Episode 22: How Aviator Nation—One Of The Fastest Growing Clothing Brands—Built A Following, with Matt Solusod
Full Transcript Below
James Gilbert: Hello to all of our listeners out there. This is James Gilbert at Spamming Zero. Holy cow, we are at episode 22. Can you believe that? We are cruising right along here. Super excited about this episode because we’re going to be joined by Matthew Solusod. He happens to be at Aviator Nation. Now, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with who Aviator Nation is, but they’re one of the fastest growing apparel brands in the entire world. Literally, like a homegrown shop out of a garage in Los Angeles. Blake, their CEO, came up with this brilliant idea of hand- stitched clothing, that just has a’70s type of feel to it. What I mean by that, is a look and feel of the brand is more of a’70s style. I happen to love it. I think it’s amazing. They did such an incredible job building their following and social media. We’re going to talk about that today with Matt. They just have these raving fans in social media. You ought to go follow their brand. Blake just recently released a brand- new clothing line, that is her going in and literally painting their clothing so that it’s super unique. We talk about that on the podcast a little bit about scarcity, and about creating demand and what that does for also customer support. Super excited about this episode. I’ll give you a little background on Matt really quick. Matt is the e- commerce manager for Aviator Nation. He runs their customer experience and a lot of their contact center stuff. What’s beautiful that he is doing, we’re honored enough at Flip to work with them on a regular basis as a customer. He’s doing stuff with a lot of the ecosystem partners that we also have, but just an incredible person to follow. Matt knows what he is talking about and Aviator Nation is an incredible D2C brand. Stay tuned for that episode coming up next. We’d like to thank our current sponsor of the month, Aircall. Aircall. io, go check them out, love what they do. They also just reached 100 million in revenue, which is incredible. We partner with them, they’re a big part of our ecosystem. Aircall is a cloud- based call center and phone system of choice for modern businesses. A voice platform that integrates seamlessly with popular productivity and help desk tools. Aircall was built to make phone support easy to manage and accessible, transparent and collaborative. Aircall believes that a great conversation is the most powerful way to communicate with customers, prospects, candidates and colleagues. We tend to agree. They are as equally invested with voice and sound as we are. I’m James.
Brian Schiff: I’m Brian.
James Gilbert: This is Spamming Zero. Welcome to the show, Matt.
Matthew Solusod: Thank you. Thanks for having me on, James and Brian.
James Gilbert: Matt, give us a rundown of what you’re dealing with right now. What is top of mind for you?
Matthew Solusod: You know the e- commerce, CX manager issue well. With the company, currently we’re dealing with preparation for, as a lot of retail employees might know, the busiest part of the year. That being Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and whatnot, so it’s all hands on deck here prepping everything. Making sure everything is running smoothly and getting all systems in check before things get crazy.
James Gilbert: You know something I’ve always been very curious about? Whenever we talk to people that are in the thick of doing all this stuff behind the scenes, you all make our holidays great, because you guys are the ones that are operationalizing it. You’re the heroes behind the scenes, and you don’t get any credit for that stuff. Matt, you have a family. You have people that you care for, that you likely buy gifts for. How do you manage the work and the balance of life during this process?
Matthew Solusod: You could say that there kind of hardly is that work- life balance, especially in the retail space during the holiday season. But luckily enough, we’ve been blessed with being able to learn how to do all this remote within the past few years, due to world events and everything like that. It’s allowed us to be pretty flexible. It’s allowed me to be present within my family’s life and at the same time working. So not so much of a balance, as it is doing both at once.
Brian Schiff: Matt, you mentioned when we were talking before the show that right now, this moment in October is the calm before the storm. I’m curious, in the buildup to hear right over the several weeks, even months leading up to this, what does that checklist look like? What have been the things for you guys that have been priorities to get in place and to think about ahead of the holidays this year?
Matthew Solusod: Speaking from my perspective and know what I do here with the company, a lot of it is making sure that we’re fully staffed, and that our automated systems are able to handle the massive influx of volume that we get over a couple weekends of the end of the year. Just making sure that those things are working as smoothly as possible, with the mission to provide our customers the best and smoothest experience that you can get. Because as we all know, those people are probably really busy too, are doing their holiday shopping or whatever it may be. Just making sure that we are ready to be able to provide the best service possible, whether that means having more people on our team seasonally, putting in place different, new automation tools. Or even as far as making sure that our stock levels are appropriately stocked for those big days.
Brian Schiff: How much of a spike are you expecting? If it’s confidential, by all means you can give a multiple if you’d like.
Matthew Solusod: So just to put it in perspective, it’s historically every Black Friday, Cyber Monday has been the biggest day in company history since e- commerce has been launched. Every year, it becomes the highest day of revenue for company history. For a company as young as us, that’s pretty cool to see, but it’s definitely a huge spike. It’s definitely something that we’re pretty much bracing for.
James Gilbert: You guys have such a unique brand. I want to talk about this a little bit because I think especially, I can’t remember what documentary it was. But I was on an airplane and it was when I was doing the West Coast to East Coast trip, so you can get a couple of movies in easily. I was watching a documentary and it was about a Los Angeles brand, that they had all this scandalous stuff. But what was crazy about them, is the exclusivity of what they created with their clothing brand. You guys have done the same thing. You have a great social following, it is just massive. People are raving fans of you all. Your CEO just comes out with a new line, she does a big video about it. I actually was like I watched the whole thing, I was super engaged with it. I thought it was one of the coolest videos I’ve ever seen a CEO do that was thinking of those things. Literally, painting unique clothing items right there live. Creating exclusivity, which means demand goes way up the roof, but supply is likely not as high. Now that supply and demand issue, you all have dealt with for a very long time. I go to your website and you release very specific lines of clothing and designs for short periods of time. Some of your biggest clients are celebrities, who love that exclusivity. Talk to us about what that does with a customer experience. Does that help you and your team to define the customer experience?
Matthew Solusod: Yeah. I think that it does a few things, and you can look at other big clothing brands within the space that follow that similar model. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Supreme, but their model is scarcity, very limited, collaborative merchandise, and just creating that hype around something. You can see that they’re very effective. It’s effective in building their cult following. It’s effective in making your fan base be extremely loyal. People want to know when’s this coming out, when’s that coming out? What’s the new thing? That definitely presents a lot of unique challenges for us, just based off of the fact that some things aren’t available all the time. Just creates some unique situations that we get to deal with here on the customer service side of things. But what it does to our loyal customers, that really charges them and makes people really want to follow along closely as to what we’re doing, which is great. You can see the effect that it has on the brand as well.
Brian Schiff: How do you guys handle a situation where somebody’s super passionate, they want a product that’s dropped and you guys do not have it in stock? But of course, want to give them that experience and keep them engaged in the brand. How do you handle that?
Matthew Solusod: The way that we train here is to provide alternatives. You’ll want to give that customer an option or some way that they could be a part of the brand, if you will. What we emphasize here, is to really provide a lot of choices for the customer, which a lot of times because of the amount of items we do you have, is something that we can do relatively easily. It just makes the customer feel a little more included. You might not have the one exact thing that I was looking for. But by you showing me a list of these options, it means that you want to put in the effort to gain my business. I think as a customer, that comes off very good. It’s important that we convey, while we want to be exclusive, we also want to make everyone that is a fan feel included as well. It’s a weird conundrum, but that’s how we’re training our members to deal with that stuff.
James Gilbert: Is the majority of your customers loyal fans coming back, because you guys have a really good mix? You have raving fans in your social media that are becoming net new customers through influencers and things like that on Instagram and TikTok. Then you have this just really strong, loyal fan base. How do you tackle loyalty with your raving fans, but also ones that are fans and haven’t yet purchased?
Matthew Solusod: It’s a majority of returning customers that frequent our website and stores every day. We have a lot of community events, based around our 16 retail store, which acts as these cool community hubs that now some weekends they’ll host a live music show with a local band. Some weekends they’ll do a yoga class or a comedy show. We try to make the retail space become a community hub for people in the area. When you feel like you’re a follower of the brand and you get to be a part of those type of things, it makes you feel really special as a customer. It’s also really cool for us to be able to tap into the community that way. We’ve got basic online loyalty with discounts that you can get by purchasing items, but I think the main part of it is the community we build around a retail space.
Brian Schiff: Matt, I’m curious, are there specific and different metrics that you’re looking at around the holidays? Obviously, there’s your full suite of standard metrics. But are there any new ones that are introduced or maybe taken away, that are specific to the holiday season?
Matthew Solusod: Off the top of my head, there’s nothing that really changes in the way that we look. Our customer data sales data, stays pretty consistent throughout the year. A big number to pay attention to in general, would be new customers and new purchases. Just to see how well and how effective our outreach through social media and through community events are doing. I feel like we are doing a pretty good job at that.
Brian Schiff: The idea of converting a first- time shopper into being one of those loyal fans, that’s a collaborative thing. That’s not just you. That’s not just marketing. Have you guys done journey mapping or how do you guys approach bringing new customers along that journey?
Matthew Solusod: I can speak to this being the customer service side of things, just because that’s my bread and butter of what I do. But we really, really stress being able to provide the utmost and efficient, and pleasant experience that you can have with one of our agents through wherever you email, or phone or live chat because that’s how you win people’s hearts. If you have a good experience with an online retailer, that’s something that sticks with you. It’s important that we are able to do that through our various support channels, because we don’t have the face- to- face like an employee in a retail store does. That’s how I look at things. Especially if someone’s a first- time buyer, there’s a lot of questions that are involved with any sizing, and this and that, that maybe they don’t truly understand until you get the piece in your hand. For us to be able to take care of that customer and that person, and give them a very positive experience is paramount to us. That’s how you keep a customer from just being a first- time buyer to a really loyal, rabid fan of the brand.
James Gilbert: We actually ordered some of your swag. I guess we shouldn’t call it swag, it’s really just this is like your clothing. We call ours swag, but we ordered some of your clothing and we had it as props in our explainer video. I don’t know if you’ve checked that out, but you got to go to the website now that we’ve redone it. Go watch the explainer video, you’re going to see Aviator Nation stuff all over the place.
Matthew Solusod: Sweet.
James Gilbert: We had a lot of fun. I don’t think everyone that got your clothing, no one really knew how well done it is. It’s so soft. It is just really well made, so we had to do it. We had to put it in there. We were all repping your brand. It was fun.
Brian Schiff: My Aviator Nation sweatshirt has entered my consistent rotation, as summer has turned to fall here in New York.
James Gilbert: It’s so soft. The fact that it doesn’t shrink. My pieces that I’ve had for a while, start to relax over time and they get even more comfortable somehow.
Brian Schiff: Matt, how did you end up at Aviator Nation? Were you a customer that was a loyal fan, and then went to work for the brand? What was your journey?
Matthew Solusod: I moved down to Los Angeles as the first hire on the e- commerce team. Before that it was just Curtis, which I don’t know if you guys had any contact with him, but he was the sole person on the e- commerce team. It just got to the point where he needed some help, needed an extra set of hands and I was like, ” Got it.” Now we’re at 10 to 15 people at a given time on the e- commerce team. It feels like that wasn’t that long ago, but it’s almost three years ago now. Yeah, things are growing at an alarming rate and time is seeming to go by quicker every day.
James Gilbert: I think you’re considered right now at the moment, the fastest growing D2C brand in the world.
Matthew Solusod: Wow, I didn’t know that.
James Gilbert: I think, if I remember right.
Matthew Solusod: Since I’ve moved here, we’ve added a total of five different buildings or something. It feels like we still need more space. Even then, it’s ridiculous to me. I don’t understand how this all keeps happening, but happy to be a part of it.
James Gilbert: Hey, it’s just the stuff that we’ve been talking about. You guys have created a really good brand. It’s created loyalty, raving fans. It’s all the things a brand really wants to try to do. Every brand wants to try to create raving fans. Every brand wants to try to create loyalty that is happening in social media, where you actually don’t have to do any work. Your fans are doing it for you. They’re wearing your stuff, taking pictures. Going out and being like, ” Look at this stuff. I got it and you don’t.”
Matthew Solusod: Yeah. I’ve even seen customers go as far as answering a customer service- related question in an Instagram comment for another customer and it’s hilarious to me. I’m like, ” Wow, these people know our brand so well, that they can just answer the stranger’s question under an Instagram post.”
Brian Schiff: Have you ever heard of Chatdesk before, the vendor?
Matthew Solusod: No, have not.
Brian Schiff: They’re one of our partners, they manage that for brands. It’s pretty awesome. They’ll basically recruit those loyal fans of the brand. Then help manage the process of them operating on behalf of you all in social channels. It’s pretty cool.
James Gilbert: Brian, it sounds like they don’t need that. It sounds like their fans are doing it already.
Brian Schiff: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, they’ve got their own thing organically happening there.
Matthew Solusod: It’s the funniest thing. Yeah. Every time I see something like that happen, it cracks me up because people seem to have enough time on their hand to do that, and are willing to do that for our brand, that speaks volumes. I think if I can keep continuing to contribute in the way that I see fit, and all these pieces keep falling together, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be the biggest growing clothing brand in the country.
Brian Schiff: Hell, yeah. Do you find that there is more emphasis and more care for CX and customer service in a business like yours, that’s not only D2C but also really built around that loyal following?
Matthew Solusod: I think that there should be more of an emphasis on CX, customer and customer satisfaction. I feel like it’s a relatively newer thing, but then the clothing retail space to have outstanding service and things to be really easy for a customer. I think it should be an industry standard. I think that’s probably one of the most important part of customer retention. You look at brands like Amazon, and how easy it is for someone to return or exchange something, or handle an issue. How much that aspect of their business has grown with online retail and whatnot. It just goes to show it’s really, really important that we’re able to provide quick shipping, and make it easy for someone to exchange, and be able to provide very good customer service. Because when you’re competing with a brand like that, they really set the bar high for you. That’s what people, I feel like, are starting to expect.
James Gilbert: One of the things that I think so many customer experience pros, if that’s what we want to call them, or people that are focused on customer experience within brands. One of the things that they are all trying to do, is show the value and impact that it has on the business. You, in a lot of ways, are starting the opposite end from them. You have been able to do that right out of the gates a lot of times because of the loyalty. The raving fans are creating that and they’re making it show the value directly within the business. Your CEO, everybody else knows that the fans that you have, they’re driving the growth, they’re driving the value. And because of your focus on the experience that they have with not just the clothing but it’s soft, it’s loose fitting, it’s comfortable, the whole experience. Even the stuff that you’re talking about with your community- based, led growth and your events that you’re doing, all that stuff plays a role into that. If you were talking to somebody that was at another brand and they’re leading customer experience, but they’re struggling to get the business to understand why customer experience should be the main focal point of growth. What would you tell them?
Matthew Solusod: It’s not just the customer service part of the customer experience. But as a holistic, think about what does it mean to be a customer for your brand from every angle? Like you’ve mentioned, it’s the clothes feel great, we’ve got a good community aspect and all of these different touch points, that all play into each other. You can’t really single one of those things out as the reason why, that it all has to work together to create a rabid loyalty. To be able to step back and think of it as a whole entire picture, rather than individual pieces of the customer experience, is probably really important. It’s probably why our fan base is majority returning customers and whatnot, just because of how intertwined all of those things are.
James Gilbert: We started off the conversation talking about what’s top of mind for you is the holiday season, prepping your team and everything else to receive the massive amount of volume that you get in just a few days. What is the one and the most common thing that you and your team fear during this time?
Matthew Solusod: That would very much easily be any sort of hiccup in fulfillment, order processing that would cause tens of thousands of orders to be delayed. That ends up becoming a nightmare. Customer inquiries pop up by the thousands. ” Where’s my order? What’s taking so long? I ordered this with more than enough time for the holidays.” It just compounds down the line. Simple, three- day delay is more like an extra three weeks of work for our team, and it just completely stresses the system. Anything that we can do in preparation to avoid that, is what we’re looking at now. And making sure that we have the manpower to avoid that at any cost, just because that becomes a gigantic issue. If you have a loyal, rabid fan base, that can get turned very sour if tens of thousands of their orders are late. Yeah. That’s the biggest point of emphasis, just making sure that we try to prepare for any delays or what can we do to stop that from happening?
James Gilbert: True story, when I first got married, me and my wife were, I guess you’d call it, financially struggling. I went out and found another job as a customer service rep. I worked during the peak season and it was for a pretty big retailer. I’m not going to name the name, but it was for a pretty big retailer. I could not believe how illogical customers would be during this time. All I got to say, Matt, is from somebody who has literally been sitting in a seat of all the team that you are currently managing, thank you for doing what you do.
Matthew Solusod: Appreciate that.
James Gilbert: Thank you for doing what they do because we, as consumers, are crazy during this time.
Matthew Solusod: Yeah. Speaking of that, I’m guilty of it myself too. When you expect a level of service that you receive from a company, like a multibillion dollar company like Amazon, you expect that to be every one of your shopping experiences. Or when the bar has been set that high, we can understand where it comes from. But whoa, sometimes you’re like, ” Guys, it’s the holidays. Please, relax a little bit.”
James Gilbert: Do you guys do any employee or agent appreciation things through this period?
Matthew Solusod: Our team has a lot of competitions through this period, based off of volume or customers helped on a daily basis. We’ll make it a game out of it. Because when you’re dealing with so many thousands of emails, everyone’s got to be trying to get through as many as possible, so it becomes a big game. Top performing agents get rewarded pretty well. Yeah, it’s a big thing that we all participate in.
James Gilbert: Matt, are you winning?
Matthew Solusod: Currently now, no, it’s been pretty slow. We’ve got a pretty good team behind me. I’m really only dealing with at this point, the bigger fires that need to be put out. Yeah, feeling pretty confident for this year.
Brian Schiff: When you look towards the other side of the holidays and into 2023, are there any front of mind projects, any passion projects that you really want to do next year?
Matthew Solusod: Related to the business or just in general?
Brian Schiff: Yeah. And your team that you run or for you personally.
Matthew Solusod: I guess really just nailing down some more of the automation, taking advantage of our automation tools that are out there. That’s always been a really powerful way for us to lower the workload on real agents. Anything that we can do to flush those systems out, are going to be really important for next year, just as things continue to grow.
James Gilbert: Tell us about an experience that you had. It could be with any brand, it could be even be with the brand that you work for. But tell us about an experience that you’ve had with the brand that just left you speechless.
Matthew Solusod: Oh man, that’s a tough question.
James Gilbert: It’s a hard one, I know.
Matthew Solusod: That is a hard one.
Brian Schiff: Have you had any recently, James?
James Gilbert: Recently, yeah. I’ve had some pretty wild experiences. Not necessarily with clothing by any means, but my wife is a DIYer and she does a lot of interior stuff. There’s this swimsuit that my daughter has ordered, I guess it is clothing, but this swimsuit my daughter has ordered. And sizing wasn’t quite put up for her to really know if it was going to fit or not. I just cannot believe that this brick and mortar shop, very, very small brand, it’s not huge. It’s homegrown, very similar to how Aviator Nation started, but brick and mortar. They have just been incredible. My wife and daughter have had to send a swimsuit back four or five times, just to get the size right. Finally, they got the size right and I just couldn’t believe how seamless it was four or five different times, it wasn’t just one time or two times. It was quick, seamless, very little effort that required my wife to do almost nothing, besides change the shipping label, put it in the mailbox. That was it. That was pretty incredible. Now, my daughter loves her swimsuit and she’s obsessed with it, so I always like to inaudible.
Matthew Solusod: Now they got a lifetime customer, right?
James Gilbert: Yeah, exactly.
Matthew Solusod: Your daughter with be a fan.
Brian Schiff: I love looking at entertainment, and hospitality brands and companies, be it sports teams or fancy restaurants, or amusement parks of some kind because those are all similarly built around the idea. It’s really an experience. The experience is so much of the product and building the loyalty is everything. Think about sports teams, for example. Fandom in sports teams is passed down in families through generations. That’s crazy from a brand and loyalty building standpoint. There’s so much that that can be learned from the way that those sorts of businesses look at experience, and how it influences those bigger outcomes and loyalty goals that they’re going after.
Matthew Solusod: Yeah. Now that you brought that up, there is an example I have.
Brian Schiff: Here we go.
Matthew Solusod: Yeah. I actually just became, I guess according to them, a regular at this restaurant. It’s a small, little restaurant opened last year. It’s down in Santa Monica, it’s called Kobe’s LA. Everything is very reasonably priced, and just the atmosphere that they built, it’s just amazing, super romantic, really, really great Asian cuisine. The service caught me by surprise. It was just really, really top notch, very attentive, and just really, really good. For the prices of the food that they were charging, that was not expected at all. Yeah, I’ve been going back there quite a bit. I guess I’m now a regular there and I absolutely love the place. Yeah, back to your point inaudible.
James Gilbert: Did they celebrate you becoming a regular?
Matthew Solusod: Yeah. A server came by and brought me some extra food, and talked to me about the process that the chef goes through with certain ingredients and whatnot. I was blown away because I wasn’t expecting that level of attention to detail from a place where you could get a dinner entree for$ 17, which in LA, by the way, is cheap. Yeah, that was a very pleasant surprise.
James Gilbert: It’s always the give without asking for anything that every time I hear an experience like this, that’s what it is. It’s the give without the ask, that always seems to wow people. Maybe that could be the takeaway for this. I think about what you all are doing at Aviator Nation. You’re giving your loyal fans and your raving fans an incredible experience, and they haven’t had to ask for that. You guys started doing that and that’s what created the loyalty and the raving experiences. Matt, you’ve been an incredible guest. Thanks for joining us.
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