Getting ahead in three different industries takes hustle. Just ask Ryan Alovis, founder and CEO of The Stella Group. But that’s okay, Ryan was born to hustle. Check out Ryan’s tips for outhustling the competition.
Long before Ryan Alovis sold his first business, MagazineDiscountCenter.com, to Time Inc. at the age of 33, he had already risen to success in the nightlife industry in New York City. What started as Ryan’s college side gig turned into a full-time enterprise that employed hundreds of other party promoters.
“As a business owner, don’t ever think you’re too big to say sorry or jump on the front line.”
His entrepreneurial roots run deep. Ryan’s family owned optical chains and movie rental businesses, and his father put his young son to work handing out fliers on the streets of Manhattan and operating cash registers that Ryan was too short to reach – so he stood on a shoe box.
Now Ryan helps run three fast-growing businesses: LensDirect.com, InTouchMD and 1-888-GO-ANSWER!.
“I love the mechanics of business,” he says. “It’s not just about the hunt for new opportunities. It’s everything: The strategy, the branding, the voice and the execution. It’s about finding ways to make my companies different and win in the long term.”
Check out our Q&A with Ryan below, as well as our recent podcast with small business expert Gene Marks and conversation with BoXZY CEO Joel Johnson. Also in honor of Small Business Week, learn more about these new UPS solutions for companies looking to compete with bigger players in their field.
Longitudes: You sell contact lenses through LensDirect.com. How do you stand apart in a commodity marketplace?
Ryan: LensDirect.com allows me to be innovative. I’m always thinking about the consumer and how to make their experience better.
We don’t want the customers who only buy based on price. Our ideal customer is searching for an all-encompassing positive experience built around exceptional customer service and incredible convenience.
We do things different with LensDirect.com like offering dedicated account representatives who develop real relationships with our customers – no mass emails, no nameless sales rep. With LensDirect.com, you’ll never be connected to a general customer service line.
Beyond the personal customer care, we offer our customers the ability to sign up for a discounted subscription program called AutoRefill, which helps them never run low on contacts. We also provide online eye exams, with real doctors approving existing prescriptions through our site.
Longitudes: Tell us about some of the solutions you’ve implemented in the pharma sector.
Ryan: It’s a huge challenge for pharmaceutical companies to reach physicians. InTouchMD makes that way easier through our all-in-one marketing solution, Pulse. We handle all the outreach to doctors on behalf of a pharmaceutical company and determine the best channel and best time to reach these doctors.
“Success happens when you care more about the customer than you care about the money.”
Is it email, banners, outbound calling, SMS, faxes? Is it during the morning, afternoon, night?
Pulse answers those questions.
Each doctor responds differently to engagement, and we’ve built a powerful system to make it all easier. Additionally, to personalize the experience, every doctor has a digital persona page in the pharma companies Pulse platform, which is meant to humanize the data.
No other platform does that. Little things make the difference.
Longitudes: How will technology help your company achieve its goals?
Ryan: Artificial intelligence is starting to play a big role in our companies, especially for LensDirect.com and InTouchMD. We are constantly building out the right systems that are intelligent enough to provide data to better target customers and make better decisions.
If we can empower ourselves with AI, we can go out and quickly find the best candidates, saving money and time. AI is a big initiative for The Stella Group. We’re also exploring how to use voice to help customers buy contacts by asking their smart speaker (Alexa, Google Home, HomePod).
Longitudes: Your third business, 1-888-GO-ANSWER!, upgrades the traditional call service. What are you doing that’s new?
Ryan: LensDirect.com earned us the reputation for having the best customer care. So what happened is other companies that needed extra support with phone or web chat reached out to us, and that’s how 1-888-GO-ANSWER! was born.
I run 1-888-GO-ANSWER! with my cousin Adam. It is the cream of the crop when it comes to the call center space.
We decided to do things differently. We offer a 30-day risk free guarantee. Our agents are bilingual. We’re open 24/7/365 – seriously, we never close. We invested in the best technology.
1-888-GO-ANSWER! has become the go-to outsourced contact center solution for companies of all shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for a company to do simple message taking or answering service, we do that. If you’re a small or large law firm and you need specialists to speak to clients or potential clients and perform an intake, we do that.
What sets us apart is our ability to provide immense value to all types of businesses.
All the 1-888-GO-ANSWER! agents are trained to be specialists in whatever industry they’re representing.
Naturally, because 1-888-GO-ANSWER! was born from the success we had with LensDirect.com, a large part of our business is picking up the phone or handling web chat and ticketing for e-commerce companies. Whether you need agents to speak to your customers on nights and weekends or it’s your busy season and you need additional customer service reps – we’re the best in the space.
We seamlessly operate behind the scene for calls, ticketing response, social response and web chat.
Longitudes: What connects all three of your businesses?
Ryan: We sell trust. Customers trust us to get them their contact lenses in time. Pharmaceutical customers trust us to help connect them to doctors. Companies trust us to represent their brands fluently.
The beauty of The Stella Group is that each business happened organically. We weren’t just buying companies. We just excel at improving experiences for customers, and sometimes out of those learnings, we found new opportunities.
Longitudes: What are some business hurdles you had to overcome, and what did you learn?
Ryan: One that really sticks out in my mind was right before Halloween in 2016. LensDirect.com was launching a new product – theatrical contact lenses to help better serve our customer base that wanted to dress up in cosplay.
Some lenses would help white out your eyes, some would make them turn bloodshot, etc. It was a smart play for us, but we didn’t properly vet out our new distributor.
So what happened? Thousands and thousands of orders never showed up. It was horrible. It may have been the distributor’s fault, but the customer didn’t care – why should they?
We’re a national player that prides itself on amazing service so I had to own it.
I stayed in my office all night, personally emailing nearly every customer to apologize for the screw up. I gave them a refund and an additional $10 credit and free shipping forever.
Lesson learned: Don’t ever think you’re too big to say sorry or jump on the front line. Don’t pick your partners without fully vetting them. They can make or break you.
Another example: At 1-888-GO-ANSWER!, we were onboarding a new very large account that would live in our call center in St. Lucia when Hurricane Harvey hit.
There was a lot of damage, but luckily, we have serious redundancy spread between our other contact centers. Still, the other centers didn’t fully make up for the loss of available agents in St. Lucia.
In our Florida and New York offices, we had all hands on deck. All the partners were on the phone, taking calls. Everyone stepped up from the top down. You’ll only win the game of business if you work with people who genuinely care.
Success happens when you care more about the customer than you care about the money. I know it sounds crazy. Money will come if you care about what you do.
Longitudes: How has UPS helped your business?
Ryan: Tremendously. We knew from the beginning that UPS was an ally with our best interest at heart.
The easy answer is that we chose UPS because our customers told us to do so in surveys. Our customers made it clear that they would be willing to pay a premium for UPS and that they would stick with us as their contact lens provider if we offered another shipping option.
What happened next is we developed a true friendship with UPS. Simply put, UPS cares. It’s evident on all sides – from the way they treat us, how often they check in on us, to making sure we’re always happy.
More than that, UPS provided LensDirect.com with the technology we needed to share with customers exactly where the product is in the chain. Long gone are the days of not knowing the location of a customer’s order.
UPS has really given us the ability to sell with confidence.
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