Ash Young runs carmats.co.uk, a lockdown project that grew from zero to £4m turnover. Find out how and why it’s been a roaring DTC success story.  

Episode 8 Season 2

Listen / Watch / Download

In this episode we discuss: 

  1. Why car mats – where the idea came from and why ANYONE cares about car mats 
  1. The story of how it grew to £4m turnover in 2 years  
  1. Paid v SEO v Social while scaling the business  
  1. The benefits of investing in the brand  
  1. Customer reviews and why they’re gold  
  1. The use of data and customer relationships 
  1. Supplier relationships and why marketers usually stink at these 
  1. The benefits of a negative cash conversion cycle (much like Amazon
  1. Learning in public  
  1. The benefits of being DTC 

Ash Young

Ash is the founder of CarMats.co.uk & digital agency Evoluted. He was inspired by the web after launching the Weebl & Bob website back in 2002. Since then he has been helping clients at Evoluted, his passion is ecommerce where he loves driving sales for clients & on his own sites. 

Ash on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashyoung/  

Ash on Twitter - https://twitter.com/webmonkeyash  

Book Recommendations

Marketing Freaks Podcast by John Quinton from Overdrive Digital

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Andi Jarvis

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Andi Jarvis, Eximo Marketing. 

Interview Transcript

This transcript has been done automagically using Happy Scribe and hasn’t been checked by a real person, so there may be some hilarious mistakes where the AI can’t work out our accents – I’m sure they’re trained on just the American accent. 

Today I am joined on the strategy sessions by Ash Young, the founder of Carmats.co.uk and Evoluted, an agency based in Sheffield. Ash, welcome to the show. How are you doing? 

Really good. Thanks, Andi. Thanks for having me on the show. 

No problem. You are the man with the best ceiling we’ve had on the show so far, so thank you for having us inside your new house. Tell us a little bit about the evolution Andi how you prove that business. But we are going to spend the bulk of today talking about Karma. I’m not trying to run your parade or piss any chips or anything like that. Tell us a little bit about Evoluted first Andi we’ll bore everyone. 

Yeah, I’ll be really quick on evoluted to be based up in Sheffield. So a full service agency offer designed and all their digital marketing services. Obviously, you can cheque us out, see what we do for our mass business, and that’s what we do for clients. Basically. 

Please do cheque out evaluate website link in show notes from here is a lovely chat. So if you do want to work with them, click the link. Getting such. Let’s talk about Carmats.co.uk. You’re one of those hateful people, right? When the first lockdown came, I started watching documentaries on Amazon Prime, changing my sleeping habits, making confident predictions that the pandemic would be over in six weeks. And I didn’t really need to worry about it. I got that massively wrong. Some people started learning languages, some people started doing all sorts of new things Andi crafty and sourdough baking and banana breads and all that. 

You started a business and I hear people like you, sorry. Tell us what happened. Were you just bored one morning and thought, right, that’s it. I’m going to start business. Or is there a little bit of a longer term plan in this? 

There’s a little bit of a longer term plan, and I suppose it was happening a little bit on the run up to the first lockdown. So really, we do a lot of work for clients. We do great work for clients that you lose it. But I want to be able to do that for ourselves and actually show that we’ve got what it takes. And it’s very different from running an ecommerce business for yourself than it is marketing a client’s business. You get to learn a lot more. 

You get a lot more involved than a lot of the decisions that clients essentially try and keep you away from. They don’t want you to get involved with anyone to give you some information, not all the information. So I really wanted to do something from start to finish. It was ours that we could point to as a case study. But I also wanted something that for me was a new business, a new adventure, something to get my teeth stuck into. 

Yeah, brilliant. Running an agency, especially in agency the size of evolution is a fairly all consuming full time sort of gig, right? Yeah. But Carmass co UK while is a client of evolution, I think I’m right to say it is actually still a separate business that needs its own looking after. So, for example, I saw on social media you were Manning customer service all across Christmas, so it is effectively you are doing two full time jobs. Is that broadly where you’re sitting at the minute? 

Yeah. Probably not doing two full time jobs. The team at Evaluated are absolutely awesome. And one of the things that we’ve felt as we’ve grown over the years is we’ve got a great management team in place. So Georgia and Sam who run the marketing Andi the development teams easily to do an amazing job and they take a lot of the load off me, which is great. I think the lockdown also really helped that I had the time to focus on Karma. So that first lockdown, you couldn’t get clients on the phone. 

They didn’t want to speak to you because they were dealing with their own issues Andi their own business about how do they get their stuff working at home? How do you get their it to work? So actually, that gave me loads of time because I normally talk to clients essentially spend most of my time doing so I had a lot of time to really focus on the Karma’s business and get it off the ground, basically, which really helps. But yeah, these days I do try and split my time. 

So I have big blocks time in Madari where I try and split it between both businesses because as you say, like, the Karma’s business now will turn over about £4 million a share. That is a business in its own right. 

That’s a hell of a lockdown project. So before we get to the big, juicy numbers of 4 million turnover this year, take us right back to the beginning. So Firstly, why CarMax? Why not? Anything else? Why not windscreen wipers or whatever? And Secondly, tell us about where you got Carmaps code at UK from, because I think there’s a bit of an interesting story in that. 

Yeah. So why CarMax, I suppose, is a boring product. Like I said, it’s a utility product. Everyone needs CarMax. Everyone that’s got a car uses Carmacks. They don’t really think about them until they need them. But it was an industry that I suppose we can came across it evolved quite a few years ago when we worked with a client in the sector. So we got introduced to the sector, which is one of the bits I absolutely love about evolution is getting out there meeting new people, meeting new businesses and finding out about industries that you never knew existed. 

Say me, I’m never happier than in the opening couple of sessions with a client where you are, right. Tell me all about ball bearings, all of these bits. I’m like, wow, this is amazing. There’s a whole world here that I never knew anything about. 

It is amazing, isn’t it? We had a bearings client as well. It’s just like, fascinating. 

Listen, me and you are the same kind of boring, right? I love it. Sorry. Carry on. 

Yeah. So really, it was an issue I knew about. So for me, it’s an industry where actually the competition wasn’t tiptop no offence to the competitors. So there’s a lot of scope. There wasn’t anyone there absolutely killing it. But then I managed to actually secure the domain name Karmax code UK, which made it a no brainer. Right. So the kind of story behind that, that’s kind of quite convoluted. There used to be a site on that domain years ago selling carmats from Northern Ireland. Beautiful place, beautiful place. 

Yeah, it was. Now the forms just didn’t go anywhere. And I use the domain tools. Who is history because of GDPR? You can’t see any contact details now. But if you use the domain tools, who is history? You can see it pre GDPR Andi a phone number and basically just started calling people and getting passed on to other people. It’s not us. It’s this guy managed to finally get the chat that owns the domain on the phone and we just did a deal. 

Really? 

Yeah. That was the best, like, five grand or whatever I’ve ever spent. 

So if you look back, if you’re listening to this and you’ve been in SEO for a little while, you might be thinking Carmass co. Uk. You don’t need a keyword rich domain anymore. And if you’re not in SEO and you’re listening to thinking, what the hell are you talking about? They used to be going back into the good old days. If you wanted to sell something, you want you to have the domain. That said the thing that you sold, right. But there’s different reasons why you wanted that domain. 

Yes. 

I mean, obviously it’s great that obviously all the links. Now everyone talks about the business. It’s automatically back. Brilliant. But the reason that we really wanted it is that brand identity. So if your Carmats co. Uk instantly got some sort of authority in the consumer’s mind, you’ve not got a really long, strange URL you are this site to buy Karma’s from just from the domain. Yeah. 

I’m not going to call it a resurgence because Brand has always been a really important tool in a market that’s box to play with Andi think, what is the resurgence is the fact that people in more technical roles are starting to realise that. I’m not saying you didn’t realise that, but if you talk to people in SEO or PPC, or even social media, to an extent over the last ten years, that’s the fluffy thing that people talk about when they don’t know what they’re doing or when they don’t want to measure ROI, are you sure that’s what Brand means? 

People with a misunderstanding of the concept of brand, telling you it wasn’t important, but it’s more about that just it’s an obvious Association. That’s what you were looking for with CarMax, the obvious Association. 

But you’re right about brand day. So a lot of car mats that are sold are on branded. If you go look at the Carmichael, your car, there won’t be a brand on them. Andi actually, we now brand all our car mats. They all go out with our big, shiny logo on them, which some people don’t like. But for us, it’s a net positive. We get a few detractors. But actually, getting our brand out there and becoming that de facto name for CarMax is worth its weight Andi gold. 

Yeah. And allows you to charge a premium in the end, when you get to that point of being the place to go for it. Now, I’m assuming when you started working in the car markets industry, you weren’t making them. You didn’t get the family in the garage and starting to produce car mats on a sewing machine and running that up. So as a marketer and a man who runs an agency, what was that like having to sort of roll your sleeves up and get into involved in production and sourcing and all that sort of stuff? 

It was an interesting month or two when I was trying to find a supplier. So I literally just went to Google, and this is a question I get probably asked the most is actually, how did you find the supplier? Because that’s not the obvious bit, right. In digital marketing, we know how to do the marketing bit, but how did you actually go Andi find someone to display products? So I did what any marketer do? I think I went to Google, Google manufacturers and just went down the list basically. 

And quite a few of them weren’t interested. They didn’t want to know. I had one company say to me that they gave me some pricing, and I basically said to them, Well, the pricing you’ve just given me is essentially what you’re selling for retail. So it doesn’t stack up as it makes any sense. And said, yeah, we don’t really want to supply you because we don’t want any competition. So it was a very strange experience trying to get out there and find a supplier. 

Yeah. As a manufacturer, they didn’t want a retailer selling their products. 

Yes, they manufactured, but they also sold direct consumer as well. So they did both sides of it, and they didn’t want more retailers, basically. 

Okay. And now I’m assuming you’re wiping the floor with them. 

Oh, yeah. We sell more carmaps than they do now. 

Yeah. Funny. Yeah. Great. Okay. 

That has actually been the manufacturing side is probably the bit I find the hardest. So we’ve got a great manufacturer. We’ve got a really good relationship with them now. But because we have such amazing growth, which was I didn’t expect the growth that we were going to get so quickly. It caused no end of problems on the manufacturing and the production side of things. So everything is made to order. So you place your order on the site, it goes to our manufacturer and they’ll dispatch it within a few days Andi again delivered to door. 

But we ramped up from doing sort of no orders a day to 100 and $5200. And then during the lockdown Black Friday, we’re doing like 500 orders a day, and they just couldn’t cope, obviously, because it’s manufacturing doesn’t move quickly. 

No, there’s a supply chain involved. The supply chain is called the supply chain for a reason. When you start to scale up, there’s issues with that because they need to order raw materials. Raw materials are often not made in the place where the products are made and they need to be shipped through. And that was probably about the time that the Everglade or the Evergreen whatever got stuck. Everybody was having some. I run a carmart’s business based out of Sheffield. Yeah. What’s the Suez Canal going to cost me, right. 

So there’s a whole supply chain issue of things that as marketers. We just generally don’t worry about doing it. It’s just, like, just click that and people buy it and that’s the shit done, right? 

Yeah. Totally. And you don’t think about it. And that’s what causes the big issues is actually having to scale it in a way that doesn’t cause problems. And also is that whole side of things of, like, my supply is great. But staying on top of what’s happening, making sure that they are delivering in the time frames we need to and making sure that hold on. We’re getting behind. Do we need to turn orders down and then you become that client? That’s like, yeah, you’re doing really well with the sales, but actually, can we just turn it down a little bit because we can’t keep up. 

Andi think sometimes as marketers. A number of times I’ve heard people say, oh, well, if we were too busy, that would be a great problem to have Andi understand where that comment comes from. But it’s not actually a great problem to have a problem is a problem. Having too many sales is just as big a problem as not having enough sales. And, yes, it’s a problem that comes with buckets of gold along with it as well. But angry customers sucking time, they’re sucking effort. They affect future sales because you get bad reviews. 

Yeah. I get that when you have no sales, I get why you would rather have the problem of having too many sales. I fully understand that. But problems are problems regardless of whether they come from one side of the house to the other. So how did you deal with that? Were you kind of leaning on the suppliers, working with them, trying to find new ones, just tethering demand. What was your approach to it. 

So the big issue with the carmart’s production is the machines that cut on. So they cut out rolls of carpet and a machine can only cut so many car markets a day. So actually, to increase production, you need a new machine installed, which is a big expense for them, which is capable. They need someone to man that machine and then it’s all the sewing to finish them by hand, where they need trained professional people to finish the product. So it’s a hiring issue. So we work with them, really. 

Andi to be fair to them, quite quickly, they realised that hold on, this is going to go somewhere. So we want to take this seriously. And they did put together a plan of right here’s how we can increase volumes. But it was only after the shed at the wall, basically. Andi we were like, so it was the run up to Christmas last year, the year before last we had to stop selling for Christmas on something like the 2 December or something ridiculous because we weren’t convinced that anything would sell beyond that time would be delivered in time for Christmas. 

And that must be excruciating for a business owner to look at peak time of year. This is the Golden Quarter. This is where we’re going to do. We’ve got to pull up the drawbridge and not sell anymore. But did you just chalk that up as to a very costly lesson for the business? 

Yes, it was a costly lesson. Sales were, in some ways, if you think about it, if we have a constrained production, we would only have done those sales over a longer period. So it probably didn’t cost us a huge amount because we could never deliver those additional orders. 

What I’m thinking at the minute, though, now you’re talking about Christmas presents of car mats. Let’s put our marketing hats on for a minute and give me your buyer persona. Or maybe your consumer persona. Right. Who are the people out there who want carmats for Christmas? Because if someone bought me carmats for Christmas, well, I would probably say thank you to their face and go, that’s lovely, really thoughtful of you. Thank you. As they left the room, I’d be just like, who wants how much for Christmas? 

Tell me this, Ash. 

I’ve got two personas that buy car mats for Christmas, right? So maybe three. So one is middle aged man Keith Say, and he wants Karma for Christmas so his wife might buy him Karma. 

I’m only laughing because as soon as you said, middle aged man who likes Carmacks, the one person in my mind who came to mind was called Keith. Hi, Keith. 

Keith would like to have Karma for Christmas so his wife buys in Karma. But then that also flips the other way. Right? Because Keith would like Carmacks for Christmas. Keith mistakenly buys his wife Carmen’s for Christmas, which happens quite a lot. 

I know right. 

I look at those orders and I go, you’re not going to have a good Christmas anymore. 

But is this not an opportunity? Could you not go back to them and offer them a cancellation service? Listen, the Christmas elf Ashes. Christmas elf. Listen, mate, your wife doesn’t want Karma for Christmas. You’ve just paid 50 quid. You can cancel the order and we will refund you 40 quid. And you’re just making a tenor for sending them an email and saving their Christmas. It would be the best ten quid you’d ever spent. 

Yes, they might get offended by it, though. 

Better to be offended by you on the 2 December than be slapped by the wife on the 25 December. 

It’s a service. 

If you truly customer oriented, that would be what you’d be doing. 

Yeah. And then the third one is my parents buying for their younger kids when they’re just about to pass that test or about to get a car got you. 

Okay, that’s your Christmas personas. Or is that kind of all year round personas all year round? 

It’s one of those products that anyone buys. So the persona. Is there’s a few different personas for us? It’s not really about the personas. It’s about the life events that trigger someone to buy car markets. Okay, so our customers pretty much evenly spread across age, sex, etc. Andi there’s no actual. From what we can see, there’s no sort of like core buying persona. But what does trigger it is actually why they’re buying a car. So it’s either people who just got a new car and need Carma to protect it, people who have worn out their carmats, which is actually quite rare because people wear a Carmart and then just leave them until they’ve got literally got a hold on people gifting. 

And then the last one is my favourite one is people buying Carmart because they’re either selling or returning the lease car and they want to return it with new CarMax so they don’t get charged for new carmas. 

Right. Because it’s cheaper to buy them from you than have the garage stick the army for 400 quid for new car mats. 

Yes, precisely. 

I know that I changed to tires when I was handing the car back once for the same reason, and they still tried to charge me for the tires as well. Car garage has been bastards who knew, you know who buys and why to buy. So take us through the direct to consumer business, your DTC business. So take us through the journey. But you started from scratch. You were not manufacturing and then flipping from manufacturing into retailing. You were a new business. You owning the manufacturing process but not necessarily doing it yourself. 

So you started off with no sales but had to grow from scratch. So how did you go from you’ve got no customers, no visits, no business to turning over 4 million in a couple of years. 

We spend a lot of money on ads is the short answer. The long answer is we scaled it. So we tested in the first place. We launched in May 2020. That first month we launched the site and we did what I wish, actually, a lot of our clients do is that we launched the site with nothing on it. So the only product that was populated when we actually launched it was full focus, so you could buy, I think, four products on the site. We set up the rest of the site, so it looked like a real site, had a full menu, but none of the links went anywhere. 

And we initially started out with some Google ad campaigns directing people, and they were looking to buy full focus maps straight into the product pages they’re interested in to see what works. And then we reiterated, Well, I say this was all me at this time. We changed all the product copy, imagery and copy until we found something that resonated and actually people started buying. So I remember that sort of first week. I was shitting myself because we weren’t selling anything, and I kind of publicly at the time. 

So I’m going to do this thing. I was like, I might not actually be able to do this thing for the nightmare. Then it started to work. Andi remember coming down the stairs in the morning, see the kids, like, guess how many car markets we sold yesterday? We sold three. Right. So excited. And that’s how we integrated it basically. So we did the same for the whole of the Ford range. So we popped all up next Andi advertised all their models. And then we did a few other random models to cheque that we weren’t missing a trick, like the stuff we were doing work with four days. 

Andi then once we’ve done that, we basically systematically just scaled through every model. 

The manufacturer let me jump in and ask a couple of questions here, then. So Firstly, why did you go with Ford first? Ford’s a big brand, a popular brand. But why not say Voxel or Citron or Volkswagen? What was it about Ford that stood out here and sometimes, look, it just felt right is a perfectly good answer. But what was the reason behind it? 

So we went with Ford. Actually, we went with Tesla Model Three at the same time. Andi the reason we went for those two cars is that’s what we have in the family at the time. 

I see. 

So from a problem knowledge point of view of people saying, I don’t know how to fit it or what’s this or we knew all the answers. They also let us understand what sort of questions people ask and know confidently that we were telling them the right answer that applies across everything. Right? 

Can I make some wild assumptions here? Is it you who drives the Tesla and your other half who drives the Ford? Yeah, you kind of fit the profile of a Tesla business owner of a certain age. Anyway. 

Sorry, it’s fine. It’s boring, isn’t it? It’s tax efficient. So I can’t complain. 

My second question is common sense, why you picked those two? And then I suppose before I asked my second question, when you started scaling up to other brands, was there any science behind that, or was it just based on what you thought were going to be popular? 

So Dakota even did a lot of keyword research for me to figure out, actually what was the most search volume for and then we basically scaled it out in the order of the search volume. 

Much broadly, the sales. So where you’re finding the most popular car brands? I think I mentioned Volkswagen and Vauxhall were above the Persians and Citrons and Kias. Or was there anything that surprised you in there? 

It mainly does. What is the outlier is where a brand doesn’t supply carmaps. So if you were to go and buy like Golf or an A three, you’ll probably come with Karma in it. If you go and buy a Hyundai, you ain’t going Carmacks Andi should pay extra. I see the search on some brands is noticeably higher because people have no choice but to buy cars either from the dealer or from you got you. 

And for the benefit of both our listings in America, Hyundai, I believe you call Hyundai in a rather hateful way of pronouncing the word. So yeah, anyway, moving on. Moving on. The other question I had is about you’re pushing to ads. So you decided to launch with ads now, launching with ads obviously involves spending money upfront before sales are going to come in. How did you budget for that? Not only where did you find the money from, how did you sort of get come to a figure in your mind that said, this is what I’m going to say. 

I’m going to invest testing this business. 

So the figure I came to was five grand was I was quite happy with that. And actually, even if we spend the five Grand Andi we found out that actually it’s not working, it wasn’t reasonable, given what we invested in terms of time and resources to build the site in terms of, like, cash flow and stuff like that. I was quite fortunate that I had payment terms with my supplier. So from a direct consumer brand, I take the order, I get the money, I place the order with my supplier. 

And actually I’m generating free cash flow for a period. 

Which actually helps scale the ads like Amazon. They’re another business that do that. I think they call it something like a negative cash flow or something or other. They sell the product. Excuse me and pay the suppliers way after that. And that helps them bankroll doing various other things. So it’s a great place to be if you are going to do that. 

Yeah, we’re really well, and I think the supply bought into us from day one. I think we’ve exceeded that. But because they bought into where we wanted to go and the numbers we were talking about and how we’re going to get there, it meant that actually stuff like not having to pay on order, actually getting terms made things a lot more achievable. 

And then so as you scale that, you spent the money to test it, then did you quite quickly move to a more traditional model of customer acquisition costs and using that as your key metric for your ads? 

So we’ve got a very simple product range. So actually, we focus on a return on ad spend because we’ve got a unified margin across the products. So we’ve got a base margin. We know where we are so we can target a return on ad spender. We know that across the range, we’re good. Whereas if you were as a retailer selling lots of different products, it gets a lot more complicated, doesn’t it? When you’ve got different margin requirements on different products. Yeah, we need it to be profitable from day one. 

So Karma. We do guarantee customers, but we’re not expecting people to come back every month. They might come back once or twice a year. 

Well, you may well be looking at my questions here because that was something it’s talk to you about. Customers and data and loyalty. Repeat purchases, because if you are spending and ads play a huge part in your business at the minute. So if you’re spending to recruit a customer, do you do anything to look at lifetime value to drive repeat sales to get them to recommend? How do you see that? Or is that kind of plan for the next two years? 

At the moment, we’re taking a lot of data. That’s something we really stepped up last year in terms of what they would take and encouraging users to opt into marketing. So we now have a regular look up on the home page, which is actually probably the most used area of the site. So you pop your region, you get your car recommendations. We give you a nice little incentive to give us your email address, and then at that point, we have your email address Andi your registration number so we can sell you Carmacks until the cows come home via email. 

But essentially, we’re not massively monitoring lifetime value at the moment because we’ve grown so quickly. It is something that we’re starting to look at. I’m starting to look at encouraging users to make repeat purchases where it might be a gift for family or certainly around, sort of like Father’s Day, for example. It will be a big one. We can do a big push around Father’s Day classic dad Gifted precisely. 

And a CD of rock driving anthems or something like that to go with it as an add on the product. Get that in. Get that on the add on. 

Yeah. Andi some of the things that have stopped us doing that until more recently is things like we’ve not had the embroidery available because we scaled so quickly. We’ve not really been able to offer embroidery because we couldn’t keep up with the demand we had. So we’ve only managed to squeak that out in November in time for Christmas. 

Right. 

But now it’s a giftable product because you can put down a taxi or whatever you want on the math. 

Yeah. 

Perfect. 

So tell us about that. So you use Shopify as your tech stack. Sounds quite a grand term website partner. Use Shopify premium or plus or whatever pro or whatever it’s called. But you use that for a reason. So tell us about those reasons, but also tell us about how you look at you’ve got different product ranges and upsells and on sales and things like that within the business. If you go to Carmats code at UK, I would say, look, go and have a look at the site if you are interested in marketing, even if you’re not going to buy any car, that’s all that you should do. 

I’m on a 10% Commission. Is that right for anyone who buys using code hashtag strategy sessions? That’s a joke, by the way. But if you go and have a look at the site because the way there’s different products and different premium based products and upsells, so talk us through all of that. 

So Shopify first and then the I chose Shopify originally because I want to be able to do it all myself in lockdown team. We’re busy doing client work and I want to be able to set up the sign, get up and running and actually Shopify allow me to do that. So Shopify is great. Obviously, it’s all hosted. It’s a software as a service, so literally, just you can click a few buttons Andi you’re up and selling. So from that side of things, it’s brilliant. It takes away the infrastructure. 

The other thing that really attracted me is the ecosystem and how many integrations there are. So whether it be payment providers, whether it be some of the ups on stuff that we do, it’s all there available. Andi if you do a bit of research, you can find some really good partners. Andi we’ve been using apps now for a couple of years and they’ve been faultless basically. So yeah, Shopify. I’m a massive believer in Shopify. I’ve signed up like Convert. Love it. I think if we hadn’t been using Shopify, I think it would have been harder to scale the business. 

I saw something that Barry Adams, the SEO legend Andi friend of mine, posted on LinkedIn the other day about Car web vitals, and I’m not going to go down a technical rabbit hole about it, but it was basically how certain websites perform against core web vitals, and Shopify was miles in front of WordPress and had even gone in front of Amp, which was what Barry was talking about. Was he’d be better using Shopify than amp pages? But it’s interesting how I think a few years ago, maybe seven or eight years ago, people SEO were going to do your Shopify, don’t you Shopify? 

It’s crap for SEO. And there’s obviously somebody that really pulled out all the stops really to improve the product hasn’t. So you find it fantastic to use. Andi you’re a big advocate. 

I think from the SEO side of things, the team, they’re doing a great job of making the time we’ve had the site, there’s been loads of great improvements on the SEO front. Some of the new themes they brought out are so quick, it’s insane. And even our site there’s areas that we want to make quicker, but actually you can go on most of the pages Andi they all load instantly. And there’s a lot of data behind our site and you can’t tell what’s actually happening Andi one of the things as well. 

And things. 

Yeah. Letting go of credit for the Caching system behind the product pages. And the site generally is insane. You can’t tell it’s there, but it is there. 

Yeah. Andi from a technical side, a lot of people starting businesses maybe don’t pay enough attention to that. But I think if you’re going to take it seriously, it’s a real key consideration, isn’t it? As you start to scale a business. So you’ve gone from running a business of high fiving over three car markets a day. You mentioned earlier, 500 a day and you’re on target to do 4 million in revenue. Is that right? 

4 million in revenue a year too? 

Yeah, that’s pretty damn impressive. I want to say pretty damn impressive. That’d be amazing. You’re selling Carmen. Do you wake up some mornings and go? Have I dreamt this? Have I been eating too much cheese? Is that what’s going on? 

It’s a bit surreal when you think, like, hold on this. Two years ago, there was no business. Yeah, it’s insane, but it’s growing well and it’s worked. I’m just going back to the original point you made about the upsell journey on the site. It works because of that journey. So 20 pound start carmass. There’s no money in selling the £20 at car lots. No, our average order value is getting to start to touch over £40. 

Brilliant. 

So we upsell a good proportion of our customers, either directly on the product page, where we show them all the options for their vehicle. So you can go right. I’ve got the right car now. What quality do I want? And then you can also then customise. You can choose trims, embroidery, heelpants and various other bits. It’s a little bit dirty. It’s kind of like the Ryanair approach, right where you’ve got a product that will do the job. But actually, if you want to actually make it a bit nicer or better experience, you need to add on to it. 

I would respectfully disagree with your approach to that, not approach or with your take on that. What I think Ryanair do is the strip essentials out of the flight and charge you extra for them. What you’re doing is you are providing the essential product, so your baseline product does what you need it to do, and then you can add on if I were buying Karmas from you, I don’t want them embroidered. I don’t want cold trim. I just want someone that’s going to keep the shit off of the floor of the car. 

That’s all I’m interested in. If I wanted to give them to the missus as a gift, they wanted a name embroidered Andi all that sort of stuff out of my dad. That’s an add on. That’s a benefit the way Ryanair strip out their baggage, for example. Okay. Yeah. You can have a seat for 999. That’s wonderful. But I fly a lot, and I fly a lot with just a rocksack Andi hand luggage. And even that’s difficult with Ryanair because they strip out all you can fly the seat at this price. 

But it’s like selling shoes without shoelaces is what they do. So I think there is a slight difference between the two that you have a premium product for people who want to pay premium prices, if that’s what you want, if that’s them. 

Yeah. And then actually, one of the things we’ve started doing in the last of nine months or so is we started pushing those upgrades aggressively in the checkout as well. So we use a really cool app called Order Bump, that when you’re in the checkout basically pushes you up Andi encourages you to upgrade to that next quality. 

So once you’ve got everybody’s order in and you push people through the system and they’ve ordered whatever, Matt’s going to order reviews play a big part in this for you. And I think reviews play a good part in lots of industries. But you talk to me about off camera about an issue with some of the photography as well. That maybe is why reviews play such a big role for you. 

Yeah, I think. Well, there’s a few things, really. The whole customer journey, post order is really important to us Andi think that’s something that a lot of direct consumer brands and just retailers get wrong. Anyway. So once you’ve placed an order with us, you go through a whole series of emails. So we first of all, email tell you that your orders enter production. So you know, something’s happening. And some of these emails are also for our benefit. 

Right. 

So it’s to stop customers asking what’s happening because it can take up to sort of six to seven days in order to leave the factory sometimes. So we want to make sure that customers know what’s happening. We send an email saying it’s in production. A few days later, they get an email telling them it’s unfinishing it’s about to leave. They also get an email saying it’s been dispatched with all the tracking links in and who it’s going with, etcetera. And then a few days later, when the maps essentially should have been delivered based on whether it dispatched, et cetera. 

Again, email asking that everything’s okay with their order. So we do this to basically because we can we want to know if there’s an issue and a huge number of people reply to that email. It’s lovely. So we have those people that say, yeah, got the maps are amazing. You’ve made my day or my car looks mega. Thanks very much. But then you also get the people to go. Actually, no, I’ve not had my marker or I’ve got them and they don’t fit. So it draws out. 

Actually, it gives people an easy way to go. No, I’m not happy. And then you can solve that problem for them, whereas otherwise some of them might have just choked up to a bad experience and gone Andi left a bad review in a week or two’s time or just gone away with a negative experience with the brand. And then when someone saying I want to buy some carmarts, I’ll say I don’t buy them from carmarts because I had an issue with them. They wouldn’t go and do something about the issue. 

They’ll just sort of have a bad experience. 

A classic British psyche, isn’t it? Don’t complain to someone who can sort it out, complain to everyone else who can’t do anything about it. 

Precisely. Yeah, that is the email that gets the most traction for us. And then we invite everyone to leave a review a few days later. But by that point, we’ve solved nearly everyone’s issues because they had plenty of opportunity to tell us as an issue. And we also do things like my pet peeve with emails is when people Andi companies send out emails from their reply addresses. Why, it’s just a necessary. So every email we send out you can reply to and it comes straight into our ticket system. 

Someone deals with it. So we do a lot on that post journey. But the reviews part is probably the biggest deal for us. So when I launched the site, I knew that I wanted to get that sort of trust factor of having their third party reviews. So right from day one, we launched and we launched with reviews co. Uk. So we had them as our partner Andi we probably put the widget on the site. I think when we’ve got like, five reviews or something like that, just to start to encourage people, we’re knocking on 150 reviews now, which is absolutely amazing. 

Andi that at this point is such a huge trust factor. We’ve got 15,000 reviews, probably 14 Andi a half 1005 star reviews that are all real and legit. And as a trust factor on the site, you look at that as a consumer and you look at that and go, all right, I can trust these guys. 

Yeah. 

Andi now, obviously because we’ve got so many good reviews, the people that have an issue point to that. And go, I thought I could order from you guys because you’ve got so many good reviews. No problems do happen. No one’s perfect. It’s how you can deal with that. But from a review point of view, we can’t put those emails in place early on because that’s the feedback we were getting. We were doing what everybody else was doing. We were getting an email when it’s dispatched to get asked to leave a review and people were giving their feedback as a review like, oh, I don’t know. 

My maths haven’t turned up yet. Well, don’t leave that as a one star review. So we work really hard to basically draw that out of people so that we could solve that problem without them having to leave a review. And then when they go and leave a review, it’s now a really happy one because that problem has been sold out. And more recently, we’ve done some stuff on the reviews where we encourage people to name the team so the ones that have interacted with our team, we asked them in the review form to name whoever you’re interacting with, so to make it feel more personable, that Kate was really good with me or Helen was really good with me or whoever it is. 

I was dealing with Ash, Andi he missed off apostrophes in his email. 

Or unfortunately, when you get someone that’s really angry, they do go to town and Slam you, and that’s normally me. 

That’s all right. As long as it’s you that’s okay. 

It’s fine. That sort of journey for me. The review side of things, customer feedback and showing your potential customers that you can be trusted and you do deliver and you do essentially do what you say you’re going to do. I mean, that’s the bare bones, isn’t it? Because no one trusts nothing these days. 

Yeah, that’s it. Absolutely. Tell us another area of trust or mistrust, perhaps is social media. You obviously started with paid, and you do put a lot of time into search. Does social play a role for you? What was the thought process behind it? If it does or if it doesn’t. 

So we have social accounts. We don’t really post organically. 

Again. 

Engagement. 

Don’T post organically anymore, do they? 

Well, I mean, people care about trainers, people don’t care about car markets. That’s the fundamental issue, isn’t it? That people buy car markets, they want them, but they don’t want to go Andi shower and smash with your posts. So we don’t post a lot. But we do do a lot of pay social. 

And that works pretty well and does that again without getting into the numbers and the boring in the notes of it. But does the roast on paid social compare to Google? Is it more is it less. Does it change by channel? What channels are you using? Give us a bit of a flavour of that. 

So in terms of Oasis, Facebook and Instagram are probably better than Google. So certainly with the ads that we’re running, a lot of it does obviously comes down on social to the creative. If you’ve got a bad creative, it’s not going to work. And that’s one of the things we’re doing at the moment is we’re getting a lot of user generated content produced. 

I was going to say, do you use reviews in that? Because it’s not the most photogenic of products that you have. A good Karma and a great Karma and a shit. Karma all look broadly the same. It’s a tactile thing, isn’t it? It’s in the feel. When you get it, you can probably tell you go, oh, wow. But in a photograph, you can’t really tell the difference between the 20 pound and the 40 pound, can you? 

No, we don’t focus on the product specifications or benefits. We focus on the car, must protect your car, etc. We don’t focus on the individual qualities or anything like that, because, like you say, you can’t tell that on the screen. Yeah, but what we are using is a lot of the photos that customers give us when they leave reviews. So we ask for photos and videos. We get quite a few of those. Some of them are awful. Some of them are like a nice new car with a muddy footprint in the middle of it. 

Real exciting things. So we use some of those photos. We’ve just gone out to a whole load of people essentially gifted the car markets to get good or better quality videos and stuff influencer marketing, if you want to call it that. 

I love the footprint. There’s a couple of clients I’ve worked with where what the common agreement was was the worst creative ever. The kind of the home made looking stuff outperformed, the slick, professional stuff the agency was putting together by a million miles. And that realness of the muddy footprint in the middle of the map. I didn’t test it. Test it. You’re a tester. That’s what you do. 

Yeah. It’s the way we will be testing. So we’ve got a few. We’re going to do a few slick ones. But then we get a lot of user generated content. The ads that we run the most at the moment is one that we filmed outside of our office in, like, five minutes. It’s literally just putting a set of car markets into Amber evaluated into her car. And it gets so much engagement. And you’re probably right about the money one. So you get loads of engagement because we didn’t clean a car before we put the car lots in. 

So we’ve got her taking out her old filthy car markets and putting a new car out. But the car, right is still filthy. 

Yeah. 

So she gets loads of comments Andi actually some quite abusive comments about how dare the car is. And she cleaned it first and it’s like people on social media are sold. 

Right. I remember the Queen’s sister whose name I’ve completely forgotten. But anyway, Princess, whatever her faces, is the patron of Scottish rugby Union. And during lockdown when there was nobody in the ground posted a picture on social media of her and her husband cheering on Scotland. I think it was in the Calcutta Cup against England or whatever, right. Andi she’s the patron she’s getting on board. She’s come on, Scotland and all that. Half the comments are like your drawing room is a bit untidy. Look at how many books you’ve got piled up and leave her alone. 

I thought royalty would be tidier than that. Have you not got anyone to say? All right. How’s your perfect life doing? 

People die. Social media is summed up, isn’t it? You post something Andi someone will have a pop up for it. 

I am going to go on a social media right now. Sorry. The one thing that annoys me more than that on social media. I saw somebody saying Top of the Pops should be brought back. The BBC as part of their licence fee has to bring Top of the Pops back. And then underneath it was a whole bunch of people of my sort of vintage and older complaining that pop music isn’t as good as it used to be Andi mean. Like if there’s one thing that boils my pace more than anything else, if people getting old and complaining, pop music isn’t as good. 

No, you’re just getting old. Pop music is as good or as bad as it’s always been. It’s always been brilliant. It’s always been shit. It’s you that’s getting old bugger off. Yeah. Sorry. 

Do you feel bad now? 

I do. I’ve got off my chest now. Thank you. Anyway. So Carmats co. Uk. Let’s just get back to my other thing that’s been really interesting about this whole journey is you’ve been learning in public. You’ve been sharing a lot on social media. How does that feel? You said at first you had that sort of awkward feeling of what if this doesn’t work? But is it still awkward even though it’s been a raging success to share Andi your learnings and your successes and your failures in public? 

Yeah, I plan to share. To be honest, I plan to share a lot more than I did. I planned to do a lot more, but then as the business just went crackers, there’s no time. So I just went straight out the window. But I still share things at Hong Kong said, Well, I do enjoy sharing customer reviews where people are laying into us and mostly being unreasonable. I had the fear at the start that it wasn’t going to work. I said I was going to get to a million pounds in a year Andi had a massive fear I’m going to fall flat on my face and I’m not going to do that. 

But as soon as I realised I was going to get close, it was happy days Andi really enjoy sharing and talking about what we’re doing and how we’re doing things. The only thing that put me off a little bit is how do people then copy what you do? But the people are copying. They’re never going to it really just annoys me because ultimately they’re never going to do a good job because they’re just copying what you’re doing, right? 

How many car Hyphenmats code at UK have been registered? 

Oh, yeah, someone else. Someone sent me a new one today that launched at Christmas. And the chat behind it’s done a Tik Tokyo, where he talks about how he’s going to share his journey of launching a car. Lots business. Okay. 

But the thing is that to bring it to marketing again, people talk about competitive advantage, and I’m not entirely sure competitive advantage exists in the way most people think they do. There’s the odd case study of major brands where you hear about competitive advantage, which makes people think if you get this competitive advantage, it lasts for eight years, ten years, while everyone else catches up. In most places, competitive advantage is so transient, it’s like weeks or months. You could probably measure it in. But the way you can truly get a competitive advantage is dragging in several different factors and putting them all together that then allow you to go ahead so someone can copy your website, they can rip it off. 

Exactly. And just sit and try and copy a bit for bit. But unless they’ve got the customer post sales process, unless they’ve got the manufacturing built into it, unless they’ve got the delivery built into it and the reviews connected to it, then they’re not going to close that gap hugely in a competitive advantage and trying to copy several bits that come together to make like the golden circle of competitive advantage. That’s really, really difficult to do. So you can almost give them the keys to the house. 

If you like, go and copy it, go and copy it. And they can’t, because the reality is there’s a lot of moving parts that come together to form. What is this successful business? 

Yeah. Well, I did an interview with Dan Barker in the early days where I basically laid down exactly all the apps I used, what I’d done, et cetera. And there must have been four or five people that have taken us a playbook. Like you say they’ve got a website. That’s it. You haven’t got anything else that comes with that? 

Yeah. Any idiot can build a website Andi building a business is a different thing. 

Yeah. What gets me is the fundamentals that people miss because they’ve not thought about it. They’ve just gone. We’re going to do that. We’ll look at what they’re doing. We’ll do the same they miss all the stuff. That’s not obvious. 

Yeah. I say this to people. I use the line to stop copying your competitors. They don’t know what they’re doing either. But there’s a little bit like, you see people copying of the things that people are like. You can see they’ve done this thing. Do you know if it worked, but why are you copying it then? If you don’t know, it’s been a roaring. Oh, we know the business was a success. Yeah, but did that thing contribute to the success? Because not everything you’ve done over the years worked. 

Some things you’ve tried didn’t work and you’ve stopped doing. And I just don’t understand this obsession with copying, trying to take shortcuts. 

I don’t. It drives me party with clients like it sounds like it does for you. When you sit down Andi they go, we want to do this and it sounds good competitors doing. 

You can feel my pain. Got you. You can feel his pain in this. 

If it’s not going to work, why do it? So the things that we’ve tried that we’ve looked at and gone, well, actually, we don’t want to do that. So now I’m going to take it away. 

Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a lot of things you’ve learned over time, and I want to get to the point where I want to sing the Top Tip theme tune. So I’m going to throw that at you right now. But what I’m going to ask you for is a top tip for direct to consumer businesses, DTC brands who are maybe starting out that journey now. Andi there’s a lot of things that you’ve looked at over the time. There’s a lot of errors and mistakes you made. So if you had one top tip for them or one T-O-P-T-I-P-T-O-P-T-I-P. 

What would that be? 

My top tip, I suppose, would be that customer service side of things. It sounds obvious, right? I’m saying it sounds like the most obvious thing in the world. But when I go and look at, for example, some of the guys that come along and try to copy the Karma site, do you look at their reviews and they’re getting hammered because they don’t reply to emails. They don’t understand the product. They don’t treat people well. They don’t treat people fairly. So I think a lot of it comes down to understanding your customers, treating them well, responding to them. 

So one of the things that we don’t really talk about is that we offer seven days a week customer service. I replied to customer emails on Carmarts on Boxing Day. There’s not many of our competitors that even open over Christmas, and there’s certainly none of them that reply to emails at weekends, whereas we realised early on that if you treat your customers well and respond to them quickly and you answer their queries, they buy into the brand they buy into you, they recommend you. It all gels together. 

So for direct consumer brand, that’s going to be number one, you get that right. And any customers you’re ringing in, you keep in sweet. Brilliant. 

I love that. Andi the focus on your customer did a training session with a company just first day back after Christmas, and we were looking at how you build an organisation that is market oriented as opposed to. They’re quite product oriented at the minute. Andi we’ve got reason, right. Andi it’s an easy place to slip into. And they’re a bit sales oriented as well, which is again, a very easy place to slip into. But they’re trying to be more market oriented and things like that are absolutely the perfect thing to do. 

How do you put the customer at the centre of everything that you do in actually, over Christmas? 

Because I don’t do a lot of customer support anymore. I really enjoyed it. So I was like, all right, you’re having a problem with this or that’s not very obvious or need to fix this. Andi actually, I’ve come away from that with a list of things to go away and sort out. 

I know a few people who have relatively senior jobs in retailers, high street retailers, who you would know of, Andi that’s relatively senior job sit at head office Andi drink lots of coffee and talk important meetings, that type of thing. And every year they go and spend a significant number of days out in the store with a shirt on, selling to customers, being part of the team and just hearing firsthand what that is in those days, there’s a little bit of symbolism involved with them, undoubtedly having the top team coming down to do that. 

I get that. But there’s a little bit of let’s hear firsthand the problem that the people who walk through the door have because it’s amazing what you learn from that. So having your finger on the pulse or staying close to the cold face, I mean, you’re in South Yorkshire, so let’s use that one. Staying close to the cold face is really important, isn’t it to understand what’s going on? 

Yeah, I think just having that knowledge and seeing firsthand, like, what issues are people having, why can’t people cheque out? We’ve done things over the years, like from customer feedback. I think in our basket, for example, used to say cheque out and then Shopify outs or the payment options. So PayPal Google, pay, Apple pay, whatever it is. Andi we’ve had a couple of people not understand that they can pay by credit card by pressing cheque out Andi don’t want to pay by those options. So how do I pay it’s little things like that. 

So changing the wording of the booking as a result of that. But you would never find that feedback out any other way other than talking to customers. 

Never lose money talking to your customers. And that is a great place to sort of wrap up on. So I’ve also seen the time and I’ve kept you far too long. So two more questions to finish, because nobody gets away without these two questions. So question number one, what books? Podcasts newsletters. What would you recommend? People read to stay on top of DTC marketing, whatever you’d recommend. 

So I used to read a lot Andi I’ve got busier. I’ve got a bit lazy and I don’t read as much anymore. So I turn to Twitter for my news of what’s going on Andi listen to quite a lot of podcasts on the journey to work in the days that I go to the office, which is a lot rarer. Now my favourite podcast is Marketing Freaks, obviously. Is that for yours, Andy? 

Absolutely right answer. Otherwise, this episode will never see the light of day. 

It’s Marketing Freaks by John Quinton overdrive Digital. That’s really good. He’s trying to have a bit of fun with it as well. He started to have his podcast in the Pubcast. 

Little bit of background and an affect works wonders. 

Yeah, but that’s a really good list. And they still, like deep dive into lots of different areas of marketing. Basically, that’s the title says marketing frequency and a new one to the list as well. 

Thank you very much. And then the last question that everybody gets asked is, what one question do you usually get asked that I haven’t asked you today? 

Well, the question you haven’t asked about a little bit earlier is how do you find a supplier? How do you go out there? How do you deal with the real world? Because marketers are. We’ve got to look at the screen. Andi if you do on a computer, then it’s amazing. But how do you find us by how do you negotiate with us? How do you do all of these things? 

Did they bring you down to the factory and show you around? 

Yeah. Several factory tours. 

Manufacturers love that. Come down and have a look Andi love it. I think you get a sense for a place that you just cannot find unless you turn up, park in the car park, walk around, have them tell you about the product and rub it between your fingers. I love that. 

Yeah, we have on CICA with but we’re taking all our support team this year to factories to basically understand the process. 

You know how to treat a team. Come on, everybody. There’ll be people in London screaming, going soldier. 

Andi there’s a guy running a cutting machine. The answer is they talk. People don’t pick up the phone. Don’t email people because they get ten emails a day Andi they go into the junk. They miss them. 

You can tell you’re not a millennial. You use your phone for ringing people. Honestly, old school school is an old school. So yeah, I’m done with that. I love it. Absolutely. Listen, Ash, thank you very much for your time today, it’s been a pleasure to have you on and good luck with the next couple of years at Carmaxor UK Andi your mission to foresee.