This is a follow up story for Batch. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I’m Sam Davidson, the co-founder (along with Rob Williams and Stephen Moseley) of Batch, a Nashville-based gift company focused on sourcing high-quality, artisan-made items from iconic American cities, mostly in the southern US.
We launched our business in 2013 with just one product: a monthly subscription box featuring four items made in our hometown of Nashville. Our initial goal was to get 200 recurring customers by our third month in business. Due to our backgrounds in marketing and a lot of hustle, we actually reached 200 customers on our very first shipment, and by month three sent out 1,000 boxes! That allowed us to quickly add a full suite of eCommerce products and a line of corporate gifts. A year later we opened our first brick-and-mortar retail store in the heart of Nashville and began sourcing items from other cities like Austin and Charleston to offer in subscription boxes, eCommerce sales, and corporate gifts.
We’re the best way to give an authentic “taste” of a city—the items and products that make a particular place unique and proud. We shy away from cheesy, landfill-destined trinkets and instead seek products like flavorful barbecue sauces or shortbread cookies, well-made soaps and candles, and even stationery and leather goods, all made by small businesses and entrepreneurs proud of their hometown. Our customers can pick the perfect gift for loved ones. Businesses work with us to send out gifts in high volume (think 200 or 2,000) that represent their brand and city.
We average around $1.5M in sales annually, have been profitable for the last four years, and work hard (and smart) to keep growing our bottom line.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
We have! While we have ended our subscription offering, we’ve had far more success in our online store and corporate sales areas, and up until this current pandemic, our retail store.
Build your network before you need it. Even if your venture has stalled right now due to the pandemic, you can keep building your network.
We were forced to close our retail store when Nashville closed all non-essential businesses in March 2020. Fortunately, we were able to continue to operate our shipping warehouse. We decided to permanently close our flagship retail store in June after negotiations with our landlord were unsuccessful. However, we will maintain a small pop-up shop at the Nashville Farmers Market at least through the summer.
Due to COVID-19, we had to quickly work to list more items online and step up our digital marketing (blogging, social media, email) game. As a result of our pivot, eCommerce revenue grew 200% YoY and corporate sales have more than doubled. These channels are working to replace our lost retail store revenue on better margins while also netting our brand new customers.
Initially, we had to offer several discounts and promotions in order to move some of our products that sell better in person—jewelry, handbags, stationery. This tactic increased cash flow while also earning us first-time customers that we turned into repeat through targeted email marketing. We also had to re-configure our warehouse to handle the increased online sales volume.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Stay nimble. Running a small business is challenging during any economic climate, but with a pandemic and long-term economic uncertainty, we have had to stay as flexible as possible. Our most common and useful question now is: “If we were just starting this company now, would we do/sell/market this item/service/sales channel?”
That question is what helped us decide to close our retail store. If we were launching Batch now, there is no way we’d open an in-person retail store given the capital required to keep it operational. So why maintain one now at a loss, just because we’ve been doing so the last five years?
The other big lesson I keep sharing with our team and with outsiders who ask is this: Build your network before you need it. Once COVID changed travel and conference planning, we reached out to each corporate client we’ve had in the last several years to see if we could help them keep in touch with clients or employees working from home or prospect in a creative way. Those past relationships were useful as they trusted us to deliver their heartfelt sentiment via a Batch gift.
The same is true for partnerships we have leaned into—partnering with media outlets and nonprofits to raise money for various causes with curated gift sets. As a result, more people are talking about Batch, driving (often, new) traffic to our site generating sales growth, and new customers.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Our goal is to stay relevant.
While so many people are and will continue staying physically distant, the desire to stay emotionally or professionally connected is more important (and harder) than ever. Batch wants to provide a meaningful and effective way to do that. Because we can keep meeting the universal need for human connection, we’ll have a place in this world.
To grow and stay relevant, we keep sourcing products from more cities. We’re the only company that can get you a cocktail-themed gift from San Francisco, a home chef kit from Austin, a hot chicken gift set from Nashville, and a spa day package from Atlanta. Adding more great products and cities to our mix means we’ll keep finding new customers, both at the individual and corporate levels.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
This summer we began the Batch Book Club, a weekly call with our team where we discuss a book we’re reading together. For June, it has been The Goal, a novelized look at a manufacturing plant and how they improved efficiencies. We’re reading it together and discussing how Batch can make our operations more efficient and the discussions have led to new ideas and questioning old assumptions.
In July, we’ll read Remarkable Retail, a new book by Steve Dennis. While it was written pre-COVID, Dennis’s lessons about how physical and digital retail must intersect in order to win customers going forward are still extremely relevant.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Build your network before you need it. Even if your venture has stalled right now due to the pandemic, you can keep building your network. You don’t need a solid salesperson right now? That’s fine, but you will eventually. Why not get to know them now, even if digitally, so that one day when you least expect it, you’ve got a network of people to pull from? Vetting and hiring will be much easier.
Make sure you’re meeting a need. When economic uncertainty hits, luxuries are the first to go. So, if possible, adapt your services or how you market your products from something that is “nice to have” to something that people “need to have.” That way, they’ll work you into their budget and you’ll be a priority for them for a long time.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
No, but we always like to meet quality people who are best in class at what they do.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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