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Escapades in E-Сommerce with Steve Poltz
Posted Jun 20, 2017 by Ashley Hoffmann, Ecwid Team

Escapades in E-Сommerce With Steve Poltz

In this edition, we’re exploring the music niche where live, in person sales, have long been the norm. Buying a tee shirt at a favorite artist’s show, having a new album signed on the spot — taking a tangible memory home will always be special. But, sometimes they don’t have your size, or you pick up an album and love it so much you end up wishing you’d gotten them all.

The awesome thing about e-commerce is it gives fans another option to purchase directly from artists, and it supplements the artist’s earnings by bringing in extra cash while they’re en route to the next show.

Before we dive into this story, full transparency: I’ve known Steve Poltz, as both a fan and a friend, for over 20 years. Steve’s music has enhanced the soundtrack of my life and his friendship is one of a kind. I never imagined our professional paths would cross, until last December when he appeared among our new Ecwid signups.

It had been a little while since we had last connected, so of course, I had to pick up the phone and see what was going on. There were lots to report — a new website was in the works, his longtime sweetheart Sharon had taken over business operations, and the duo had chosen Ecwid to power the new online store.

Steve and Sharon agreed to meet with me after a few months had passed to share their Ecwid story. Let’s get to it!

Who the heck is Steve Poltz, anyway?

Troubadour, political junkie, rock n’ roller, comedian, frequent flyer, storyteller, folk singer… Steve Poltz is impossible to categorize, which is probably the point. He’s been making music and telling tall tales his entire life.

After a brief stint as a pipe nipple pusher (seriously) post-college, he quickly realized that the corporate world simply wasn’t his gig. Making music, telling stories and spreading smiles far and wide was his calling. His first band, The Rugburns, took the San Diego scene by storm in the early 90’s.

Steve with Smokey Joe

Steve with Smokey Joe, photo by Stacy Huckaba

Never one to hog the spotlight, Steve mentored local talent and welcomed collaboration. He co-wrote the hit song You Were Meant for Me with his friend, Jewel, in 1995. (He’s also the cute, but tragically unavailable, guy in the hit video.)

The success of the song led to Steve’s first solo studio album, One Left Shoe, in 1996.

As the road became “home” and touring a way of life, Steve spent the next two decades writing thousands of songs and touring the world — often playing 300+ gigs per year. Longtime friend and master of the pen, Joe Daly, captured his full bio beautifully for the new website. So, I’ll cut to the chase.

A Troubadour’s Road to E-Сommerce

No newcomer to cyberspace, the first version of Poltz.com came online almost 20 years ago. The original site featured a blog, tour dates and online message boards. Fans would tune into the Poltz.com site to read Steve’s hilarious rants and to connect with others through the online message boards.

Would fans buy stuff online? No way! Back then, recording studios controlled the music industry and e-commerce wasn’t even a thing.

I thought the only way to sell my merch was on the road at my gigs. People had cash, I had merch after the show — that’s just how it worked.

Archived Image of Poltz.com circa 2008

Archived Image of Poltz.com circa 2008

It’s an understatement to say that the music industry has undergone a radical transformation over the last two decades. Studios are still big players but they no longer control distribution and the independent music scene has blossomed.

Independent artists like Steve harness the power of the internet to take full control of their craft. By cutting out the middle-man sales revenues go directly to musicians and artistic creativity is unrestricted.

Steve belting out a ballad. Photo by B-Jamin Photos

Steve belting out a ballad. Photo by B-Jamin Photos

Steve’s first foray into e-commerce was selling merch through a 3rd party extension, Merchlackey, from his old website. This concierge service served him for a number of years, but online merch sales weren’t a focus area.

Using the third party was convenient — they handled everything end-to-end, but it was still a “middle-man” situation. Show sales were more lucrative because he kept the lion’s share of sales revenue.

Re-envisioning Merch as an Online Opportunity

Sharon brings an entrepreneurial drive to Poltz.com. She owned a successful salon in San Diego for 14 years where she acquired both business management and merchandising experience.

No longer a “one-man show,” their talents complement each other perfectly. Steve is free to focus on the music and Sharon is skilled in business operations. She’s got a talent for keeping overhead low and profits at the forefront of her focus. Sharon describes her entrepreneurial spirit as a “fight or flight” mentality and is always coming up with new creative solutions.

Steve and Sharon - Loving Life on the Road, 2016

Steve and Sharon — Loving Life on the Road, 2016

Last year, the duo decided to commission a new website and the old store wasn’t going to make the cut. Taking control of online merch sales was at the forefront of the game plan. A personal motto Sharon shared is “Do or Die” — which explains why it was so important to her to take control of the sales operations and maximize the online opportunity.

“We became really frustrated with the merch situation,” Sharon explained. “We didn’t have any control over sales or insight into inventory.”

Making the leap to full sales control was a major change for the duo. With the help of Square, they’d begun taking credit cards in addition to cash at shows. They loved the ease of use, so keeping Square was non-negotiable. Another necessity was having an easy way to update inventory. Mobile technology is a requirement for life on the road!

“I wanted to handle things on my own, but honestly, I was confused about how to get started. I wanted things to be easy and most importantly, to link to Square and our new WordPress site. I searched google and all signs started to point to Ecwid,” Sharon explained.

Something to Sing About —  Shipping Success

A common pitfall with online sellers is getting shipping costs wrong. This was at the forefront of Steve and Sharon’s concerns as they took control of merch sales.

“My main concern in taking over online sales was having to absorb shipping costs if shipping rates were not accurate,” Sharon shared.

Indeed, shipping miscalculation can be a costly mistake, especially when shipping worldwide — which is critical to Poltz.com sales. Steve has amassed fans around the world, Canada, Europe, and Australia are among frequent tour stops that have also become regular shipping destinations in recent months.

Where’s Steve? Coming to a town in Canada near you soon…

Where’s Steve? Coming to a town in Canada near you soon…

The Poltz.com store uses the automated carrier-calculations in Ecwid for both domestic and international orders. So far, Sharon reports that shipping has been a breeze — though packing the orders has taken up some extra time! “We haven’t had any shipping deficits so far,” Steve confirmed.

Last week we sent out about 100 packages! It’s super fun to see where the packages are going — there are so many new locations. We just sent an order to Italy.

“It’s like Found Money!”

Hundreds of packages! Did I hear that correctly? Yes, ma’am – and here’s how they did it.

At first, Steve relied on word of mouth and his extensive fan base to generate online sales. Within a few days of opening the new store, orders started to trickle in.

I hadn’t advertised or anything, but I was promoting the store on my blog, on Facebook and Instagram, and at gigs.

Since Steve hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of selling online, he had amassed tons of merch over the years that he kept on hand at home to load into the tour van before hitting the road.

“We had boxes of tee shirts and other merch overflowing in the garage. I’ve been at this a long time — we even had some shirts from the old Rugburns days! Sharon wasn’t thrilled with the state of the garage — to say the least,” Steve confessed.

Original Rugburns Recordings Available at Poltz.com

Original Rugburns Recordings Available at Poltz.com

Many merchants can relate to overstock woes. Sharon’s creativity reared and the unruly boxes of merch became the inspiration for a closeout sale that kicked Poltz.com’s online sales into high gear.

They received hundreds of orders from the sale. The success exceeded the pair’s expectations and increased their motivation to expand the online sales channel.

“Super Power” Bracelets available now at Poltz.com

“Super Power” Bracelets available now at Poltz.com

Now, our online sales are like my new drug! Steve exclaimed — only half joking.

“Online sales are found money, and I’m hooked like a junkie. I even use Facebook ads. It’s kind of like a game, I’ll gamble $20 or $40  but they really work and pay for themselves!”

Oops! Turning a customer crisis into a relationship opportunity

With newfound sales success, a few accidents are bound to happen. I asked if there had been any bumps and, if so, how they recovered.

Turns out, there was an inventory mix-up due to a misunderstanding with product options and variations. They accidentally sold a few shirts that they no longer had in stock. Sharon credits personal service and quick response from the Ecwid Customer Care team for the save.

“I had 5 potentially very unhappy customers,” Sharon lamented. “I called all of them personally, asked for forgiveness and helped them find alternatives. Through the process, I learned really quickly how to use Ecwid variations!”

Proactive customer service in online sales is incredibly effective. By reaching out quickly and taking ownership of the mistake they were able to secure stronger relationships and instill trust with their new online customers.

New Releases — What’s Next?

Since opening the Ecwid store, new merch designs have been coming in regularly. The latest is this awesome “El Poltzo for Prez” hat. Editor’s note: as a Canadian born dual-citizenship holder, it’s a long shot…

Steve Poltz for Prez - do we hear a call for a constitutional amendment?

Steve Poltz for Prez — do we hear a call for a constitutional amendment?

Steve’s tour schedule is nonstop. At publication he’s finishing up his latest Canadian tour, returning to the states at the end of the month.

Local fans can catch a few San Diego shows in July and global domination is sure to continue. New songs are posted in the iTunes store, and his YouTube channel offers a preview of live recordings and videos. We’ll leave you with the latest “Pure Poltz” production — recommended with a grain of salt and a healthy dose of humor on the side.

Whether you’re a musician, artisan, reseller or service provider —  empowering your entrepreneurial dreams is what we’re all about at Ecwid. Many thanks to Steve and Sharon for sharing your story with our Ecwid fans.

I’m absolutely thrilled that our professional paths crossed. If you haven’t had the Poltz live experience, GO! You’re in for a memorable treat and we’d love to hear all about it in the comments below. Rock on!

About the author
Ashley leads Ecwid’s customer success initiatives and is passionate about creating happy customers and maximizing value. When she isn’t chatting with customers you’ll likely find her playing outdoors on a surf or snowboard.