I’m Matt Baron at APG Exhibits, And This Is How We Run Our Online Business
Kyle Hungate • September 18, 2018
Name: Matt Baron
Location: Illinois, USA
Current position: Owner
E-commerce platform: Volusion
For our ongoing series, “How We Run Our Online Business,” we’re talking with Matt Baron. Matt is the Founder and CEO of APG Exhibits. Theirs is a great entrepreneurial success story where a company was born out of aptitude, intuition, passion and survival instinct. Before starting his online store in 2006, Matt’s family business was part of the rapidly-changing commercial print industry which, at the time, was under pressure from a slowing economy and declining revenues. Business was getting tough and they were forced to look for other opportunities.
As the business became more stretched, they decided to get into promotional advertising, offering products like t-shirts and trade show displays. Quickly they realized that the trade show display business gave them the most opportunities, and they decided to focus their efforts heavily in that area.
Even though business was picking up with the trade show displays, a persistent problem was the time it took going back and forth with customers on product options, quoting and re-quoting. To fix this and speed up the sales process, Matt launched their intuitive and extremely detailed website in 2012. Since then, APG has grown into a virtual juggernaut, making the exclusive Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Companies in America three years in a row.
This is what Matt had to say about his recent experiences and successes in the industry.
Now that you’re online, what apps and tools do you rely on to power your operations? Can you describe how you use each of them?
Sure. A list of our regularly-used apps would be as follows:
Survicate – Survey software which helps us find out what customers like about us and what they require.
OptinMonster – a Lead generation which ensures our site is shown to the right clients while improving our promotional strategy.
MailChimp – Email marketing which helps us send more focused, personalized campaigns to interested clients.
Nextopia – Site search which lets people find relevant pages and products quickly and easily.
Vextras – Integrating Volusion with MailChimp, abandoned carts and customer retention workflows.
Yotpo – Commerce marketing that helps us display relevant reviews and ratings across our site.
Zendesk – Multi-channel customer support which allows us to serve the needs of our client base more effectively.
Do you do any pay-per-click advertising? If so, what service(s) do you use?
Yes – we mainly use Facebook, Google Adwords, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. We invest heavily in social media and digital advertising. Our business has had great results through these channels. I think this is because we are an image-based company and it’s very easy to show off our work this way. We are frequently adding customer images and production photos to our Pinterest page and other social networks. One tactic we use is to give customers the opportunity to submit photos of their trade show exhibits, and then we’ll turn around and post them to social media channels with a link to their website. Facebook advertising seems to have the most return on investment than any of our advertising channels.
Do you sell on other channels like Amazon, Etsy or eBay?
Not at this time, and that’s mostly because of the type of business we’re in. Exhibits can require various customizations which are difficult to scale on platforms like Amazon or eBay.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve had with getting your store up and running?
Looking back, some of our biggest challenges involved design changes after order receipt, obtaining quality images from manufacturers and customizing our website in the exact way we needed. Getting quality images loaded wasn’t something I ever thought would be a big deal, but it was. Many of the manufacturers we worked with didn’t have good visuals that were ready for a website. We’re big advocates of getting images looking good on our site, many a time taking photos ourselves so that things are just how we want.
Do you recommend any books or podcasts?
These three books have been very insightful for us and I’m sure they would be for others too:
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
What advice would you give to new online sellers?
I would say these six points are particularly important to sellers who are starting out:
1. Focus on the details and be very hands-on with day-to-day operations.
2. Listen to customers and develop products around what is wanted. For example, two of our best-selling products – backlit displays and custom flooring – were born from customer feedback.
3. Have excellent communication with your employees and do what it takes to work with them effectively. We like to use Skype for team members who are remote, as well as various messaging tools to communicate about orders, requests and other business-related situations. You can’t overcommunicate.
4. Surround yourself with other successful entrepreneurs and make an effort to learn constantly.
5. Know the basics of business, like being able to read your numbers on a P&L sheet.
6. Understand what it takes to perform at the highest level in every aspect of your company: even if that means doing the job right alongside your employees.
Vextras’ “How We Run Our Online Business” series encourages online retailers to share their best practices, must-have tools and other resources that are necessary for building a successful web business. Our goal is to help other retailers succeed online through these insights. We’d like to acknowledge Lifehacker.com’s series of posts that profile movers and shakers in their “How I Work” series: they’ve inspired our writing here with an emphasis on e-commerce. If you’d like to share your experiences, drop us a note – we’d love to hear from you.