EP3: How to Sell on Lowe’s Digital Platform + Online Sales Growth Tactics | Brandon Schmidt, eCommerce Account Manager of VCP

Welcome to Page 1:

Thanks for joining me for another episode of the Page 1 Podcast.

Today, my guest and I focus on a challenge most consumer product brands face when entering the eCommerce space: increasing sales on big-box retailer platforms.

We all want to figure out the online advertising equivalents to creating in-store endcap displays and product call-out cards. This digital disruption–eCommerce–has begged the question: what are the best online sales strategies to get your product positioned perfectly in front of consumers?

Each retailer, from Amazon to Wayfair, has its own set of product profile rules that vendors must follow and platform ranking algorithms that determine how consumers find your products. Managing these two elements for your own business can be a lot. Plus, it also doesn’t help that both of these factors are evolving at a rapid pace.

In this episode we focus specifically on Lowe’s, giving you the ins-and-outs of how the eCommerce platform works, along with sales tactics to improve the search result rankings of all your products.

What you’ll learn:

Our guest Brandon Schmidt, eCommerce Account Manager for Visual Comfort Products, helps us understand Lowe’s online digital platform, shares online selling strategies, and gives us tactics to manage product conflicts across multiple sales channels.

About our guest:

Brandon Schmidt is an eCommerce Account Manager for Visual Comfort Products, which is the largest decorative lighting manufacturer in the world. He was formerly an ATG Stores/Lowe’s account manager and has taken this knowledge to Visual Comfort Products and is sharing that knowledge with us on this podcast.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • How Lowe’s works with in-store brands vs. online brands – 4:41
  • How Lowe’s decides which products are sold online – 7:49
  • How PIMS can help you upload SKU’s into Lowe’s online portal – 11:37
  • The top sales strategy Visual Comfort Products is focused on in 2020 – 15:45
  • Tactics for getting product reviews – 20:05
  • How to manage products on multiple online sales channels – 23:26
  • The number one missed opportunity for online sales growth – 28:19
  • The number one cause of online returns – 31:24
  • How to create digital assets – 31:39

Podcast Transcription

Speaker: Welcome to the Page One Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers. Or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page One Podcast. I am your host, Luke Peters. This is the podcast where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share their consumer product, sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the founder of NewAir appliances, where I cut my teeth selling products online and now have started Retail Band, where I hope to help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and B2B online sales strategy.

Luke Peters: Today we have with us Brandon Schmidt. Brandon is currently the account manager for Visual Comfort Group, the eCommerce account manager. And previous to that he has worked at Lowe’s as a digital category analyst, which is going to be fun to get into. And previous to that at ATG stores. Brandon holds a BA from Marketing Foster School of Business, University of Washington. And he has 10 years of experience in the online home decor space, as mentioned earlier, working with ATG and Lowe’s. So today we’re going to talk about Lowe’s. We’re going to talk about some Amazon strategies, channel conflict, tariffs, and even kind of compare companies like Visual Comfort selling into Amazon, but also having to think about the channel conflict strategy with their traditional retailers. Welcome to the show. How’s it going, Brandon?

Brandon Schmidt: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Luke. Things are going great, so I really appreciate this opportunity and look forward to talk with you today.

Luke Peters: Okay, awesome. Why don’t we just get back into it. I kind of gave a quick bio and I’d like to start with your time at Lowe’s. For the audience here, if you don’t mind, if you can go ahead and kind of talk about your day-to-day, and what were you doing at Lowe’s? And from that, I’m sure the audience, many of us are working with other buyers at Lowe’s. So just kind of understanding that relationship and where you fit in over there.

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, definitely. So as you mentioned, I was at ATG stores, The Mine, which was a online retail company based in Kirkland, Washington, just outside of Seattle. And I’d worked with them for about five years and then Lowe’s came in and purchased us. And as they kind of came in and looked to grow their digital strategy and learn a little bit from us, and to also kind of help manage our business, grow our business. So it remained separate entities for quite some time, about four years. But then the last year I was there with them we rolled up that entire platform into Lowe’s platform. And so my main job was to work on the brand transitions, so I was the account manager for our writing industry and then I worked with our plumbing as well, and hardware. So kind of a different kind of mass background moving through the home improvement space there.

Brandon Schmidt: But yeah, my day-to-day activities was really working with the brands, how to grow sales on Lowe’s, and integrating their platform. One of the biggest struggles that we see in working with Lowe’s, and I’m sure I’m not the only one that has had this struggle, it’s just kind of understanding their digital platform in getting products in front of customers. The traditional model for eCommerce has been something that they’ve struggled with a little bit in the past. Just the way that their original strategy of having 2,000 plus stores throughout the country and trying to get foot traffic in stores and then coming onboard with a digital strategy to compliment that, but not hinder a sale. So that was I think the thing that I add the biggest day-to-day involvement in was working with manufacturers of product and, how do we get their skus onto Lowe’s in front of customers to sell? Because it’s not the easiest platform to work through.

Brandon Schmidt: They’ve seen tremendous strides in the last couple years and there’s been some turnover in management that has had a huge digital focus. So we’re starting to see some of the fruits of that labor within the last year specifically with them. But yeah, that’s kind of my background with the Lowe’s, working with manufacturers, getting onto the platform. And now I’m kind of on the other side of it, I’m working directly for a manufacturer, as you mentioned, Visual Comfort Group. So I kind of have a little of ins and outs on both sides now that I’m kind of learning from the manufacturer’s side as well.

Luke Peters: And Brandon, that’s actually what I really thought would make this an interesting interview is that you’ve worked on both sides, and kind of to get your take on both sides. And so sticking with Lowe’s, before we go to Visual Comfort, talk to us a little bit about how you worked with brands. So was there a buyer working directly with the brand, and then you were helping with certain parts? Or were you literally that buyer and working with the brands and then kind of helping them on their day-to-day uploading products and that type of stuff?

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, no, that’s a really good question. And we’ve seen it a lot with Lowe’s. In particular, it’s kind of understanding who the buyer is for a category. Is it the merchant that’s overseeing the store? Is it the digital merchant? That was always the most difficult thing for our manufacturers that we’re working with is kind of, who’s the contact in that transition? When I was still there, we had direct communication with the buyers through the ATG side. So we had traditional relationships set up with them that we were working to move over onto the Lowe’s platform. That’s right when I was leaving Lowe’s and moved on to my new role. But yeah, so that was kind of our thing is, it was nice to have is with our ATG background, we had a lot of relationships, close personal relationships with the manufacturers.

Brandon Schmidt: They had a contact, they can contact us, we can help them. And so we’re kind of liaison during that transition period of getting set up on Lowe’s. Because that is something that’s always difficult when you’re working with kind of all large Fortune 500 is getting on contact to, is versed in your product, isn’t changing roles, is going to be there for a while, and is actually a person you can call and have an honest conversation on how to grow the business, how to grow sales. So while I was there, it was really nice to have that relationship. When you’re working directly with Lowe’s, like I said, in the past from the digital side, it’s been tricky because you have to go through the store merchant has the final decision on what products are going to be brought into or an SOS type product.

Brandon Schmidt: Sorry, for the acronym, SOS is basically anything that’s not in store but you can buy online or special order. So it’s special order sku is what the SOS stands for in Lowe’s system. And so it’s always been kind of a tricky environment to work with on the Lowe’s side. I think they’ve made really great strides, like I said, specifically in my space, in the lighting industry, fashion fixtures. They’re really starting to invest in actually the people on the digital asset side. I think they’re bringing in a lot of good talent and I’m starting to get a lot more of an actual buyer that we can talk to just on the digital side, as opposed to a full entity when they’re looking at top down from overall. There have really been a focus in the digital and so I think that’s been really good to see.

Luke Peters: And I’m taking notes here as you’re talking here because I think this is valuable for the audience. So just sticking with this concept, because we’ve seen at our end too, we love Lowe’s, incredible company, and we’re working with them right now currently with our newer brand. But there has been a lot of hiring and some turnover. But who should brands, what specific role should they be working with to get products uploaded? Because I’ve heard the same thing from other companies and friends. It’s difficult right now, and I know you’re not with Lowe’s right now, but it’s difficult to get products uploaded on Lowe’s. And I’m curious, you mentioned a product that’s online but not in store is an SOS product. And then you mentioned a store manager. Is there, a store manager is actually making the decision on the product getting uploaded? Or maybe I’m saying it wrong. But was there certain individuals making that decision on the product being uploaded?

Brandon Schmidt: So it’s not a store manager, it’s the store merchant. And so from kind of a traditional structure of the company, each vertical and division would have a merchant that would oversee planning and buying for the whole category throughout the entire company, through all the stores. I mean these are obviously huge decisions on when it comes to inventory, what to bring in. And that’s kind of the traditional mall they had. When they started to expand their digital space and bring in a lot more of the SOS items, that merchant was still kind of involved in the conversation even though they are pretty much all driving force of their decisions was in store product.

Luke Peters: Got it.

Brandon Schmidt: They’ve kind of realized over the last few years, specifically, that they need to invest in just a digital space. So what they brought on with these new hires over the last, I’d say 18 months or so, is really focus on the digital side. So now they have a corresponding online merchant that’s going to be making these decisions. And those are the type of people that it’s really good to get in contact with because they’re dialed into the eComm space and they’re working solely on that, and not worried about in store sales.

Brandon Schmidt: In store sales are still, I think it’s still over 95% of the business at Lowe’s, something like that. It’s pretty astronomical how much of that is. I mean, that’s always what they’re going to be driving for. And they brought in a lot of new managers, a lot of new executives with a lot more focus on digital. I know they’re trying to get extremely aggressive with that, playing some catch up with Home Depot in that space. And if you just listen to any of their financial calls every quarter, there’s a lot more talk about digital and the efforts they’re doing to invest in that space.

Brandon Schmidt: So like I said, what I’ve seen over the last 18 months, 18 to 24 months with them, it’s been a lot easier to get in touch with digital merchants, online merchants, to actually work on growing product and understanding our template products set up and all of that. It was a very rigorous process, and I’m sure you’ve seen it when you were working with NewAir and getting that product up with them of how intensive their product setup is, and how many different hoops you had to go through, and how many different people you had to talk to just to get one sku online. What we’ve seen as they’re kind of grown, they’re starting to cut back on some of that and have some more traditional templates that we’d see with other retailers. But it’s still not the easiest process going through Syndigo to go to get your products up with them.

Luke Peters: Yep. And we’ve seen the same thing, so thanks for that explanation. It’s interesting because you point out, I want to make sure the audience caught that. And because we’ve seen these parallels at other retailers as well, if your buyer is in charge of in store and online at the same time and you’re focused on online, you’re not going to get a lot of attention, or not nearly the same attention. Because just as you point out, I mean that buyer probably has a P&L, and that P&L is made up of 95% of their business is in store. But you made an excellent point there in how Lowe’s is transforming and how, I think you’re right, they do have online specific buyers.

Luke Peters: I think there’s still a lot of transition happening. I love the company though, and I think it helps to have the diversification with them and Home Depot and all these other great companies that brands can sell into. Thanks for that thorough explanation there. And I guess one more question before I move on. Does it help companies if they have a PIM, like a product information management system, to upload products into Lowe’s versus doing it one by one? Because we found the same thing, one by one can take a lifetime to get a product in sometimes. You aware of any shortcuts there with systems that plug directly into Lowe’s backend?

Brandon Schmidt: We have seen some, and they’ve kind of gone through some new transition on their side with their integration of Syndigo, purchasing EdgeNet, and in that transformation. So that’s kind of the only route that we’ve seen be successful is the commerce hub route for the traditional side of the business. And then going through Syndigo. What we’ve seen with the Syndigo platform that they’ve moved on to, we’ve seen a lot better information, easier tools, better interface. So getting versed in Syndigo, it took us a little bit of time to catch up to speed. But once we got in there it’s really helped us. And so, I mean we kind of just are able to upload our traditional product template into Syndigo and then just make a few tweaks here that they do a pretty good job of highlighting exactly what you need to get into the Lowe’s system. So that’s been a definite plus for us to see that change over the last six months or so from the EdgeNet to the Syndigo platform for product integration.

Luke Peters: Perfect. Okay, thanks again for that. And so now let’s move right into Visual Comfort Group. Can you explain a little bit more about the products? I’m looking here, I have a couple screen print outs from online and it looks like you guys have some really cool partnership with, maybe with Kate Spade, maybe if you can talk to that. But some cool lighting products. And if you can share a little bit about Visual Comfort Group, what the brand’s about and what you’re doing for them.

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, Visual Comfort Group is the largest decorative lighting company in the world. It was a merger between Visual Comfort and Generation Brands, that’s in the works for last few years. But we kind of rebranded as of 2019 as Visual Comfort Group. Just kind of give a better understanding of our company as a whole. Visual Comfort has a long history of high-end design products in the lighting space, gone to market traditionally, working with high-end designers, brand names that you hear and know, like a Ralph Lauren for example, Chapman and Meyers, some real big heavy hitters in the home decor space. Whereas, Generation Brands just made up a Peck lighting, Monte Carlo fan company and the traditional Spice and Seagull lighting companies. So we kind of have a full breadth of products from high-end designer products, individual comfort side, to builder grade product in our Seagull side, which is known for our recess cans and on our bath vanities.

Brandon Schmidt: So we kind of span the spectrum when it comes to decorative lighting, but that’s kind of our bread and butter of where we’re at. For me personally working with them, I’ve been onboard for almost a year now, but I’ve had 10 years experience working with them in my old position at Lowe’s. I’ve come onboard to basically be the opposite side of what I was doing previously when I was at Lowe’s and being a retailer. I am now working with retailers on getting our product up, how to improve sales onsite. How do we improve clicks? How do we improve product views? All that kind of ins and outs.

Brandon Schmidt: And now I’m basically working with my counterparts where I was last time, so at my old role. So it’s been exciting. It’s been really fun. It’s been really cool to be a part of a growing company like Visual Comfort Group that is still growing even though we had such a large merger here with Visual Comfort and Generation Brands not too long ago. So to see the continued growth, it’s been really cool. And just kind of seeing this side of the business after working nine years on the retail. So I have a pretty good insight of what the managers over at the retailer needs, so I feel like I can sympathize with them from our end when working together and how we can kind of strategize on how to grow sales for both of us.

Luke Peters: Great. And so on kind of a more macro level, what is say your number one strategy element that you might be working on? Is it growing sales in Amazon on a specific category or channel? Or if you had to really dial it in something specific, what would that be?

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, from a macro standpoint, I think we’re at the point of, we’re looking to continue to grow market share. We’ve seen market share growth the last two years, and we’re just going to continue to do that. The biggest initiative for us and this year as a company is it’s kind of getting our brand name out there as Visual Comfort Group. Traditionally lighting manufacturers have done a poor job of branding, to say the least. Your average consumer doesn’t really know any lighting brands, even though there are hundreds of decorative lighting companies out there. They basically see your light and they like the aesthetic and they purchase it, not really knowing the brand. We’re trying to change that a little bit with our designer focus. So we brought in a couple of the designers from Visual Comfort into Generation Lighting.

Brandon Schmidt: We have a huge partnership with Ellen Degeneres. She has helped design product and it has aligned with us in Generation Lighting. So we’re kind of finding that balance of consumer well known brands and trying to play off that. Just because traditionally brands have been non-existent for the most part when it comes to brand equity in the lighting industry. And I mean, you can see that just throughout the space currently with your Wayfairs, your Amazon, private labeling products, white labeling products, bringing house brands and utilizing just that so they can pick and choose different manufacturers, put in all in one of their brands and then that can be kind of compared to other products across the board in the online space because they’re the ones that have that brand. So we’re trying to find that balance of how to do that, of building our own brand, but also playing in this space where we know white labeling is such a huge part of the business.

Luke Peters: Yep. And 100%, it’s a huge part, and you brought up the companies that are really good at doing that. And it’s probably a challenge, I would assume, for brands like yours and companies like yours. Although I guess you guys can participate in the white labeling if you want to. There’s probably more value and more margin on growing the brand, so it sounds like that’s what you’re working on. And before we jump into some of the tactics or strategies you’re using on growing the brand, are you able to share with the audience what the split would be with eCommerce to in store sales as a percentage for Visual Comfort Group?

Brandon Schmidt: Unfortunately I can’t disclose specifics, but I can give you a little bit of a roundabout answer.

Luke Peters: Sure.

Brandon Schmidt: So apologize if it’s not a direct forward answer for you. But-

Luke Peters: Yeah, I understand, no problem.

Brandon Schmidt: In store is still a majority of our business, those are our largest customers. They are between big box retailers and lighting showrooms, that still is a very large part of our business, a majority of our business working with them, and then working with builders across the board. But the eCommerce channel is definitely our biggest growing and where we see the future going. We understand that. So it’s been, yeah, it’s been tricky to find that balance of maintaining sales with our largest customer and protecting those channels while still taking advantage of the growing in commerce business.

Brandon Schmidt: Because lighting, in particular, it’s been behind the eight ball when it comes to online. They were a slow industry to get online in the first place. There’s still a lot of opportunity for growth there as opposed to some more saturated online market. So we know that’s where the growth in the future is, but we want to work with our longstanding partners in the other spaces on how we can work with them to continue to maintain those relationships and go about our business with them. While we kind of all know the elephant in the room is the online sales is what’s really driving any future growth.

Luke Peters: Yep. And obviously to be successful online one has to make sure the product reviews are done well, and the products obviously high quality and is getting and garnering good reviews. Would you mind sharing any strategies you’ve worked on with product reviews that might be helpful to the audience?

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, no, that’s a really good question. Product reviews are exponential to grow online. There’s so much product flooding the market, and from the limited pictures that the customers get online it’s hard to tell what’s quality lighting product and what’s cheap knockoff product. So we’ve really focused in on building reviews. And we know from the kind of Amazon model they have, I think it’s first five to seven reviews grows your product exponentially in sales, then there’s the next step, and then it kind of falls off after that. So we understand the importance of that, and we’ve done a lot of different things. Obviously making sure first that our product is high quality, and when the customer receives it they’re receiving exactly what they’re seeing online. So the first thing to do is just make sure that you have high quality photography, as much information data you can provide to the customers, A+ content, all of that.

Brandon Schmidt: So when the customer receives the product, it’s exactly what they wanted. So that’s the number one step obviously is that leads to negative reviews is it’s not what they expected. So that’s always top of our list. But we’ve also then participated in different programs of working, of giving… There’s partnerships you can have with like a bizarre voice, for example, where you can partner with them and they have a Rolodex of basically professional testers of product. And so we can work with them on getting product sent out to them. They give us open honest reviews of the product. And so we’ve kind of been proactive in those types of spaces of, how can we go about encouraging reviews? Because we know the traditional thing with Amazon was send an email or put something in the packaging asking for reviews. And then that’s kind of frowned upon from Amazon’s perspective.

Brandon Schmidt: Now they don’t want you contacting the customer. The customer has already said that they are receiving too many emails. So as a manufacturer we’re kind of limited to how we have these interactions with the customer when they’re purchasing directly from Amazon, and we’re not involved in that. So what we’ve done is just making sure that we’re sending out high quality products, our digital assets are on point in exactly what our product is. And then trying to be proactive where we can with partnerships of getting product out to other people for reviews.

Luke Peters: That’s a great answer, and some great insight as well. And very similar to kind of how we’re handling things. I mean, just like you separated Amazon from the rest of the retailers, we’ve seen the same thing. So there’s platforms that will syndicate out to the rest of the retailers. Sounds like you guys are doing that. It’s a huge advantage and you can drive great legitimate reviews and make sure that the consumer knows what other customers are saying about the product. With Amazon it’s separate. Used to be a lot easier a couple years ago, but there’s a couple ways to get around that, but in a legitimate way of just making sure that the velocity is really high at the beginning so that the product’s getting into the consumer hands and that you’re kind of getting more reviews instead of having to wait so long, which can sometimes happen with a lot of new product launches.

Luke Peters: But great, thanks for breaking that down. How about on the channel strategy? I think that would be really useful for the audience. So as far as the channel strategy goes, you guys traditionally were selling more into, sounds like, more in store, and that’s still the largest segment of the company and definitely something I’ve seen with a lot of good brands. But as far as now that you’re working with Amazon, and if the sku is the same, or the ASIN’s the same, and then you’re also working in store with these other partners, and that can obviously create a channel conflict. So how are you handling that? Are you having to launch unique skus for Amazon? Be interesting to hear your thoughts on that.

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, definitely. No, that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges we face is channel conflict and working through that space of understanding that the online channel is still growing significantly. But we don’t want to just necessarily cannibalize on our other sales. We want those online sales to be new and growing sales and still work with our traditional retailers. So yeah, it definitely is a struggle, I will say that. But I think the biggest thing from our standpoint, from a strategy side is, yeah, we’ll definitely look for her unique skus for Amazon. The good thing for us, in particular, is kind of our traditional retailers, their customer has a little bit different style preference, price point preference than a traditional Amazon. So we can kind of diversify in that standpoint of kind of understanding the customers that are going to different retailers and making sure that we’re getting a product mix that fits that retailer specifically.

Brandon Schmidt: So some products that will sell really well on Amazon, might not be traditionally well with our retailers. And so we kind of look at our product mix and we’ll sku what we’re offering to Amazon based off that to protect some of the channels as well. Because we want to find that balance. We want a good presence online, but we also want to protect our biggest customers as well. So that’s kind of where we’re seeing it. It’s kind of sku mix. It’s the biggest opportunity there, kind of differentiating. I mean, it takes a while. It takes a little bit more work on our end. Obviously we would much rather just give everyone all of our skus and they would just sell it. But we know that’s not how it works. So what’s kind of our rebranding, we’re kind of been targeting specifically sku mix and which one would be good for those customers.

Luke Peters: Awesome. And then can you talk if, and I know you’ve been at the company just for a year, but curious if you guys have had success with Wayfair. I know you mentioned earlier about Wayfair white labeling. But from my experience Wayfair is really strong in this category, and obviously Amazon is the king online right now. But curious if you guys have had some wins with Wayfair or if that’s something that you guys are working on?

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, definitely. No, Wayfair is a very big part of our business. And actually within our space, they’re a bigger market for us than Amazon at this point. Amazon is quickly playing catch up and putting a lot of resources behind it to get into this space and get to where they see their dominance in other categories. But Wayfair has been extremely aggressive. And I mean you can just see it with how much advertising, how much spend they’re putting into their company, reinvesting into the company. They’re still being extremely aggressive in that they’re kind of pulling a play out of the playbook from Amazon from 15, 20 years ago when Amazon was getting going. Just reinvesting in the business and worrying about profits later. So we think, I mean Wayfair has been a really strong company. They’ve done a phenomenal job of rebranding since the days when they were CSN stores and see where they’d come now of being such a strong market player.

Brandon Schmidt: I mean, they’re doing phenomenal. So yeah, no, we are very heavily invested in Wayfair and understanding how we can continue to work with them as their strategy shifts a little bit more towards the white labeling. They’re making a really strong push with that, and product line reviews with them are as strong as tough as ever when it comes to picking product to get into their house brands. And it’s just amazing to see where they’ve come just in the last five to six years, the company. They have all their subsidiary websites as well, and I mean they’ve really invested and it’s been great seeing.

Luke Peters: And I’d second that and third that, Wayfair is an amazing company to work with. And you kind of hit the nail on the head, they’ve got that their preferred brands are working as one of their white label brands. It’d probably be a huge opportunity for you guys. I could see that being a big deal for Visual Comfort Group. And you shared a lot of insights as far as going back into your time with ATG and Lowe’s, and now your current role. And it’s obvious you got a ton of knowledge with Amazon and across the whole eCommerce platform.

Luke Peters: So what I want to hear now is something that you think could be actionable for our listeners. And kind of the way I want to frame that is, you’ve worked on both sides of the industry, so our listeners are going to be leaders in brands that are trying to sell into these retailers or online, but also in store. And in your role working on both sides of it, what is something that stands out, is something really actionable but maybe often missed that brands and leaders in the industry should be doing?

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah. Now that I’ve kind of worked, like you said, almost a year with Visual Comfort Group and working directly with the manufacturer, the biggest thing that I can’t stress enough is just data and digital assets. And how important that is for online retailers, and how it differentiates from a traditional home decor retailer. If you think any store, a higher end home decor company, they have in their catalogs beautiful pictures which we need online as well, but then they have a lot of fluffy writing, beautiful pose on that. And what we’ve seen online is that’s not what online retailers care about. All they care about is shipping dimensions, product dimensions, the real data of it. And they want short descriptions that have keywords in it, so it’s keyword driven, not adjectives that kind of romanticize the product. They know exactly what their customers are searching for and they want to see that type of product, or that type of data in the descriptions in that type of product.

Brandon Schmidt: So I think that’s the biggest thing is having digital assets, having multiple angle shots of products, giving scale to the product. That’s something that from working on the retail side and then coming back on the manufacturer side as well as that’s the number one cause of returns is scale. People don’t realize how big something is until they get it into their house and it doesn’t fit. Even though you have the product dimensions on there, people are visual so it’s the more angles you can have of product, you can have it in home style shot as well. That’s where we’ve really seen that really taken off. And so I can’t emphasize that enough, just coming from the retail side of being frustrated when I literally can’t put a product onto the website because I don’t have enough data. And the manufacturer coming back and saying, well we don’t have that.

Brandon Schmidt: We haven’t traditionally tracked that information. So that’s been the thing that I’ve sympathized the most with retailers. And working with them directly now from the manufacturer side is, I understand how important that is and how integral is in how their hands can be literally tied for not being able to put product on site because of that. So I think if you’re going to invest in your company in the online space, that’s got to be your first thing. And then from there, then you can worry about your marketing spend, your marketing strategy. But if you don’t have that basic product data, you’re just not going to get on the website anyway. So there’s no point in investing in the marketing side. So that’s kind of where I see it just from my traditional background of working with a retailer for so long and having those pain points.

Luke Peters: 100% agree on that very sage advice. And something that stood out was that you said, not showing scales the number one cause of returns, so I just wanted to call that out for the audience. I think that’s really interesting. We’ve seen that with ours, and I can just imagine in the lighting industry it’s probably even trickier. And just one more question into that is, can you talk a little bit how you guys are doing, creating your digital assets? Do you have an in house team? Are you shooting your own products in house? Or do you have a contractor that does that? And to kind of second that is, how many products per month, how many new skus are you guys launching into the market? If you’re able to answer that. And the reason I ask though is more centered around how much work has to go into the digital asset production.

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, no, definitely. Kind of all the above when it comes to sourcing digital photography. We do most of it in house, but then we will source from partners as well, retailers that have product displays. Also when we get installation shots, working with contractors to get them to give us photography as well. But yeah, a majority of it is in house. So yeah, it takes a lot of time to curate our catalog. We have two major releases typically every year. The lighting industry traditionally is release product in January and June in the Dallas market.

Brandon Schmidt: We started to see that change a little bit with a lot more product in January and then a small supplement in June, but we still key on those points as well as the high point market in the fall. So we try to balance out our product offerings and a new product offering. But a majority does come at that January lighting show. We can introduce to anywhere between 500 to 1,000 skus at any given show across all of our different lines. So yeah, getting those digital assets takes some time and it’s frustrating to see a prototype of a product and see how beautiful it is, and then not be able to get the data for another month or so. But yeah, that’s kind of where we’re at. But yeah, the majority of it is in house and we’re doing all that photography.

Luke Peters: 500 to 1,000 skus released at one show, that’s a heck of a lot of work that your marketing team is doing. And the types of photography that’s needed for these products, I mean, this is intricate, high level photography that’s needed. So that’s got to be quite an effort to launch that many skus. That’s awesome that you guys are able to do that.

Brandon Schmidt: Yeah, I mean they do an amazing job. And it’s hard work. Yeah. Because they have to do a traditional catalog as well as our digital assets that we need for online as well. So they’re the ones that are dealing the most with a traditional customer, a traditional catalog, but then getting us digital assets that we need. So the work they do is great, and we’re so thankful for all the hard work they put in.

Luke Peters: Awesome. And on that note, Brandon, I really wanted to thank you for joining on the Page One Podcast today. And super insightful and awesome to hear your background with Lowe’s, and then moving on to Visual Comfort Group, and then sharing some of the marketing and sales details. And just how this amazing company continues to grow. How can the listeners find you or learn more about you or connect with you?

Brandon Schmidt: You can find me on LinkedIn if you’d like, be happy to communicate with people that are interested and want to connect and have any more questions. I love growing my network and getting some insights. I think it’s all learning and it’s evolving industry at all times, so I think it’s really cool to connect. So feel free to find me, Brandon Schmidt on LinkedIn if you want. Feel free to message me. But Luke, I really appreciate you having me on today, this was really fun.

Luke Peters: Awesome. And I just want to thank everybody today for joining us on the Page One Podcast sponsored by Retail Brand. And just want to make sure everybody knows that if you want to launch new products, quickly gain sales, reviews and buzz, instead of waiting around for months, we can help you at Retail Band. We can literally be your sales and marketing arm at Wayfair or Home Depot, Lowe’s, and experts in getting your product listed there. We can help with influencer marketing. Do you need a product to launch quickly? Do you need awesome reviews and YouTube videos and Instagram content? We can make that happen at Retail Band. We’re experts at it. We’ve already done it for our own brands and now we want to bring that to other brands that need these services. And if you’re interested, let us know. Contact me, contact us at retailband.com. You can learn more over there. And Brandon, I want to thank you again. Hope you have a wonderful day over there in Seattle. I know the weather’s nice. Take care and hope to stay connected with you.

Brandon Schmidt: I appreciate it, Luke. Thank you so much.

Luke Peters: Okay, thanks. Bye.

Speaker: Thanks for listening to the Page One Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce, check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers.

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