Why Major Tom is selling its services in an online store

The digital agency is adapting to the need for shorter term revenue and the long-term business impact of COVID-19.
050Chris Breikss

Digital agency Major Tom is setting a precedent for its future with the opening of Tin Can, offering web-based services for clients through an ecommerce platform.

Listed with both U.S. and Canadian prices, potential clients can choose 14 options ranging from a “Website Not Secure SSL Fix” for $864.00 ($600 U.S.) to “Twenty-Four Hour Sprint Project” for $4318.00 ($3000 U.S.). The site was launched on Wednesday.

Major Tom co-founder Chris Breikss (pictured, above) says this “one-stop shop” approach is a reaction to the current COVID-19 crisis, the imposed business lockdowns its prompted, and an adjustment to how life may continue in the future.

“I don’t think we’re going back to the way things were,” Breikss told strategy from Vancouver, where he’s self-isolated with his family. “That’s something we’ve been talking about with our executive team – let’s stop this thinking about this as a temporary thing that we’re going to recover from. This is very much a new normal.”

After losing 30% of its business in the first month of the lockdown and trimming its staff from 67 to 50, Breikss says Major Tom has positioned itself to be leaner and meaner as it adapts to uncertain times. It has also used technology platforms like Mavenlink and HubSpot to streamline and automate some of its processes. But Tin Can, built with Shopify, is being looked at as helping it work towards a long-term solution. While the federal government has announced relief plans for small businesses, many in the agency world are in need of more short-term cash flow as client business slows down.

“By making it a transactional engagement, you get money in the door very quickly and get people to work fast,” Breikss says. “You don’t necessarily need to bring in a producer or a salesperson, you don’t need to go through contracting or legal, and you can get that project up and running fast. Most of these products are designed to be completed within a week.”

Breikss says the majority of the services on the Tin Can website are related to kind of an audit or a health check – such as for ensuring their Amazon store was not accidentally caught up among the thousands the ecommerce platform has suspended in the last two weeks to cut down on price gouging, or helping to fix it if it did – as well as an analysis of current initiatives in the market.

“With the COVID crisis, there are a lot of people rethinking their marketing and advertising,” he says. “Maybe it also makes sense to go back and look at what they’ve been doing over the last couple of years and discover what’s working and what’s not working. But instead of making that a huge forensic audit and analysis, maybe it’s a process that costs $750 U.S. or $1000 Canadian, that’s digestible, and means someone with signing authority wouldn’t have to go through the process of multiple quotes. The price is right there.”

There is, however, some flexibility available for clients on certain services, such as buying a “block of hours” to use on a sprint project that might have multiple facets.

Breikss says on the first day Tin Can was open, the site drew about 1000 hits, but no sales.

“We don’t know its impact yet,” he says. “For us, this is an interesting way to position services because this isn’t the endgame for us. It’s about starting small, building a relationship, building trust and then being able to go into a more traditional agency engagement down the road.”

Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Breikss says his agency will also introduce experiential products that will be available to clients, some with a charity component. Major Tom is also selling also selling a branded fashion line, offering things like shirts, shorts, flip-flops and backpacks.

Breikss says that business is beginning to rebound and that Tin Can will be a versatile means to an end. His hope is that with these new initiatives, Major Tom will emerge stronger than ever, with some of the changes it has made helping to address some of the bigger shifts the industry was already facing prior to the pandemic.

“Our hope is that we come out of this stronger and we’d like to rehire everybody. We had really good people that we lost due to this, but it’s hard to tell what the future holds right now.”

Featured image by Rob Gilbert.