Last year, Mike Girardin brought Silver Jeans Co. into a new era. “It’s the future for many retailers, particularly smaller companies,” Girardin says. “Data shows that when people intend to buy a product, they don’t search for it on Google; they search for it on Amazon.” So, in the past few months, Girardin has been helping drive the company’s placement onto Amazon.com.
But getting on the web giant’s platform was no small undertaking, requiring Silver Jeans to significantly manipulate its data to get it into the required format and to ensure its fulfillment process and after-sale service would comply with Amazon’s high standards. In the end, it was worth it. “We provide an inventory that Amazon doesn’t have, and right away we saw a jump in sales,” Girardin says.
with Mike Girardin
What does innovation mean to your company?
It means staying ahead of the game. Denim is a staple; it’s always going to be there. But we have to stay competitive, so we’re always developing new products—products that people don’t yet know they want.
Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
Athletic wear is huge right now, but we’re in denim, so that’s a challenge. We have to meet that challenge head on. Recently we’ve had success with Joga jeans, which feel like sweatpants on the inside.
How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, but we don’t just follow the competition; I look at trends going on outside my industry.
What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
If you’re a racecar driver, as long as you stay behind the car in front of you, you’re never going to win. Sometimes you have to go for it. You may fall further behind, but you’ll at least have a chance of getting ahead.
How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
It’s become more embedded into companies. Ten or 15 years ago, when I was starting out, that wasn’t the case. People didn’t want ideas that were outside the box. With the success of Google and Apple, more companies are on the innovation bandwagon.
One might not expect such quick success for Girardin, who was new to retail when he joined Silver Jeans and became its e-commerce manager in early 2014, but he found that the lack of industry experience gave him an edge. “A lot of people have been in retail so long that they have a narrow focus, and I was able to broaden that,” says Girardin, who previously handled e-commerce for government entities, nonprofits, and even a pet-insurance company.
After joining Silver Jeans, the first thing Girardin did was make the company’s website function better. “A lot of inventory wasn’t appearing on [the] site, so we worked hard to clean that up,” he says. “We also worked closely with the marketing team to create a new look for the site, significantly improving the user experience.”
The next step was to drive traffic to the site, which Girardin did by developing and executing an e-mail strategy. “When I started, we were sending out a few e-mails a month,” he says. “Now we’re sending out at least two a week, and we’re segmenting our lists and paying more attention—reacting based on what we’re seeing people do in response. It’s been the single biggest driver of traffic and sales of anything we’ve done in the past year.”
And although it may not seem innovative, when Girardin implemented a guest checkout option, the change drove a 20 percent increase in conversion rates, the rate of converting site visitors into customers. Girardin is unsure why, because registering only involves one extra step: creating a login. He speculates, however, that people just like to maintain privacy. “We have people who will place 15 orders—every time checking out as a guest because they don’t want to make what seems like a lifetime commitment to a retailer,” Girardin says.
Looking ahead, Girardin will be following through with a number of social-media strategies. Silver Jeans is active on Facebook, and it was just approved for promoted Pinterest pins, which are paid ads on Pinterest that allow retailers to target certain locations, demographics, and devices.
Another big initiative is building up the company’s presence on Google’s Product Listing Ads and Google Shopping. Silver Jeans’ sales are already driven by Google AdWords, a service that places advertising copy above, below, or beside the search results Google displays with the choice and placement of the ads based on a proprietary determination of the relevance of the search query to the ad copy. Girardin is also moving forward with Gmail Ads, which places advertising e-mails in user inboxes based on e-mail content and keywords.
Silver Jeans’ next big undertaking is mobile. “Right now, it’s a real pain to type everything into little boxes via the little keypad on a small device,” Girardin says. “We have to make the e-commerce experience pleasant through the phone, and I think we’ll get there with Google Wallet, Amazon Checkout, and Apple Pay, which will store your profile so you can check out in one step.”