What do you do when your boat needs new sails for the 1969 Cal 20 National regatta and local sailmakers can’t make them in time? For Jim Grant, founder of Sailrite, the answer was clear: buy the materials and DIY. After making his own sails, Jim ended up placing second in the race, sparking interest from other sailors wanting to know where he got his sails. It was then when, Jim, a Professor of Political Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College at the time, began selling a collection of how-to manuals on sail making, and Sailrite was born.
Originally, Sailrite manufactured fabric and supplies for customers to make sails themselves. Today, that represents only a small market for Sailrite – it’s branched into branded tools, hardware, sewing supplies and sewing machines for DIY customers’ boats and homes. Sailrite now considers itself an ecommerce hardware store with a niche specialty related to canvas work, a strong emphasis on free training and the only company in the world that offers sail kits.
50 years of content marketing
How has Sailrite managed to create and succeed in such a niche market? From mail order to phone order to ecommerce and social sales, the focus has always been on branding and content marketing. In 1969, that meant writing DIY sails manuals and printing sailing magazines in-house. Today, that means promoting the DIY lifestyle on YouTube to the tune of 187,000 subscribers.
Sailrite creates two videos a week for its YouTube channel, ranging from 3-minutes long sewing tips and tricks, to two and a half hour how-to videos on reupholstering a recliner chair. The goal of this heavy content investment is to make Sailrite customers feel like they can be successful in their new hobby with Sailrite’s guidance, decreasing the learning curve on big-ticket items (i.e. sewing machines), resulting in higher customer satisfaction and increasing future purchases.
A family affair
Today, Sailrite is owned and operated by the second-generation of Grants, Matt and Hallie. Matt and Hallie, high school sweethearts, came to work at Sailrite right after graduating from Indiana University. The couple took over the business from Matt’s father in 2004 and together they lead Sailrite’s constantly growing list of crewmembers, including the third generation of Grants. Today, Matt’s brother, two sons and nephew work alongside Matt and Halle – truly making the business a family affair.
As the Grants start thinking of what Sailrite’s future will look like, which family member(s) will take over the business is a looming question. While Matt and Hallie have at least 10 years before they’re planning to turn over the business, they’ve already started thinking about the future transition. “[Turning the business over to] the next generation is going to be harder because there are enough family members in the business that are significant enough to the business that they need to be involved,” said Matt.
Seas share of wallet with technology
Shortly after Matt and Hallie took over the family business, Sailrite turned to NetSuite to manage everything from financials and accounting to inventory and ecommerce. With such a strong focus on content marketing, Sailrite also needed a marketing automation tool – Oracle Bronto — to better target subscribers to send more relevant content and increase online revenue. Today, Sailrite uses Bronto to send post sale information emails to customers, including how-to videos related to the purchased product. With this email strategy, Sailrite continually engages customers, builds brand loyalty and increases customer retention.
“NetSuite [and Bronto are] the backbone of our business. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the tools to garner both the loyalty from our customers and the level of support they need. NetSuite has truly been the vehicle to achieving our company goals.” Matt said.
For more insight into Sailrite’s content marketing technology strategy and how the third generation family business is planning for the next generation of leadership, download The Family Business: Success Planning webinar here.
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