E-commerce Journey to Vanlife
Ecwid enables the Miller Machine to go on the road for a year Jesse and Rich hear from Billy Miller on building his business in an extremely small niche — orchestral drum setups that need mounted triangles and finger cymbals.
- Building a store on Rapid Weaver
- Google Shopping
- SEO from photos of drum setup
- Shipstation for shipping and labels
The fun part is learning how Billy is taking his family and business on the road for a
Jesse: Richie, Happy Friday!
Richard: Happy Friday. It’s not so sunny as it usually is, but we’ll make it a bright day. How about that?
Jesse: Well, I like it. Our personalities will brighten the day or something. I don’t know. That’s a little cheesy but hey, we’ve been kind of brain overload from social media marketing world. It’s been all
Richard: Another podcast.
Jesse: Yes, another podcast and some other podcasters. I had never met Molly Pittman or Ralph Burns. They both did their own, what are you calling, Bae Breakout sessions at that, and just really good stuff about chatbots on Facebook ads and so I’ll be sharing that in the future. Man, it was good. I’m ready to talk more
Richard: Yeah, it’s good and not only do we get to talk to a merchant today, but we get to talk to a merchant that actually has not only listens to the Ecwid
Jesse: All right. Billy Miller, welcome to the show.
Billy: Thank you. Thanks, Jesse.
Jesse: Alright, so Billy, let’s start with your website, what site do you own? What business do you own?
Billy: It’s the MillerMachine.com and I sell I manufacture and sell a triangle machine and a finger cymbal machine that are used in for drummers and percussionist. These two machines are mainly used in theatre, pitwork for musical theatre shows that are done all over the country.
Jesse: That’s awesome. That’s another reason why we were super excited to talk to you. Because it’d be really hard to find a smaller niche, I would think. (laughing)
Richard: We love niches, right? The riches are in the niches. So, what got you started with this? Did you just all of a sudden decide they needed this or have been had you been working in orchestras before?
Billy: It was something that I needed. We live in Seattle now but before that, we were in New York City for about eighteen years and I was playing drums and percussion for Broadway shows and it was a show that I did back in 2001, where it was a multiple setup. So I had a drum set and timpani and mallards and all these things and I had to go from like a snare drum to the timpani to play a triangle. And I didn’t want to hit it with the stick because it’s not a great sound. And I thought, well, I really need to come up with something, a way to play this triangle that I can hit that, that it can be with a bitter and the bitter can be mounted. So I don’t have to look for and pick it up and play. So it was the show follies back in 2001 where I did the original design, which is different than how it is now. But that was where it came from. And that was the beginning of the whole thing.
Jesse: Got it. I think that’s awesome for everybody listening. The first part of that is that you’re solving your own problem. You realized like I say, I’m laughing because it’s so obscure. Like I at this particular time, I need to play a triangle and I need to find the thing to hit with.
Richard: I don’t wanna use my stick, so I need to mount that. But that just shows also too, to Jesse’s point. They’re solving your own problem. But what was the first step when you started to do this? Did you think, or you weren’t at all thinking about the business yet? Right? This was a I’m just solving my own problem.
Billy: Yeah, exactly. And I solved it for that show. And I used it a little bit here and there. But it wasn’t until in 2003 where I started getting some interest from some of the people. When you’re playing a Broadway show, you have, let’s say I take off for the night, I have a sub, I have somebody come in and play the show or I have friends come in and watch me play and they would see this machine. That’s really interesting. And then there was a little bit of interest. For the first version of it, I ended up, I still have the list of the ten people that have them. I sold them this machine. It was like between
Jesse: That’s perfect. You’re literally just, I mean you lived in New York, so you’re not tinkering in your garage. That’s how it works. Sort of like a garage tinkerer where like hey, I need this and I’m gonna try to build it. And maybe there’s some wood and some duct tape at first. I know it wasn’t but. (laughing)
Billy: No, it was made out of wood.
Jesse: Ok, yeah.
Billy: It was made out of pieces of wood and some other found parts here and there. Yeah, it was pretty crude. It did what it needed to do. And the concept was there. I just needed to refine it.
Jesse: That’s great. And there’s a couple of years here where you weren’t thinking, this is the business that I’m building. This is just I need to play a triangle and a finger cymbal, and other people see it. That’s the perfect way to start a product.
Richard: And at what point, what did you say? I noticed you said something that I can’t remember exactly. Was it like
Billy: Well, it was the first version that I did. I sold ten of them. And then yes, at that point, like, wow, that’s interesting, there seems to be interest. And at that point, it was like I need to not redesign it, but make it something that I could sell, that I would feel comfortable selling to other people, just not sort of my circle of friends that were in in the city. So
Richard: Is there some sort of a forum or association where you could start to get feedback on that? Or how did you get that process started to get the word out other than people just seeing you?
Billy: It was basically just that way. It was through the theater stuff, it got to the point where some of the rental houses in the city were buying them from me. And then when a show went out, they would send one of these triangle machines with that show. It would be part of the setup and it just started getting out sort of through that way. There wasn’t really any advertising, there really wasn’t anything else, at that point, it was basically just sort of word of mouth through guys in New York City. Oh, and one other thing I did approach, there was a drum shop there. The Drummer’s World be a very good friend of mine. I went and said, Berry, would you be willing to sell this thing? He’s like, I don’t know. He set it upon the floor and that actually helped a lot too. So people that were just even people that were coming up from outside the US would come and see this thing. And I think that helped also.
Jesse: And that store, The Drummer’s World, is that like the mecca of the musical an orchestra world or is it just, I’m not aware of it from living in San Diego.
Billy: Well, it’s no longer there. He still has an online store, but it was like the mecca for the drummers and percussionist, people from all over the world. If they came to New York, they would go see Barry and go to The Drummer’s World and see what he had, because he had all these very unique things. He was like the only person that had that. So you could see this stuff on. And he was such a cool guy. We just go out and chat and see people and it was a place to hang out also.
Richard: Did you start to see once that happened that people potentially wanted to use this in a different way? Now I’m just making something up but maybe you’re playing to musical and it’s Mary Poppins and you needed to bing at this one particular time and it’s made for that, for solving your purpose. But did you start to see, once it got on the floor that people would use this same product in a different unique way?
Billy: A little bit. Yeah, a little bit, but it is mainly for that theater world. People use it in smaller percussion setups, maybe, small groups, maybe percussion ensembles and things like that. Its intent was really for the theater stuff. I have, however, I got a call from another company, a bigger company to design a new product, which I did in 2017. And that one is geared more towards a sort of orchestral symphonic chamber groups. It has lots of different adjustments than the original machine does. The net is wider, but then that’s not gonna be super wide. I think for this, as you mentioned before, because it is that small niche of people that use it.
Richard: The good thing is I’m sure there are not just orchestras in America, right?
Richard: There’s plenty of them all. If once you get the word out. So going online is a good thing. At what point did you start to look into doing it in the online space?
Billy: I did it originally through the Apple app, iWeb. I set up a little website, and I got a handful of orders.
Jesse: iWeb! What year are we talking about here? This is going back. I’m aware of it, but that’s all schools.
Billy: It was part of iLive which was photos and iMovie, and I went and I can’t even remember how long ago that was. I could look it up but I even have the original website. I didn’t have like screen grabs that I did on the original website. But that would have been in…
Billy: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, going back that far.
Jesse: You got started. That’s the most important thing.
Billy: Well, that was a thing. Yeah, I got something up. It was just a single page. I don’t remember. It was probably just through PayPal at the time. That was the start of it, but it wasn’t really. The whole New York stuff I could sort of dabble in it. But we had a tiny apartment, it was a five hundred fifty square foot apartment. I couldn’t really do too much there. When we eventually had kids, I had to move all my equipment out to my brothers in Red Hook. And that was like a
Jesse: Got it. So about five years ago you were starting to, there’s kids you bounce and hitting the walls and a five hundred fifty square foot apartment. Time to move to a house. And now you got your real tinker workshop in the basement set up and then it’s time to get a little bit bigger. So yeah, I love it. I love it. And then it also helped you improve your product, that’s important.
Billy: Yes, very much, very much, which I was very happy about because I was always like, I really need to do this, I wanted to change that but it was just too hard. It was just a matter of keeping up with the sales, just getting them out the door.
Jesse: You have to pack and ship and get stuff to the post office. That’s the part of the grind. And when you move moved to Seattle is that the time you took the website and the online presence into the next level or…?
Billy: It was the start of, I did switch, I’m trying to remember what I was using up until. I guess I started using this app called Rapid Weaver to build the site. And I was using a Cartloom as my
Jesse: Awesome. We’ll get back to the trip in a second. You had several years with Rapid Weaver and that was your CMS. That’s not a common one, but I’ve heard of it. Um. I definitely want to take a look at it now that, we’ll be linking all the Rapid Weaver articles to this blog so people can check it out. What was good about Rapid Weaver? Somebody recommended it to you and that’s where you started, how did you end up there?
Billy: It’s an Apple based software and since I used this, I just mixed, and it’s also it’s not a subscription. I could build what I wanted to build. I didn’t have to use a template. It lives on the computer. I don’t have to, you know, we’re pressing those other apps. They’re all sort of
Jesse: No, that’s good. I mean I always like to find out what else is out there. We work on so many platforms and a lot of people do stick with the usual suspects. But good to hear that Rapid Weaver worked really well for you and I think more importantly, obviously since I’m I have an Ecwid shirt on right now, is that you found Ecwid and I know that we built a plugin around that time. What is that done for you as far as where you were before, what extra features and functionality were able to gain by switching over to Ecwid? This is not to bash on the other cart. I in no way want to bash anybody else, I just want to find out what you gained for you and your business.
Billy: Yes. Totally. It’s been pretty much everything. (laughing) With finding Ecwid and then also listening to the podcasts, I’m realizing all the stuff that I can add, that I can incorporate without me having to do any work. I knew that I needed to do more, like Google Adwords and stuff. And I tried to do that on my own. And that was just so hard to do and try to set it up. And it just got really frustrating. And when I realized Ecwid have had all the
Jesse: All right. So you’re making some more money now getting some more traffic in sales. That’s the goal here.
Billy: Yes, definitely. Yeah. And as I listen to the podcast, I’m learning what those different ways are because before that I didn’t really know. I didn’t do any business school or anything. I’m just figuring out as I go and I hear something and then you guys talk about something on a podcast. I’m like, wow, that’s really interesting. And then I can sort of hook it up in Ecwid, get a free month and figure out what it is, and incorporate it. Yeah, it’s been very helpful.
Richard: It’s been interesting as we do this, there’s been a common theme, and I’m hearing it again today. We had a podcast last week and I keep hearing the ones that are successful are the ones that first just start, right? You have to start with something and you don’t know all the answers. And so it helps that pretty much everything is really easy to do. And if you don’t know how to do it, using Ecwid chat or reaching out via email to support is actually seems to move people forward really quickly. And also that a successful business owner is a creator and they realize it’s gonna take iterations and it’s gonna take changes and you’re gonna run into things where if you just give up, then who knows what could have been. Right? But not only have you got to this point, but now you were saying earlier because of now you can take all this stuff online, you’re actually gonna be taken a road trip. What’s that? What’s that all about?
Billy: Yeah, we talked about it a little bit a couple of years, and we just we wanted to hit the road, see the United States, travel in an RV for a year, and our kids are seven and ten. And we figured, we have to do it sooner than later because they’ll get too old. My wife is in grad school, and she was gonna finish, she’s finishing this summer. And we were going to actually do it next year. But she thought, she’ll get into the workforce and then it makes it even harder. So we thought, ok, we’re gonna do it this summer. Take off for a year, travel around the US and I think we sort of finalized it last summer or early last summer. And at that point, I’m like, wow, ok. Now I need to figure out how can we do this, and how can I keep this business going? Coming back to using Ecwid, that was part of that plan. Part of being able for us to do it was to have this software, which at the time I didn’t realize. But I can do all these things. I can do it with the app on the phone, I can basically run the business with Ecwid ship station on my phone, I can do all the things I need to do.
Richard: Oh, nice. So you’re actually going to be using ship station. You’re not gonna have a bunch of triangles under storage. (laughing)
Billy: That was another part of it. I originally was going to have a fulfillment center here in Seattle to take care of it because to ship from local. And since I’m not a huge company, the bigger fulfillment companies wouldn’t handle me because they send out so many things, but I found a smaller business who was willing to do it. And then I went in and talk with them. We chatted about it. I heard back from them maybe a couple of weeks later that after twenty years they decided to shut that aspect of their business down. I was like, oh wow, now what am I gonna do? Am I going to haul them all with me? That that would just be impossible. Because we could be, I don’t know, at the Grand Canyon for a week without an internet connection. I actually had found my neighbor. I said, Do you wanna ship my products for me for a whole year? She’s like yes, of course. I have my neighbor, she’s gonna come over and I’m now in the middle of making enough products for the whole year. Actually, I was planning for a year and a half. My original products, the products I have a company back East that I wholesale to, so enough for them as well. And then my newer product, the grover pro miller machine that goes that’s part of the grove percussion and back East, I’m making enough for them as well. So right now I’m just cranking out machines, so everybody can have them, so they can all ship them out. So I don’t have to think about anything really on the road, just sort of monitor stuff and make sure that everything is running smoothly.
Jesse: That’s perfect. Put together this is almost like a one year plan now. In order to set the plan in place, to be able to go for a year and I even heard a year and a half maybe. First of all, that’s awesome. I’m excited and jealous, I got three little ones myself. I don’t know if I could take all three of mine. (laughing) Maybe I’m not jealous, I don’t know.
Billy: You need a bigger RV. (laughing)
Jesse: Okay, yeah. But I think what a great opportunity to travel around your family and when they get into high school, maybe they don’t wanna go on that trip or there are other things that they have, sports or whatever. It just becomes harder. I know, so I think that’s the right timing. So you’re setting everything up, you get in the fulfillment set up. A ship station is actually great for fulfillment and getting all the labels printed correctly and I know you can do a lot more with it. That’s a great app that I know you’re pumped about. What else I can ask about that, now you have a few more months to pump up some sales a little bit. What do you think you’re missing? What can we help you with?
Billy: Well, I did just start the Google Shopping and I’m actually starting to see results from that which has been great and then also the retargeting just started. One of the problems I’m having at the retargeting is and I’m actually just gonna bring it up so I can look at it. I don’t really understand…
Jesse: You doing retargeting, is this through Facebook or through Google or both?
Billy: Well, it’s both because it’s through clicking. They’re doing both. And clicking, by the way, is awesome. Their customer support has been amazing. Through my Facebook retargeting everything is great. But apparently, through my Google retargeting, I don’t have enough, I don’t really understand it, but I don’t have enough customers coming through Google, so they can’t even set up the retargeting aspect of it right now.
Jesse: Usually, for privacy reasons and such, they usually need five hundred visitors on a page in a certain time frame. I’m gonna guess that’s probably thirty days. Don’t quote me on that, but the reason is that if they only had one or two visitors, ads might be kind of creepy, like, hey, Billy looks like you’re on our page. But if it’s five hundred people, they assume that’s enough. That becomes anonymous for tracking. So there are five hundred visitors on a product or whatever page you want to retarget it. Thats probably the issue, but I imagine there are times where you hit over five hundred so that’ll they’ll turn on or we’ve got to get you over five hundred. (laughing)
Billy: I don’t think I’ve hit it yet. Because I even sent that. So that app through ROI Hunter. And I and I’ve talked to them and the guy basically said… oh, I just got a new order, a new Ecwid order. (laughing)
Jesse: All right. There’s a dollar sign there.
Richard: Ring that bell! Bring the triangle.
Billy: I just lost my thought.
Jesse: All right, I did like Richie’s bring the triangle comment though. I think if there was a little triangle that rang every time you got an order that would be awesome. That would be pretty funny.
Billy: You just did that the background. I don’t have enough people for that.
Jesse: It’s a good thing you gotta set up. If and when you ever do hit that, it’s called dynamic product ads. It’s dynamic retarding, there are several different names, but that is a great thing to have set up so that people get their… that’s automatically gonna be targeting. It’s a good thing you got that set up. Probably some things we could do to help get you some more traffic. Actually, we can talk, but real quick on I noticed on your website you have all these setups. So you have a picture of… what are the musicals?
Richard: Head it up too, you head it up there. It was funny because I had made up Mary Poppins and then I saw you had Mary Poppins, and I was like, oh, wow, cool.
Billy: Right now at the top there’s some from the Broadway production of Mama Mia and some Mary Poppins and stuff and different shows. On my website, I also have this section, that is mainly just setup shots which is setup shots of different musical theater percussion and drum setups from guys all over the world. And people will use it as a resource, that center during the production of Mamma Mia and they’ll come and they can search for Mamma Mia, and look at how the drummer set up and also look at how the percussion set up and get ideas as what they did, and how they did it and maybe steal some things from this one guy. Sometimes for light shows like this, there might be six or seven different setups on the site so people can see how everybody did it. The interesting thing is drummers practice percussions even if it’s the same show. They’re going to all set up a completely different, they have different ways of where they put their symbols their drums or whatever their percussion is. It’s interesting to see how people have decided to set up their stuff for that particular show. That’s what that is.
Jesse: That’s a great source of what’s called
Billy: It’s not a criteria though. You don’t have to have a drummer machine in your setup to be on the setup shots. I’m not trying to do any kind of hard sell with that, I just really enjoyed taking care of, putting these things out there, posting this. I really enjoyed that.
Richard: Plus, that’s good just edify your industry and people doing good work. If you start sharing via social as well, that’s a good way of drawing attention to it. Who knows, not to go to deep on it, but you might give them an affiliate it for selling Broadway tickets one day.
Billy: And what you said, Richard, was also about I do need to get these up on social media. I don’t do that really at all right now but I think that would be a good way to get for them to be exposed because if you don’t go to the site, there isn’t that much exposure of these things. I’m going to figure out a way to do that as well.
Jesse: Now you have this cross country trip, you’re gonna be visiting. I imagine it’s kind of a click the drummers for orchestra on Broadway shows, right? Like you’re gonna be visiting other cities.
Billy: Yeah, definitely, I’ll put the word out but that cannot be in your town. I must come to your setup. I want to take photos and put it up on the website or see your show. Yeah, I’m looking forward to that, to be able to see, because a lot of people that bought the machine, so I I know them, I mean through Facebook or email. It would be great to actually meet, see them face to face.
Jesse: I think that’s a great opportunity to take those pictures and like hey, here’s the drummer for this show and it’s all smiles and thumbs up and waving at the camera and that’s great. People will be interested in that particularly in your market. Me and Rich gonna follow you and give you a little heart on every one of those. I don’t know. Maybe not. (laughing)
Billy: You know better.
Jesse: Okay, alright, talked me into it.
Richard: I’m a musician, I’ll follow you.
Jesse: You do that and then the occasional shot of those would be: all right, here’s the setup and then, oh just so happens there’s a little triangle machine right here and now you have the opportunity for the shoppable posts. That’s what I think I did a little intro to our podcast. I want to mention that you’ll get your Facebook product catalog into your Facebook Business Manager which I think it already is if you use an ROI hunter, so once you have that done you can now take that in the in those posts and you then it’s mostly fun. Mostly hey, here’s a setup shot. Here’s us having fun at another city. But then occasionally you’re getting a little bit of marketing in there too, you gotta fund this trip, right? These things don’t run on solar yet.
Richard: Sponsored by the Miller machine.
Jesse: We’ll get some Ecwid stickers on the back. We’ll get this sponsored somehow.
Richard: And definitely be taking pictures of the venues as well. You’re going to the ancillary benefits and some of the biggest benefits. I know that’s a strange sentence, but it’s gonna be how much your children get to learn about. Automation is cool and yes all these sales at school, but it’s about relationships and you’re building the relationships with these fellow percussionists on the road and the venues. Without even trying it’s gonna add more sales to your business just by you, can tell you’re a good guy. You wanna take your kids on the road and explore and adventure and teach them about other things than just two cities across the United States. Definitely take as many pictures as you can whether you post them right then or not. Be dependent upon how adventurous your travelers at the time. It’s a lot better to have those photos and post them at a later date than it is to not have the photos.
Jesse: You’re gonna have a lot of windshield time here too. I think maybe the wife drives for a couple of hours and you get the thumbs going on Instagram and on Facebook and posts and photos and sharing the adventure, but it’s also Miller machines on the road and it’s gonna be very interesting content.
Richard: Or put the kids to work. (laughing)
Jesse: There you go. Ten years old, that’s old enough. Another might be more social savvy.
Richard: Than you might want them to be. (laughing)
Jesse: Get them on Tick Tock. I think that’s where the kids are on now.
Billy: I don’t know anything about that.
Jesse: Me neither. Really. Obviously, I don’t know.
Richard: He saw it in a blog post.
Jesse: Yeah. I’ve heard that’s what the kids are doing. But I don’t know if we can do shoppable posts on Tick Tock yet. I don’t know.
Billy: If Ecwid can figure it out, then it’ll happen.
Jesse: All right, I’ll talk to a product, will see what we can do for Tick Tock here. That’s great. I’m pumped about this trip you guys have coming up. I’m actually glad that we got to meet our first super fan for the cast as well.
Billy: I imagine lots of other people are listening to the podcast, they have to be because if you’re on Ecwi, it’s very helpful to listen to all that stuff.
Jesse: Well, they should be. (laughing)
Richard: We’ll make a clip out of that and put it on Instagram for you. That’s one of the hardest parts about podcasting. And we’ll put that out to any other podcast, excuse me, podcast listeners that enjoy the show. If you have a desire to get on the show or you just want to let us know that you like what’s going on or you want to cover a particular thing. You can go to Ecwid.com/podcast and go to the bottom of the form and fill out a form. Is that actually what you did too, Billy? I can’t remember where it was.
Billy: Yeah, exactly. It was on one of the podcasts, and I was like, oh, I should do that.
Jesse: Alright, so all these little times when we tell people to go rate and review and go to Ecwid.com/podcast you did it. We’re not wasting our breath here. That’s good.
Billy: And here I am talking to you guys. I mean, come on.
Jesse: That’s awesome. And we’re gonna spread the word about the Miller machines and putting gas in your RV the rest of, for the next year and a half. So awesome. Well, now when you’re on this journey for the next year is there one place in particular that people could follow the journey or you know where would you want people to go to to find out more about you in the business?
Billy: Probably my Facebook page would be the best one. It’s at the Miller Machine. I have an Instagram page, but I haven’t done a lot with that yet. I plan to. I guess the website. I mean the setup shots will probably sort of reflect where we are as well. There’s setup shots from around the country, but probably just Facebook.
Jesse: Okay, Facebook and also because I was at social media marketing world, the conference, I’m gonna encourage you to build your Instagram profile. Instagram is the action right now. Consider that a nudge push, whatever it takes.
Billy: That’s perfect for me that’s the thing is you know because especially if I use the setup shots with it because it’s all very image based and that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to on the trip is to devote more time to that, to do stuff on Instagram.
Jesse: Yeah, yeah. Definitely should get your selfie arm ready. Do some work out,you gotta hold that phone out as far as you can, click the video and do a lot of
Billy: You’re talking about for the stories, right?
Jesse: Yeah, for the stories.. So there are little short little videos for Instagram, I think will be very powerful. For you especially as you’re it’s a
Richard: No, I would I just want to say congratulations, mostly on getting started and not letting anything stop. You continue to create and iterate and automate and whatever it takes to get your business going. And also as two dads here, thanks for including your family and not making it only be about the business, but not leaving the business behind. It’s a beautiful mix and we appreciate it.
Billy: Yeah, great. Yeah. It’s not easy but I enjoy it.
Jesse: That’s great to hear. Safe travels, Billy, great talking with you.
Billy: Thank you.
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