This old‑school sport‑fishing CEO hired a Mailchimp partner so he could bring his marketing into the 21st century.
In 2000, Baltimore, Maryland-based angler Ian Godwin turned his passion for sport fishing into SFVU, a wholesale fishing tackle distributor. Over the years, SFVU expanded to include a manufacturers’ rep group, a retail dealer consulting division, a fishing guide support division, a TV show, and a charitable foundation. But when it came to email marketing, Ian was out of his depth. He had collected over 100,000 customer email addresses, which were sitting virtually untouched in an Excel file.
That’s where Mailchimp partner Robbie Kohli came in. Founder of Deep Focus—a digital marketing firm based in New Delhi, India—Robbie had the expertise and experience needed to tackle SFVU’s marketing problem. Learn how Robbie moved Ian to Mailchimp and helped make SFVU one of the most technologically advanced businesses in its industry.
Prior to hiring Robbie, what was your marketing strategy?
Ian: Let me put it this way: I’m a tech neophyte that always prefers to close a deal with a handshake. So, before Robbie, all our marketing was old school. However, even though our email marketing strategy was nonexistent, I did have a massive contact list of 100,000-plus emails.
Wow! If you weren’t doing any email marketing, how did you end up with such a massive contact list?
Ian: I knew emails were important, but I wasn’t sure how to leverage them. From Day 1, back in 2000, we had been collecting contacts—each one of those emails was from a verified client who had bought something from SFVU. So, it was a clean list, but it was dated. After Robbie finished scrubbing it, we were left with about 34,000 contacts.
Why did you decide to hire Robbie?
Ian: I was taught early on by a successful friend of mine: Do what you know. And I don’t know email marketing, Robbie does. But the real reason I hired him? It’s because I look at people first. If the people are the right people, then I can find a way to make the talent work. And although Robbie didn’t know a thing about fishing, our philosophies meshed.
“Robbie has taken my handshake approach to business and applied it to email marketing. Our personal approach has been extremely successful. Few companies have the level of client engagement we do.”
—Ian Godwin, Founder of SFVU
You hired Robbie because of his Mailchimp expertise, but what made you decide on the platform?
Ian: We vetted two other competitors and thought Mailchimp was the platform for us. The results from our first campaign quickly proved we made the right choice. Robbie also showed us how Mailchimp’s features could advance our email marketing further than we originally thought. Very early on, we integrated our e-commerce system with Mailchimp and began segmenting our audience. With the data we get from these processes, we’re able to run a lot of product-specific campaigns.
Using Mailchimp’s platform to segment your audience is clearly important for SFVU. How many segments do you have?
Robbie: We currently have 22 different segments. But it’s rare to have a contact list with the information we do. Ian has built such a strong relationship with all his clients, so we have everything we need: country, state, gender, birthday, purchases, and much more!
Ian: Because fishing is highly seasonal, we need to know where people are and what they’re fishing. The springtime bass season is different in Maryland and Florida, while it’s a completely different cycle down in Australia and Brazil. With my industry knowledge and Robbie’s Mailchimp experience, we can make sure our clients are getting valuable, tailored information.
Is it safe to say you know your customers better than the average CEO?
Ian: I’m not the type of CEO to sit in an ivory tower. I like to answer client questions and work in the field. Robbie has taken my handshake approach to business and applied it to email marketing. Our personal approach has been extremely successful. Few companies have the level of client engagement we do.
“Robbie has freed up my time. Now, I can do what I love: catch up with clients and fish.” —Ian Godwin, Founder of SFVU
Has Mailchimp helped you further build these client relationships?
Ian: Yes, absolutely. The various landing pages Robbie has set up have helped drive sales, but what’s really touched me is the response we get from our campaigns. People trust us enough to respond to our campaigns and share personal stories. It means a lot to me to see that.
Robbie: The automated series we’ve developed—which include abandoned cart, welcome, and thank you emails—have impressively high engagement rates. The welcome series, for example, has an open rate around 80%. In our industry, a 20% open rate is considered the gold standard.
How quickly after hiring Robbie did you see results?
Ian: Immediately! I’m not kidding—immediately.
You’ve been working together for 4 years now. What’s next?
Robbie: We’re now SFVU’s overseas technical division. The next big thing we’re looking at is developing an app for SFVU.
Ian: A lot of my sport-fishing industry competitors aren’t as cutting edge as we are. With Robbie’s help, I can continue to stay ahead of the curve, which is a huge advantage.
Has Robbie been able to help you get back to what you love?
Ian: There’s an old saying: If you love to fish, don’t get into the fishing business. We’re always busy when everyone else is out fishing. Robbie has freed up my time. Now, I can do what I love: catch up with clients and fish.