"We are hiring like crazy," says Anthony Bucci, who cofounded online motorcyle marketing and sales giant RevZilla in his partner's Old City garage in the recession year 2008 ("We ate ramen for three years.") Self-funded, RevZilla employs 200: is seeking dozens more developers-marketing-analytics people; sold $75 million worth of leather, plastic and metal gear last year; expects to sell $105 million in 2015 from its headquarters-development center-retail store-warehouse in Philadelphia's Navy Yard district.
Bucci pitched to a crowd of more than 300 this morning at Shop.org, the National Retail Association's digital-mobile sales conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. In jeans and an open-necked lavender shirt, Bucci fit right into a marketing panel run by the personalizing digital marketer Chris Bye, of Philadelphia's Tonic Design, whose clients include J&J and Ralph Lauren as well as RevZilla. .
"TeamZilla, this is local, this is fast, this is fun," chanted Bucci, a software developer by profession (past clients included Calvin Klein and Speedo). "We are the most influential and fastest-growing space in the motorcycle vertical," he boasted, eight years on from the founders' dream of creating the "Barneys of motorcycles, the Zappos of motorcycles."
How'd they do that? It started with old-fashioned inbound customer service: Bucci and his early employees spent hours helping callers sort $500 helmets and $1,000 leather jackets to pick best fits. "This is a passion play. Nobody needs motorcycles," Bucci noted. "Our mission was outward-facing: to create value through passionate content engagement. To help people who love motorcycles enjoy them more."
Using customer knowledge gleaned from those first-year hours on the sales lines, RevZilla left the "bar fights and babes" illustrated-biker-Website approach to other retailers -- and dove deep into homemade product video. QVC was a model: Creating a library of thousands of product demos featuring Bucci and friends, often in costume, RevZilla freed its in-house experts to seek new products and build new widgets while readers self-educated on its YouTube library and its familiar biker promo dudes. Happy customers became "RevZilla evangelists." Result: "We own the customer conversation in our space."
Early videos weren't exactly QVC pro-studio quality, Bucci acknowledged. But "people forgave poor production value for the value of the content." Half the videos are watched on-site; for the others -- YouTube.com/RevZilla lists 4,000 videos, 55 million views -- not huge by YouTube standards, Bucci admits -- but these are loyal viewers who go into the company's "buyer funnel." Plus, "we have a lot of fun." He shoots more every Thursday, aiming for a pantheon alongside the "Direct Response Gods" (they include boxer and barbecue grill promoter George Foreman), for whom the public's "trust is the ultimate currency." He likes linking readers through Facebook, which helps repeat visitors avoid YouTube trolls.
There are paradoxes to this kind of marketing. RevZilla engages in Consumer Report-style clustering and ranking, giving visitors attractive but limited choices. Says Bucci: "People think they want more choices, but they are happier with few. They don't realize they are unhappy with 78 choices. So we give them the best products" on shorter, manageable lists, 7 million minutes a month. This year, he aspires to make RevZilla the next Lululemon, BackCountry, Home Depot.
"Be an authority" on what you sell, Bucci concluded. "It's the only way to beat these guys" -- he flashed a picture of Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com's logo on the screen -- "If you're not an authority, the great white shark will eat you."