Retention and Churn Reduction Strategies for Ecommerce Brands


John Roman, CEO of the Battlbox Group

John Roman is the CEO of the Battlbox Group, an outdoor subscription service delivering hand-picked survival, EDC, and other cool gear from its expert team of outdoor professionals. John is an experienced ecommerce executive and board member with a demonstrated history of working in the consumer goods and technology industry. He leveraged his DTC and B2B expertise to scale BattlBox into an industry leader with a $30 million subscription portfolio. A renowned speaker and industry expert, John contributes valuable insights to the industry and shares ecommerce lessons on his blog, Online Queso.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • John Roman shares insights on retention and churn reduction strategies for ecommerce brands
  • How John built and sold Battlbox, then reacquired it
  • The importance of acquisition in the current market
  • Building brand loyalty through community engagement
  • The value of personalized customer outreach
  • Mentors who’ve impacted John’s entrepreneurial journey
  • John highlights the necessity of giving back to current

In this episode…

When it comes to growing your business, there's no doubt that attracting and retaining customers is a top priority. However, this is easier said than done in today's highly competitive ecommerce landscape. As your business becomes more established, customer acquisition and retention is even more daunting. How do you ensure customers’ loyalty with so many vendors vying for their attention?

For DTC executive John Roman, building a thriving community is the key to buyer retention. This entails focusing on providing exceptional value and offering a superior experience that not only keeps your customers returning but also converts them into brand advocates who showcase and promote your products. Highlighting acquisition challenges in the post-pandemic landscape, John delves into proven growth strategies he leveraged to scale BattlBox. He sheds light on building brand loyalty through content and community engagement, explaining the effectiveness of contests and other exclusive giveaways in connecting with clientele and building trust. John also addresses the crucial question of whether brands should prioritize acquiring new customers over delighting existing ones, sharing case studies from his company’s personalized outreach strategy that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenue.

In this episode of the Minds of Ecommerce Podcast, Raphael Paulin-Daigle hosts John Roman, the CEO of BattlBox Group, to explore retention and churn reduction strategies for ecommerce brands. John provides insights into customer acquisition challenges for subscription-based businesses, unpacks the strategy behind BattlBox’s community engagement tactics, and emphasizes the importance of entrepreneurs to learn from their losses and failures.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by SplitBase.

At SplitBase, we design, test, and manage high-converting landing pages and on-site experiences for fashion, luxury, and lifestyle e-commerce brands. Our optimization program pinpoints exactly where your store is losing money most, and then we help you fix that.

The result? Increased conversions and profits for our clients.

With our team of conversion optimization specialists, performance marketers, and conversion-focused designers, we've got your back when it comes to testing and optimization.

Request a proposal on SplitBase.com today, and learn how we can help you get the most out of your marketing spend.

You can find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. Don’t miss out on our exclusive podcasts at Minds of Ecommerce.

Episode Transcript

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  0:06  

Welcome to the Minds of Ecommerce Podcast, where you'll learn one key strategy that made leading ecommerce companies grow exponentially. We cut the bullshit and keep the meat in a 15-minute episode, founders and executives take us through a deep dive of a strategy so you get to learn and grow your online sales. In the last episode, you heard from Riley Strickland from Loom Cube, who shared how direct consumer brands can scale with landing pages. today on episode number 34. Get ready. John Roman is the CEO of the BattlBox Group, a $30 million ecommerce subscription portfolio. We'll be discussing retention and churn reduction strategies for ecommerce brands. I'm your host Raphael pollen Daigle, and I'm the founder of SplitBase. This is Minds of Ecommerce. Now this episode today is brought to you by well SplitBase. At SplitBase we help direct consumer brands such as Dr. Squatch, Hyper Ice, and Amica, a B test, design, build and manage high-converting landing pages and on site experiences. Our optimization programs pinpoints exactly where your store is losing money most. And then we help you fix it. The result, increased conversions, AOV, and of course, improved marketing efficiency with our team of conversion optimization specialists, performance marketers, and conversion-focused designers. We've got your back when it comes to testing and optimization. Request a proposal on splitbase.com today to learn how we can help you get the most out of your marketing spend. All right, John, welcome to the show.

John Roman  1:42  

Thanks. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  1:44

Yeah, thank you so much for being here. I'm really, really excited to dive in everything you've got to share when it comes to retention and subscription, because you ran and actually still run multiple companies in that space. So maybe just like, you know, before we get started, as you know, this podcast is all about going deep dissecting marketing strategies. So our listeners can get the most value right away. But just to give people a bit of context for how long have you been working on the BattlBox group? And you were just telling me before we started recording that you sold it, then you acquired it back? So maybe let's let's give a little bit more context. Yeah. So

John Roman  2:23

we started BattlBox, in February 2015. Initially, it was it was just BattlBox. And then as as time went on, we launched additional brands. And then in 2019, we went into acquisition mode, and purchased a few a few other brands, all ecommerce mainly subscription centric. And yeah, always focusing on content and community. And not just the aggressive sales pitch that you see a lot of econ brands do. And then probably the culmination of the content piece was our Netflix TV show, which was in 2020. And then shortly after that, we felt Hey, are we going to get any higher, maybe this is time to sell, found a company out of Toronto, they acquired us in 2021. They just acquired two of our brands BattlBox and carnivore club which carnivore club Zalk monthly charcuterie, artisanal meats on brand. And then, you know, to note no fault of their own. Um, everybody knows the markets were tough the last couple of years. And it created an opportunity where we, we didn't buy carnivore club back we, which was a company we had acquired in 2019, which was perfect timing to buy a meat subscription right before a pandemic. But we just purchased acquired BattlBox back, and we have it again. So it's been a fun, fun roller coaster. Sweet,

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  3:58  

exciting stuff. Now, obviously, you have a lot of experience in the subscription space. So what I'd love to get out of our chat today is really, what are some of the things that you have found to work across your brands when it comes to subscription? So I think I mean, I'll just ask you this, if there's three things you've learned over the years since 2015, that made the biggest impact when it comes to increasing subscriptions, or, you know, retention, right? What would those things be? There's anything you think you can share? So

John Roman  4:32  

so the first one isn't necessarily on the retention side is just acquisition, right? So, um, I think everybody in in direct to consumer knows that it just has become more and more difficult over time to acquire customers. You know, I look back at 2015 2016 We were acquiring customers on average for BattlBox Five $6. Well, you know, those those times are long gone. So you know It's easy in hindsight to look back, but knowing what I know, now, you know, I would have maxed out every credit card, any any dollar, I could have borrowed to acquire a customer for that, because it's obviously substantially higher now. And I think, with all the post iOS challenges, and just all the other, you know, Google's doing the same thing, but calm, so much more difficult to acquire customers. So I think the biggest piece of advice is, anytime you have any sort of campaign or thing you're doing, like, just go scale, gas it Figure Figure, figure out the logistics, later awake, you can squander your opportunities, if you find something that's working, and it could be, you know, we're talking maybe Facebook ads, or you're just finding, um, you know, you guys find an amazing week to the site and AB AB test, where you find an unlock, you just gotta go. And you can't say, oh, just scale, you can figure it out. And you can be honest and transparent with your customers. And like, hey, there's unfortunately a delay, as we wait for product, like, get the sales when you can, because they're so hard to get. And

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  6:09  

John, maybe I'm going on a side note here, but I'm actually since you're talking about acquisition, one of the things that, you know, I've found working with a lot of subscription brand, as well as a lot of brands have a hard time convincing people to sign up for a subscription right away, right? People have that fear of getting into a subscription. Is there anything that you guys have found that tends to help people do that first jump in subscribe, even though they haven't really tried the products first?

John Roman  6:41  

Sure. So so it's, it's a great point, right. And I think as you know, the economic challenges we've seen over over the last year and a half, is, if anything, it's made it more of a tougher decision, right, people are a little bit more conscious with their discretionary spending. For us, you know, we've seen currently and this has grown, it wasn't this far out previously, but right now 35% of our new customer signing up for a subscription, they've known about us for six months or greater. That's a long decision making process. Um, so what we found work is is is simply doubling down and focusing on our content, and, and just making it a very soft, you know, you look at all of our posts across all, you know, Instagram and YouTube and Facebook and tick tock, we're not like, hard selling, trying to, like we're just educating and showcasing what we do, and, and really focusing on that, because that's top of funnel, though the reality is, is, and especially with the economic uncertainty on the need wants scale, you know, unfortunately, where we're at, we're not, you could argue we're in the need category where we're pretty, pretty far towards the want, right? Consumers, at least in North America, really put emphasis and focus on wanting to connect with with the brands they spend that discretionary income on, and feeling some sort of bond, whether it's the creator, the founder, talking, you know, in your case, you're, you're doing these podcasts, right, like, you're humanizing. And it's the same on the direct to consumer side to, like, people want to connect, and offering that community community piece and in content piece and showing that we're, we're humans, we're real, I think it goes, it goes apart, it goes really far. And

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  8:37  

amazing. What are some ways that you guys are doing that as a brand? Sure.

John Roman  8:41  

So, you know, one of the one of the biggest ways we have a members only Facebook group, and we could argue, you know, is the best practice being on Facebook for this? I don't know, previously, we were on a custom, like Reddit style forum. But it just, it didn't have the tech that that Facebook has right Facebook, it really helps us streamline at all and you know, I don't know where we always have the group on Facebook, I'm not sure there's there's other options out there but but having that community so you have to be an active member to be in on you'll have, you know, in a given week, you might have eight or 10 Battle boxers, actual battle box employees in the in the group chatting, posting engaging on really just showing the community piece. We'll do exclusive giveaways, contests, live videos in there. Just just adding adding the community piece, I think is it's one of those intangibles that brings brings a lot of value. We also do larger giveaways. So right now we're doing $100,000 giveaway to our customers where it's as it's a it's a new Jeep. It's some cash and it's a trip to Africa. So I just that's outside the box. stuff like that, you know, last year we did a, we put five random golden tickets in the boxes. And those five people, we flew them to Texas met them there hung out with them, then we put them all in an actual world war two tanks, and they shot those tanks at a target downrange. And no, unfortunately, no one hit the target. But the hope was someone was gonna hit the target, we're gonna give him $100,000. So just outside the box stuff to really connect with your customers, which it? Yeah, at first glance, you're like, Wow, this is excessive or this, this doesn't make sense. It makes sense. The ROI is there, the retention is there. People feel the connection to the brand, and they want to be a part of it.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  10:44

I love that you're sharing that because I didn't even think that we're going to talk about giveaways or anything yet. But you know, I think brands think of like, oh, let's do a giveaway of like, a box of products, right? Like a free month, and then you just are taking this

John Roman  10:58  

to Let's Get outside outside the box. Exactly. But

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  11:02  

it could be much excitement, right? It's like it has more value than just getting people excited more value than just a regular giveaway.

John Roman  11:11

Yeah. And people and people, you know, sort of like the $100,000 prize package I just spoke about, we're, we're actually using that that's we gave it, we entered all of our existing customers. And we are using it as a new sales tool for new. But you look at the tank event, the golden ticket event, we announced it the day after our renewal occurred. So it was crystal clear, this was not a sales tool. Because if you weren't a customer and you were seeing it, you weren't participating, it was only for our customers and that it seems little and almost counterproductive. Like why would you not offer to new customers get new customers, but by not doing that. And by making it very, very clear, post renewal, hey, you just got entered into this. It's clear what we're doing right? We're we're giving back to our customers, we're not using it for I don't want to say malicious reasons. But we're not using it to our own advantage we're truly giving to our

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  12:05  

customers, it becomes core to your retention strategy at the end of the

John Roman  12:09

day. Now there's okay. We also do obviously, traditional blocking and tackling and best practices when it comes to retention.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  12:16  

So let's talk about more of those. Because obviously, you have so much experience. Now that's what we talked about is a little out of the box for sure. I love that what are some of the things that maybe aren't Yeah, a little more in the box, but that some people might not think of right some things sometimes are obvious yet aren't Yeah, obvious.

John Roman  12:36  

So. So, you know, we've been, we've been working on retention and churn reduction back before it was cool, right? Now, it's been such a buzzword on the last couple years, because everybody's struggling with acquisition. But we were, you know, looking at it, you know, pre pre pandemic, it was it was a hot button for us. So I'm trying to think of some of the best, best things we've done. So there's, um, you know, if you're, if you have a subscription, you know, regardless of what platform you're using, there's some sort of data analytics, where you're going to see like the waterfall of by cohort, and what their lifespan looks like, how many you retain each month when they fall off. So So with us with BattlBox, specifically, we and we did this for all all of our brands, we saw, you know, if you're looking at this waterfall we saw between the third and fourth renewal, there is a little the chart didn't go as smooth as, as we would expect, there was a bigger drop off, you know, after after that third renewal before that fourth before that fourth box. And we said, Okay, well, people were more people are leaving then than we expect during this window. So what can we do, we've tested all kinds of stuff from sending them a little gift in the mail, um, just some communications, whether it's an SMS, or an email, or an app push. But what we found work the best, and we still do this is before the fourth renewal, we send them an email, and it's pure surprise and delight. It's just thanking them for being a customer, how excited we are to have them. And more importantly, we're giving them a discount off their next renewal their next box, they don't have to do anything. We're just letting them know they were expecting to pay 170 on this renewal in a few days, we're just letting them know that the next renewal is actually going to be 150. And it's this little thing that that it doesn't seem like a lot but it's a lot right because it's it's true surprise and delight. It wasn't expected. It makes the customer understand. Wow, these people actually do care about me. It's a warm and fuzzy feeling right you think about you know anybody listening to this, you think about anytime anybody is surprised and delighted You. And it's such a good feeling. And it just warms you. And we saw that that little tiny email automation completely normalize that the waterfall churn line.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  15:12  

Amazing. And if that $25 is the one thing that keeps people on for another 3456 months, right? Totally worth it. Yeah,

John Roman  15:21  

it instantly pays, pays dividends. And it's you know, with subscription, saving those customers. And if you're saving, whether it's only a couple dozen, or or you know, a couple 100 or 1000, but even a couple of dozen, and they stay on to your point, there's extra months, that number starts becoming a large number, it's quickly hundreds of dollars quickly 1000s of dollars. And then 10s of 1000s and hundreds of 1000s. It's, it's wild, how quickly it adds up.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  15:47  

Amazing. Obviously, you guys have tried a lot of things, and not everything will work. You just talked about a couple of things that works great, but what are some of the things that you've tried that really did not work or didn't move the needle? And yeah,

John Roman  15:59  

so So I actually have one that that it works now. We failed at it. So much. So probably for a year, year and a half, like we wanted to make it work and we just couldn't figure it out. And we just kept hitting our heads against the wall. And we've finally solved for it. But it was it was a journey. And it's it's easily it's easy to implement. It's having someone on the phones calling, calling customers, so we call it a win back professional. And so we tested the full gambit of time period, our theory was that picking up the phone and talking to someone within the first 14 days of of canceling, we might be able to better understand why they left and present a solution to to bring them back on. In reality, that wasn't the case. So we we did a bunch of testing from what the offer was to when we were calling. And we found the sweet spot was calling our churn customers between 90 and 120 days after they left us. Our theory was fresh, first 14 days. And then we even you know tried post year, and that 90 to 120 day mark, at least for us. And it might be different for brands, but I guarantee there is that sweet spot. It was enough time had passed, where they still remembered the subscription, but it wasn't the wound is healed for the reason they left and and having to being able to have a conversation with them. The phone call is positioned as a as a customer service call on the conversation starts truly genuinely trying to understand why they left in the first place. And you know, based on what they say, we try to present a solution to overcome the reason they left

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  17:49  

customer insights plus a high chance of winning them back. Yeah,

John Roman  17:54  

it's Win win, because it's just making us better knowing why they're leaving. And if we can we retain them. It's such a win win. Totally.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  18:02  

And who does this call? Like? Is it like a full time position that so it

John Roman  18:06  

is it is now. So it is a full time position. We started off with part time as we as we tried and and consistently failed at trying to have these conversations. But once once we dialed it in and understood the volume and how a good scale, it instantly became a full time position.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  18:31  

I think a lot of brands think of Winback campaigns as an email. But do you guys definitely went in the other direction. And what I find interesting is that now it works. But it took an entire year to make it work. And I think most brands would have called it quit way would have given up. It's just not a fit. So actually, let me ask you this, why didn't you give up so that

John Roman  18:53  

the reason we didn't is because I had spoken to a couple of brands that both were wildly successful at it. And, you know, comparing notes and talking through with them. And we'll try this try that. And the reality is, it's not a one size fits, all right? They were one of the brands was calling in the first 14 days. And they had tested other stuff. All right, I'm assuming they did. And the 14 that's the sub 14 day thing worked for them. Um, another brand that was doing really well told us to look at the offer. But we knew that these two brands and you know, they're decently sized eight-figure revenue brands, both of them were having success with its in generating money where it was very profitable. Um, so I think combination of stubbornness and and also realizing that these two brands are doing it, and they've figured it out. So we can figure this out. I mean, my team probably thought it was crazy, maybe six, seven months in, but I think we've been really good at when we identify that something's possible. We don't really give Up until that was great until we can prove it, which I think to your point a lot of people, they don't see that instant gratification. Yeah, they move on. And I think that's that's a miss sometimes. Yeah.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  20:12  

I mean, we do live in an era of tactics, right, overnight tactics, and sometimes patience is actually the answer. John, obviously, you've been running a portfolio of highly successful brands. I'm curious, what do you look up to? Like? Who is your mentor? Like, is there anyone that really helped you become who you are today?

John Roman  20:34  

Yeah, so I've definitely had had mentors along the way. So previous life before ecommerce, I was in just traditional b2b sales. And I had picked up a mentor. Um, during that actually, I picked up a couple of mentors. One of them though, is actually on our board at BattlBox. I was, you know, selling technology, he was in senior leadership and mentored me, and he got into mergers and acquisitions, and we quickly knew that he was in a better fit to help us get our company back. But I think you're right, I think finding, finding those mentors is is paramount and key find someone that is, and even if they're just a couple of steps ahead of you, in the journey, um, there's learnings to be had. And I think there's also, you know, I can attribute a lot of success to the mentors, but I can attribute a lot of success to just having conversations with peers, people that are in a similar similar boats, I'm in three different, I guess, technically, you would call them like mastermind groups. Um, but they're not, I'll be honest, they're not the mastermind groups where you're, you're paying 1000s of dollars. In fact, only one of the three has has $1 amount, and it's 100 a month, it's purely just to make there be some kind of buy in because the theory is, it's just $100, if you're giving it, you're then going to be a little bit more engaged, I'm gonna wait. And I think there's a lot of value like you don't have to join necessarily one of the bigger mastermind groups, try to set one up your own yourself. I think having those conversations, and sharing best practice what's working, what's not working, is of such value. And it's honestly, it's a little bit therapeutic, right? Nobody knows people aren't going to have many people in their lives, going through what you're going through. So to be able to sit down, even if it's once every couple of weeks, with people doing the same thing. There's there's value in that purely from the therapeutic standpoint,

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  22:33  

I fully agree. Um, now we've been talking to John Roman, who's the CEO of the BattlBox group. Now, John, if people want to learn more about you, where should they go? Sure.

John Roman  22:45  

So so I'm really active on LinkedIn. I need to be active on x. I'm just not very good at it. I'm not you're

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  22:53  

seeing X and not Twitter, I still haven't gotten that out of my habits.

John Roman  22:59  

This, this might have been the first time I ever did that. I normally say x, you know, Twitter. I'm also on onlinequeso.com. So I, it's a it's a blog. Um, it's, I'd say 80% Me 20% other people in the ecommerce Industry. The goal of it is to, you know, I think X is really bad at a lot of the influencers on X. I know, some don't. I know you interviewed Chris Mead, right. So Chris shares some of like, the losses. And I think that's, that's paramount. And that's a lot of the focus of Online Queso is it's not all just wins, right? The losses are arguably more important, because there's typically good learnings. Yeah. So that's the focus of that. But um, yeah, LinkedIn and online. KaisaFit are probably the two, two best places.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  23:52  

Awesome. John, thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate your time. This was a fantastic chat. And yeah, people who are listening to this, go check out what John's writing and we'll talk to you soon. Cool. Thanks

John Roman  24:05  

so much for having me.

Raphael Paulin-Daigle  24:11  

All right. Well, that's it for today's episode. And thank you so much for tuning in. Now, if you like what you've heard, and you don't want to miss any of the new episodes that are about to come out, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. And well bonus points if you also leave a review in the iTunes Store, or wherever you're listening to this. Now, if you're working on an ecommerce Store that does over a million dollars in revenue, and you need help with conversion optimization, or landing pages, well, I've got some good news because there's a pretty good chance we can help with that. Go to split bass.com To learn more, or even to request a proposal. If you have any guest requests, questions or comments, tweet me at our Apollon Daigle, and I'll be super happy to hear from you. And again, thanks again for listening. This is mines of ecommerce

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