Leveraging Subscription Models To Scale an Ecommerce Brand

In this episode of Ecom Experiences, Samir Balwani sits down with Shelley Griffin, the Director of Ecommerce and Marketing at Caffe Vita, to talk about scaling the brand’s ecommerce platform.

Shelley Griffin is the Director of Ecommerce and Marketing at Caffe Vita, a Seattle-based coffee roasting company established in 1995. With over 10 years of in-house and agency experience and two years with the company, Shelley has been instrumental in scaling Caffe Vita’s online store and subscription program. She is dedicated to bridging the gap between physical retail experiences and digital engagement.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [1:19] The growth history and nationwide reach of the Seattle-born Caffe Vita
  • [3:31] Why subscription models have gained rapid traction in the coffee industry
  • [5:24] How to transition one-time buyers into repeat subscription customers
  • [9:31] Shelley shares insights on evaluating and adjusting ecommerce strategies quarterly
  • [10:29] Where to prioritize efforts in ecommerce between retention, subscription, and acquisition.
  • [17:17] A peek into Caffe Vita’s future plans, including a 30th-anniversary celebration

In this episode…

Launching an ecommerce store can be an exciting but challenging task that requires a meticulous balance between innovation and customer retention. How can companies transition customers from a traditional shopping path to a new, engaging digital experience?

Ecommerce strategist Shelley Griffin has reimagined a brick-and-mortar coffee shop through a strong ecommerce strategy. For brands transitioning from in-store to ecommerce subscription services, tailored customer service and data-driven-decision making are crucial for sustaining growth. Subscription services create recurring revenue streams and deepen consumer engagement, while regularly reviewing customer data to establish buying habits allows you to develop and refine retention strategies. 

In this episode of Ecom Experiences, Samir Balwani sits down with Shelley Griffin, the Director of Ecommerce and Marketing at Caffe Vita, to talk about scaling the brand’s ecommerce platform. Shelley delves into the nuances of running an online store, from revamping the subscription model to setting a strategic direction for the brand’s ecommerce growth.

Where to listen:

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Quotable Moments:

  • "Retention is really important, and just educating the customer and getting them excited about it."
  • "Habits are hard to break. So just educating the customer and letting them know that this is super easy."
  • "You hear subscription, and you think you're locked in; it’s definitely not the case."
  • "We can celebrate the longevity of our brand. We're still an independent, locally owned company after 30 years."
  • "Word of mouth is such a huge thing, so get people excited about it, and they’ll tell their friends and family."

Action Steps:

  1. Establish a strong subscription service to encourage brand loyalty and stable revenue: Subscriptions provide consistent engagement and can transform one-time shoppers into regular customers.
  2. Regularly refresh and enhance your brand's digital platform: A user-friendly website improves the customer journey and can significantly boost online sales.
  3. Develop a membership program that connects both online and offline experiences: Offering unique benefits across different brand touchpoints deepens customer loyalty.
  4. Utilize educational marketing to ease transitions for long-standing customers: Educating customers on new services or platforms ensures smoother adoption and satisfaction.
  5. Balance customer acquisition and retention strategies: Focusing on both attracting new customers and nurturing existing ones creates sustainable business growth.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:00

Hey welcome to another episode of Ecom Experiences a podcast where ecommerce marketing leaders who want to grow and scale their brands faster. Join us as we interview some of the smartest brand founders and marketing leaders in the industry. Explore the lessons they learned discover the keys to their success. Discuss what excites them most about the future.

Samir Balwani 0:28

Hi, it's Samir Balwani, here host of Ecom Experiences where we talk to brand founders and marketing leaders about their experiences growing brands. This episode is brought to you by QRY. QRY is a paid media agency that helps brands balance brand awareness and performance marketing to drive predictable and profitable growth. To learn more about how we can help you visit, weareqry.com. I'm really excited about today's guest today, we have Shelley Griffin, the director of E commerce and marketing at Caffe Vita, thank you so much for being here today.

Shelley Griffin 1:00

Thank you for having me excited to be here. Yeah,

Samir Balwani 1:03

I can't wait to dig into things. Because you have such a cool experience around having an e commerce Store retail locations and all everything in between, especially for being such a high volume business. So let's tell me more about the brand. Tell me more about you and your role that you have. Sure, yeah.

Shelley Griffin 1:19

So Caffe Vita, a coffee roasting company. It's been around since 1995. So almost 30 years, based in Seattle, and we have cafes and roasteries in Seattle, New York and Phoenix. So we're nationwide. But based in Seattle? Yes. And yeah, I've been with the company for about a year and a half was brought on really to grow the e Commerce Department, which we'd had an online store for a few years, but it was not really a big focus. And now it's we're really focusing on bringing it in as a strong revenue

Samir Balwani 2:04

stream. So can you talk more about that kind of transition from, you know, as you're looking ahead, as you're thinking about e commerce for a brand like this? What's the customer experience look like? Like, who is the customer? Is it people that already know about Caffe Vita? Or are you trying to look at, you know, e commerce saying this is blue ocean because we can go after people that, you know, aren't near a retail location? Exactly.

Shelley Griffin 2:30

Yeah, that's, that's a big part of it for sure. Like you said, Caffe Vita has a lot of different aspects to it. We do have our retail locations, we have a very robust wholesale program as well. But being able to focus on people that aren't near roasters and cafes is super important. And being able to provide them with our amazing coffee is really what we're trying to do with the Econ program. Like I said, we'd had the store around for a while, but just about a year ago, we revamped the subscription program, we gave it a name, the feet of coffee club, really branded it and are building that out. So it's easier for people around the country, or internationally to get our coffee.

Samir Balwani 3:17

Oh, that's so cool. I'd love to dig in a little bit more on the subscription side of things. So what made you guys decide to do subscription? Like, what? How did the idea come to be? And then how is it been going so far?

Shelley Griffin 3:31

Yeah, so when I started, the program had already begun. I think, the idea kind of came because all of our competitors, everyone in the coffee industry was starting to offer it. And so I thought, well, that's a great idea. Let's, let's give it a try. And then I came in and, you know, looked at what we're doing. And we all decided let's make this more of a club vibe, almost like a like a fan club or like, we call it the Vita coffee club, like I said, and help people to feel like they're part of the Vita family. As well as, you know, getting access to a great coffee. Yeah, I

Samir Balwani 4:13

love that because it goes beyond just like a transaction and it feels more. You know, we said branded in areas, there's like an element to that, especially for an industry like coffee, where people like to try new coffees and it is like they're especially on the higher end of coffees. There's this joy. It's like wine, right? Like you might have your favorite wine but you still like to explore different wines. And so how do you fulfill on that for your customers while also giving them the opportunity to go explore other things and kind of expand out?

Shelley Griffin 4:45

Yeah, exactly. There's so many great coffee companies and you know, we partner with them as well on things because we like to try different coffees also. There's so many to try. But yeah, being able to have people We'll still be loyal customers to us and still come back to us as their their go to, and getting their their weekly or their monthly subscription order to their home and just having us kind of be with them every morning is kind of the goal. That's awesome.

Samir Balwani 5:17

So, how has this Griffin going? What does it meant for the business? And would you say it's been a success?

Shelley Griffin 5:24

Yeah, definitely, it has definitely increased our online order revenue. And it's really helping with retention as well. People get on there, and it's just so easy to use. And then we are very customer service oriented as well. So people can write in and get a response right away, if they need help changing anything, changing an address or pausing. So it's been great, we've seen a large increase in subscription orders. And that's really grown faster than our one time orders.

Samir Balwani 6:02

That's huge. Did anything surprise you in the process of coming out with subscription, it's different than one time purchase order, even how you market it. The barrier to entry, all of that, you know, as you're going through that whole process of using of growing this whole new revenue stream for the business? What surprised you? What advice would you give someone that's like, leaning into subscription?

Shelley Griffin 6:29

Yeah, I think the biggest challenge is educating your customer. Especially if they're a longtime customer, for example, they're used to just going on clicking their one bag, you know, or whatever they're used to getting. They're used to doing it in a certain way. And so letting them know that this is available to them, and letting them know how to use it, and how easy it is. And kind of putting their fears aside. You know, you hear subscription you think you're locked in, it's definitely not the case, you can pause it cancel, change your address, change your order, anything at any time. So just letting them know that this is super easy. And we're going to be there to help you if you have any questions. And just letting them know that it's available to them as is important, because people get on autopilot. They just go to their product page. They know they add it to the cart

Samir Balwani 7:22

and they checkout habits are hard to break. Right.

Shelley Griffin 7:26

Exactly. Yeah. So just educating the customer and getting them excited about it.

Samir Balwani 7:31

That's super interesting. You know, as we talked about challenges, I'm so curious. So what other challenges are you looking at? So it sounds like subscription has been awesome. You've been able to overcome a lot of those. But as you look at your column over the next year, what are the things that you say, Hey, this is going to be an obstacle that we need to overcome? Or here's an opportunity that we're really trying to figure out? Yeah,

Shelley Griffin 7:53

I think I would say balancing what I'm focusing on pretty much focusing on retaining subscription customers, am I focusing on retaining one time order customers? am I focusing on bringing in new subscription customers, or bringing in one time customers, how to transition one time customers to becoming subscription members. So just kind of balancing how much of my time how much of our resources, how much budget goes to each is, is really interesting, because like I said, the subscription program really took off, which is amazing. But how do we keep those people that retention is really important? Yeah. And then how do we continue to grow one time orders as well want to promote both?

Samir Balwani 8:45

It's like almost creating a hierarchy of priorities, right? And like, this is what's going to move the business forward versus this is where where we kind of just feed and doing that whole, I guess, strategy around it. It's pretty heavy lift. Definitely.

Shelley Griffin 9:00

And then, you know, throughout the year, we're gonna do little tweaks here and there and assess. Okay, how is this going? Is this helping us? Is it are we stagnating? Are we spending our, our budget appropriately? So, it's just kind of testing and seeing how it goes?

Samir Balwani 9:19

Yeah. And have you thought about how often you'll be doing that, like tracking? Is that something that you envision doing monthly, quarterly, mid year, I guess, just how often, how often do you feel like you're gonna want to shift your strategy. So I

Shelley Griffin 9:33

don't want to do too often because I want to give it time for people to give it a chance, basically. So quarterly, this kind of, kind of vibe depends. Sometimes you can see what's working or what's not working, like very, you know, four weeks or six weeks. I

Samir Balwani 9:53

feel like you can tell what's not working real fast.

Shelley Griffin 9:58

So that changes a little bit but Generally, I would say quarterly. Okay.

Samir Balwani 10:03

Yeah, that's, that's really interesting. That's awesome. And then in terms of like, two, it sounds like the big question marks are acquisition versus retention. And then of course, the matrix out because you have subscription and, and one time purchase, putting you on the spot, but where do you think the priority? And like, Where does your gut tell you of what that priority is going to be for you guys? My

Shelley Griffin 10:29

gut tells me subscriptions is the focus. I think that we have a potential to grow our subscription program exponentially. In terms of retention versus new customers, within the subscription realm. That's a tough one. I have both.

Samir Balwani 10:52

I love it. I love it. It's so funny. Every time we talk to someone with subscriptions, it's, it's a really hard decision, because you can look at it and say, Alright, I have this customer brought them in their lifetime values. $200, because they're gonna stay for X number of months, I can go and acquire another $200. Or I can try and expand this to $220. Where one is mentally easier. I think like mentally acquisition is a little bit easier because he goes, alright, cool, right? I know how to activate against this. But business wise, extending that to $220 could be bigger. And so now you need to think about, where am I putting what bet Am I taking? How am I resourcing this out? Because I think retention does tend to be more of a bet. And it then, you know, acquisition does, because you can see diminishing returns on acquisition and make a very streamlined decision there. Yeah,

Shelley Griffin 11:49

absolutely. I think at the end of the day, retention is the name of the game. But it is more difficult. So you can't forget about bringing in new customers as

Samir Balwani 12:00

well. Yeah, it's that balance. As you look at retention, though, what are the things that you are most excited about there? What are the things that you are thinking about? How are you even going to tackle that project, knowing that there are so many ways to do that, and it's so business dependent, its consumer dependent, too, because the things that matter are so different on a per person basis, exactly,

Shelley Griffin 12:23

um, few different things there. We did the relaunch of the Vita coffee club just about a year ago. So we're working on now adding a few extra benefits and just making things a little bit more exciting for our subscription customers. I think offering a lot of different options is one of the things that we've already done, well, we have tons of different coffees that we offer, we do all sorts of different grind sizes, and get a 12 ounce versus a five pound bag, frequency options are limitless. So keeping those in place and making things just really easy and seamless for them, we're going to continue to do, but I think going back to that kind of club feeling where just making them feel that they are part of Vida as well, and giving them little extra things here and there. Um, and just getting them excited about the product and the brand itself, and keeping them engaged with us and feeling like we're paying attention to them and what they want and need.

Samir Balwani 13:30

Yeah, yeah. I love that. It's interesting, because I think it's it's like the little things right? I still think of a subscription companies that give you a birthday card, right, like a birthday gift, like just something, you know, where you have you thought about potentially bridging online and offline, knowing that you have retail locations and doing benefits across your retail locations for being a membership?

Shelley Griffin 13:59

Yeah, you know, that's definitely something we've talked about. We have, you know, gift card programs online, and we have a gift card program for retail cafes. Same with loyalty, we have an online loyalty program, and separate one for in cafes. So that's something we would we've talked a lot about merging those so that people can use them across across the board. You

Samir Balwani 14:23

know, for our end on the acquisition side, it's really interesting because I was talking about the balance between acquisition and retention and how, like, one feels easier, and one feels harder, but potentially big impact. And I think the thing that I lucked out on that is when you do retention really well. It also impacts the acquisition side. So when you have a really good membership program or a reason to believe when you can promote that on your acquisition, it makes acquisition easier to so like a really great membership program has such a huge opportunity on both ends. The spectrum and making people really feel a part of the community a part of the family.

Shelley Griffin 15:06

Absolutely, yeah. And from there, you know, word of mouth is such a huge thing. So you get people that are really excited about it, and they tell their friends and family and they become part of that as well. And then you're not even spending any money to acquire those people. It's just because you're pleasing your existing customer.

Samir Balwani 15:25

Yeah, I think that that's one of the things that's going to become more and more important as the, I think. My My theory is a lot of brands forgot about what it meant to be a really good brand. When performance marketing, you know, took over, and everyone was like, alright, short term revenue was great, like, this is gonna go on forever. And brand equity was kind of left by the wayside. And we're starting to see that switch back over. And you know, the value of word of mouth, the value of this feeling of feeling connected to a brand is coming back in full force. And I'm really excited about that, because I think it changes the conversation, and it helps you really hone in on who your customer is, and why you exist as a brand. And I think exactly what you said, when people start talking about your brand and wanting to share it with one another. That's how you know that you're doing something, right. Yeah,

Shelley Griffin 16:20

absolutely. You know, every industry pretty much, but especially coffee, there are so many options, and there's so many good options. So how do we convince people that were their number one choice where they're go to

Samir Balwani 16:35

school, and it's a natural connector of people, right? Like, let's go grab a cup of coffee, you're Where are you going to choose is the place where you want and you introduce someone new to a brand? So I think it is, you know, there are some, some industries that have a really hard time with word of mouth and coffee should not be one in?

Shelley Griffin 16:55

Yeah, exactly.

Samir Balwani 16:59

That's awesome. So outside its description, and kind of what's going on on that. And in the, as you look at the comments a whole year, you're looking at your channel, you're looking at the growth ahead of you. What's the thing that you're most excited about? What is the thing that you know, you're like, oh, man, this is gonna be awesome for us. Yeah,

Shelley Griffin 17:17

I'm kind of looking at ecommerce and marketing as a whole I'm really excited for next year 2025 is going to be our 30th anniversary. So we've got some really exciting things that we're working on, most of which I can't share yet. But we are planning on revamping our website, which I'm really excited about, it's going to help in so many ways, it's going to be easier for the customer, it's going to be easier for our wholesale partners, all those things, but it's going to be also very focused on making the E commerce and purchase journey easier for our customers. So I'm really excited about

Samir Balwani 18:01

that. I love that. I love that. That's really exciting, because I don't think most people are thinking about 2025 yet, and I love that you guys are because I think that's awesome. And gives you just an opportunity to say hey, you know what, we know that this year, we're going to focus on writing the ship and continuing forward and then going into the following year with a lot of growth opportunity and plans there for sure. So I feel like people forget how long it takes to get foundational elements. And like, because digital is so nimble. Everyone thinks that can be done tomorrow. But it can be done tomorrow without thinking it can be done in a few months without thinking and much rather with thinking for sure. Yeah,

Shelley Griffin 18:42

exactly. And it's just a good kind of time for us to do this. Because we can celebrate the longevity of our brand. We're still an independent, locally owned company after 30 years. That's a huge accomplishment. But we can also make things easier for customers. And, you know, increase our online revenue all at the same time. That's

Samir Balwani 19:05

super cool. Awesome. All right. So I have one final question for you. As you are in your role, you've definitely learned a lot as you if you were to talk to somebody that's in a new marketing director role or had a marketing role. What advice would you give them for their first 90 days? Yeah,

Shelley Griffin 19:26

I would say for first 90 days, and just in general, I'm remembered to focus on numbers and data. A lot of people think of marketing as creative and, you know, you get to work on the visuals. And that's all true and it's super fun. But if you really want to make an impact for your company, or your client, you need to focus on data points, reporting, how those little changes that you make to your marketing affect you positively or negatively you and just if you're going into a new job, first 90 days, get all of the data and reporting from the previous few years and see where you can tweak things. Yeah, I

Samir Balwani 20:11

love that. It's, I think that that is so accurate. Yeah, creative for creative sake is never good enough. It needs to actually like, do something. And while you can't measure it all the way through it still need to measure some of it and feel competent in its ability to be successful. So yeah, I think that's awesome. Thank you for that. Shelly, thank you so much for joining us today. If someone wants to find you online, where can they learn more about you check you out?

Shelley Griffin 20:37

Yeah, so you can find me on LinkedIn. My name is Shelley Griffin, Shelley Griffin. And then if you want to check out Caffe Vita, you can find us on Instagram @Caffevita with two F's, or caffevita.com.

Samir Balwani 20:58

Amazing. Yeah, well, I'll include all of those in the show notes. Shelley thank you so much for coming on and having this conversation with us.

Shelley Griffin 21:04

Thank you for having me.

Outro 21:10

Thanks for joining us. If you'd like to remember to subscribe so you'll be notified of new episodes. And if you know someone who would enjoy the show, don't forget to share and leave a review. It all helps us impact more brands. If you're looking to improve your paid media go to weareqry.com and schedule a consultation. We're always happy to chat. See you for the next one.

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