I asked Will Roman, the founder of Chisos Boots, why he keeps a physical store. After all, almost all of the company’s revenue is online, where it sells handmade shoes to buyers around the world. Aren’t bricks and mortar just useless?
“We’re a family business that’s online,” he told me. “This store is where people come together here in Austin, Texas and beyond. We have a gentleman coming this afternoon from El Paso.
Besides the gathering place, the mall hosts two big events every year with music, food and drinks.
Roman and I discussed these events and more during our recent exchange, our second for this podcast. Audio from this new interview is embedded below. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: You’re a shoe salesman.
Will Roman: Yes. We are self-funded. We have competitors that will reach $200 million in sales this year. But I know they are useless. They lose money every way they sell, while we do well.
Before Chisos, my business was funded by venture capital. We built on the neck and lost money along the way. We sold the company and made a huge profit to the investors. I can start Chisos with these values. But we have one customer, an acquisitions company.
In Chisos, I am trying to create a local business that will last for 30 or 40 years. I hope to pass it on to my children one day. It’s only been two and a half years since we started working.
As long as we are going up and to the right, especially on the financial side, we are in a good position.
We use almost anything in the media. Two years ago, our return on ad spending was in the teens. He fell from the top of the rock. We made some tweaks, but it still failed. Part of the problem is reliable monitoring. We get more customers than Facebook tells us because we can see where they are coming from.
It’s a challenge to own a small business. You need to take care of yourself to maintain confidence when making decisions. Mental health is one of them. Part of that is accepting and knowing who you are and the type of business you run. I don’t see any problem in sacrificing taste for quality of life.
I was a maniac in the first year of the business. My morning routine starts at 8:00 am and ends at 3:00 am the next morning. My life is in Chisos. I don’t see friends, or travel. You have to do the work.
If I stayed at this manic time, we would have grown faster. But I don’t sprint anymore. Now, it’s about longevity.
A big part of the fun of running a business is doing things that I like anyway. For example, our group travels every year to our name, the Chisos Mountains in West Texas.
I also enjoy the product development and creative side of our videos. I’ll pitch crazy video ideas to my team, like, “Let’s go to the ranch with five gallons of gas and a bunch of Tannerite explosives. We can blow up some cowboy boots and make a movie for the 4th of July.
Bandholz: How do you retain your customers?
Roman: We are customer focused. We passed. If anyone has a problem that is not related to our product or service, we try to find a solution. Doing business requires personal relationships. We learned to be discriminating, but I objected to rigid rules. We will exclude some customers.
We deliver heavy goods. These costs are high. When a customer wants to redeem a system multiple times, we’ve learned to respectfully set limits. Most of our customers are very good, but sometimes we see people who abuse the system.
When we first encountered fraud, someone bought a product and had it delivered to an address. Shopify tells us this is awesome. We sent it anyway. Within two hours of receiving the delivery, the customer filed a no-show complaint. We have proof of delivery. So we tried to contact this person but there was no response. We understand that not all people are good.
Bandholz: Chisos runs a physical store. Why?
Roman: 90% of our sales are done online. We fulfill these store orders. We are an online family business. The store is also a gathering place for people from Austin, Texas, and beyond. We have a gentleman coming this afternoon from El Paso.
Bandholz: Tell us about your personal activities.
Roman: We host two major events in our company every year and charge for admission. We have some great music from Texas performing. It is very useful. We have a big event for Memorial Day and one in November for our Memorial Day event, our best sales day of the year. We are raising money for the Texas Military Forces Museum and National Defense. People fill the shops when they are here. For those who aren’t there, we post a lot of videos. There was great excitement around him.
I recommend in-person activities to other online clients on three levels. The first is the value the event brings to your life. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. That’s what makes it real. The second level is awareness. The more people come to our events, the more they learn about us.
The third level is sales. A great way to invest in building a brand.