I don’t think it’s news that Amazon dominates the online selling game, both here in the United States and around the world. You don’t get to be a $1.75T—yes, that’s trillions of dollars—by slacking. In any case, if you’re launching a consumer product, a little knowledge about how to market it on Amazon can go a long way.
On this week’s episode, I talked with Luke Tierney, the Founder and Director of Eco D2C a firm that helps eco-brands bring their products to market—primarily on Amazon.
Our conversation focused around the challenges and processes around bringing a product to market, the factors that go into a successful launch, and how to develop marketing around eco-brand awareness to sell more products in this quickly-expanding sector of B2C sales.
But here’s something else we discussed—Amazon isn’t just for selling your product. The site is also used by millions of people a day as…
A search engine.
See, many consumers turn to Amazon first for product information, reviews, and pricing comparisons. Then they eventually purchase in-store or at another site online. This makes having your products on the service something to consider—even if you have no desire to sell millions.
If you’ve ever wanted to launch your own eco-product, this is a great conversation to listen to.
Hope you enjoy it.
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Find 1 thing and shift to an eco-conscious brand.
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How To Successfully Launch A Product On Amazon With Luke Tierney Of Eco D2c
Thanks for coming to relish this and reading our show. My guest is Luke Tierney, the Founder, and Director of Eco D2C. That company helps people who make eco products get found on Amazon and maximize their potential on that platform. They do work with other eCommerce platforms but Amazon is the elephant in the room, as it were. We had a fun conversation about bringing a product to market, some of the challenges that are associated with that, and some of the great things that people are doing out there to help drive eco brand awareness and sell more products.
It’s getting increasingly important to be on Amazon. It’s working almost as its own search engine at this point, and Luke and I talk a lot about that stuff. He has a great company and cool service that he provides. You are going to enjoy the show. If you are thinking about bringing a product to market, you should check this one out. Here we go.
Luke, how’s it going?
It’s going great.
I’m excited to chat with you. You have a cool business that helps eco brands get positioned and sell on Amazon. Tell us a little bit more about that.
My company is named Eco D2C, direct to consumer. What we do is help brands that sell physical products sell online. To give some examples, if somebody has an organic food or beverage company, or maybe they make a line of ecologically friendly cleaners, or perhaps they have an ethically sourced apparel line, we help them sell their physical products to consumers on the internet. The most powerful channel to do that in the US now is Amazon. We also do Facebook and Google Ads but the vast majority of our work is on Amazon. We are digital marketers for the good guys.
That’s awesome. I know that Amazon has become one of the main “search engines” that people are using. They go to Amazon to search for information at this point, particularly for consumer goods, so it’s certainly, at least in the States, the elephant in the room in terms of commerce at this point. How did you get into this?
To go way back, I worked for environmental nonprofits in and out of college, and then when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I started my first company. It was a school and we were like, “We need students. How do we get them?” That was what differentiated us. There weren’t a whole lot of people with our business looking for students online. We had a couple of guerrilla marketing tactics, and then that stretched out to some other methods. That was my trial by fire, so to speak.
After that, I’ve gotten more involved in various kinds of digital marketing, continuing to work for myself. A couple of years ago, I started getting heavily involved in Amazon. Anybody can get up and sell something on that platform, and what was compelling about that versus on eBay is I saw a lot of individuals and small groups having success doing this.
Whoever discovers you and has the best experience will most likely convert to be your client.
I know a guy who had some success early on with bamboo sunglasses. I found a manufacturer that could produce those, and then he shipped over however many units to the US, put in online, and he knew what he was doing with marketing. That’s one tiny example of how straightforward it can be. I’m skipping over some pretty important pieces here, particularly getting the product from A to B but compared to years ago, it can be a low threshold to enter here, so I thought, “This is clearly working for a lot of people selling all kinds of different things. Why not use this marketing channel for people who are making products that are better for the environment or healthier for people?” I had always wanted to circle back to the environmental angle from a for-profit business standpoint, and it all came together with Eco D2C.
I like the approach where you are taking and vetting companies for their eco-friendliness, and that’s part of your program. How do you handle companies that have a whole line of materials, and some of them are eco-friendly and others aren’t? Is that someone who you might choose to work with or do you have to be 100% eco-friendly?
We like to see certifications in these things but we are not exclusive that you have to have this bulleted information to work with us. There is a certain amount of taking our client’s word for it but one of the things that help is having the name that we do and being involved in the natural product space, which is certainly where I’m the most active. I’m proud to say that upwards of 95% of our book have been natural brands, and the work that we’ve gotten that is outside of that has been, at the very least, might be some innovative exercise equipment or something that’s not
Would we do help sell roundup? No. Would we work for tobacco companies? Probably not. They are not on our list of partners that we want to have as a business. Some brands come to us, and they are certified Fairtrade or certified organic. Certifications cost money. If you are just starting or you haven’t gotten around to it, you might not have all these things under your belt yet. It depends on a case-by-case basis but we have worked with some brands that are real leaders in their space, and I’m proud of the work that we have done with them and the way that we have been able to scale their sales.
It has enabled a lot of people to carve out a portion of the marketplace and be able to survive at least in those early phases of development. If you are having to build out a whole eCommerce platform, it’s pretty amazing to be able to tap into that stuff, so it’s nice that the opportunity is there for people and that people like you are enabling them to do that.
I wrote a book called Mission Uncomfortable, and it’s marketing for nonprofits book. I was chatting with someone who was like, “Is it up on Amazon?” I was like, “No.” I was vending it through my site. I was basically giving it away on my site but he said, “Put it up on Amazon and see what happens.” It did not take me that long to get it up there, and I’m sure that having a team like yours behind it would start to fuel some sales.
This was starting to happen when I was getting more heavily involved in this space but it certainly is the reality now. Amazon is Yelp for your products at this point. To throw a couple of stats out there and put context, somewhere between 38% and upwards 40% of all eCommerce sales in the US are on the marketplace. It depends on what particular study you are referencing there but it’s a juggernaut of a thing. Everybody was already starting to take Amazon extremely seriously because people had been making a lot of money on the platform but when the pandemic rolled around, and stores started closing, things exploded all over again.
It was already on a serious upward trajectory, and then things got only more intense. It all depends on the kind of business you have. We play in Facebook and Google spaces as well but the reason that we focus on Amazon as strongly as we do is that that’s where we see the best results for our clients. It’s where the most bang for your buck is likely to be if you have consumer product goods.
Ultimately, my allegiance is not to Amazon or their marketplace. My allegiance is to help companies that are making better products sell, and this happens to be the most powerful channel digitally if you sell consumer goods. That’s where we are going to be focusing for some time to come unless something very dramatic happens.
Alibaba moves over to the US.
That’s interesting. You can go on AliExpress. You can get things from Alibaba here. You could count on one hand the players I could probably move into Amazon’s market share but that’s one of them. It will be interesting to see what this landscape looks like moving forward, and I do think it’s going to be more varied. I don’t fear an Amazon singularity behemoth for sure. At the end of the day, we are going to be where we see the most opportunity for the companies that we work with.
What’s the process for a company that is trying to get on Amazon through you? What are the things that they need to tee up to be ready to work with you and your team?
Amazon can be an expensive platform to be on. There are some minimalist ways to use the platform. Advertising entirely depends on how you do it and what you define as expensive. A large budget for one brand might be a drop in the bucket for another. If you are signing up for a plan to sell on the platform, it’s $40 a month plus the cost of services, the time it takes you to try to optimize your listings, launch them, and learn the platform or the cost that it would be to hire somebody like us to do it for you. That cost is quite small compared to the cost of advertising.
Amazon is the most used search engine for product research. I, myself, was doing this before I even realized that this was starting to become consistent consumer behavior. I could be at the grocery store, for instance, and I might double-check Amazon for price and reviews if it’s a new product to me, and I want to see if the product is any good. Everybody is doing that. The last stat that I heard for this was 2019, so I’m sure it’s much higher by now but 26% of in-store shoppers were checking Amazon for reviews and price comparison.
That’s why you should consider being on it even if you want to do it super minimally. At the very least, you are collecting reviews. People can go and research your brand. It’s social proof. People know that you are legitimate enough to at least be on the platform. The first step is to set you up and get you launched in an optimized way as possible.
I don’t want to go too far into methods of researching Amazon SEO and review strategy. I don’t want to bore anybody to tears who might not be super into the jargon-y stuff but we want to make sure that your copy is super sharp and is keyword-optimized. We want to make sure that your images are optimized and are the kinds of creative that are going to draw customers in.
If somebody discovers you however they discover you, whether they have read about you online, they were targeted by an ad, in a store or found you in a market, whoever is discovering you are going to have the best experience possible and be the most likely to convert. They are going to learn everything that they need to know as to whether or not if they are going to make that purchase. It’s like launching a website.
Anytime you launch a product, you need to validate your messaging.
I was about to say it. It sounds a lot like optimizing a website.
You should think of Amazon as your second online storefront. The 1st is your website, and the 2nd is Amazon.
Are you helping with setting all that stuff up or are you taking products shots and everything for clients?
We are not a creative agency. We are data nerds. We lean on our partners for their creative, and then we will give recommendations and examples of like, “This is what good creative on Amazon looks like. We think you should go out and maybe get some of XYZ.” You are going to need somebody to guide you in creating that content but we don’t do photography or those things. We take the brand’s existing assets, and then we make the absolute most out of it.
That’s great. Have you seen people in the nonprofit space leverage Amazon in a similar way in terms of differentiating their revenue where they have brought products into play? Is that something you have seen work well?
It could. If they have physical products to sell or even merge, it’s not a bad idea to put them on the platform. I can’t say that I have seen it as a large trend with nonprofits, probably because I’m not in contact with that many nonprofits that have physical products to sell but there are a lot of mission-driven companies that have a presence on the platform. Think of Patagonia, Tom’s of Maine or any of the brands that we have worked with.
As far as the nonprofit space goes, I would very much welcome the opportunity to work with a nonprofit trying to get launched on the platform and help them figure out a strategy that’s going to be effective for them because their goals are probably going to be way different than your typical for-profit company. We will make the platform work for you and not get sucked into this rabbit hole. If you are selling a physical good, then there will be a way to use this to your benefit.
Are there any pitfalls that people should be aware of? I have a couple of friends who have big food brands. Whole Foods is part of Amazon now but one of the things that they have talked to me about is how it can be a blessing and a curse to get placed into a major retailer like that because potentially if you don’t take off quite as quickly as they thought or even if you take off too quickly and can’t fulfill, you can lose that spot. A lot of times, it’s very hard to get back once you have lost it. Is Amazon working in a similar retail fashion or do they not care about performance?
Your performance is going to determine your organic rank on Amazon. It’s similar in the way that Google will rank you depending on how relevant you are and how much traffic you are getting from certain queries. The difference on Google is people are asking a question that they want to answer, and on Amazon, people are looking for a product to buy. To put that in the context of your retail question, with retailers, it’s tough because you have to maintain a certain velocity or they drop you.
You will never be dropped from Amazon’s platform unless something goes wrong. There’s always “shelf space” for you, the unlimited catalog. Stock-outs do affect you. First of all, you are not making any sales but also, you start falling in organic rank. You are going to have to have some patience for your ads to get back up to the level they were before. It doesn’t how long a stock out is. If it’s for a day, then this is less so. If this is a couple of months, then we have some work to do to get it back. It’s not like a right-hand snapping back. We can talk about stock issues if you want to.
There are a bunch of common pitfalls I would say that brands fall into. There are things that are inventory-related and not having it when they need it and not being optimized. Sixty-nine percent of customers will bounce, as in they will leave if a page doesn’t have enough information. In that, there’s an opportunity on Amazon to do your brand justice and convert.
You can also scare people away. If your listing is bad and it doesn’t have enough information, someone might buy it thinking it’s one thing, and then it’s not quite that, so they will leave negative reviews. I wouldn’t suggest launching on the platform if no one is going to look at it. Monitor the thing for a very long time.
If no one on your team is going to be managing it.
It doesn’t have to be super high maintenance. You just have to be on top of it. If your Amazon’s metrics are fairly demanding, if you have a late shipment rate that’s too high, you are getting too many complaints or things are broken all the time because they haven’t been packed effectively, then Amazon can pretty much drop you. This is the other common thing. People underestimate how buggy the backend can be. Amazon is growing at a breakneck pace.
The experience for customers in Amazon is super smooth, and it’s not that way for sellers. Anybody getting involved in the platform should be forewarned that Amazon might have a rollout. Certain things might go wrong, and then you have to fix them. If you have a website, you are going to have to do updates. You won’t have to do updates on Amazon. You are just going to have to keep an eye on to make sure nothing weird is going on. It’s less maintenance than a website but it’s good to have somebody on hand that you can call and be like, “This thing is going on. Can you make sure that everything is shipshape?”
Have you seen certain product types do better on Amazon than others? If someone is thinking of launching a brand or getting into this space, are there any categories that you would recommend people either avoid or embrace?
It depends on how you are positioned in your space. You can get into a competitive space and rock it or if you get a niche that has a lot of opportunity for growth and if customers don’t resonate with it not as much as you think they should, then things can easily get more complicated. I wouldn’t say there’s one space I would stay away from. There certainly are categories that require more documentation to prove that you are legitimate. If you are selling a health supplement, you are probably going to have to submit some evidence showing the governing bodies that are important and have been deemed to be safe for the public.
I wouldn’t say there’s one space to stay away from. I would highly encourage people. There are some pretty cool analytical tools out there to get some data on what a space looks like before you launch. We use Helium 10, for example. It’s the name of the software suite. There’s a free demo version of it. An example here is you can use one of their tools called X-ray to get estimates of your competitor’s revenue, and that’s pretty unique. It is an estimate, so don’t take it to be more than what it is but it can show you which of your competitors are owning a space.
Food and beverage have been two of the fastest-growing categories in Amazon for the past couple of years.
There’s so much customer data on Amazon if you know how to tap into it. You can tap into their views and see what the biggest complaints among customers are. You can see what they praise in products. You want to make sure that as you try to differentiate and as you launch in the platform, you are using the language that your customers are using and that you are solving their actual pain points. All this is a long way of saying that, “If you know how to get the data, and there are some pretty straightforward tools to use, you can get a lot of interesting data points that can help you make some important decisions as to how you are going to launch on Amazon, what your strategy is going to be, and what’s possible for you in this brand.”
We have started doing that, where we look at customer reviews, both for clients as well as for client competitors, to see what the problems are that people care most about because if somebody is leaving a review, it’s probably the thing that that’s most pressing to them that they are talking about, so when you go and start to look for opportunity, those customer reviews can be super helpful. That’s Amazon’s bread and butter.
If one is launching a brand or trying to come up even with marketing copy, reviews can be a great place to start to figure out exactly the problem that your customers believe you are solving for them as opposed to what you believe you are solving for them. Oftentimes, those are very different things. We come into the market thinking, “I help people do this,” and when you start looking at reviews, it’s like, “They think I help them do this other thing more frequently, so maybe I should talk about that more.”
Anytime you are launching something new, you have to validate your product and the messaging. There are a lot of different ways to use different channels for that but Amazon has a unique opportunity for you to get a lot of data ahead of time, so you at least know the sandbox that you are about to play in. To give you one example that illustrates how it’s going to use well, there’s a contact that I have where I interviewed him for a blog a long time ago.
You will find a lot of people that do this but his entire business model is going and looking for opportunities in different niches in which there are a lot of traffic, sales, just 1 or 2 leaders, and not too much competition. He will go and mind reviews and see what customers are missing, and then he will go make that product. One of many examples in which he did this very successfully was with a cash box.
He’s looking for locked cash boxes. A leading product has thousands of reviews, and most of them are enormously positive. He sourced from the negative reviews, and a common complaint was that if this thing got tipped upside down or tilted, the top level of the cash box intermingled. They had become loose. He found a manufacturer to make a mold in which that was not a problem, and he knew how to market on Amazon because he had done this several times. It ended up being an enormously successful product for him. You can go and see what people are asking for and see if there’s an option there, and if there isn’t, make it.
Amazingly, we can do that these days. It seems like it’s so less complex to bring a product to market these days.
There are a lot of like, “What was his marketing plan? How did he go about finding the manufacturer? How did he do prototyping?” It’s a step-by-step process that one can go through to see if this is going to work, which is unique. However complex it is now, within very recent memory, it was much harder.
I do a lot of shopping in the eco-space, and it’s great to see how much easier it is to find those products these days than it used to be both in the retail space as well as on Amazon and online. It’s great for smaller manufacturers because it used to be dominated by Procter & Gamble or whoever. Now, there’s an outlet for these smaller businesses to start to get a little bit of a foothold.
That’s what our whole ethos is at Eco D2C in helping eco products. Not to get too pitchy but it’s what gets me excited about the space. You don’t have to hit a certain threshold that just stays on the shelves. There are other avenues to reach your consumers in a more direct way and to have a bit more flexibility with a cost that is not quite so cash-intensive at the outset. It would still cost. It’s a different cost but you are paying for data so you can validate and optimize. There’s an awful lot you can do in the space if you know what you are doing.
How does your model work? Are you taking a percentage or do you have a monthly fee plus percentage? What’s the working relationship look like for someone reading who’s like, “I have a great eco product idea, and I would love to have Luke help me out?”
It depends on what we are being tapped for. If we are launching on the platform, for instance, or launching it off to my store and optimized listings, that done right is largely a one and done. It’s not like other spaces where you have to constantly be thinking about refreshing your copy. You might want to do depending on your sales data certain indicators.
There are cases in which it’s helpful to touch up your copy but for the most part, if you do it right and you are launched, you will be okay for quite some time. That’s just a project cost. That depends on the number of products and skews we are launching. If we are doing ads, that’s a month-over-month retainer, and it depends on the size of the budget we are managing. On the low end, it’s a flat fee, and then if there are certain thresholds over what should be, it is a percentage. We have some different tiers. It depends on the size of the budget.
This is going to show my ignorance a little bit but are advertisements on Amazon like a promoted type of situation or is there something I’m unaware of as a consumer when I’ve gone to use Amazon that I’m being advertised to?
That’s exactly correct. If you go and do a search for anything on Amazon and you see sponsored, then that means that it’s a paid ad. There are different ad types you can do. Video has been a big thing that was rolled out a while ago that continues to evolve. There are ads on the Amazon platform unless you start getting into much larger budgets, and that’s a whole other conversation.
It’s called DSP. There’s probably not too much reason to get too far into that but unless you get to a certain size in which you are spending tens of thousands of dollars in your ads budget, and we do work with brands that do exactly that, there’s a larger strategy to discuss. Unless you are getting to the level in which you are dropping money on something like that, then pay-per-click ads are at different places around the Amazon platform.
What are some of the trends that you are seeing in the eco-product space? Are there any things that stand out that you are really excited about?
Food and beverage on Amazon have exploded. It has been one of the fastest-growing categories in Amazon for the past couple of years. Even pre-pandemic, and then that put gasoline in that fire. Within the natural product industry, food and beverage have a pretty sizable chunk of that industry as a whole. It has been one of the most prominent and fastest-growing sectors within it, so it has been exciting to see that increase in search interest and consumers who want mission-driven brands. That’s not just in food and beverage. You find that in a lot of places now but that is only increasing as time goes on.
Start making your company more environmentally friendly.
Some spaces matter more than others. People will care more about the food they eat and the cleaners they use, and sometimes, the clothes that they wear as well as how it’s sourced. Being a brand that values sustainability is pretty much always a plus but it might not be the largest thing on the customer’s mind depending on what product you have. Electronics is one where that’s very nice but a customer is going to question like, “Is it going to be as good as my X headphones?” Food and beverage especially have exploded but a lot of spaces have as well.
One of the things I have been seeing, and maybe it’s because I have been shopping for it quite a bit more, is we have always been fairly sensitive to the packaging that we use. Amazon has done an okay job of this as well in terms of bringing in more eco-friendly, less plastic packaging. That movement in the eco-space seems to be picking up as well, where products that were normally packaged in plastic containers are now coming in with a wax paper type of packaging. That’s a place where people could make some moves for sure.
Amazon has a lot of room for improvement on the packaging side. It will be a box within a box surrounded by a plastic kind of deal, and that’s pretty common. With the corporation the size of Amazon, I would wait to see it to believe it but they have publicly made a lot of pretty big commitments as far as the year that they are going to be carbon neutral. I’m not sure if they have made a public commitment to this but I know for a fact that they are looking hard into electrifying their delivery fleet. They are making moves to be a more environmentally friendly company for sure.
You can filter on Amazon now for brands that have a climate-friendly badge. If anybody out there wants to make sure they are getting something eco-friendly in Amazon, the way that works is that you have to have certain certifications to get that badge, and that’s how that is. They have partnered with Fairtrade and some of these other certification bodies.
There are a lot of possibilities on the very near horizon if they execute on any number of the things they have mentioned or have committed to publicly. Packaging is one of these problems that I very much look forward to being solved. It will, but in general, I know finding reliable eco-packaging has been a challenge for a lot of the brands that we have worked with. If you have compostable packaging and your product is on the shelf for too long, then it will compost. I’m not trying to say that all compostable packaging is like that. I want to be careful not to speak in too broad terms here but it has been a challenge for a lot of founders and founding teams that we have known.
It’s making that move and starting to get that traction. This is just one of the products that I know that we have purchased is dish soap. Instead of coming in a plastic container, it comes in a paper milk carton style container, which reduces some of that waste, which is part of that single-use waste, at least from a plastic perspective. It’s cool to see companies making moves like that. I hope that trend continues because we need it. You are completely spot on saying that Amazon couldn’t do a bit better. Hopefully, they are going to continue to make strides in that direction.
I don’t have any specific examples to reference now but being somebody who gets a lot of Amazon news, I do see these things come through every now and then. It sounds like they are working on some good things, but then again, when discussing a corporation of that size, whether it’s Amazon, Facebook, Google or anybody, you want to see it.
I know you need to bounce to get on another call here, and I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about all of this. What you are doing is great. Enabling eco-friendly brands to elevate their exposure is a fantastic mission. How can people find you if they are looking for assistance in this space?
Our website is EcoD2C.com. Also, feel free to send me an email. It’s Luke@EcoD2C.com. It’s pretty straightforward. We also have a contact form on the site. We intentionally position ourselves as an educational resource about digital and multi-channel strategy in general, so if anybody has any questions, please feel free to reach out.
I would encourage everyone to do so. If you can put a little fuel behind that initial launch, and then be able to tap into your expertise to keep things moving in the right direction, people will be able to experience some great results. I love having conversations like this and learning more about all of these great opportunities for people to succeed in the world and spread the eco vibe but one of the things that I also want to do is inspire action, so if people who read this episode were to go out in the world and do one thing after reading this, what would you have them do?
I’m going to keep all the political and social issues aside. I will keep it focused on something product-related that everybody can do. There are certain products that I use daily that if I replace with one eco-friendly option, then I know that I’m supporting the shift towards more eco-friendly products. The reason that renewable energy is coming down so much is that people are using it, and the longer we go, and the more money is in it, the more efficiencies we gain and the better it gets.
The same thing comes around in terms of natural products. Toothpaste is a simple example. Every tube of toothpaste that has ever been made is still around. I’m not even going to mention any brands that we have consulted, but in general, you can get little toothpaste tablets or get eco-friendly dental floss that doesn’t have plastic in it, and these are toiletry examples. If there’s something that you have to buy and re-up on regularly, I would find one thing, and then shift to using a different brand that is eco-conscious. Your dollars are going to help us make this transition. Little things like that will end up going off a long way.
I love that. It’s something that I have been trying to be more conscious about. In fact, you mentioned dental floss. I was like, “I’m throwing away a lot of plastic every time I run out of dental floss,” so I bought a bamboo dental floss holder thing where you can buy the refillable piece that has a cardboard tube that it uses instead of plastic. It’s achievable, people. Go out and find one thing that you are about to buy again and swap it out with something eco-friendly. Thank you so much for being on the show. I hope that you have a fantastic rest of your day. Let’s stay in touch.
Thank you so much, too.
About Luke Tierney
Luke helps natural products and other ecologically minded brands scale their business with ecommerce – chiefly Amazon. If you have a product that is better for the world, he makes your sales throttle with direct to consumer channels and digital marketing. He lives to scale companies that are changing the world by remaking the way we make things.
“Luke’s work was key in our Amazon growth for the past 10 months. His expertise in listing optimization (including copy and images), ad spend, backend keywords, and his patience in dealing with Amazon’s Seller Support helped our sales go from 0 to 100 and our Amazon presence to really be felt. We wouldn’t have had it any other way and are extremely pleased with the work Luke did for cleancult.”
– Luis Santiago-Bartolomei, cleancult
“Luke brings exceptional knowledge and experience to the table, as well as a strong dedication to our company and our success. I strongly recommend his services and believe him to be an asset to any organization.”
– Kelley Matthews, Clear Intentions