An extremely innovative growth hack
I recently spoke to someone who truly understands the power of custom merchandise for business development, and how it delights customers and, crucially, brings you new ones for just a few dollars each. It’s a relatively cheap, innovative growth hack that had huge results!
I stumbled across Sujan Patel’s great blogpost about how he generated $980,000 worth of new business for his company “Single Grain” using t-shirts. It was an amazing read, and I immediately emailed him to jump on a call to chat. And he was just as passionate about the cotton as us!
I started by asking Sujan how they began with the t-shirt project.
“We started hearing back from an original handful of clients who we’d given t-shirts to, and they said that they had colleagues and friends who wanted to get their hands on one, too.
So after the original 15 or so t-shirts we had printed for the team and a few clients we decided to lean into it and order 50 more, which we very quickly gave away.
50 t-shirts is obviously still a pretty small amount, but the limited supply resulted in demand. People started getting in touch because they really wanted them, and we could convert them to customers.”
— Muhammad Yasin (@MuhammadInc) August 10, 2013
I wanted to understand how t-shirts could be in such demand, and how they helped actually generate business. What happened from here?
“At the time we were based in San Francisco so there were a ton of startups in the area. So people who got a t-shirt from us might move on to a new company or startup, and obviously take their t-shirt with them and wear it work at their new company. And that obviously helps build your brand’s visibility.
It was kind of crazy. It kind of grew and we started to see shirts being worn in by people in random companies we didn’t know. We realised that because they were high quality and comfortable people would want to wear them regardless.
We then started hearing from customers, friends and mentors who had seen them at events, and in the streets. Our brand recognition was growing!”
So this mainly came from you generating great brand recognition and being “front of mind” because you’d made great t-shirts, and people just loved wearing them?
“Yeah! And on top of this, because we’d started to buy so many we’d often have most of the team wearing them, so people would see us walking around. We’d go to lunch together and we would look like a unit. People would pay attention. Almost as if we were a publicity stunt. So people would notice us, remember us, and that all helped. Especially because we were based in a part of the city that is full of startups and entrepreneurs.”
— Eric Siu (@ericosiu) May 28, 2014
How did you get them out there? And how did it result in so much business?
“Basically we would just give them away to people we knew. Our goal was to get it in the hands of relevant marketers and founders, but really I just gave them away to people I had coffee or lunch with. I’d always carry a few with me, but if I didn’t have one to hand I would just mail one to them afterwards.
Many times I would hear from people on the phone that they recognised our name from having seen it on a t-shirt, or had been persuaded to give us a go because of receiving one.
We had a few clients in SF at that point but when I would talk to potential new customers on the phone, they would say they’d heard of us. And they’d heard of us through someone who’d received one of our t-shirts. These people that we’d given t-shirts to had become our advocates!
Also, the shirts created really strong brand recognition. People sometimes didn’t know how they’d heard of us, but when we dug deeper we could often trace it back to them being around someone who did have a t-shirt. It wasn’t 100% scientific, but we could definitely trace it.
And it really helped that people might see our shirts several times, worn by different people. It massively reinforced our status.”
This must have taken a huge amount of time?
“It wasn’t too bad. Once we got to the point of offering them to everyone who was a subscriber to our newsletter it became a much bigger task. In fact, we sent out thousands and thousands of shirts. Our team on a Fri would just go pack a bunch of shirts over lunch. It was almost a teambuilding exercise!
One interesting side-effect was that our team got a sense of our customers, and started to think of them as people who were interested in our product, not just people who gave us money.”
Why do you consider them an incentive?
“People like free shirts. In fact, people like free anything! But shirts from a brand they resonate with have much more value than most things. I think people are happy to represent a brand that they’re happy with.They want to advocate what they’re familiar with.
I actually sold the company several years ago, but I still get people send me messages saying they’ve seen one of my t-shirts on the street, or being worn by someone at a startup. They’re still working!”
Your blog says that you generated nearly $1 million in sales from giving away the t-shirts. That’s an incredible amount of revenue! Did you calculate any exact return on investment, or customer acquisition cost?
“We didn’t really calculate the exact details. And as I mentioned, it wasn’t always easy to trace an exact route from seeing one of our t-shirts to becoming a customer of Single Grain. They weren’t trackable like a Facebook ad. But we know that they drove that business to us. Plus, the increased brand recognition was worth it alone.
The reality is that you can sometimes feel the value of your merch when you’re wearing it. I’ve been doing this for years now, and I know it works. I wore one of my current company’s hoodies at a conference in London a while back, and the guy next to me started talking to me, asking me how I got my Web Profits merch. It was amazing to be able to tell him I was the co-founder, and have a great conversation with him about what we do.
I did nothing, and a customer started a conversation with me!”
As we wrapped up our conversation, one thing Sujan said to me is still rattling round my brain.
“When I go in my bag, hand a t-shirt to someone and say “Thanks for being an awesome customer” or “I’d love you to be one of our customers”, they don’t forget that. It’s not just the t-shirt. It’s that experience, and the memory of it, that’s so powerful.”
— Chris Savage (@1_savage_man) May 22, 2012
You can read our top tips in full for getting more customers over on this recent blog post here (warning: contains photo of my wallet!), but in the meantime you can get an instant price on great quality t-shirts from our site right here. At the time of writing, you can get 100 great quality t-shirts from as little as £3.66 / €4.40 / $5.65 each. Start now to delight your customers, and get new ones!
If you want to read Sujan’s great blog about how he made money with t-shirts, the original is here.
Also check out his latest company, Web Profits.