Episode 240 Featuring Alex Bond

Adding Experiential Value for Brands with Mark Sandeno

Adding Experiential Value for Brands with Mark Sandeno

Mark Sandeno is the Founder and CEO of Experiences, a SaaS platform for eCommerce businesses that offer bookable retail moments to consumers. In addition to his role with Experiences, Mark is also the Founder of Helpful Human, where his team spends its days building delightful features for food and beverage ecommerce brands, workshops and classes, museums, and cat cafes or goat yoga experiences.

On this episode, Mark and I discuss the difference between running a SaaS platform vs a digital agency, why booking retail experiences is important to consumers, how the novelty of booking experiences drives business, and much more.


What is Experiences

Mark Sandeno: Experiences is an add on for Shopify merchants and the best way to explain it is, have you ever gone to a website or been on someone's mobile app? And let's say it's, I don't know, it could be like a running store or it could even be a homeware store.

Let's say the running store says, join one of our expert led trail runs, or the home store could be come for a cooking class and learn how to poach a salmon in the words of the of Liz Lemon, I want to go to there and you hit it, but you jump off the site. You're at a bright. You're over at Airbnb experiences.

And you're kind of like for a second, you're kind of like, ah, that's weird, but all right, whatever we fix that problem. And we help merchants own the entire retail bookable experience. At their domain on brand, they control the entire experience and all the data. 

Alex Bond: That's amazing. So what are some of those very specific examples? You mentioned, you know, how to poach salmon or trail runs. Is it as simple as like booking a reservation at a restaurant? I mean, what are some real life examples that you've personally seen in which people use this app? 

Mark Sandeno: That is a great question and almost a perfect setup because it's almost more interesting to talk about what it isn't versus what it is. But let me start with what it is. 

So our categories are breweries, distilleries, and wineries. Like, so tastings, classes, talks wine blendings. That's a big part of that industry is, and here's the thing. Most consumers aren't as discerning as they think they are, because we'll go to a wine tasting experience and we're like, Oh yes, I taste the tannins and the fruit in this.

And we become these in our minds. If we don't say we're immediate experts, we become immediate enthusiasts. And what happens to the benefit of the brand is we now become an advocate and we're probably creating a little bit of fomo, right? We're taking some pictures, you know, I'm out of garden Winery enjoying their Pinot Grigio or whatever.

What's actually happening is consumers don't have to leave their home to buy anything. So what gets us out of our house? I mean, you can have anyone ship anything to you almost immediately. Sometimes same day. I'm in Seattle area, sometimes even before I remember I ordered something that's at my front door, and so what brands have to do is they have to bring people together, right? 

They have to create an opportunity for you to create memories with your besties, your families, your friends, which ultimately leads to nostalgia. That's actually what's happening when I'm at a tasting. I'm creating a memory and that memory is more important than the actual consumption of the thing itself, even though I don't think like that.

So that's one category, but that truth applies to all those categories. So breweries, distillers, and wineries in general, workshops and classes. We have a ton of candle making workshops. On our platform. And what's crazy about that is like a candle is like, I think like the original commodity is like, you can get a candle anywhere.

You can go down to a dollar store and get a candle, but people are willing to pay 50, 60, 70 for a candle making experience at a homeware store or candle making workshop. And probably a less quality candle because I'm blending the stents. I take off the wall, I choose a vessel, I like this vessel, I'm going to take these scents. I'm going to add it to some hot wax and then like a total artisan I'm going to pour it in there. 

I mean candles are pretty hard to screw up it's hot wax a wick and some scent. I honestly believe that an expert's going to make a better smelling candle than I am but I'm willing to pay you know between 50 and 60 bucks because I'm there with my kids and my family having a really good time.

Actually, that's a funny story. I use this in a talk. My son Winston went and he pulled the scents off the wall where whiskey, beer, and smoke. And he's just, he's like a pre teenager. I'm like, alright man. And he just thought those smells together were interesting. And it, this candle ended up smelling like a dive bar floor when it was done.

I'm serious. When we lit it at home, I'm just like, oh man, I used to play, I used to be a full time musician, a drummer. And it's like, oh man, this takes me back to the worst venues. We played in like sticky floor, dive bar, but here's the crazy thing. When we smelled that, I noted that smell, but it took me back to the incredible time we had at Lorraine's candle making workshop in Seabrook, Oregon. 

That smell and seeing it was a totem for this fun memory I had with my boys. Then we have like, you know, just everyday retailers that are selling goods and services. They recognize that. For them to be ultra competitive in retail, in a hyper competitive DTC world, where you have great tools like Shopify and great tools like Debutify, which is makes it super easy to make a beautiful site on Shopify that they have to be distinctive.

And I don't know if you've noticed this, but a lot of these DTC brands are now, they have footprint, you know, Bonobos, Warby Parker, Allbirds. I was at a open air mall in Seattle called U Village the other day. There was a whole row of these brands, like Away Luggage, which is kind of a hipster, cool kid luggage. They were all started out as just D2C brands, but they eventually get footprint because they recognize that they have to be in the lives. They have to be in the community.

In my opinion, the smartest brands are creating pre booked ways. For these people to come together and have experiences. And sometimes it's like, for instance, a way a luggage company might do, you know, do a collaboration with a guy like Rick Steves, who writes the book Europe through the back door to do a Rick Steves slash away mashup because ostensibly people who have luggage love to travel and would love to hear from a travel expert, right? 

And so they're and they're charging for these things and so you'll see them use Eventbrite and all these other tools. But I mean, that's why we exist and then we have the weird stuff Like one of my favorite customers is a cat cafe. It's a great coffee shop. It's called cat and craft It's in the San Diego area. 

And you can go and get coffee and you can also spend money to spend an hour in their cat room with just a bunch of cats, petting cats and hanging out with cats, which is either the seventh circle of hell or like your dream come true, right? Depends what you think about cats, but their mission is to help these shelter cats find homes so you can adopt a cat, but what you pay for an hour, I think it's like 15 bucks helps them serve and love those cats. 

And so, you know, goat yoga cafes, outdoor travel, all that kind of stuff. Now, what it isn't is we're not like a boutique salon tool. So someone can fill up their chair and do haircuts and whatnot. We just, we're really not tuning our product for that. Nor is it like a boutique fitness tool. It's not like mind body when I'm going to orange Sherry fitness. I'm going to not necessarily, not necessarily going to book to the experiences app at a site we have people doing that kind of stuff.

How clients customize the app to tailor the perfect user experience

Mark Sandeno: So if we're giving merchants tools to own the narrative all the way through rather than outsource it to Ticketmaster or Eventbrite or something like that. Then we also need to give them the tools to customize it. When you install experiences in five clicks, you can be selling experiences. 

Sometimes when we get new customers before I can even like at the end of the day saying, Oh, who signed up today? They're already booking experiences. So with the world, which is awesome to see. And this is also one of the problems just to make it real Shopify, the Shopify ecosystem makes it super easy for people like you or I say, Hey man, I have this great idea. Like I own the domain funisawesome.com because hey, fun is awesome. That's totally true. 

And I want to make a t shirt brand. I've tried this a couple of times. Right. And I'm just like, oh man, where am I going to go? I'm going to go to Shopify. And so I signed up for Shopify, but the gap between signing up, which is almost frictionless, by the way, it's super easy to spin up a store with Shopify and to realize the front end experience for my customers. There's actually a bit of a gap there, even with the Shopify theme store. 

Once again, a call back to Debutify. They make it super easy for brands to bridge that gap between what I had in my mind. And what Shopify or these easy to use tools promise we're an additional layer on top of that, right? So we're hitching a ride on the back of great themes like Debutify and we're trying to make it easier. We're injecting some stuff into their store that make it easier for them to drag and drop things. 

Like if I could, I'd screen share and show you some of these layouts we're working on that very much make it look like less. That I'm buying a t shirt size, small, medium, large and blue, red or green, but it's like, Oh, no, this is I'm at this page. Oh, I'm at the brand and I'm at this page. This is a fully bookable experience within this retail store and it feels right. 

And it undergirds the promise of what's to come. There's this concept in experience, economy, thinking, and the experience, economy, sports, entertainment, travel, and dining, right? But there's this idea that people will do these things. They'll get off their butts and leave their homes. Not because I need to make it. I need a candle in my house. I really need a candle. I need light and a little bit of heat. No, I'm looking for something to do with my besties. 

When a retailer in almost any vertical business, vertical has a nice looking, and it feels like something that is a pre bookable happiness to come. It's kind of a weird way of putting it. They're more likely to engage it and to convert. It can be in and of itself profitable for that brand. 

And then it can result in a much higher customer lifetime value and have some interesting stats to share with you if you're interested, but what we're trying to do is we're trying to make it really, really easy for them to do whatever they want. The average Shopify merchant just needs tools that work with no code, no design required. 

And so that's why we're making Shopify 2.0 components, sections and blocks, which is kind of the latest thing in the Shopify content management system. Up till now, we really haven't provided much of that, but we're doing that now.

Additionally, a lot of our customers, some that do millions and millions of dollars a year through our app, they have the firepower and the team to work with their agency to customize things just the way they want it because we make the code available to those. Merchants, they can build whatever they want.

Additionally, we have a firm called helpful human that if our client doesn't already have an agency or their agency needs some bookable retail, which is a term we made up, but bookable retail expertise will come in and help. 

Alex Bond: And that's extremely helpful. I mean, helpful human, it ought to be. There's that's something that you're touching on just to wrap up the UX conversation is interesting because it's like, if I'm a user, right. And I'm trying to use you know the Experiences app to book something or get on this website if the experience booking the experience doesn't go well then I'm probably not looking forward to the event. 

So it's kind of like the very first impression of what the actual experience that I'm booking. is going to be. And I think that's kind of like a lofty task for you guys to have is to make sure that any other experience that they could book on there is predicated by your first impression. 

Mark Sandeno: That's a really interesting thing you say. We came up with this. Well, actually, my friend Lauren O'Loughlin came up with this acrostic or acronym, whatever the heck. You call these things where first letter responds to a word, but there's this acrostic we use called paer. P A E R. Take the Y out from payer. You know, obviously we're speaking to retail success, but pair and it stands for plan, arrive, experience, remember. And then I attack another are on their return.

So what we want is as retailers is we want plan, arrive, experience, remember and return. And so that that what you just talked about that planning that looking forward to you. It's called pre savoring if we want to use a marketing term for it and when retailers lean into that and instead of just say, thank you for booking, you are coming on May the 20th at 9am, don't be late, no refunds, instead of just doing that.

And maybe that's part of the messaging, but it's also like, hey, we're really excited for you to experience our pie making extravaganza with commemorative platter. We will see you on Thursday the 26th. You and your friends can enjoy this. And you're a storyteller, right? You know what it means to fill something with meaning.

We as humans, very susceptible to the context of a narrative. It's been said recently, and I don't, I have to dig up this quote, that we can't understand a truth without a story surrounding it, or a fact, right? If we're telling that, here's the truth, here's the thing that's gonna happen, but we spin a little bit of a narrative, we make it thematic. 

When people actually arrive, that's the A. They have a heightened experience and the benefit for the retailers they spend more and we have stats to prove that because our customers give us access to the data and we can compare their experiential customers against their non experiential customers because almost all our all our customers are people that sell stuff for services.

And the experience, then you arrive, you know, there's that theater. That's a welcome. We're so excited to have you. And then the experience itself is the meat on the bone. And then that remember in return is when people have a great experience with your brand, it becomes nostalgia. They commemorate it. That candle sitting over the fireplace or on the window, isn't like, oh yeah, that's a candle I made. It's like, oh, that was a great time or whatever, whatever they come out with or the shoes they help customize in a co creative way or something like that.

And then the return is I want to go back to that thing again with new friends and whatever, and technology can. Like experiences can automate almost all of that. The experience itself and the narrative and the idea is up to the merchant, but you need that experience to undergird it. 

Exploring the unique challenges of running a SaaS business vs. an Agency

Alex Bond: And speaking of you know problems i'm interested in and what some of the unique problems that running a SaaS business has compared to running an agency because I talked to a lot of people who do one or the other and you're in an interesting position in which you do both. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

Mark Sandeno: First of all, I do not advise it. Jack of all trades, master of none. And here's a little bit of the story. Me and a guy named Pete Albertson were sitting around in a really cool office space in Seattle, Washington a number of years ago. We were at the 31st floor in the Smith Tower, which is like it's the oldest high rise west of the Mississippi, and it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi for like 100 years, believe it or not, until Seattle and the West Coast blew up.

It's not even that tall. You know, I had 20 plus designers and engineers working for me, and I'm like, in a way, we kind of have these superpowers, which are becoming less special as a world of platforms and frameworks, you know, just kind of I'm 49. So I've been around for most of I mean, some people might laugh at this, but most of like the modern Internet.

Where companies are spending money to have things built, like in my mind, I track it back to like the early nineties, which was when I was started doing some of this stuff. He and I are both people who sacrifice finishing our college degrees. I actually think he has a college degree. I don't, I never did. I was traveling around the world. 

I was working on nonprofits. I lived in Mexico. I lived in central America. I was all over Europe. And, and so we're like, okay. What drives us? Let's take the word passion out of it. But like, where do we find meaning? What do we like doing?

And we kind of came to this thing like we love creating memories. We love having these memorable moments that lead to like nostalgia, which, by the way, interestingly, used to be considered a disease back around World War One or World War Two, because the Swiss soldiers were pining almost to the point of being like stick for, you know, the hills of the Alps and Heidi with their pigtails.

But they realized it was actually an empowering thing to help them perform as soldiers. And we know by the way, that nostalgia is triggered by a sense of loss or a wistfulness, but it's actually a very, very healthy thing that actively drives a away anxiety. It's kind of interesting thing that, so there's a social good when retailers off for experiences, which I love. 

And that was kind of the ethos. So we're like, well, let's look, what, like, what can we do with this? And so Airbnb was just starting to do their experiences and obviously bookable. Stuff was happening. No, the world needed another booking tool. Like it needed another hole in its head.

It just doesn't need it. And, but what we said is, you know what the world needs. The world needs a platform for bookable retail. We believe that retailers are the best modern venues for hosting people, where there's an alignment of incentives to have a good time, create memories, learn things, and also consume things.

So we're sitting there as a consultancy, we're building apps or we're doing stuff for Carnival Cruise Lines, and we're doing stuff for aerospace companies, and we're doing, we're doing all this stuff, and we thought, where can we turn our time and attention? So we did this janky Ruby on Rails experiment, and I had owned a small SaaS company before that really didn't go anywhere.

So I said, whatever it is, we can't give it away for free. We have to charge, we can have a free plan, but we have to charge a minimum amount of money to validate. We need someone to swipe their credit card, so to speak. So we charged a 29 bucks at first. And from day one, people started to sign up and we thought it was going to be like Betty Jo's bead shack, you know, and suburban. Wisconsin, or whatever. I don't even know if that's a real place. I think it might be.

And it might have been like, you know, I like, you know, people aren't coming into my store anymore. They're just buying their products online. You know, like, oh, I know. I'll do Fimo classes. Bead making classes, which is something I used to do in junior high and high school. I was that weird kid wearing hand homemade Fimo beads around my neck. I don't even know if you know what those are, I was a bit of a weirdo. 

Anyways, but what happened was we immediately had brands that were like, this is what we wanted. This is what we needed. And they were doing from day one, like millions of dollars of revenue through our app, like within a very short amount of time we hosted. Our retailers host over 500, 000 booked events and over 22 million in booking revenue. And we were like, what the heck? And also because we didn't, we did like an MVP, like just a minimally lovable product.

We immediately broke people's stores because they were shoving so much traffic in it and our engine, the way we engineered it. What Shopify was too dependent on their API is not to get too nerdy, but Shopify was like, we can shove as much data in, but when we needed to get the data back out to show them who's showing up, cause that's what our app does.

You can sell an experience through Shopify, just make it a product with a variant like Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, but you don't know when they're coming. You don't have an automation that's going out. You don't have a bunch of time space continuum integrations. That's what we do your results driven.

Yeah, well, we're results driven. Also, a modern e commerce system is about selling. I'm taking an order for something and I'm fulfilling an order. It does not take into account that yeah, I'm buying something that's going to happen maybe six months from now or six weeks from now. And that customer needs to be reminded, revenue needs to be realized at different times.

There's people who are buying something who are showing up to an online thing because we have a Zoom integration or most of our customers are doing in person stuff. I need to know who's supposed to be here, when they're supposed to be here, who's coming with them, do they have food allergies. Do they, you know, and I want to customize the whole thing.

It's just a different, you know, it's a different thing, right? Yeah. We created this thing and because we didn't charge enough upfront and it was a bit of an experiment, we immediately got ourselves into trouble because the minute we had one pain customer, we couldn't just say, well, it was a fun experience, let's shut it down.

Not that we wanted to, we needed to support that customer. Customers just kept signing up, kept signing up, kept signing up. And then what I decided to do was keep the consulting company going. And which is really a modern web consulting company is build anything for anyone at any time, as long as they have sufficient budget and building custom software is hard. That's what we did. 

And so these two companies have gone next to each other and helpful human while Shopify, well, why experiences hasn't is still a Mason has shoved a bunch of resources and money into it. It's only been towards the beginning of 2023 that we've really gotten all in on experiences. And we have, yeah, we have thousands of customers and we have a very generous free plan.

So a lot of them don't pay a lot of money, but increasingly we're getting more and more and more well moneyed customers who are able to pay what's necessary for the Significant amount of volume that they put through our app. If you're not doing any volume, it's basically free.

So to answer your question, and I kind of want to, I went a little bit far afield there. It's very difficult to do both of the things we do. You may have seen our website as today at helpful human. com. It's all about experiential retail and bookable retail. We just made that change two weeks ago. 

Alex Bond: Oh, wow. That's like the point to me as someone who was reading that I was like, oh, this seems like that's exactly what all of this is. The fact that you changed that two weeks ago is fascinating.

Mark Sandeno: What Helpful Human does now, just to be very clear, is we work with retail brands that want to do experiential and want to do something more than the out of the box solution who need some strategy on the plan, arrive, experience, remember, and return components of their business.

But also we've done a ton of e commerce over the years and we'll bring all that together for him. I want to say we're the world's first bookable retail experts, but since we made that term up, it's really easy to say that. 

Adapting to the Digital Shift

Alex Bond: So in a world where, so you've been doing Helpful Human for a little over 12 years, right? Experiences for a little over four, I think it was like January 2019, something like that. I'm interested from your experience.

If it is too much assuming to think that things are actually becoming less brick and mortar and more digital, that's kind of a common paradigm. That's that's a common thing that everyone kind of says is things are going more digital. And I think there's some truth in it.

From what I'm hearing, you say, Mark, you would probably believe otherwise. My question essentially is how has your business been impacted and how does that correlate with this narrative that things are getting more digital? 

Mark Sandeno: Well, first of all, I'm super bullish or very positive on people coming together and retailers being the hosts, people having experiences together with the retailers product or service as the nucleus super bullish and statistically.

Even though direct to consumer selling has taken a huge hit, like literally half a million, 600, 000 retailers. And we're not just talking about no account retailers. We're talking about circuit city. We're talking about major retailers have shut their doors. Because you literally don't have to leave your home to buy anything.

One of the jokes that's lost on most people because it's like, they're like, no duh. And I tried it. I always told myself, if I ever have a speaking gig where I get to talk just about experiences, I'm going to come out and I'm going to say something like this. Hey guys, I have a, deck here. I want to take you through this, but like, I just heard something insane.

Do you know, you used to have to go to a, like a physical place to buy a mattress before. Like that's insane. Maybe the joke is a little too subtle, but most people are like, yeah, man. Like people today, like, yeah, of course I'm just going to have my mattress shipped to me. Why would I go to a mattress store? People still go to mattress stores. Mattress stores can be great. 

Alex Bond: But I don't have a truck, so I got to get ahold of a truck. You know? 

Mark Sandeno: Well, think about how friction free deep direct to consumers. Now, Amazon really broke the crust on it. And then brands like Shopify are like, okay, well, you're probably going to sell on Amazon as well.

But if you really want to own the conversation, we're going to be there for you. You'll brand it. You'll own it. These are your customers. What's called first party data will just facilitate your success. Right? And so, but Amazon really be New Reiwa Changed how we think about consumption and then everyone else is following suit.

So like across the board, helpful human has done startup work for companies that do last mile gig economy delivery, where sometimes the returns are so easy for people that buy DTC and they contract with DTC brands. I was joking once with them. I said like, it's almost like you want people to be able to return their products to your last mile or mild delivery and pickup.

It's like, you just yell out the door and throw it out the window. And like one of your people just dives and catches it and runs away with it before they even know. And it's like, that's actually what we're going for frictionless. Easy. It's just a utility, right? I'm kind of losing my train of thought here, but things have just changed and you can get anything.

And that killed a ton of retail. Like it was a dystopian wasteland. Like a lot of malls across America look like zombie movie sets. It's unbelievable. However, DTC still only accounts for a relatively small percentage. It's growing of all consumer spending, like it's less than 30%. It might be a little bit more than that. Now I have to recheck my stats. 

However, in for the first time since 2017, there is more brick and mortar happening than what's closing. And this is post pandemic, the pandemic really hit our business because around the world, because of mandates and the fact that most of our customers, brick and mortar retailers. We like business just completely, well, not completely, but largely dried up. And we also, our pricing model has a cap, but we share success with the customer. 

So we have a flat fee plus a percent of per booking fee. So yeah, that was a high impact, but already since the pandemic has been over. Experiential spending is greater than it was pre pandemic. People have, I think we've really realized how important it is to come together. And retailers are like, glad to take advantage of that trend. 

Alex Bond: And that was one of my questions that I had in something that is so, you know, foundational to your business model is the user interaction experience. You know, you started the company in January 19th. The first case was in like November of that same year. So it was kind of like, this is on paper, the wrong idea for the wrong time. 

And the fact that you made it through has got to be pretty commendable. Is that because of the fact that you just had to fight through those first couple years and then knowing that when this is all over, it's going to be even better than if we came out with it 5 years early.

Mark Sandeno: Okay, Alex, let's really make it painful. Not only did we start this business, it kind of, and we were trying to get traction right during the pandemic. My consulting company, helpful human was working for an aerospace company. Like a significant percentage of our revenue was coming from an aerospace company whose planes were crashing, which was impacting our business.

And then we were working, I think I know who that company was their plane started to crash. I'm like, shoot, man. We're like, we're too concentrated in this client. I got to start getting some different clients. And then the pandemic happened and I was just like, oh no, everything. We're doing is being affected by the pandemic.

And it did, man. It did. We were hanging on by the, by our fingernails across the board. But what I know missionally is I'm really in to helping retailers succeed in bringing people together. And it's not just because I want retailers to make money, but I really You know what I'm talking about.

There's these two advisors, two consulting companies, David C. Baker and Blair ends, and they're insufferable and they're on point. They are so loud about this one thing. And it's just like, shut up. And you're so right. Which is if, when people look at you from the outside and they're talking to consulting companies, they cannot identify a clear expertise. The only difference between you and your competitors will be price.

It doesn't mean no matter how many laws you have in your initial meetings or how you like the same sport, they're just like, ultimately, it's just going to be a price pushdown, you're just going to be competing on price. So during that time, and I already read the book win without pitching, which is Blair and David C. Baker has a newsletter and they have this podcast called the two bobs. 

And they are uncompromising in this general sense that pull your head out of your butt. You're not special just because you can design something and code something. That is not special. Or there has to be a very clear external evidence of specialty.

And then people will pay a premium to work with you. So during this time, experiences was starting to get traction. I'm like, you know what helpful human just needs to start going after experiential stuff. And so we landed this client department of wonder it's D E P T of wonder. It's this cool, it's one of our categories we serve called location based entertainment. 

Have you ever heard of like Meow Wolf? So it's like, so these guys actually have worked with Meow Wolf and this is their own thing you go in and you're a light bringer and you and your kids you get an IOT connected lamp and you interact with this fantasy space and then there's a bar in there for the parents and it's like a small localized Meow Wolf and their first location is in Sugarland, Houston, just out or Sugarland, Texas, just outside of Houston.

So we landed that we did the design and the development and we integrated what's called a, it's a disconnected front end with our app using our API. We did this really special thing. And so that felt right. It felt right to do that kind of stuff, but you can only pivot so fast. Right?

Like, literally, we just launched the Helpful Human website, which is, still doesn't have a blog, still doesn't have, like, a leadership thing on it. You know, there's a lot of work to do to get things to scale, operationalize them, and thrive. But it's fun. 

Why Millennials prioritize experiences over products

Mark Sandeno: So there's a couple ways to come at this. Let me come at just the history of everything just real quick and in a super tight thing we've got for being in a great, yeah, in a nutshell, the history of everything we went 97% of all people way, way back in the day worked on farms.

Then we had the industrial revolution and then we products and then mass production. It used to be like, you would take your toaster, the toaster repairman, because there was only like 2 toasters on the market. Right? And they would repair your toaster. Now there's what a bajillion toasters. You just chuck it right.

If your toaster stops working, right. We've, but we've reached peak goods. You know, if I hold up my iPhone to you and say, which iPhone is this. You're like, I don't know which iPhone that is. It's probably a modern one. Cause I see three lenses back there. You just don't know. We've reached peak goods.

There's very little that distinguishes one product from another and something happened in the psyche of humans, starting with millennials. And by the way, that stat that 76% of millennials would rather do X the next that came from McKinsey and company, which is a legit research company exploring these kinds of things.

How did that happen? How did they just do a table flip on the consumption of stuff and say, you know what, I want to go to Vietnam. So I'm going to sell my couch or my kidney. I don't know. You know I value experiential and temporal. Like if we think about the time space continuum, temporality versus the permanence, my Yeti mug here, which my friend Chris gave me, I really love this mug.

Yeti's on point with, you know, their aesthetic and whatnot. Like I value my Yeti mug, but. I would much rather have experiences. Now I'm Gen X so, but I kind of fashioned myself. As a pre millennial millennial, like I skipped college to trip around Europe and just have an experience. My friends are like, dude, you'll regret it.

You'll regret it. You're never going to come back. I've seen this before. I never came back to school. I'm like, I don't see the point of it. Now my kids, I want my kids to go to college. But anyways, the point is somewhat inexplicable. Within the era of reaching peak goods and peak service economy jobs, they said, I don't buy it.

I value something greater than the consumption of stuff. And so that's just the reality. And they go and they have a great time. And yeah, man, they do create FOMO. They go and over, like, if you think about the candle experience, you can get a candle almost for free from many locations. But I will go to Candleland, Miami, one of our clients.

And I will pay 57 to 60 to have a scene and be seen bespoke candle making experience in their beautiful space with my friends. And I'll probably do it more than once. And because I'm part of their mailing list. Maybe I'll go to a mashup with an organic wine company or charcuterie thing, right? And these millennials are no longer having to sell their couches or their kidneys to do this stuff.

They've come into trillions of dollars of spending power. And this is how they spend their money. Do they still like nice stuff? Sure. And by the way, they have more choices than ever before. I don't have to go by Lululemon. I can go to another athleisure startup, direct a consumer that has maybe a great influencer promoting it.

I can buy it direct at less money. However, Lululemon and this other G2C brand realize that ultimately to maintain relevancy, they've got to, they've got to create community around the thing. And the way they do it is by bringing people together one way or another and millennials are they're just the people who drive this. 

It's honestly what millennials have done how they voted with their dollar dollars is one of the best things that could have ever happened to humanity because they're driving people coming together to create memories together and it actively alleviates. 

Alex Bond: I mean, like I've thought about this and the fact that we're having this conversation is extremely appropriate for multiple reasons is in two of them being the last big purchases that I made was a trip to Ireland for my cousin's wedding and a big, nice television, but that's a product that I like the experience of using when it really comes down to it, you mentioned sports entertainment. 

That's entertainment, that's a vessel for me to get entertainment, which is an of itself experience, you know, that's kind of a slippery slope, but I'm interested what the future looks like in the experience realm especially with, I think probably within the last, I would wager three years. The amount of user generated content is insurmountable. 

All I can see nowadays is instead of kind of short form narrative videos, like you would see on YouTube or even vine back in the day where people are kind of creating a story in 30 seconds. It's a lot of times people just going up to someone else and talking to them while they're filming, or it's people throwing balls and cups and all this kind of more trivial stuff.

What my question is my kid who is six years old is saving money to go to Legoland and experience, right? So I don't think that's going anywhere, but is it gonna even more exhaust the effort of I'm going on experiences for the content almost exclusively instead of the actual experience? Again, getting cynical, but that's kind of my question to you, Mark.

Mark Sandeno: That's a really good question. Okay, I think we would have to acknowledge a couple things. So there's the vanity, there's how people communicate, but then there's this intractable felt need that humans have to create experiences. So I think what we've got going for us on the good side or on the more positive side is connection.

People want to connect. That's the right term actually. I was going to say something different. People want to, they need to connect. I don't think people are sitting at home and saying, I really need to have an experience this week or today, this month, this year, that's not necessarily what they're saying.

There is an inner wellspring of, I need this, I want this. And at the same time, there's more of an antipathy towards going and just getting drunk in a bar. And so this is where some of the like mashup kind of like it's consumption. It's photos. Like, if you look at the ice cream museum, have you ever seen the ice cream museum?

That sounds amazing, though. Yeah, well, it's the Museum of Ice Cream or something like that. I was in New York recently. And I went into one of these places. I mean, this is a classic target customer for people like us. So, if you go to the muse if you go museumoficecream.com. Oh yeah, it's about ice cream.

You can have ice cream, but it's really more about like a ball pit or a crazy unicorn or go down a slide and a bunch of weird nuggets of something, right? And yeah, I get unlimited ice cream on the way out. That's like their kind of exit through the gift shop thing, I think. Anyways, I was in New York and Soho and I walked in, I was just walking into where the merch and they're like, I'm so sorry to even be in our store.

You have to buy a ticket. I don't know if this is right. Cause I've never verified this, but apparently they do over a hundred million dollars in revenue a year. So what is that? Is that I need to have an experience with my friends. I need some great Insta shots. I want to do a little TikTok, something or other, what is it?

You tell me, man. But the thing that drives people to the museum of ice cream is the same thing that can drive people into bird and blend, which is one of our clients has multiple locations in the UK. They do a bunch of team mixology things. And in those people who have an experience spend 70% more than customers who have never had an experience.

Their repeat repeat purchase rate is 20% higher. Does it really matter to the merchant why they're there? Does it really matter to the person why they're there? I personally don't think it's going to be a pure content play. I always think there's going to be an element of consumption, belonging, and identifying with my consumption.

That's my gut feeling. My gut feeling is modern consumers, and maybe Gen Z is even more like this, are more conscientious. About how they consume, but they demand the meaning through an experience with it. Maybe even more than millennial. We'll see. I don't know. 

Why booked experiences trump spontaneity

Alex Bond: Now I think it's evident. I appreciate experiences, right? I love experiences. I fall under that statistic. I'm more likely to probably buy an experience than a product, but here's the difference here. Mark is my partner loves planning things and loves booking things and loves having an orderly plan.

And I am a much more spontaneous person. I am much more inclined to just say, Hey, do you want to go see a movie tonight? Or, you know, do you want to go do this thing this weekend? And it's like, well, you didn't talk about that. So while you're correct in that, I do appreciate experiences and to take my own example.

You have to book a flight to Dublin to go to Dublin, so you have to book something. But when I get there, sometimes I want to spend a whole day just walking around and doing whatever I want. And you've mentioned it a little bit, but I'd like to hear your opinion on why you believe booked experiences are better than spontaneity or serendipity?

Mark Sandeno: So this is a great challenge, by the way, and I hear that challenge in what you're saying. And I agree that, well, I want to agree with you. Ahead of time. Or I just want to say, I don't think they are better. I don't think pre booked are, is better than ad hoc discovery. As a matter of fact, if I stumble onto something, I'm like, what is going on here?

This is a maze. And I have an amazing experience. You're like, we were just like walking through the streets of Dublin. You're like, and all of a sudden there's all these people, these kilts, and they were lifting people up and throwing roasted chickens at each other. It was the great kilted roasted chicken toss off. 

And we're like, it was like, you know, sure, man, that totally. Now here's the thing, from a retail perspective, and I need to plan my success and listen, as a retailer, I'm going to do the job in curating or cultivating something. It doesn't have to be over the top. Here is my expertise. My expertise is running culture. 

And sure, we sell Brooks running shoes, Hoka, Cloud, whatever. We sell all these shoes. But people can get these shoes anywhere. What can I do to bring the center to their experience? Well, I'm going to bring in an ultra marathoner and they're going to do a talk or, and we're going to do community runs.

We're going to do all this stuff. People have to be able to plan that stuff. The merchant does. And as a consumer, when I'm premeditating that thing earlier, they're not saying I need an experience, but they're looking for ways to be together to drive me and yeah, sure, to educate themselves and be a part of the communities they think they belong in or want to belong in.

Right? So that's really where we fit. I personally love ad hoc kind of stuff. I mean, it's like, oh my gosh, dude, we were in this out of the way place in middle of nowhere. And they were doing this, you know, they were doing an armadillo cook off. It's like, I've never had armadillo meat, but it's okay. It's like a greasy chicken, you know, like I've had experiences like that are astounding. 

But the reality is If I want as a a merchant, let's just put the merchant first here for a second as a, as a retailer, and I'm passionate about what I'm doing, because by the way, in my opinion, and I think stats back this up, gone are the days that I can just say, I want store, I put out table, set products on it, hang on slat wall success, where those days are gone.

If there's not a way for you to distinguish between you and your competition and create community around what you're doing, I think you're toast. You're just done. You're going the way of the dodo bird. There's a dual benefit. As a merchant, I don't have to necessarily pay super triple quadruple top dollar to be in the hottest walkable mall new experience.

So I can benefit from the traffic that's coming to Apple or Lululemon or the anchor retailers like, oh, that's a cute little homeware store. Let's just wander in there and see what's going on. I can be that homeware store three blocks back and maybe a light industrial. You know, center, but if I'm good at creating community and bringing people in, I can thrive in some ways more than I ever could being at the hottest walkable mall place, right?

And so if you synthesize all that, like I am a human finding things on social media or getting referred from my friends or whatever, and I find it through insta through tick tock through through through Facebook. You know, if you happen to be on Facebook, still LinkedIn or whatever it is that retailers connecting with me there.

And then I can have the benefit of saying, hey, I want to go do that part of it may be like, yeah, I mean, like, we have a lot of museums, a lot of museums use some really cool museums use us. They use us for their general admission, which is like, buy it online, show up anytime within this timeframe. Or they do, they do talks or special experiences or VIP stuff. They do it through our app.

So there's just some, you can sign and, and by the way, also we have apps in the Shopify point of sale app. We have our own app and then we have a standalone iOS app. Where people can just show up at any time you log them in there. You get the access of, you get the benefit of logging this person in and selling that time slot or that range of time through our app.

It goes into your data, tells a story to you as a merchant later when, you know, Alex comes for a tea blending experience at burden blend in the UK. And then he becomes a part of their tea continuity program. They're like, shoot, man. Yet another person who came and had an experience and became a super fan and is getting our graham cracker chai shipped to them once a month. 

Alex Bond
Alex Bond

Meet Alex Bond—a seasoned multimedia producer with experience in television, music, podcasts, music videos, and advertising. Alex is a creative problem solver with a track record of overseeing high-quality media productions. He's a co-founder of the music production company Too Indecent, and he also hosted the podcast "Get in the Herd," which was voted "Best Local Podcast of 2020" by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia, USA.

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