Let’s face it, in 2020, retention isn’t just the goal, it’s the game changer. Focusing on retention is simply a more efficient path to growth than constantly hustling to acquire new users. But of course, you need to connect with your customers in a meaningful way. To do that, we need guidance, we need good advice, and we benefit from listening to others. That’s why on a recent episode of Mobile Presence, for ours Reimagine Growth series, I talked to George Sullivan, CEO and Founder of The Sole Supplier, an app that helps millions of people each month find their next best pair of casual sneakers. 

With 70% average year on year growth over the past five years—all self-invested and organic—The Sole Supplier seems to have cracked the code to building an engaged community of users. So what’s the secret recipe to The Sole Supplier’s success? 

Great content 

George started in his parents’ spare room. “After work, when I came home, my goal was just to create content and be first to the market with the content. You know, to find this content and post it on the website and post it to Twitter.” His goal was to get his content ranking on Google, “but that didn’t happen for a long time – that’s another story.”  

But from the very start, The Sole Supplier was focused on being the first to the market with great content for a very specific niche. “When you’re doing that, you get a lot of respect from people on social media because you’re providing value that saves them time,” George says. “It gives them what they want quickly. So, it’s since developed very much into…helping people to purchase with technology.” 

But that focus on providing sneaker enthusiasts with the content they love has never gone away, creating an engaged and loyal following that keeps The Sole Supplier growing. 

Community 

With three very active Facebook groups and just under 100,000 members between them, The Sole Supplier fosters a community. And as part of that community, George knows exactly what his users are looking for.  

He says, “I think like if you’re turning your passion…into a business, then these people are your people, you know? So the people that you’re talking to when you’re growing your passion/business, you’re going to be able to relate to them. So then it becomes easier to talk to them, it becomes easier to understand what they like because you’re already in that mindset, you know?” That’s why George, as well as many of his employees, are an active part of the social media communities.  

“I don’t think a lot of founders or owners of companies can actually say that they know loads of their customers,” George says, but that’s not the case at The Sole Supplier. “I’ve made friends through the community. I can go up to Selfridges in London on a Saturday and there’s…people that meet from our community around The Sole Supplier which is just mad, it’s crazy, and I speak to people in there all the time, it’s crazy, the community.” By engaging with its community in an authentic manner, The Sole Supplier team builds a kind of loyalty that most faceless apps—or any kind of company, for that matter—just can’t buy.  

Authentic communication 

Of course, when you’re building a community and creating great content, communication is part of the package—but when you’re dealing with tight-knit niche of enthusiasts, authenticity is key. Counter to much of the advice you may have received about marketing, George says his team tries not to be overly reliant on automation.  

“So, there’s a lot of manual work that happens. We use Clevertap, as you know, and we’ve actually got three people or four people now creating campaigns in Clevertap manually,” he says. “So, Clevertap offers a lot of good features and they offer features for automation as well… We know that people don’t want to be hit with too many messages and they need to be hit with the right messages, so we’ve actually employed four people that manage the messages to make sure that people get the right communications.” 

Does all that extra effort make a difference? George says, “our click rates on push notifications and email are like three times higher than industry averages.” That helps with conversions. 

One last bit of advice from George: If you don’t have your users segmented—truly understanding what they like and dislike—then err on the side of caution and don’t message them too regularly. Unless you really understand what your users want, it’s best not to tick them off by spamming them.  

To learn more about how The Sole Supplier team and how it encourages engagement and loyalty through honest, authentic communication, listen to the entire interview here.