Make sure there is a demand for whatever it is you are trying to sell and have some interest in what you’re offering. The amount of time and energy needed to build the brand and online business is going to be overwhelming, so if you are interested in what you are selling or the industry you are in, that will help ease the long hours. I love sneakers and I like to keep my sneakers looking new, so I just found a way to create a business around something I was interested in and already doing.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Grear.
Reshoevn8r founder Steve Grear was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. His childhood and adolescent experiences taught him valuable lessons that inspired him to start his company in 2011. And now, nearly a decade later, his ultimate sneaker cleaner is patented — and Reshoevn8r is one of the top premium shoe care brands in the world.
Grear was raised by his single mother and grew up in a neighborhood comprised mostly of trailer homes. His mother worked full-time and he subsequently became self-sufficient at an early age. Money was sparse for Grear and his family, and he learned to value his shoes. His mother believed that clean shoes are crucial to a presentable appearance, and he followed suit by keeping his sneakers in top condition — foreshadowing Reshoevn8r.
Grear as a teenager transitioned from living with an overprotective mother to a disinterested father that didn’t care what he did in his spare time. He disregarded school as his father toiled away with drugs, and eventually dropped out before graduating high school. Grear was arrested in 2009 on a class-two felony for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, marking a personal low and eventual epiphany. He realized he needed to do something productive with his life, and Reshoevn8r was born.
Grear in the last decade has controlled Reshoevn8r’s daily operations, gaining experience with e-commerce, marketing and building a massive social media platform. He prides himself on his ability to visualize concepts so that they become a reality and is always thinking about how to evolve. Grear has always had an interest in sneakers, and his excitement about the company often keeps him up at night. He’s a progressive thinker that thrives when the company flourishes, and consistently has ideas running through his mind.
Grear is also a loving fiancé and father to his newborn baby girl. He enjoys exercising, listening to music, reading, spending time with his daughter, and giving back to the community. He has been involved with a handful of local and international charities and hopes long term to become a better man while keeping an open mind. His upbringing was challenging and humbling, but ultimately helped him become the man and entrepreneur he is today.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I love being able to answer this question — because my aha moment came from a real-life problem that I was able to solve.
Growing up, I was always into sneakers. There was nothing like the feeling I got lacing up a new pair of shoes. My mom was a single mom, and we didn’t have a lot of extra money for things like “cool sneakers”. I learned from early on that if I wanted the sneakers I had to last, I had to find a way to take care of them.
I had tested out every product imaginable and found there wasn’t a product that was working as well as the process that I had come up with.
After cleaning my sneakers, I would put them into the washing machine in a pillowcase. This method was protecting the shoes from scuffing, but it was also helping to scrub the shoes during the cycle. The difficult part of this was trying to get the knot untied from the pillowcase when the laundry cycle was completed.
It was one of those nights when I was cleaning multiple pairs of sneakers, it was getting late and I was becoming overly frustrated that I wasn’t able to get the knot out of the bag that my aha moment happened.
There had to be a better way to do this, and improve the process. It started to click — if I was this interested in a more effective shoe cleaner, there had to be other people as well. After what felt like years of research, which was more like weeks, I decided I was going to go at this project with everything I had. There wasn’t anything else on the market that compared to what I was looking for — I was going to make it.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think I have been faced with an abundance of hard times not just in the startup stages, but even today.
There are a couple that really tested my faith and perseverance. At the beginning of my journey, the biggest obstacle that I faced was — I didn’t have any experience. I’m not just talking business experience. I was a high school dropout with literally no formal education. I didn’t have industry experience, other than I had a fixation on sneakers and how to make their appearance last longer.
I questioned myself constantly — not just about the actual product, but if I could make it in an industry that was such a niche and the business world overall. The one thing I always had confidence in, was I had a great product and I couldn’t give up until I knew it was being used all over the world.
After about a year of working on the branding, packaging, pricing, etc, I finally had a sellable product and created a website in 2011. Looking back now, it seems like it was relatively early in the e-commerce world.
That’s when the next obstacle came in my journey. I completely underestimated how hard it would be to get visitors to my site. I naively assumed that I could just build a website and then people would just start placing orders not realizing the challenges of SEO and actually driving traffic to the site.
There were many times during that period that I questioned if I should continue, but everyone that used the product loved it and said how great it was so I knew I had to keep going. I continued to do research daily, found people that would openly talk to me about the industry, networked, and built my reputation around selling quality products.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today seems like a world away from where I was ten years ago. We just celebrated our 10 year anniversary with a huge “Reshoevn8r Day” in August. I sometimes have a hard time talking about the journey from cleaning shoes and selling them on ebay, to the company I have today.
In late April we launched a full-scale rebrand that elevated the entire business. Through constant improvement, and not getting complacent, we have continued to grow year after year even with the current challenges that a lot of businesses are going through at the moment.
The first few years were definitely not for the faint of heart, but with undeniable grit and resilience, I weathered the storm and slowly started to grow the business. I think you need to be completely and overwhelmingly obsessed with whatever it is you are trying to do. Self-doubt, being scared, overwhelmed, and panicking was all part of the process, but I never once doubted that my product was the best. If you are going to beat the odds and create something that is going to be successful and last your belief in your product cannot waiver. Reshoevn8r was all I thought about from sun up to sun down and I put in more hours than most people are willing to dedicate to anything, and that is what has made me successful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Well, there were plenty of mistakes, one I think was me doing the graphic design. We didn’t have money to pay someone, so I learned how to use Photoshop, but looking back it was really bad (…like, really bad). I still laugh at the process of learning to use the program, and then being really proud of myself for what I created. I see what my graphic design and my creative team do now, and I am still blown away when I see the final product.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have 1,000,000 subscribers on our YouTube channel where we offer hundreds of cleaning tutorials and when we damage a shoe, or something doesn’t work we actually show it. This is an area that I refuse to compromise our integrity. My team will never hide results or cover up errors. We point areas of opportunity out so when you receive our product, you don’t make the same mistake. Integrity is huge when you’re selling products to consumers. Your customers need to feel that you aren’t trying to trick them into something that actually won’t work. I don’t want to sell you a product that won’t work for your situation, I would rather tell you it won’t work and then work hard to figure out WHY it didn’t work, and what we can do to fix that problem
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would recommend having fun! The stress at times was crippling, but I knew that I needed outlets of fun to keep going. Also, make sure you have people around you that you like hanging out with. When I say hang out… Not just for an hour or two — I hung out with my core group of people from 14–15 hours a day for weeks at a time perfecting our product. It seems that in the early days before I felt like that was so much on the line it was easier to just have fun.
Now that we have more employees and substantial overhead, it becomes a little more taxing and more challenging to just having fun. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a great time, our office setting is super relaxed, we built an on-site gym to work out some frustrations and we have partnered with amazing companies that allow my associates to break away from the world and let loose — all of those are the perks of working your tail off to make your dream a reality.
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?
To build Reshoevn8r, there have been so many people that have helped. From huge contributions of ideas or concepts to friends that would swing by the garage and bring me dinner because I was so absorbed that I forgot to eat.
The “one” that really helped get things going was my buddy, Rob.
Rob was the first to have the time, fresh ideas, and put in the work needed to see traction on the Brand. It was about a year after I launched the website, and I was looking for someone to help me. He was a great fit because he was into sneakers and social media, more than me, so after a few discussions we just started working on it every day and slowly started building the Instagram page and started seeing more traction and consistent sales.
About a year later we hit up a couple of our buddies and asked them to join the team and moved to Phoenix AZ. It was Myself, Rob, Fran, and Akil all living in the same house shipping orders out of the garage. This was really the beginning of the brand and a pivotal time for the company.
The people that I have surrounding me at Reshoevn8r now, are truly next-level thinkers. I have the privilege of working with people every day who challenge me, excite me, and are moving this company forward at lightning speed. It is an amazing opportunity to lead a company of professionals, with a common goal and then seeing it come to fruition. I couldn’t do what I’m doing without the people in my past that helped, pushed, and even doubted me — just like I couldn’t continue to do it with the current people I have now.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
The shift from retail sales to e-commerce sales has been a huge economic shift. With more consumers shopping online than ever before, due to the Pandemic, eCommerce companies are really trying to make online shopping a better experience.
A huge shift that I see is better-looking and better-operating sites that enhance customer experience, free shipping to consumers, no-hassle returns, free gifts, or add-on values, all the way to subscription-based models so your favorite items just arrive at your door without having to worry about running out.
Businesses that relied on retail, or brick and mortar stores, are starting to put more energy into online shopping. Luckily for us, we have always focused primarily online so we didn’t see a negative impact on our business due to the pandemic.
Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Great question, I think brands really need to be able to connect with their customers and really cherish them. With so many emerging brands coming to market, brand loyalty isn’t as common as it was in the past.
People have options now, which is great! That is also the advantage of smaller brands like Reshoevn8r. We have the ability to communicate and connect in a more genuine way, which has increased our brand awareness in our industry and built an actual fan base.
A way that companies can stand strong during this emerging trend, is to shift their back-end support towards the best possible customer service model. With an abundance of sites vying for your attention when you are shopping online, retaining customers by offering a world-class customer support system will retain more customers over time.
Additionally, there are a good amount of people that do research before making a purchase — so the more value you can add after and during their purchase the better.
To be honest, we feel like our biggest competitor is Amazon — , even though we sell on Amazon!
The problem we see is Amazon doesn’t provide the seller with customer information. This essentially makes the customer THEIRS, and not directly OURS.
Two of the main reasons people shop on Amazon, other than the vast product catalog, is no hassle returns and 1–2 days shipping times. Companies who are going to continue to expand on their e-commerce sites have to be able to offer the same or better value on their personal sites, as they do on large consumer sites as well.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think one of the biggest mistakes is not optimizing and updating your website, especially for mobile. More and more people are shopping on their phones so it is imperative to be focused on mobile-friendly designs. Websites do not need to be overly complicated to be up to date and user-centric. I feel finding the right web-developer, graphics team, and e-commerce director have catapulted our customer experience in the right direction over recent years.
We have had 4 websites since launching 10 years ago, and we are always trying to improve the customer experience. This is something we will not compromise on. I might be spoiled, but I typically won’t purchase from a company if the site is outdated and challenging to navigate unless that is my only option. I’ve shopped with huge companies and smaller “mom-and-pop” stores — the user experience must be front and center for me to spend my money there.
Also, I feel that other CEOs/founders are making the mistake of not including shipping in the price of the product. When a customer goes to check out, they already have a price in mind that they are paying. When you add in taxes, and a shipping fee, customers will find other storefronts that offer that service for “free” even if they’re paying a little more for the actual product.
In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I would say the most underestimated aspect of running an e-commerce business is the amount of content needed to stay relevant and fresh so you can drive traffic to your site. As I mentioned, there are a lot of brands out there and they are all fighting for your attention, so content is king.
We basically are a marketing/creative agency that promotes a product at the end of the day. Things happen so fast these days and people’s attention spans are short, so you really need to figure out how to grab their attention as often as possible and make it the most relevant to them.
When you are first starting out, you’re probably going to be doing things on your own if you haven’t found investors or your tribe of people who believe in you as much as you believe in your product. I can’t stress enough how important it is to find talented people to capture these trends in real-time and produce content that is up to date. Don’t underestimate the value of the people who are working with and for you. Top-level talent is a game-changer.
Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
I have a few recommendations for tools and software that we use, there are a lot out there to choose from, these just happen to be the ones we are currently using.
- Shopify — Is one eCommerce platform that has enough functionality to enable and empower a brand to scale up. You can also create a website with very little experience and improve and tweak it as time goes on.
- SEMRush — Is great to keep track of your SEO
- Glew.io — This is a great KPI consolidator to proactively alert you on all of your KPIs and for you to be able to filter by segments to take targeted action on those users
- Asana — amazing tool for project management. Teams are able to create project boards, track processes, and get approvals
- Slack — This is a great tool not only for internal team communication but also to automate alerts from your storefront and Asana tasks
- Klavyio — This is a good email marketing automation platform for e-commerce retailers
- Fulfil.io — An API driven real time ERP system that integrates with at a multi-channel level. Unfortunately, most popular ERP systems out there today are archaic and are slow to re-platform since it’s a costly proposition. Fulfill.io is an ERP system that leverages the latest tech stack vs the others.
I am a true believer in simplicity and streamlined systems. As the business has grown, I need to be able to see all of the data in real-time. My team also makes in the moment decisions when campaigns are not performing as well as we expected. I feel finding systems that you are comfortable using, and that INTEGRATE with each other is a game-changer.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Conversion is very important, each person that visits your website and does not convert, costs you money, so the higher the conversion the better.
I mentioned this before, but I think that shipping cost is a big one. With more people using Amazon Prime they are more likely to expect free shipping, so building that expense into the cost of your product if possible, will help. In addition to that, speed is critical, how many times have you been to a website and it took forever to load, and you just left? Also driving the right audience to your site will ultimately increase conversion. My advice is any way you can make the buying process smooth and easy for the consumer the better.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
I believe to create a trusted and beloved brand it all starts with the team and having the right people in the business that are ethically sound and actually care about the brand.
Also, be authentic and do what you say you are going to do, as the saying goes “bad news travels much faster than good news”, with social media today you can’t afford to have people bash you because you were dishonest or misleading. The company I built will always have a customer-centric AND associate centric platform.
Lastly, one thing that we do is let people into our world. The sneaker industry is a niche market, but the Reshoevn8r brand is for everyone. Your sneakers don’t need to cost 2000 dollars for our product to work! We feature different employees on our social platforms so our customers can get to know my team. Snapchat takeovers have been wildly successful when our associates take it over. My team is so diverse that customers are most definitely going to SEE SOMETHING DIFFERENT when one of the associates takes it over for the day.
When I take a step back and look at the diversity of my team, I am so proud of how we have all assembled. I have people on my team who have no formal education, similar to myself, to bachelors, masters, and Ph.D.’s in their respective fields. I have people from different ethnic backgrounds, different sexual orientations, and truly an equal pool of talent. My team is authentic and trusted and that rolls over into every part of my brand.
One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Great question and unfortunately no matter how good you are you won’t be able to please everyone, and you will receive negative reviews — guaranteed.
The opportunity lies in using legitimate ones as a learning lesson on how to improve. We were receiving bad reviews about shipping time and it made us figure out how to provide faster shipping for our customers. Most people are very reasonable when it comes to minor delays and issues, and if you communicate with them in a timely manner, they will still leave a positive review and appreciate you working with them and taking care of the problem. I personally think you should always respond to the negative reviews publicly and try to improve their experience, other customers will appreciate you working to reconcile the issue.
My suggestion to combat negative and unfair things said about your brand, is to offset the negative reviews with positive feedback. The challenge is some people only leave reviews if they are negative so making it easy for people to leave reviews is important as well.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Good branding — I believe good branding and keeping things consistent is important. When I first started, I didn’t have the money to perfect everything before offering the product for sale, so I really had to get creative when it came to branding products, etc. As we started to grow, I realized our branding wasn’t very consistent. We had increased our product line and the packaging wasn’t consistent across all of our skus, we had different designers over the years and really didn’t have a set brand guideline to follow. So, a few years ago I decided to do a full-scale rebrand and really update and mature the brand esthetic. I think this really helped us elevate and evolve the brand to help scale.
2) Have a plan on how you are going to continue to generate brand awareness and drive visitors to your site-
Don’t be like me when I first started and assume that just because you build a nice website that people are going to visit and purchase from you. Come up with strategies on how you are going to build your brand awareness and drive traffic to your site.
There are so many ways to do it now, social media, influencers, PPC, SEO, Google, Yelp the list goes on you just need to find what works best for your business and work it.
3) Make sure there is a demand for whatever it is you are trying to sell and have some interest in what you’re offering
The amount of time and energy needed to build the brand and online business is going to be overwhelming, so if you are interested in what you are selling or the industry you are in, that will help ease the long hours. I love sneakers and I like to keep my sneakers looking new, so I just found a way to create a business around something I was interested in and already doing.
4) Make sure your UI (user interface design) and UX (user experience design) are on par with your competitors if not better. If a customer leaves your site to shop for competitors, make sure they remember you! I know that my skill set was not Photoshop, just like my skill set is not coding a website. After my brand started to grow, I prioritized finding people who were experts in those fields to come on board. I invest in the talent that works for Reshoevn8r and appreciate their expertise, this is a game-changer in terms of eCommerce, and new businesses as a whole.
5) World-class Customer service
We sell premium shoe cleaner, and some people are blown away that we have created a successful business around it. One of the reasons we have been able to do that is good customer service. Bad news travels faster than good news, so you really need to be able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and treat them how you would like to be treated.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!