Treat your customers like you would want to be treated. What do you want your customers to tell their friends about you? Every customer interaction is an opportunity to “wow” and impress them. Be generous, especially when there’s a mistake.
We had a customer email us photos of a box of materials that were damaged in transit because our warehouse sent them in the wrong box. Our products still work great even if bent up, but we want them to look excellent too. After emailing a personal apology email, we sent him replacement material to replace the damaged ones. He was ecstatic, and sent us build photos of several dozen high-end cars he built over the past decade with permission to use them however we wished!
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 Sturgeon Christie, owner and CEO of Second Skin Audio. After 10 years at a high-growth digital marketing company, in 2019 he purchased Second Skin Audio, an ecommerce provider of aftermarket automotive insulation and soundproofing.
Sturgeon attended Wake Forest University, where he graduated with a degree in Finance. He and his wife live in Charlotte, NC.
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?
I started my career as an analyst at a tech startup based outside of Charlotte, NC. Over the decade I was there, the business evolved into a huge company with thousands of employees. By the end of my time there, I led a team of over 50 and was responsible for a $20M P&L.
When deciding what I wanted to do next, I sought out as many smart and successful people as I could convince to meet with me. One conversation with a Charlotte business owner planted the idea of buying my own small business. After over a year and due diligence on hundreds of companies, I found Second Skin Audio and bought it from the retiring owner.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There were quite a few times in those first months where I thought “What. Have. I. Done.” I can remember flying out to Tucson, AZ and spending long days learning everything I could at the Second Skin Audio office and warehouse. Each night I drove my rental car to a hotel near the warehouse and basically fell into the bed.
After several weeks, we packed up every bit of inventory onto some semi trucks and shipped it all to the new warehouse. I tried not to think about what would happen if those trucks didn’t make it.
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?
My wife is both very supportive of me and very risk averse. The result: significant internal turmoil as she tried to be both encouraging and not panic about our future. I remember the initial conversation where I told her that I wanted to quit a good paying, stable job to take out a big loan and throw myself into growing a small business that would make no money for at least a year. Yikes.
Fortunately, I won her over. I wouldn’t have been able to take a risk like this without her love and support.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Stay positive. The moment you stop looking for opportunities to make the best of a situation is the moment that you’ll never see those opportunities.
Being a business owner is full of ups and downs with the occasional crisis thrown in to keep things interesting. Many of these things are outside your control, but you can control how you react to the challenges.
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?
Second Skin Audio is an ecommerce company devoted to helping people solve sound and heat problems, primarily in vehicles. Whether you have a bumping car audio system, a vehicle you’re restoring in your garage, or just a car whose highway road noise drives you crazy, our products will give your car, truck, or van that “luxury vehicle” feel.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We will invest the time to teach a customer and help them get best possible results on their project. We provide a lot of free consulting that helps our customers get the best bang for their buck, whether they choose us or not.
On us being there from beginning to end of the project, I can remember one customer who we spoke to over 20 times over the course of several months as he worked on his car restoration hobby in his garage. That’s not the typical customer, but we’re there until the end if the customer needs us.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
I bought Second Skin Audio because I wanted to apply my digital expertise to an established brand where I felt I could change that company’s growth trajectory. I knew there were businesses out there where the right digital strategies would be game changing. All I had to do was find the right business.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
It continues to evolve. As we’ve grown my lens has become less self-focused, and shifted to building a company for the people who work there.
One aspect of that is I intend to for our company’s compensation to be significantly less top-heavy than many organizations. I know what it feels like to work really hard, drive big returns, and then watch the profits funnel to the top of the organization. If we’re fortunate enough to ever become a big company, I look forward to finding ways for everyone who participated in that success to reap outsized returns.
I’m still figuring out exactly how to do that in practice. In the meantime, I just want to stay nimble, stay hungry, and create a winning culture.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are expanding from a focus on solving automotive sound and heat problems to the much broader market of home and commercial soundproofing. We think we can bring our combination of focus on the customer experience and digital execution to this bigger opportunity.
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?
A successful business requires so many different skills to just stay afloat, much less attract new customers. With less overall resources, everyone on the team needs to wear multiple hats while also staying focused on the executing the biggest opportunities. It’s a fine balance to strike.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
We have been successful with organic search and paid ads on several platforms (mostly Google and Amazon).
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?
I don’t know that a mistake impacting a customer is ever funny when it happens. It’s almost always an “oh crap” moment. If there’s anything I’ve learned about mistakes, it’s that you need to make it right with the customer.
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 do have a small sales team. My #1 advice is to explicitly measure and track the KPIs that drive your business on a regular basis.
Let’s say you want to change your sales process. If you don’t track your conversion metrics, how will you know if you are better or worse off?
Or let’s say you have multiple salespeople. How will you know who’s doing a good job and who’s not? Which salesperson’s tactics should you be studying and transferring to the rest of the team?
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.
- Treat your customers like you would want to be treated
a. What do you want your customers to tell their friends about you?
b. Every customer interaction is an opportunity to “wow” and impress them. Be generous, especially when there’s a mistake.
c. We had a customer email us photos of a box of materials that were damaged in transit because our warehouse sent them in the wrong box. Our products still work great even if bent up, but we want them to look excellent too. After emailing a personal apology email, we sent him replacement material to replace the damaged ones. He was ecstatic, and sent us build photos of several dozen high-end cars he built over the past decade with permission to use them however we wished!
2. Diligently pursue your strengths
a. Know what you do well and where you are capable of adding significant value. Focus on winning in those areas.
b. A small team can only take on so much at once. If you don’t have a ton of dice to roll, make sure you’re rolling ones that favor you.
c. Said without the metaphor… find opportunities that have a high likelihood of success, and direct your company’s resources towards executing them.
3. Empower your people
a. Show people what amazing work looks like. Set expectations on consistently delivering that level of work. And then empower and encourage them on the journey.
b. Once people know what “great” looks like, trust them to do the right thing.
c. We had a new employee who thought his role was to receive tasks and then check them off the list. After scheduling an ad-hoc feedback session, we went in depth into what he was doing well and where he had opportunities. The crux of the problem turned out to be he didn’t know what “ownership” looked like. I learned I wasn’t communicating clearly, and we left on the same page about what goes into “acting like an owner”.
d. Sometimes all it takes is a genuine and honest conversation from a place of respect for someone to “get it.”
4. Measure the impact
a. Find ways to measure any significant initiative you take. Decide on the front-end how you will determine if it’s a success.
b. For things that are successful, keep doing them. Find more similar projects to do.
c. For projects that don’t work out, end them and move on.
d. We recently ran a split test on the site where we redesigned a product page to be more clear and concise, heavily favoring imagery over text. Because we explicitly measured the results, now we not only know that the test was successful, but we can also prioritize future website changes because we know how big the impact is likely to be.
5. Bring experts into the room
a. Good help is hard to find, but there is no substitute.
b. In all the areas where we’ve been most successful, we’ve found an outside expert to supplement internal expertise. As a small business, you can’t afford to hire experts to lead every initiative. But you can put them on a monthly retainer, and tap them to discuss strategy and provide feedback.
c. If you can tie their compensation to performance, even better! Give them real upside if the initiative is successful. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get way more help than you expected. And then when you’re successful, both the advisor and the company win.
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 believe this stagnation comes back to culture and mindset. I’d start by deciding what kind of company you want to be, and ensure the culture you create reinforces that goal.
A growth culture is a learning culture. Find ways to start learning again yourself and inspire or find people that want to join you on that journey.
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?
It’s really hard to distill good information from bad in our industry. We want to be that friend across the table that is an expert, and just enjoys talking to you about whatever challenge is in front of you.
We’ve found that giving honest advice and teaching customers how to be successful is the best path to winning their business. We set realistic expectations on results, and allow our awesome products overdeliver.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Be available and responsive. When someone is having an issue, they don’t want to be on your schedule. Give them multiple ways to reach out in case to sort out an issue (phone call, chat, email, Facebook, Instagram), and get back to them ASAP.
We are intentional about telling someone the important information 3–5 different ways so it sticks. Especially if your product is complicated, make it foolproof for the customer.
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?
I don’t think we’re great at this. We’re just really focused on having positive interactions with our customers and giving them every reason to tell their friends about us. We could be much better at driving customer LTV.
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. 🙂
Assume the best in people. It’s so easy to interpret the words and actions of others as harmful, stupid, or ignorant. Be a little less certain that you know the right answer or where someone is coming from.
You control how you choose to perceive the world, and we all would appreciate a little more grace.
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 🙂
Peter Attia. I first heard him speak at an event at my previous job, and was blown away by his passion and enthusiasm. He’s on this decades-long journey to better understand and optimize the health of the human body.
I’d hope to learn more about his plans for the future. I think his ideas on health and wellness could have a huge impact on our society, but there’s also a lot of inertia to overcome. I’d love to learn more about what he thinks the most realistic path is to progress.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!