Interviews & Insights

John Ghiorso’s 12 Year Journey Building Orca Pacific into a Leading Amazon Agency

April 7, 2020 by Rishi Talwar

It’s one thing to see an opportunity, but it’s another thing to execute and see it through. That’s what John Ghiorso, the founder & CEO at Orca Pacific, did when he realized almost a decade ago that Amazon was going to be the dominant player in eCommerce. He rallied around his conviction and initial market demand for his Amazon services to build Orca Pacific into one of the premier agencies that help consumer brands.

We sat down with him to talk about the early beginnings of his company, advice for consumer brands on Amazon, and the future of the eCommerce landscape. We hope that you enjoy the in-depth informative interview below.

John Ghiorso, Orca Pacific

What’s your role and what does your company do?

I’m the founder and CEO of Orca Pacific. Orca Pacific is a full-service Amazon agency located in Seattle, WA. We have over 50 awesome people on our team, many of which are former Amazonians. We also have outside industry veterans and various technical specialists in their fields. Ultimately, we are set up to offer services in every facet of the Amazon platform as it relates to the consumer product brand.

Can you touch on some of the services that you provide your clients?

We offer services that span every stage of the Amazon customer journey, from SEO and content optimization to advertising management (search and display) and strategic consulting. We also help our clients with operational issues like chargebacks and demand forecasting as well as higher-level Amazon platform strategy work like navigating supply methods.

At the end of the day, we help our clients maximize their top-line potential while protecting their bottom line. Over the last 12 years we’ve been fortunate enough to work with over 100 brands on the platform across categories.

How did you get your start in this Amazon industry?

About 12 years ago I got involved with a family company that was structured as a manufacturers representative agency in the Pacific Northwest. They were not doing much in providing Amazon services so I led that part of the business for them. Back then our services were very simple. We did the basics, helping our clients set up their items on Amazon and making sure they were in stock.

When I saw our demand grow and Amazon’s platform start to mature, I spun the company off as a separate entity. Over the years being able to drive success was more complicated on Amazon because more moving pieces could be fine-tuned. As a result, we saw our opportunity grow to help consumer brands. Fast forward to today, at Orca Pacific we have multiple different teams working on various aspects of Amazon’s platform for our clients.

What was Orca Pacific’s offering like in the early days?

When we started a decade ago, Amazon was a major player in the consumer electronics category but was new to virtually every other category. They were just starting to get on the radar of brands in the home, hardware, and sporting goods categories. That’s where we came in. We spoke with brands and asked them a simple question: “Have you thought of getting on Amazon?”. They would say, “Yeah, but we don’t know how” or “It seems complicated.”

At that time it was really about showing up, communicating the value and opportunity of Amazon. We helped these new categories set up their listings and operations to support Amazon. Essentially, we bridged that gap between the brands and Amazon which turned out to be a great starting point to grow our services.

From your perspective, how should brands think about their Amazon strategy?

Amazon is an exciting and interesting point in the market that most brands are under-utilizing. Today it’s obvious that Amazon is the number one eCommerce retailer in the U.S. But what I think most brands still miss is that it’s a dominant product search engine with 66% of consumers starting their product search on Amazon versus Google being the second starting point with 23%.

Another important factor that brands miss is Amazon’s huge advertising platform which is still early and has lots of growth potential. There are a lot of brands running ads but they are doing it from the perspective of trying to sell more. Of course, that’s important and they should be doing that, but there’s an additional layer of potential to unlock that contributes positively to their overall brand-building strategy. For example, it can be leveraged for customer awareness or the launching of new products.

With that being said, it’s more difficult to succeed on Amazon now because it’s much more complex. You can’t just set it and forget it as brands did 10 years ago. The complexity comes from Amazon being more mature which requires brands to be more data-driven and technical—but it also means more opportunity than ever before. We’ve seen that brands who invest more in optimizing multiple parts of their strategy and leverage the platform properly can disproportionately win. On the flip side, the brands who are losing are not investing enough time, effort, and resources to fully capture their potential.

How important is it for you and brands to leverage data in their overall strategy?

It’s critical! You can think of Amazon as occupying three different buckets: a retailer, a search engine, and an advertising platform. With each bucket, there exists data that needs to be leveraged. Making this data accessible and in a place where it’s easy to absorb should be a top priority for brands. Data is important today for consumer brands and will continue to be a critical asset in the future as Amazon innovates in new delivery models.

How would you recommend a brand that’s just starting to think about their Amazon Advertising strategy?

The short answer is that it depends. For example, it’s going to depend on how much budget brands have to deploy towards advertising. Generally, we don’t want to have a budget where we are only spending $100 a month per ASIN. That won’t yield any critical mass or positive results. We’d instead want to pick out a few main ASINs to help spike them to the top search position and then rely on a halo effect for the rest of the catalog. Once that model is proven out, larger budgets are typically freed up to apply to more of the catalog.

In my perspective, on the inventory side, you want to have your entire selection on Amazon and want it to be in-stock even if you’re not actively pushing those ASINs much. You’ll want the long tail selection there and available because there’s no reason not to be. I’d rather recommend having your entire product catalog on Amazon and selling some items six-months out of the year than none at all. At least you’ll be able to have six months of sales potential.

If a brand has thousands of products in its catalog, how would you recommend them handling their middle pack ASINs that are not their top-selling ones?

I would first recommend making sure you do everything that is free for the entire catalog. That entails making sure the item is set up properly: it’s in-stock, SEO optimized, well written basic content, and A+ content that speaks to consumers. The goal should be to have 100% of your catalog completed no matter how large it is. By just doing this, it’s going to surprise a lot of brands how much they sell in their long-tail products. Amazon over-indexes in the long tail because you can’t find those products anywhere else.

What interesting developments do you see on the horizon for Amazon?

Amazon is betting on a voice-first world. It may sound a bit like science fiction right now, but voice-enabled shopping behavior is fast approaching the mainstream. You can think of it as the second wave of how mainstream consumers will buy in the future. Evidence of this can be seen in India where Amazon has rolled out an Alexa-powered voice shopping experience. Consumer brands need to understand that this is a massive emerging commerce opportunity to take advantage of.

How do you communicate the importance of Amazon to the C-Suite of a consumer brand?

You need to have a conversation about how you want to position your brand for today to be the most successful on Amazon long term. The good news is that most of the actions you need to take to be successful today are also the same things you need to do to be successful in the future. That’s because Amazon is a momentum flywheel driven platform where present-day success directly impacts future success. By understanding this flywheel, executives will realize the importance of maximizing their performance on the platform today.

This has been awesome, John! We appreciate the time. One last question, what’s one thing people may not know about you?

One thing that many people don’t know about me is that I’m a pretty avid skier. I’ve been skiing as long as I can remember and enjoy hitting the slopes when I’m not at work.

John Ghiorso is the CEO & Founder at Orca Pacific. Orca Pacific is a full-service Amazon agency in Seattle, WA helping consumer product brands achieve success by optimizing every stage of the customer journey on Amazon. Their team consists of former Amazonians and retail experts with over 10+ years of experience.