On this episode of the Domain Magnate show, host Michael Bereslasvky sits down to chat with Kelcey Lehrich, General Partner and CEO at 365 Holdings. Join them as they talk about how this e commerce business began, their unique hiring strategy, and the specific niche they look for.
SKIP TO THE GOOD PARTS:
- 0:36 – 1:35 Kelcey shares a bit about 365 Holdings.
- 4:03 – 5:26 Kelcey talks about 365 Holdings’ specific niche.
- 11:38 – 12:48 Kelcey talks about the company’s office centric approach.
- 14:52 – 15:59 Kelcey shares some advice on running an e commerce business.
- 19:33 – 20:45 Team and Culture first, EQ over IQ.
Michael Bereslavsky 0:12 Welcome listeners to the new episode of Domain Magnate Show. Today we have with us Kelcey Lehrich, co founder of 365 Holdings. Hi, Kelcey.
Kelcey Lehrich 0:26 Hi, thanks for having me.
Michael Bereslavsky 0:29 So tell us a little about the company. Maybe how big you are, what kind of businesses you hold?
Kelcey Lehrich 0:36 For sure. So 365 Holdings is a vertically integrated holding company. For e commerce brands. We tend to buy a handful of brands every year, we’ve been at this for four years now. We have bought and sold a handful of companies today, the portfolio is five brands, we’ve got a little north of 70 employees across the whole organization. We look at the business really as a vertically integrated shared Services model. So 365 Holdings is our our company and everybody works for 365 Holdings or for our fulfillment business. And then we look at the brands that we buy is really like lines of business within the holding company. And we make an acquisition, we look to vertically integrate as much of that acquisition into the holding company as possible. And own all of the costs of doing business in house we run our own call center on fulfillment, business, marketing, advertising, supply chain operations, customer service team, everything under one roof here in Northeast Ohio.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:37 That’s awesome. Do you sell through Amazon FBA? Or do you run your own? e commerce basically handle all the shipping and everything?
Kelcey Lehrich 1:45 Yeah, we’re very heavy on DTC this year, we’ll probably do 15%, maybe 20% of the total revenue on Amazon and wholesale, the other 80 to 85% will be on our own channels through our own sites.
Michael Bereslavsky 2:01 That’s great. Yeah, I think it’s definitely awesome to have more diversification from Amazon. We’ve seen so many funds recently that just focusing on Amazon brands, because it’s so much easier to buy and manage. But I think the risks are not always worth it.
Kelcey Lehrich 2:19 I would agree with you. I think there’s been some interesting endings to a few of those companies that have been rolling out I wish them all the best. I’m sure some will be successful. I think some may not be but we’ll let it play out. And we’ll see.
Michael Bereslavsky 2:34 Well, in the last step is that we did have Jim Mann from Thrasio. Yeah, that was an interesting conversation. So they have raised quite a bit of capital, and that allowed them to buy just a lot of different brands. It seems like so far, it’s going really well. Yeah.
Kelcey Lehrich 2:53 Raising venture is a very different business models…they have hyper growth and the expectations of venture capital investors. We’re privately held, such as myself and my business partner. He serves as our president and runs the operation day today, it’s just the two of us that on the business, we don’t have any outside investors that we have to hit certain growth expectations for we can stay true to our goals, doing what’s right for our team and for the culture we’ve built, and not having to have the demands of outside investors for the vision for the holding company.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:24 Yeah, that’s great. So are you all self funded, everything just based on your own capital, no investors?
Kelcey Lehrich 3:29 Correct. Retained earnings and bank loans. We’ve used SBA financing for a lot of our growth. We’ve also used alternative financing things like Wayflyer and Kickfurther over the years to help with inventory or working capital needs. But that’s allowed us to maintain all the equity just between us as the founders, and again, not having any outside demands other than our lenders or employees government for taxes. We’re gonna have to answer to anybody else for doing what’s right for our team.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:56 That’s awesome. So these five brands do stick to a specific niche, or was it more like opportunities?
Kelcey Lehrich 4:03 Yeah, we got what I think is maybe a unique lens that we look at criteria for a brand. We want businesses that are really market based brands. So a brand not defined by the products that it sells, but a brand defined by the customer avatars that it serves. We look at our portfolio today. And one of our brands is nickisdiapers.com, one of the largest retailers of cloth diapers, and sustainable parenting. That business really is not defined by the cloth diapers is really defined by the moms and dads that buy those products to care for their kids. Look at one of our other brands, recent acquisition, it’s culturesforhealth.com, it makes fermentation cultures anything you need to make your own kombucha, yogurt, sourdough bread, cheese, things like that. If you’re somebody who’s passionate about your health, and you’re concerned about the quality of the foods you take in and you want to ferment your own foods at home, you’re very unique. customer type for us to market to. And so we look at brands that are built around specific customers, we can iterate on product development and content for that and market. And so our lens is less about, hey, we need it to be consumable, or we need it to be pets or sports or outdoors. Were really good with any end market if the brand is defined by its customers, lesser than its products.
Michael Bereslavsky 5:26 That’s an interesting approach. I guess the the big benefit is if a brand is defined by customers you can give, you can have a bigger margin, you don’t have to compete with others as much people are just shopping for a brand, not just the product.
Kelcey Lehrich 5:40 You also have a much more, in my opinion, a much more durable and sustainable business because you can iterate on products as market demand shift. I think we’ve all seen, you know, fads come and go, whether it’s hoverboards, or drones are popsockets fidget spinners, but there’s been products that have come and gone, I remember listening to an interview a couple years ago, we had the big Solar Eclipse and a guy on Amazon made, you know tens of millions of dollars selling Eclipse sunglasses, but he’s never gonna sell another pair for a few decades, right until the next big eclipse comes or whatever the the timeline on that is. So nothing wrong with selling a great product and building a business around it. We just think it’s a more sustainable model to focus on the customer.
Michael Bereslavsky 6:25 And they usually have like one major product or you have a big line of product for each branch business.
Kelcey Lehrich 6:33 So we have a lot of…our brand, our smallest catalog has six or seven main products and our biggest catalog is 7000. And so we’ve got a quite a diverse operation with the warehouse and production and supply chain, ranging from as little as seven skews to as much as 7000.
Michael Bereslavsky 6:52 That’s, that’s great. So it’s quite diverse portfolio then, and in terms of traffic sources, what what do you mainly focus on?
Kelcey Lehrich 7:01 So again, each business kind of has its own traffic channels, some are heavy on affiliate, others are heavy on Facebook or Google search. Some are heavy on Google Shopping, we try to do as much owned media as we can with email, text message, Facebook groups, just general brand awareness. But for customer acquisition, off of our platforms were really as diversified, I think as we can be between affiliate paid social, paid search and other channels.
Michael Bereslavsky 7:35 That’s awesome. So where do you find your deals?
Kelcey Lehrich 7:41 Much like everybody else that’s in the market were subscribed to most of the brokers and public listings. I think maybe if there’s a secret sauce that we’ve had, it’s that I very much cast a very wide net through some non traditional sources. So we’ve found deals on Bizbuysell, which is typically associated with laundromats and pizza shops and truck businesses, but I found ecommerce listings there. We’ve also closed a transaction through Axial, which is a lower middle market network. And so yes, we’re on the list for quiet lights and FE international and website closers and all those kind of big names in the online business space. But we’re also looking at lower middle market and mainstream brokerages and staying on their radar as well, because they often have ecommerce type products and listings of businesses that are good fit for us.
Michael Bereslavsky 8:35 Yeah it’s kind of the same for us. We are not an e commerce, but we do buy content and SAS businesses. And while we also look at all the brokers, all the marketplaces, the best deals are usually coming from those other sources that other buyers just don’t look at.
Kelcey Lehrich 8:52 For sure. Some of the best values I think that we’ve had for ourselves in a non competitive acquisition is kind of a mismatch between the quality of the broker and the quality of the deal and how they weren’t maybe the right broker for the deal, but we were able to find it and close it. Without a whole lot of broker assistance, perhaps. We certainly had transactions with a broker was very helpful and value add. We’ve had transactions where the broker once the setup the initial phone call, I did all the rest of the work. And sometimes that’s okay, too.
Michael Bereslavsky 9:26 And what size of businesses were you targeting to buy what ranges?
Kelcey Lehrich 9:32 So today I’ll look at anything with revenue between 1 and 10, 12, 15 million at the top end. Generally speaking, we need an acquisition to have at least 500,000 of cash flow for it to be a viable subsidiary business here at the holdco.
Michael Bereslavsky 9:49 And what’s the typical price range but up
Kelcey Lehrich 9:53 I think that all ecommerce businesses at the end of the day if they’re truly a sustainable, going concern small business ecommerce operator are going to trade for three to five times earnings.
Michael Bereslavsky 10:05 Alright, so that’s reasonably like close to market. Something like you’re not looking for deals that would be below market or above. So up mostly focused on the fundamentals, good fit.
Kelcey Lehrich 10:18 For sure we have done distressed acquisitions where we have paid a price that, you know, is negotiated based on what the seller was willing to take. And it was predicated on our future ability. That’s not our core market that we’ve done the couple those distressed deals and they’re, they’ve been good for us. Our real core thesis is around finding and going concern and paying on multiple cash flow.
Michael Bereslavsky 10:39 Have you also done some interesting transaction? Interesting deal structures with earnouts of having the owner, keep some equity?
Kelcey Lehrich 10:50 We’ve never done rolled equity. We’ve done seller financing we’ve done earn out, we’ve done cash. We have done foreclosure auction. We’ve paid above asking price we paid below asking price. We’ve kind of done I guess every variation there is. The real hallmark, though has been at least thus far. That we’re typically going to kind of pack up that business and relocate it to northeast Ohio for a full integration. I was at one recent exception to that where we closed an acquisition this year that also included us taking on an existing team and facility. It’s the first time we’ve done that. We’ll see how that how that plays out through time for us.
Michael Bereslavsky 11:31 So you mentioned 17 employees, are they local or all of them in Ohio? Mostly?
Kelcey Lehrich 11:38 Yeah. So we, have one in New York, one in California and a handful of folks in the team that are in North Carolina, but our real focus is on in office full time. We have some folks that work remote still. But by and large, we are an office centric organization.
Michael Bereslavsky 11:55 Are all your employees based on US?
Kelcey Lehrich 11:59 Oh, yeah, I’m everybody like I’m sitting in the office right now. It’s 9000 square feet. And in Akron, Ohio, I’m looking at my office door and people are sitting at their desks working
Michael Bereslavsky 12:08 Well, you know, it’s…these days, it’s surprisingly unusual to, to see a company that’s doing like online businesses, before they if no remote employees before, I mean, remote meaning outside the US. We’ve seen so many ecommerce companies with fulfillment centers and most of their stuff in the Philippines and other Asian countries. So it’s interesting that all your staff is in US.
Kelcey Lehrich 12:39 Yeah, we’re very in office centric. So most folks are here for five days a week, including the warehouse and fulfillment team that’s here every day picking and packing the orders.
Michael Bereslavsky 12:50 And that’s great. And so you started four years ago, does a little bit about your background. What did you used to do before that?
Kelcey Lehrich 12:58 So my business partner and I have been working together for about a decade with our venture into e commerce was just four years ago, before that we had a handful of other small businesses. We had a payment processing company, we had a timekeeping business that sold time clocks and timekeeping software. And we had a variety of other kind of small businesses that we had bought and sold throughout the years. Our first e commerce business kind of set up the platform for what 365 Holdings is today. And we’ve since divested of any of those other kind of outside service businesses to we had acquired over the years.
Michael Bereslavsky 13:35 Great. So now the 365 Holdings is your main focus.
Kelcey Lehrich 13:40 Correct? Yep.
Michael Bereslavsky 13:42 Right. And what’s the goal? What’s the plan for the next two years for the company?
Kelcey Lehrich 13:48 Yeah, so 365 is designed to be, you know, durable capital or permanent capital model. So we buy brands with no specific intention of selling them, we want to hold them for decades, as long as we can. If it makes sense to divest of a brand we can but the real intention of acquiring one is to be the permanent home for that brand for the long haul. So the vision is to build the organization, build the team, and make 365, a durable and kind of lasting business. That will be here for decades to come with many, many great consumer brands inside of it.
Michael Bereslavsky 14:24 You plan to stay independent and not taken investments. So it’s flexible.
Kelcey Lehrich 14:30 That’s the goal.
Michael Bereslavsky 14:31 Awesome. So I’ll ask you a little bit more today about the way you manage businesses and maybe some advices you have based on the lessons you’ve learned. But what is something that you’ve learned in the past few years managing a commerce business is something that maybe not so obvious to people?
Kelcey Lehrich 14:52 Yeah, so we have a vertically integrated model. And so we really embrace taking on as much responsibility For the business as we possibly can we use no outsourcers no agencies, no consultants, no contractors, that every business process that needs to happen, happens on our p&l. We don’t use outsourced call centers, we don’t use outsourced fulfillment, we don’t use outsourced customer service. We have some manufacturers that are, of course, outsource because we can’t produce all the products. But when it comes to running the business, all the responsibilities are in house, there’s no ad agency that’s responsible for hitting our revenue goal. Our marketing team is responsible for in our revenue goal. So I think we’ve kind of discovered for ourselves that owning all those resources in house is really valuable because we can spread those resources across our portfolio of brands through a shared services model. But for us, we’ve just found that owning all the responsibilities as opposed to outsourcing has been really, really powerful for us to scale up quickly, and invest in a high quality team, instead of depending on outside services.
Michael Bereslavsky 16:01 Yeah, so to be vertically integrated, you have to have a really high quality team, what has been your process of finding the best people? How do you do that?
Kelcey Lehrich 16:12 Yeah, we’ve been recruiting for primarily cultural fit, and then training for skill set as needed. That’s changed a little bit recently, where we’ve had the opportunity to find high caliber culture fits that also had an existing skill set. Early on in our journey, though, we couldn’t necessarily afford to or even know how to find existing talents. We were hiring purely on cultural fit and doing all the training. I think as time goes on, we’ll continue to do a bit of both, we’ll continue to bring in moldable trainable high caliber people that are really good cultural fit for the organization, and will also continue to hire up with existing talent that maybe has an existing skill set that’s highly applicable to the business.
Michael Bereslavsky 17:01 Do you use any management framework like OKR or something similar within the company?
Kelcey Lehrich 17:07 So we run loosely on EOS, I say loosely because we don’t use every aspect of it, we have the BTO the vision traction organizer that EOS describes as a core framework that we use. And we set quarterly rocks and have quarterly meetings and annual goals. Everything beyond that, though, such as the HR processes, the meeting processes, those are somewhat homegrown to fit our needs. But we do think that the long term planning of EOS the org chart and the visionary integrator role of EOS and the quarterly meeting cadence of CEOs are all very valuable. We use those regularly.
Michael Bereslavsky 17:47 So are you the visionary or the integrator?
Kelcey Lehrich 17:50 If you can guess which one do you think?
Michael Bereslavsky 17:56 I’m not. So I’m not that familiar with the terms. So I’d have to refresh at first. But if I had to guess, yeah, I guess a visionary? Is that right?
Kelcey Lehrich 18:06 Correct. So that role is kind of the the outside face of the business, the big relationships, strategy. Any type of kind of big ideas typically generate there, as opposed to the integrator really worked, working on day to day execution, detail orientation, managing the PnL. And my business partner, Justin does a great job at all those things, we’ve kind of divided and conquered those roles, where I’m worried about six months out, two years out, three years out, and that long term track we’re on. And he’s worried about making sure the team is doing what we need to do today to hit our financial goals and our operating metrics.
Michael Bereslavsky 18:46 That’s awesome. And so when you taking people for culture, fit and training, how long did it take you to train someone to truly do their role well?
Kelcey Lehrich 18:55 Yeah, we use an onboarding process of 30, 60, 90, to set milestones for the first three months of an employee’s time with us. And that process has been very, very good. We’re really focused on our core values for cultural fit, or recruiting somebody to really understand if they’re going to fit in and mesh with the organization. So whether you’re working in the warehouse, or you’re working in the office, there is a unique culture to 365. And that is more important than the skill set and our recruiting and onboarding process.
Michael Bereslavsky 19:31 What’s the cultural life like?
Kelcey Lehrich 19:33 So I think the best way to describe it is through the couple of core values that we have. So the first one is team and culture first. This kind of ties in to our capital strategy of not having any outside investors today and the whole goal of being able to put our team and our culture first we make decisions and not having to compromise on that. A couple of others are winners keep score. We believe that having an attitude around metrics and accountability to numbers is very important. As execution, so just really buying into working very, very hard against a goal. And having that kind of determination of achieving that outcome is super, super important. And then last but not least, is EQ over IQ. So we obviously need to hire very smart people. But emotional intelligence and self awareness are what allow top performers to have great relationships at work. And that kind of puts a bow around that team and culture first value, that we kind of bookend the performance aspects of the winners keeping score and relentless execution around the cultural aspects of team and culture first and EQ over IQ, so that we have kind of a complete and balanced view of what’s important in the culture of the organization.
Michael Bereslavsky 20:47 That’s pretty interesting. Thanks for sharing. It’s quite unique, because typically, people will just have some, some of those more generic values. You know, like, custom– yeah, like customer first or, like, learning and things like that. Yeah. So it’s interesting to see that you value so very, like more clearly defined.
Kelcey Lehrich 21:13 it took a long time to get there. They were very loosely defined early on. And we had to iterate for several years until myself and Justin, my partner, really got clear on what was important to us. And I think that it’s important to note that leadership in an organization can kind of guide and direct them shepherd, the values, but you can’t create them, you can’t speak them out of thin air and mandate that we’re customer centric. And you can’t just state that into being. If it’s not true. It’s kind of like a transplanted organ, the body will kind of reject it if it’s not real. And so we had to look at both our aspirations, and goals on what was important, what we truly valued, and take a look inside to see what was evidenced and real. And find the best way to describe those things and provide some direction and guidance to the team. And that took us probably two or three years to really finalize.
Michael Bereslavsky 22:08 And are you usually able to see right away if someone is a fit culturally, or does it take a few months?
Kelcey Lehrich 22:15 We usually…I don’t think we have hired a pour culture fit. Knock on wood and fingers crossed. We do a good job in the onboarding and interviewing process, and we make sure that we’re bringing people in that are going to fit.
Michael Bereslavsky 22:35 That’s great. Sounds like you have a really good system on that. So going back to the e commerce part of that, I’d like to hear some more tips on optimization. What will be something that most people with e commerce businesses maybe don’t do that’s something that can increase your sales quite quickly?
Kelcey Lehrich 22:58 If I knew that answer, I don’t know if I’d be sitting here right. I’d be on a beach somewhere. Um, yeah, I think we really just do everything, to best practices. So typically, when we’re buying a brand, there’s going to be something that the exiting owner wasn’t good at. Maybe they didn’t have any Amazon presence at all. Maybe they weren’t doing remarketing on Facebook the right way, maybe their email strategy just wasn’t optimized. So I don’t know that I have a hot tip necessarily, other than our secret sauce really has been fully deploying all ecommerce brands, best practices across the board. It takes work, getting reviews set up, getting cross sell setup, building up email, automations, running Facebook campaigns, setting up Google search and shopping, there’s a lot to do to run an efficient and well oiled ecommerce business. And I don’t think we have it all figured out. I think we’re working very, very hard every day to be the best e commerce operator we can be. I do think because of our size and scope and experience, we have some competitive advantage there. But there’s always some low hanging fruit when we take over a brand. It can be as simple as sinking the Google campaigns on Google Ads over to the Bing, ads manager and letting those winning campaigns perform there. Is that gonna drastically change the trajectory of a business? No, probably not. It’s a small little additional piece of revenue. But when you start to do strategies like that over and over and over and over again, it does add up to being a higher quality business that’s going to grow faster.
Michael Bereslavsky 24:30 So do you have like, a core area where your team is the best like email or, or paid traffic? Or do you just focus on getting everything?
Kelcey Lehrich 24:44 So because of the orientation towards market based brands, we tend to do a lot of avatar based video advertising. And so we’re really good with our creative team and building out ad funnels around understanding of customer on its end of their aspirations and goals, maybe their pains and fears, and building funnels for customer acquisition around those customer archetypes.
Michael Bereslavsky 25:10 Sounds good. And so for people who are looking to buy their first ecommerce business, and there are quite a few listeners who are looking to make a first acquisition with an SBA loan, or just phone capital, what are some advice you’d give them?
Kelcey Lehrich 25:27 I would recommend, one, looking at a lot of deals, it certainly took us some time to flesh out our kind of thesis and take on the world. I don’t know that my criteria should be anybody else’s mine work for me. And I know many other successful e commerce operators have a very different view on what a good acquisition is. I really think that people should just look at a lot of deals, talk to a lot of lenders talk to a lot of other operators really network in the space to come up with their own well informed opinion on what’s a good investment for them. Because obviously, different people have different aspirations, different goals, different resources. And one business isn’t always right for, you know, different people. I just think looking at a lot of transactions is a great way to come to a more well informed opinion of a good decision for yourself.
Michael Bereslavsky 26:22 That’s a good point.
Kelcey Lehrich 26:24 I get hundreds of teasers in my email every day, I sign dozens of MBAs every week, and I pass on the vast majority of deals, we close one or two a year, the more I look at, the more I think about what’s important to me, and I don’t waste a broker’s time or lead a seller on in any way. But I do think that getting reps in and getting the experience of reviewing financials and understanding the strategy of these businesses is very important.
Michael Bereslavsky 26:52 How many deals do you look at before you buy one on average?
Kelcey Lehrich 26:56 I would guess that I have a pretty average funnel of 1000s of teasers to hundreds of Sims a dozen or less LOI’s to one or to the close.
Michael Bereslavsky 27:10 Seems about right.
Kelcey Lehrich 27:13 It’s a numbers game. If somebody wants to go out and do this, it’s a it’s a full time job. But my main focus these days is on strategy and m&a. It’s a it’s a full time career.
Michael Bereslavsky 27:26 Sounds good. Do you have any other services anything new that you’re launching that might be interesting for for our listeners?
Kelcey Lehrich 27:33 Yeah, for sure. We just put out a program we’re calling our EIR program entrepreneur in residence. It’s definitely not for everybody. But it’s something interesting that we’re we’re going to try an entrepreneur in residence is a full time employee that works here on sites and an entry level role working operations, accounting, marketing, but you’re working on a job here 365. In addition to that, you’re also searching for a business to buy. And we have a set of trainings. For our team, we have kind of career training, things like Google Analytics, conversion rate optimization, Google Sheets, general kind of career nuts and bolts, we have a leadership development program, the entrepreneurs and residents participate in both of those things. And they also participate in one on one coaching and training with our leadership team around finding deals underwriting deals during an investment thesis and actually closing on transactions. So the vision for that program is an EIR is going to work here for 6, 12, 18, maybe longer, 24 months. And their goal is in addition to working 40 hours every week, or more than 365, they’re also putting in 10, 20, 30 hours finding a company to buy. And if they’re high quality acquirer, then when they leave here to go buy that business, we will co invest with them in that new venture. So it’s a different model than us buying a company, which has been our business model so far. But I think we’ve really attracted a high quality talent base that wants to be part of what we’re doing here. And a lot of these employees that we’re finding that, like our business have entrepreneurial aspirations. And so to the extent that they’re gonna be successful, and being an entrepreneur, we want to help back them and let them grow into that. Later this year, we’ll likely launch a co invest model as well. But right now our main focus is our wholly owned subsidiaries and building out this entrepreneur in residence model.
Michael Bereslavsky 29:21 That’s pretty interesting. So people can come work for you learn everything and then also buy their own business and manage it and even have you co invest with them. That’s perfect.
Kelcey Lehrich 29:31 Correct. Yeah. It’s I’m trying to build the career path that I would have wanted 10, 15 years ago. How do I find somebody that has the career aspirations that make for a high quality performer? I think the best way to look at that is to look at the leadership of the company and look at what would attract us as founders to our own company, and reverse engineer that into a career path for those that are 10 or 15 years behind us.
Michael Bereslavsky 30:02 Well, thank you, Kelcey, that was a pleasure to talk to you. How can people reach out to you or follow you online?
Kelcey Lehrich 30:11 Yeah, I’m active on Twitter, which I’m easy to find if you can spell my name and our websites, we have an email often we don’t send very much content. But when we have things to announce, such as co invest opportunities, interesting articles, or big announcements, you can subscribe to our email newsletter there. That’s 365/holdings.com, and again, I’m easy to find on social, most active on Twitter, but also Linkedin.
Michael Bereslavsky 30:35 Well, thanks. Good to chat. Till next time.
Kelcey Lehrich 30:38 Thanks for having me. great to meet you.
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