Craig Smith, founder of Trinity, has worked with the Internet since 1999, when dial-up internet was still a thing. This vast experience has given him the skills to keep up with the changing times, and still come out on top in the e-commerce industry. With Trinity, Craig helps several e-commerce brands expand through optimizing their internet presence.
Through the efforts of Craig Smith, Trinity has become one of the internet’s leading optimization agency. The company has been included in the Inc. 5000 list, and it was recognized by INC. magazine as one of Philadelphia’s fastest-growing companies. Currently, Trinity is the 6th fastest growing company in Philadelphia, and was chosen as a member of the Future 50, selected by Smart CEO magazine.
Craig Smith and Trinity have helped out several companies operating in different sectors, such as Harry & David, SurLaTable, Dow Chemical, Vanguard, David’s Bridal, and Quicken Loans.
Outside of Trinity, Craig Smith has also contributed to the discussion of internet optimization in media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Stores Magazine, Internet Retailer, and Practical eCommerce. He has also been invited to speak at eCommerce events across the world, and he also holds regular lectures on internet optimization at New York University and Villanova University.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Craig Smith: Sure thing, coming out of college I got a job as a regional manager at a yellow page company (can you tell how old I am from that) and that led to getting a gig as a sales rep for a technology company when the Internet was just starting to gain traction within companies. This thing called ecommerce had just started and I was fascinated by the transformations that businesses could embrace by leveraging the internet as a distribution tool.
I went back to school, got my MBA with a concentration in eBusiness, worked at Ebay Enterprise for a few years, and then started an agency (Trinity) to help companies grow their eCommerce sales and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 14 years.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Craig Smith: The aha moment would likely be when I started looking at the websites of catalogers in the United States. This is the initial category for which we targeted at Trinity.
These businesses had great products, great data, and a solid infrastructure to service customers — what they didn’t have was a proper website that is measured properly along with the proper strategy to increase traffic and conversion rates. My mind sensed a great opportunity.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Craig Smith: I didn’t feel intense adversity until the financial crisis of 2008. We had large customers who had their budgets cut and we had about 35% of our client base reduced in a very rapid fashion.
I never considered giving up and just went back to the fundamentals of gaining and serving customers as best we could. The drive to persist comes down to the one question “Are you going to give up” — for me to give up it would have to be insurmountable odds and it was not at that point.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Craig Smith: Things today are going well. Similar to 2008, this crisis led to major client budget cuts — especially in the travel category. It led to us experiencing a similar drop in revenue but we have always been financially conservative with taking on any debt and that level of liquidity allowed us to manage the crisis and focus on customer support and acquisition and we are just now hitting our pre-COVID revenue thresholds.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Craig Smith: I was at the eCommerce industry’s largest conference at the time, Shop.org, and I was networking my tail off. I saw a contact that I wanted to meet and proceeded to spill coffee on her notebook. Somehow I took that initial adverse event and was able to turn it around to a very productive conversation and a 5-year flagship customer. The takeaway from that is even with initial missteps, your destiny is yours for the taking with focus, belief, and direct action.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Craig Smith: There are so many tools that a business needs to run at all cylinders but here are the three that are most vital in my mind.
- An email system that enables personalized messaging at scale (creating customer journeys that are unique by purchases and demographics)
- An optimization platform to test page presentations and gather primary research
- A content delivery network (i.e. CDN) that is going to make your site faster so consumers don’t quickly bail on mobile
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Craig Smith: First thing is to identify where within your store is the most “leakage” from your analytics. After that, a brand should conduct primary research into those areas to find out why this extra level of friction is happening. Lastly, is to create new pages and presentation versions to improve the “micro-conversion” of a given page or process and test against the existing page. This process is called conversion rate optimization and is a key tenet of what we help brands with.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Craig Smith: Do things that impress your customers on an emotional level to build loyalty. It’s amazing how some brands invest in this and reap the benefits. For example, Chewy asked my wife to send a picture of her dog to them via email. Three weeks later a hand-painted picture of our dog arrived in our mail. My wife was blown away and told me she will never buy dog food anywhere else. They earned her business and will have it for a very long time unless they lose her trust through bad service.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Craig Smith: Honestly, right now I just want to see more unity in this great country as we turn the corner on a very tough year for everyone. Love your neighbor! 😊
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Craig Smith: You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn and of course go to our website at Trinity.one where you can read 30 case studies all in the area of ecommerce optimization.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!