It’s 2018. You get out of the theater from seeing Black Panther with your best friends and hop onto Twitter and see #YannyVSLaurel trending. You all pile into your car and head off to that new Poké place down the street. That night you get home and watch Beyonce’s performance at Coachella on YouTube. Life is good.
In fact, 2018 would prove to be a banner year for the (then) up-and-coming brand. Starting out with a dozen employees, they decided that this would be the year they would expand their internal capabilities and start to grow their team.
Flash forward to 2022, and Solo Stove has exploded into a household name with almost 350 employees and almost $400 million in revenue. They’ve added expertise across all functional areas of their business, opened warehouses in the US, Canada, Europe and soon, Australia.
Their growth story is truly one of success.
That success didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen just because of their quickly-expanding product line. It happened because of the company’s mantra: Create good.
Since 2010, Jeff and Spencer Jan have introduced this principle into everything they’ve done. When it came time to grow and expand the business by procuring other brands, the Solo Stove team began to look at the mantra in a new way.
“There are lots and lots of ways to create good and to be good in the world,” said John Merris, CEO of Solo Stove. “While Solo Stove really loves creating good by helping people facilitate awesome experiences and putting smiles on people’s faces around fire, other brands were doing it in different ways.
“As we met Oru and Isle and Chubbies, we realized that they had figured out their unlock to creating good. And so the first goal of the platform was to just do more of that. We wanted to be responsible for infiltrating people’s lives with good and putting smiles on their faces, and we found other brands that we thought were doing a really bang up job at that just like Solo Stove, and decided to partner with them.”
A Silver Lining
When John Merris started at the company back in 2018, there had been plenty of opportunities for the company to put their mantra into practice, but a new set of circumstances was about to present itself that no one could’ve seen coming.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a difficult time for much of the world. Loneliness and isolation spread as fast as the virus, but these two feelings couldn’t be further from what Solo Stove aims to achieve in their product. “When you sit around a fire, even if you haven’t seen somebody in ages, it immediately kind of evokes this desire to tell stories, to talk, to converse, to put your phones down and just enjoy making memories together,” Merris explained.
So in 2020, when Merris saw the perfect opportunity to create good during these dark times, he immediately went into action.
“Early in the pandemic, maybe late March, early April, we had a man named Eric post a picture and tag us on social media. I’ll never forget it,” Merris said. “I was lying in bed, it was 10:30 at night or something, and it said ‘Wishing I was sitting around my Solo Stove. But I guess I’ll have to rely on my old trustee dusty,’ and it was a picture of an old rusted out fire pit.
“So I reached out to my team and I said ‘Man, we’ve got to do something about this. Let’s reach out to Eric and let’s get him a Solo Stove. Let’s give him a pick-me-up.’ This was early, when we thought it would be over in like a week, right.
“But we still said ‘Let’s help this guy out.’ So my team responded and said ‘OK, we’ll reach out tomorrow.’ I said ‘No, no, no. Right now. He’s online, he’s lonely, let’s cheer him up right now before he goes to bed tonight.’ And they did. He was super grateful.”
The Solo Stove team continued on this path of creating good throughout the pandemic. They gave out products to customers for Back to School, Fourth of July, Mother’s Day and more. It was an opportunity to help the community experience togetherness during a time when physical togetherness wasn’t a possibility.
Customer Experience First
Pre-pandemic, the practice of creating experiences rather than focusing just on products had been accelerating, but as the world locked down, businesses quickly learned that the future had arrived.
Success is no longer defined as just creating a great product. Instead, success is creating a community around a product, one that yearns for an experience that unites them.
“The community comes naturally when you do a great job at facilitating experiences in people’s lives and helping them tie your brand back to those experiences,” Merris explained.
This experience-first mindset affects other areas of their business, too. Particularly their main direct-to-consumer (DTC) business model.
Many brands are pushing toward a more retail-focused approach — still investing in DTC sales, of course, but relying more heavily on retail stores and third-party fulfillment services. Solo Stove sees this, but doesn’t want to lose focus on their customer-centric roots.
Ideally, Merris said, the company will arrive at an 80:20 ratio of DTC to retail sales in the very near future. “Just a couple of years ago, we were 8% retail, 92% direct-to-consumer. By the end of last year we had gone to 88% and 12%, and we’re continuing to work our way towards that 80:20 mix that we think is sustainable long-term.”
Solo Stove’s commitment to the customer and DTC commerce doesn’t stop at their website. In fact, they’re so committed to this customer-first mentality that when the company went public in October 2021, they chose DTC as their stock symbol.
“In terms of going public, at the end of the day, our business was built in one-to-one relationships with our customers,” Merris said. “It wasn’t in these large public offerings from retailers who then went out and sold our product for us. There was something really exciting about allowing our customers to become shareholders of the business. That was a big driver for us.”
The Final Word
When we were talking to John Merris about the success Solo Stove has seen, we asked him what advice he would give himself — or any entrepreneur — based on his experiences over the last four years.
His advice was to not base your own goals off the accomplishments of others. “I think every brand is unique. I think that your ability to go build a community and to create a loyal following of customers is unique to your company,” he says. “I think you should be out there trying to figure out, what’s the best I can do? What’s the greatest potential for my brand. And then go chase that instead of what the person next to you has done, because that means nothing. You shouldn’t rely on others to inspire you to go and reach your potential.”
Solo Stove’s plans for the future are as large as its accomplishments in the last four years. They want to continue to grow. They want to become a household name for all things outdoors. But more importantly, they want to foster a community of outdoor enthusiasts that shares their vision.
How? Through their commitment to creating a community of like-minded people who want to create good.
BigCommerce is proud to be a part of that journey, and can’t wait to continue helping Solo Stove create good in the world.
“BigCommerce will obviously be a part of that. Digital commerce needs a facilitator to help you grow. And for us, for Solo Stove, BigCommerce has been a great partner that’s helped us to scale and drive that.”
To read more about Solo Stove’s success on BigCommerce, check out our case study.