Is it really possible to make money while making good?

Can commerce and conservation be combined?

Can a passion for a social or environmental cause be the very foundations of a thriving business?

We’ve recently had the chance to interview Taylor Nowaskie, E-commerce & Marketing Manager at Parks Project to discuss how their fast growing brand stands for something bigger than  business. In this conversation you will learn about how they turned their vision into a reality, how they create a magical shopping experience, and their favorite apps to deliver a quality customer experience.

Can you tell us the story behind your brand? What makes it special and unique?

Parks Project started in 2013, in the Santa Monica Mountains where our founders, Keith Eshelman & Sevag Kazanci, were doing a post-fire habitat restoration volunteer day. While working with a park biologist and the park superintendent, they learned about all the national parks undertakings that needed funding, support and advocacy. From there came the idea of encouraging more people to volunteer with parklands across the US, and presenting a list of ongoing projects that makes it easier for anyone to be involved.

The original vision is simple: to unite friends around volunteering in our parks so we can make a difference and support our favorite places. Friends got out as a group, do good, feel good and celebrate after a hard day’s work with a cold one or two.

After a combined 11 years at TOMS, the founders wanted people to advocate by “wearing the cause”. They started designing various collections to promote specific parklands, such at Yosemite, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and many more. To date, Parks Project has contributed over $100,000 to park conservancies and spent over 1,000 volunteer hours in our parks. In the coming years, they hope to increase our contribution and inspire more of our generation to get out and support our parklands

What’s important to deliver a positive shopping experience? What are your tricks to make sure your customers are happy while shopping and post-purchase?

Keep ‘em happy! We invest in our relationships with our customers.

Detail and special attention matters. In smaller companies, the customer experience sometimes get overlooked due to stretched resources, but we’ve built a framework for our customer journey to ensure that no one gets lost in the mix. The framework is a 35-page document that details how to provide the best customer experience based on the customer’s journey with our brand.

For example, we send out quarterly physical mailers that include gifts for our most loyal customers; for those tough situations when we can’t solve a customer problem, we’ll send a handwritten apology note with a gift; or if a customer is unhappy with their order, we can reference this framework to know exactly how to handle it (without emotions fogging our response, because let’s be honest, customer service can get the best of us sometimes).

The framework helps us think carefully about what’s best for the customer at each touch point, and to make sure we are always consistent in how we interact with each customers. Both of these things are very important to building a successful brand.

Based on your learnings so far, do you have any advice to share with other merchants on building a great brand and customer experience?

Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth! Encourage your customers to talk about you by  delivering stellar customer service experience. A customer with a great experience is likely to tell everyone in their circle. We keep a log of positive customer comments to remind us how important it is to invest in the people closest to our business.

Also, don’t be afraid to make exceptions to your rules. You may not allow exchanges or maybe you don’t cover the cost of return shipping, but at the end of the day, the relationship with your customer is more important than a $4 shipping fee or a $12 product cost. If your customer is having a bad experience, do whatever you can (within reason) to make it right. If you go out of your way just once, that customer could essentially become an ambassador for your brand for life. While it may be more expensive in the short term to go the extra mile, customers do reward us with more purchases over the long term.

What are some of your favorite apps/solutions you use and why?

Apps can act as additional employees. We’re not afraid to invest in the ones that deliver because it ends up saving us money. Three of our most valuable apps:

Visely Product Recommendations: an intuitive & affordable solution for showing the right products to the right customer on the right page. For example, instead of the standard “other items in this collection” at the bottom of product pages, this app identifies products that should be grouped together and shows those instead. I’m not 100% sure how the algorithm works, but it’s doing an incredible job!

Return Magic: allows us to deliver a seamless return/exchange process for our customers that is trackable, reliable, and easy to use. Before, customers would email us with their requested returns. We would have to manually log it & track it back to the customer (not to mention how much it cluttered our inboxes). Return Magic goes beyond streamlining the process, though. The data we receive on why customers are returning & exchanging items allows us to identify fit and quality issues that we couldn’t track before.

Reamaze: this is our customer support Helpdesk app, and it goes hand-in-hand with Return Magic. Instead of managing a customer service email inbox, Reamaze helps us engage with our community on every channel- even social media! It goes beyond the typical Helpdesk with the ability to reach your customers wherever they are, not just on your website.

Anything else you want to share on building a successful store?

Have fun!

We’ve found that our customers & followers are also engaged with what’s happening in the background; they can sense if we really enjoy what we do.  So we keep it fun and real. Also – it’s not only about preaching: it’s been helpful for staff to get closer to customers by participating in volunteer days in local parks, like Laguna Canyon or Angeles National Forest. There is no substitute for living the brand.

If you’d like to get involved in helping our mission and our parklands, we’ve put together a list of ways you can help. Check it out here.

To learn more on Parks Project: Website | Instagram