On Learning How To Adapt In A Maturing Market
This is a follow up story for QALO. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Well hello, again Starter Story. My name is KC Holiday and I am the Co-Founder of QALO, a company focused on commitment best known for being the creators of the silicone wedding ring.
We started as two guys in a garage who just wanted to be able to wear a wedding ring that made sense with their own lifestyles and through that creation, we disrupted a 16B wedding ring industry.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
What a year 2019 has been! It was definitely a year that we focused on appreciating how far we have come, but recognizing how far there still is for us to go! We were fortunate enough to be acquired by an incredible partner in Win Brands Group based out of New York City who is made up of very forward-thinking brand and e-commerce minds who are going to really help us take QALO to the next level. The partnership comes at a perfect time for us as we look to 2020 and beyond. We had to change some behaviors this year to really set ourselves up for the future and the partnership was at the forefront of that thinking. Each year as a business matures, and for us, a market matures, you find yourself operating your company in different ways because what may have worked in years 1-5 won’t work in years 5-10. Everything from how you plan for the future, the types of employees you hire and how you create growth for your company evolves. It’s your job as the leaders of a company to do your best without a crystal ball, and help ensure your company, as well as your team, has the maturity to look to the future, the humility to bring on the right partners and the tenacity to continue to evolve.
We made a lot of decisions this year that had long term thinking in mind for QALO and it was really the first time we had been able to take a breath and look to the future. We created this category with rapid growth six years ago and our main focus was always growth, but now that we have matured as a business in almost year seven, the importance of sustainability goes hand in hand with growth and they really can be different skill sets. It’s how you marry those two strategies that provide longevity for a company. Playing offense only will work in the early days, but you’ll eventually need to play some defense too.
We’ve continued to crush it and own our market in retail locations by maintaining great partnerships with our top retailers: Dick’s Sporting Goods, Academy, and Bass Pro Shop. We will also be launching in Target in over 1,000 doors right after Christmas which is a partnership we are really excited about!
We restructured a lot of our internal team to make sure everyone was sitting in the right seat on the bus as we prepared for the next phase of growth for our company. A helpful exercise if you have a few, or more employees, is to create the optimal org chart for your company without the names of any employees in the boxes. Then once you’ve established exactly what roles and organizational structure your company needs to be successful, plug the names of the employees you have in that org chart and make sure they all are in the right role. It isn’t at all to dehumanize people if you know me I care a ton for employees, it’s more to make sure those employees are set up to support the company in the best possible way. It’s never an easy exercise, but we learned a lot through this and it helped us shift roles of a few employees and really helped them thrive.
We brought in a new very brand focused head of marketing because, in the midst of growth, it is really easy to focus too much on the numbers and not enough on building a community. We have been really successful with our marketing, but we knew if we were going to be successful in the long run we needed to focus a lot of our attention on a brand that keeps people coming back and as a result, increases the lifetime value of our customers as well as our relationship with them.
We also expanded our product line to include apple watch bands, apparel, silicone dog tags for those active pups, and just released exclusive Holiday Date Boxes. With a renewed focus on the commitment we want our products to serve as the badge for a lifestyle and we believe these products give our consumers the opportunity to say something about who they are and what they believe in while they live their active lives. We believe in accessorizing the committed who want to set themselves apart with functional products and experiences that tell a story.
It also has been very interesting to see the way marketing channels shift as e-commerce matures and amazon continues to make strides with their own product lines and partnerships. One thing we learned is creativity always separates itself from the pack. The key is to stay on top of what is working and constantly test. Never just trust your gut when it comes to advertising, there have been plenty of ads we believe we're going to kill that ended up falling flat compared to the one we didn’t think would work all that well. It’s too inexpensive nowadays to test and see what works. Throwing good money at bad performing ads due to a “gut feeling” is a great way to run out of money real quick with no one to blame but yourself.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Stick to a plan. When we started our planning for 2020 we wrote this phrase up on the whiteboard above all of the others. As entrepreneurs, we are innately curious, but sometimes that can come at the cost of our business or teams. If it’s just you going alone then sticking to a plan you set for yourself doesn’t seem that important, but that bad habit will not translate well to when you have employees. Employees are showing up to work every day to make happen what you planned to have happened for the year. If you don’t stick to that plan, your employees, who genuinely want to help your company grow will have a hard time doing that because they are needing to be reactive as opposed to being proactive. For us, it just means making sure we work hard to plan for the year and don’t get caught chasing shiny objects. It’s okay to pivot from a plan, but you at least need to have a plan to pivot from.
Think big. Act small. It’s great to dream big, but don’t allow yourself to start acting that way. What makes us little guys so powerful is our ability to have huge dreams and be as agile as possible to make them come true. As you grow, processes will come in, and there will be more structure, but the mindset of acting small should never go away. It’s the ones who stay humble and true to themselves in the midst of growth that keep growing and put pressure on the big dogs in their industry.
Understand the value of retention. The acquisition is sexy. Retention is sustainability. Once you’ve acquired customers and they’ve become fans of your brand, make sure you are putting the work in to keep the fans. Since your fans are new, you don’t have the luxury of the grandpa that was also a cowboys fan in the ups and downs, which means there is a risk they could be fair-weather. Keep them wanting more through creative content, great products, and storytelling. Tell stories they'll talk about over a beer.
Partner with brands. You don’t need to do all the heavy lifting to be cool. I’m the dad of two and I rely heavily on brands to help keep me young and cool. Your company can do the same. Leverage audiences and let them leverage yours as long as it stays in line with providing value for your customer. Hearing about another brand from a brand you trust is just like the worth of mouth from a friend. It says, “We’ve vetted them, and they’re cool enough to eat with us at the lunch tables.”
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We made the decision to relocate our company from Southern California to Nashville, TN so we’re currently going through the transition to get all set up in Nashville. It’s never easy to relocate a company, but we really believed that Nashville would be an incredible opportunity for our brand to play a role in an up and coming area and we could have the opportunity to be much more involved in a community than in California.
In the early days, don’t waste time and money trying to market five different products. Find the one that makes you unique, build a community then evolve from there.
We have partnered with a company called Lifekey out of Jackson Hole who has created a piece of tech that aligns perfectly with who we are as a brand. You can check out the collection on our site HEREwhich we have released just in time for the Holidays. We are really excited about the doors this opens for our brand in the future and it is just the first step for us into tech.
We’ll be launching globally at the beginning of next year to give us the opportunity to share QALO across the globe. We will be providing quick and painless shipping all over the world to give more customers the opportunity to wear QALO as a badge of their commitments.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Read. Read. Then read some more. I try and read three books a month.
Some of my favorites I’ve read:
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos - Jordan Peterson
- The Essential Drucker - Peter Drucker
- Hatching Twitter - Nick Bilton
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Be really great at selling one thing. We disrupted a massive industry with one product. Sure, we evolved it over time, but it wasn’t until year five of our business that we really started looking at other product lines. A lot of entrepreneurs believe that making lots of products will lead to an increase in sales and grow your brand (it can be true), but instead of increasing sales it often leads to way more work for an entrepreneur than focusing on selling one thing and telling as many people as possible about it. You have to understand the value of your time in the early stages of a business. Your job as the founder is to evangelize and tell as many people as possible you exist. Don’t waste time and money trying to market five different products. Find the one that makes you unique, build a community then evolve from there.
Focus on the value you provide. Significance over success always. If you are wondering how you set yourself apart, or which phrases you should include in ads, this is your answer.
What value are you providing for a customer?
What is your unique value proposition?
Hammer that home.
At QALO, we give committed people the opportunity to show their commitment regardless of their active lifestyle, passion, hobby or occupation. Bam. QALO is the badge of commitment.
Stop trying to appeal to everyone. I don’t have anything else to say there.
Grow your email database. Email subscribers are the groupies of e-commerce. They want to buy your t-shirts, they want to stand outside your tour bus and wave, and they want to know what value you are going to provide the next. Appreciate them, grow the following and pretty soon your garage band will be selling out Madison Square Garden.
Creativity wins. Always. Please start telling stories. If you don’t know how to tell a story through marketing, then go tell your story of your business to someone over a beer and figure out how that translates visually and through creative copywriting. In your content, but the extra work in to stand out. You are unique, tell people why and they will dig it. Lazy content leads to lazy revenue.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
As a result of our transition to Nashville, we have a lot of roles that are open in marketing. If you live in the area and are interested in learning more about what roles we have available feel free to send me an email.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you want to learn more about QALO or shop our products you can visit our website at www.qalo.com and follow us on Instagram -https://www.instagram.com/qalo/
In the midst of growing my business, I have really come to have a passion for helping other entrepreneurs have the courage to start a business and create a strategy to scale it. Being an entrepreneur is a unique trait that most people don’t understand, and it’s important we all support one another. As a result, I have begun creating content to help entrepreneurs on their journey. I didn’t have a college degree when I started and I would have loved to have a place to go to get authentic advice when I started.
I just started a YouTube Channel and I blog daily. I’ll also hopefully be releasing my first book in 2020!
Here is a link to my Youtube Channel for Entrepreneurs: KC Holiday Youtube
Here is a link to my daily blog: Kingdoms and Creators
Follow me on Instagram
Friend me on Facebook: KC Holiday Facebook
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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