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The Difference Between Sinking and Swimming: Adaptability | EP. #132

May 08, 2024 | Author: Andrew Maff
















It’s been said, the most dangerous phrase in business is “we've always done it this way”. Western Rise embodies the philosophy that how things are done today isn't always how they’ll be done tomorrow. On this 132nd episode of the E-Comm Show, Andrew Maff interviews Kelly Watters, President Co-Founder of Western Rise. 

In this episode, Kelly Watters highlights the vitality of pivoting and staying creative. Through the lessons learned from selling travel apparel for men…during a travel ban- Western Rise knows a thing or two about staying adaptable and smart positioning. This is some value-packed knowledge you don’t want to miss out on…

Watch the full episode below, or visit TheEcommShow.com for more.


If you enjoyed the show, please rate, review, and SUBSCRIBE!

Have an e-commerce marketing question you'd like Andrew to cover in an upcoming episode? Email: hello@theecommshow.com







The Difference Between Sinking and Swimming: Adaptability 


Andrew Maff and Kelly Watters

CONNECT WITH OUR HOST: AndrewMaff.com  |  Twitter: @AndrewMaff | LinkedIn: @AndrewMaff 



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Kelly Watters


Kelly is a fourth-generation entrepreneur building the next phase of consumer product companies. Kelly is one of Outside Magazines 15 Women to Know in the Outdoor Industry, a Wright Awards Finalist, and advisor to some of the top new Kickstarter brands. An operator at heart, she has over 15 years of experience in operations, logistics, finance, team building, and general management at both non-profit and for-profit businesses.


We're doing a lot more now of his like getting out and putting a face with a name on the brand and talking about like our experiences in it and like why we do stuff Guys hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. As usual, I'm your host, Andrew Maff. And today I'm joined by the amazing Kelly Watters, who is the president and co founder over at Western Rise. Kelly, how you doing? Right? Very good show.



I'm ready. I'm stoked about it.



Awesome. I am so excited to have you on the show. I'm very familiar with restaurant rise, I have obviously done a little bit of digging and got to know your background a little bit, which is awesome. Very excited to get into that what one of my favorite things to talk about is the apparel business only because of it's a beast, and it's challenging. So I'm super excited to have you on the show. So we'll do the usual like I always do pretend like no one knows who you are. And if you wouldn't mind, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and of course about Western rise. And we'll take it from there.



Sure, absolutely. So I as you mentioned, I am the co founder of Western rice. Over the years, I have had almost every single job that we hold at the company, I came to Western rise through a wound winding road, I guess I believe in following passion over like the set line. So I was previously in nonprofit management and team building and storytelling, very different, very different both domestically and internationally. Previously to that I was in art, both on the creation and the sales side. So I got roped into western rise. My my co founder is a third generation textile developer. If you want to nerd out about polymers, and extrusion lines, he is your man. I joined the business to ensure that we we made money on this adventure. useful role useful generally, as long as I'm succeeding. So I manage for the most part in the business. I've overseen operations, customer support, logistics, production management, supply chain, investor relations, fundraising finance, I have I touch all of those things in my business, although thankfully, I have a great team underneath me because no one can manage all of that themselves. So that is pretty quick background of me. And then Western rise just for context. For anybody who doesn't know the brand is a performance travel clothing brand. We started in 2018. And we are at about eight figures right now scaling about 70%. Year over year, we're still primarily direct to consumer. So we sell 90% online, but you can find us in Nordstrom and back country. And right now it's mostly men's, although I would love to see women's come into the line in the next few years. So that's a that's a quick highlight of us.



She's so you and Western rise really not impressive at all. No good background, not a great company. I've nailed it. I appreciate your time. Geez, I should have 1000 That was awesome. So one of the first things I just thought about, say was 2018. I could have sworn a little bit ahead of that. But so you started a travel apparel company in 2018. Yeah, so technically, like for the founding of the company, it's technically 2018. But we could do a little bit of an Allbirds thing where we started it as a side project before some will and I were both working full time at our company and we literally started it as a test off of our dining room table. And we bootstrapped to the first million and just to like prove Product Market Fit find hero products, branding, all of that stuff. So if you've been with the brand for a while, you'll be like, I remember seeing things around in like 2015 2016 and that is that is definitely true but like in its current format 20. So in its current format, you are a travel of apparel brand that you basically started taking off two years before travel was basically banned. More or less how and yet you're still scaling 70%. And you've surpassed eight figures. So I'm expecting a pretty cool story here as well about how you managed. How did you keep things going during that time? That is a great question. We're actually it's, it's our anniversary right now. So we were thinking back over the lat Thank you, we're thinking back over the last decade of things and the wildness of it. And yeah, running a travel brand through a pandemic, that's a, it was definitely interesting. We had to do a little bit of a, like a brand positioning copy visual pivot. Because it wasn't, it wasn't okay, really to push people to travel in the way that we like to travel. The funny thing is, is that like, on the back end, for customer service, our customers were still traveling that way, like some of the best travel deals, you could have gotten where during COVID, it was just not kosher to like, broadcast that. So we pivoted a little bit more into like the performance menswear space, because like, we do that, obviously, we just do it for like specific niche kind of drives our design and makes us a little bit different from like the viewers and the little lemons of the world. Yeah, we were very fortunate like, we we grew really, really well during COVID not the same as you saw like home goods and beauty brands grow obviously different category, but also like our supply chain, because everything is custom was a little bit longer. So we actually ran out in Tori for an entire quarter in 2020. And then in 2021, we got to deal with we had just moved, expanded our supply chain from Portugal to Asia and got to deal with the Long Beach. Shut down for quarter for 2021. So that was fun. Again, super thankful like we have over the years because we're direct to consumer, we have less of like a traditional clothing collection seasonal base where like a lot of like, if you go into like a rag and bone or something like that, it's like 40 50% of their business is like seasonal items that expire. And 85% of our business is core and seasonless. So like we do have some seasonal pieces that come in, but for the most part, like it's core stuff that you want all the time. And yeah, we've been known to pre sell things on online frequently. We're actually doing it right now because we have some supply chain delays. So you know, you get it's part of having a small team, you get creative, you get scrappy, if things aren't hitting, you pivot, quickly. I remember having like daily stand up meetings with the marketing and the creative team and being like, how did we do yesterday? How's it pivoting? Do we need to change the copy? Do we need to change the creative like, and if we were changing it, we were talking about changing, like from that morning to being live at 4pm that night? Like it was really really really it was like Black Friday for a year of just trying to figure out what worked and what didn't. And that's free. So I know you've also you also like outside of of Western eyes you also guys like consult on Kickstarter brands, things like that. Is that how you started watching Roger the kiss kind of a Kickstarter approach. So like the one of the first ones we did bootstrap to our first million and found like, our niche in we really thought it was going to be tops, and it actually turned out to be performance pants. So today we're like 65% performance bottoms, which is highly unusual in apparel. But yes, Kickstarter in 2018, we ran our evolution pants 1.0. It did, I think over over $600,000 in the first 30 days, and then before we delivered it run up to a million on one style. Wow. Yeah, so that was really the start of it. We've run six to date. So we've raised a little bit. The funny thing about Kickstarter is like you see the Kickstarter, but then there's Indiegogo, and there's back end sales and all of this stuff. So yeah, we've run over like $3 million in Kickstarter. And we're about to launch our seven last day in April 1 day in May, depending on live date. So I keep thinking we're gonna get away from it. But we love our audience. They're They're so supportive, and they really understand. It's really great way to do category expansion. We keep coming back to it. It's a very interesting model. You know, you you always hear, or I shouldn't say always, but you frequently hear businesses starting on Kickstarter, and then they get out of Kickstarter, and then they're done with it. Yeah, it's a very interesting model to all expand product lines, expand categories, your point and continue to use Kickstarter, because that's that is where you found that audience and that audience was willing to support you. And it's a great way in My opinion to be able to kind of bootstrap those those category launches as opposed to consistently reinvesting into the, the, obviously their side of it, what are like what are the incentives or anything like, obviously, obviously, it's presale and stuff, but what's what's the difference between what you offer on Kickstarter versus what you offer on the site. Um, so generally, what we offer on Kickstarter is obviously so if you're not familiar with the requirements of Kickstarter, it has to be something new that's never been sold before for it. So for us, it's generally a category expansion, something that's entirely new. We also will do like special promotions or discounts. So to incentivize people for backing it and getting it early, you get, you get delivery before it ever goes live on the site, a lot of times you're getting like 15 to 20% off. So you're getting a pre sale discount, or we'll do like VIP guaranteed for holiday delivery, when nobody else is going to get it till March or, you know, it depends on the time a year and the campaign of what it is. But we try to make it worth our while for the or worthwhile for the customers that come in and back us. I mean, we love it, because it's a very intimate and iterative platform. So a lot of our marketing team now as we get bigger, like they don't have that direct one to one communication with customers as much, and Kickstarter is definitely a very direct platform for that. So we'll send out surveys during the campaign and talk about colors. And it's like, it's the most integrated our customers get into the design and the development process, we literally are asking them, like, what do they want to see what colors do they want? What expansions do they want? And will we deliver and literally make it for them. So that part is awesome about it. Obviously, there's like some other business aspects of it to have, like, you know, cash flow inversions and things that are lovely, the things they never tell you about growing an apparel brand is you know, you can be you can be breakeven and be scaling. And if you're scaling over a certain amount, you still have no cash because you have to buy inventory to support that fuel. So anything that we can do to like, ease that pressure is helpful just to the scale and efficiencies of the company. How with that, because that's part of the thing I was very interested to dig into is like the complications of growing an apparel brand is insane to me, like if you launch a product, you and you invented something, it's wildly differentiated, it picks up steam, you know, social loves it great, whatever it picks off, awesome apparel, it's difficult to explain the differences of you know, a pair of pants versus another pair of pants, like it's very much community building, and really starting to kind of build that lifestyle. How did you approach that, as you were building Western rise? Well, we've always led with brand. So even before we launched, we had over 20,000 users on Instagram before meta hit even bought Instagram, it was like the wild west of social media at the time. And we had no product like I was literally seeding influencers with like stickers and mugs and like some salesman samples that were not ready for production. But I think a lot of it was the content that we put out like even now a lot of what we do isn't product based stuff. It's like travel guides and our favorite places to go and how to find off the beaten paths to restaurants and events and like get out of the tourist flow of things. So I really think it's it's important from a brand perspective to provide value beyond just the product like the way that we think about Western rises. That Western rise is a digital travel company. We provide content and support for people who want to travel and want to experience more, we just also happen to sell clothing and that that concept of how we drive brand really informs who we work with and the content we provide. And I th.≥ink I think also like today, people want to buy less from brands like we're all inundated you get on Instagram and Facebook and there's beautiful ads everywhere and like beautiful pictures are great but like at the end of the day we kind of just want to connect with people like we spend too much time on our phones. We're very isolated and so what we're doing a lot more now of is like getting out and putting a face with a name on the brand and talking about like our experiences in it and like why we do stuff because it it drives to that like need for personal connection that I think we all have and are wanting more of. I hope that everyone who is listening to this really heard what you just said that is the biggest thorn in my side of dealing with like when we're doing marketing stuff of social media is not a sales platform. It is so it is so meant to do exactly what you're saying like no Lena community, providing that extra value. And then just letting people who are interested in certain things that are all coming to the same area, and then you let your ads do the work and all that fun stuff. And yeah, every now and then you throw something out, but like, way too common where I completely agree, um, I'll follow a brand that I like. And it's like every other post is like, look at this product that we have look at this product that we have. So I'm already following. I get ads all day long. The last thing I want is for my Granick stuff to also be ads. So I can totally I appreciate the way you're doing that. I definitely think there's something like it's a really good call out that there is a very big separation between your ads and your paid platform. And we do all of them like meta Tiktok, YouTube, Google, all of that. But that is different content than what we're putting out on the organic side and organic for us. We consider like when we're doing our weekly check ins and KPIs by channel in our marketing team, meeting, organic has its hosts on its whole section, because it drives such a huge part of brand awareness for us. It also ends up driving conversion. But yeah, we think about it very differently. Yeah. Is that the primary primary primary marketing approach is just putting out as much content as possible, or do you lean on paid ads influencers? Like what, what's kind of the main focus that's working the best for you, at least as of right now. I mean, it is right now, we've definitely scaled through the last several years very heavily on paid just because we have an incredibly small team. And you're gonna get your most bang for your buck in growth on paid as long as you set up your ads properly, and you have enough creative in the funnel. So we definitely lean on that. But like, our marketing budget is less than 20% of our net sales. So like, content for us right now is huge. Like we actually shut down, the team doesn't take any meetings on Friday. And it's just content production all day on Fridays. And then if we get through our checklist that our social media manager has laid out for us, then we bail and go ski in the afternoon, but yeah, it's a huge part. We actually turned off meta in January, like to the cashflow point we were discussing earlier, like, the company is in an awesome spot, but we have a huge amount of inventory we had to buy for spring to just keep up with demand. So we just turned off meta in January and early February. It's also like a net sales challenge because we get all your returns from holiday. So like those months suck. And so we just did it with organic and we grow 100% year over year in January and 60% year over year in February. And like we're just now getting because the thing they don't tell you is you know, you shut off and that it takes a while to like optimize it and get it back on you just turn it on and it's like back to Black Friday. But yeah, organic has been a huge driver for the business this year. And we have big ears to comp against so it's it's a huge focus right now. I also know an area that you're in this incredibly complicated for apparel, at least in my opinion, you also sell on Amazon, correct? Yes. I would love to that's so hard. How are you? How's the business doing there? What's the approach there? Like What's your theory on the Amazon side? Because I know for apparel it is not easy. I mean it's a bloodbath for apparel, especially since like you're you're essentially competing with Amazon house brands and Timo on apparel it's like maybe if any, like our price points or our premium like that we're not competing on quality or price in any capacity I like my opinion on Amazon honestly is it owns the majority of starts for searches with intent to buy and so we are there more for brand defense and being there for search terms than we are for actual profitable channel growth. Yeah, I mean, that's like especially with like the cuts that Amazon takes and the advertising and everything unless you have a really high average order value product and your margins are over 75 Preferably 90 on Amazon, it's really hard to make money. We just to be quite honest, we actually outsourced it. So Amazon lives under our wholesale category. Now we have a wholesaler that has exclusive Amazon rights and they just sell products on Amazon and they manage all of that because like they're better and and they doubled the sales when they took it over because it's their area of expertise and not ours. So I do believe that you need to be there. But unless you're there's certain categories that do really well they're like so supplements beauty, essential goods, hardware, things like that kitchen products do great apparel is, you know it's a place We need to be, but it's not a place that we're putting a lot of energy into. It's very interesting. We work with a bunch of different apparel brands, all of which are on Amazon. And it amazes me of the ones that do well, it's pretty obvious why they do well, because it's kind of like, they're a necessity more than they are, you know, kind of just like, to your point, you're more on the premium side, I find it to be great for a customer acquisition channel, especially for companies that are building a brand. But to your point, I mean, going up against someone that's selling anything even remotely similar, that price point is insane, and it's just, there's just no profit in it. I do think it's important to remember though, for customers that are coming into you from top of funnel or from YouTube influencers or Tik Tok, or anything like that might not be going through your affiliated links. They're, they're not used to going to your website, that's one of the first things they're going to do is, Hey, I like that brand. I want to go see if it's a real thing. I'm gonna go check it out on Amazon, because my cards already put in there. It's a one click Checkout. And so to be there, I think you capture a decent amount of customer acquisition for new customers coming into the brand. And then once they like it, then they'll go over and buy from your site, but it's just an ease thing. Yeah. Are you are the products that you do have Amazon, Amazon? Are they FBA? Are you doing FBM? We do both? A little bit? Yeah, it depends on the product and the stock that we have available. Yeah. So with the thought of, you know, obviously, just being on Amazon for brandy fence, have you explored like the whole buy with prime thing on trying that for at least the products that you have on FBA? We have I mean, I, it does work for us. Again, it's like not, I'm not the expert, honestly, on Prime like, yes, we do. We do it, we have tried it, but it's not like a huge, huge area for us. So I don't blame you. I think for apparel, it's just like, it's such a I mean, so like, it's part of like investment for us. Like it's better for us. Like we're also on Nordstrom marketplaces. And we're also on back country, and we're working on target marketplaces in other areas, there's so much other areas that are a better fit for us that we're investing our energy and our bandwidth there. Yeah. You know, you mentioned technically kind of starting around 2016, maybe a little bit before, but to be at an eight figure business now for an apparel brand in that amount of time. Regardless, it's still very difficult. Over the course of that period, what would you say? Was kind of those top things that really helped you just continue to scale to where you're at now? The great question, because I feel like it depends on the quarter and when you're talking. I think one of the biggest things for us and you know, this is true for any brand was really defining product market fit. In 2018. We did it with a Kickstarter campaign. But we also launched a secondary product. Before that, and we thought we had bought six months of inventory, and we sold out of it in 25 days. And so for us, that was a really true identifier of like, hey, our customer wants this and like this is an area we want to scale into. So that was huge. And then being able to talk to our customers direct was huge and actually positioning. And like how we talked about the brands to your point of talking about differentiators of like, why these pockets matter and why this fabric matters. And why this pan is better than a Lululemon Panther of your APS or whatever. Being able to talk to our customers like on every purchase, having post purchase surveys in there having annual bi annual full on surveys with our customers where we can talk to them and get feedback has been crucial in our growth and crucial in how we we convert that then into how we talk about the brand in meta and paid because you're you're taking the things that customers actually identify with, which is frequently very different than the things that we love about the product or why we make the product like we have. Because our design team and our marketing team are very tight. Like you can be very biased from the product side of like, why it's good. And so it's really important to have your customers actually tell you why they think it's good. Because their opinion is actually the only opinion that matters. It's a very good point. It's a shame how many people don't do anything remotely close to that. And they're just like no, this is just trucking along with the same thing and there's just not enough you know, listening to your customers having surveys out there, pick up the phone and call some of them. We did I mean middle of COVID like I was on the phone, talking to people for like two weeks straight just being like what do you want to see from us right now. But we use it we use it for product expansion. We use it for color choice like all of that stuff. We'll just nice to our customers and see what they want before we just drop things at random. Genius. Kelly, I don't want to take up too much more your time. I obviously greatly appreciate you being on the show. I'd love to give you an opportunity to let everyone know where they can find out more about you and of course more about Western rise. Absolutely. So you can find out more about me at Kellywaters.com and you can find out more about Western rise at Westernrise.com And I guess at Western underscore rise on social media easy enough. Kelly, thank you so much for being on the show everyone who tuned in of course thank you as well please make sure you do usual rate review, subscribe all that fun stuff on whichever podcast platform you prefer or head over to theecommshow.com to check out all of our previous episodes. But as usual, thank you all for joining us and we'll see you all next time. Have a good one.



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