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Mission Sustainability Pt. 1: Studio Production for Re-Commerce with Lindsey di Ruscio of Trove

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Summary

For part one of this conversation with Lindsey di Ruscio of Trove, we talk about Trove's mission of keeping goods out of landfills and how that impacts creative production for re-commerce. Stay tuned for part two, where we touch on what the studio does day to day to support the mission of sustainability.

Key Takeaways

  • Trove views re-commerce as another sales channel that brands can own. Trove allows them to take control of the lifecycle of their products by receiving returns and trade ins, cleaning and repairing, and then enabling the resale channel.
  • Condition grading adds a new dimension to sample management for creative production. It's not enough to have a photo of a sample, Trove needs to have images that accurately reflect the condition of a specific item.
  • Trove not only accepts returns and trade-ins, but unsellable returns go into a robust recycling program, to avoid sending items to a landfill.
  • Post-production for Trove needs to accurately depict condition. Where traditional retouching strives to make an item look perfect (removing dust, reflections, styling issues, etc). Trove needs customers to see the flaws clearly.
  • Trove has learned a bit about who buys used and what they like to see, and has adjusted creative direction accordingly.
  • Re-using images when possible is another way that Trove works to minimize energy use. If they don't have to reshoot something, that saves the time and energy of the process.
  • Across all of Trove's partners, they estimate that they've saved over 1 million kg of C02.

Links & Resources

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester (00:00):
From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester, and this is The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. Welcome to part one of a two-part conversation with Lindsey Di Ruscio of Trove. The mission at Trove is to keep things out of landfills and help extend the life of products from their partner brands. They achieve this by providing the logistics and infrastructure to allow a brand to accept returns and trade-ins of goods, grading them, cleaning them, and then photographing them. They then list those items for sale often at a discount.

From a creative production standpoint, this changes how you otherwise would normally approach product photography.

Lindsey DiRuscio (00:43):
What we're doing is showing exactly what the customer is getting, which is really different from traditional e-commerce, where you're shooting a sample and then you're styling it to make it look perfect. It might have flaws and retouching, taking out any of those flaws or imperfections, where we want to show you, this is what you're getting.

Daniel Jester (01:03):
For this part of the conversation, we discussed how Trove's business model impacts the studio and creative production. In part two, we'll discuss how the studio supports the sustainability mission in everything they do. Let's listen in to part one. This is The E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. My guest on the show today, Lindsey Di Ruscio of Trove. Hi, Lindsey. Welcome to the show.

Lindsey DiRuscio (01:28):
Hi. Thank you for having me.

Daniel Jester (01:30):
It is our pleasure to have you. We invited you on the podcast because we want to talk about Trove and what you do there and the interesting story behind Trove and the circular economy. I don't want to talk too much about it on my end. I kind of want you to tell us a little bit about Trove and what you guys do.

Lindsey DiRuscio (01:49):
Yeah. I'm the photo studio manager here at Trove, and Trove is in the resale business. We call it reCommerce here. What Trove does is we're a service provider for brands. We power a resell platform for larger leading brands, examples, Levis, Patagonia, REI, and Eileen Fisher. Trove handles all the technology, all the logistics, and they assure the right consumer experience for those brands. We're allowing brands to own their resell channel.

Actually a cool thing that our VP of partnerships brought up to me was he's coined it as a third channel, which I thought was really interesting for brands. There's a retail online channel, your e-commerce channel, and reCommerce as the new third channel for brand stone.

Daniel Jester (02:45):
Trove is taking things... And it seems like you guys partner with brands that also are very invested in sustainability. Patagonia comes to mind as a brand that's out there known for making very high quality things very intentionally. They want those items to last a long time out there in their customers' hands. But our tastes sometimes have a shorter life cycle than the products that we buy and they're in good condition and we want to keep them out of landfills.

Trove enables your partners to collect those things, resell those things, and you and your studio are basically operating as a service provider studio to create the assets to enable that. And that comes with some unique challenges, right? Shooting products that have been used, there's a lot of challenges. Can you walk us a little bit through like what that process looks like first, and then what some of those unique challenges are?

Lindsey DiRuscio (03:38):
The process where we get our supplier inventory, we're a supply driven business, it comes from a few different areas. Customers trade in, right? You're talking about trends changing. Maybe someone's no longer interested in skiing or something, so they want to trade in their Arc'teryx jackets and they'll get credit for it or gift cards. We're getting people to clean out their closets. We also get supply directly from the brands as well. In the photo studio, I'm part of the operations team.

I work in our distribution center here and all the supply arrives here in our distribution center and we condition graded. The items come in and we identify it based on the catalogs provided by the brands. The condition grading is excellent condition, good condition, down to if it's even sellable. Different brands have different condition grades that they sell or will sell. So once we identify the condition grade, then it can come to the photography studio and we'll photograph an item. We really want to show the customer the condition grade as well as the product.

We make sure we include photographs of the flaws, which is really different from e-commerce studio. And then after we finish shooting, it goes back right into the warehouse. We fold it up and stock it in our inventory ready for purchase.

Daniel Jester (05:12):
There's an added dimension to sample management for the studio, which is not just to say, "Here's what we sell and we have an image for it already." There's a depth to it now for each individual product type. For a rain shell jacket, it's not enough to just have an image for that jacket. You have to have an image that is reflective of the grades. Each product has an added dimension for the need of the creative.

Lindsey DiRuscio (05:39):
Yeah, definitely. It's allowing the customer to know what level of worn has been on this item. On the websites too, we build all the storefront websites for the brands and manage them. They'll have copy-written. It might say, minor thread pull on left arm or pilling of fleece throughout. If a flaw sometimes is kind of too faint to depict or you can just kind of see the quality of it, maybe it's just a little bit of pilling throughout the item, that comes through in photography.

If it's something like a professional patch or a specific hole, then we'll do a detail shot. There's all level complexity with the creation of photography, and it's dependent also on each brand too. Some do detail shots. Some don't. Since we're a service provider, that's part of the contract of what type of photography we do for each one.

Daniel Jester (06:38):
Right. It's interesting to note also, like we mentioned, that you're essentially a service provider studio for a lot of different clients. On top of this added dimension of the condition grade of the products that you need to shoot, you are stewards of each of your partners' brand, right? You're having to manage a style guide for each of those partners, shooting things in a way that is acceptable for those partners, which is a complicated part. It's a really complicated part of creative production as a service provider.

And then you have, like I said, that added dimension of the condition grade. I'm curious, you mentioned you may receive things. Customers may trade things in that are for various reasons unsellable. What options do you have internally to deal with stuff like that? Do you have a recycling program for those things? Can you recapture some of those raw materials and use them for things?

Lindsey DiRuscio (07:26):
Yeah. Actually this is handled by a different department on the operations team. What we do is, exactly, we have recycling programs. Maybe a rubber from soles of shoes will be turned into the ground floor of playgrounds. I forget what that's called, the soft rubbery stuff.

Daniel Jester (07:45):
The foamy bouncy stuff.

Lindsey DiRuscio (07:49):
Yes. Yes. We'll have different recycling programs that we work with, different vendors. I'm not as close to that side, but yes, everything does get recycled out if we can't sell it.

Daniel Jester (07:57):
You mentioned needing to do like detail shots of specific flaws, because your whole business model is being open obviously with the customers that like, hey, you're getting a great deal on some high quality gear, but it's not going to be perfect. That impacts post-production, right? Because you may want to send stuff to a retouch partner, and I don't know if you guys use external services or internal retouchers, but our instinct is to make things look phenomenal, right?

And sometimes gloss over some of those flaws. Tell me a little bit about what your post-production process looks like.

Lindsey DiRuscio (08:26):
What we do goes against the retoucher's philosophy, where, just like you said, retouching is making an item look flawless and also you can't tell that it's been retouched as well. What we're doing is showing exactly what the customer is getting, which is really different from traditional e-commerce, where you're shooting a sample and then you're styling it to make it look perfect. It might have flaws and retouching taking out any of those or imperfections, where we want to show you, this is what you're getting.

Lindsey DiRuscio (09:00):
What we do for our post-production process is we have a hybrid model. We have in-house retouchers, and we also work with outsource retouching vendor, Pixelz, and Pixelz is doing the more tedious, retouching, clipping, aspect ratio, removing backgrounds for us, so our in-house team can focus on doing the shape work or ensuring that it's adhering to brand guidelines. We also have different templates with Pixelz because, how you're mentioning, different brands have different style guides. Some may want drop shadows.

Lindsey DiRuscio (09:41):
Some may want an item such as bags to be bottom weighted with a 15% margin rate. We have different templates based on the different brands too. Pixelz has been great at kind of doing the quick, dirty stuff for us, so we can come back and finish it quickly, because we also have to scale and be a high volume service provider. So that's what's different about post-production too is even working with Pixelz, we've talked about... There's been issues sometimes where a flaw was retouched out because it goes against your nature of, "I got to remove this item."

Lindsey DiRuscio (10:24):
We've even talked about maybe this is a different type of post-production for reCommerce. And knowing that yes, no flaws stay in. Even maybe we should stop doing dust removal and get as much dust as we can. That's been a pretty interesting path. I feel like we're able to smooth it out pretty quickly. Once you get into that rhythm, you understand that, yeah, initially that's the first hurdle is to not retouch it to look perfect.

Daniel Jester (10:54):
The interesting thing to me about if you have an external partner who retouches out a flaw and then send you a file back, a lot of times our instinct to keep production going when we get something back from an external partner is just to correct it and move on. But in this case, you can't do that because you actually need them to go back, put the flaw back in, right?

Lindsey DiRuscio (11:12):
Yup.

Daniel Jester (11:12):
You don't have that information available to you. And the good thing is, is I know and Pixelz as good about wanting that feedback. My experience certainly has been, and not because the co-founders of Creative Force are also co-founders of Pixelz, full disclosure for the listener, but the truth is that they do a good job of retaining that information and proving their program for you depending on your needs.

Lindsey DiRuscio (11:33):
Exactly. I was just going to say, you can reject them image and you get it right back a couple hours later, so you can track it as well.

Daniel Jester (11:40):
Yeah, that's pivotal is you can look at the end of the month and say like, "Rejects are spiking here. What's going on," and have that conversation and course correct.

Lindsey DiRuscio (11:47):
Right.

Daniel Jester (11:48):
That was post-production. Going a little bit out of order, let's talk a little bit about production for your studio at Trove, because you're a supply-driven business, you've got continuous input of products. The interesting thing to me about how you get the products that you need to shoot is that it's not based on seasonality. It's not based on a collection. Any collection that's ever been sold up to this moment is fair game for you guys to get in the studio. How does that impact your ability to plan and forecast?

What have you set in place to help you be able to get the team that you need and have some kind of information around what's your week or your month or your quarter might look like?

Lindsey DiRuscio (12:28):
Yeah, that is a different challenge that I've had at Trove, because I worked at traditional e-commerce places before. I also report directly into the operations team, so I have knowledge of when items are getting shipped to the warehouse ahead of time. Like you were saying, we won't know, "Okay, we're doing the spring campaign. There's 3,000 SKUs. We'll get them in two months." We're in a much shorter timeline, but it's usually maybe a week to two weeks out.

The way we're knowing that information based on the operations team is we're using Slack channels, and we also have an analytics team that has set up these amazing looker dashboards. We have the data that's coming from partners and we flex as much as we can just to get it done. We do know what we have, but yes, it's on a much shorter timeframe. How I plan for that on a photo studio, a majority of my team is full-time in-house.

I flex with contractors and freelance, traditionally freelance stylists knowing, okay, we're going to get a lot of whatever brands coming in, Lululemon, and I'll do some planning on my end to know how many sets I should run and how long. It's just a lot of constant communication and looking at the data and making sure that shipment arrived. We also get a couple days notice because they go into production to check the condition grade and get cleaned, so that also gives me a little bit of a buffer.

Daniel Jester (14:09):
That process has to take time. You got a bunch of stuff coming in, a truckload of stuff coming in, and you've only got a limited number of space to let people spread out the products and look at them and do what they need to do, which means you... The producer in me was hoping that you had a few days from the time that truck arrived to you needed to shoot it while they graded, because then that's also going to impact your final shoot number, right? You may get a ton of units.

This would probably be an anomaly, but maybe 20% of them on that truckload for some reason are not sellable, and so they don't need to be shot and they need to go into the recycling pipeline. And then hopefully you're not overstaffed for the week.

Lindsey DiRuscio (14:46):
Well, with that too, because we have been shooting and in business with a few brands for a while, Patagonia and Eileen Fisher were our first two brands, and the more items we shoot, it builds up our catalog to reuse that photography. We now have data and statistics. If we are getting a shipment from Patagonia and it's X amount, we will know traditionally these are how many items will be sellable and these are how many items that are sellable will need photography. We have different rates. We can swag guesstimate how much is going to come from through.

Daniel Jester (15:25):
Data collection becomes super important because that really is all you have, and it sounds like you guys are taking a really smart approach. I actually think it makes sense and is a net benefit for you to be part of the operations team that allows you to build close relationships with a part of the business that's almost completely data-driven.

Lindsey DiRuscio (15:43):
Yeah, absolutely. In my past, I've been on creative teams, marketing teams, which has been great, but having experience being on an operation team and working directly in the warehouse, which I hadn't done before, has really learned how to rely on data. That was kind of the one area where analytics, I was always building my own very simple dashboards or lots of Excel spreadsheets. That has been amazing having an analytics team and being able to use that data and get more familiar with it so you can rely on kind of facts, rather than how many racks you have.

Daniel Jester (16:23):
Lindsey, earlier you mentioned the VP of partnerships for Trove referring to Trove and what you guys do with reCommerce as a third channel. We've touched a little bit on the impacts of that third channel from a creative standpoint. Can we dig a little bit deeper into what that means in terms of like the photography for e-commerce versus reCommerce and what you guys have learned and what your customers need to know?

Lindsey DiRuscio (16:46):
I have been with Trove since August of last year, and what we've noticed is there's been an evolution of content. When they first launched, there was this need to work with our partners saying, "What should we have photography look like?" Traditionally it's, let's match it to our e-commerce photography. That was the way we were shooting everything, right? Looking like e-commerce from the styling to multiple views, multiple shots. We've evolved as a business and with our partners saying, "Is this the right thing we should be doing?"

We've been asking the question, what is reCommerce photography? Knowing that it's not perfection. It's more authentic. That's how we've slowly evolved, or I shouldn't say slowly, we've rapidly evolved to change our styling and photography. I've done two things: increase the quality of the photography, so that's one thing we've done. Updating our lighting so you can see as much detail as possible. And then our styling, we wanted to increase the amount we can get through the studio to make it as efficient as possible. We've done little things.

I've mentioned this before, where Patagonia jackets, we're creating arms bent to look very similar to how they style on e-commerce. We realize it's a lot faster to style arms straight and down at the sides or the natural way. So little things like that that add up. Showing you exactly, this is how these arms lay. It's also a different method for styling, right? When you're styling, you're trying to make things look beautiful in that wabi-sabi kind of way and perfect and symmetrical.

We're leaning towards a little bit more of the wabi-sabi and letting the garment lay naturally.

Daniel Jester (18:46):
It stands to reason that the customer maybe has an idea of what they want and is either looking to buy something used because that's a value that they hold, or are looking for maybe a better deal or some cost savings. Your imagery becomes less about selling them on the vibe or the style and more about like, here's a high quality piece that's been loved by somebody else for a while. Here's the things that you need to know about it, and then you can buy it.

Lindsey DiRuscio (19:12):
I'm not on the customer experience team, but we're on the same operations team, and I do know that the behavior is a little bit differently exactly. Usually people are coming in knowing exactly what they want, "I want a puffer jacket," and then they can browse that way, or, like you're saying, they prefer to buy used. There is a different shopping kind of mentality, but it's still set up in an e-commerce way that traditionally they know how to search for things or find something or even get inspired or searching by a specific color.

Yeah, it's similar, but a little bit different in some ways, the shopping patterns. We're trying to make that as easy as possible for them. And like I said, the customer is receiving exactly what they saw, which is pretty cool.

Daniel Jester (20:00):
Yeah, that is really cool.

Lindsey DiRuscio (20:01):
Especially when it comes to like Levis, all the denim is unique because denim fades so differently, vintage denim. You can search exactly for some vintage jeans and know what kind of washed...

Daniel Jester (20:16):
You could find the acid wash pair that you want.

Lindsey DiRuscio (20:18):
Yes, that you've always been dreaming of. With fringe and patches.

Daniel Jester (20:26):
There's another dimension to the sustainability mission that I want to touch on, which is image reuse. Oftentimes, I think you probably are receiving products that have been used and are in fine condition. And in fact, the original photography would be appropriate to sell that used item. Are you able to build into your model using existing imagery when you have it?

Lindsey DiRuscio (20:50):
Yes, we actually call it a reuse rate. And how it works is we'll photograph an item, say it's a blue Patagonia jacket and it's in excellent brand new condition. If we receive that same jacket in the same color, maybe a different size though, also in that same exact condition, we don't need to photograph it again, because it would look the same. That's our reuse rate. I mentioned that the more we photograph a certain brand over time, our catalog builds.

For our oldest clients, we have a really high reuse rate, which is great because then we can get items stocked even faster. It doesn't have to go through the photo studio in production. And when we first start with a new client, our production team does pre-sorting. We got a huge shipment from a brand new client. We're photographing everything, getting that stock before we even launch. We did this with Lululemon. We gathered all of the items that had duplicates, and those were the ones we photographed first.

We only photographed one and then reuse the photography. Doing a lot of pre-production, pre-sorting is really beneficial in cost savings.

Daniel Jester (22:09):
I want to ask you one more question on the overall Trove and sustainability topic, and then I want to shift a little bit into what you guys do day-to-day in the studio to also support this mission. Just to let the listener know, we're going to tease that part of the conversation, because this is actually going to be a two-part episode. We've already decided that coming in. But the last thing that I want to ask you is I think it's really amazing to be able to have a job with a mission that you feel like you're making a tangible impact.

Climate is important and we're seeing the effects every day. The urgency has been there for a while and it's getting more and more. What can you share with us about some of the things that Trove has learned about the impact that reCommerce has had on sustainability?

Lindsey DiRuscio (22:52):
Our mission statement is getting items, diverting them away from the landfill. That just feels great to work for a company that's doing that. I'm still doing photo studio production, which I love, but it's just the cherry on top that we're also doing something good for the environment. And what we've realized is we do have a sustainability team that's measuring all the different reporting for sustainability. A huge stat is we've saved over one million kilograms of CO2 across all the partners. We're able to look at how much carbon savings we're doing.

We're looking at time from dumpster trucks on the road driving to the landfill, also taking up space in the landfill. We've done reporting on that team. It's a combination of sustainability and analytics that we're digging into, and that's been really amazing. Talking about how many items we've sold, those directly come... They were out of people's closets and didn't go to the landfill. That's been really amazing to unearth, and we just want to keep going forward and growing and scaling.

Daniel Jester (24:09):
The really incredible thing is the more that you grow and the more that you scale, the farther the sustainability reach becomes, because at some point, it will start to impact first round of production of new items because more and more people are buying things from the reCommerce side of the business. You guys do a lot in the studio, and I just want to tease this for the listener. This is going to be in part two of this episode. But sustainability for you, Lindsey, does not end at the mission of the company, but you do things in the studio to support this.

I want to get into that. But for you, the listener, that's going to be part two of the episode, so you'll have to catch us next time. That's it for this episode. In part two, we're going to talk about all the ways, big and small, that the studio team at Trove is invested in and thinking about sustainability, from equipment sourcing and workload to prolonging the life of consumables in the studio.

Lindsey DiRuscio (25:08):
Foamcore has to go up to the dumpster. We are trying to figure out, is there a foamcore alternative? I know there's something that's plant-based made out of mushrooms that we're looking into. We're doing a lot of research on that. We just ordered something that is a combination of cork and plant pulp, but I also want to make sure that it's sustainable and that we're not using up natural resources.

Daniel Jester (25:33):
Be on the lookout for part two wherever you get your podcasts. The show is produced by Creative Force. Edited by Calvin Lanz. Special thanks to Sean O'Meara and our guest, Lindsey Di Ruscio. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time, my friends.

About the host

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.