Creatives. You want to have good videos and images of your products. Don’t use tacky stock photos, or crappy vectors and renders of your logo on your product. If you can’t afford to get a photographer to take pictures for you, then do what you can at the start, but as soon as I had photographers take pictures of my products, my sales doubled. When you have the whole package — great branding, great creatives — it’s a game changer.
As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Corey Pattakos.
Corey Pattakos helps ambitious, success-oriented people to create product-based businesses with creative vision, which also convert to cash. In 2016, he founded and grew blkdiamond.com. Corey’s love for health, beauty, and lifestyle brands is evident in his commitment to design and branding excellence, and his focus on customer service puts him at the forefront of ecommerce today.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
From a really young age, my family was in the automotive business, so I’ve always been interested in business, and no doubt that’s where my love of cars came from. My father owned a body shop which was incredibly successful, and I worked for him from my teens. I started by emptying trash cans and doing odd jobs, then I began to wash cars, and eventually moved up to ordering parts and estimating. I didn’t go to college because the plan was for me to take over the business one day, and I was learning every aspect of the operation in preparation for that.
Like many good plans, things went wrong a few years after that. The landlord, who owned a towing company, saw how well my father was doing and when we were close to the end of our lease period, offered to buy the business. When Dad turned him down, the guy tripled the rent from 5,000 dollars a month to 15,000 dollars a month, essentially making it impossible for us to survive. He then swooped in and bought it for next to nothing. My father was devastated, and I was suddenly left with no business, no college degree, and no plan.
Even though the experience had left my family reeling, I’d had a taste for business and knew I wanted to experience more. I met a local tobacco shop owner who offered for me to join his business. I’m not a smoker but I had some ideas based on new products I’d seen overseas which I believed would suit his customers. We shook hands and made a gentlemen’s agreement to go into business together. Having only worked with my father at that point, it didn’t really occur to me to get the agreement written up, or contracts signed. Suffice to say that when the new product range took off, the owner of the shop cut me out and I was left hanging.
It made me so determined to do something on my own because I had a feeling I’d be successful, but I hadn’t found the right path, yet. I launched an online yoga shop with my last 300 dollars and sold drop shipped products from China, and I felt like it could be the perfect business model. It certainly felt like a winner when I had my first customer within the first 24 hours. Sadly, that customer said the clothing was 3x too small and smelt like cat urine, and requested a refund. My excitement was short-lived and disappeared, along with the last few dollars I had in my account.
I still wasn’t ready to give up, and spent a few months researching products. As an ex-model, I had always been interested in fashion and beauty, so it made sense to do something in this area. Finally, blkdiamond.com was born in late 2016, which sells a range of all natural activated charcoal products, such as face masks, soap, teeth whitening powder and paste. Once again, I started this business with my last 250 dollars, and hoped for the best. With all the lessons I learned along the way, I’ve been fortunate to turn it into a thriving business. Since its inception, we’ve brought in over 60 million dollars in revenue, and have a really healthy profit margin. I’m incredibly grateful for the bumpy road along the way, as it’s brought me here.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I’d only had the store for a couple of weeks when a well-loved YouTuber posted a video of her painfully ripping off my charcoal face mask. The video was hilarious because she was yelling and cursing, with her partner laughing in the background. The video quickly became viral and even ended up on the news, and her views were up in the millions. My sales doubled, and then doubled again, within only days of the video being seen, and then other similar videos started appearing as other people started buying the masks specifically to do their own video, or prank partners and friends. We didn’t know this woman at all, although I did eventually talk to her, but I have always been grateful for the hand she played in the initial success of my business.
Today she has affiliate links on that video to other masks, so I’m not sure if she’s made a deal or created her own brand, but either way, it’s been great for both of us!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
A guy named Matthew Couperthwaite was with me from the start. When I started looking into online stores, I joined an online group about how to run Facebook ads, and posted, “I have a new brand and I’ve started running ads; are there any tips or tricks?”
Matt replied saying, ”Hey, I’m starting to learn how to run Facebook ads. I don’t have an online store but I wouldn’t mind taking over your account, and helping you run your ads. I’ll be your ad manager for free, for a month. If I do well, then you can start paying me.”
We made 20 dollars the first day, and he was on payroll by the second day. After having my own bad experience, I wanted to do the right thing by him, and besides, he was already making me money.
He taught me everything as he learned it, and we just kept teaching each other back and forth. We would bounce ideas off each other. He would ask about brands, I would ask about ads. We worked together for about two years before he became more interested in other aspects of online business, and now he fulfils other technical roles for me when I need help.
Meeting Matt was the best thing that could have happened to me at that stage of my business. He’s honest, reliable, and a solid guy who I can always rely on to do the right thing and also to tell me the truth when I’m going off on tangents or he doesn’t agree with me. He’s the type of person you need around you when you have a business like mine.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
George Bernard Shaw said, “Two things define you: Your patience when you have nothing and your attitude when you have everything.”
I love this quote because I can relate to it really well. It took a lot of patience while I was struggling in those early years with my family’s business closure, and then my own first failed ventures. People around me commented multiple times that I should give up and get a job. Even the girl I was dating had her dad come and talk to me to convince me to do something different. “Corey, stop chasing the dream,” he said. “If you are dating my daughter, you need to be financial, and this isn’t the way you’re going to do that.” For a while I was looking at other body shops which might take me on, because I didn’t want to lose her, but my heart wasn’t in it. I had this inner knowing that I should do my own thing, and after seeing my dad lose pretty much everything, I didn’t want to rely on other people anymore.
The second part of that quote about the attitude when you have everything is another thing I know all too well. Everything changed so fast. I went from having no money, not knowing what to do with my life, and being perpetually broke, to paying cash for flashy sports cars. One minute nobody knew who I was, and the next I found people who just wanted to be near me. I didn’t want my money to affect who I am as a person, and I started finding it a bit harder to trust people and relax around new people. I didn’t know who wanted to be my friend for the right reasons, but I also didn’t want to be this suspicious guy who doesn’t get close to others.
I keep myself grounded by giving to charity and still working closely with the people I serve in the business. But having a healthy attitude is so important, because having everything can change you for the worse.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Since my products are in the beauty industry, people might say there aren’t any serious pain points. But for my customers, looking good and taking care of themselves is important, and I love that, because I’m the same. But at the same time, they want something that isn’t full of chemicals and fillers, like so many other teeth whitening products and masks out there. Many of our customers are Gen X and Millennials, and they also like something that’s a bit cool and different, so the fact our products are all black is something they like. They also want products which are kinder to the environment and not tested on animals, so we tick all those boxes. That’s a big one for me. My range is vegan and completely cruelty free. People can be serious about health and beauty and care for the environment and others at the same time. That’s what we provide. All natural ingredients that are completely animal friendly, not tested on animals, not used by animals, and no animal is involved in the making of any part of the products. We don’t even have animals transporting our products in the country of origin.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I would definitely have to say our standing out factor is that all of our products are 100% vegan friendly and cruelty free. Activated charcoal when used correctly is amazing; it has so many benefits. Just recently we had a customer who had been smoking for 15 years and had nearly no enamel left on her teeth. Her dentist told her there was nothing she could do to whiten her teeth because all chemical whiteners would cause unbearable pain. He advised that if she wanted white teeth she would need veneers. Not everyone can afford veneers, so it wasn’t an option for her. She saw our brand on a Facebook ad and thought she’d try it; after a couple of brushes, her teeth became around five shades lighter without sensitivity! She was so happy, she contacted me in tears. When I created this brand I did it for the people who wanted a natural alternative that worked, and this is what makes us stand out.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
In the beginning, I just wanted to succeed at something. Seeing my family have everything basically taken from them, and then going through similar struggles myself, I was determined to be successful. It wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t about the cars, it wasn’t about the fame; it was all about the success. It just felt so rare to have. It’s not something that anybody can have. I never had it, and I never felt it. I didn’t have school, I didn’t have a degree. I didn’t have any of that. I wanted to achieve for the sake of achieving. That’s what drove me.
I tell everybody, “Success is the actual reward. The money is just a trophy you hang on the wall.” That’s my own saying which underlies everything I do.
Having success and reaching goals and milestones is what makes me happy. I would rather have success from my hard work, than be given money for doing nothing. I could never be a trust fund kid. I could never do it. I wouldn’t be happy with it. There will be a lot of people that will rather have tons of money than success. To me, dignity and being proud of myself is worth more than money.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
Finding success in others drives me now. I love having a successful brand, and have plans for more, but for me, it’s more enjoyable to watch other people succeed. It’s because I was once where they are now. I wasn’t successful for a long time, and the people I help now haven’t been successful either. Watching them succeed is incredibly fulfilling, and I would say that’s my biggest driver.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, I’m working on a men’s skincare line called Corey Michael. And I’m using all vegan and cruelty free products. We are developing that right now.
A lot of people don’t realize how important skin care is for men. And a lot of guys don’t care, which is cool, they just want to be a man.
My view is that at the end of the day, just put on a moisturizer after your shower, after washing your face with a nice scrub. One that’s not full of fragrances and fillers can go a long way. Everyone washes their face anyway, they also brush their teeth and brush their hair.
Why not use good products that help you age better and don’t harm the environment?
Men are wanting to take care of themselves more and more, so I love that and am going with it. At the same time, I think they know that girls like it, too. I believe girls might think, “If a guy takes care of himself, he can take care of me,” and it’s true. Not that we only want to do things to impress women, but it helps!
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
Fortunately for me, the most difficult part was having time in the day. I didn’t have enough time in my day to physically scale my business, and that’s why I moved the business into a warehouse. I needed space, and more people, to be able to pack and send more products.
I suspect a lot of people won’t like that answer, because it’s a good problem to have, and it means I had already made it, so let me add something else.
When you have high demand, you start worrying about returns, and people not getting your products fast enough. When you are doing that much volume, you are waiting for your products to come from other countries. You have hiccups with the FDA, and scaling so fast can make things crazy if you’re not prepared. That might sound like another good problem to have, but the stress is pretty phenomenal when your customer has the power to destroy you with one or two bad reviews for slow deliveries or damaged products.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
In our business, it’s been post-purchase upsells; essentially just increasing your average order value. If someone buys toothpaste or tooth powder, we offer them an order bump to include a toothbrush, face mask, soap, or a pack which includes one of everything. Increasing my average order value allowed me to spend more on marketing, which allowed me to scale bigger, faster, better. The day I moved our production line from my home into our warehouse, I used a large percentage of these profits to double my advertising budget, and our sales doubled immediately as a result. I went from 9,000 dollars sales in a day to 19,000 dollars the following day. Within a few months, we were at 50,000 dollars a day, and that’s where we’re sitting on a consistent basis.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It wasn’t funny necessarily, but we had a big mix-up in the warehouse where we had two assembly lines running, with 5,000 products on each. One was tooth cleaning powder, and one was the powder and a toothbrush together. We printed the 10,000 labels and shipped out both orders in record time. We were practically still celebrating the following day when the first person emailed saying they were missing their toothbrush. Then another, and another. We realised that we had mixed up the entire lines and sent 10,000 people the wrong thing.
We introduced a series of checks after that, to ensure that we’re always labeling and sending the right orders. With volumes as high as ours, it’s essential, and that day taught me a valuable lesson.
It was kind of funny one day when a DHL guy opened his truck to discover that 20,000 tubes of toothpaste had broken open when the boxes crashed in the back. Remember that our toothpaste is black, and it was everywhere. It was pretty amusing, although not for long, as we then had to wait for another shipment!
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
We don’t have an official sales team, but we’ve had great success in micro influencers making sales for us. When popular people have been sharing our products, we will reach out and say, “Hey, thanks for posting your videos, and recommending us to your family and friends.” We give them affiliate links so that they earn a percentage. By doing this, some of our customers turn into a kind of sales team. It’s always a win-win.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Branding. I’ve been known to say that great branding is 60% of your business’ success. Consistent brand recognition and aesthetically pleasing products are key to ecommerce success. Branding is so important that you almost don’t need to have a popular product to make money in ecommerce if you have good branding. Creating a new or clever spin on an old product is a common strategy I’ve seen used very well many times.
2. Creatives. You want to have good videos and images of your products. Don’t use tacky stock photos, or crappy vectors and renders of your logo on your product. If you can’t afford to get a photographer to take pictures for you, then do what you can at the start, but as soon as I had photographers take pictures of my products, my sales doubled. When you have the whole package — great branding, great creatives — it’s a game changer.
3. Customer Service is huge. When it comes to the product itself, the branding is key, but when it comes to the business, customer service is number one. The aim is to keep returns low, and serve your customers well so that they keep coming back.
When sales have been higher than usual, we’ve run out of products. If customers contact us, angry about the delays, we offer discounts as well as a good percentage off their next purchase. Things like this encourage the customer to keep buying from us. Some of our best customers have been earned this way.
4. Marketing. My best advice is to cover all your options. Facebook and Instagram are likely to be the biggest channels for your cold marketing. You’re going to spend a lot of money getting new customers, by putting your product in front of a lot of people on these channels. Then you want to retarget those customers that didn’t buy on other platforms like Snapchat, Pinterest, and Twitter. Those are really good for retargeting. Google is also extremely powerful for cold audiences, retaining and retargeting. Marketing is extremely powerful because you simply must market to make money.
5. Have above average abandoned cart recovery. Always make sure that you are getting that customer who almost buys something, back into your store. We do that through email marketing and retargeting and also text message marketing. We follow them up a few times. We follow them up in an hour, and then one day later, five days later, and 25 days later. We offer them discounts because we want them to come back and spend some money. We’ve essentially already paid for them to come to our store through our marketing, and we paid for them to click on the ‘ad to cart’ button. So we want to retain that customer and bring them in by whatever means it takes. If that means we have to give away product or give them an extremely good discount, we’ll do it. We know that once they’re in, our products and our customer service will keep them coming back. We just need them to make that first purchase, so abandoned cart recovery is crucial.
What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
I personally would just figure out what has really worked in the past. Even if things are not working now, figure out what is not working but also look out what has worked before. Did you slack off and maybe get lax in doing what you did in the beginning? Did your energy and enthusiasm wane, and you let things get sloppy as a result? Look at what is not allowing you to move forward, and what has changed since that time.
Has the market fatigued, the products fatigued, or maybe your ads have fatigued.
Are you still spending money on getting new creatives made? Are you still testing new ads?
Are you still motivated in that industry? Has that industry taken a nosedive? Maybe you shouldn’t dwell too much on that industry anymore. Maybe you should look at a similar industry or a different industry. You could implement all the things that you are good at and put it into something else. You have to always know when to move on. Nothing is forever.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
The power of influencers increases so much every single year. Young kids are now able to access the internet with their phones. They get on TikTok and other socializing apps, and they follow popular people who they really trust. These influencers are the type of people that they want to be like, they want to meet. If you get those influencers to say something cool about your product, you’ll get a bunch of sales.
If a product is something targeted directly to their audience, that approach works really, really well. We get influencers doing reviews on our products and they end up buying more to use themselves. They make videos and share with all their friends and families, and that usually brings us more traffic. We just use micro influencers because they are cheaper. Usually with micro influencers we get a really great return. Somebody with 5,000 followers often has so much more engagement than someone with 50,000 followers.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
My view is that the customer is always right. If people want to steal from you by saying they didn’t receive the product, or that it was damaged, let them do it. We’ve had this experience many times, and we’ve found that if we send replacement products to people, it can turn them into loyal customers. If we’ve been good to them regardless, and somebody asks them what our products are like, they are more likely to say, “Yeah, it’s great,” rather than, “Don’t buy from them.”
People will forget about good brands, but people will never forget about bad brands, and you’ll end up paying the price.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Repeat customers are the backbone of our business. My customer retention rate is 63% and my approach is that if you have a good relationship with your customer, they’ll keep coming back, as long as the product is up to scratch. We keep in touch with our customers to find out if they got their products, how they enjoyed them, if they have any feedback, and if they haven’t ordered in a while, we offer them discounts or bundle deals to come back. We also act upon every single complaint or request, no matter the circumstances. We figure that we paid to get those customers in the first place and they’re worth holding onto! We’ve still got customers who have been with us since the beginning in 2016, and today we have served around 1.5 million people.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to do something to create jobs for veterans. These people who serve our country and often come back traumatized and broken, and they need our support. Veterans can find it difficult to get gainful and meaningful employment, and yet they are some of the bravest and most determined people you’ll ever meet. I’d love to create a national job program which would utilize the incredible skills and knowledge of our veterans, while giving them a new purpose and direction in life.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I want to have lunch with Dwayne Johnson. He’s very influential, and he’s got a great story about how he became who he is today. He is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, he has his own charity, and he’s also a businessman. He has a good heart and he’s just an all-round good guy. I think we’d have a fantastic time and I could talk to him for hours. Dwayne, if you’re reading this, call me!
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!