How Starfire Direct Grew A Multi-Million Dollar Business On A Coffee Cup Budget

By Tinuiti Team

In 2007, Jonathan Burlingham, the now CEO of Starfire Direct set out to build a successful fireplace and furniture business.

At the time, he admits “I knew very little about pay-per click advertising”.

“I created our first website with $50 and made some YouTube videos to help promote the company. But back then, I couldn’t afford PPC advertising so I decided I would stop buying Starbucks. Instead, I took the $5 a day that I would normally spend on coffee and invested it into ads for my company on Google.”

Of course, a $5 dollar advertising budget doesn’t get you much exposure – if any. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was a starting point and that was all Burlingham needed to get his business venture off the ground.

“During the first few weeks, I would burn through that $5 per day – only getting about 5 to 7 people to my website. Eventually, I got a $7,000 order from the Hardrock Hotel. I took the profits from that purchase and reinvested it into my pay-per-click campaigns.”

The first year, Starfire Direct brought in about $50,000 in total sales.

As business grew, Burlingham hired Lindsey Conklin, Starfire Direct’s COO, who has been with the company for 8+ years.

Starfire Direct has a 2018 goal of surpassing 10 million in sales, with sights set at hitting 30 million annually within 5 years. This would certainly make them one of the top selling fireplace and patio ecommerce retailers on the market.

Last month, Conklin and Burlingham were nice enough to visit CPC Strategy’s office in downtown San Diego. In the following interview, they candidly share their experience.

From choosing the right PPC agency to advertising on Amazon, here’s an inside look at what it’s like to grow a multi-million dollar business on a coffee cup budget.

Starfire Direct Partners With CPC Strategy

In the past, Starfire Direct has partnered with several pay-per-click agencies, as well as employed their own in-house experts.

“We’ve used a variety of services and companies but eventually we outgrew them all,” Burlingham said.

“When you start spending thousands and thousands of dollars on advertising, you want to team up with someone who knows how to spend that money strategically.”

“In 2017, we knew we wanted to work with a group of professionals who were comfortable managing a larger advertising budget rather than a ‘mom and pop’ type business.”

It was exactly one year ago that Starfire Direct made the decision to team up with CPC Strategy and according to Burlingham “our advertising is more efficient today than it’s ever been.”

Starfire Direct Implements Call Tracking

When Starfire Direct teamed up with CPC Strategy, one of the biggest challenges was they were not tracking or analyzing their call-in orders.

Retailers (especially those who sell high price items like appliances or furniture) often receive a lot of call-in orders from customers.

Call tracking software is essential to figure out which ads are leading to phone calls and conversions. It also helps to compile important data about leads that can be used to directly impact performance-based advertising efforts.

This type of in-depth tracking is ideal for monitoring organic, mobile, social, and AdWords campaigns. Call tracking can also determine the success of specific keywords in a PPC campaign.

In the case of Starfire Direct, without call tracking in place, the company was missing out on a significant opportunity to improve their marketing campaigns.

“Before call tracking was put in place, we were just making advertising decisions based on assumptions – which was not good,” Conklin said.

“It’s definitely been an eye opening experience for us. We were apprehensive at first, because we always felt like our phone number was part of our identity and we didn’t want our customers seeing different phone numbers on the website.”

“Even though we knew about call tracking for a couple of years, we waited to take that leap of faith. In my opinion, I wish we had done it sooner. Being able to clearly see the phone sales attributed through our campaigns has been totally worth it.”

Thanks to call tracking improvements, Starfire Direct has a more accurate understanding of which ads are generating revenue.

“It helps us spend our future dollars more efficiently,” Burlingham said.

“And when we do that – it increases sales. In effect, its actually helping our sales team to garnish more sales and commissions and so on. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Starfire Direct on Facebook & Amazon Advertising

Although advertising on Google is a critical component of Starfire Direct’s marketing strategy today, they’ve also expanded to new ad markets including Amazon and Facebook.

“[Thanks to Dynamic Ads] we’re seeing positive traction. Actively advertising on Facebook has actually grown our followers and audience,” Burlingham said.

“In the past, we worked with agencies that were not able to grow our audience as efficiently as CPC Strategy. We get new followers and more engagement every day. It’s definitely been nice to see that.”

In comparison, when it comes to selling their products on Amazon, Burlingham said he understands the struggle so many brands face today.

“As a customer – Amazon is so convenient, but as a seller –  the Marketplace can get frustrating because of the risk of slim margins and increasing competition. Regardless, I absolutely think businesses should have a presence on Amazon. For us, the challenge was: How can we make this process more efficient?

According to Conklin, businesses can try and resist selling on Amazon but “eventually you are going to lose.”

“You might as well use Amazon to your advantage. It’s joining the winning team and at the end of the day – you are going to make money selling on the Marketplace. It’s not going away.”

New Website & Customer Service Features

In addition to ramping up their PPC advertising efforts, Starfire Direct also launched a brand new website. From a customer service technology standpoint, Starfire Direct says they are focused on implementing tools that “make it easy for customers to reach out”.

“For us, it’s all about making ourselves available to our customers and understanding what they need when they are shopping on our site,” Burlingham said.

“Because we sell complicated and expensive products, we use technology on our website to help reassure our customers. We understand everyone has a different means of communication that they feel comfortable with. Some people want to talk on the phone, others want to use our website chat and some people message us on Facebook.”

One of the coolest features on Starfire Direct’s website is the “Digital Showroom” which allows customers to browse their home office online. Shoppers can also take advantage of the “Fire Glass Calculator” or “Submit a Custom Design” to create their dream fireplace.

“We understand that when you are selling online, you have to utilize the virtual showroom. If you’re buying something like a car or a piece of furniture, you want to be able to sit in it, feel the fabric and take a look under the hood.”

“We want our customers to feel comfortable which is why we are not only mobile-friendly, but our checkout process is clean and simple.”

So, is there such as thing as having too many bells and whistles on your website? According to Conklin, yes.

“If the technology services a purpose, we are all about it – but if it’s so ‘outside the box’ that customers don’t know what to do with it, then it’s really a waste.”

So, how has working with an agency impacted your business?

“CPC has definitely relieved the pressure on us. I feel like we are working with a confident team. They really have our best interest at heart,” Burlingham said.

“Overall, it’s a good relationship and it has afforded us the opportunity to reach out and try new advertising methods, new channels and focus on other key components of our business that we weren’t spending as much time on.”

Conklin echos similar feedback:

“CPC Strategy is full of great people to work with and I feel like they genuinely love what they do.”

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

“Regarding 2018, we are hoping this is our best year ever,” Burlingham said.

“We just launched our new website in November and now we’re adding new products and making a lot of data driven decisions. The car is gassed up, it’s been tuned and it’s ready to hit the racetrack. Business should be fun and we’re having fun every step of the way.”

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