For Chris Gerbig, Pink Lily represents 10 years of work with his wife, Pink Lily’s co-founder and CEO Tori Gerbig. As president, his role has shifted over the past decade from wearing many hats, running the online women’s clothing and boutique’s business operations from their home, to hiring senior leadership roles, building a warehouse and adapting to a shifting ecommerce landscape.
In a phone interview with Digital Commerce 360, Gerbig reflected on the lessons he learned taking Pink Lily from a bootstrapped ecommerce site with a team of two to a company with 300 employees and $120 million in annual revenue. With 15,000 products in its inventory, the company found new paths to its customers, thanks to its early focus on nascent social media trends.
The Pink Lily Boutique is No. 836 in the Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000, a ranking of North America’s leading retailers by online sales.
Coming out of 2023, Gerbig cited a “really solid holiday season, comparable to last year,” but he is also looking ahead. From merchandising to ecommerce platform changes and staffing, he shared what he believes Pink Lily got right early on, as well as where his attention will be in 2024.
What sold well in the 2023 holiday season?
Asked what has been selling the best on Pink Lilly of late, Gerbig credited its mainstays.
“Basics and athleisure, and loungewear continues to be a top seller for us,” he noted. These standards have long made up the staples in Pink Lily’s colorful online catalog. But it has invested in new technology along the way.
“We have an in-house design team that creates a lot of our graphic tees and graphic sweatshirts,” Gerbig explained. “We just invested in a large DTG — direct-to-garment — printing machine that can print, you know, 900 shirts an hour with various designs.”
That machine replaced an old screen-printing process for the online retailer. The time and labor to build each screen and change out designs became too intensive. So they brought in a larger machine to apply new designs on demand. Those graphics include simple callouts to coffee, emotions and locations on cozy t-shirts and sweatshirts. The Pink Lily site currently shows about 100 options, according to Gerbig. He credits remote work with driving demand.
“As more people just work from home and more people want to wear comfortable clothes, I mean, yoga pants, workout pants, hoodies, just your basic casual stuff continues to be a pretty solid performer,” he explained.
Gerbig on growing Pink Lily’s team to 300 staff
Remote work has played a role for Pink Lily’s growth internally, as well. The company is located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, which is where the Gerbigs studied together at Western Kentucky University before starting Pink Lily. Gerbig believes staying in the area was the right call, though he acknowledged that attracting top talent to relocate can be a challenge.
“It’s not exactly a giant digital talent hub, you know, like if I was in Dallas or L.A. or Atlanta — or even Nashville for that matter,” said Gerbig. “But the good thing is we have a lot of remote jobs.”
As much as 25% of Pink Lily’s staff is remote, according to Gerbig. That number would likely be higher, he said, if it weren’t for the onsite needs at the warehouse that come with managing inventory and shipping orders. Still, opening up to remote hires has allowed him to fill out departments for non-warehouse positions.
“Otherwise, I think we might have struggled a bit,” he admitted. “But the fact that we can make these guys remote — we have a lot of remote staff now — a lot of remote employees and everything seems to work out just fine.”
Testing out physical retail
As Pink Lily’s staffing expanded from in-person to remote-heavy, the online retailer also piloted a physical retail presence for its sales. That flagship store was set — like the company — in Bowling Green, and it’s something that Gerbig is contemplating in the coming year.
“The majority of our sales are online,” he stated. “But I know a lot of companies do have a strong retail strategy and strong retail presence, and that’s the conversation that’s come up recently. So we’re paying attention to a few things, and we might look a little bit deeper into that — maybe later on in 2024.”
Like other retailers, Gerbig is watching what happens with macro trends in the economy and consumer habits. Signals on those fronts are likely to influence the company’s next steps.
“We’re paying a lot of attention to the economy and the markets and competition, just some of the ideas floating around about what to do with retail stores,” he explained. “Are customers going back to more retail, or are they shifting to more ecommerce?”
AI and ecommerce tech
As an ecommerce brand, Gerbig is also paying attention to Pink Lily’s tech stack. That extends to their ecommerce platform, as well as emerging uses for artificial intelligence.
“We’re paying attention, but we haven’t quite dived into the full AI, yet,” he said.
Currently, he likes solutions for automating some responses in customer service.
“Those have been helpful for us — to not have to staff so many full-time customer service reps considering the same questions: ‘Hey, what’s my tracking number? When does this restock? What’s my order number?’ — things like that that can easily be answered by a machine or a robot,” he cited as examples. “Those have been helpful.”
Beyond those use cases, he is hopeful that better AI-powered options will emerge for fit recommendations.
“[The technology is] still kind of young, and it’s not perfect yet, so we haven’t started using it, but we are paying attention because one of the main drawbacks of being an online business is you can’t try to clothes on,” he said. “People have different body sizes, different shapes, things fit differently. So the ability to kind of do that digital try-on will be very, very helpful once the technology is proven.”
Pink Lily’s ecommerce platform
Pink Lily uses Shopify, which has been its ecommerce platform since 2020, according to Gerbig. After initially starting with Volusion, moving to BigCommerce, then eventually making the move to Shopify, he seemed confident that it’s the right fit for the time being.
“There’s a lot of add-ons, a lot of apps, a lot of different plugins that work,” he said, calling the overall user experience “great.” He also values Shop Pay, and the checkout session speed that Pink Lily is able to achieve as a result.
“I don’t know if it’s Shopify specifically, but just the app partners that they have,” he explained. Gerbig cited inventory control, customer service, restock alerts and website heat maps of customer activity as features he values.
“I think I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have Shopify,” he stated. “It’s been good to us.”
Pink Lily’s social media strategy
One area where Pink Lily proved itself early on was on social media, where Tori spearheaded its presence. Over 10 years, platforms have changed and opportunities have shifted, but Gerbig noted how the company has learned and evolved along the way.
“We’ve learned that if you’re the first one to a trend and utilize that trend to its maximum potential, you can really grow it,” he said. In the early years, that meant using social media posts to organically grow traffic. Later, that shifted to paid strategies.
“So once social media organic posting kind of died out a little bit, we jumped on the paid ads bandwagon,” Gerbig recounted. “We really pushed paid ads, Google ads, Facebook ads, YouTube ads, pretty heavily back in I would say 2016-2017, before the whole world caught on and before it got extremely flooded.”
That was followed by prioritizing influencer marketing in 2017-2018, when Gerbig said Pink Lily “put 60%-70% of our marketing budget on influencers.” Now, the company has a holistic marketing approach, which he said encompasses “social, paid ads, email, influencer” and notably in 2024: TikTok.
“We do a lot of text alerts, so we have this holistic marketing approach where we have, you know, eight to 10 different channels and make sure that we kind of spread the budget across different areas,” he said. “But if we see that one is performing well or if there’s something new and up and coming, we’re quick to shift and throw a few more dollars of budget at the channel, and to see what happens.”
Potential on TikTok
TikTok alone represents one of Pink Lily’s priorities in the coming year. Against the backdrop of the company’s historical successes on social media, Gerbig specifically sees the ByteDance-owned platform as having “the biggest potential.”
“TikTok is huge, TikTok Live, TikTok Shop, and then just organic,” he noted. “We’ve posted on TikTok a lot more and put a few more eyeballs on that category as we try to tweak our campaign strategy. Because, you know, what you do on TikTok needs to be a little bit different than what you do on Facebook, also a little bit different than what you do on Instagram because [there are] different algorithms, different customers, different eyeballs and different chances to go viral on each platform.”
Other retailers have shown new interest in TikTok as well. Both Newegg and Peloton have recently expanded their presence there, and a Morning Consult report in 2023 showed that it played a growing role in driving holiday purchases.
What has worked so far
10 years after launching Pink Lily, Gerbig spoke confidently about the lessons learned and analytics-driven approaches that helped grow its sales and size from the business’ lean years to where they are now.
“We didn’t have money,” he said. “We had a very small amount of capital that we put into a printer and a small amount of inventory. So I had to focus on being cash-flow positive from day one and being profitable.”
After expanding and continuing to experiment with tech, merchandizing and social strategy, he expects to keep those core values in place in 2024.
“Our expectations are to keep doing what we’re doing,” Gerbig stated.
As for what ultimately made the difference in Pink Lily’s growth trajectory, Gerbig points to the early combination of skills that he and Tori brought to the table.
“I think we lucked out when we decided to divide and conquer the roles of running the business, so it just so happens that she is an expert in sales and marketing,” he explained. “And it just so happens that my fields were in finance and operations and business strategy.”
Do you rank in our databases?
Submit your data and we’ll see where you fit in our next ranking update.
Stay on top of the latest developments in the ecommerce industry. Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 Retail News. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Be the first to know when Digital Commerce 360 publishes news content.Favorite