5.11 Tactical is a company that sells specialized clothing and equipment to law enforcement and fire protection professionals. Its business model largely is based on a merchant network, but even so, its ecommerce website grosses roughly $10 million each year. That is not bad for a small section of the organization, and we recently spoke with 5.11 Tactical’s ecommerce manager Brian Rogers to learn how the site got to this level of earnings.
PeC: Tell us about 5.11 Tactical.
Brian Rogers:“The present ecommerce model has been around for a little over six decades. We’re a maker of apparel for the public safety market that includes police, fire, EMTs, and any public safety professional.
“Our company generates approximately $130 million annually, and ecommerce is about 7 to 8% of that.”
PeC: How many SKUs are on the Website?
Rogers:“We load and unload several SKUs through the year as new products become available and we stop some, but it is about about 15,000 SKUs.”
PeC: Do you have a physical place in addition to the website?
Rogers:“We do not. We are a dealer-based company where most of our supply goes to our traders. Our physical address is in Modesto [California], but we don’t sell products in our physical location. It is just mainly our warehouse and all of our offices.”
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PeC: Do you have a catalog surgery?
Rogers: “We do. We ship about 1.5 million catalogs out to public safety organizations out there in the market.”
Rogers:“We have a fantastic partnership with a company named eOne Internet Commerce, a division of MICROS-Retail. They made our shopping cart and that is the system we have. The order management system is via ABS (Apparel Business Systems).”
PeC: What about accounting software?
Rogers:“It’s enterprise level accounting software that’s all done through a enormous financial group, and I am not sure what software we use for this.”
PeC: Can you do any email marketing?
“Largely our offers are pushed off previous purchase behaviour. We’ve got all our clients segmented into purchasing cycles–when was the last time they purchased, and what they purchased –and it helps us create a special offer for them. However, nearly all of our emails are only informational due to the conflict that may exist between our dealer base and our ecommerce performance. Approximately 90 percent of our mails are informational, mainly simply to illustrate new product offerings, like a December reminder of top gifts for the holiday season.”
PeC: Which are the primary advertising vehicles for your ecommerce website?
Rogers:“Our primary marketing vehicle is through a great deal of SEO [search engine optimization] and a great deal of search engine advertising [pay-per-click]. We think those are the two greatest sources with which we could make the largest impact for our organization.
“For search engines, we are optimized. We are now around 10,000 keywords. We have that all the way through our trademarks and almost all of our core products [since ] we really like to keep the top spot. We found that our normal search generates approximately 60 percent of our overall business.
“Search engine optimization is used to fill in the gaps where we do not have a strong search engine optimization presence. Moreover, we utilize the search engine marketing side to drive business to our traders, also. Pay-per-click is our primary vehicle. We market a few on Yahoo! and MSN, but largely it is through Google. Where we have gaps where we are not number one, or we are not on the first page, we utilize pay-per-click to fill in the gaps”
PeC: Can you handle marketing activities in-house or do you outsource it?
Rogers:“It is kind of a hybrid version. We use a company named Pepperjam to handle our affiliate network, another huge advertising avenue we use. And, Pepperjam helps us handle our PPC campaigns. In-house, we do all of the keyword research and research to determine what our best keywords will be. Like most merchants and merchants on the world wide web, we know our business better than anybody, and so we essentially hand off those keywords and allow Pepperjam do the purchases for us.”
PeC: Tell us a few of the successes that you have had along the way and possibly mistakes which might have been made.
Rogers:“One of the primary things that we heard most about our company is who our client was. When we were smaller, we had a difficult time determining which sort of business we could anticipate every year from repeat clients, and then figuring out how many clients we would have to bring into our website in order to hit our revenue objectives. So, we took all our information and looked at who is purchased from us, what they purchased from us, and how many times they purchased. We put it out over the course of five decades and then did lots of research on who the client was. That helped us more than anything to understand budgeting and how we can use some of those methods to maximize our organization.
“Another thing is pay-per-click. A whole lot of people think you should simply throw some cash at PPC, put up a landing page, and you are likely to have immediate success, which wasn’t true for us. We needed to do quite targeted landing pages and very targeted advertisements to make sure we had been honed in on what we wanted to do with the firm.
“For example, our key word, 511 strategic (that we do a good deal of bidding on)– when we first startedwe just simply set the landing page and [a message which stated ]’come to 511 strategic, direct provider of all your tactical equipment.’ And then we threw the landing page to our site, which converted quite low and we ended up spending plenty of money. We [pointed the landing pages] to our group pages and our product pages and discovered our conversions went significantly greater. When we first began sending to our site, we were getting about 1.5 percent conversion off those folks, but when we took them to group pages, we found that increase to approximately 100 to 150 percent across the board.”
PeC: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
Rogers:“Be cautious with SEO. There are a whole lot of snake oil salesmen out there that think they can do a great deal of things with SEO. It requires hard work, it takes some time, it requires a commitment to excellence, and ensuring that your content is aligned with your own keywords. Specifically, it requires writing plenty of content, placing it on your website and learning how to intertwine those keywords in your content so that it is reasonable.
“Get expert advice on SEO because it can make or break your company.”