When it comes to growing your retail brand into an e-commerce success, there’s no magic formula. It takes hard work, an infinite amount of determination and a lot of research.

From humble beginnings over 20 years ago, to competing with industry giants and becoming the fastest-growing footwear line in Canada, at Manitobah Mukluks we attribute our success to a couple of key moments: the decision to remain absolutely authentic in our footwear construction and look, the decision to forge a relationship with Export Development Canada—which allowed us to take bigger risks, expand at a far more rapid pace and help us manage growth—and, our decision to grow the business online.

Since launching online five years ago, we now produce beautifully handcrafted mukluks and moccasins for customers in 48 countries – places one might not associate with mukluks and moccasins, like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

We’ve expanded our business online and significantly increased brand awareness by following these four simple and successful e-commerce strategies:

1. Focus on business, not technology 

People tend to view online as a retail location and have a “build it and they will come” mentality. Business owners spend a lot of time and investment building what they think is the ultimate website/e-commerce platform and use all the latest technology, but then nobody visits. Success is about thinking differently to find the right solution. Our solution was Shopify.

With Shopify, there was no need to hire and manage a development team. Instead, the focus was on the business and it became more of a marketing project—figuring out how we could best share our story.

Shopify isn’t the only option, but it’s the one that worked best for us. There are other platforms available like Volusion, SquareSpace, LemonStand, 3dCart and many others. Make sure to do extensive research to help decide the platform that best suits your business needs.

When you think about e-commerce, you should think about seizing demand and building brand awareness. The technology you’re using isn’t the focus – capturing the people looking for your product is.

2. Grow your business quickly with online marketing

In the traditional marketing I did before entering the e-commerce world, I would have a yearly marketing budget—based on my sales— to spend on what I thought were the most strategic initiatives. Sometimes it was grassroots (like word-of-mouth or referrals), other times it was a print or broadcast ad.

I’d spend the money, cross my fingers and hope for the best. And that was the end of it.

Then I started using Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising and Return on Investment (ROI) marketing and everything immediately changed.

With PPC and ROI marketing, when you’re generating traffic to your website through ads, measuring the conversion of that traffic and understanding the lifetime value of that consumer to your business, you can put a value on every consumer who clicks on your ads.

In other words, if I spend one dollar on marketing or pay one dollar every time an interested consumer clicks on one of my ads, and the value of that click is worth $1.01 back to my company, I make money. And, I get a return on my investment before I pay that initial dollar. When this happens, you can spend indefinitely.

If that same consumer clicks on your ad and it costs you one dollar, but the return to your company is only 99 cents, you’ve lost money, your ability to spend indefinitely and, your chance to grow your business.

To succeed in expanding your business online, you need to find all these different nuggets—who your consumers are by demographic or geography—the people who will click on your ads and then buy your products.

For example, if you find someone who loves a brand similar to yours, you can target them through PPC campaigns, and mine that gold. Then, you can scale your marketing budget in a way you couldn’t with traditional models and significantly increase your online success.

3. Leverage Google and Facebook

Amazon is a global e-commerce titan and one of the world’s most successful companies. And for good reason. It instantly trades off short-term profits for long-term customer loyalty—a brilliant strategy that works. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for Manitobah Mukluks to compete with a company of that size.

Amazon understands the lifetime value of their customer because they sell everything from clothing, to electronics and household cleaning products.

Because of this, Amazon spends far more on PPC advertising to ensure they get the sale, to the point where they sometimes lose money. This poses a real risk to anyone who operates in the direct-to-consumer business world.

On the other hand, Google and Facebook operate differently, which allow business owners like me to reach targeted consumers, build brand awareness and increase customer engagement by sharing our company’s story through AdWords, Facebook ads and our Facebook page. Since Facebook and Google aren’t competing against our businesses for online sales, we don’t view them as competition, but as tools to help grow our business.

4. Omnichannel approach = online + traditional + non-traditional

With an omnichannel approach, you can allow your customers to purchase how they want: in a traditional brick and mortar store, over the phone or online.

A lot of business owners mistakenly think that once they start selling online they begin competing with their retailers. Going online is not counter to that, as a matter of fact, for Manitobah Mukluks, it’s been the complete opposite. Since going online our retail partners have grown tremendously. They’ve also helped us build our brand, invested in it and helped bring it to market.

Going online allows you to build your brand, gain market awareness and spend more on marketing. And, while 90 per cent of footwear purchases are still in brick and mortar stores, we share the sales with our retailers with an even 50/50 split between online and in-store purchases.

Our success can be yours too

Without question, Manitobah Mukluks greatest success has been our move to an e-commerce platform and building our brand online. It’s given us quick access to new markets and rapid return on investment.

We’ve also found great partners, like Export Development Canada who has helped us manage our growth, secure foreign buyers and obtain a new factory in an international market.

At the end of the day, don’t forget that research is key. Put in the time and you will discover, just like I did, that a successful e-commerce strategy will help grow your business. Without the web, Manitobah Mukluks could easily be a niche, local product. Instead, we’re a global player.