Carolyn Lowe | Business Growth Lessons from Dell, Costco, and Amazon
Smart Business Revolution

Carolyn Lowe founded ROI Swift in 2015. She helps consumer brands get expert help on Amazon, including paid ads for Facebook and Instagram, paid search and email marketing, and all other related fields that are relevant for businesses selling on Amazon. She did this after finding that many small businesses were being taken advantage of by agencies that charge a lot and don’t give great results. 

Carolyn worked in a variety of consumer marketing leadership positions at Dell, ran global marketing advance for NPD Research Company, and consulted for many brands, including DirecTV, Callaway Golf, and many others. She is also the Author of the new book Business Growth Do’s and Absolute Don’ts: Applied Wisdom from My Work with Dell, Costco, Amazon, and Multiple Start-ups

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Carolyn Lowe, the Founder of ROI Swift, about her experience managing a division at Dell and the challenges she faced while there. Carolyn also talks about selling on Amazon in 2014, hiring and firing strategies, and how she helps small businesses scale. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Carolyn Lowe talks about her experience working at Dell 
  • What Carolyn learned from selling in the baby space category on Amazon in 2014
  • Carolyn’s advice to business owners selling on Amazon
  • Reasons why Carolyn wrote a book
  • Should e-commerce entrepreneurs focus on scaling their core values and mission?
  • How Carolyn structures, hires, and fires employees based on her company’s core values
  • How connections turn customers into advocates
  • Carolyn explains how she helps smaller companies better manage their businesses
  • The peers Carolyn respects and where to learn more about her and her company

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPO, EO, Lending Tree, Freshdesk,  and many more.  

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here, I’m the host of this show. And every week I feel so blessed and pleasure to get to talk to such great guests, you know, CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs, of all kinds of different companies and organizations ranging from we’ve had Netflix we’ve had Kinkos, we’ve had Activision Blizzard, read LendingTree, Open Table, YPO EEO, go check out the archives. So there’s so many great episodes for you to check out lots of great learnings. I’m also the co founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And my guest this week is Carolyn Lowe. She founded ROI Swift in 2015. And if you are curious about the world of Amazon, she helps consumer brands to get expert help on Amazon, including paid ads for Facebook and Instagram, paid search and email marketing all those different related fields that are relevant for businesses that are selling on Amazon. And she found that there were a lot of many smaller businesses that were gifts getting taken advantage of by agencies that charge a lot and don’t give a lot of great results. And some of her accolades include her team grew an apparel and footwear company from zero to 12 million in 18 months. Yes, you heard that right, through paid Facebook and Instagram, Instagram ads, and her goal is to help 1000 brands grow profitably they’ve held helped about 200 So far, so she’s on her way, but 800 away from retirement, she says. And before that, she worked in a variety consumer marketing leadership positions at Dell, and also ran global marketing advance for Np d research company, and consulted for many brands, including DirecTV, Callaway, golf, and many others. And she’s also the author of the new book business growth do’s and absolute don’ts applied wisdom from my work with Dell, Costco, Amazon, and multiple startups. And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships with done via podcast and content marketing, you can go to our website at Rise25 Media or email us at support@Rise25media, if you want to learn about how to do it. Alright, Carolyn, happy to have you here today. And I want to ask you a little bit about before we get into business do’s and don’ts, I definitely want to ask about the book, which congratulations, I know is a recent bestseller. But you you one of the stops in your career was a managing a $2 billion division at Dell, which is just insane by any measure. But But tell us a bit about the the pressure that must have been involved in that role there. And in there in particular, there was a you were telling me before and a story of a particular product that was not doing so well. And you kind of had to face the music and say, Guys, we need to kind of give up on this one. So

Carolyn Lowe 3:24

tell us about her. Thanks for having me, John. Yeah, um, I, I never got a formal MBA, but I say I always got my MBA at Dell. There was a myriad of smart people. If you look around the Dell alumni, you see, folks, they’re CEOs of companies like GoDaddy and social solutions, and started a whole bunch of different startups, Staples. So if you look around at sort of the C suite of of these companies, a lot of these folks came from Dell. And we had such an amazing culture and such an amazing, amazing education. And I was surrounded by a bunch of brilliant people. So I really have the folks at Dell to think to thank for that. That was my sort of MBA over my six years at Dell, but yes, definitely. You know, I’ve worked in so many different divisions, I ran the Dell Costco relationship, the Dell QVC relationship. And then I went over and ran that large division of monitors, projectors, and, and TVs. And if you look around, it’s really hard to find a Dell TV right now. And there’s a good reason for that. So that was one of my most challenging roles I would have to say at at Dell was a new product that eventually didn’t make

John Corcoran 4:43

And there was one particular piece that wasn’t included that had a big impact on that particular product.

Carolyn Lowe 4:53

It was I think there was a variety of things both in the consumer market nobody knew we made television, so it’s really really hard, right? Everybody knew Sony at the time and, and even Samsung, and that everyone thought of Dell is a computer company. So on the consumer side, that was a hard perception to change, or to overcome, especially not being in retail. And then on the on the corporate side, yeah, the, unfortunately, our televisions didn’t have this little connector that all those hotel needs for their entertainment systems. So it was a, it was a really, really tough place to be. The product didn’t quite fit consumers needs and it didn’t quite fit our corporate needs.

John Corcoran 5:37

Wow. And was it tough to stand up and say, Guys, we this product is just not working? You said that, at one point 80% of your effort was going into this product that was producing 2% of the divisions revenue?

Carolyn Lowe 5:51

Yes. So um, Dell makes amazing projectors, amazing monitors. You know, we everywhere you go in most businesses, you know, you would see Dell monitors everywhere. And but yeah, I think it was the televisions was very hard because it was a consumer product. And it’s, it’s a very what we found through a lot of interesting research and what I’ve found to researches, usually, it’s a couple, and let me just, this was the majority of the time, the couple, the man would choose like three or four TVs based on specs. And then the woman would choose the final one based on aesthetics. So it was it was a very, you know, you don’t care when it was a desktop, and it was sitting under your computer, you don’t care what it looks like, but a TV, you know, you want to see it, you want to hear it, you want to touch it, you want to feel it. So there were a variety of challenges in that. In that role at Dell, I had probably about five or six different roles. But that was the most fun, but also the most challenging. Yeah,

John Corcoran 6:53

now you go on. And, you know, a little while later, you end up working for a company that was in the baby space. Right. And, and that had a tremendous trajectory, it’s been a tremendous growth, I think 5x. And this was in the 2014 2015 time period, what was it like, you know, on Amazon growing a business on Amazon at that time. It was,

Carolyn Lowe 7:21

it was fun, because there were so many fewer sellers in 2014 than there are today. And so there were a lot more things that you could do a lot fewer people that knew what they were doing. So it was pretty easy to be profitable and make a good amount of money. And as you know, retail just sometimes retail is really long lead times, you may get in you may not get in for a year. You know, as an e-commerce person, I’ve been in e-commerce for 20 years, I hate being at the mercy of like a big box retailer. So Amazon to me was always was always great, you know, you could see real time sales, you could see what was working what wasn’t I’ve always had a transactional background, when I was at Dell, I was on the e-commerce side for one of my stints and working on And that was really exciting to just be optimizing the e-commerce site for to, of course,

John Corcoran 8:16

the irony for you know, as you just said, you don’t want to be at the mercy of someone, a lot of times businesses ultimately become at the mercy of Amazon, if too much of their, you know, eggs are in one basket, so to speak, I’ve met many business owners where, you know, 99% of the revenues coming through Amazon. And sometimes you can see they’re just anxious that, you know, they’re going to log in one day, and their account is restricted for one reason or another. So what do you say to businesses that, you know, do have a lot of their resources in into Amazon? And, you know, kind of are at the mercy of Amazon?

Carolyn Lowe 8:55

Great question. I say diversify. So we have a brand that does, you know, eight or 10 million a year on Amazon and that’s 90% of their sales. And so they’re really starting to ramp up their direct to consumer. Amazon is sort of the, the thing that you know, you have a love-hate relationship with it. It’s great because you know, people are going there, you know, they’re buying, especially when I was in the mom and baby space, you know, moms buy at target at Walmart at bye-bye baby and Amazon and so you know, if you’re not in those spaces, you’re missing out on a huge section of moms. I mean they have well over I want to say last I heard was they have well over like two thirds of the moms in the country on the Amazon platform. So there’s some brands though we say you don’t need to go on Amazon. So some clothing and apparel brands that are direct to consumer we say no, don’t go on Amazon but if you’re a you know if you’re a mom and baby brand, if you’re a pet brand, you know they’re not going to go through the hoops of order on your website. So there’s a lot of brands that unfortunately have to be on Amazon.

John Corcoran 10:06

Yeah, of course, the challenge for these companies is, you know, it’s going so well on Amazon, it made they make it so easy for me, you know, why would I put resources into this other area like building out my own platform or building out other platforms? If I see such more quick return

Carolyn Lowe 10:25

through emza, it’s true. And then but you have to think about, you know, what’s your eventual goal, if you eventually want to exit, you’re going to want to own that data, you’re going to want to own the customer, you’re going to want to own that first party data. versus you know, I’ve seen companies get bought in the 10 million 20 million space. And the more that they have direct to consumer customers, the higher their valuation a lot of times because especially if it’s a strategic acquisition, right, there are brands, there are companies that buy Amazon only brands and just turn them into cash cows, but you’re right. It’s very risky. We had a brand come to us that was doing $9 million a month on Amazon, and they got shut down. Wow. They said, we’ve been shut down for a month. We’ve been through three agencies, nobody can get us reinstated. They were losing $9 million a month. So eventually, I got them reinstated after about three weeks. And they were back up and running. But it was and it was a harmless mistake. You know, it was one of their Instagram folks went on Amazon wrote a review raving about it, how great it was and said they got it for free. And so they got shut down for review manipulation. Wow.