Shopping in-store for wedding rings doesn’t appeal to all men. This was an insight of Johnathan Ruggiero and his wife Michelle when they found Manly Bands, a direct-to-consumer online wedding-ring company, in 2016. The second insight was that the rings needed to be unique — actually unique — to compete against established jewelers.
“We strive to develop what we call show-stopper products,” Johnathan told me. “People might say,’You’ve dinosaur bones? That’s crazy. You’ve got meteorite? That is nuts.'”
Yes, Manly Bands makes men’s wedding rings out of dinosaur bones, meteorites, whiskey barrels, and much more.
My recent conversation with Johnathan addressed the provider’s heritage, product selection, marketing strategies, and satisfaction — among other subjects. The complete audio interview is embedded below. The transcript that follows is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: We met a couple of decades back. Your organization has done so much since then.
When you and I met, the business was only Michelle — my wife, co-founder, and co-CEO — and seven workers, mostly in marketing and client service. We were using a third party fulfillment company. Before that, we were meeting ourselves from our garage in Florida, where she and I started the company in 2016.
Using a 3PL freed us to focus more on customer support, product development, advertising — only growing the firm.
Finally, Michelle and I settled in Utah, which is a excellent combination of trees, desert, lakes, and hills. Along with the entrepreneurial spirit is incredible. We have been here for about a year and a half.
Bandholz: You went from seven employees to 35 in a couple of decades.
Ruggiero: As your listeners know, it is difficult to develop a group five times in two or three years. It has been challenging finding the ideal men and women. Nowadays the distant culture is not uncommon. Thankfully, we began that way. We launched in Florida using a remote team in mind. We had team members in California and Massachusetts. So once Covid struck, working remotely was not a foreign idea.
We have roughly doubled revenue year over year, creating a demand for more staff. So now, in Utah, we’ve got a warehouse and our own satisfaction team. That was a big element in growth. As we get more orders, we can meet them and procedure exchanges and returns. Our customer support staff is also here in Utah. It is about nine people now. With more orders come more mails, telephone calls, text messages, Facebook messages — all that.
We have also expanded our marketing team to incorporate several videographers, editors, and creative directors.
Bandholz: Why bring fulfillment back in house?
Ruggiero: We had a wonderful 3PL, known as Ships-a-Lot. The business is located in Memphis. They were amazing. We loved working together, and we have a terrific relationship. What we found, however, is that as we started to scale, it made sense from a cost-savings perspective to deliver it in-house. We’ve got hourly workers to process the orders and get them out the door and handle fulfillment supplies. We’ve got a whole lot more space in the warehouse. It makes more sense financially after you reach a certain level.
Bandholz: Do you have plenty of returns and exchanges?
Ruggiero: We sell men’s wedding rings. Most guys do not understand their ring size. We see a market rate of close to 20 percent. It’s not a massive issue. We can process a return straight away.
Bandholz: You have many ring kinds — made from antlers, meteorites, wood, you name it. How can you build these products?
Ruggiero: One way to stand out is to make products that people could not get in a conventional store. They’ve no choice but to purchase it on line from us.
We attempt to develop what we call show-stopper solutions. People could say,”You’ve dinosaur bones? That’s crazy. You’ve got meteorite? That is nuts.”
Michelle is great at creating products. She and her staff survey customers to know what they want. We always try to make something unique and different. That has helped differentiate us from the independent jewelry stores as well as the Kays, the Jared’s, and the Zales. We provide a product that people can’t get anywhere else.
Bandholz: Can you create the rings in-house?
Ruggiero: About 80 percent of those rings on our website are manufactured from the U.S. in-house or with production partners. And then we supply about 20% from all around the world. We are always looking for great artisans and craftsmen that work with trendy materials like guitar strings and baseball-bat wood.
We just launched a partnership with Jack Daniels. We are licensing the Jack Daniels name. We buy the provider’s whiskey barrels and create rings out of them. We do anything we can to stand out and be different.
We had a generic whiskey barrel ring for a few years now. Once we got the Jack Daniel’s name and might say that we are the only official Jack Daniels ring manufacturer in the nation, our earnings doubled on that sort of product. So that the venture has been hugely valuable.
Bandholz: What are your advertising tactics?
Ruggiero: Largely via conventional digital ads. We have promoted on Facebook and Google because we began in 2016. But we are exploring other stations today with lower CPMs and CPAs. We’re taking a look at outdoor billboards, bus stop signs, subway signs — things like this.
We are also doing podcasts and getting on conventional radio and television. We’ve doubled back on tv this year. It is close to 15 percent of our overall ad spend. We would like to hit people from a different direction and not necessarily where everyone’s advertising.
Up to now, we have really seen our CPM costs return for visitors to the website. And I think it’s because we are mixing these less popular channels. Perhaps they are more expensive in the short term, but overall, it is reducing our visitors costs.
Bandholz: I have seen your tv commercial. Was that from an agency?
Ruggiero: Yes. It was Creatably.com. They were amazing. They jumped on the creation. We started the day after we met together in relation to writing the script.
It was definitely a learning process. We have done two advertisements now with Creatably. We have learned so much. Michelle and I come from Los Angeles from the entertainment industry. However, performing a full-blown creative commercial for a direct-to-consumer brand is a different experience for us.
Despite the fact that it was just a few days, it is expensive. This was the first thing we heard. And then, the entire post-production procedure is long — many iterations. But it was great ultimately. It is a three to six-month procedure.
All of us sat down as a team and chose the script which we believed would have legs. After we decided on the script, we proceeded to create the episode. Casting was a huge deal, getting the figures.
Then the exciting part was shooting. We shot for a week. We did three or four advertisements. It was exciting. And it took a month or two to edit and finalize. And then we started, about six months after we began.
Bandholz: Was it worth the investment? I am thinking $25,000 to $50,000 to produce. Is that the range?
Ruggiero: It is closer to 10 times . But it was worthwhile. We have doubled sales year over year, and that movie was a huge contributor. It did eat up plenty of our cash flow for the year. But it was worth it.
It’s the exact same thing with television advertising in general. It cuts into our cash flow. It’s expensive. However, it has also opened plenty of doors for us.
The benefits go beyond direct, immediate earnings. We have gotten hundreds of thousands of people to our site every month for this. However, it’s also about the connections we have gained, the media coverage. So it was fairly substantial for the holistic advantages to the business.
Bandholz: What do you wish you’d started earlier, from day one?
Ruggiero: I must have assigned more. I didn’t always have faith in other people to get my same passion and dedication. That’s a massive detriment to an entrepreneur. There are a lot of talented people out there.
Manly Bands has increased not due to Michelle and me but due to our team. The sooner owners realize it is fine to delegate, the quicker they can succeed.
Bandholz: How do listeners know more about you and Manly Brands?
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