One could assume that Gregor and Valentin already have enough on their hands. As employees of the billion-dollar corporation Google, they have been helping companies in the DACH area to digitally transform their business for four years. These include marketing activities such as Google Advertising and advice to improve the user experience. Gregor’s center of life is beautiful Dublin, but business trips lure him out of the Irish capital at least once a month.
Since 2018, Gregor has also been operating the luxury bedding label Royfort together with his business partner Valentin. “We co-developed hundreds of advertising strategies on Google. Our learnings help us develop the Royfort brand “.
In an interview with Shopify, Gregor and Valentin share their work with Royfort and Google, as well as their marketing experiences, and how they use the social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to effectively reach their target audience. Together with his business partner, Gregor finds in his online business the perfect complement to working at Google. How a second work can even be compensated, betrays the subsequent conversation.
How did self-employment start next to the job for you?
The idea for luxury linens came to us as we both travel frequently and often spend our time in hotels. We have learned to appreciate beautiful and soft bed linen. The stumbling block has given us the bed linen of a great hotel in the Alps. In such a bed linen we wanted to sleep at home. In our research, we noticed how expensive high-quality ceiling and pillow covers are in retail. Many traders charge up to 600 euros for a set. At the same time, these are often not produced sustainably. “That works better,” we thought, considering a strategy to shorten the supply chain to provide luxurious and sustainable home textiles at a lower cost.
A stranger buys your product only when it’s good.
The desire to be self-employed, you have either in yourself or not. Personally, it was very exciting for me to experience that someone neither Valentin nor I know buys a product from us. But you have to understand that a stranger buys your product only when it’s good.
Every Shopify notification of a sale is a great moment. The moment I read the message, I know somebody decided on our sheets.
Which unique selling proposition will convince Royfort customers?
Quality comes first, our fabrics are made exclusively sustainable and in Europe. We recently switched to organic cotton (GOTS certification) to give the customer the highest level of sustainability.
It is important to us to be able to offer our customers a good price. That’s why we sell our goods directly to end consumers online. This means we skip middlemen and use an option that retailers do not have.
Royfort is currently still a small label, many processes are outsourced. My co-founder Valentin and I both work for large companies at the same time and run Royfort by the way. Our main focus is 100% on our customers, who entrust their sleep to us and to whom we want to offer the best possible customer experience. We regularly ask ourselves who we can reach with our marketing message and how we can best address potential customers.
Valentin and I divide the marketing activities among ourselves and consider in detail which advertising channels we invest in. Is it best to talk to the target group via Google, or do we reach them on Instagram or Pinterest? The measures for which we decide together, we steer independently, without service providers or other aids. Specifically, this means that we have everything in our own hands, from planning to testing our marketing tools on the platforms we use.
Why was it important for you to produce sustainably in Europe?
In the production of bed linen, we rely on a family business of our confidence in Portugal. Detailed work such as cutting and sewing the zippers is done by hand. The proximity of our producer was not only a concern for us because of the short transport distances and consequently more sustainable logistics, but also because we can be sure that fair wages are paid and the working conditions comply with the current safety standards. Dealing with natural resources at European sites is much more sustainable compared to other countries.
For our bed linen we use GOTS certified organic cotton. The quality of the bedding is unique and the production is environmentally friendly. Being able to offer such a product was no easy task. Of course, a product will be more expensive, but this is worth the sustainability.
How did your idea finally become a product?
At first we bought a lot of bed linen and tested it. It was a great advantage that we were laymen in the field. So we first had to define what good bedding meant without serving a ready-made opinion. At fairs and in discussions with suppliers, we were able to take the view of our future customers.
It is not necessary to know the technical jargon to offer a good product. “We want 500 thread density” are not words a consumer would ever choose. Instead, we wanted a product that feels best when you sleep in it. With this approach, we have found the product quality that is rated by consumers as very good.
Finding the right manufacturer takes time
The process took more than a year, but when we found a product that met our quality standards, we started calling manufacturers in different countries and asked for trial processing. With the focus on Europe, the decision finally fell on a Portuguese manufacturer.
Soon we will offer more products like towels and duvets. This means that our supplier network will increase. The supply chain process is never completed, products have to be tested and adapted over and over again.
How did you find your target audience?
As soon as it is clear which product you want to offer as a retailer, it will tell you which people and households will buy it. We knew that we have a high-priced product. Accordingly, we have targeted our first ads to a target group that buys in the high-priced segment.
When designing an advertising strategy many assumptions are made and it is important to check them over and over again. According to the analysis results of our first ads, we made the following adjustments:
The proportion of men who buy our product was lower than originally thought, so we’ve changed the images and advertisements to target primarily a female audience.
The reports from Google Analytics show which channels reach the highest sales. This has helped us to increase our advertising efforts, especially where we are already selling well. Especially when a business is still in its infancy, it is important to first strengthen a sales area.
My tip: setting up hypotheses about target groups and then testing them is worth gold. A trader needs to adapt to changes and adjust estimates to a new situation and to new insights. That’s the most important.
Before the Shopify Shop Launch: How did you get your first leads?
Prior to the launch of the online store, there was a ‘coming soon’ page where prospects could leave their name and email address to stay up to date. We advertised this page on a low budget and were able to generate the first leads. This is exactly what helped us to make the first assumptions about the demographics of our target group. With the collected data, we were able to continue to work on the appearance of our brand and to adapt the pictures and texts to the identified target group.
In the next step, we have presented the minimum viable product (MVP) of our offer online. Our first product was just one color and the best selling size so we could test and collect data.
The ads made the engagement rate visible on our products, so we were able to make an initial assessment of how our content arrives. In addition, from the cooperation we had with a blogger, we found that there were a lot of clicks on the “About Us” page and on the production page.
The conclusion was that all users who come through this blogger, are very concerned with the product and its origin. We realized that many of the potential buyers are more in-depth with the company. The keyword was sustainability. As a result, we put a stronger focus on the transparency of Royfort’s supply chain and the quality of cotton.
When did you move your activities to Instagram and position yourself as an interior blogger?
We already used Instagram before we went online. The platform provides a good guide to finding out which trends are currently circulating and which products are actually being purchased. The comments or private messages from the community are very revealing to assess what customers want.
The first 300 followers are of course always the friends and everything else develops over time. We have followed a concept that at first still grows organically through the imagery. Later, we started showing ads through Instagram. It works through the following two channels:
Organic growth through cooperation with bloggers
Collaborations with bloggers are extremely expensive. First of all, bloggers must be found who address the target group and find the product ingenious themselves. To estimate who is eligible for this is not easy. How many followers someone has and how much commitment is behind each post is verifiable, but says nothing about matching up with their own customers.
In order to find our bloggers, we have compiled a list of all interior bloggers, collected information about them, and then contacted them. In the meantime, bloggers often approach us actively.
Our conclusion: Bloggers in a small niche tend to be more effective, as the risk of litter loss is higher for large influencers. For bloggers who still have their own blog beyond Instagram, we consider it to be valuable, as they can also report on Instagram in addition to their own channels about our product.
Ads, which are ads that can be served to promote products
Both measures are worthwhile and the sales figures can be traced back to the activities in the reporting. We always have several actions running at the same time and the focus is always on sales and conversions.
Is selling via Instagram and Facebook worth it?
Our follow up on Facebook is even smaller than the one we’ve built on Instagram, yet we sell through both channels. We’re running paid ads on both Facebook and Instagram. Proportionally, more and more ads are played there, where a larger part of our target group is.
Whenever we prepare new posts, we link to our products. This function is very useful, because the traffic is forwarded directly to our online shop. Nevertheless, it is very effective to make sure to offer our customers the most direct way to buy button. If they have to switch to our shop, that’s a detour, which is why we offer them the option to buy directly on Instagram or Facebook. About a fifth of Royfort’s overall traffic comes from Instagram.
Do you also use platforms like Pinterest?
We also use the recently available ads on Pinterest for one simple reason: Users visit the platform when they are looking for inspiration. Most search queries that are submitted are not branded, that is, searches are for generic terms.
Especially for Pinterest, it is advisable, in addition to sales, also based on engagement rates and view through rates.
Pinterest is known for the “key graph”, which gives it thousands of targeting options. We work with keyword and audience targeting and the recently available Shoppable feature, which gives us good revenue. Since the user is still at the beginning of the purchase decision on such platforms, one must attribute the user touch points correctly. It quickly gives the impression that the investment on the canal would have little effect. But especially for Pinterest it is advisable, along with sales, to orientate yourself to Engagement Rates and View Through Rates.
Recommendation: Working with Pinterest is worthwhile to bring low-cost traffic into your own shop and increase the conversion figures. There are not that many advertisers on platforms like this, so you can buy traffic relatively cheaply and get very good CPAs.
How did you decide on Shopify as a shop system?
Many ways have led to Shopify. For the past four years on Google, we have often been in contact with retailers and small startups working with the software. Because we wanted to know what Google’s customers are working with, we’ve tested the system before and looked at competitors like BigCommerce.
The review of payment models also played a role. Whenever possible, we go for variable payment models. We only pay when we sell a lot, and the platform provider also benefits from the success.
For the presentation of the frontend we entered with a free template and were thrilled how easy everything is. Many apps like Shoppable Instagram or the back-in-stock feature could be easily integrated, mostly without the help of developers. In the meantime, we switched to another theme and have Aunt E programming done.
And where is there room between Google and Royfort for your free time?
To have two jobs is an ingenious compensation. Our work-life balance lies in the two companies we work for. Sometimes it’s the days on Google that run wonderfully and on most days, it gives us strength when we work for Royfort. Therefore, I do not feel that my precious free time is lost and it is easy for us to invest our time in setting up our brand.
Sometimes it’s the days on Google that run wonderfully, and on other days, it gives us strength when we work for Royfort
And the actual free time is of course not too short. Dublin is an extremely great city and after work, I still have time to meet friends. Maybe I can not dance through the bars every night until six o’clock in the morning, but that does not have to be either.
A touch of luxury with Royfort: Are you following the plan to leave Google someday and only work for Royfort?
Basically, we can imagine, at some point only to worry about Royfort. We are currently automating all processes that should not be done manually. When a new process is added that is not a core competency, we outsource it. As long as we can be so efficient, we will work in this setup.
Gregors final tip for online retailers: As an online retailer, it is important to think carefully about what your own business model should be. Valentin and I invested a lot of time before we went online with our shop. When I work at Google, I often come across small business owners who make the mistake of stepping onto the web without worrying about the industry and market potential. Be well prepared and develop a business plan that can be flexibly adapted to market developments.
Also published on Medium.