, at their level of loyalty, how long they've been a subscriber, and giving them progressive enhancements, I suppose, to their experience as well.

Chase Alderton: Loyalty is huge. It's the same kind of thing that ... Loyalty is loyalty across the board, but you've got to figure out what makes sense for your brand and how to keep people loyal. Because just saying, "Hey, you bought this, we'll give you 10 points," it's not really going to do anything. You've got to have an actual loyalty program there.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Again, be really creative. We do a fair bit of loyalty consultation. And yeah, loyalty programs started with one penny in every pound or one cent in every dollar goes back to you. And that was fine as a stage one. But for a DTC, particularly for DTCs, there's so much opportunity to carry a brand message to share something that is special about ... Or unique about your brand in that loyalty process. You need to really think about, again, what kind of experience your customer is looking for, and how do you convey that? How do you deliver that through a truly tailored loyalty experience?

Chase Alderton: So, again, you're walking straight into my next questions as I keep moving down here. You brought up the word partnerships.

Dan McIvor: Mm-hmm.

Chase Alderton: So, number three on this list that I want to talk through, is really influencer partnerships and partnerships in general. Influencers has been such a crazy ride over the last six months to a year, maybe. Everybody seems like they're using influencers now. But as far as partnerships in general, why are partnerships important on the brand side? Is this like a trust and credibility thing? What else are ... or is the value there?

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Absolutely. Trust and credibility, incredibly important. There are a whole number of approaches, I suppose, that we can take to partnerships. Are you talking about software marketing, where it's generally ...

Chase Alderton: I'll leave the door open for you. What about partnerships can drive longterm success, increase lifetime value on the software side, on the hardware side, on the merchant side? Wherever you think.

Dan McIvor: Yeah, sure. I think that on the tech side ... We'll start with the tech. There are some really practical things that you can do. So, Shopify has the app store Recharge, you have your own integrations listed. Essentially, there are lots of lovely synergies that you can find between different systems. So, if you're using Recharge and Shopify, and are looking for a email platform, make sure that it integrates with both Shopify and Recharge, for example. You benefit, I suppose, from firstly an out-of-the-box integration, hopefully everything has been figured out for you.
But also, people who have thought, I suppose, in creating those products about the most sensible ways to share and integrate data between the different platforms. So, that's going to help you do all sorts of things. For example, for email, if you're going to use Claviyo, you benefit from data sharing into ... Customer segmentation and so on, into Claviyo from Recharge, which can give you data about whether that customer is likely to churn, and so on. So, there's real value in that, and you can then create flows and so on in your email system, which respond to that customer's likelihood of churning at a given time.

Chase Alderton: Yeah. Spot on. There's real-

Dan McIvor: Sorry, go ahead.

Chase Alderton: No, just confirming. I think that's an awesome example as far as partnerships on the tech side.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Yeah. I think in marketing, speaking about influencers, for example, trust and credibility is really significant, really important for DTC, particularly. You don't have the benefit of a well known, respected national brand. Your currency really is the strength of your customer experience, as demonstrated through your reviews, through the way that you market and talk about yourself, and the way that other people market and talk about your brand.
So, when that comes to influencers particularly, you need to think very carefully about how you select those influencers and how they're going to work best with you, whether they represent your brand, whether they're one of the personas that you would think aligns with your brand. And then actually, if you do have one of those influencer partnerships that really resonates, I suppose, with your audience, you can begin to create some really nice experiences, because you can get quite specific about your influencers, about your partnerships there on the marketing side. We have a-

Chase Alderton: So, give me an example of that, because you're talking about personas, and you say you can get really specific.

Dan McIvor: Yeah.

Chase Alderton: I know in the world of influencer marketing, I'm no expert by any means, but you tag someone who's already in the field who is either using similar products or something like that. There's a partnership where then they can promote your brand, whether it's a really hard salesy way or a little bit softer. But how would someone like a specific persona work in the food and beverage industry?

Dan McIvor: Yeah. So, for example ... let's see. We've got a subscription, a vegan subscription box brand that we work with.

Chase Alderton: Interesting.

Dan McIvor: And in that instance, it's obviously not a ... Let's say it's not as high value. It's not as sensible for them to work with influencers that are talking about meat products or products which include meat. So, you can ... that's quite straightforward. If they happen to be working with influencers who are specifically talking about vegan subscription, or vegan products, suddenly you've got a hundred percent overlap. Their entire audience is engaged and interested. Their entire audience is a possible fit.
And actually, that level of tailoring, I suppose, that level of ... yeah, hitting that specific audience that you're looking for, it's very difficult to achieve in other means. And to have that person to talk about your brand in positive terms carries a lot of weight. Referred buyers often spend two times non-referred buyers.

Chase Alderton: Wow.

Dan McIvor: I don't know to what extent that research covers influencer-referred.

Chase Alderton: Right.

Dan McIvor: But there must be some level of waiting. I'd expect that there's some level of additional positive benefit in spend from an influencer-referral, versus just a marketed, a non-influencer based.

Chase Alderton: Totally.

Dan McIvor: Yeah.

Chase Alderton: Totally. Absolutely. That's really interesting. Okay. So, now you're talking ... Getting really specific with your influencer marketing, targeting people who can then re-target your audience in a super specific and really, really personal way, working back to your whole brand and in your portal thing. Creating that unified customer experience is important even through your external influencers.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Yeah. You captured it much better than I could.

Chase Alderton: So, a final point we're going to talk through here, and this all leads up to this. We brought it up before, but that's community. It's a tough thing to define, really. And it's a tough thing to really give advice on, because like we were talking about earlier, every community looks different. The purpose of a community is different, the reasoning behind it, the value customers can get out of that, they're all super different. But is community a significant thing that people should be investing in? Or is this just kind of a buzzword that's going on right now?

Dan McIvor: Yeah, of course. Yeah. No, I think it's absolutely something to invest in. So, there's a few takes on this. You've got your customer community, you've got the communities that they are part of, and form, and influencers are often part of those communities in some way. Aren't they? You then have your ... Again, you've got your technology and industry communities. We've seen incredible success, I think, as an agency in our connections to recharge through ChargeX, which is your global subscription conference, where you give us the updates on the technology that's coming down the pipe each year.
Lots of ideas around strategy, lots of thought leadership that's so valuable. A lot of the stuff that we end up talking with our clients about, our ideas and research, and so on, that we have picked up from panels, and talks at events, like ChargeX.

Chase Alderton: I appreciate the plug for us.

Dan McIvor: So, there's lots of knowledge-sharing, and this industry moves so quickly. Doesn't it? That level of knowledge-sharing is so valuable, just to keep up with things that allow to get ahead.

Chase Alderton: Yeah, definitely appreciate the plug there. I know that you also attended one out in the UK that was food and bev specific. Right?

Dan McIvor: Yes. Yeah. A little bit earlier this month, last month, we went to a conference called the Bread and Jam Festival. There was actually bunting hanging from the ceiling. So, it was a festival, not just a conference. And actually that was a much smaller scale. It was in London. It was for startups, to scale up food and beverage brands who were ... Yeah, in some cases investment-backed. In others, they literally came up to us with pots of food and said, "Try this." And we tried it and enjoyed it.

Chase Alderton: [inaudible 00:32:55].

Dan McIvor: And they said, "Do you want to invest in us?" And we're like, "That's not really what we do." But yeah, that's super exciting. And again, there are so many ideas being shared there. And I think if you are there, part of that as a producer, you're going to get ideas for new products. Aren't you? And that's really exciting. Swanky, I think, has spent, as I say, since 2016 or so in the food and bev subscription space. We've built years building connections here, around the world, finding people with a high level of technical ability in subscription, whether it's sort of UIUX, complex functionalities, and so on.
All of those people, which we do our best to have all of those people engaged in different communities, so that they are, again, learning as quickly as possible, developing their ideas, creating new, innovative ideas and things. So, yeah, I think it's dead valuable. I think that if you're not connecting with your peers in those spaces, you might be missing out on something. So, I heartily encourage everyone to find those connections and try to make them.

Chase Alderton: I totally agree. Again, it's really hard to define and identify what is a community and how to build a community. But I think the examples you have are awesome. It's not very often that we get examples on the partnership or the platform side. We always talk about popup events where brands can bring to a local mall or whatever, and do partnerships with similar companies, things like that. Yeah. But the examples on the tech side and seeing ... Coming to ChargeX is a huge value. Going to conferences and festivals, like the Bread and Jam Festival, it's a lot of where you can get some new ideas, and really grow the business in unexpected ways that you didn't really think about before.

Dan McIvor: Yeah.

Chase Alderton: So, really, really good examples there.

Dan McIvor: Good. Thank you.

Chase Alderton: In closing, we want to ask you a handful of rapid-fire questions that we ask all our guests. So, looking forward to hearing some of your insight here. What's a piece of advice you'd give to a subscription brand who's just launching? Maybe someone who is at Bread and Jam Festival, just trying to get something off the ground and try to start subscriptions?

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Early days begin gathering data. It doesn't matter when or how, in a sense, but begin gathering something that you can use as comparison for later. It's really, really valuable because you're going to be able to extract learnings from that. If you're a few months in, make sure you've got GA4 to make that move to Google Analytics, and begin gathering out data. I think, keep it simple.
Respond to the ... Once you've detailed your product offering and you are content, I suppose, that your photography, your written guidance, and so on, on the product is clear and representative, that your brand messaging is clear and representative. Make sure that you've got the absolute fundamentals of the customers' purchasing questions figured out. It's a real pity, actually, how often these things are missed from sometimes in some cases, quite large brands. So, things like postage. What does the postage cost? How will my product come packaged? Will it fit through the letter box? Will it need to be left in a cool place? That kind of thing with it.

Chase Alderton: That's a great point, actually, just to double tap on that really quickly. So many brains end up failing with a fantastic product, but all of the logistics haven't been quite figured out yet. And they end up getting punched by something like shipping and postage, and all of a sudden it's unaffordable, you have to change the whole model, and now you're behind a few months. So, it's a really, really good point to bring out.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. So, yes, and have those things figured out and down, but communicate them to customers. So, if I'm in that purchase journey, particularly for a subscription, these are things that once I've actually decided that I want a product, then I need to know how it's actually going to get to me. So, those things. Making sure actually as well that customers understand that they do have control over their subscription. I think we would now see it's only really legitimate for a few types of businesses to require customers to phone them, to pause or cancel subscriptions.
There are cases, but generally your customers are much more likely to subscribe if they're comfortable that they will have control over their subscription. And so, it's really good to make that clear right up front. And that's something that is very simple to do with Recharge and Shopify, and the other integrations. I think the final thing for those startups is be absolutely obsessive about churn. So, don't celebrate when you get your first subscriber. Celebrate when you've talked to your first subscriber after they churn, and they've told you why they've left, because then you can begin to improve.
And the next subscriber will stay a little bit longer and a little bit longer, and so on. Churn is inevitable. It almost is inevitable, but whether you learn and improve your service in response to the reasons for churn, and so on, is up to you and you can very drastically change your business prospects by working on churn in the longterm.

Chase Alderton: That's so good. There's so many conversations right now about how retention is the new acquisition, about keeping your customers is more important than acquiring in the first place. Don't celebrate when you've got your first one. Celebrate when they leave and you figure out why. That's really good. Let's flip the script a little bit and go the other way. Let's say, subscription brand is already launched, they've already found product market fit. Let's say they're mid-tens of thousands of subscribers. How do they get past a hundred thousand subscribers? Keep scaling, get past all of those plateaus.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. At this point, I suppose you've really narrowed in on your personas, your customer fit, your product quality. You've got all those things down. So, it's about incremental improvement. And I think for subscription brands that looks like things like personalizing the experience. Remember you're engaging customers for hopefully a lifetime of purchasing. And so, building longterm loyalty, building in referral messaging, these can all make really, really significant differences to the revenue that you achieve from that customer. And the quality of that customer's experience with your brand over time.
So, begin to personalize. And what that means, I suppose, is talk to your customers. Understand them. You can do that through surveying on site, and that data that you collect in your survey, which might be age, gender, that kind of thing. You can then store that data and begin to personalize recommendations, begin to personalize emails to them. For example, in the portal begin to personalize the products that are shown there to those customers. So, begin to personalize experiences, and hopefully you get a real positive feedback loop there, where the customers get a better experience, they purchase more, and you can reinvest that into more personalization.
Create high margin up-sell, cross-sell, and other purchasing opportunities to maximize that customer's lifetime revenue. So, again, through personalization you better understand the customer. You can implement those various cross-sell, up-sell opportunities throughout your store, through email, SMS, through other channels. Because when you're doing that, you've turned, X revenue from a customer who's going to be with you for X months into XX, hopefully revenue for a customer who's going to be with you for the same amount of time. So, suddenly again, with subscription, those numbers really multiply very quickly.

Chase Alderton: You start a data, understanding, gather all that data, and then be able to use the data and actually offer additional value to customers.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Use the data. And again, it's a positive feedback loop, because as you engage with those customers more, and ask them about themselves, and store that data. Understand them, this is zero party data, it's yours, and it's used to improve the customer's overall experience with your brand. You can continue to reinvest and ask more questions and understand more, and so on, and that's going to help you in acquisition, and conversion, and retention.

Chase Alderton: Absolutely.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. And then finally I'd say, keep things fresh and delight longterm subscribers. So, we talked a little bit about it earlier, but apps, loyalty rewards, surprise gifts when they reach certain moments in their subscription journey with you. Try and keep it fresh. And if you're an experience-based subscription brand, it's so important that you continue to surprise your customers, so they continue getting that kind of hit of enjoying and being surprised by the things that they receive.

Chase Alderton: I love it. Love it. Final question. Let's bring you all the way back in the subscription world. What are things that you subscribe to?

Dan McIvor: I subscribe to ... Over here we've got a great food subscription box brand called Mindful Chef. They do great organic, healthy subscription boxes. So, I subscribe to them. I subscribe to a brand called Grays, who were a subscription early-adopting brand. I think I started subscribing to them over eight years ago.

Chase Alderton: Wow.

Dan McIvor: Yeah. Yeah. So, I subscribed to them, and then met my wife-to-be and recommended them to my wife-to-be, and we still receive the same ... We still pay for those subscriptions separately, just because that's how the cards went, and so on over time. And yeah, eight years later they still every month drop through the letter box, and we are really excited to receive them.

Chase Alderton: A subscription spanning the lifespan of a marriage. That's amazing.

Dan McIvor: The marriage. Yeah. And I have no intention of turning them off, because they're great value. They're particularly great value now. And then finally, we've got a really local little brand called Crank House Coffee, who we built the store for a little while ago, and we just absolutely love their coffee, and receive, I don't know, seven or eight packets of that in the office every month.

Chase Alderton: Right on brand. You gave me three food and bev brands that you subscribe to. Love it. Dan, thank you so much. Really appreciate your insight.

Dan McIvor: No problem. Thank you.

Chase Alderton: We want to thank Dan once again for joining us. If you're interested in Swanky, you can head over to swankyagency.com.

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