I asked Chisos Boots founder Will Roman why he maintains a physical store. After all, almost all of the company’s revenue is online, where it sells handcrafted shoes directly to consumers around the world. Isn’t a brick-and-mortar shop an unnecessary expense?
He told me, “We’re essentially a family-owned business that happens online. The shop here is a gathering place for people from Austin, Texas, and elsewhere. This afternoon we have a gentleman coming from El Paso.” Huh.”
Beyond a gathering place, the shop hosts two large events annually with live music, food and drink.
Roman and I discussed those events and, in our recent adaptation, our second for this podcast. Audio of the new interview is embedded below. The transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: You are a bootstrapped boot vendor.
Will Roman: Yes. We are self funded. We have competitors who will reach $200 million in sales this year. But I know they are not profitable. When we are thriving, they lose money with every pair they sell.
Before Chisos my business was venture-backed. We built at breakneck speed and lost money along the way. We sold the company and made huge profits to the investors. I was able to start Chisos with those proceeds. But we essentially had a customer, the acquiring company.
In Chisos, I’m striving to build a community-based business that will be around for 30 or 40 years. I hope one day I will pass it on to my kids. It’s been two and a half years since we were launched.
As long as we are moving up and to the right, especially on the profit side, we are healthy.
We spend almost nothing on advertising. Two years ago, our return on ad spend was in its teens. Then it fell off the cliff. We implemented some changes, and it still dropped. Part of the problem is reliable tracking. We get more customers than Facebook because we can see where they are coming from.
Being a small business owner is a challenge. You have to take care of yourself to be confident while taking decisions. Part of this is mental health. Part of this is accepting and knowing who you are and the type of business you run. I see no problem in seizing development for quality of life.
I was a lunatic in my first year of business. My morning routine started at 8:00 AM and stopped at 3:00 AM the next day. My life was about Chiso. I didn’t date, see friends, or go on trips. It was necessary to build a business.
If I had lived in that frenetic period, we would have grown faster. But I’m not running anymore. Now it’s a matter of longevity.
Most of the joy in running a business is doing what I love anyway. For example, our team travels every year to our namesake, the Chisos Mountains in West Texas.
I also enjoy the product development and creative aspect of our videos. I’d propose crazy video ideas to my team, like, “Let’s go to a field with five gallons of gasoline and a bunch of Taerite explosives. We can blow up some cowboy boots and put it on film on July 4th.” “
Bandolz: How do you retain customers?
Roman: We are very customer focused. We go above and beyond. If anyone has a problem with our product or service, we try to find the answer. Running a business requires personal relationships. We have learned to set boundaries, but I have opposed harsh policies. We will make exceptions for some customers.
We are shipping heavy goods. They cost more. We’ve learned to set limits politely when a customer wants to exchange an order multiple times. Most of our customers are wonderful, but we occasionally encounter people who abuse the system.
When our first fraud happened, someone bought a product and shipped it to an address. Shopify informed us that it was looking shady. We sent it anyway. Within two hours of the delivery receipt, the customer claimed it did not show up. We had proof of delivery. So we tried to get in touch with the person but did not get revert. We have realized that not everyone is good in the world.
Bandolz: Chisos operates a brick-and-mortar store. Why?
Roman: Ninety percent of our sales are online. We fulfill those orders from the shop. We are essentially a family owned business that happens online. The shop is also a gathering place for people here in Austin, Texas and elsewhere. This afternoon we have a gentleman coming from El Paso.
Bandolz: Tell us about your personal events.
Roman: Yes, we host two major events at our facility every year, and we charge for admission. We have notable Texas bands performing. It is quite succinct. We have a big event for Memorial Day and for our anniversary party in November, our best selling day of the year. We raise funds for the Texas Military Forces Museum and Land Preservation. People crowd the shop when they are here. We post tons of videos for those who don’t attend. There is a lot of enthusiasm about this.
I recommend Personal Events on three levels to other online traders. The first is the value that events bring to your life. I love interacting with new people and hearing their stories. That’s what makes it real. The second level is awareness. The more people who come to our programs, the more they learn about us.
The third level is sales. Events are great for earning from brand building.
Bandolz: Where can people find you and buy your cowboy boots?