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“Be Prepared to Pivot”: Mitch Rezman on Building a Global E-Commerce Business
As Mitch Rezman, Vice President of pet bird supply Windy City Parrot flies us through his career from the early ‘00s up to ‘20, one gets the feel of his knack for pioneering new paths. The same paths which have ultimately converged into a single success story.
After meeting his wife Catherine Tobsing in 2002, Mitch helped propel her avian supply shop into an international e-commerce site shipping worldwide. Over the next two decades, the couple grew into a global online business, survived a fire that nearly shattered their business, an economic meltdown, and a pandemic.
In today’s customer spotlight, Mitch Rezman talks about rising from economic crises, building a 400k+ social media following with minimal marketing costs, and nurturing a business mindset that moves mountains.
Join us on this exciting trip from ‘the Windy City’ — Chicago, hometown to Windy City Parrot, to Lowell, Indiana where the bright duo now manages their bustling online business and local boutique.
Before he donned the VP cap of Windy City Parrot and perched those exotic cuties on his shoulders, Mitch got his 20-year fill of sales and operations experience in several industries.
But it was his online match with Windy City Parrot’s President Catherine Tobsing (both poster children for online dating back in its ‘02 cradle) that channeled their individual experience into a common cause.
“My wife started the pet bird business in 1993 as an avian supply vendor. She started the business by attending bird shows and by the time we met in 2002, had launched Windy City Parrot.
“She felt the pet bird supply business needed a retail presence, so we acquired several spaces in Chicago and in a few years had grown to 10,000 square feet.
“Having a retail space, launching an internet business, hosting seminars, and attending bird shows, we were working 7 days a week by that point.”
Meet Mitch and Catherine’s birds in their home habitat
How to spring up from the ashes: a lesson in overcoming challenges
It was the summer of ’05 and business was booming when a tragic blow uprooted its future. A fire that lasted 4 days in the facility burned everything to the ground: from stock to hardware and infrastructure, essential for running the business.
You can say at that point, life put Mitch and Catherine onto the first of several crossroads and offered the choice to go on or give in.
“We needed to fulfill orders for the next day, but the fire changed all that. So we went away from Chicago for ten days to forget about everything.
“When we got back to the city, we realized we’re out of shape mentally and are [spending a lot of time] feeling sorry for ourselves. But then we thought — we still have our internet business. And if we have our business, we will stay in business.”
Age-old wisdom teaches us to look for meaning and unexplored opportunities when life beats us down. Entrepreneurs like Mitch and Catherine embody concrete examples of how to spring up.
“[After the fire] we rented temporary space, three garages, and began dropshipping more than 1000 SKUs. We are now a prolific drop shipper, so much that I want to put together an online course on dropshipping to share my experience.”
It’s safe to say that such a doubling of effort into dropshipping and e-commerce may not have occurred if not for the pile of ashes from which Mitch and Catherine saw their ‘phoenix’ (and other pet birds) rise.
As a result, they survived the 2008 recession which took countless small businesses across the U.S., including their own, by surprise with many shutting their doors. 3 commercial landlords later, while Chicago and Illinois were degrading at every level, it was time to pivot once again.
In 2019, Mitch and Catherine got “Windy City Parrot” out of Chicago (pop 3,000,000) and moved both residence and online business to Lowell, Indiana, a town of 10,000 surrounded by cornfields.
“MightyCall has given us total freedom”: Doing business on the move
Besides Windy City Parrot, Mitch has a web development business with a different name, website, and phone number. Finding a single technology that could handle both businesses in different states was a priority.
In their research of telecommunications tools, MightyCall’s virtual phone system won the couple’s loyalty early on.
“We’re currently on the Standard plan [and that] includes five business numbers. For my development business, I took an 800 number and a local number and for Windy City Parrot we have an 800 number that we ported over.
“[We kept the] local number for Chicago and also created a third number for Indiana so we could have a presence there. It has worked out spectacularly.”
But what Mitch calls “pretty powerful stuff” behind MightyCall’s VoIP is mobility. Whether Catherine is taking “customer service calls and orders while driving across Indiana” with her husband at the wheel, or Mitch riding his motorcycle or doing deliveries with business contacts tucked into his pocket, “MightyCall has given us total freedom,” he sums up.
“It’s work to take it seriously”: How to get 400k social media fans and skip pay-to-play
In times of economic recession from the COVID-19 pandemic, marketing can be a matter of life and death for small businesses. With a limited budget and a pressing need to prevent a business from sinking, is pay-to-click the only way to stay afloat?
“Marketing is a huge disconnect between people who are on the Internet for the most part and those who want to sell on the Internet.
“I’m seeing it because, in my spare time, I volunteer for an organization called SCORE. We mentor small businesses for absolutely free. I have five clients in the eCommerce space [and] the biggest problem all these people have is to know where to get the [web] traffic.”
There are “all sorts of things a small business can do” to market better, Mitch adds. “But the biggest thing they don’t have to do is spend a lot of money.”
“We have 265,000 organic fans on Facebook [and] about 400,000 thousand people together including Twitter and Pinterest and 25 additional social media platforms I dip my toes in.
“I see lots of people say [that] to get engagement on Facebook you’ve got to buy ads and boost posts.
“And then I show them a 28-second video of a cute bird saying “really” into the camera that garnered 1.8 million views in 7 days.”
Watch Mitch and Catherine’s viral video
It doesn’t matter how many fans you already have. If you want to keep the growth, “you never stop marketing” Mitch stresses.
Windy City Parrot partners Mitch and Catherine write “2,500 to 10,000 words of fresh content weekly” driving 40000 unique [web] visitors. They haven’t missed a week in seven years, and deploy this content via 25,000 newsletters dispatched every Sunday at 7:00 a.m. sharp.
The newsletter is branded as “Your Sunday Birdie Brunch”. It only shouts out a single product or category but has at least 8 links to original bird care content and 6 curated links with newsworthy global articles.
Keep your hand on the pulse
If a new business could surface from every complaint employees vocalize, startups would spring up like mushrooms after the rain. The reason that never happens is the long way from words to action.
“Some people get up in the morning and dream about big things. Other people get up and do it. If you don’t like what you’re doing now, walk away.
“Don’t go work for somebody, get a job, and come home and badmouth the boss with your significant other all day long.”
Mitch points out that in business, the only dead-end is self-remorse and self-pity, saying that from a place of ‘been there, done that’. So what’s the alternative path? According to Mitch and Catherine, it’s versatility.
“Be prepared to pivot. If something isn’t working out, look in a new direction. Don’t try to bang your head against the wall while repeating mistakes of the past.”
There’s no time like now, when things are being “invented and reinvented” at a rate never seen, due to the pandemic and its aftermath. While certain companies, including some biggest names in each industry, have shut down, it’s the versatile businesses that may bend but will not break during economic crises.
One such business is that of Mitch Rezman and Catherine Tobsing, who are already building up their international online presence through new digital pathways like courses and unique content.
As Mitch sums it up,
“Examine the challenge, see what you can do, and take it to the next level. Maybe explore the path you’re on, or — which is how I met my wife — remember that sometimes, you just have to change your path.”
Learn more about MightyCall
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