There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has shook up ecommerce in a way we never thought possible. On top of that, pushing through to gain new customers is even tougher than before. Kristi Soomer, founder and CEO of Encircled, has faced a rollercoaster since March, but her and her team have pushed through in countless ways.
Encircled is a fashion brand that focuses on sustainable and versatile multi-wear clothing. Kristi thought of the company as a way to make travelling lightly easier since as a management consultant at the time, she was travelling 100,000 miles per year and wanted a solution. However, since then, the goal of the company has shifted to focus on having a minimal closet with great, sustainable clothing.
I had a chance to sit down (virtually) with Kristi and talk a bit more in-depth about all the ups and downs they faced, the actions they took and how they overcame Encircled’s biggest challenge yet. On top of this, we chatted about the importance of customer support and prepping for what’s set out to be a pretty crazy Black Friday / Cyber Monday.
Overcoming COVID-19 & Revenue Swings
It’s no doubt that the pandemic has changed a lot of things for companies, but Kristi’s story is inspiring for all entrepreneurs. Her team’s quick decisions and pivots allowed them to stay afloat when their revenue dropped by 80% when compared to the previous year’s.
Before COVID-19, Encircled was having their best year in terms of revenue and had just launched a brand new product -- the UnMoto Jacket. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they had countless pre-orders but all their local factories (which are all within 32kms of Toronto) had closed. Not only this, but this is when they started seeing that steep drop in sales.
Since Kristi’s background was in finance, she took a deep breath and went into damage control with her investor.
The first tough decision was to furlough staff, along with letting interns go. One thing Kristi and her team did though, is work on finding those people jobs instead of leaving them high and dry. Not all employers were so kind, and luckily for Kristi’s team, all those that needed it ended up finding employment.
After that tough decision they stopped shipping since information for companies was quite confusing in Toronto. During this week, her and the Encircled team focused on deciding what to do, and the next week they were back to shipping orders as safely as possible.
The first thing they realized during that week, was that they had a huge opportunity to provide non-medical masks to the public -- so they started making them at the end of March. They planned on just selling a couple hundred, but ended up seeing a much higher demand than they thought. It got to the point where they had to find a larger factory to partner with in the Greater Toronto Area to ensure they could start making tens of thousands of masks.
Yes, you read that correctly… tens of thousands of masks. You could say they pivoted successfully.
However, they were also seeing a bit of a rise in the sale of their sweatpants and other products since people were looking for comfortable clothes to wear at home while working. Luckily, their sales started picking up again a little bit. Then May hit… and not the problem was that they started running out of product since all regular factories were closing (unless they were producing masks), and they only had what they had on hand.
Though it has been a journey for Kristi and her team, she said she does feel stronger as an entrepreneur. What’s the best part? They’re back to full staff with their furloughed employees all back to work. They even made and launched a new shirt in a completely contactless world.
Getting ready for Black Friday / Cyber Monday
In case you missed it, it’s already August and somehow Black Friday / Cyber Monday is right around the corner. The craziest part? It’s going to be busier than ever this year. Luckily, Kristi and her team at Encircled have caught onto this and they’re already planning so that they’re ahead of the game.
Even during COVID-19, shipping hasn’t been an issue for Encircled, and that’s one big benefit about being a sustainable brand. Since none of their products, packaging or anything is from overseas and all from the Greater Toronto Area, they don’t run into longer shipping times. This will also come in handy when BFCM (Black Friday / Cyber Monday) comes around.
However, since they are anticipating a potentially biggest year ever for that time they’re making some adjustments and starting to really plan now.
First things first, speaking of shipping and fulfillment, they’re planning to put more orders in than they think is necessary with suppliers. The last thing they want is to run into the issue they had in May where they ran out of product -- especially during BFCM.
They’re also one of the many companies considering running a sale for longer than just the Black Friday weekend and Cyber week. They’re looking at potentially doing a sale for the full month, but not because they want a higher chance of conversions, it’s because of what they stand for.
When it comes to sustainability, BFCM can be a bit of a trigger Kristi said. Impulse buys are the name of the game during that time and when it comes to having a sustainable brand, it doesn’t align with their ethos at Encircled. So, by offering a sale that runs a full month, it grants consumers the opportunity to take their time to decide, while also giving Encircled the ability to promote all month long. This also really helps from an inventory perspective.
How Encircled Uses Gorgias for Customer Love & Success
During the pandemic, Kristi said that Gorgias proved to be a huge help to them for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons being that it allows people to collaborate remotely very easily which has been incredibly important for obvious reasons.
Since they had to furlough employees for a while, it saved Kristi and others who needed to hop onto customer support a lot of time. This is because Gorgias puts everything in one spot, your Instagram and Facebook direct messages, on-site requests and everything in between. Customers come at you in all directions and Gorgias simplified it for them when they needed it most.
This helped heavily with response time as well. Response time is important for customers no matter what, but when anxiety is high during a time like COVID-19, people are looking for answers faster than ever. Gorgias made it easier for Encircled to manage this while they were adjusting and planning for their future.
One of Encircled’s core values is transparency, and Gorgias made it easy to do this through the pandemic and beyond. Consumers now expect delivery to be on the same level as Amazon, but Encircled only delivers a couple times a week. Knowing this, they utilized Gorgias to send out emails that would update people on their order and let them know that their shipping will be a bit slower than their Amazon one.
Customer love was especially important for Encircled at this time since with their huge success with the non-medical masks, there were new consumers ordering from them. So, this was a massive opportunity to make new customers happy and ideally return bringing a higher customer lifetime value. Another core value at Encircled is thoughtfulness, which means that they truly love their customers (no matter how long standing of a customer they are) and want to provide that premium level of support that shows them that they are valued.
When it came to metrics and seeing how everything was going with customer support, Gorgias made metric and analytics easy with a dashboard which Kristi said has helped quite a bit during the pandemic.
COVID-19 has had ups and downs for everyone out there, and it’s created a whole new world for everyone. One where customer support is highly important and Black Friday / Cyber Monday is bigger than ever before.