Online Retailer Uses Daily Deals, Facebook Ads to Grow Business

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When Anthony Bronzo was brought on to manage marketing and advertising for Born to Run, a Seattle-based athletic shoe retailer with two physical locations and a popular online store, he was tasked with finding new ways to reach the company’s core customers—active trail runners and CrossFit devotees. In his few short months on the job, Bronzo has managed to reach those customers using a combination of targeted ads on Facebook and Google AdWords, and by running daily deals with companies like Group Commerce and CBS Local.

What makes Born to Run different from other shoe stores?
We only sell what are called minimalist or barefoot shoes, which piggybacks off the popularity of barefoot running. They look like regular shoes, but they don’t have a heel, and what it does for runners is it changes the way their feet hit the ground and results in far fewer injuries. We don’t have any direct competition; we are sort of the only company doing this right now.

How much of your sales are online versus in-store?
Online we are doing about $30 to $35k a month. In-store, we have two stores, so those two stores combined are like $115k. [The e-commerce site] is definitely growing; it seems like it’s more every month. I think there is a seasonal element, so it’s growing right now. The [e-commerce] store has been online for two years, and as we are getting more brand recognition online, I think that that is helping. It’s also return customers and the marketing that we are doing. I’ve got a Facebook ad campaign that I’m running, where we’re paying for people to come to the site and that sort of thing. That is paying off, so it’s a combination of things right now. I wish I could say we’re doing this one thing and it’s killing, but it’s a number of things.

Have any of the changes you’ve made to your website recently impacted online sales?
Sure. We [added] a chat [widget] on the site. If you go on the site, there is a little chat box in the corner because people just have so many questions. It is such a high-touch product, wearing a shoe, so there are all these questions—like, “I have wide feet, will this shoe work for me?” and that sort of thing. Our goal is to take the experience that we give people in the stores to the online space, so [the chat widget] has helped a lot. We literally answer questions and then watch what they’re buying based on our recommendations. We just started using something called the Hello Bar, which is this orange bar that drops down onto the screen and you can put anything you want on it. Right now we’re hiring and we’re promoting a trail run, so that gets a certain number of clicks a day. We’ll probably use that in the future to advertise new products coming in.

Tell me more about the ads you run on Facebook. How do you target the ads to specific customers?
When the CEO started the company, Facebook was his first advertising avenue. I think it was just an obvious thing for him. We had a Facebook fan page up, and that was the next step. When you have a fan page, [Facebook is] constantly advertising to you to advertise on their site. So, I think that’s probably why he started with it. Other paid platforms, like AdWords, are just more difficult for beginners. My background is in paid advertising, so I cleaned up what they were doing [when] I took over and we added tracking. We are very targeted now. We target specific groups, whereas before it was everybody who liked running.

What effect have your increased targeting efforts had?
I wouldn’t have my job still if it didn’t [work]. We’ve got this interesting niche with CrossFit right now. It’s interesting because [CrossFit] is a growing fitness trend, but it’s not big enough for anybody to open a [dedicated] store. Nobody is really paying attention to the market, but since we have a shoe store with the same philosophies as CrossFit — and we have one shoe that is the only shoe that is designed for CrossFit, as far as I know — it is easy to sell with Facebook ads. It’s a very clear and obvious sale. If you do CrossFit and you are climbing ropes, this is your shoe. Whereas, if I sell a trail running shoe, [the targeting] is just not as obvious. To take a trail running shoe and target it to trail runners—there are only 29,000 of them in the U.S., so the numbers are not really there. It’s hard to target on that sort of thing.

You’ve also run some deals with Group Commerce and CBS Local, right?
We did one back in October, and we just did another one recently. We get approached all the time for that sort of thing, and [they have] worked really well. It’s really a fantastic thing, and it’s a really easy, low-risk way to get a ton of sales because there is no financial obligation from us. They put the deal together and it is on them to make their money. It is a really fantastic thing for businesses.

If you are approached all of the time by deal companies, how do you decide which ones are worth working with?
I wish that I had a better response for that, but I think the ones we went with were just more aggressive in trying to get to us. The other ones just send us an email and we forget about them because we’ve just got too many things to do.

Which deal companies have you had the most success with?
Group Commerce is the only one we’ve worked with. As part of their affiliates, they’ve got CBS Local, Daily Candy, AskMen, and Schwaggle. They’ve got a number of different ones. The best [for us] was Schwaggle, which is a part of, which to me is just really confusing branding.

Why do you think Schwaggle’s deal was the most successful, from a sales point of view?
It’s hard to tell. It may have been that Group Commerce is part of or closely associated with [ed. note: Group Commerce is not part of], so they may know that property better or they may know the audience better. Whereas when they put the deal together for AskMen, as a man I looked at it and it didn’t really appeal to me. I didn’t feel like they knew the audience very well. I feel like they do more deals on Schwaggle, so they probably know how it works better.

You’ve also partnered with knotis for deals. How did that relationship come about?
I think we started with them a couple months ago. Their deals have only been through the physical stores. They basically put out a map of the area and on the border of the map are different businesses, and they have QR codes. So someone snaps the QR code or goes to the site to get the deal printed out, and then takes it into the physical store. As far as I know, there has only been one person who redeemed a knotis deal, as of right now.

Looking forward, where are you planning to go in terms of advertising and marketing?
My philosophy is really just to work to build the business through paid advertising, so that is the immediate future for me. [I’m] continuing to build paid campaigns and the email component, as well, as through Facebook, AdWords, and search engines. From there, we may get into signing up some affiliates one by one, and then [we’re] probably going into an affiliate program to really open it up once we get it right.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.