After a decades-long navy profession, Michael Hagen entered the enterprise world when he seen a hole in backcountry snowboarding with the dearth of cheap and high-performance light-weight gear. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Michael shares with us how he acquired the distribution rights to Austrian-made skis from a century-old firm and launched Hagan Ski Mountaineering.
For the complete transcript of this episode, click on right here.
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Pitching enlargement plans to a hundred-year-old firm
Felix: You noticed a possibility within the ski market. Tell me extra about that.
Michael: I used to be within the military, stationed in Italy, and I went on a ski journey to Austria. I met my spouse there and was launched to Alpine ski touring then. I had completed it within the military earlier than, however a navy model, not a leisure model. Her household launched me to the game, and I beloved it. I believed this simply does not exist or is unknown within the United States, and I noticed a possibility to convey the gear and introduce the game to the United States. It was right here, nevertheless it was small. It was a lot greater in Europe and I simply noticed the potential for progress within the United States.
Felix: The Austrian firm has been round for a whereas. Tell us extra concerning the historical past of it and the way you bought launched to the model.
Michael: It’s an Austrian firm, it has been round since 1924. It’s the oldest ski firm on the earth. It’s tied with Fischer which additionally makes Alpine gear and Alpine Skiing Tour. They have been each based in 1924. It was based by two brothers in a small village. They have been wagon wheel makers and after the First World War, the financial scenario wasn’t too good. The sports activities automobiles have been coming in and wagon wheel gross sales have been going to be taking place, and so they skied. They switched from making wagon wheels to creating skis out of Ashwood.
Their identify was Hager, and so they have been from the little village known as Antiesenhofen, so that they mixed the primary few letters of Hager and the primary two of Antiesenhofen and got here up with the model identify of Hagan. They’ve been round since 1924. When I met my spouse, her father would check me. He’d mentioned, “Let’s go ski.” We went driving as much as the mountains, parked at a trailhead. He bought the gear out of the automotive.
We, happily, had the identical dimension toes, so I used his outdated hand-me-down gear. He put it on the bottom, clipped into his gear, and left. And I am like, “How’s this gear work? How do I get into these bindings?” I had by no means seen them earlier than they have been new on the time, very superior binding. It took me a couple of minutes to determine issues out and attempt to meet up with them. It was a little check and the skis that he occurred to offer me have been Hagan skis.
Later on, once I began entering into racing I met a couple of guys on the Austrian nationwide group that was on Hagan skis. One factor led to a different and once I moved to the United States, I needed to get into ski mountaineering racing. I knew Hagan wasn’t out there within the United States. Instead of being easy and simply shopping for the skis whereas dwelling in Austria, I truly requested them in the event that they have been trying for a US distributor and so they mentioned, “Sure.” So I grew to become the US distributor.
Felix: How have been you in a position to pitch your self in a approach the place you grew to become a US distributor for them?
Michael: It was a easy e mail. I simply wrote to them, advised them about my background in navy snowboarding and my spouse being Austrian. I had discovered concerning the model. When I moved again to the United States and was making an attempt to get into the game, I noticed there was a lack of high quality and competitively priced gear within the United States. Then I requested if I could possibly be their distributor. They wrote me again and mentioned, “Sure.”
It was simply so simple as that, an e mail and so they wrote again and mentioned, “Yeah, you can do it.” It was fairly attention-grabbing as a result of it was totally based mostly on belief. To this date, we do not have a contract between me and them. They shipped me the primary set of gear with out me paying an advance, it was simply all based mostly on belief.
Felix: Wow. What have been the subsequent steps for truly turning this written settlement into a enterprise?
Michael: I began actually small and the entire market within the United States was fairly small. That was a little over 10 years in the past. It’s been advancing, the market has been rising amazingly shortly recently. But on the time it was fairly small and it was merely a mere matter of calling up some of the retailers within the United States, I began in Colorado. Visited a few of the ski outlets that had it as a result of it is very specialised gear.
Most ski outlets do not carry it, they’re beginning to, however on the time there have been perhaps six ski outlets in Colorado, again then that had the gear. I contacted them. Either by way of e mail or visiting and bought a few relationships with retailers going.
Noticing a hole throughout the market for fairly priced backcountry snowboarding gear, Michael Hagen grew to become the American distributor for a century-old Austrian snowboarding firm.
Felix: When you’re a distributor for a overseas firm, you must buy your stock forward of time. What are the logistics behind that?
Michael: Starting off, I might work with the retailers, get their orders within the late spring or early summer season, then attempt to make an estimate of how far more I’d promote straight, which on the time wasn’t a lot. Then ship that order to Austria and they might ship me the gear. At the time, it was simply snowboarding. They did not have bindings or boots, which they do now. Yeah, I might get the gear, it could be shipped air-freight as an alternative of sea freight, so a little bit costlier. Then I might break it down, kind it out, and ship it to the retailers.
Felix: Who assumes the chance on this variety of association?
Michael: That’s me primarily. Austria assumes the chance if I do not pay, however I assume the chance if retailers do not pay me. For occasion, if a retailer goes bankrupt, which I had in a single case, then I get burned by that retailer. The danger is totally on the distributor.
Felix: What was the method like establishing retailer relationships with a purpose to truly get your product out into the market?
Michael: It’s comparatively arduous to pitch to new retailers with a model that’s unknown within the United States. It is difficult as a result of advertising is fairly key, and model consciousness for costly gear that is in outlets? It’s arduous to get retailers to purchase in, as a result of they’re involved about their sell-through, and it is simpler to promote manufacturers that individuals know, than a new model that they are not so aware of. Some boutique retailers like that. They like to have the ability to distinguish themselves from greater retailers. But it’s a robust promote. That’s the largest impediment, the identify and model recognition.
“It’s easier to sell brands that people know, than a new brand that they’re not so familiar with. That’s the biggest obstacle, the name and brand recognition.”
Going past distribution: educating clients and retailers alike
Felix: Was there something that helped you join with these retailers, and encourage them to offer you a likelihood?
Michael: Yeah. We had one thing in widespread. Backcountry snowboarding or alpine ski touring for individuals that do not know, is sort of totally different from downhill snowboarding, in that you simply climb up. You climb up with particular bindings, particular boots which are extra cell, the heel is free, so you will get a strolling stride and you’ve got these climbing skins, that make it easier to climb up and then you definitely take them off and ski again down. The downhill half is sort of just like common ski resort kind downhill snowboarding. But climbing is completely totally different.
It’s a health sport, an cardio sport. Initially, the those that began promoting it, are individuals like me that love the game. My first retail gross sales have been largely to different those that I met at races, at ski mountaineering races, and so they have been so into the game that they began retail outlets, and I used to be so into it that I grew to become a distributor. That’s how I might begin promoting, to a few associates that had began their very own shops.
Felix: Once a retailer agrees to hold your product, what function do you play? Is there something you do to attempt to assist the retailer get the product to market?
Michael: That’s one thing that I must be higher at, is the assistance with the sell-through or assist with the training on the merchandise. Most retailers are so into the game, they beautiful a lot know the gear left and proper. But when there’s a new ski, a new binding, explaining the options to them and explaining promote, market these options to clients. Tell them what this product does, this ski or this binding or this boot, what its benefits are and the way it will assist a shopper meet their objectives.
Educating the retailers is essential and one thing I have never completed in addition to I wish to. I have been doing a lot of that on the Shopify website for direct shoppers, making an attempt to have superb explanations of the gear, however that is at all times one thing that may be completed higher. It’s time-consuming although, to be contacting and dealing straight with all of the retailers.
Felix: You talked about the web site, when did you resolve to additionally promote on to shoppers in your website?
Michael: Originally, I did not even have a web site. I used to be bringing within the gear and contacting retailers and promoting on to them after which just about actually promoting to associates and out of my trunk at ski races. We do the race after which have a beer afterward and other people say, “Hey, what kind of gear is that?” “It’s a new brand I’m bringing in.” And promoting a set of skis, perhaps within the car parking zone after a race.
Then I bought a web site, a very rudimentary Apple iWeb web site with no eCommerce operate in any way and gross sales have been rising slowly to direct gross sales. But actually, individuals would e mail me and say, “Hey, I’d like to get a set of those skis.” And I might say, “Okay, send me a check.” It was so cumbersome and actually small. Then the large change, and when direct gross sales began rising I switched to Shopify. Direct to shopper gross sales have been steadily rising ever since.
Felix: How does promoting on to shoppers have an effect on your relationship together with your retailers?
Michael: It is a stability and I feel it is a stability for most manufacturers. Any model that’s trying some direct gross sales goes to should navigate how to take action with out undermining your retailers. In my case, it is virtually required as a result of it is a area of interest sport and never in that many retailers. Not all people can discover a Hagan gear inside 50 or a hundred miles of the place they stay. Many individuals have to go surfing to get it. We’re specialised in backcountry snowboarding.
We’re a small firm. But we in all probability have the widest selection of gear of any model on the earth. We have 13 totally different skis. We have 9 totally different bindings. We have three totally different poles. All sorts of totally different gear and never each store carries it. There could also be some ski or some binding that a buyer does not have anyplace near them. So the one approach I am going to have the ability to promote it’s by going direct-to-consumer. It’s balancing that with out undermining the pricing. I’ve to be actually cautious about having gross sales. We have a pricing settlement with retailers on when and the way a lot they will low cost it.
A pair of black Fridays in the past, I had a 24-hour sale. It was a little bit greater low cost than retailers have been imagined to have on the time and I heard again from a retailer that mentioned, “Hey, how come you’re having a 15% off sale and we can only have a 10% off sale?” You make errors like that alongside the best way and also you study out of your errors and hope that the errors aren’t too pricey.
The progress within the curiosity of backcountry snowboarding correlates to the expansion in Hagen Ski Mountaineering and that’s why the group is targeted on training concerning the sport and kit.
Felix: How are you driving site visitors and gross sales to the web retailer?
Michael: It’s partly as a result of Shopify is unquestionably serving to with search visibility. There are two facets to it. One, the game is basically rising, simply taking off tremendously within the final 5 years, particularly. It’s simply boomed within the United States and that was that potential that I noticed. People are inclined to say that Europe was 15 or 20 years forward of the United States and it definitely was. That was the case 10 years in the past and now the United States is basically rising. Part of my elevated gross sales is just because the game has gotten a lot greater within the United States than it was. I might say it is 5 to 10 occasions greater than it was 5 years in the past. It’s actually grown.
Then the opposite enhance in gross sales is essentially by way of getting on Shopify and having far more visibility, making it simpler for individuals to evaluate, study concerning the merchandise, and straightforward to order. Having Shopify has actually helped with that. On the opposite hand, what I am combating is as a result of the market has actually grown, the large firms that have been conventional alpine downhill skis have realized that this isn’t a little play factor market anymore. It’s turning into substantial.
So much of the large manufacturers that individuals could be aware of bought into the market and since of their advertising, it made it a lot more durable for me and retailers. I misplaced a number of retailers as a result of they may go together with the model that had million-dollar advertising budgets, and all people had heard of, as a result of of their alpine skis, they’d seen 3000 units of them on the chairlift. The market was rising, however the massive manufacturers have been leaping into it simply as quick because it’s rising and even sooner. So the pie bought greater, nevertheless it was getting sliced up fairly skinny, and it made it actually arduous on some specialised manufacturers like Hagan and a few others. Made it fairly robust. We’ve survived and made it by way of that and at the moment are persevering with to develop.
Optimizing your web site: content material advertising and buyer testimonials
Felix: You talked about educating your clients. How have you ever gone about making an attempt to coach your potential shoppers?
Michael: So much of persons are fairly new to the game. There are some which were with it for a very long time and know the gear, however I might say as a result of it is rising so quickly over half the persons are first-time consumers of any gear within the sport of ski mountaineering. They have a lot of questions. Having a good product description actually helps. I attempt to write within the product description of who the gear is designed for, what kind of skier, how superior they’re, what their objectives are. Then the bindings are difficult, so I’ve some movies on how the bindings function.
I have to do extra of that. That’s undoubtedly sooner or later. to have extra movies explaining issues. Explanatory and upkeep kind of movies. I take advantage of the Shopify weblog to speak about what kind of gear you’d use for differing kinds of journeys, hut journeys or differing kinds of snowboarding or racing. The weblog can be a nice supply of training for clients. And we now have 13 differing kinds of skis so for a newbie, they’re like, “Well, what type of ski should I get?” Blog posts saying these sorts of skis are for this kind of snowboarding are additionally actually useful.
Felix: Do you discover that this has improved conversions for your web site probably the most, or have been there different adjustments that you have made which have made an influence on conversions and gross sales?
Michael: I do assume having the data and the descriptions is useful. It’s not like promoting automobiles and all people at the very least is aware of what a automotive is for. So much of those that get into the game have heard about it, have seen individuals doing it, however actually do not know the way it works. Having buyer critiques and testimonials might be the most effective benefit for a comparatively small model in a area of interest sport.
I’ve some good testimonials when individuals say, they bought good well being. So much of individuals simply name or write questions. When they are saying, “Hey, Mike Hagen can give you good…He’s an expert. He spends time explaining things to you.” That actually helps consolation individuals and make them assured in making the acquisition.
“Having customer reviews and testimonials is probably the best advantage for a relatively small brand in a niche sport.”
Felix: What guides your content material creation? How are you aware what questions to deal with for your buyer?
Michael: Hagan in Austria some info to me and I write the US catalog. I write the web site, I translate the data from German into English for them, for the catalog. And of course, a lot of it’s simply my expertise and experience in utilizing the gear myself. We’re lucky to stay in Breckenridge within the Colorado mountains at 9,500 toes. I take advantage of the gear 200 days a yr. So much of the time simply from my again door, I actually stroll into the storage, get the gear out, put it on my parking pad, and begin snowboarding, climbing the mountains.
So much of it’s simply my very own use of the gear after which realizing clarify it to individuals, and a lot of questions. People name and write with questions and from that, I attempt to perceive the place the gaps in individuals’s data are and alter that.
Testimonials are key for Hagan Ski Mountaineering to develop its buyer base.
Felix: How have you ever gone about amassing these buyer testimonials and critiques? How does it inform your content material creation course of?
Michael: I take advantage of an app known as CM Commerce. It was initially Conversio and it centered on critiques. Also, some comply with up e mail, and the post-purchase e mail. People make a buy and I ask them for a evaluate and that posts a evaluate on the product web page after which I can take some of the critiques and put them on the homepage. That’s what I have been utilizing and that is actually been fairly useful, particularly as a much less recognized model to have buyer critiques like that.
Felix: Have you discovered methods to incentivize or encourage individuals to reply again to those post-purchase emails that go away critiques on the merchandise?
Michael: I simply began doing it and it is a function of the CM Commerce app. I’ve it arrange the place they robotically get an e mail, and since of snowboarding gear, I do not need to ship them an e mail three days after they bought it. They would not have had a likelihood to make use of it but. They should mount the skis with bindings. They have to have the ability to go snowboarding. I wait 14 or 21 days, so that they hopefully have truly used it and provides a authentic evaluate. For these those that have not given a evaluate, I comply with up a month or two later and ask once more, and that one’s automated. I inform them how essential and the way considerate critiques are and ask them with no incentive, no monitoring incentive, no low cost, and so forth. It’s a area of interest sport, individuals love the game. They’re extra doubtless to supply a evaluate of it than a shopper product. Right?
“I tell them how important and how thoughtful reviews are and ask them with no incentive, no monitoring incentive, no discount, etc. It’s a niche sport, people love the sport. They’re more likely to provide a review.”
Felix: The value level is greater, does it sometimes take longer for you to get conversions, as a result of of this?
Michael: I do not know precisely. I’m a one-man store at this level. I am not truly positive how a lot I need to develop, or how a lot I need to maintain it a one-man store. I am no skilled at analytics. Once they get on the web site, purchases are comparatively fast. People have been uncovered to the game, they know they need it, so that they’re solely evaluating it to manufacturers somewhat than merchandise. Once they get on the store, their buy intent is fairly excessive. It’s extra about getting them to buy from me as an alternative of any individual else.
They’ve already determined to get one thing and hopefully, I can provide them the solutions and supply them the product that they need to get.
Felix: You work together in a qualitative approach with the purchasers. Are there any ache factors that, when you handle, the client is extra open to buying?
Michael: The largest query or hurdle for a lot of individuals is that they do not know what kind of ski and sort of binding to get. This is speaking to new individuals, which is a lot of individuals as a result of the game is rising. They’re unsure. They’ve seen every kind of totally different gear and the gear that tends to be marketed within the ski movies, on the Warren Miller movies, within the spotlight reels, is the individuals leaping off a hundred-foot cliff. That’s the attractive stuff and intercourse sells, and a lot of individuals have questions on whether or not they want that kind of gear?
Some of the retailers out there are doing a disservice to individuals as a result of 98% of individuals do not leap off a hundred-foot cliff, they do differing kinds of snowboarding. They do not want that massive, heavy gear. We do not promote that kind of gear, we promote lighter, extra fitness-oriented gear. We get into that, however our focus and our heritage are on barely narrower skis. Austrian fashion snowboarding for good skiers that know carve. Trying to persuade those that our product, which is narrower and a little bit extra particular, is the fitting product for them.
So much of individuals come to me and say, “Hey, I think I need a ski that’s 120 millimeters wide. Why should I buy one that’s 70?” They assume that it is too arduous to ski on it. I’ve to clarify the benefits of a lighter ski that’s simpler to climb on. That takes a while and I can see the wheels delivering individuals’s minds once I’m chatting with them in individual or on the cellphone. There’s a sure skepticism as a result of all they see within the motion pictures is that this different kind of gear and right here I’m making an attempt to persuade them that that is actually not applicable. Preconceived notions are arduous to beat.
Felix: How do you get clients to see the profit of what you’re recommending, which might usually be in direct opposition to the preconceived notions of their wants?
Michael: Right. I am sincere with individuals, and I am going to lose some clients as a result of it is not what they need to hear. I do not promote individuals what they need to purchase. If any individual has gone down the flawed monitor, as an alternative of simply saying, “Okay, here’s that gear, go ahead and buy it.” I am going to attempt to have the dialog with them first and I gained’t persuade some individuals. That’s the place I can distinguish myself from retailers who’ve extra time strain, they have to maneuver product. If individuals are available in with a preconceived concept of what they need to get, the retailer is ok to say, “Okay, give me your credit card.”
That’s not how I deal. I attempt to have the dialogue with them and actually look at what they need, what they are going to be utilizing it for, discuss their ability ranges, after which clarify why their preconceived concept might probably not be matching with what’s finest for them. Some individuals I am unable to persuade, I see it. I can see it of their eyes, or I can hear it of their voice.
“I’m honest with people, and I’ll lose some customers because it’s not what they want to hear. That’s where I can distinguish myself from retailers who have more time pressure.”
Competing in a area of interest market amongst massive model budgets
Felix: The sport is rising, and the large manufacturers are coming with that progress. How have you ever been in a position to survive in opposition to these budgets and types?
Michael: Yeah. I attempt to do it by way of a web site, on the web site by discussing the model and the heritage. In this fast-moving social media and the marketing-driven world, I do not assume custom is a large promoting level for most individuals, however we now have it and I nonetheless spotlight it. I do not attempt to faux that I am a massive model. I do not say I am a large model with a advertising division and all that.
I take advantage of the primary individual pronoun on the web site a lot. I say, “This is what I recommend.” Or, “I think this is…” I discuss my private expertise and let individuals know. I put my cellphone quantity and my e mail handle on the web site in every single place and say, “You can call on me and when you call, you’re going to get me, you’re not going to get a marketing person to some call center or something.” The private service and experience are fairly on twice promote or sale, however the spotlight is totally different from the large manufacturers.
Felix: Definitely a seasonal enterprise. What kind of issues do you do in off-peak season that can assist you put together for peak season?
Michael: It may be very seasonal. It’s 10 occasions busier in January than it’s in July. And I haven’t mentioned it but, however that is a facet job. I additionally coach endurance athletes, together with ski mountaineering racers. Fortunately, I coach a lot of triathletes and that is busiest in the summertime and quietest within the winter. They offset and that permits me to get that stability a little higher.
In the summer season, I am getting ready for the winter. I am updating the web site, getting the brand new gear placed on the web site. Experimenting with new apps or new software program. Then the season kicks off in September, October. My gear sometimes arrives in October and that is once I get busiest. Then by way of the winter, you are coping with retailers or direct gross sales after which promoting for the next winter begins round January. I’ve to develop value sheets and descriptions of the brand new gear and ship that out to retailers, attempt to get the retailer orders.
January by way of April, I am working with retailers after which I change in May and June to begin to put together the web site and issues for the autumn.
Being a seasonable enterprise, in the summertime months Michael Hagen is targeted on tremendous tuning the web site and experimenting with new apps and techniques.
Felix: You talked about prepping the web site and exploring software program, are there any instruments that you simply use that you’d advocate?
Michael: There’s a few. I’ve used one. I bought it a whereas in the past known as a Fan absolutely Automated Marketing, and it was quite simple. Basically, they take a product and create a actually fast e mail and as a one-man store that helped. I’m now switching over extra again to CM Commerce for the emails. They’ve launched some new options the place they mainly do the identical factor. They’ll pull a product up out of my product itemizing and I’ve to create a template first with my model colours and all that, however they kind of automate an e mail after which I can edit it after which ship it.
Of course, I do not ship something in July or August. That could be thought to be spam if I’m making an attempt to ship individuals emails about skis in July or August. I put together these, or I will probably be getting ready these now to ship later. CM Commerce for e mail is useful, and I am shifting to that. It was a fairly troublesome change as a result of I had been utilizing Mailchimp and nonetheless have not accomplished the conversion, however I am pleased with that thus far.
I take advantage of an app known as Make an Offer. There’s a little pop up after they’re on a product, it is a little time-delayed and so they could make their very own supply on a product. It may be a ski and so they can supply 500 as an alternative of $700. I have a tendency to make use of that for older gear or gear that is not shifting very nicely. And frankly, I take advantage of it as a lot to get emails as I do to make gross sales. I get some loopy provides that I am unable to settle for, however now I’ve their e mail and I can hopefully market to them afterward. I take advantage of an app or a service known as Outdoorly for professional gross sales on this kind of high-end sporting gear. There’s a lot of gross sales to professionals, ski patrollers, guides, that kind of factor. I take advantage of that to make provides for them.
Then I take advantage of a couple of issues. There’s one known as Honeycomb Upsell Funnels by Conversion Bear, and I take advantage of the Bundle app by Revy, and really, that is a fairly massive deal that I simply hadn’t cracked the nut on. In Europe, retailers have a tendency to supply bundles, they’re going to bundle a ski and a binding and a boot at a important low cost. That maintains the worth degree of a person product as a result of the low cost is unfold amongst two or three totally different merchandise. That isn’t quite common within the United States but at retailers or on-line.
I have been making an attempt to supply it by way of Bundles on my Shopify website to make the market extra accessible. Lower the worth level for individuals coming into the game as a result of it is fairly costly gear. The bundles can decrease that value or barrier to entry based mostly on value. But I am not completely glad with that but. It’s turn into a little bit cumbersome as a result of I’ve 13 totally different skis and 9 totally different binders. I might have 500 bundle combos and it simply will get a little cumbersome and reduces conversion as individuals get confused.
I am trying into one thing, a construct your individual bundle kind of factor. People simply get a low cost by choosing a ski and a binding and a boot, however I have never discovered a service that I am glad with but.
Felix: Do you’ve gotten sure objectives that you simply need to get the enterprise to or any tasks that you simply’re centered on to proceed to develop the enterprise?
Michael: I’ve solely turn into worthwhile within the final two years. I might say I used to be dropping cash for the primary three to 5, and that is why I say I might have simply purchased a pair of skis and saved 1000’s of and hours over the primary 5 years. It was an funding of time to develop it, however the cause I bought into doing it initially was to introduce the game to extra individuals, as a result of it is simply such a unbelievable sport. It promotes a wholesome life-style. It’s thrilling. People get match. It’s simply a wholesome, useful life-style.
That was why I bought into doing it as a distributor initially and I need to proceed with that. I need to make the gear accessible. The retailers are inclined to deal with the upper finish gear and I need to attempt to develop the market for individuals which are coming in and price could also be a barrier, so we now have some lower cost level merchandise and I am making an attempt to advertise that to get extra individuals to benefit from the sport. It is humorous as a result of there appear to be individuals who equate the worth with the standard and for probably the most half, I do not actually assume that is actually true.
But retailers appear to be actually hesitant to supply the bundles or to supply the worth level merchandise, they deal with the higher-end items. I am having to do it myself on the web site. Try to advertise the lower-cost gear, so extra individuals might get into the game.