Will Roman: You’ve got to build a real brand. Like throw the word authentic out the window. Anytime someone tries to pitch me it's authentic, I go screw you because you're clearly faking it, which is why you had to use that word to begin with. And my response is just be real. Like, in terms of the video quality, it's like if you have to just take your phone and video yourself, and you're like, well, it doesn't look professional, no, no, that's great because it's real. And people are starved for real.
Josh Schultz: Welcome to the SMB Ops Show, an exploration into the mental models and decision processes of operators. I am Joshua Schultz, and with me today is Will Roman from Chisos Boots. Will has been growing a local boot brand for the last three years and is building quite a community. Today he shares with us how he thinks about building that brand and company, the tools he uses to run his business, and how important the right person is when you're in the hospitality business. I think the most important thing that Will gets into today, though, is marketing and brand building and how all of this leads to building a community of close customers. He drops a lot of useful information. And I think that you're going to learn as much as I did on this.
I am here with Will Roman down in Austin, the chief Texan, starter, founder, operator of Chisos Boots. Will is one of the first people that I met when I moved to Austin, one of the coolest people that I met when I moved to Austin. And I think we've become pretty good friends. I don't know. What do you think? So, thanks for jumping on here today. I'm excited. I know a little bit about your business. I go to your business all the time. We have your products in our house. I'm excited to learn a little bit about how you operate your business because it is not just retail, and it is not just manufacturing. It's a little bit of both. And I think that's really neat that you are controlling the product and the brand all the way through. So I think you'll have a little bit for everybody here. So Will, welcome to the SMB Ops Show.
Will Roman: Howdy, howdy, thanks for having me.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, man. So why don't you tell us your business and just really briefly what it is that you do?
Will Roman: We make damn comfortable cowboy boots. And we make them old school. We make them tough. And we bring a little bit of some new thinking to the old paradigm of the leather cowboy boot.
Josh Schultz: Gotcha. And how many locations do you have right now?
Will Roman: So we have, we are primarily an ecommerce business; 86% of sales are through the internet. And we have our flagship store right here in Austin. And you can come up, you can walk up to the shop. We've got our retail store. We've got our studios where we film everything. We do our own fulfillment. Everything happens right here.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, and I want to dive into that later because you do some cool stuff with that property. So we can jump into that in a little bit. And so you sell boots, you've got your shop, like you said, mostly ecomm. And how did you get into this? How did you go from whatever you were doing to selling boats in Austin, Texas?
Will Roman: I don't know if this is appropriate for broadcast, but I like to say I walked into it ass backwards. I mean, so yeah, I guess the short version is that, I mean, look, I moved out of my parents house when I was 15, different reasons, different podcasts, and made my way in the world. And I've always started things. And previous to this, I had a technology, financial technology startup with some buddies that are a lot smarter than I am. And I had gone out to West Texas, which is my happy place with the Chisos Mountains, which we’re named after. And while I was out there, came up with the idea for making a better cowboy boot. I mean, I have a bad back. I've got stuff I've had to deal with. And so I wanted something more comfortable. I really didn't set out to make a company. I just was trying to make a product that I wanted.
Josh Schultz: And what is the boot market like? I mean, like what are the major players? Where are they sold? What is driving this market? Just a quick synopsis of what the boot market is.
Will Roman: Yeah, the US market is actually pretty big. I mean, there's 3 billion, with a B, dollars’ worth of boots sold every year in the United States, and half of those are bought right here in Texas, which is pretty wild.
Josh Schultz: I did not know that that large of market share was right here in the state.
Will Roman: Its crazy. And it's dominated by Berkshire Hathaway which owns Justin, the largest boot company in the world. Luccese, which I would say is probably the biggest of the classics, like the old school, they're 150 years old. You've got Ariat, which is basically like Adidas. They're made in China mostly, and they're more of like a sneaker shoe. And then you've got some newcomers in the space, like Tecovas who I believe cross 200 million in revenue last year. And so, the primary market is Texas, secondary is United States in general. We personally sell all over the world. But those are the big players. And some of its made in America, but I mean, 90% plus of the handmade stuff is going to be made in Mexico.
Josh Schultz: And how common is that to have textile products made in Mexico in the market? Is that kind of the go to place? Or is that just where you chose to figure this out?
Will Roman: I mean, that's 90%. So that is the most common place. Most leather- So León, Mexico, is the leather capital of North America. So if you're getting designer bags, you're getting Cole Haan shoes, you're getting anything that requires- the seats for your truck probably come from Mexico, if not China, at that size.
Josh Schultz: Wow. All right. Okay, so you're in the Chisos Mountains or out near there, and you decide you want a better boot, one, why a better boot? And what was the first thing you did? I mean, how do you go from idea to I'm going to basically design my own custom boots and figure out León ?
Will Roman: So, before Chisos, in the before times, BC, there were- you could get a handcrafted booth, you could go find either an individual maker, that's the other side of the market, or you could go maybe with a Luchese classic, which is still a mass produced boot but using some traditional methods, or if you wanted something comfortable, you had to go to the opposite side and get like an Ariat, made in China, like a sneaker. And I wanted both together. And so I would get- I basically would buy cowboy boots too big and put inserts in them. And it just felt like I was wearing clown shoes. And I was like there’s just got to be a better way. And so that was the impetus. And I started reaching out to my network. And a guy that I went to college with is from Mexico, and his family had some relationships. And so, I went down there and got on the ground and just booked a flight. One of the things with Chinese manufacturing, you've got Alibaba, they're used to working internationally, they use WhatsApp constantly. But Mexico is very much relationship driven and pen and paper and on the ground. You're very familiar with this.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, if you're not looking at them face to face, you're not having a real conversation, regardless of what the content says in email or the telephone call.
Will Roman: That is a lesson that I am still learning. So I got down there. And I knocked on a lot of doors, and I actually started working. And so there are four- Here's some inside baseball a little bit. There are four giant factories that focus on cowboy boots in Leon. And you go down there and all the major brands, you'll see Justin, Tecovas, Luchese, Dan Post, doesn't matter, they're all coming out of the same places.
Josh Schultz: And I'm going to set you up here. Which one of those are your boots made in?
Will Roman: None of them.
Josh Schultz: All right. All right. Sounds good.
Will Roman: Well, and part of that is I was learning the lay of the land and I was down there. And most of- this is January 2019 I started the process, and I rented an Airbnb and spent a good 25 to 30% of the year physically in Mexico, and the rest of it was coming back and forth. But I started working with one of those big guys, and I was like, hey, I want to change things. Let's think about why are you reducing the quality. So one of the things I started doing, a little backstory, I started cutting open the other boots to see how they were made. I bought books on boot making, they still have printed books on this stuff. And I was teaching myself and I was cutting them open. I was doing what I could. And I realized that a lot of these, when they went to mass manufacturing, a lot of corners were being cut, a lot of cheap materials and plastics were being utilized. And so I didn't want to do that. And the big manufacturers didn't want to work with me. And I got laughed out of the building at three of them. And the fourth one at least was entertaining me. And I was like, hey, well, what if we- let's go back to the old school methods, or let's start using full leather heel counters, and let's do things properly. And they're like, that's going to disrupt our entire assembly line. And in the middle of that process, one of the big boys who will remain unnamed, but rhymes with ese, starts with lu, basically went to the manufacturer and said, hey, we'll place a massive purchase order if you will just stop working with this small supplier. And that's what happened.
Josh Schultz: My favorite visual, obviously, I wasn't there, I didn't know you, but my favorite visual that you talk about is standing there with all your stuff in front.
Will Roman: Yeah, I have photo of me holding bags of my last and my raw materials in front of the factory being like, well, what do I do now?
Josh Schultz: So what's really interesting is that they were so set up for efficiency that they weren't even willing to bend. And you are basically saying I bet somewhere in the US, probably in Texas, there is at least somebody that wants to buy a boot made properly and that will pay extra for that properly made boot. I guess my question is, was that small group of people as big or as small as you thought it was? Like, were you surprised when you started selling these things and telling people your story? Because your story that you just told is also your marketing story. I mean, from the cutting of the boots to how you make your boots, that's your brand. And so, how have you found that community to exist and grow as you've been sharing that story?
Will Roman: So before I answer that, do you want me to answer that, or do you want to talk about where we ended up pivoting to a getting a manufacturer, or we're going to skip over that?
Josh Schultz: Yeah, you can go into that. Let's talk about how you got into your next manufacturer. And then we can talk about your market that kind of grew from that up here in Austin.
Will Roman: Getting kicked out of that big one was really the best thing that ever happened to me. Up until this point, I still really wasn't trying to start a business. I was making something that I wanted, and I was going to make it for some friends. And getting kicked out really pissed me off. And I said, alright, okay, that’s how it’s going to be. And so luckily, I had made friends with some of the guys down on the shop floor. So I was like, hey, what now, y'all? And they're like, well, you should go talk to so and so, you should talk to so and so. And I did. And turns out, there's a lot of little guys in the outskirts of León and in the broader state of Guanajuato who are still making things old school and are willing to experiment and are willing to consider well, what if we adjust the arch? What if we work with some new materials? What if we go back and we use- Why are we buying the cheap cuts of leather, let's buy the thick center cuts for the souls. And so that relationship was really much more aligned with what I was trying to create. And you could call it values, but I just wanted to make something I was proud of, I wanted to make something that was going to last, I wanted to make something that had some craft to it. And turns out, there's a lot of people up here that want that as well.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, that's really neat. I think what you're saying too is something I've seen in my industry in the past, where I would spend a lot of time in China and Taiwan, and there was always these central producers of nuts and bolts and screws that were huge and that were used by GE and whoever, but then that talent would leave, get sick, start their own smaller shop on the edge of town. And just like you said, there were these smaller cold heading and machining places where you could get stuff that was higher quality, it was cheaper in a lot of cases, but they didn't have websites, they weren't out marketing. They were just making for a small, local niche kind of. And finding those is actually what helped us build Chess Group because we were able to build direct relationships and do things that where these big companies are only talking to four, they're going to talk to Boeing and GE, and that's it, all of a sudden, they're talking to us, a small $2 million company in Syracuse, New York. And it's a whole different game and allows you to bring a new value to your customer. So that playbook I think can be used over and over. And I've seen it a few times. It's cool to hear you talk about it, too.
Will Roman: Yeah, that's exactly right.
Josh Schultz: So you do that, you come back, and now you've got this market. You said it started out with a few friends. How many friends did you end up having?
Will Roman: We are at several thousand now. But I think that, here's the thing, I was having a discussion the other day, and for instance, about efficiency versus craft. And I know the number of boots that we can produce at maximum capacity with our current setup, and it's a lot smaller than what the competition is making. There are reasons why they made those tradeoffs when you get these to scale. And you really- look, there's certainly a world, if you want to go out and you want to chase 200, 300 million in annual revenue, God bless you. But that's not the game I'm in and I've chosen not to be in that game. I think there's quite a nice life and world to be in in the $10 to 20 million in revenue world. And it allows you to make decisions about what you're creating. An analogy I would think about is food production. I just signed up for a local grass fed, grass finished beef delivery here in Austin. And it's coming from local ranchers, and it's $16 a pound. And one of my friends is like, oh, how are they, at scale, how are they making cash on this? And I said, listen, you can't at scale, you can't sell to the country and have an entire supply chain and be able to provide that quality at that price. But guess what, you can within a 100 mile radius. And I think that there's this really- now I'm getting into the philosophy of manufacturing, but I think that there's this interesting shift that is starting to take place where people are going, look, we don't want to sacrifice quality, and we don't want to pour lead into the drinking supply. And so maybe we shouldn't be serving all 340 million Americans, maybe we should be focusing on smaller markets. And here's the upside for that – then you don't need as much capital, and then you own more of what you produce, and then you end up actually having a higher personal net.
Josh Schultz: Yep. So there's a couple of things there. One of them, we see this in history, large kingdoms that sprawled far ended up crumbling at the edge and then eventually crumbling at headquarters. You see the Roman Empire and all these large empires, the more they tried to spread out, the higher the burden of maintaining the kingdom or the empire and the more kind of disruption started to happen through political, whatever. The same thing goes with supply chains. History repeats itself. Systems are systems. They work the same way whether it's people, kingdoms, or supply chain. The further you try to stretch that out to gain an extra 5% cost efficiency two continents over, you're also going to add all this complexity, and you're going to be kind of maintaining this higher burdened supply chain. And so I think what you've done is said- well, I think for decades, it's been how do we play this game? Whether we're small or big, how do we play this game? And you said, well, wait a minute, I don't have to play this game. I can play a totally different game. And I'm perfectly happy doing so. And all of a sudden, happiness, like you said, bigger piece of the pie and doing better.
Will Roman: This is why I love talking to you, Josh, you take my red neck ramblings, and you turn them into an academic statement.
Josh Schultz: You talked about how you kind of are choosing not to play that game. And if I had to pick a word to describe what you're doing from knowing you, I think cultivate would be the word I would use. I've noticed you are constantly cultivating a group of friends, a community, events, your space, your Chisos space is all carefully put together with an end goal in mind. And so I probably haven't prepared for this question, so I'm going to put you on the spot. And you can think about it for a second. But what is it in you that is doing that? Because- and you can share about what you're doing, because you do events, like I said, you're carefully cultivating. There are certain events that you invite certain people to, not out of exclusivity, but just out of this is a certain field that I'm going for at this point, and don't bring your kids this time, or this time bring your kids. And you're purposeful about everything you do. And that's why I say like, whenever I think about you, you are always carefully cultivating every aspect of probably your life, but also your business.
Will Roman: Well, I appreciate that. That’s high praise coming from you, man. Yeah, so to give the listeners context, I'm looking at my board, a board in my office here right now that has, I have two things on it, which is, one, my master plan, and next to it is Walt Disney's master plan, which if you've never seen it, I recommend you look it up. He has just all the arrows. The arrows are great, I love them, just so many arrows. But he's drawing this universe, this world where Disneyland interacts with the films which interacts with comic strips, interacts with licensing and television and music, and they all feed off of each other. And essentially, you're asking partially what motivates me and what's driving me, and it's that I'm attempting to create a community that I get to live and be in and participate in, that I didn't have growing up, and I don't- And so this is- Chisos, yes, it's a- Chisos is ultimately a framework for me to provide for my future family. I don't have kids yet. But I've been thinking about this for a while, and I'm essentially, I realized this over the past couple of years, I've been subconsciously solving for the things that I experienced growing up. And so one of them, it was having, like you said, you have this gathering place, you bring people together. I want to be doing something that's .0001 positive in the world. I don't need to change the world. But I don't want to poison the drinking water either. And I think that you can have a really positive impact on the people immediately around you, and you can create experiences for them, and you can provide them with products that are going to make their lives a little bit better and provide some small amount of happiness. And so that's really what everything we do revolves around. That's why, to me, it matters, when it comes to the shop, that everybody gets greeted, doesn't matter who you are, doesn't matter how many people are here. It matters that things are laid out in a way that's easily approachable. It matters that we still answer our phones. And we try and throw these events, and like you said, sometimes we have family friendly ones, and sometimes we have ones that are more going to be like date night or adults, and sometimes its guys getting together to talk business. So the big thing for me is that I think this goes with when you don't- we will scale to a point where I don't know everybody, of course, in terms of like customer base, but you could still have that kind of slow human interaction with people. And so anyway, now I'm pontificating. But everything we do is set up to make sure that that stays with us as we grow.
Josh Schultz: So as somebody that's being purposeful about this and cultivating this, let's get into some of the nuts and bolts, and it'll be a foray into kind of you running Chisos now that we understand what Chisos is. Because I think it was important for everybody to understand it's not just a boot company, it is more than that. It's not just a quality boot company. It's kind of this- And I'm going to, this is not your words, everybody, this is my own words, but you're trying to bring your experience in Texas and the culture to other people. And so, you've told me lots of stories about why you name things a certain way or ideas that you've had. And it always drives back to, well, me and my friends growing up, and this is how we felt, this is the community we felt, this is the love we felt, this is the experience we had in the outdoors. I want everybody to at least have the opportunity to experience that. And Chisos is kind of your vehicle. We're going to start with boots. But it's going to be about more than boots. It's going to be about getting back to values and getting back to the outdoors and getting back to community and people. And by this time, everybody knows and gets why you're becoming one of my closest friends here in Austin, because you're just a high quality individual I love hanging out with. But so, let's take that that you're doing and let's dive in. What are the things day to day that you care about most in your business? And what are the things that you see and if they go wrong, they frustrate you because you feel like you hurt your brand? And what are the things that you are adamant about?
Will Roman: Yeah, so let's try and separate this into some columns here. I think that there's going to be the customer hospitality side. There's going to be- which is closely related to the brand, which would be in the middle. And then finally, perhaps, there's going to be the financial side of things and the health of the company. So I'll start. I'll go in that order. And I am fundamentally a brand guy. I think that I figured out that's kind of my superpower is understanding how people are going to perceive things before they experience them. And so, to us, it's paramount that when you interact with Chisos, you are treated with respect, and you feel important. I think that when people go through their everyday lives- personally, when I go through my everyday life, I don't feel important in most interactions, whether it's ordering a burger or sitting in traffic or trying to buy something from some company. And people are entrusting- our cheapest pair of cowboy boots is 550 bucks currently, prices just went up 20%, so we'll see. But that's a lot of money for people to entrust us with. And they've traded hours of their lives to make that money, and then they're giving it to us. And so, we want to be respectful of that. So, this is maybe the why behind it. And so, I very much care about phone answer rates, times for emails and texts and call back times, if we miss something. I care about, I read every one of our reviews that comes in still to this day. And I care about the number of people that come through the shop and what their purchase rate is, which relates to how they were treated. And then also my office right now is just off of our showroom, and so there's this osmosis that happens. And so that is maybe not quantifiable. So the first thing- the other thing I care about is shipping accuracy, we ship the right thing to the right person, and time. We advertise same day shipping up until 3pm. But really, if the UPS truck is in our lot, we will stop them, and we will get your order on that truck. And oftentimes, even if they've left, I'll throw it in the back of my Ford, and I'll chase them down. So those things, I think, are like the front line, especially for an ecommerce business. It's like, again, 86% of our customers I'm never going to get to interact with in person, unfortunately, the team isn’t going to get to interact with them in person. And so when you open the box, when you interact with the shipping, when you interact with the email support, whatever it might be, if you got a question, a lot of people have pre sales questions, that type of stuff is the front line for the experience. Nobody is going to be- no advertising is as important as a satisfied happy customer you made feel important.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, that is so important. So how do you- I'm going to use the word scale, but how do you duplicate that? Because I know it's not just you at the shop anymore. So how are you, besides overwatch with your close office, how are you conveying that, and again, not just through rules, but through why it's important and why it makes them feel good?
Will Roman: Yeah, it's the why. So, it's the people. It's like you’ve got to hire well. And you have to, one of the things I've learned, and we can talk about this in general, I think that I've adapted as a small business leader, is that your job is Chief Systems Officer and like Chief Repeater. You just say the same thing over and over again and you see it a number of small ways. And so, when we bring somebody new on board, and if I see something, I will explain why that small detail matters. We still write a handwritten note for every customer when they buy a pair of boots. Every single one gets a handwritten note, and its says something about them. And if we talked them on the phone, we include a detail about it. And my team here cares about this stuff close to as much as I do. They're fantastic. I know that I can leave and I could not be here for two weeks and that they're going to handle it, and they're going to treat people with the same amount respect. It shows up in our customer reviews. So, again, I read all the reviews, this is a great way of getting the pulse on the business. People mention the support that they received. And if you have people that don't care about people, it's never going to happen. So I think that the short answer is going to be in terms of hiring and then living the values for them.
Josh Schultz: Yeah. How do you spot that in hiring? I mean, do you have something you do or go through that helps you see that side of people?
Will Roman: Man, this is a hard question. So we're hiring right now for a customer support role. And it's going to be our first one that's not physically in the shop all the time. And I almost want to pull up this, I am going to pull it up while we're chatting, I want to pull up the questions that we're including on the interview. And so some of this is you can- look, I think, for lack of a scientific answer, people that like people can't hide it. Does this person enjoy conversing with you? When you ask them about the issues of their previous companies, and you ask about the things that brought them, maybe happiness is not the right word, but like the things that they enjoyed about their current or previous roles, and what motivates them, they will mention this type of stuff. They will mention service, they will mention the way that they can- there are people that just light up by helping people. And I don't have a perfect answer for it, to be honest. I don't have like the perfect interview question.
Josh Schultz: Do you mind reading maybe two or three, what you think are the more helpful questions that you have listed there?
Will Roman: I will. I am looking through them, and I'm realizing that they're much more- So here's the ting, they're much more about role fit. So for instance, we ask people, we ask them point blank, what motivates them and what their ideal work scenario looks like in five years’ time. I mean, what we're trying to suss out here is that do they imagine themselves in a role that's very different from this that doesn't interact with people. Or do they- what's the story that they're painting? We then- we will live problem solve. So one of the things that we'll do is we'll say, hey, I'm a customer that comes in and asks, are Chisos goodyear welted? And it's something that I don't expect people to know who are interviewing, if they don't understand what that phrase means. And then how do they solve it? How do they go and find that information? How do they then process it and communicate it back to the customer? And then I think that the- I’m looking at the sorry, mom, while I'm trying to read through these. And then the third one would be to talk about, I actually ask people when they’ve received- what positive interactions they had with a business. And so if you ask someone, think of a recent interaction with a business, what was great or not great about it, some people say things like, man, I bought this DSLR, and it was awesome. And they talk about the features and how well it was made. And other people will say, I had this great experience meeting so and so at such and such business. And it's a reverse way of trying to figure out what their brain is attuned to.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, that's interesting. I wouldn't have thought of that. That's really neat how the response shows what they're paying attention to and what they care about, too. I’d be the guy describing the DSLR features. So that's the hospitality part. And then kind of what are the systems or what are you adamant about and following for the financial health part?
Will Roman: Well, the middle one is the brand. And so, I'm going to, if you don't mind, I'm going to- I think that there's some important stuff there. I think that- and I guess all these overlap. So, I look at things like that- So in terms of statistics, I look at the return rate, product return rate, which is different than our product exchange rate, and that can be indicative of how well are we communicating things and what kind of experience are people having with the product. I look at the return purchase rate. And then of course, we look at just in general our web visitors and things like that, how well is our marketing doing and brand perception. I think that the hard part about brand- the financial part is the easiest part for me to answer. But I think the hard part about brand is that so much of it is squishy. Like, I look at every piece of content that goes out. I don't make it all, and I don't- now that's on Dimitri, he’s a genius on that on our team. And I don't even concept at all. But I am reviewing everything that goes out to make sure it lands. And early on, I was trying to get out of that role. And I think that that's a role that I'm going to probably always be at, and/or it will take a few years for someone, probably Demetri, to be able to take that over completely. Because there are some things that are just in the creator/founder’s head. And it's so hard. It's like we were writing a social post the other day, and I was like, it's just not quite the way a Texan would say it or I would say it, and so then you go in there and you wordsmith it.
Josh Schultz: I think Chisos is absolutely a representation of you. And so like you said, I know you, but I couldn't speak for you, like you. I couldn't say things the same way as you. So even somebody knowing you I don't think is good enough. Like you said, there's nuance there that Chisos being a reflection of you, only you can correctly add that nuance in.
Will Roman: What I've started to do is we put things in categories. So, there are- do I need to be writing, is it the best use of my time, or the company- is the best use for the eyes of the company, for me to be writing every single social media post? Probably not. And so, what we do is we've developed categories. So there are categories that are like here's how this thing is made, and here's some of the things that we write. So, we have set things now that somebody can emulate. But then there are ones that are like waxing poetic about Texas or sharing our deep values, and those are founder posts. Those are things that nobody else is going to be able to write, at least not in the near future. And so, I consider that part of my responsibility. But it's about systemizing that so that I'm not reviewing 40 social posts a month, I'm looking at 6.
Josh Schultz: So I have something kind of like that for myself, personally. I call it my content matrix. It's the things that I like to talk about. It's the ways that I talk about them. I can mix and match those two columns. And then I have some other things too, like end goals of a certain thread or email or whatever. And I've seen that, I got that idea from other places as well. As you write that down and as you think about I call them policies, things that you can't bend the rules on, you have to do this when you're shipping a product, same day if it’s before 3, not bendable, not negotiable, bend heaven and earth. Are these getting codified anywhere? Are you building your Chisos playbook? Or is this all just notes that people have and things?
Will Roman: So, I had some good training before. Two jobs ago, I was a solution consultant for a startup selling enterprise software to the fortune 200. And when you're at that level, you've got to document everything. And I got that habit built into me. And so, from the beginning of Chisos, when it was just myself, I started documenting things. And so, we don't use anything very sophisticated. We use a tool called Slab. And so, we have processes for here's how you pack and ship. Here's how you use the proper tone to answer a customer support email. So for instance, here's a small tidbit that was super helpful. When we onboard someone to write emails to our customers, answer the question in a friendly tone, go back, add something friendly at the beginning, add something friendly at the end. Make sure you use exclamation points. Send. And it's crazy. If you just- because if someone writes to me about like goodyear channel, are Chisos boots goodyear channel? Yes, Chisos Boots use goodyear channel. And actually, we do this and this and this. Then they go back and go, howdy, Frank, thanks for writing in and asking us about this question. And at the end, we go hope you have a great day, Frank, if he's from Texas, hook em horns or something. And man, what a difference it makes to get that email from a company than just the answer.
Josh Schultz: I agree. But also, that is more Will, like that's you also. I've jumped into stuff with you before. I'm like, Will, yada, yada. And you're like, hey, man, how are you? And I'm like, hey, I'm good. So, I think that that is still- I mean, that's awesome it's codified, but it's also a further embodiment of the nuance that you're bringing to the culture and the brand that you're building.
Will Roman: So to throw some other systems, I mean, so our stack on this, so we use Slab for our SOPs. We use a tool called ClickUp to manage our tasks. ClickUp is fantastic. I moved from, my evolution, I would say, is probably Trello to Asana and Asana to ClickUp. It's not perfect, but it's pretty good. And it allows for, we have cadences for automatic tasks that have to be happening every week, we have cadences for ones that once you do this, we know that there's a six week period until the next one is due. We have- we do our meeting note taking in it, and because you can then link to the actual tasks. One of the things that I didn't like previously is we did meeting notes in Google Docs, but then you had to link to the task. But now if you take the notes in ClickUp, it has a little preview, and it will tell you the status without you having to click out of the doc.
Josh Schultz: It embeds it right there.
Will Roman: Exactly. Natively embeds it. It's phenomenal. We use Help Scout to answer our emails. And my philosophy with tools is generally I try and do overall fewer is better, which is in conflict with my next rule, which is that do one thing really well. This is where like Help Scout is not the most all comprehensive customer support tool, but it does do email support really well. And it allows you to link into their Shopify profile. And those two things are really helpful to us. Slab does documents really well, and it is a narrow thing that does really well, and it's easy to navigate, we can link out specific pages, and I love it. ClickUp is trying to do everything. But they do do the task really well, and they do notes decently enough for us to like it. I’m trying to think of this other customer support one. But those are the primary things that we use in the customer support arena.
Josh Schultz: My sentiments on ClickUp are the same. I have a very similar evolution. At Chess Group, we used Trello to document quality issues and tasks. And it was a little too hard to do tasks in Trello. We moved to Asana, and for some reason, I just didn't like it. We started using ClickUp here at CaneKast. And ClickUp was awesome, but because it could do everything, people started using it for everything. And then it just turned into like nobody would go to it because it was way too much going on. Like our quotes were there, our cadences were there, tasks, you would go there and see 120 things you had to do. And it was just overwhelming. And then everybody stopped using it. So I've actually got a guy right now who's cleaning it all up. And we're going to go back to just team execution in ClickUp. Everything else- we did it first, we created other spaces for it. So quality is actually in Trello because the Kanban works really well, and Trello forces you into Kanban. And then all the quote and all that stuff, we moved over to Pipedrive for us. And so now that we created a space for that stuff, hopefully it won’t end up back there and ClickUp is just team execution. So very similar, I understand exactly what you're saying there with the sentiments very powerful, but almost too general because it becomes everything.
Will Roman: I think that's a great lesson, which is that you have to narrow it down. So you go to this thing for one purpose or maybe two. Yeah, it's interesting about how your brain like ring fences, if it's looking at too much stuff- Yeah, I'm out, done.
Josh Schultz: So interesting. Okay. And then I caught Shopify. You kind of mentioned it in passing, but you run on your ecommerce store on Shopify.
Will Roman: Yeah. I mean, if you want to talk about other systems we use, I mean, and then this is like the final thing on the kind of health numbers that we look at, like I said, I'm looking at return rate for purchases and return rate in terms of getting exchanges and refunds. But I'm also looking at, generally I look at, obviously, month to month top line, and then on an annual basis, it's that net profit on the business. These are like my true norths. We're not a super radically- we're not a complex business. It's like we buy a thing, we make something for one price, and we sell it for a higher price. The challenge with us is that, and this is actually an interesting thing about running the business is that we do the opposite of planned obsolescence. Like once you buy a pair of boots, you will have it forever, you can repair it, and you don't need to come back to me and buy another one because your boot is shot, at least not for like 40 years. And so, we've had to think about, one, how many new people do we need to reach every year. So marketing and brand is a huge piece of the business importance. And so the things I track there, by the way, are output in terms of content we produce and then getting in front of new audiences. So this is doing podcasts, this is potentially getting a YouTuber to talk about us. I don't care, I do care because I have an ego, but we were not top line tracking the viewership on our own content. Because one of the things I think of is that it's the long game. So I want a library of content on YouTube because we've learned that our customer goes, oh, I've heard, someone told me about Chisos. Let me go to YouTube, Chisos boot reviews, or let me go to Google, Chisos boot reviews. And so what I want is I want a bunch of random people on the internet reviewing us. And I want a bunch of our content, which is like where we cut open our competitors, and we blow up our boots, and we tell you how they're made. And so I don't care if this week, it gets 10,000 views, I care that the quality of that content is good so that when our potential customer is going to YouTube to look for a reason to buy us, it's there. Our customer journey is probably very similar to most who are in the consumer business, which is that someone decides they want it from an emotional basis. They go that’s sexy, I want to be a cowboy. Then their brain goes, okay, well, now you need to justify it. And so we go, here's all the reasons. Here's how we make it, here's the small business values, here's the impact on the community, all the things. And I want to make that easily accessible.
Josh Schultz: Yeah. And it has the other benefit of creating a story that's easy to tell for word of mouth marketing. I know, I found myself, oh, if you're- somebody says they want boots, they're visiting Austin, I've brought people to your shop. And they say I want boots, like, oh, we’ve got to go to Chisos then because they're made differently. And then again, I don't know, I've never caught your boots open. I've never done it. But I've heard the story. It's easy to tell. I believe it. I buy into the culture. And so, I repeat it over and over and over and bring people to your shop.
Will Roman: A great point for marketing and branding is that I try and put things in, I think about a cocktail party. So if someone's at a cocktail party, and someone comments on your boots, or they mention cowboy boots, what can you flip out in one or two sentences that makes the cool guy at the party, for lack of a better term. Like, you're sharing information with people, you're just telling them about something they haven't heard of. And it's kind of like a fun piece of information. It's like a did you know type thing. And so, we try and take our content and give people those little cocktail party snippets.
Josh Schultz: Yep. And it works. You've got me parroting it all over the place. For good reason.
Will Roman: The table stakes is it has to be a good product. That's the baseline that- I'm working on a college course, actually, that we should talk about offline, with some students in Fort Worth. And so, I've got a list of, here's the characteristics on an ecommerce product if I were to do it again from scratch. But some of it is that, when you get into branding, like the table stakes is your product’s got to be good and have a differentiator. Otherwise, what are we doing here?
Josh Schultz: Yeah, it becomes a short game, basically have a big spike, but then all the reviews come in, and everything comes out, and you're nothing, and it falls off the board. So you’ve got to be able to actually hold your word over time.
Will Roman: Other tools that we can't live without are Airtable. And so Airtable is a great example. So just, in terms of size of our business, I mean, your listeners probably can tell we're not massive. We're three years out of the gate, low seven figures. And so we're still at this growth phase where we're building systems. And one of the things that we needed is, well, everybody told me we needed an ERP, and ERPs have their place. It depends what kind of business you are. But they're very expensive. And if you're getting the value out of it, great, but one of the things that I realized, I did interviews or calls with like 12 different companies. And every time I would ask these guys, I was like, can you tell me why I need this? And they just couldn't quite do it. And I would use the products and they were just a pain in the ass. And finally, I was like, okay, the process enabled me to figure out exactly what we needed. Like I needed a purchasing system that would then allow me to track those, and then convert the POs into invoices, and then receive the inventory and be able to see at a glance where the status of all of our inventory was. That's really what I needed from the purchasing side. Once it got in our system, we still use Shopify to handle most of our- and manual counts to handle our inventory counts. And I was able to look at all these products, take the best ideas from them, and then open up Airtable and build the damn thing. And we also, we built it, I mean, I’ll toot my own horn a little bit, but like this is what the workshop now uses. They used to be like this is how much money you owe us. And now they go, would you open up your Airtable and tell us how much money you owe us? Because they trust our system better than theirs.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, I'm a huge advocate of Airtable. We use it as well. I don't think you get so big that you can't use it. It's so powerful and versatile. And my favorite thing about it is to make changes, I've made changes literally walking down the sidewalk in downtown Austin, got a call from a guy, hey, we really need to start tracking scrap numbers. I pulled out my phone. I literally added the column, change the type, put it in the right view as I was walking and then sent him out Slack, and I said, hey, scrap’s in there, you can start using it. Again, that's not the ideal, but the fact that you can fix something that easily without even a computer. And you mirror that with normal products that have that are also not very feature rich. I mean, Airtable does all of our production tracking better than our ERP can because it can automate out the reports and create all the graphs, send certain reports to certain managers, it gives us snapshots, and it's all automated. They’ve got the dashboard feature now, which we have up live at our plants. We have those in our plants now on a big screen. So all for, whatever it is, $20, $30 a month application is incredible.
Will Roman: Yeah, if you're listening and you don't know Airtable, look into it. Also, like Josh said, it generates our PDFs, we can send views to our facilities and different providers, different vendors. You can create interface views, like you can see the spreadsheet, we have a spreadsheet view, which is the one I'm most comfortable with, we have the Kanban for where it is in the process. We then have like an individual record interface that someone can click around like it's an app. It's great. It's super great. Airtable, you should pay us. Sponsor the podcast, Airtable, sponsor the podcast.
Josh Schultz: There we go. I cut you off. Did you have more after that?
Will Roman: Yeah, I mean, just trying to go down the list. I mean, Shopify is what we build the platform of the store on. It handles all of our orders. It handles the website. It also is our system of record for our inventory, which is admittedly, arguably not the best practice, but it works. We also use it for, it's got plenty of apps that plug into it. It's good. It's good. That's where I'll stand. Airtable is very good. Help Scout is good. We use Xero. You can also use QuickBooks. I think six one way, half a dozen the other. Klaviyo for emails, driving demand and automated follow ups. Gusto is a great people system. It makes it really easy to handle payroll and benefits for small business, Slab for SOPs, Google Docs for everything else, and Dropbox for our media. I’m trying to think. I think, if I were to tell someone off the bat, like if you take the- here's the thing that's crazy. This is mostly around product, business and ecommerce, but like that stack right there just took like a 10 person team and enables you to run it all yourself with no employees when you're getting going. And then those tools also are pretty well designed to grow with the business. I think that, by the time, we get to- well, I know a lot of people are past eight figures that are still using those and rockin’ rollin’ and even these massive companies still use Shopify for order processing.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, I've heard Shopify can scale quite large. I mean, all of them can, it’s just a matter of how complex you want to make your business.
Will Roman: One of the things I've thought about when I was picking tools is that they're, because I have shiny object syndrome, is that I try and look at what's the stability of the business itself? How long has it been around? Are they enterprise class? That's the nice thing about Airtable; Airtable is enterprise class. One of the early problems with Shopify, oh, my god, like 2019, they rolled out a change on Black Friday. It's like, guys, you realize- People build their entire systems around this. They don’t do version control. They're running it like a consumer company. I think they've wizened up because the backlash on that year was just massive. It’s like what are you doing? So do they have good enterprise practices? And then what's the market for developers to work on it if you need to do modifications or things like that? Is this the industry leader, and so there's just tens of thousands of people who are experts on it? Or is it some little niche thing, and there's like one guy that may or may not be able to do what you need. So those are some of the things that maybe in my younger years I didn't actually think about when I was evaluating software.
Josh Schultz: I know that's something that Airtable just this year is starting to take more seriously, building their community of developers, both building Airtable for clients and also building tools that plug into airplay, or I'm sorry, Airtable. I know that they- I've actually had a call with Airtable, and of last year, they basically hired a guy to do just that. And he's reaching out to power users and power builders and trying to get feedback on that community. So I'm interested to see what that leads to in a year. It takes a while, a year to two years, what they start rolling out to help businesses build because they're definitely taking it more seriously. So that's the tech. Couple different things I wanted to bring up. One of them is speaking of your branding and a little bit towards the maybe physical equipment side, you've got your own studio that you built there, correct, where you can do product photos and some of your YouTubes? So why did you do that, and how did you do that?
Will Roman: It is a lot easier than you think. We’re small. And we're fighting these big giant companies, legacy companies. And so the way you beat a legacy company, I think, is that there's three broad areas, one, you build something better, two, you move faster, and three, you market the things that they cannot say. So what can these big guys not say? They can't say they're a small business. Their small founders can't get on the mic and the video. Some of them have tried to copy us, and literally, it was an utter fail. They're like, never again, get this guy off the camera. He's a New York, private equity money guy who-
Josh Schultz: It is like putting me in front of the camera trying to talk about your boots.
Will Roman: You're personable and you have a soul. Some of these guys just, they just don't really care about the business. They're there to make money. Only money. And it comes through. It comes through. And if that's you, that's fine, more power to you. But just don't, you can't get on cameras. But we have that advantage. And the other piece then is, and we wanted to showcase the different- our differences. And we can do things really quick. We have an idea on Monday, and we can publish the video on Tuesday. Oh, fuck, we can publish it Monday. And so then, what I learned very quickly, though, is that we do post purchase surveys and we also just talk to our customers. And so, we found out that what was happening is people would go, they would find us on YouTube, or they would hear about us and then go to YouTube to research us. And so, we're like, well, obviously, we just need to give them more content. And now we have people that are like, hey, so I went and I watched all 40 hours of your content and then I purchased the boots. And I'm like, amazing, let's give them more. And so this is something that we're leaning into. I wrote a- there's a whole plan for how you launch a grassroots business. One of the things to point out here to the guests is that like we didn't raise the money. We true bootstrapped this. And so, we had to think of ways that we could market that wouldn't cost us huge sums of capital because we can't compete in that world. I mean, like one of our competitors spends a million dollars a day just on Facebook retargeting and Facebook ads. Like, we're just- it's not possible. And so what we can do is create content that's shareable, just like you're saying about talking about it at a cocktail party. And so, in order to make it, what I invested in is like a good DSL cam. DSLR is going to cost you like 4 grand, which, again, it's a chunk of change, but it's a hell of a lot more capturable than what it used to be, you'd have to build a studio. We've got a room here that we put up those like, they're blackout curtains we put on all the walls, and it absorbs sound and also creates a nice backdrop. For like 80 bucks, I've got this thing that attaches to the ceiling that allows you to roll down multiple backdrops for another 100 bucks, we got some good lights, and then you're off to the races. I mean, you can even get like light- I got a light box also that I was using in the early days before we even had that setup. But I think that if I- if you're investing in content, even more than the camera, the number one thing I would do is get some good mics, get a mic system. Audio matters more than anything else. Anything else. Does someone want to actually listen to the thing? Are you easy to understand? It just gives you authority and makes it an enjoyable listening experience. And you could do stuff right in your backyard. I mean, we did a shoot where we got these boots that are made of rough out, they are not suede. Rough out is stronger and thicker. And people like, is it waterproof? And I was like, well, hell, I can walk outside and spray them with a water hose and video it drying and put that on YouTube. And it's 10,000 views later, there you go.
Josh Schultz: That's great. So I mean, you're dropping a lot of marketing knowledge, to be honest with you, more than I thought you were going to, and I'm actually learning quite a bit. Is this the way you naturally think? Like my mind is naturally systems. I study it, but I didn't have to dive into it. Is this the way you naturally work? Or is this some experiences that you had that taught you these little things that you don't really think about anymore, and it's just your natural take on business?
Will Roman: This is my automatic brain. So I understand, I think, how someone is going to perceive something automatically, and then I just go and I just do things, and I don't necessarily think about gatekeeping and I don't think about what I'm not supposed to do. And I think, I was homeschooled as a kid, I think I credit a lot to that. And so one thing that's funny is I actually have had taken the time because friends have asked me for their businesses, and so I actually wrote like a seven page PDF on how to launch a grassroots business with no money. And so that helped me take some of these ideas and realize what I was doing automatically and talk to people, like to give- to go, just some more off the cuff things here, after we talk about product, which is its own list of requirements, you’ve got to build a real brand. Like throw the word authentic out the window. Anytime someone tries to pitch me it's authentic, I go screw you because you're clearly faking it, which is why you had to use that word to begin with. And my response is just be real. Like, in terms of the video quality, it's like, if you have to just take your phone and video yourself, and you're like, well, it doesn't look like professional, no, no, that's great because it's real. And people are starved for real. And so, you can use that. Chisos’ motto is do right, love Texas, which means that listen to that little voice inside you. You know what the right thing to do is. And the other part of it is that I am Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas guy from the old Bud Light commercials from the 90s. And everybody was like, don’t do that, you have to be a broad market. And when I found- other than the fact that knowing that half of the total addressable market is in Texas anyway, the other side of it is that I get people who are like, I'm from Vermont, and I don't even care about Texas. I just like that you like something so damn much. People connect with it. Just like, I don't know, what does Vermont sell? Like molasses or something? Like, just whoever, if there's someone in Vermont that’s like that this is the best molasses you could get because it's from Vermont, I’d be like hell yes, I want molasses. Don't give me the generic stuff.
Josh Schultz: Absolutely. I see, not only in branding, but just in beliefs, just I respect somebody who disagrees with me and believes something, but is just really into it and adamant and not mean or stubborn about it, but just like I really believe this, I wasn't taught this, I'm not regurgitating something I heard. And I'm like I respect that. Like, I want to hear that opinion. And I was like that, too, I have to admit. There's two things you've said that are similar that I struggled with in my early years. And that was trying to be big and trying to be bland. Because in studying business, as I was in my early 20s, that was what did well. So selling, if I wanted to grow a business, okay, their websites are blue and white. Why? Because those colors build trust. And so, I'm going to build a blue and white simple with industrial photos. And I would copy it trying to look like we were bigger. And obviously, I'm going to lose that game every time because we're not bigger. Like you said, they're spending a million dollars a day. The companies that we were competing with were literally $200 million to $500 million distributors that had hundreds of locations. Like we didn't look big because we had Mexico and China at the bottom with- it didn't make us look big, it made us look small. And so, playing that game was different. And I had a number of ah-has and conversations like this, for example, again, even when I tried to do a newsletter a long time ago, I was in finance, and I tried to make it look very much like Bank of America or Citigroup research. And it came across bland and the blue and white and simple. And people that were growing their newsletters, it looked like either personal emails or you were using handwriting fonts and weird colors. And it was them. It was like you said, it was truly authentic. It was an expression of who they were. And I was trying to be an expression of some other multimillion dollar conglomerate. All of what I tried failed. And I finally started to realize I have to play the only card I have, which is that I'm small, and I'm not going to get a lot of the business I'm going after. But I'll get the ones for sure, and I won't lose them, that are looking to do business with a small business that knows their name when they call, that knows all my part numbers by heart, that can literally tell me the quality history on them for the last 10 years because they only have 100 customers. And so the goal was then okay, where do I find more of these guys? It was hard. I fought that lesson for years. I kept thinking I really want to- and the common advice is niche down, niche down, niche down, and it's so easy to hear. But then whenever I would go to actually do something, I would be like, well, how do I reach more people? And how do I make this so that no matter what industry you're in, you're going to want to buy from me? And I probably still struggle with it, to be honest with you, but it's so powerful to see it so clearly in these examples, like you that reinforce with me, Will, I introduce you as the chief Texan. And so, like that, and to see how well that plays with non Texans, even non Americans, just everybody that meets you. Like, I don't have to be what you're marketing to, but I can love who you are and the marketing that you're doing and, because of that, want to be associated with Chisos. And so, just the huge lesson there for me and everybody else.
Will Roman: One of the things you're saying makes me think of the Stoics, the obstacle’s the way, like I'm small. Now the small is actually your advantage. And you can use it as a way to share your values. I'll try to make this story quick. To contrast, I bought something recently from actually a small business, but they're in the 30 million annual revenue range. I bought like $800 worth of gear off their ecommerce website on a Friday afternoon, and I paid for expedited shipping. And Friday, it didn't ship. Saturday, it didn't ship, which is like, okay, this is the holidays. But like, we ship on Saturdays during the holidays because it's the holidays, again small business. And then Monday it didn't ship. And so Tuesday, I reached out to their customer support, which got back to me that night and was like, yeah, well, the thing is you paid for expedited, and that goes into a different queue. And that queue is backed up because it's the holidays. And I'm like, are you kidding me? I paid extra, and your excuse is that because it's the busy time of year, you know it's going to take longer, and you didn't solve this? And they didn’t care. Here's the flip side, which is that we had done pre orders on a specialty booth that we were launching, and it got hung up in customs. And then it got out of customs finally, and it was sitting at a FedEx distribution center. And they were like, yeah, because it's backed up, yada, yada, yada, we're not going to be able to ship it to you for another week. And here's the thing, our customers had waited two months for this. Potentially you could like okay, what's another week, but I was like, this isn't going to happen. And so, I got on Instagram stories, and I was like, listen, guys, your boots are at the border, we're going to go get them. So we took my truck, I rented a big ass trailer. We drove down there, we loaded them on it, we drove them back to Austin, and we shipped them out the same damn day. And it's like a big company's not going to do that, not only- they're not going to do it. And so this is one of those things where it's like a big company maybe would have had the weight to throw around even to get their order out sooner. But the point is, like you as a small business can do that. And people know that you know the part numbers, like you said, you know the history, and you care enough to go make sure that customer gets their product when you told them they would.
Josh Schultz: Yeah, well, I mean, all of this goes to show why Chisos is popular here, why it's probably going to continue growing. I mean, there's so much we didn't get into. We're going to have to do a second one. Because I mean, I want to hear about the grassroots product marketing, I want to hear about your cadences that you had set up and ClickUp, I want to hear about, and maybe you can actually spend a few minutes on this, but more about where you're headed. Because like you said, you do events, you do music events at your Chisos location, you do just guys sitting around the fire, you're using it to build community. I've heard some of your plans for the future. I don't know what you want to get into and what you don't, but just the fact that you are heading somewhere and the fact that you've got Disney World or Walt Disney's plan next to your plan tells me that even what I know is probably only two nodes of 20. So, where is Chisos going? What are you building?
Will Roman: Yeah, we're building a community based around people that care about crafting quality and also care about community. And the stages of that are going to be that we're building a house. And so the foundation is laid really, really well. Now it's about how we’re framing this thing out. And so that's where the systems come into place, training up the team, giving them the tools so that I don't have to be listening to the showroom. I don't have to really now, but like every category of the business, and then building those reports. We didn't really talk about that. But like we have- I do do weekly check in meetings. But the requirement of every meeting is that there's a notes document that hits certain points that is filled out ahead of time. And I read that. And so the meetings used to be an hour, and now they're 8 minutes, talking about a specific thing. And so, the next stage of that is filtering those reports up to dashboards and having- so what I want is a- anyway, the point is there's a whole cadence here. So that enables my focus to be on product innovation. We're going to be building out brand content. We're taking a page out of Red Bull long term in that book. We've got a physical destination. I can talk to you next podcast about how we're- the best marketers in the world are cults and how we're lifting some things from them. And so, it's taking everything that we're doing and then how do we scale it to the next level. I have a plan in my head and partially written down that's 10x where we are right now. But my goal is to double and focus on the double, because every time you double, your systems just collapse on themselves. And so I don't want to triple and quadruple and then have to be doing cleanup duty. I want to be just above the double when we introduce, we refine everything, so that we don't lose that soul. Like we don't- we will always send handwritten notes. This is just a thing. And people, the team sometimes like shakes their head at me, and I go no, we will always do handwritten notes because it forces us to stay true to that core value of focusing on the experience of our customer. And if we make sure that that's there as we scale, everything else will fall into place.
Josh Schultz: Well, Will, thanks for sharing so much about your inside playbook with us. Really appreciate it. I've been wanting to have you on for a while. I just had to get warmed up a little bit before I could have enough expertise to unlock some of your wisdom here. So thanks for joining me today, man.
Will Roman: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, man. It's been great chatting.
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