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IRCE Lessons: Ecommerce is Hard — Not Impossible


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What’s the last day of a big trade show, in this case IRCE, without a blog post running down the key takeaways?

You know, the blog post that attendees can read on the plane home so they can tell the boss just what they learned while away from the office for a few days in June.

So here goes. Key takeaway after four days at IRCE: Ecommerce is hard.

It is fast-moving, complicated, high stakes and sometimes just a little unfair, the way things go wrong in ways you just can’t foresee. But ecommerce practitioners are fierce. They’re warriors, you might say. That’s certainly the case with Dan Alarik, the founder and CEO of Grunt Style, a retailer that sells apparel with patriotic messages infused with a lot of attitude.

Alarik, who delivered an IRCE keynote, still looks the part of the Army drill sergeant he once was. He’s a big dude with hair that is somewhere between closely cropped and totally shaved and a physique that clearly takes some work to maintain. And he had a message for those who know ecommerce is hard and who may be finding that discouraging:

It can be made simpler.

Discipline through cadence

He boils it down to “discipline through cadence.” The idea, inspired by the military, is to come up with a plan and execute it consistently and work at it repeatedly.

“It’s not the perfect plan that you’re looking for,” he told a crowd sitting in the 4,250-seat Arie Crown Theater for a morning session. “If you can figure out a good-enough plan, if you can do that, you can accomplish anything, absolutely anything. You can take bad to great. You can take what is already good and make it awesome.”

It sounds simple. Maybe it sounds too simple. But what Alarik was selling is not easy. He was talking about the same sort of focused discipline that it takes to lose weight, achieve exercise goals, finish a degree — in short, to accomplish something that is worthwhile.

But what was encouraging about his talk is that he was saying there is a way; there is an answer; it’s not impossible.

And Alarik comes with some credentials on the subject. His story, of starting a business in 2009 selling T-shirts out of the trunk of his car has been often-told.

He and his wife, who was the company’s first CFO, scuffled for years. At one event where they were selling, Alarik set a goal of moving $6,000 worth of merchandise. It was that or shut down for good. That was 2012. They sold $6,200, just enough to keep going and not enough to provide any real encouragement.

He asked himself: “Why is this so hard? What am I don’t wrong? What is everybody else doing that I’m not?”

Learn from the best

Alarik decided he would learn from the best. After the $6,200 event, he got a piece of paper, folded it in the middle and on one half he wrote a list of some very successful businesses. “And on the other side, I wrote what they’re doing that I’m not.”

One was releasing two new products every single week. He couldn’t afford that, but he could do twice a month. Another was posting three times a day on Facebook. That’s free, he figured. That he could do. And that way he built a plan. And started executing.

“If you don’t clearly state, ‘I want what by when — those are numbers by the way. You can’t get it done if it’s too arbitrary. You have to make it very quantifiable.”

So, how did it work out for Alarik?

The company went from $8,000 in total monthly revenue in January that year, to having $64,000 in monthly revenue in December, “just by having a very disciplined routine.”

So you know, it wasn’t all up and to the right from there. There were ups and downs and a near bankruptcy — problems caused by losing discipline, Alarik says.

But he and his team straightened that out and Grunt Style has surpassed $200 million in total revenue since its founding.

And its CEO is speaking at big retail trade shows, providing key takeaways, the most key being:

There is hope.

Mike Cassidy

Mike is lead storyteller at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at mike.cassidy@signifyd.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.