Have access to capital — The biggest hurdle to our growth was learning how to get capital. We didn’t think about this until it became a problem. We were at a point where we were investing so much of our cash into more inventory just to sustain the demand for our existing products that we couldn’t expand our product offerings. After time, we secured different sources for capital and that significantly accelerated our growth.
As part of my series about the “How To Create A Fantastic Retail Experience That Keeps Bringing Customers Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Travis Killian.
As the CEO and an owner of Everlasting Comfort, Travis Killian has built a reputation as an authority on ecommerce business through marketing, automation and scaling. Travis has generated more than 100M in sales on Amazon, making him one of the best Amazon marketers alive.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Pain. Chronic pain at that! I’ve always had issues with back pain — so much so that I was missing out on some of life’s simplest pleasures, like going to live music events or taking road trips. I dreaded anything that required me to stand or sit for a prolonged period of time. Before Everlasting Comfort, I was running an internet marketing agency where I spent the majority of my day sitting in front of a computer screen at home. It was very uncomfortable, but it was paying the bills. I was so burnt out and constantly exhausted. I realized that in order for me to continue down this path, I would need to shift my focus onto something bigger, something that fulfills me while helping others, and so I saved some money and started researching and developing comfort products that could help us say yes to life more often. You have no idea what a difference an orthopedic seat cushion could make, it literally changed my life. I’m not alone in this because I see our sales and I read our reviews. It’s truly empowering to run a business like Everlasting Comfort that has such a positive effect on people from all corners of the world.
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?
We had a reality check pretty early on. There’s so much competition out there, and they’re all offering similar products. Why does one brand deserve to be more successful than the other? We had to figure all of this out while balancing the nuances of manufacturing, running a business and constantly looking over our shoulders to see what the competition is up to. Luckily, we realized pretty early on that in order for us to become the go-to comfort brand, we needed to worry less about what our competition is doing and focus more on what our customers are saying. You have to be willing to put yourself in your customers’ shoes — all the while delivering cost-effective solutions. If you do that part well, you’ll begin to notice how all aspects of your business start to adapt to the needs of your customers, rather than the needs of your business and for us, this strategy has worked out quite well.
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?
I’m extremely grateful for my friend, and mentor, Adam. Before ecommerce, I had a lead generation company. In that company, I hired Adam to perform SEO services on one of our websites. I couldn’t afford to hire him to do SEO on 100 sites, but I could afford to pay for one site and try and replicate the strategy myself to our other websites. As a perk of being his client, he would share his SEO wisdom with me on skype. I probably abused this privilege in hindsight haha, but eventually he just asked if I even cared about the SEO I was paying for. I told him I didn’t, that I just wanted his knowledge. From that point, he was my SEO consultant.
We chatted every week, oftentimes daily about business, SEO strategy, and ended up developing a great friendship. Fast forward about five years — I’m still paying for his “consulting” fees — and I pitch Adam with a Joint Venture opportunity to combine our resources on a big lead generation project. It ended up working and we had great success together. About two years into our Joint Venture, we both are looking for other opportunities to start. Adam started doing ecommerce and selling on Amazon. I was looking at other opportunities at the time. About six months into Adam’s ecommerce venture, he showed me his success and said that he would show my partner, Joe, and I how to get started.
We accepted his offer, and six months later, we are selling our first products on Amazon, creating Everlasting Comfort, and found the next business to give our all. I’m extremely grateful for Adam’s friendship and mentoring over the past nine years.
Yes, we are still paying our “consulting” fee, and I hope that never stops :).
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
It wasn’t so a book or a podcast, but more so actionable tips that I picked up from watching what other industry leaders were doing — or sometimes not doing. In the early days, I felt like I was literally a sponge, soaking up information that I found beneficial. But, that really hasn’t changed. Whether it’s a blog post or a white paper that I come across, I’m constantly learning. That’s the best way to achieve ultimate growth.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our product reviews make us unique because they tell an unbiased story about the experiences of our customers. From long-distance truckers to stay-at-home moms, when our customers are compelled enough to leave in-depth product reviews, we listen. These reviews paint a collective story made up of tens of thousands of experiences with our products. We let our customers write our story while rewriting theirs, the majority of them in a state of comfort.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
When it comes to “burning out,” it’s absolutely life-changing to shift from “me” to “you.” While you can crush your short-term goals by working really hard, it’s inevitable for you to burn out if all you’re concerned about is the intrinsic value of money or the accolades that come with achievement. I guarantee that it’ll change your life.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. The Pandemic only made things much worse for retailers in general. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Honestly, at first, it was all about me. I’ve always sought accolades, it’s been a blessing in disguise. On one end of the spectrum, I’m an overachiever, on the other I’m extremely hard on myself. It’s a delicate balancing act between stress and performance. I’d lock myself in a room and spend days, sometimes weeks with minimal contact with the outside world if our business needed a breakthrough. It wasn’t until I hired our first employee that I started realizing it’s less about me and more about others. My perspective changed when I started focusing on enabling our employees and the overall mission of our company. I’ll always be hard on myself, especially when it comes to the performance of our company, because I know that deep down it’s up to me to lead.
At first, my source of motivation was honestly about being the best — having the accolades, getting the pat on the back for building a great company etc. But this source of motivation is like burning fossil fuel — I stopped having something to prove to the world and had to find a sense of greater purpose. That’s huge for retailers to understand. For the last couple of years, my source of motivation to push through has been derived from my belief that I’m doing people a disservice by not being there for them when they’re in pain or discomfort. That’s been a great way for me to shift the focus away from me and onto the needs of others. I also find that the motivation when you focus on helping others is renewable — it never burns out. I feel good about what I’m doing and think I’m really doing my part to make the world a better place. If every retailer in the world could apply this idea to their company, then I think we’d see a much different business environment.
Amazon is 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?
Again, it’s all about being unique and listening to the needs of your customers. If you’re an eCommerce store that just throws out hundreds of poor-quality products just to make a one-time sale, then you’re not going to experience any longevity. I’d rather have 1,000 lifetime customers than 10 times that who will only make one purchase and then be unhappy with it.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a retail business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I sometimes don’t think CEOs and founders really take the time to understand their audience and their targeted demographics. They seem to focus on the products that they want to offer, rather than those that will actually be of benefit to their customers. To avoid this, do your research. You can never know too much about the consumers who will be browsing your websites, making purchases and sharing reviews.
This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business in general and for retail in particular?
An eCommerce store is rooted in its customer experience. If consumers don’t like your products or the service that you provide, they won’t waste one minute making sure that everyone knows about it. When consumers began really using the review process for the products that they purchase, that completely changed the game. Retailers were held accountable for the products that they sold, and I’ve seen many companies lose sales from just a handful of bad reviews.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
The disconnect lies in the fact that some retailers are already looking to the next customer in line, figuratively speaking, without ensuring that they provide the best customer experience possible for each and every customer. Again, I think too many retailers focus on that one sale, without realizing that word-of-mouth advertising and repeat customers are where it’s really at.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
We’ve had customers tell us that our products have completely changed their lives. I can’t even begin to explain what that’s like to hear. And when we offer support, so that they know the best way to receive as many benefits as possible from that product, then we step beyond simply being a retailer. When a work-from-home writer tells us that now she can finally stand up and walk normally after several hours on the computer, then we know we’ve created a “wow” moment.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but this brings us right back to the customer review process. When we have offers a superior quality product and unparalleled customer service to go along with it, there’s little doubt that it will show up in our reviews. When you can help alleviate pain, return a customer’s quality of life and bring a smile to someone’s face after a long day at work, then it does create a ripple effect. And as long as we stick to this model, we plan on creating a lot more.
A fantastic retail experience isn’t just one specific thing. It can be a composite of many different subtle elements fused together. Can you help us break down and identify the different ingredients that come together to create a “fantastic retail experience”?
It all starts with the actual products. You almost have to know what your customers need before they even know that they need it. And then, you have to offers these products at reasonable prices, so that more people can benefit from them.
And what good is a product if you’re only making the most of two of its features, when it has eight? That’s why your customer service department must be knowledgeable about the products, and they must be problem solvers who can think in the moment without always needing to press the “hold” button.
Finally, you want to create a situation that entices customers to return. Reviewing your customers’ order histories can be imperative, so that you can offer even more products that will be beneficial to them.
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 fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Split tests are your friend — Learning to master the art of split testing is one of the most important skills to have in ecommerce. When we learned how to split test products before we committed to producing them, we significantly tilted the odds of success in our favor. A funny story is when we first started, we had our friend, Cassie, go to our local mall and show people two pictures — one was a prototype of the product we were considering, and another was the top competitor for that product. We had her ask “If you were shopping for this product, which would you buy and why?” The feedback was incredibly valuable. We redid our designs until we won the split tests. Since then, we’ve learned how to do this with online surveying and have never looked back.
- Have access to capital — The biggest hurdle to our growth was learning how to get capital. We didn’t think about this until it became a problem. We were at a point where we were investing so much of our cash into more inventory just to sustain the demand for our existing products that we couldn’t expand our product offerings. After time, we secured different sources for capital and that significantly accelerated our growth.
- Build the brand first — We focused initially on solving problems that the market needed. I’m inherently a problem solver. We never really knew what we were building at first, we just focused on doing the best we could. I wish we took a step back early on to imagine what a world changing brand looks like and stick to that vision.
- Hire ahead of needs — Our hiring philosophy was simple — do it all until you can’t do it anymore, then hire someone to offload our workload so we can focus on the stuff we are best at. This worked incredibly well as a lean start-up company and allowed us to scale without a large headcount. However, I wish that we started thinking about the next hire sooner and hired before we absolutely needed to.
- Go International Sooner — We focused heavily on our growth in the US and underestimated ecommerce growth outside of the US. I wish that we were more aggressive with getting our products in other countries sooner. International ecommerce growth has skyrocketed in recent years, and we missed out on being established early on in those countries.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 start a movement that would seriously address poverty. For example, our city Austin, Texas, suffers greatly from poor budget appropriations. It boggles my mind how much the city spent on building a library instead of helping the homeless population. I honestly haven’t thought about a clever way to create this type of change yet.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’m mostly on Instagram these days and use Facebook strictly for supporting the causes my friends choose to support for their birthdays. My Instagram account is @travis_killian and you can find me by searching my name on Facebook. Everlasting Comfort’s IG is @everlasting_comfort.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!