Out of Regz didn’t come out of nowhere. President and founder, Joe Van, was noodling with the idea of starting the hair product business during his time in the military, where he spent a lot of time in barbershops and was first introduced to pomade by his barber. Flash forward four years later, and he’s taken the plunge and started the direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand.
Recently, we sat down with Joe to chat about how he brought his products to market, lessons learned, and tips for emerging D2C brands.
Did you always want to get into marketing?
Joe: I was always an art student and had a desire to do something in a creative field. So I just went with it. While in high school, a friend and I actually started a car-related business. There wasn’t much of a business plan whatsoever — it was just for fun. It’s safe to say that I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
After graduating, I went back and forth, trying to start an agency several times before joining the military. Near the end of my 6-year stint, I started my own agency, Little Hero Media, which is my umbrella company for all the clients I work with.
Throughout my experience, I realized I’m good at digital marketing. I worked with a lot of companies on their digital strategies (fundraisers for nonprofits, military-focused products, etc.), and all of those took off.
What do you love most about marketing and helping brands grow?
Joe: I love the creativity of it all. Smaller brands, despite having fewer resources than bigger competitors, have more flexibility. Maybe not so much with budgets, but with campaign ideas, ad creative, testing/experimentation — pretty much everything across the board. I also have a soft spot for underdog brands, so getting them a seat at the table to compete against big brands appeals to me.
What can smaller D2C brands do to grow in competitive industries?
Joe: For me, it’s about ensuring a brand’s costs per click (CPCs) and costs per acquisition (CPAs) are lower than that of their bigger competitors. This helps with maximizing smaller marketing budgets so that each dollar spent is contributing to the bottom line. I’ve noticed that many larger businesses have a habit of throwing money at specific goals; this is an inefficiency smaller brands can exploit.
What have you learned from working on the agency side that has helped you grow your new D2C brand, Out of Regz?
Joe: I’ve learned a lot of different digital techniques, especially since my clients span across industry, vertical, and size. Some required more education about their target audience while others have a straightforward product, so they were purely focused on generating sales instead of brand awareness.
For clients with longer buying cycles, I’ve been able to shorten customer journeys by producing a lot of consistent, educational content and relying on email to drive brand awareness of new products. Cross-channel orchestration and making sure all of the messaging worked together in unison was huge in delivering an excellent customer experience.
Tell me a little bit about how Out of Regz got its start?
Joe: During my military days, my barber introduced me to pomade, and almost instantly, I was hooked. The hair-styling product has always been pretty popular among those in the military community.
As I mentioned previously, I’ve always had this passion for entrepreneurship and building a brand, but I never had that big “AHA!” moment until Out of Regz. I was immediately excited about the idea for the brand — the name, the product, I mean, it was crazy. The next day, I was researching all these ingredients and formulas, reverse engineering other hair products, trying to figure out what worked, what didn’t, what I liked, and what I didn’t like.
Making a product is one thing, but basing a business on it is another thing altogether. You need to have a spark that inspires you to take action. The thing that inspired me was creating something with veterans and military guys in mind. There wasn’t anything that was marketed to that specific audience, so it just sort of fit.
What was the inspiration behind the name?
Joe: The name “Out of Regz” is a term you’ll hear a lot in police and fire departments and the military. It’s what people say when you aren’t cleaned up or put together. I heard this a lot in my time in the military since I was always pushing the limits on the regulations when it came to the way I wore my hair, pants, and sleeves. The name resonates with our target audience because it’s a cheeky call out of something they’re familiar with.
What was your go-to-market strategy?
Joe: Before everything else, it was important to us that we created a product and experience with a specific demographic in mind: those in the military and first responders. We tested our pricing and products to make sure that we had something that our target audience would want to buy and recommend to their friends.
Testing three different products at three different prices helped us in determining what our target audience wanted (and at which price point) versus us taking stabs in the dark. This strategy required a larger investment initially, but the results were well worth it.
I’m proud of where we landed. Not only did we want to create a brand geared towards first responders and those in the military, but also a line of hair styling products designed to keep up with their unique lifestyles.
How are you growing the Out of Regz brand?
Joe: There’s an extensive digital marketing plan that we’re executing at the moment (90% of our business comes from this). That being said, social is something that has become a higher priority, so that’s a channel we’re looking to invest more in the future.
We’re in the beginning stages of developing a customer loyalty program where customers will accrue points based on how much they buy, and points can be used to donate to different nonprofits, which relate to the rehabilitation of veterans.
And, lastly, there’s a plan to expand our line of products to include beard cream and beard/mustache oil. To build buzz, we’re looking into conducting a giveaway and promoting it on social — to align with No-Shave November — where we would share user-generated photos of customers with our products.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Joe: Two words: brand awareness. The biggest challenge thus far has been making new, like-minded customers aware of our brand and products. But it goes beyond that. It’s vital to drive quality traffic to our site and ensure that the visitors that do come are in-market for our offerings. This starts with ensuring that the experience a customer receives is consistent with our brand narrative and values. By doing so, this will have a unilateral impact on our cost of doing business: lowering CPCs and CACs and improving customer lifetime value (CLV). A more engaged audience will lead to more sales; it’s as simple as that.
How are you solving for this?
Joe: We’re making investments into social and organic search because they’re some of the most cost-efficient channels for boosting brand awareness. Producing more content will improve our search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and create more engagement on social.
What’s next for Out of Regz?
Joe: Community marketing has been a huge area of interest for us. I want to forge a stronger bond with the military community by using a portion of our proceeds to help veterans transition back to civilian life. It’s a tough transition to go through.
We’re also considering partnerships with barbershops to create custom pomades, which would drive a lot more sales.
D2C Marketing Wisdom
What’s your biggest piece of advice to someone trying to start a D2C brand?
Joe: My biggest piece of advice is don’t try to do it all yourself. A lot of business owners will try to handle everything because they want to save every last cent instead of testing out different channels, optimizing their website, or focusing on customer experience.
Many new D2C marketers believe that they can manage everything, from Shopify, digital display, social, email, etc. The thing that these D2C marketers don’t take into account is that technology will evolve — making it difficult to stay up-to-date on the latest tactics and trends. Make sure to partner with experts across different areas of focus, such as creative, content, digital marketing, and email.
What are your top 3 Do’s and Don’ts for getting a D2C brand off the ground?
D2C Brand Do’s:
- Invest in a digital strategy. If you’re not investing in digital channels, you’re missing out on so many ways to grow your customer base. Common digital channels, such as digital display, email, and social, have an easy point of entry, so getting started is relatively simple.
- Be hyper-focused on customer service/experience. Excellent customer service is an easy way to make or break a new/small business. I’ve closed a lot of sales through Out of Regz, and even though each order is relatively small, they add up. Improving your customer service ensures customers will come back for repeat business and boost CLV.
- Make sure you’re optimizing for mobile. A lot of small businesses ignore this, but it’s so important to prioritize regardless of the business you have. It’s important to be where your customers are.
D2C Brand Don’ts:
- Try to do it all yourself. Marketing is a team sport and requires experts operating cohesively to achieve a common goal: exponential growth. Make smart investments (that fit within your budget) in tools and partners that will help you build your brand for the long term.
- Be desperate. Sometimes it’s stressful for small businesses to get their brand out to market, so they start getting desperate and undervaluing their products. As soon as you start focusing solely on making a sale instead of offering quality products and experience, it’s going to reflect in your marketing efforts. It’ll lower your brand value, and that’s pretty difficult to come back from.
- Ignore tactics that improve organic traffic. Many D2C brands believe that adopting a “spray and pray” approach will grow brand awareness. The thing that they fail to realize is that building a brand awareness strategy that includes SEO and organic social tactics will go a long way with creating more cost-effective promotion.