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Oct. 22, 2021

eCommerce Achieving Growth Through Specializing (It’s Nuts!)

eCommerce Achieving Growth Through Specializing (It’s Nuts!)

This episode features guest Kelley D'Angelo, founder of Lark Ellen Farm. Lark Ellen Farm since 2014 has been on a mission to have people live a healthier lifestyle by eliminating grains from your body.

Discover how Lark Ellen Farm has been able to substantially grow their eCommerce business by specializing in a niche. Learn why finding a niche with less competition and high demand is a great way to quickly grow your online sales. From a product idea to a thriving online company discover the steps involved when growing your company specifically the advertising and some of the downfalls to avoid when growing a company.

In addition, listen to this episode to discover what to look for in outsourcing your marketing to an agency. Kelley explains what to avoid hiring a SEM agency to run your Amazon and Google Ads and what she has learned by using 7 agencies in 7 years

Finally, discover her thoughts on selling products on Amazon vs. her own website and some pricing strategies and tips for selling your products on Amazon.

Episode Action Items:

You can find more information regarding Kelley D'Angelo by vising www.larkellenfarm.com

ABOUT THE HOST:

Andy Splichal - Make Each Click Count PodcastAndy Splichal is the World's Foremost Expert on Ecommerce Growth Strategies. He is the acclaimed author of the Make Each Click Count Book Series, the Founder & Managing Partner of True Online Presence and the Founder of Make Each Click Count University. Andy was named to The Best of Los Angeles Award's Most Fascinating 100 List in both 2020 and 2021.

New episodes of the Make Each Click Count Podcast, are released each Friday and can be found on Apple Podcast, iHeart Radio, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts and www.makeeachclickcount.com.

Transcript

Andy Splichal  0:02  

Welcome to the Make Each Click Count Podcast. This is your host Andy Splichal. We're happy to welcome this week's guest to just discuss today's topic which is eCommerce Achieving Growth Through Specializing (It's Nuts!). Today's guest is the founder of Lark Ellen farm since 2015. Lark Ellen farm has been on a mission providing its customers with a healthier life through avoiding grates. Today Lark Ellen Farm is a thriving e-commerce company with a product offering of sprouted granola, sprouted nuts, sprouted trail mix and an all new line of almond potato. A big welcome to Kelley D'Angelo. Hi, Kelly.

 

Kelley D'Angelo  1:23  

Hi, Andy, thank you for having me on today.

 

Andy Splichal  1:25  

Yeah, you know, we're excited to have you. Now before we began with full disclosure of mine, Kelly is one of my private clients that I work with, through True Online Presence. And she has an amazing example of growth when specializing that I brought on today, hoping that she would share. Now, before we get into how much you've grown over the last year, while we've been working together, I would love for you to tell your story, how you got started with Lark Ellen Farm.

 

Kelley D'Angelo  1:53  

Thank you for that introduction, Andy. Well, it all happened back in 2015, I was having some minor health issues. And I started trying to heal my body through the foods I was eating. And so I went on an elimination diet to eliminate a lot of the things that could be causing inflammation in my body. And through that process, I found that I was actually struggling, my body was struggling with grains. And so I eliminated them completely from my diet. But it caused a problem for me because I love breakfast cereals and granolas. And so I started inventing in my kitchen and came up with these grain free recipes. And I started learning also about the benefits of sprouting that nuts and seeds. And through this process, I created my flagship granola products. They're grain free and sprouted. And I started selling at our little local farmers market. And we go down every day and pitch my tent and start selling my products. And they were met with a great amount of success. And people started asking that they could buy them in the grocery stores. And so today we are in about 1200 grocery stores across the country, including Whole Foods and sprouts. And then we have this online business. One of the things that are mentioned here is that I live in a little town called Ojai, it's a small little beautiful valley, in Southern California. And many people come on vacation here. And so they would come to the farmers market and they would buy the products and then they would go home and want them. And that's really how I got started in Ecommerce.

 

Andy Splichal  3:44  

You know, I have a quick question for you. Did you do any research that the find out if there was a market for these grainless products before you started selling? Or was your research really being at the farmers markets?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  4:00  

You know, I really didn't approach this from a research the market perspective, it was more experiential. And it just happened to be this whole process that I was going through coincided with the beginning of the whole paleo diet craze and the low carb craze. And so one of the benefits I suppose, of not having grains in the granola is that it's also low carb. And it met with the Paleo Diet, which I was following at the time. And so I was seeing that a lot. There was a lot of interest from my farmers, market clients and people that were visiting our booth in this lower carb, lower sugar type of product. And I think that's really where we started to see all of our organic growth.

 

Andy Splichal  4:52  

Now, so this was back in 2015. When When did you decide to put up a website and to list your or products on Amazon? And in which one was first? Did you go on Amazon first or create your website?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  5:05  

We created the website first to meet the needs of the of the consumers that were coming to town. And that was in early, really 2015. When we launched, we started with our website. And it was in 2016, that I decided to give Amazon a shot. And then we started selling on Amazon at that time.

 

Andy Splichal  5:29  

And did you use an agency right away when you started launching? Or did you do an in house where how did that work? As far as the advertising of those entities.

 

Kelley D'Angelo  5:41  

I really wasn't doing any advertising for our own website, in the beginning, or really, with Amazon was all organic growth, it was mostly people that were looking for our brands that were ordering. But as I started to see success in those particular channels, then I started turning to advertising. And I had found somebody locally who could do it for me who had a team of people. And he started and really got the groundwork laid for selling both online and advertising online as well as on Amazon.

 

Andy Splichal  6:21  

So since 2015, how many different agencies have you worked with?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  6:27  

Oh, God, I've been through five or six, maybe even seven agencies or individuals that I've used to try and and successfully grow both my Facebook, Google and Instagram as well as my online store.

 

Andy Splichal  6:47  

So that's an interesting point for those ecommerce companies just starting, maybe you can share what were some of the downside why you had to go through so many agencies?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  6:59  

Well, I think that the I guess the first piece is that I did try to do some of it on my own. But it is such a specialized part of the market. And, and the rules change a lot and the ways to success change a lot. And I found that you really needed to have an expert, somebody that really understands their way around, especially if you're competing in a competitive market. And so I would try agencies, I would get a call from a salesperson that, you know, really sounded like they knew what they were doing. And they, they promised a lot of success. And then I would end up in the agency, they would often refer me then to some to, you know, some staff, and I just never got the type of growth that I had been, you know, promised up front. And some of it were things that I had to do differently. For instance, I had to generate better content. But a lot of it is that I just found that the agencies that you just kind of became part of one of their clients, and that it, it wasn't really that same passion. And if digging into the data and really figuring out where you were, they could make a difference.

 

Andy Splichal  8:14  

You know, and I've found a lot of my private clients come to me that way. And it's one of the big downfalls with a large agency is a lot of times the salesperson is awesome. But then once you're an account, you get to like a junior marketer who may not know what they're really doing, and they struggle. Now, when we started together, you were selling granola and you were selling trail mix and you just introduced the sprouted nuts. How did the decision come about to introduce sprouted nuts?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  8:46  

Well, we do already sprout all of the nuts and seeds in our granolas and our trail mixes. It's always been a foundation of our products. But I started to hear from a lot of customers that they were interested in buying sprouted nuts and Sprouted Seeds from us. And so I thought I would just test it and put these up on Amazon to see what kind of response we would we could get. And very quickly we found that our sprouted plain just sprouted nuts sold better than even our flagship products. And so we determined there was a market for it. And there seems to be less competition, because sprouting nuts properly is very difficult manufacturing process. And so we found that it was a really nice niche that we could provide the nuts and seeds to customers who are looking for those.

 

Andy Splichal  9:44  

Now the sporadic granola and the spread a trail mix. They're both crowded fields, but not so much with the sprouted nuts. Was that one of the reasons you develop the liner product or was it after you develop the product that you discovered this?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  9:59  

Well It's a little bit of both, we did start looking at where we could have a niche where there wasn't a lot of competition, especially in the online world. When you look at the cost per click that you have to pay to be successful in the granola category, you're going up against companies like General Mills, and kind and nature's Valley, who have enormous ad budgets and can pay a lot for their clicks. And so when we started to really look at what we do really well, it's the sprouting, and this sprouted nuts and seeds. And that was an area where we felt we could have, we would pay less for those clicks. And we could be successful in that particular niche in the market.

 

Andy Splichal  10:50  

Now, let's talk about your staff in general, do you outsource all your marketing and are there any other positions that are outsourced other than marketing with Lark Ellen farm?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  11:01  

We have a consultant who does our social media, which is part of marketing. And then this, we outsource, of course, this our advertising. And that's really it. We do outsource some accounting or bookkeeping, functionality, but the rest of it is done in house.

 

Andy Splichal  11:22  

What about product fulfillment?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  11:25  

We do all of that in house as well. 

 

Andy Splichal  11:28  

Really. Okay, so you're shipping orders off the website just right from in house.

 

Kelley D'Angelo  11:32  

Right from in house, we have our own facility here in Ojai, and we shipped direct from our particular warehouse. The only exception is that on Amazon, we have two types of listings, we shipped some of our products through Fulfilled by Amazon, and we fill fulfill some through what they call Seller Fulfilled, which is shipping direct from our own warehouse.

 

Andy Splichal  11:57  

Now, what have what are your thoughts on selling products on your own website versus Amazon? That's a really a hot topic where, you know, Amazon's got the traffic, but you're given up a big commission, what are your thoughts on that?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  12:10  

Well, I think that when you first start selling on Amazon, it's easy to, it's easy to think that that is the right way to go. Because you can sell large volumes. But at the end of the day, you have to really understand all of the fees that are being charged. And you have to be able to figure out what your true profit margin is on the Amazon business. When we first started, we were selling maybe triple what we're selling today on Amazon, but we weren't making any money. And so we had to change our strategy so that we could make sure that it's profitable. And so I think that it's harder on Amazon to control your profitability. And there's some wonderful tools out there that can help you figure that out. But it is something that you have to you have to really consider. And it comes back to your overall strategy for your business, if you're just trying to grow your business so that you can acquire capital or race cloud capital, or you're trying to sell your business and you just want to have top line sales, you know, then of course, Amazon is a great place to do that, because you can really generate a large number of sales. If your goal is to operate your company profitably, then that's something that's a little bit harder to control on Amazon than on your own website. So we would prefer to sell on our own website, we have better margins, and we feel that we can control the quality better by shipping directly from our warehouse. But it's very difficult to achieve the scale that you can when you're selling on Amazon.

 

Andy Splichal  13:57  

You made a couple of great points. We had another ecommerce success story last week and they made the same point of know your numbers. But with the Amazon it's even more so how much did you find the price point and needing to bundle to be able to profitably sell your products on Amazon came into the equation?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  14:17  

Well, I think it's a it's definitely a rookie maneuver that newer brands that are that are selling in the Ecommerce world that we that we tend to make and I definitely made it in the beginning was wanting to sell as many of my products as possible and so offering them you know one bag, but when you do the when you do the math on selling, say one bag of granola and then having to ship that unless your loot unless you're using it just as a customer acquisition strategy and you're going to make up the revenue in the lifetime of that customer. Then there's really no place for single units or small small bundles. We found that unless we were doing in excess of $40, on a sale, that the profitability just really it goes down, both on our own store, and also on Amazon. So bundling is really the only way to make good profit margins if you're offering free shipping in the E commerce world.

 

Andy Splichal  15:23  

Now, when you sign up with Amazon, you have to have the same price for the products on your own website. Have you ever thought or tried to push the envelope as far as pricing and off the record? When I say off the record, it's really on the record, because we're recording? Have you ever been? Have you ever been tempted to do that?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  15:46  

Well, you know, we, we know that when you sign up, you have to talk about price parity. And so and you have to commit to that. And so we did, but it's a little tricky because we sell in grocery stores too. And, you know, grocery stores are offering their own discounts on products based off of discounts that we've promised to the distributors. And so there's a lot of different factors. And so we did play around with our pricing a bit on Amazon to try to get our margins up. And they did freeze a couple of our listings. And so we had to, you know, get creative. And one of the ways to get creative in this world is to bundle because you know, where Sprouts Farmers Market might sell our product for one price, they don't sell a three pack. And so you can be more creative on a three pack or six pack than you, you know, if it's a one pack, it's very easy to compare the pricing there. But if it's a three pack, that's a different product. And so you have more price flexibility. So really understanding how to play in that market can give you some flexibility with pricing.

 

Andy Splichal  16:59  

That's a great tip. Now personally, as you've gone through this journey, from the farmers market to a successful e commerce companies, has there been any business books out there or mentors that you could attribute to your journey as an entrepreneur?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  17:14  

There's been so many, so many I can't even begin to to say what all the ones that have influenced me. I do like this one book called Make Each Click Count by Andy Splichal.

 

Andy Splichal  17:29  

It's a fantastic book I've heard.

 

Kelley D'Angelo  17:31  

It's a fantastic book. It's right here on my table next to me. You know, I'm reading some really nice books right now the leadership and the art of growing up. It's called Reboots, and another book called Elevate, push beyond your limits and unlock success and yourself and others. But I don't find most of my inspiration from books, though I do read quite a few of them. I think most of my most was inspired me. And what I've learned has been just people in my life. And I have had some wonderful mentors, both from investors that have believed in me, as well as in organizations like score, which is a nonprofit that helps businesses and just along the way, I've had some really wonderful people believe in me and invest and in my success and my company's success, and they've been the most inspirational and taught me the most.

 

Andy Splichal  18:29  

Now Lark Ellen Farm is a very interesting name for a company. What's the story behind your company name?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  18:37  

Well, when I first started at the Ojai farmers market, I was actually under the name Ojai granola girl. And that's what I started as. And I had tried to trademark it and found out that granola girl was already trademarked. And so I began looking for another name. And I don't know if you've ever tried to find a name for a company, but it's amazing when you go and you think of these things that you think are very original, and then you go to trademark and they're taken. And I think that's why a lot of food brands have you seen that? You'll start noticing a lot of them use the founders name in the brand and the reason is because that's some way to really personalize it into trademarking. So. Anyway, we were going through rendition after rendition of names and everything was trademarked and I call up my folks who live here in Ojai and we brainstorm and Wednesday my my dad get kind of frustrated with all but you know, brainstorming and he said heck, why don't you just call it Lark Ellen farm, because I live on a little half acre farm in Ojai on a little street and it's Lark Ellen, so we would call this Lark Ellen farm he says why don't you just call a Lark Ellen farm no one's gonna have that. Um, so it just says an interesting side story. When I decided that I was going to do that I thought I wonder where the name Lark Ellen comes from from my street. And so I googled it and learned that Lark Ellen was an opera singer at the turn of the century, and she had this amazing voice that sounded like a lark when she sang. And her name was Ellen. And so they called her Lark Ellen. But I loved about her, when she was highly philanthropic, she would give her earnings from her opera singing to orphans, and eventually went on to open a school in Los Angeles, called the Lark Ellen School for Boys, which in my research has shown was shown to be a wonderful home for orphans at that time in our history, and a wonderful place when they didn't have families where they could be raised and taken care of. And so I loved her philanthropic spirit, and it seemed very fitting to have that be an influence in the name of my company. Because I think overall, what my mission has always been is, is to be kind to ourselves, the way that we eat and the way we think about ourselves, be kind to each other, and be kind to the earth. And I feel like Lark Ellen spirit is in some of that in her philanthropic ways.

 

Andy Splichal  21:30  

You know, I think I read about her, and I believe that she was on a grainless diet. Did you know that?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  21:36  

I did not know that. 

 

Andy Splichal  21:38  

Well, it's not true. I just made it up. And it would be

 

Kelley D'Angelo  21:41  

Would be a good part of the story, though, right?

 

Andy Splichal  21:42  

Yeah. Well, what do you think has been the biggest reason why you've been able to grow to where you are now?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  21:51  

Well, I think that's a lot of good fortune, is come my way, I have a lot of a lot of supportive people that have believed in me, I think our quality of our products are like none other in the marketplace. And as people are understanding the connection between food and your health and the way you feel, people are looking for more and more options of companies that are truly trying to make food the right way. And that's exactly what we do, we take a lot of extra care to sprout the nuts and seeds to make them easier on your body. We only make organic products. And we do them, we make them in a very special way. And I think that really resonates with people, they feel good when they eat our products, and they love the way they taste. And so we haven't done a tremendous amount of advertising for the amount of growth that we've had. And I think it's largely because the product just resonates with people in the marketplace. And we source well, we make our own products, we can make them. And so it's it's not like we're a big corporation, just trying to, you know, pump out food, we're, we're really trying to be thoughtful about what we what we make.

 

Andy Splichal  23:16  

Now, what is some advice that you could give to other ecommerce store owners out there, if they want to grow their brand?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  23:25  

I think you really have to understand your target market, you really have to understand what makes you unique. And you have to understand how to tell that story. I believe that Ecommerce, a lot of what's happened with Ecommerce is how well you can tell your story. And so content matters in with Ecommerce and it's becoming more and more important. I also think you have to find and I'm lucky enough Andy that I've met you found somebody reputable who really understands their way around advertising. And can it can really get in and help you drive the sales that you need. It just takes a very special person that really understands the marketplace to make sure that you get the right return on your ad spend and you're not wasting money.

 

Andy Splichal  24:20  

Yeah, no key for sure. Now, is there anything else you'd like to add? Before we wrap it up today?

 

Kelley D'Angelo  24:25  

I think that I just think it's a wonderful time to be starting an Ecommerce brand. There's so much opportunity out there and so many different ways to reach consumers that people didn't have before. And so there's people that are starting up their ecommerce brands and then get are getting ready to launch or are in process of building their brand. I just want to wish them luck and just tell them to continue to be passionate about what they do and be determined and they'll they'll reach there success.

 

Andy Splichal  25:00  

Awesome. Well thank you again for joining us today Kelley.

 

Kelley D'Angelo  25:04  

Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

 

Andy Splichal  25:07  

Well for listeners remember if you liked this episode, please go to Apple podcasts and leave an honest review. And if you're looking for more information regarding Kelly, or Lark Ellen farm, head over to www.LarkEllenFarm.com. In addition, if you're looking for more information on growing your business, check out our all new podcasts Resource Center available at makeeachclickcount.com we have compiled all the different past guests by show topic and included each of the contact information in case you would like more information on any services that I've discussed during the previous episodes. That's it for today. Remember to stay safe, keep healthy and happy marketing and I will talk to you in the next episode.