From Zero to a Ton

It's been just over a month since the last update on DC Tree Delivery and things couldn't be more exciting!!

There is plenty of work to do so this post will be a short one, but TLDR, we sold out of our entire inventory! From 0 sales to 100 trees purchased and counting, here are the highlights that got us there:

  1. Logistical Planning - In order to sell 100 trees we needed to source the trees, transport the trees, store the trees, and deliver the trees. Working with local vendors, storing inventory nearby, and planning delivery logistics ahead of time was vitally important.
  2. Ease of Purchasing - As a new service (both a new business and new concept), ease of purchase was a priority. We kept our price point below $100, made scheduling deliveries simple, and were explicit about what we offer and how it works.
  3. Press, Press, Press - I sent nearly 50 emails to local press, blogs, and radio outlets. After the Washingtonian, CBS, Fox, WTOP, and the largest local blogs picked up the story we saw a huge spike in orders. You can see where we were featured here.
  4. Customer Experience - DC Tree Delivery is more than a delivery service that drops packages off at your door. We are working in people's home, and it's important for our brand to offer the highest level of customer service anyone has ever received. Customers have evangelized our timely deliveries, professional demeanor, and over communication on social media and Yelp.
  5. Backup Plans - Thing will go wrong, saws will break. Have about 3 backup plans.

Plenty more deliveries to go but one final update will document our experience and tease the next Imposter Syndrome Project. But, the biggest thing we realized is that we now own a business with a strong brand and huge potential for growth. Did I mention we also have another 100 people on the tree delivery waiting list?

Happy Holidays 2015! DC Tree Delivery Has Launched!

About a month after the initial customer discovery concluded, DC Tree Delivery has launched! There's been plenty of progress to-date (with much more to come), but I wanted to share what we've learned so far and what's in store for us next. Three main points:

  • Iterate on friends, family, and stranger feedback
  • Logistics, website, more logistics
  • Build a strong sales funnel ASAP

I say "we" because I decided to bring my friend, Koby Arthur, onboard for this project. Koby has a strong background in business development and online marketing that has already come in handy.

1) Iterate on friends, family, and stranger feedback

As mentioned in a previous post, we spent a serious amount of time on figuring out who our customer was, what products they wanted, and how to reach them. Many of our initial assumption turned out to be true: women were generally more interested than men, and that hassle + convenience are the main pain-points to purchasing a Christmas Tree in Washington DC. Though we had over a 50% response rate from our email blast, we wanted to get out and talk to strangers in trendier, more affluent neighborhoods like Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, and Columbia Heights. 

We learned a lot about our two target customers groups: people who buy trees and people who don't. Surprisingly, most people who purchase trees every year aren't in love with picking out their own tree. Even folks who make a weekend out of cutting down their own tree are interested in having one delivered if it means removing the hassle of setup, clean up, and traveling. Almost universally, people who haven't purchased a tree in the past said it was because they didn't have space in their apartments. More interesting was that everyone was worried about how they'd remove the tree.

Overall, there was certainly enough interest in the idea for us to feel comfortable about moving forward.

Our main take aways were a) focus efforts on selling to women b) sell on service and hassle, not the tree itself c) offer different sized trees (even if it makes logistics more difficult) and d) explore tree removal as a service.

2) Logistics, website, more logistics

If we were going to sell trees, we'd need to get our hands on some trees. I spent 2 full days calling almost 50 tree farms in the area. Much to my surprise, wholesale trees are really hard to get. Most people who run tree lots purchase their trees almost 8 months in advance, and most tree farms stop taking orders in August. Yikes.

I thought we were ahead of schedule but it seemed like we were way behind. But, after a day or two of follow ups, I spoke with two tree farms who were willing to work with us. The smallest wholesale purchase is typically 50 trees. Even after a promising customer discovery session, I still don't know what type of response DC Tree Delivery is going to have, and I don't feel comfortable putting a significant amount of money into up front inventory. Instead, we worked out a deal with a local nursery where we'd sell out of their lot this season, paying slightly over wholesale, and next year we'd purchase ahead of time. No up front inventory cost. Bam!

Next up was updating the branding and website. We made slight, but significant changes to our tone. Rather than two scrappy entrepreneurs aspiring to deliver trees to your home, DC Tree Delivery became a holiday convenience service. "We're taking the hassle out of the holidays."

Setting up a tree, stand included, equipped with Dirt Devils to vacuum up the needles feels a lot different than simply "delivering a tree to your house." The brand is modern sophisticated without being pretentious, flirting with playful but always professional.

We updated the website and social media pages significantly. We simplified the website, and changed hosts from Wix to Shopify to better customize our pixel tracking and plugin options. Check out some comparisons here:

3) Build a strong sales funnel ASAP

While it might have been a little late to set up tree purchasing, it turns out we were right on time for developing a sales funnel. I spend every night for weeks developing a strategy for SEO, Facebook Ads, and other way to drive traffic to the site.

Since it was clear nobody was thinking about Christmas prior to Halloween, our goal was to spread awareness about DC Tree Delivery rather than drive sales at this point. We wrote two blog posts (3 Holiday Events Even Longtime Washingtonians Haven't Tried and a Launch Announcement), emailed our modest mailing list, and paid 10$ to boost the post on Facebook.

Social sharing was the number one priority and so far it was worked well. The blog post and launch notice got a fair amount of traction for just 10$. We are currently working on updating or SEO reach and working with advertising partnership including local blogs, podcasts, and community groups. More to come soon but it feels like we're on the right track.

Oh, and out of this early work we had 2 Christmas Tree orders already! Pretty exciting. DC Tree Delivery is up and running. The Washington DC Christmas Tree delivery scene may never be the same.


Project 1 Kickoff - DC Tree Delivery

DC Tree Delivery is my first attempt at a seasonal business. I think it's a perfect side project because a) it has a defined time frame (Now - Dec. 2015) b) has minimal startup costs, and c) can be handled completely as a side project.

Idea: Home delivery, fresh-cut Christmas Trees to residents of greater Washington, DC.

Problem That Exists: Getting a Christmas Tree in the city is difficult. If you don't have a car, it's nearly impossible to get a tree home. If you do have a car, driving to a tree farm, getting sap everywhere, and setting it up in your house is a hassle.

Solution Provided: Deliver fresh-cut Christmas trees including a tree stand and setup so that setting up a Christmas Tree is as simple as ordering take out.

Target Market: Families that have purchased trees in the past but want a simpler solution this year (have car) or young professionals with disposable income who are living on their own for the first time (no car).

First Steps: In order to validate the idea, I spend the weekend talking to people outside busy subway stations. About 50% of people where interested in getting a tree delivered while the other 50% either had a fake tree, didn't celebrate holidays, or weren't interested for various other reasons. Generally, anyone interested in tree delivery wants a solution that was is as "out of the box" as possible. Most people wanted a tree stand and set up included. Since I felt like I had enough early validation, I wanted to get a broader understand of our potential customer base.

I crafted an email to friends and family with a very simple ask: take a short survey. I used Mail Merge to send 100 email but was hyper-aware about my sales funnel (more on that below). Here's the copy:

Hi <<First Name>>,

Thanks for opening this email! If you could please take a few moments to read it before deleting or clicking any links I'd really appreciate it!

A friend and I have been working on a concept that we think is simple, attainable, and has the potential to bring joy to hundreds of people in greater Washington, DC. Our idea is to sell, deliver, and set-up real Christmas trees to DC residents this 2015 holiday season, but with only 83 days, 22 hours, and 15 minutes till’ Christmas we’re going to need your help!

We'd love if you could help us by doing just 2 simple things:

1. Fill out a very short survey
and sign up for our mailing list.
2. And if you're considering getting a tree, please buy one from us :)

Thank you for your feedback and support! Your input will go a long way in better serving our customers. As a special thank you, anyone who joins the mailing list will receive a holiday "GIF-Box" that's perfect for your inter-office email plus a 10% off early purchase promo code.

We hope to see you this holiday season!

Since I knew most of the recipients, I wanted to give them something for their time. Offering something free like a "GIF" box and coupon code was low lift and could increase conversions and initial sales. I was also hyper aware to make sure everyone that opened the survey also liked my Facebook page and signed up for a mailing list.

For the survey I used Typeform rather than SurveyMonkey because upon finishing the survey you can redirect users to a different page. After survey submission, I directed users to Wishpond where they are greeted to "like" our Facebook page and sign up for the mailing list. This helped keep people within the "sales funnel". I was pretty happy with the results:

100 emails sent
54 emails opened
53 surveys opened
53 surveys completed
29 Facebook likes
35 mailing list signups

At the end of the day, it would have been great to get more mailing list signups but looking at the email addresses, all of them were interested in purchasing a tree (aka our target customers).

Results: The sales funnel resulted in close to a 35% "close rate" which I was pretty happy with from an initial test. I discovered that most people interested in purchasing a tree were 1) women (65% were women vs 35% were men), 2) had purchased a tree in the past 3 years, and 3) would pay extra for a tree removal service.

Next Steps: Now that I know the target demographic via Facebook and email, I am going to run some targeted ads pushing people through an updated survey (still directing people to the Facebook and email list sign up).

I also did a huge amount of work on the wholesale tree market and will define that processes in a separate update.

If you're interested in providing some feedback (or getting a GIF-Box) the survey is here!