The mass store closures prompted by COVID-19 in spring 2020 could have spelled disaster for equestrian specialty brand Kerrits, which had operated as a wholesale-only business for over 25 years. Instead, a series of recent diversifications, including the launch of a direct-to-consumer site in 2017, meant the brand was poised to roll with the pandemic punches.
In the end, Kerrits closed out 2020 with growth in both its wholesale and DTC channels, with the latter increasing by an impressive 150%, according to Sara Florin, Senior Director of Branding and Marketing at Kerrits in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.
While the pandemic-prompted ecommerce boom certainly played heavily into these results, Florin also credits the deployment of email marketing tools from Omnisend. These gave Kerrits the advanced analytics and segmentation tools she needed to react to the volatile market forces and shifting consumer sentiments that shaped the year.
“Once the pandemic hit, our wholesalers had to close their stores, and we had to rethink our entire email plan,” said Florin. “The growth from April (2020) was exponential for overall revenue for the business and revenue from email. We were doubling, sometimes tripling the revenue coming from email.”
Keeping Engaged Customers Engaged
The decision to move the company’s email systems over to Omnisend was one in a series of evolutions over the last three years, beginning with the acquisition of Kerrits by Tenth Avenue Commerce (TAC) in 2017. The new owner immediately identified the opportunity for Kerrits to branch out from its wholesale roots.
The company launched its DTC site on Shopify, and then Florin joined in late 2018. At that point email marketing was being managed by the team at TAC, which also owns and operates From You Flowers, Eve’s Addiction and Brook & York, among other brands.
As the Kerrits DTC business grew, Florin took over the brand’s email marketing program and eventually made the decision to shift to Omnisend in July 2020, allowing her to streamline and automate the growing operation.
In 2020, Florin saw increases in Revenue Per Email (RPE) across the board. Additionally, 23% of Kerrits’ email sales now come from automated messages, despite the fact that they only account for 4% of the brand’s email sends.
“The product browse abandon emails have been a great way to keep our engaged customers engaged,” said Florin. “Big picture that’s one of the things that I’ve been the most happy to be able to see through Omnisend — our engaged list is highly engaged, and I can strategically add more emails to the calendar and they keep buying, I don’t see unsubscribes.”
Florin said the detailed analytics and behavior data she now has access to have allowed her to introduce more reactive segmentation and targeting that is driving results, particularly among the brand’s most engaged customers.
“I have my one set of data, just the numbers, that I can make a decision on, but I can also look at the products these people bought, which are not always intuitive, and make another decision based on that,” she explained.
Burgeoning Livestreaming Program Helps Build Brand Equity
Kerrits also is beginning to roll out SMS marketing to improve the customer experience with automated updates on order and shipping status and to promote its burgeoning livestreaming efforts.
The company launched bi-monthly live events in June 2020 using the live shopping platform Bambuser, which integrates directly onto the Kerrits website. Events have featured Kerrits sales associates showing off new lines, sessions with micro-influencers in the equestrian space and even a riding lesson with one of Kerrits’ sponsored riders. So far revenue has been minimal, although the company has made sales at each event, said Florin.
“The only challenge is that people don’t typically have great cell phone reception or WiFi at a barn,” she said with a laugh. “We see it as a brand-building exercise, so even if the sales are really only paying for the cost of having the platform, we think it pays off in the long run.”
Turning an Eye to Content for Customer Acquisition
Looking ahead, Florin wants to bolster her email marketing efforts and SEO by building out other custom content aimed at customer acquisition in particular.
“I think there is an opportunity to introduce more people to the sport of horseback riding,” she said. “I’d love to start creating more content that would bring first-time riders to the site.”
The company also recently launched a lifestyle offshoot, EQL, that is gaining traction and expanding the company’s reach beyond equestrian performance apparel.
“I’m expecting strong growth this year,” said Florin. “Not the 150% growth that we saw last year, but still strong. I think that people have gotten retrained to shop online, and I think we’ll keep those people. We have a really healthy returning customer rate that’s increasing. It’ll slow down a little bit, and some people will go back to shopping in stores, but I think that we’ll hold on to quite a bit of strong growth.”
Wholesale still makes up the bulk of Kerrits’ revenue, approximately 80%, but Florin said she expects the DTC channel to account for one-third of the business within a few years. And for the near future at least, the nature of horseback riding itself appears to provide an advantage in the age of social distancing, which bodes well for the business as a whole.
“We did see, at least anecdotally, that there were a good number of people getting into riding last year,” said Florin. “We think because it’s an outdoor sport that you do six feet apart from people, [that it has] kind of built-in social distancing.”