Bachelor parties are notoriously tough to remember…
But T.J. Mapes recalls his last night as a single man much more vividly than he’d like.
“It was an absolute nightmare,” Mapes recalls. “It was 2 A.M., our website had crashed, and it was a panic moment.”
Mapes and two friends had recently pooled their money, three thousand dollars in all, to start an online t-shirt company called RIPT Apparel, which is short for Rest In Peace T-Shirts. The idea was to offer pop culture themed t-shirts designed by budding artists to be sold for just 24-hours. Afterward, the designs would die and be sent to an online graveyard never to be sold again.
“The design of the day would go on sale at midnight,” Mapes explains. “So I got into the habit of checking on the site early in the morning because it often went down.”
What was supposed to be a pre-wedding celebration quickly turned into anything but. Mapes and his co-founders, Matt Ingleby and Paul Friemel, simply couldn’t continue to party not knowing whether their site was up and running. When they checked it wasn’t, and they had to put the bachelor party on hold.
I spent an hour on the phone. I had to leave my own bachelor party to talk with our hosting service about getting the site back up.
Unfortunately for Mapes, the ecommerce honeymoon would be even worse...
This Might Not Work
“We were profitable from day one,” Mapes says of RIPT. “We sold twenty four shirts the first day which was a really good feeling.”
Mapes and his bootstrapping co-founders had full time jobs and would meet on Monday nights to choose the artist designs for the week. The shirts, priced at $10 and available for only a day, were the digital equivalent of impulse buys. “Customers were starting to get hooked,” Mapes says.
They might have been hooked but they weren’t happy.
RIPT outsourced the production of its shirts. Since the company was just getting started in 2009 Mapes says the printer pushed RIPT’s low volume orders to the bottom of the stack. “Shirts wouldn’t ship for two or three weeks and we started thinking this might not work,” Mapes says. “Customers were angry and asking us where there shirts were and we had no idea.”
Deadlines were missed.
Orders stacked up.
Customer service was not a priority.
Yet customers continued to purchase despite a site that was prone to crash and forced people to check out on a separate domain. “People kept buying thank God,” Mapes says with a hint of disbelief. “Just after midnight once I was checking on the site and saw we had sold one thousand shirts in just a few minutes which, at the time, was the biggest home run we’d ever hit.”
That shirt went on to sell six thousand units.
But Mapes knew he’d have to make some big changes if RIPT was to continue growing.
But his boss and even his mother were skeptical…
“My mom wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do,” Mapes says of he and his co-founders decision to quit their full time jobs to focus on RIPT. “I was a little freaked when I told my boss I was quitting and he asked whether I was really sure.”
The RIPT team had decided to bring t-shirt printing in house to improve customer service. The company took a loan, bought machinery, and hired employees away from the competition. It also decided to outsource a brand new ecommerce site.
“We were spending so much time doing everything manually,” Mapes says of the old site. “We couldn’t automate anything which was horrible.”
The company outsourced a custom coded site that did what RIPT needed it to do for three and a half years. But eventually the site couldn’t keep up with RIPT’s 174% growth rate and yearly revenue of more than $4 million.
“It was bloated and slow,” Mapes recalls. “It was just a mess especially when the cart would go down and people could no longer check out.”
RIPT needed an ecommerce platform that could grow with it.
To compare platforms objectively, Mapes created a spreadsheet with the pros and cons associated with solutions like Magento, BigCommerce, and Shopify Plus. “My partners are really savvy and I knew I’d have to make a persuasive case to get them to switch,” Mapes says. “But when it came down to it Shopify was the clear winner.”
RIPT made the switch to Shopify Plus in October of 2015 based on the following pros:
- The platform’s 99.9% up time
- The ease with which it handles traffic spikes
- The routine addition of new features
- An extensive API that allows for customization
- A robust applications store that allows for easy integrations
We sell a lot of shirts and I love that Shopify calculates the different tax and shipping rates for you. The API is so good we used it to integrate a custom app we built that schedules and pushes all of our products to Shopify automatically.
Mapes even credits Shopify, in part, with turning his his mother into an even bigger fan of RIPT than she already was. “She loves it now,” he says with a smile. “Just the other day my mom told me she was bragging about the company to someone she knows.”
No More Lost Sleep
Shopify alleviates a lot of headaches and stress we used to have about the checkout. I’m not a developer and we don’t even have an engineer on staff but we’re able to do what we want with Shopify.
Besides a responsive site that caters to the 65% of traffic coming from mobile devices, RIPT’s cart and checkout process have materially increased conversions. For instance, Mapes shared the following data from a single day recently:
- 3.19% of visitors add an item to cart
- 2.28% reach the checkout
- 2.27% make a purchase
“This part of the funnel is ironclad,” Mapes boasts.
The cart may be Mapes’ favorite feature but RIPT’s conversion success is also underpinned by the company’s reliance on data to guide strategy.
For instance, email marketing accounts for approximately 30% of RIPT’s revenue. The company uses Shopify’s API and works with its email service provider Klaviyo to rapidly and intelligently segment customers based upon t-shirt design purchase history to send targeted emails that convert at high rates.
The fact that Shopify keeps up with the latest technology is a huge weight off our shoulders. We’re able to do things a lot quicker.
The freedom to focus on growing the business rather than technology has also allowed RIPT to boost its margins. Recently, when Mapes and his team noticed customer demand for shirts that were no longer for sale following the 24 hour window, the company began offering a 12 hour extension but at a premium price.
“I used to lose sleep over our site,” Mapes admits. “But I no longer lose any sleep because I trust Shopify’s technology.”
The Coolest Thing I’ve Ever Done
What started as a company created without an inkling of concern for customer service has morphed into one so customer centric that it’s now part of the company’s cultural fabric. “I tell everyone now our differentiator is our customer service,” Mapes says.
The proof is in the data; sixty percent of RIPT’s purchases are made by returning customers and Mapes suggests the lifetime value of a customer has increased dramatically. “Customer service is the reason for our growth,” Mapes says. “If you provide a great experience they’ll come back.”
Those who do so will soon have more to choose from.
Besides the sweatshirts, posters, and kids clothing that also features the designs from more than four thousand talented artists who get a cut of the revenue earned, RIPT is planning a line of tank tops after customers repeatedly requested them. Plus, the company just might open its t-shirt graveyard one day for a limited time to give customers who missed purchasing a particular shirt a second chance.
“This has been the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Mapes says of growing RIPT. “It’s just a crazy ride and I’m so glad I jumped in.”
Too bad the same can’t be said for Mapes’ bachelor party.