This is a follow up story for Combat Flip Flops. 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.
My name is Griff and I’m the CEO of Combat Flip Flops. In my previous life, I was an Army Ranger and did a few tours overseas. During those tours, I witnessed the root cause of terrorism - illiteracy, and lack of opportunity. After the Army, I started going back and came up with the idea of manufacturing flip flops in combat boot factories to create jobs and fund education. Along with my brother, a fellow Ranger, and a few neighbors, we built a mission-driven business making fashion and lifestyle products in war zones that funds girls to go to school in Afghanistan.
Our flagship product was the first product we designed, the AK-47’s. Burley rubber, svelte smooth leather, and a handful of style.
We’re making anywhere between $50-$150K per month and focused on profitability after a wild ride with Shark Tank, major media, and the death of retail. In the process, we’re sustainably employing up to 200 people and funding 200 girls a year through school
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Our business has gone through a few ups and downs since we last spoke, but we’ve restructured to focus on profitability. Shrunk our footwear from 12 styles to 4, eliminated a lot of accessory products, and stopped pursuing retail. The aim is to fill the funnel with people open to the mission, provide a great value, and keep them coming back with upgrades to their footwear.
Create a plan, put it to a spreadsheet, and ensure it’s financially viable. If it isn’t, go back to the board again and rework the plan until it is.
Increasing traffic has been a major challenge. The Golden Age of social media is dead. The advertising platforms are exceptionally competitive and constantly changing. Instead, we focus on getting the right people into the funnel. This is done by analyzing our current customers, building lookalike audiences, and targeting prospects with relevant messaging and imagery.
The website is new, streamlined, and focused on getting the audience's mentioned above to the right product and checkout as fast as possible. We’ve seen over a 100% lift in conversion rates and a 30%+ increase in cart value. Profit is the key to sustainability and growth.
There aren’t any new marketing channels that are game-changers. Conventional advertising platforms such as Facebook, IG, or Google are constants and a necessary evil. We’re working on influencers and affiliates, but they haven’t moved the needle significantly.
Facebook is the biggest loser since we last spoke. It performed solidly for Combat Flip Flops for years, then took a nosedive in late 2017 and hasn’t really recovered in spite of our best efforts.
We keep our customers happy the old fashioned way--good customer service. We meet all of our customers with kindness, empathy, and work to ensure they “feel” that we care about their satisfaction. Nothing really beats that.
We had a couple of big lifts in PR over the past year. CBS Evening News did a feature on Combat Flip Flops on Cyber Monday. 6.75% Conversion Rate and a 50% lift in cart value. Captured a lot of customer information for retargeting as well. That was followed by Fox News Mornings with Maria and we have an upcoming feature on ABC during Women’s Equality Week. Hint When these media hits come, shut down all of your advertising. Organic traffic is the highest returning, so don’t pay the big dogs to get the traffic you drove yourself. When the swell of traffic ends after a day or two, flip it back on and focus on retargeting users that didn’t convert.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The company follows the vibe of leadership. I spent the past year shedding negative relationships, focused on eliminating self-sabotaging behavior, and showed up consistently. As business owners of a “cool” business, there are a lot of people that will want your time, attention, and focus. If they aren’t directly contributing to your growth as a person or business leader, you’ll need to make the decision on what to do.
Marketing spend was the biggest lesson. Small percentages in spend required massive swings in gross revenue to achieve profitability. In spite of what the ad platforms say, it's an extreme long shot to spend your way to profitability. After years of listening to their advice, we started doing the opposite of what the reps told us and the system started clicking.
Remember every time that you’re speaking to a rep from a big tech platform, they’re giving advice from a place with great benefits, free food, and zero risks. They have little to no empathy or understanding of what business owners go through to keep the system running. If their clients don’t succeed, it doesn’t really matter to them--there’s hundreds more behind you to give them money and follow their advice. They simply don’t care as you do.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The slow is smooth. Smooth is fast. We have a fantastic product line that generates profits and funds the mission. Focus on selling those products in a manner consistent with growing the bottom line.
Product testing and development is always required. We’ve streamlined our sample process to deliver upgrades to customers quickly and efficiently. 99 out of 100 products fail. You have to get through those 99 without going out of business to find #100.
We’re excited about marketing. By limiting the product line to the historical top sellers, we’re able to build fun, cool, creative for a variety of different customer types. Fun photo shoots, video shoots, and partnerships are a great way to spend your day.
5 years… Grow. Profitably. Always. If we do that well, we may attract a great partner to invest and fuel the mission in a more meaningful way.
Short Term. Grow. Profitably.
Long Term. Grow. Profitably.
Picking up on a theme here?
Personally, I have two teenage daughters that will be out of the house in less than 4 years. My goal is to be a present father that prepares them to be highly functioning adults that contribute to their communities and the planet.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
The business follows the vibe of the leader. If you want your business to do well, you need to do well. This past year’s books focused on personal improvement. Below are the books and programs I recommend to all my friends and associates.
Dr. Joe Dispenza: Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself. This book combines neurophysiology, quantum physics, and meditation to find, break, and rewire self-limiting behavior.
Dr. John Gray: Conscious Men: Great read that focuses on the reasons for stress in relationships, mindfulness, and creating meaningful harmony in life. Highly recommended read for men and women.
Dr. John Gray: Staying Focused in a Hyper World. I think many entrepreneurs would self diagnose or have been diagnosed with ADHD. This book outlines the causes of ADHD, causes of oxidative stress in the brain, and provides a natural supplement regimen to improve mental performance. As of the date of this response, I’ve been on the program for roughly five weeks and can honestly say I’ve never felt more calm, focused, and productive.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Stick to the basics. Plan your ass off. Seriously. Plan your ass off. Create a plan, put it to a spreadsheet, and ensure it’s financially viable. If it isn’t, go back to the board again and rework the plan until it is.
The elevator to success is broken. You have to take the stairs. Make sure your cardio is on point.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Nope. We streamlined our biz to function with five full-time employees. Everybody is killing it right now and has the bandwidth to expand their productivity.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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