John Freyer is the Director of Digital Strategy at Melissa & Doug, a wooden toy company aiming to "take back childhood" with imaginative play. He is one of the many Trailblazers out there who's using his Salesforce knowledge to transform business processes and help his company be successful. Read on to find out how he discovered a career in Salesforce and how Melissa & Doug uses Commerce Cloud to make a difference in their customers' lives. This article originally appeared on the Commerce Cloud Blog.


What exactly defines a Trailblazer? At Salesforce, we believe that Trailblazers are, among other things, lifelong learners, innovators, and are often characterized by their willingness to take an unconventional path to success.

That, in a nutshell, is John Freyer, Director of Digital Strategy at Melissa & Doug, the 30-year-old company that makes classic wooden toys. Melissa & Doug has enjoyed steady growth despite competing in a toy market increasingly crowded with all manner of electronic gadgets. 

John, who is helping drive Melissa & Doug’s expansion with direct-to-consumer sales, has taken a roundabout path to his current position, but one that's marked by a lifelong eagerness to learn.


A Self-Taught Trailblazer

 After studying theater, dance, and film in college, John bartended while hoping for gigs that never materialized. So he took off for an extended trip to Australia where, with no experience, he landed a job at a web development firm designing banner ads.

“I learned Photoshop on the job, later took a class in [Adobe] Illustrator, and picked up some HTML here and there,” he says. After returning to the U.S., John got a job as a web marketing specialist at furniture retailer Ethan Allen (whose e-commerce business runs on Commerce Cloud), where he continued to learn and collaborate with an amazing team, rising through the ranks.

“I went from the tactical role of implementing site features to the analytical, making a case for why we needed to implement features,” he says.

At Melissa & Doug, where he’s been since early 2017, he’s part of a team spearheading the toy company’s online direct-to-consumer effort, with Commerce Cloud and Marketing Cloud as its commerce and email marketing core, respectively.

The company’s products are sold via more than 15,000 online and brick-and-mortar retail partners, including Target, Walmart, Amazon, and a large number of independent stores around the world. And there's the rub: how can Melissa & Doug build the brand and establish a direct relationship with its customers, while not alienating its retail partners in the process?

One of the first things John did after joining Melissa & Doug was to make the site 50% less promotional — they know that competing on price and promotion is a game they can’t win and have no interest in winning — and focus instead on the company’s mission to “Take Back Childhood.”

“We are brand first, commerce second,” he says.

The company has established a deep connection with and an understanding of its shoppers. One example: Price and promotion (the “what”) take a backseat to the importance of imaginative play (the “why”) on, which features articles on topics like how a particular toy supports a child’s development or advice from a speech pathologist on toys that encourage speaking.


Putting the Company's Mission Front and Center

This mission to #takebackchildhood is clearly resonating with fans and customers on social media; Melissa & Doug's Twitter and Instagram channels (with a combined reach of 92,000 followers) are stacked not with promos for new products, but also with retweets and shares from actual people — mostly parents — posting pictures of their kids playing with their toys.

“We want brand loyalists, people who buy our products because they have a connection to what Melissa & Doug stands for,” he says.

Using Einstein Commerce Insights, an AI-based analytics dashboard, John can see what is resonating or trending with online shoppers, and adjust accordingly.


True Trailblazers Are Lifelong Learners

John credits Salesforce as a key component in his career trajectory, particularly the extensive Trailhead learning modules and close strategic partnership with dedicated Customer Success Managers.

“I wouldn’t have a job if Salesforce did not exist,” he says. “I take advantage of Salesforce events as much as possible because if you come away with one little nugget of information that you can take action on, it’s worth it. Plus," he added, "we’re all geeking out over Trailhead. It’s amazing.”

John continues to learn and tinker. Two examples: he developed his own productivity app, called Jot, when he couldn’t find one he liked, and started a website called TheLime, a social platform to redefine how entertainment pros network and collaborate.

“You have to learn by doing, and creating the app and starting the business was something I could apply to my day-to-day. Each new venture I undertake is like taking a class.”

Approaching challenges with curiosity is a common trait among Trailblazers. It's how they learn, cultivate new ideas, and ultimately lead their organizations to the next level of success.

“I’m really excited for this year,” says John. "Not only did I learn and continue to lay a foundation, but we’ve been able to add and set things up for a great 2018.”

This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the many voices and stories that make up Salesforce’s diverse community of Trailblazers.