Build a Tough Brand with Paul Chittenden

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Paul Chittenden, founder of Bad Ass Work Gear

Paul Chittenden founded Bad Ass Work Gear to provide tough and long-lasting gear for hardworking blue-collar workers. Knowing that their gear typically doesn’t last very long because of their strenuous work conditions, Paul wants to give them sturdy equipment so that they could save money, too.

For the company’s flagship product, Paul Chittenden kept the workers in the oil and gas industry squarely in mind. Bad Ass Work Gear sells “a very tough, heavy duty duffel bag,” the Oilfield Offshore Bag, specifically for the gas and oil industry. But that doesn’t mean other blue-collar workers can’t enjoy these bags, too. If you’re a soldier, a hunter, a firefighter, you can enjoy these bags, too.

Starting from a bulk order of 200 bags for an oil and gas contractor, Paul Chittenden has grown Bad Ass Work Gear to a sustainably profitable company in just its second month of operations. Paul said his biggest lesson was simply to start working and work out the rest of the details later.

In 2018, Paul Chittenden and Bad Ass Work Gear saw its best year after suffering a downturn from 2015 to 2017. During the downturn, Paul saw the need to diversify. He and his team began looking into other industries that might need heavy-duty gear, and they didn’t have to look for very long. Firefighters were already buying their bags anyway. They simply had to expand their brand, and design a new line of gear bags for firefighters and other industries.

Check out more interviews with self-starting entrepreneurs here.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Paul Chittenden: I grew up in a small town in Louisiana, dominated by the oil and gas industry. Growing up, I knew I didn’t want to get into the oilfield. Instead, I was always fascinated by businesses. My mom recently pulled out some old art from 2nd or 3rd grade that told the story of your life. The end of my timeline said I wanted to own a business, so I guess I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Still, after graduating from college, I didn’t have a ton of options. I didn’t want to work in the oilfield, but the money was really good. I was offered a job working on offshore platforms to gain some experience and after a year, I was supposed to move to a sales role. I thought this was a great opportunity to make and save money to start a business. I took it.

We used to carry a notepad called a “tally book” where we would keep notes on the job. My tally books were littered with business ideas. It was all I thought about when not running tools.

I was able to save up a lot of money. I decided to invest this savings all in the stock market to see it grow. I invested at the height of the market only to see it crash less than a week or two later. Talk about bad timing.

There went my startup capital.

Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Paul Chittenden: I was tired of the offshore life. I never knew when I would be home. I missed holidays, birthdays, and other special events with friends and family. So, I moved to Houston and got a job at GE.

I had read the 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, and decided I wanted to start a side hustle.

Back in Louisiana, there was this little company that made heavy duty duffel bags for oilfield workers. I didn’t see anything like this in the Houston market. Plus, this company didn’t have an online presence.

I figured I could do well in Texas with this idea and expand online. I thought I needed a good name. Something manly and tough. What would a bad ass name the company? Bad Ass Work Bags was born.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Paul Chittenden: At this point, I had already started and failed at a few startups. Back in 2013, it wasn’t as easy to build an e-commerce site, but with a little past experience, I was able to throw a rudimentary site up.

The hardest thing was securing suppliers. I utilized ThomasNet at first, contacting dozens of manufacturers. They all wanted a minimum order quantity of 1,000 bags per color, per SKU. Companies want the bags to match their company colors, so I needed at least 6 colors not to mention we had three sizes. That would be a minimum of 6,000 bags to start.

That was a no go. In the end, I had to hire local seamstresses to sew on a per piece basis.

I never considered giving up. There is always a way. You can’t be successful if you give up at the first sign of adversity.

Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Paul Chittenden: I received my first bulk order about a month after launching the website. We quickly became the number one selling bag in the oilfield, mostly through word of mouth.

Still, it has been a bumpy ride. The oil and gas industry has gone through several downturns, and companies stop ordering when the price of oil tanks.

Our lean structure has allowed us to weather the storms.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Paul Chittenden: My first e-commerce company was a sold ice chest, but not just any ice chest. These were motorized. You could actually sit on them and ride them around. I was looking for a unique product and stumbled upon this.

I drove a suped up Mustang, and the box was too large to fit in the trunk opening. So instead, if I reclined the passenger seat all the way forward and angled the box just right, I could slide two boxes in to fit on the back seat. I couldn’t see out the rear-view mirror though.

The e-commerce company never really took off because shipping was cost prohibitive. However, I made some good money selling them on Craigslist. In the end, the business couldn’t scale, so I shut it down.

The biggest takeaway was that I needed to find something that was easier to ship.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Paul Chittenden: Building an email list is essential to scaling an eCommerce brand. Shopping carts have many apps or plug-ins that help you both build and monetize the list.

A good email pop-up or email capture plug-in is essential.

Then you can utilize an email automation tool like Klaviyo or MailChimp to build out your email funnels.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Paul Chittenden: I am by no means a conversion rate expert, but I believe there are a few simple ways to increase conversion rate.

Product reviews and testimonials are a great way to show social proof. You can use a tool like Yotpo or Stamped.io to easily add this automated functionality to your website.

Great photos, detailed product descriptions, and product videos are all great ways to further distinguish your product and increase conversion rates.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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?

Paul Chittenden: Simply do the right thing. Have a great product. Have great customer service. And, have a great product guarantee.

Surprise and delight your customers. You can add a free gift to large orders. You can send a special coupon for their birthday or first order day. Find a way to stand out.

Jerome Knyszewski: 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.

Paul Chittenden: I’m a sales and marketing guy, so I like to focus on revenue generation. Coincidentally, I recent wrote a post about the 5 Ways to Grow Revenue in any business which goes into a bit more detail, but I’ll summarize here.

There are 5 ways to maximize revenue generation in an eCommerce business:

  1. Increase the number of customers.
  2. Increase your conversion rate
  3. Increase average order value
  4. Increase repeat order volume
  5. Increase Prices

Increase the Number of Customers

More customers equal more chances to sell a visitor. If your conversion rates stay the same, more customers will provide a predictable number of additional sales.

How do you increase customers?

  1. Utilize SEO to bring in traffic from search engines

  2. Build a social media presence on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or TikTok

  3. Pay Influencers to push your content / products
  4. PPC provides an immediate boost. You just need to optimize your ads to ensure they stay profitable.

The big takeaway is that optimizing conversion rates, AOV, repeat order volume, and pricing compound to make each new visitor more profitable. It also decreases your cost of acquisition and allows you to outbid your PPC competitors.

Increase Your Conversion Rate

Let’s say 1 in 100 people that visit your store actually buy. That means 99 people browse but end up leaving without spending a dime.

Wouldn’t it be better if 5 people out of 100 bought? If your average order value (AOV) was $100, that would be $100 vs $500.

I’m no conversion rate expert, but I have three easy fixes to help with conversion rates.

  1. Entice your visitors to give you their email with a coupon for first purchases. You will increase the likelihood of the purchase and have their email for future marketing.

  2. Create an abandoned cart flow to capture visitors who have added a product to their shopping cart but haven’t actually made the purchase.

  3. Add testimonials from happy customers and product reviews to build trust with your shoppers.

These are my tips, but there are literally 100’s of things you can test to increase conversion rates.

Increase Average Order Value

AOV is the average of how much revenue you generated per order over a given time period.

If your AOV is $100 and you generate $100,000 in revenue per month (1,000 transactions), increasing your AOV by just $20 per transaction will increase revenue by $20,000 per month.

The best part? It is easy to do!

  1. Create Product bundles by finding products that are normally bought together and putting them together in a special priced bundle.

  2. Offer free shipping on orders just above your AOV, prompting customers to spend just a little bit more to hit the free shipping tier.

  3. Add upsell (more of the same product, personalization, an upgraded version) and/or cross sell (complimentary products) recommendations to your checkout.

Increase Repeat Order Volume

It is easier to sell to a past customer than to sell to a new customer. The trust is already there.

Are you taking advantage of this?

Getting customers to come back and buy more is key to scaling an eCommerce business.

Email flows and your general email blast are the biggest bang for your buck. However, here are a few more ideas:

  1. Subscriptions — If you have a product that lends itself to subscriptions, you have an opportunity to make an automatic, recurring revenue stream.

  2. Win-back Email Campaigns — If a customer hasn’t bought for a specified period of time, your email software will automatically send them an email with a discount, first-looks at new products, related products, or even just a thank you note in hopes of enticing them back to the site for another purchase.

  3. Product Catalogs — If you have a large selection of products, sending a physical printed catalog with your orders is a great way to pull in after sale sales! I’m very bullish on this one.

Increasing Prices

Probably the easiest of all, increasing prices will immediately have an impact on your bottom line.

This is a scary one to implement, especially if your customer base is very price sensitive.

On the other hand, you might be pleasantly surprised.

The first time I increased prices across the board, I was quite nervous. Checking my analytics, my conversion rate dropped 11.67% and monthly transactions dropped by almost 14.68%.

Digging deeper, I found my AOV increased by 32.21% and my revenue increased 12.8%!

Conclusion

Putting these 5 tips together in your eCommerce back end really sets your company up to scale when investing in traffic generation. The machine will be in place to take advantage of all that new traffic!

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Paul Chittenden: You can follow my writing on my blog or hit me up on Twitter.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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