When it comes to growing a company or service, a lot of people are drawn to the idea that fast growth is the best growth. We’re all in a race and there is no second place, right?
Personally, I’m a fan of slow and considered growth, where as many customers as possible are treated to such exceptional service levels that they can’t wait to try it again, or tell their friends.
Lady Gaga called this the Slow Bake versus the Microwave.
Troy Carter and Lady Gaga developed a philosophy called “The First 50,” which referred to finding the first 50 most loyal fans & over-serving them.
“For us, it was: ‘How do we build an authentic audience and grow it very, very organically?’ It’s slow bake versus the microwave.”
During my time at Mighty Ape, we achieved modest but sustainable growth to emerge as one of New Zealand’s largest online retailers by adhering to this slow bake mindset. Of course, we didn’t grow by accident, and Simon (Chief Gorilla) always had well thought through priorities to ensure the company took advantage of opportunities. But we didn’t take shortcuts, and oftentimes made decisions that gently tapped the brakes on growth if it meant giving customers a better experience that earned loyalty over the longer term.
- The messaging “In stock — order now and it ships today” on product pages and inside the Checkout was controlled by the warehouse team with direct responsibility for shipping orders. Too many orders to ship or too many team members calling in sick? “Ships today” became “Ships tomorrow” and the correct customer expectation was set. We knew customers want their order ASAP, so setting a more pessimistic cut-off had the predicted negative affect on sales, but ensured we didn’t over promise.
- A common phrase often heard around the office was “please don’t blow up the warehouse…” — and we weren’t talking about TNT or any other kind of explosives :D This phrase was code for ensuring customer demand didn’t exceed our ability to ship orders quickly and meet the expectations of customers. In practice, this sometimes meant limiting the number of products put up on sale, putting the buying team on “stop buy” to give inwards a chance to catch up, drip feeding email marketing campaigns, or in periods of very high demand, turning off external marketing channels all together. Securing every order was never more important than shipping every order.
- Customer Service was run in-house with a team in HQ right alongside sales, marketing, warehouse and returns. Every customer received a personalised reply from a team member directly plugged into the daily operations of the business — and they were encouraged to act according to Mighty Ape’s core values of putting customers first and thinking long term. In practice, this meant sending replacement products when things weren’t quite right, prioritising orders that slipped through the cracks, and taking as much time as needed to help customers select products, safely navigate the website and do business with Mighty Ape with confidence. Emails and live chats back and forth between customers and team created a moat, an authentic relationship and a reason beyond just price or range for customers to remain loyal.
- Jungle Express, Mighty Ape’s “same day delivery” service, scaled only as quickly as it could maintain its 99% on-time delivery record (100% in June — go team!) to ensure Jungle customers received a reliable and repeatable delivery service. This meant tightly controlling the cut-off (see point one), ensuring more drivers were rostered than the day’s forecasted demand (even if it meant emptier vehicles), and that the right incentives were in place for drivers to go the extra mile and ensure every customer order was delivered safely — even if difficult, out of the way, or somehow inconvenient. We could have added eligible delivery areas at a faster rate, or collected more orders than we could reliably deliver that day (hey — just take the sale and deliver it tomorrow — I’m sure the customer won’t mind!) but we knew any short-term gain for the company’s bottom line would come at the cost of letting a customer down, which erodes trust in the long term. We built a company we wanted to do business with ourselves, and treated every customer as if they were a family member.
While it may be tempting to fire up the microwave and turn every dail to grow as quickly as possible, slow baked growth means customers are more likely to enjoy a truly great experience they’ll never forget, and make that leap from first-time customer, to repeat customer, to passionate fan.