How Ecommerce Saved a Century-Old Family Business
- Aug 12, 2015 | Jessica Sillers
Imagine a company that pulls in $300,000 per month in sales, has tens of thousands of Instagram followers, and holds a perfect 5-star Yelp review.
Now imagine that the business is based on something old-fashioned--say, shoe-shining. This is the story of Angelus Shoe Polish, a family-owned business that began as a shine stand in 1907. The company owes its current booming success to its young owner, who used e-commerce savvy to bring Angelus back from the brink of collapse.
From American Dream to Near-Disaster
Angelus Shoe Polish offers a company story steeped in old-fashioned work ethic and devotion to quality. The business originated with a Greek immigrant family pursuing the American Dream. The Angelos family soon grew from bootblacking to selling their polish recipe to other vendors. As time passed, the company expanded from a small shop to a five-story production plant to keep up with demand.
The family’s faith in their product, however, almost became their downfall. Focusing on polish recipes and neglecting Internet presence left Angelus lagging behind the technological curve. When current owner Tyler Brucato (grandson of the former owner) took charge in 2013, the company was still largely ignoring the online market.
“We were circling the drain,” Brucato said in an interview with Shopify. The company’s marketing strategy had to adapt fast to keep the business afloat.
How Shoe Polish Gained 50,000 Instagram Fans
The first critical change was establishing Angelus’ online sales platform. After a false start with another platform, Brucato found the easy user experience and wide exposure he wanted on Shopify. Concentrating on online sales and hiring a Google AdWords consultant helped the company attract new customers and optimize traffic.
Tapping into social media was another game-changer for the company. Angelus sponsored artists on Instagram to feature shoe art made with the company’s polishes and paints. Their Instagram page explodes with shark sneakers, zombies, and superheroes painted in painstaking detail. Currently, more than 55,000 followers check in to see which edgy shoe paint designs will show up next.
For day-to-day affairs, Brucato relies on apps. In his Shopify interview, he named more than a dozen apps that help the back-end of Angelus run smoothly, from shipping calculators and email editors to fraud alerts and tax reporting software. He recommended that business owners new to automated back-end procedures not take on too many apps at a time. Start with a couple of time-saving programs and build as you get comfortable. (If you want to get manual tax filing off your plate, check out Returns for Small Business!)
If at First You Don’t Succeed...
When it comes to social media, Brucato is willing to try out almost anything. The strategy pays off. Where one platform fails, another may succeed wildly. The Angelus Brand YouTube channel has almost 25,000 subscribers. A handful of especially popular tutorials have hundreds of thousands of views.
Similarly, while the Angelus Brand Twitter feed currently has just shy of 3,000 followers split between two Angelus handles, the company Facebook page has 15,000 fans and, more importantly, regular engagement on posts.
Building a thriving e-commerce presence naturally involves some trial and error. If you’re going through a similar overhaul, don’t be discouraged if it takes several months to gain traction.
As Angelus has done, you may need to try multiple sales or social media platforms before you find which ones suit your business. In this case, patience and initiative paid off. Thanks to marketing savvy, willingness to try new things, and some excellent software tools, a century-old business is thriving again.