Global eCommerce Success Story with Bryce Capp from Milton & King

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What it Took to Become a Global eCommerce Success Story with Bryce Capp from Milton & King | Ep39

What does it take to build a global multi-million dollar eCommerce wallpaper business? Find out as we chat to Bryce Capp from Milton and King about some of the biggest challenges in building and marketing a global brand from the ground up. 

What started as a small family canvas print business based in regional Queensland Australia, blossomed into a luxury wallpaper design and manufacturing business with a global audience and offices in the US, UK and Australia. 

Bryce Capp from Milton and King joins the podcast to share some of the biggest challenges in building, innovating and marketing e-Commerce products. Stay tuned to learn how Bryce and his brother and co-founder Richard developed their brand from the ground up. 

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • How Bryce and Richard developed a design and manufacturing company in regional Queensland Australia that now has a global audience with offices in the US and Uk
  • Their biggest challenges with marketing and communication 
  • Why they decided to go direct-to-consumer and embrace eCommerce
  • How they have gone about convincing a broader audience that wallpaper is back on trend 

Listen on your favorite podcast platform

Guest: Bryce Capp, Milton & King

Bryce is the head of product and brand at Milton & King and Co-founder along with his brother Richard. Through the brothers' shared passion, Milton & King is a family business dedicated to the evolution of the wallpaper and fabric industry. Bryce infuses his unique sense of style into almost everything they produce, working hard to keep the brand on trend.

Connect with Bryce

Website 

Pintrest 

Instagram 

Facebook 

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And a big thank you to MegsJB6 for their wonderful review:

“Nicci knows her stuff and is really easy to listen to. Super helpful. I’ve already started implementing some ideas into my business.”

Transcript

Nicci O'Mara

The Simply Standout Marketing Podcast is for you, the small business owner wanting to supercharge your marketing with simple actionable strategies and inspiration so you can smash your goals and grow your business. Now it's your turn to discover what actions to take to make your business truly stand out and succeed. Let's get started.

Nicci O'Mara

Hello and welcome to the Simply Standout Marketing Podcast. I'm your host, Nicci O'Mara and today I'm super excited to be joined by Bryce Capp from Milton and King, a leading luxury designer wall coverings design and manufacturing business. Welcome, Bryce, to the podcast.

Bryce Capp

Thank you, Nicci. Thanks for having me.

Nicci O'Mara

Oh, it's wonderful. To give people a bit of an introduction on who you are - you are the head of product and brand at Milton and King. You're also the co-founder, along with your brother Richard. And look together, the two of you have created a really remarkable business, as we were just talking about, with a global audience, which is fantastic. So you're the best person to tell your story rather than me, so from a marketing and a business point of view, I love your vision, your innovation, and I love your strategy and the story behind Milton and King. So can you actually tell us a bit about the startup of Milton and King?

Bryce Capp

Yes, I certainly can. It certainly hasn't been an overnight thing. We've been at it for about 14 years. The brand has evolved quite a bit significantly over that time, but originally it was a bit of a struggle. We actually got into canvas prints to start with and was doing that. We had the wrong equipment and had to borrow some money off our oldest brother to get started, but he threw it on his mortgage and came to the party, which was very good. So we bought a printer, we're doing canvas prints, we're doing stuff for John Murray out at Lightning Ridge and art reproductions and stuff. And we did a brochure up that said that we could do wallpaper and we couldn't. We had no idea how to. So Richard got out and hit the road, saw all the interior designers with this brochure and there's a lot more response for that. And we thought, hang on, there might be something in this and there might be a market there. At that time, digital wallpaper wasn't a thing. There was no off the shelf solution for it or any real way of doing it successfully and commercially.

Bryce Capp

But we just trialled and tested and battled on and we used that machine that we had, which wasn't right. We then hand sprayed it metre by metre using the same spray we coated the canvases in. We'd roll out a metre and then spray it and then let that dry. But somehow we managed to sell this stuff and that just sort of kept us going, really. And the whole time we're also doing canvas prints and we just continued on. I think the first year we did about nine grand in wallpaper, and that was enough to get us excited about the potential of the market. And it just sort of grew from there a few things fell in our lap. We got approached by some company in Japan that wanted to sell it. I don't know how he found us, but he did. And then that sort of made things happen and made us really just continue to develop how we did it. But I'm skimming through it pretty briefly there. But it's been a mission to be honest.

Nicci O'Mara

I didn't realise that you started off doing prints. So many businesses start doing one thing and then go, okay, that's not working. Let's change.

Bryce Capp

Yeah. The biggest thing, the eye opened with that is that we were hand making our frames and we were doing our canvas prints, and then we went and saw this guy in Glen Innes who's producing hundreds of thousands of prints a day sort of thing. He's got these mechanical stretches and all this stuff, and we just go, oh, my God, we can't compete with a dude like this. This isn't where it's at. And so we thought, this isn't commercial enough. And that was really what drove us down the wallpaper route is that the future of canvas prints was fading, I think, and the difficulty was too high and just not scalable. So we chased that wallpaper.

Nicci O'Mara

Because wallpaper is one of those things where really I haven't seen for up until the last probably five or ten years. It was always something I remember growing up, people would have, my grandmother had wallpaper on her walls. So it's obviously making a comeback without a doubt, if 14 years later, you're still here.

Bryce Capp

Yeah, well, it is. I mean, we've had to chase the market, and the market in Australia has been difficult. We've headed overseas, where the sale of wallpaper is a lot easier. They're more educated around buying online. They're more educated around wallpaper. So the sale there is a lot easier. And 90% of our product goes overseas. Yes, wallpaper certainly is making a comeback, but it's not making a comeback quick enough in Australia.

Nicci O'Mara

That can be something to work on anyway. You do things or you've done them very differently from the very start, and you've gone straight direct to consumer rather than setting up your own store or selling into actual stores. What made you decide to go direct to consumer and what have been the benefits of doing that?

Bryce Capp

There's a couple of reasons behind that. We did actually wholesale for a while. When we changed our production technology, we went to a faster machine that would do three roles a minute, and that allowed us to then, it brought our production cost right down and allowed us to do some volume. And on the back of that, we went into wholesale and we were selling through all the leading wallpaper stores in Australia, and it worked reasonably well, but the volume just wasn't there. It wasn't going to sustain us really. So we pulled back from wholesale and said, look, we're going to have to take that margin ourselves and go direct to consumer. The other side of that is that we had websites up that were basically just catalogues and we were getting approached by all these people overseas and we thought, well, we've got to turn these things into a store and we'll sell direct. Obviously, on the back of that comes a heap of logistical issues in terms of freight and all that sort of stuff, customer support, a lot of things you've got to work through in order to go direct to consumer. So it's been the right decision, but it hasn't been an easy one.

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah, well, I ca n imagine. And you would have over the 14 years, was it just you and your brother at the start and what have you grown to now?

Bryce Capp

It was, we roped in Mum and dad too, so they'll be cheap, cheap Labour for a long time. We actually moved in with Mum and dad when we started, so we were both obviously a lot younger and skinnier back then. So we moved in with Mum and dad and wrote them in. They worked with us for the best part of eight years, I think. So there was the four of us and then we hired a couple of people, a few mistakes. It's been hard to find the staff, but then we've hired along the way some absolute crackers that are still with us, Hailey just informed me that it was a six-year anniversary the other day, and they've transformed our business at the start. We found it hard to let things go, but out of necessity you do. And those people that you trust to represent what we do and how we operate, and they've done it beautifully all up. There's four or five in the US and there's six or seven, depending on volume here in Australia.

Nicci O'Mara

Well, and that's a good size team.

Bryce Capp

There's also one in the UK too, but I keep forgetting about him.

Nicci O'Mara

In terms of you've been in business for a while, what's something that you wish that you'd known back when you first started that would have helped you along the way?

Bryce Capp

I think we've probably made a few mistakes in terms of chasing Fool's gold, I guess, and being distracted about endless potential, like you look at something and go, let's go chase that. Let's get that. Whereas staying direct to where your money comes from is probably the biggest thing to begin with, we were trying to spread ourselves too, but now we know where the money comes from and that's our main focus. Yeah.

Nicci O'Mara

And I think for most businesses I know from my own experience it's something that you do until you are really sure this is my niche. This is my specialisation. This is where I'm going ahead and I'm not getting off that track because otherwise well, for me, you end up wasting so much time doing other things and then you come back.

Bryce Capp

The cost of these mistakes too. And because we're online and we're doing a lot of ecommerce stuff, investment in doing something is not only time, but there's a cost involved and that doesn't work. And you go, well, what are we doing? We should just stuck to what we know and done that better.

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah. What have been some of the hardest things with going online and selling online that you've found the hardest.

Bryce Capp

I suppose the customer support has been tough for us because our markets are overseas, we do sampling, so we sell samples on the site. S I o supplying those samples domestically has been, because obviously you can't ship a $4 sample from Australia, so working out how to get through that hurdle has been tough. And then particularly when we've been based in Australia and the customer support that goes on the back of that has also been difficult. Just with the time zones and all that sort of stuff. The shipping and everything, it's pretty easy, like DHL runs a very good organisation. We've got a good rate, so that's actually not too bad. But, yeah, it's just that education and so on, really. And marketing is constant. Selling the brand is obviously you can't sell a secret, so it's hard.

Nicci O'Mara

Yes. And look, marketing keeps changing as well, so that makes things interesting. Now, look, you're talking about the education side of things just before. How have you gone about convincing a broader audience, especially, say, Australians, but also the UK and America and Canada, that Wallpaper is back on trend and easy to use and trying to get people interested that way.

Bryce Capp

Well, firstly, the Australian one is really tough. We haven't educated market very well here at all. We've kind of been waiting for a big play to roll on through and go, right, I'll educate the market and on the back of that we might get a few more sales, but in the US, it's mostly down to, we have a very good influencer outreach program, so we give away a couple of roles in return for a big list of content and assets, which works really well. And obviously, it snowballs from that. We have a blog that we promote and do a lot of work on the Facebook ads and all those top-of-funel type stuff. But really it's the influencer programthat is the most successful. But in the US, Wallpapers always been a thing. They're not afraid, they're very brave in their choices. And the market is so massive and it's really not a hard sell.

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah, well, it's interesting because some of your designs are incredible and scrolling through, you have so many products and it was great to sit here and look at my office and go, that could actually work really well here and here. And I thought, well, it can't actually be too hard if you're selling it online to do. And I think back ten or 20 years ago, you see all the fails of people putting up wallpaper and it's obviously a lot easier to do now. And, sorry, not the patterns. The designs are just simply unbelievable.

Bryce Capp

Yeah, they are. The wallpaper base, obviously, with most things, has improved over time. So it's now a non-woven base, which means it's a fibrous backing with a paper top layer. And what that allows you to do is put the glue straight on the wall and then just without any water or anything, it just sticks straight to that and use enough glue to be able to slip it around, put where you want it and then trim it up. It also allows for big, easy removal. So big sheets come off in big sheets, so you don't need steam or really just struggle with it. It comes off and then you just have to clean the glue off. So in terms of putting the paper up now, it's a piece of cake. It's really easy, so you just need to be patient and well organised, really. In terms of our designs, ours is a digital surface print, so they're all flat. So we try and create designs, now, it's really important for us to collaborate with artists and our in-house team to do designs that have a lot of texture, have a lot of depth, are more traditional in their designs.

Bryce Capp

Although we collaborate with a lot of pretty out there artists, we see an opportunity for more traditional patterns that also circles back to who our competitors are. So we compete with traditional manufacturers just because of the type of product we have. And obviously they've been making wallpaper for hundreds of years and they've got lots of analogue type technology that do things very different to what we do and produce a product that's quite different but amazing. We've got to be on the cusp of creating new sort of designs and trends in order to have a different point of entrance into the market, I guess.

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah, absolutely. And look, you've got that worldwide audience as well, which is remarkable. And for a lot of businesses taking that step from being just selling within their own country, whether it be Australia, the US or wherever, taking it to that broader audience, from a marketing perspective, what's working really well now for you with having a global audience, because there are different words, there are so many things that can be misconstrued or change once you go from one country to the next.

Bryce Capp

Yes. So our markets are really only North America and the UK. We do a little bit in Europe, but not a lot. So in terms of the clarity around our message, it's pretty easy. It's pretty much the same across the board. Each market has different trends. I guess we sell different products in different markets, which is quite surprising. It's also a bit seasonal in terms of what's working for us. We're still doing pretty well with Facebook, Pinterest, and obviously Instagram, which is the same thing. We've got an average order value that is high enough that we're able to still see a profit out of Facebook ads. So that's still working well for us, I guess because the luxury we have is that we're a manufacturer, so we're not a drop-shipping site. We're not selling someone else's products, we're selling our own. So we have margin in that. So with that margin, we're able to probably push a little deeper than what a drop-shipping website would be able to selling someone else's products. So I think what we're seeing now and what we'll see in the future is that we'll still be able to continue to push through Facebook ads.

Bryce Capp

And I'll see a few of our competition competitors probably fall off and not be able to keep up quite as well. And that's where those direct to consumer brands will probably push to the fall because they have that margin in the product. It is obviously with all these updates to Apple and iOS 14 and 15, it is hard to obviously track our conversions and lifetime values and all that sort of jazz. But as a whole ecosystem, that still works quite well.

Nicci O'Mara

And what about things like obviously you've got a website and that's the base for all of your marketing. What about things like email marketing? Do you do much of that?

Bryce Capp

Yeah, we do a lot of that. So we use Clavio, which is an automated system. It also does campaigns and so on. It's really good. It's the metrics it gets and the data it gets from customers and it's really good on the back of that. We can leverage quite a bit of segmentation and deliver unique messages to each customer. We currently work, I'm actually doing back in there now, I haven't updated that for a bit. So we're back in Clavio now and just rejigging out our welcome flows on the back of the Apple updates and the Google updates. What it has done is it's made the value of your customer so much greater. And that own data like your email list and SMS list becomes very important. And turning those customers into getting more value out of those customers rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on getting new customers, it's far better off obviously squeezing a bit more out of the current ones. So just fine tuning all those little things just to increase those lifetime values.

Nicci O'Mara

And look, it's one of those things that I always say to people, having your email list, your SMS, your customer details, all of those type of things is absolute gold because Facebook could disappear next year. I dont think it will, but one day it probably will. Like Google. What was it? Google plus? I mean, it's gone and then there's TikTok, there's Snapchat, not that Snapchat's your audience, but there will always be something new and you'll never own it. And we've all found, was it last year? I think last year in Australia when they decided to close all the new sites, but all these other sites got, all these other pages, got taken down too. It's just not having that control, which is what I love about having your websites with your lead magnets and then going to emails and email funnels and things along those lines. It's something that you own that no one else has any control over, which is always a good one.

Bryce Capp

And it's also, obviously you've got full control over the tone of voice and your outward message through those lists. So it's the best way to tell your story. We're big fans of email and we've only just started SMS, so we only do that in the US, we use Attentive, but it's going really well. It's converting well for us and we'll start doing SMS blast once we throw up a new product soon. So it'll be interesting to see how those go. But, yeah, it's a winner for us so far.

Nicci O'Mara

And that's great. I find companies who can do SMS well just absolutely reap the benefits. But so man, actually, I think too many businesses do SMS really badly and also messaging on Facebook, messaging and things along those lines. They do them so badly and so it's spammy and horrible and cringeworthy that people, it's the quickest way to lose a prospective customer. But that's the same as doing email badly or anything, but those that can do it do amazingly.

Bryce Capp

Our angle with the SMS. I found some old photos of Richard and I when we were starting and holding up our first piece of paper. We're working on that sort of thing. We want to try and tell a bit of a story with some humor and it's working pretty well and it's also a bit more, it's not quite as formal as emails, so you can have a bit of fun with it. It's converting while it's going. It's good.

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah, that's fantastic. Stories are the things that people want to know about the business as well as they want to know that you can give them the transformation in the room that they're looking for or the results that they're looking for, internal and external, but they also want to know your story. I'm amazed by the number of businesses, no matter what they are, that even on their website they don't even say who they are. Like there's no names, there's not even a story, let alone the people behind it half the time.

Bryce Capp

There's not even a contact phone number. So I don't understand how they operate.

Nicci O'Mara

Well, yeah, they don't do so well with their websites, but that's a whole other story. What have you found have been your biggest challenges with your marketing and communication?

Bryce Capp

Well, it's always been capital. Capital is the issue through the whole system. Like if you don't have capital, it slows everything down. Obviously, we're 100% customer-funded, so we've had to wait for the sales to increase in order to take the next step. So it has been a drawn-out process. We didn't start really, apart from our outreach program, we didn't start marketing until probably about two years ago. We didn't run any ads on any channel. It was down to capital and the cost of doing so. Yeah, we relied heavily on that outreach programme and that worked really well. But obviously once you can afford to spend a few dollars on ads, it helps.

Nicci O'Mara

Have you seen a really big difference since you started doing more marketing?

Bryce Capp

Yeah, obviously we've had some pretty big growth. The traffic, I think, to our site probably, let's say two years ago we were probably doing maybe 1000 hits a day, whereas now we're about 180,000 hits a month. It's significant. And obviously, it all comes down to that lead capture and so on. So it's all good to drive traffic, but you want to make them into a customer along the funnel somewhere.

Nicci O'Mara

Absolutely. As you know, that's driving the right people to the website and then getting them to do what you want them to do once they're on there. It's never a simple solution.

Bryce Capp

Right. And unfortunately, Wallpaper is not an impulse buy. So we do get it's usually about anywhere from three visits to six visits before they make a purchase, and generally, the purchase is a sample. And then once they receive their sample pack, it's usually another couple of weeks before they make a decision. So our sales cycle is a pretty long one, which throws up other challenges as well.

Nicci O'Mara

But at least you know those metrics and you understand this is how long it takes, which is half the battle. Once you actually understand that it does take three to six visits and the whole process, it does make it so much simpler to work out what your marketing is. I've always found.

Bryce Capp

Absolutely.

Nicci O'Mara

Now, look, you've been in business for a long time. What achievements are you most proud of over that time?

Bryce Capp

I think just getting to where we are is a massive one. We constantly, each month is usually better than the last. So the growth we've had is a real achievement. We won that Export Award Cup last year, which was good recognition, so that was the Ecommerce Export Award. So that was nice. But yeah, really, it's the growth that keeps driving us. We look at that and go, we feel like we've barely gotten started yet. We've got so much potential left to go and the excitement of rolling out new products and so on. That's what drives us to keep going, I guess.

Nicci O'Mara

Well, you've certainly achieved a lot. Now, how many designs have you actually got now?

Bryce Capp

It's climbing every week. I'd say probably around the 700 unique SKUs, but if you're taking the count colour-wise and everything, we're probably around the 1500 SKUs.

Nicci O'Mara

That is a lot of products. And that's a whole other challenge in itself to send people down the right path on your website, without a doubt, to try and find this is what they want rather than that.

Bryce Capp

Right.

Nicci O'Mara

With that many, yeah.

Bryce Capp

That is a constant work on for us. We haven't quite nailed that. Down on our site is the filtering and how to direct. How a customer can navigate through so many products. They don't generally know what they're looking for, which is part of the battle. They've got a bit of an idea, but that filtering and that search is a constant work on for us and obviously.

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah. And look, I think anything in business, it doesn't matter what you're in, it's always going to be that constant okay, how can we make things better? Nothing will ever be perfect the first time you put it out. So I used to think that you could do it, but, yeah, it just doesn't work that way.

Bryce Capp

Our side is constantly evolving and we constantly have issues. We used to talk to these bricks and mortar stores. They complain about everyone's got a website and we'd say, look, I don't think I understand how much work goes into maintaining a website and the cost of a website and driving traffic. You've got a store that people walk into. It's a funny one, but ecommerce is evolving pretty rapidly. The take-up on it is massive. You've got Amazon to really think for educating the market on how to buy online. That's where for us, if the Internet broke one day, we'd be in a lot of trouble.

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah, I think a hell of a lot of businesses actually would be in a lot of trouble, without a doubt. Now, what's next for Milton and King?

Bryce Capp

We're currently setting up a showroom in Dallas. We were in Austin with our customer support and sampling, but we've moved back to the design district in Dallas and we've got 400 square metres or whatever that is in feet. It's a big one and that will be showroom and production. So we're putting in a printer over there and we'll be taking all the US orders off Australia here and just printing them domestically. So that'll be great. We'll be quick at a market, Americans love to buy, so all that sort of stuff is going to be very good. We're obviously really dropping our DHL bill, which will be the main driver behind it, is to get rid of that shipping expense. So that's exciting. We've got a few updates on the site, which again, we're hoping are going to be very positive. We're probably trying to get into a wholesale market or designing a wholesale collection for drop shipping sites. That's something we found. What we're good at is curating collections and production. So we're just maximising those things basically.

Nicci O'Mara

Fantastic. Well, it's going to be a busy few years ahead, I'd imagine.

Bryce Capp

Yeah. Then you can look at the EU and go, let's convert into a few different languages. And how do we customise those languages? Where do you stop?

Nicci O'Mara

Yeah, I was going to say one step at a time.

Bryce Capp

Yeah, sure.

Nicci O'Mara

Fantastic. Well, look, we'll put all that information in the show notes so people can just click through and find it all. But thank you so much Bryce for taking the time and coming and talking to me. And I'm sure your story will help a lot of other people who are either around the same stage of business or just starting out and going: what was I thinking? Where am I going to now?

Bryce Capp

Richard and I have often said if we had to start again, we probably wouldn't like it's been hard work. And when we couldn't get finance for our first printer, Richard used to sleep in front of a demo and he'd use it at night and roll out his swag and he'd sleep in front of it. But the guy that was selling the machine got jack of that because we were only paying for ink and we were working up more hours on it than he was. So it's taken everything and a lot of involvement from Mum and dad and anyone else that was willing to give us a hand to get going. Like it's been a long road, but I'm very glad we've kept at it. But if you were to do it again, you have to think twice. I think.

Nicci O'Mara

I can't wait to see what's going to be coming up in your future. And, yeah, I think I'm going to have to check out, I need to change the white walls in the office here.

Bryce Capp

Well, there you go. That's part of the problem. And I've narrowed it down to the real estate market in Australia. Is that the white walls and the white everything is the battle. If we can convince everyone that to sell your house doesn't have to be white, I think we'd be halfway there. 

Nicci O'Mara

Go and start with the real estate agents on that one. 

Nicci O'Mara

Thanks for listening to the simply Standout Marketing podcast. Head over to Simplystandoutmarketing.com for the Show notes, downloads and even more great stuff to help you grow your business with marketing made simple.

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