Founded by Mike Sparks, this 8-figure health food store online business was launched just eight years ago and has changed the way Americans order healthy meals. Personal Trainer Food is a force to be reckoned with and truly an eCommerce success story for the ages.
And how did Mike come up with this winning eCommerce idea?
Like with most successful online stores, from personal experience.
When Mike suffered back problems, he tried everything he could to lose weight. He found the many fad diets he tried ineffective and left him feeling tired and unhealthy. Ultimately he decided to go low-carb and created his own healthy meal plans. When he lost the weight, was feeling better and had less inflammation, he was over the moon to find a solution that really worked for him.
Fast forward to ten years ago, after his wife had their first child and was struggling to lose baby weight despite eating healthy whole grains and fruit and keeping active. So Mike decided to help her by integrating the system that had worked so well for him. He created a plan based on his own individual low-carb diet he had created for himself and prepared all her meals and walked with her just 20 minutes a day. After she lost 55 pounds in just five months, he knew he had created a program with resounding success and wanted to share it by creating his own eCommerce health food store.
And so the online healthy meal brand Personal Trainer Food was born. And boy, what growth it has had. Now with 50 employees, this online nutrition food store has grown into a successful eCommerce giant.
We sat down with their Sales Director, Jessica Carlton, to find out how this health food store brand went from Mike’s kitchen to hundreds of thousands of customers around the US.
Take Us Through Your Brand Journey from Launching to Where it is Today
After his wife’s dramatic weight loss, Mike first tested his healthy meal plan on a group of teachers that worked with his wife at the time, and they all lost weight and had similar success.
Being a seasoned entrepreneur and seeing first-hand the shortcomings in the nutritional food system industry, he was able to fine-tune his eating plan and Personal Trainer Food was born. He did a couple more similarly successful trials, and then teamed up with the National Trainers’ Group, NPE, whereby the trainers would recommend our health food online products to their clients.
With clients reporting great results, we snowballed.
We were also fortunate enough to team up with Groupon a few years back, which allowed us to grow pretty rapidly. In fact, over the three years we focused on the program full-time, we saw our revenue double year-on-year.
How Do You Stay Competitive in Such a Saturated Market?
The biggest challenge we had to overcome was perception. So many people have been burned in the past by weight loss food products because either they don’t work, don’t taste good, are too expensive, or leave users feeling hungry and dissatisfied.
The fact that we were dealing with perceptions of non-tasty, flash-frozen food that has already saturated the market makes staying ahead of nutrisystem hype and disappointment so important.
Therefore, when we created our product, we knew it had to taste good and be convenient and affordable. To do that, we did a lot of testing in the beginning to find the right health food products and options. Even today, we still do group tasting surveys to make sure our customers are always enjoying our meals.
The trick was to really stand out in not only price and quality, but taste, efficacy and convenience. Unlike with TV dinners, with Personal Trainer Food customers get to pick their entrees and vegetables. And they get to mix and match any way they want, because all our packages are pre-cooked, flash-frozen and individually packaged.
Pro Tip for Newbies
Inspired by this health food store and want to start your own online business? Choose a product that not only excites you but is related to something you know or are passionate about. Our eCommerce success stories section of this blog is full of examples of how you can turn an idea into a 7- & 8-figure eCommerce business. Here are some other guides to help you get started:
- How to Find Trending Products to Sell Online
- Finding the Perfect eCommerce Product Using Reverse Engineering
- How to Find Private-Label Manufacturers for Your Products
- Find Products to Sell Online in 2 Steps
- How to Easily Start an Online Clothing Store
Our health food store is very affordable compared to other similar products in the States. We charge around $5 per meal, whereas our competitors charge $9-10 per meal. Plus, we put a big emphasis on how convenient it is to order our healthy meals online.
Their Strategy In a Nutshell
To dominate your eCommerce niche, being able to stand out and offer something different is key. Personal Trainer Food’s success in being noticed above the noise is due to providing a product that outshines their biggest competitors on almost every level: price, quality, convenience and taste. They then back it up with awesome service and flexibility. If you’re new to eCommerce or are looking to break into new niches, this handy eCommerce niche guide will help you find profitable niches you can dominate in.
Is There Anything You Would Do Differently If You Could Start Your Online Store Again?
There has been such an inundation of new food companies popping up, from delivery apps to meal kits. It’s been a real struggle to capitalize on the technology and differentiate ourselves so that people have a clear understanding of what we are offering: healthy and affordable meals. If we knew the strategies then that we’re using now, that gap would have been easier to bridge.
What is Your Strategy For Adding New Health Food Products to Your Store?
We use our existing data and focus groups to test new product ideas. First, we look at our food selection popularity for each month. We then remove our three or four lowest sellers and add on new products based on feedback and product popularity.
We really focus on quality; it is a testament to the product that most of our 50-person team like and use it themselves, and know that these healthy meals are effective. Teams get free breakfast and lunch and we have treadmills at our headquarters, so if staff walk in their lunch hours, they get to take dinner home as well.
What’s the Secret to Your Fulfillment Strategy?
We source food from over 65 manufacturers around the US and then bring products to our facilities. There, we individually package each food item ourselves. Having such a wide variety of manufacturers enables us to provide our customers with the best-quality products while still working efficiently to get meals out as quickly as possible.
All our meals are shipped frozen and packaged with dry ice. We offer free shipping with all our orders and are still able to provide overnight shipping in some zones. All in all, most of our food packages are in transit for two or three days. For now, we only ship in and around the States.
Building a Good Fulfillment Strategy
The secret to having a good fulfillment strategy is ensuring you can streamline your order processing, storing, shipping, and tracking while also ensuring you are able to create and manage transaction documents and track your industry. This will enable you to keep your customers happy by making sure your products are delivered on time and avoiding out-of-stock situations. Looking for fulfillment tools? Here is a list of Fulfillment Companies and Services for eCommerce.
What Are the Top-Performing Ways to Attract New Customers to Personal Trainer Food?
About 75% of our marketing efforts to attract new customers to our online store are online and 25% offline, such as affiliate programs. With regards, we have had a lot of success with two things: word-of-mouth marketing and PPC campaigns on Google, Facebook and Instagram.
1. Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Currently, one of the most successful ways we get new customers is through word-of-mouth. Let’s say someone uses our brands and loses weight. Their friends, family or co-workers will almost always ask, “You look great! What are you doing?” and they tell them about Personal Trainer Food.
To Duplicate this Strategy
If you thought word-of-mouth marketing was dead, think again. In the digital world, WOMM comes in the form of reviews, testimonials, social media shares, influencer marketing, loyalty programs and good old fashioned water cooler/family dinner talk. It’s the best way for eCommerce brands to build trust, loyalty and hype – all of which will boost your eCommerce traffic. Follow this full Word-of-Mouth Marketing How-To Guide to help you increase reach and boost sales.
Additionally, we have had a lot of success with teaming up with fitness podcasts and bloggers.
Especially with moms who are looking for convenient options that will help them lose the baby weight. These moms become big word-of-mouth advocates for our product, as they find it enables them to stay healthy and see results while having very little available time.
We do get a lot of customers who contact us individually and want to be brand advocates for us. Additionally, we have partnered with Impact Radius, so our customers have the option to sign up for affiliate marketing commission for spreading the word.
2. PPC Campaigns With Traffic Booster
We use you guys at StoreYa for our Google, Facebook and Instagram campaigns. We’ve been seeing a huge return on our spend with Traffic Booster, so have been increasing the budget over time.
We have tried a lot of campaign management options – from hiring in-house PPC managers to using PPC agencies over a period of five years – and they just weren’t getting us the results we wanted for the budget we had. The main difference that makes StoreYa stand out is how you’ve provided different partnerships and unique campaign strategies over time for great results. Plus, StoreYa makes it so easy for us to track the results and measure return in real-time.
Facebook and Instagram Ad Examples
To Duplicate this Strategy
The key to creating a PPC strategy that works is ensuring all your campaign channels work together harmoniously. You should be harnessing the power of Google Search and the interest targeting of Facebook to work seamlessly together to increase sales while keeping costs low. Head over to our Perfect Facebook & Google Cross Channel Strategy, which is designed to increase traffic and drive sales. Alternatively, you can reach out to one of Google experts through Facebook Messenger to find how Traffic Booster can do this for you automatically.
What Email Marketing Strategies Do You Use?
We’re quite aggressive with our promotional email marketing because we’re selling highly consumable food products. Therefore, we send out a daily food promotion or sale email, and then once a week we send a newsletter email which normally includes a customer testimonial.
Over and above that, members of our program get support emails as well as automated emails such as our subscription cancelation emails. Here we offer account or subscription offers and loyalty deals as a strategy to get these customers back.
What Customer Service Support Approaches Are You Using?
Firstly, we have a team of weight loss coaches that anyone using our program can call, chat with, exchange private social media messages with, or email. Here they can touch base about progress, get weight loss advice and get meal suggestions from our full health food store list. Then we have customer support teams that handle any service or product issues that customers may have.
Struggling with Customer Service?
You’re not the only one! In fact, one of the biggest struggles online store owners generating $120k+ annually say they have is customer service. And what are their tips on combating this on their way to sales success? Having a strong strategy from day one, creating knowledge bases, and using the right CRM tools and services. Get the full scoop on how top eCommerce sellers beat eCommerce customer service hassles, here.
What eCommerce Model Are You Using and How Has That Helped Your Retention?
We provide subscription models. This gives them enough time to lose weight and build healthy habits such as choosing the right foods and walking. And then from there, they can order the program occasionally, for convenience or to give their weight loss another boost.
Want to Add Subscriptions to Your Online Store?
Because subscription models have been trending for some time, adding them to your business model can help you scale your business to another level. The secret is choosing the right subscription service, investigating costs and data, and then integrating subscriptions into your traditional eCommerce store platform. You can read more about how to do exactly that, here.
What Are Your Future Plans to Scale Your Online Business?
1. Health Food Product Development
Right now, our primary focus is on product development. We’ve been launching five new products a month for our customers to try. This helps maintain variety and provide changes our customers can look forward to. Ultimately ensuring we keep our menu interesting and that our customers never get sick of the food.
2. Our Personal Trainer Food App
We are busy developing our own fitness and program app, which we will be launching soon. The app is designed to help our customers manage their subscription more easily by enabling them to change delivery dates and menus from their phone. We will also be including additional weight loss resources in the app to help customers with good habit-building.
In the future, for phase two, we will add features that will allow even nonsubscribers on their weight loss journey, like walking tracking and low-carb food resources.
What eCommerce Platform Do You Use and Why?
Because we offer unique menu options and a lot of customization options, we decided to build our site from scratch to accommodate these features. As our CEO has a computer science background, he has been able to work with developers to create a platform with features and unique checkout options that we need for our specific business. Moving forward, we will be moving to WordPress site maintenance and hosting.
How to Choose the Right eCommerce Platform
When it comes to choosing a platform for a new store or deciding on a new platform to convert to, there are a few things you need to consider before you lock down a platform. These include:
- Budget: If your budget is limited, you will want to choose a ready-to-go platform like Shopify.
- Tech skill: Don’t have any tech knowledge? You may find building a platform from scratch or using Magento or WordPress tricky if you aren’t outsourcing development help.
- Ask yourself whether your brand needs features that a simple eCommerce platform cannot provide. If so, opt for Shopify Plus, Magento or build from scratch with development services to develop your unique store.
Still on the fence? This eCommerce platform comparison guide will help!
Lastly, What is the Most Important Advice You Can Offer Other eCommerce Entrepreneurs?
Be willing to try things out and pay close attention to the metrics. eCommerce is a very crowded space and you have to be continuously ready to adapt and try new things. Everything is always changing and you never know which direction it will go tomorrow, so it’s so important to be versatile.
Wow! I don’t know about you, but this awesome health food store gave us eCommerce success inspiration in spades. Keep a close eye on Personal Trainer Food, as we’re sure their growth has only just begun.
Have questions? Post them in the comments below!
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