Case Study: Halloween Express Chooses LuxSci for Large Scale Seasonal Email Marketing

Published: January 26th, 2015


Halloween Express
 is one of the most aggressive and dynamic Halloween chains in the United States. Started in 1990, Halloween Express has both company owned and franchised locations throughout the U.S. Their success is based on offering the largest selection of Halloween merchandise available anywhere.

Halloween Express chose LuxSci in 2014 for their massive seasonal email marketing needs.  LuxSci resolved the issues that they experienced with previous providers, saved them money, and enabled an extremely successful online campaign involving millions of email messages sent in a short period of time.

Halloween Express was very pleased that they could quickly scale up sending for the Halloween season, and then back off to a lower level for the rest of the year, without compromising their sending reputation.  They are so satisfied with their experience, that they are staying on for 2015 and are moving their business email services for their hundreds of employees over to LuxSci as well.

This is the story of Halloween Express’ timely switch to LuxSci’s dedicated High Volume SMTP Relaying service.

What are Halloween Express’ particular needs?

Every organization has particular business needs that must be met in order for them to maximize their ROI and streamline their business processes.  These needs often differ considerably from one company to another; LuxSci excels at providing services flexible enough to “form fit” to most of these scenarios.

For Halloween Express, their needs included the ability to:

  1. Send millions of messages per week at peak
  2. Ramp up to large volumes of sending prior to Halloween, and to send at lower levels the rest of the year.
  3. Have redundancy and protection against accidental blocks on one of their sending IP addresses
  4. Brand the messages being sent — so that even if one is technical and  looks at the “mail headers,” the messages appear to be coming from Halloween Express and not LuxSci.  Complete brand identity was important.

Additionally, Halloween Express has their own email sending system — so they only need high capacity SMTP Relaying. They do not need email sending and campaign management.

Why was Halloween Express unhappy with other solutions?

For the answer to this, I will quote Brad Butler, COO of Halloween Express:

1. I talked to a number of companies that offered email blasting services.   They all wanted to control the entire process – and add on all kinds of additional services.  We’re highly technical and didn’t need (or want to pay) for that level of hand holding.   It was over-kill.  Plus, they required that we modify our ecommerce platform to interface with them.   We have our own email blasting software and analytics.  Just wanted a high-volume SMTP-serving system to send the emails out.

2. The companies that offered SMTP-only services were few and far between.  And of those that did, they had a difficult time getting their heads (and pricing) around our significant seasonality swings.   Most were low-end solutions unable to handle over 10 million sends in a month during our peak times.

3. For 6 years prior to using LuxSci, we used a company who initially met our needs.  However, as time went on, their systems were unable to meet deliverability requirements (e.g. they didn’t offer DKIM signing). We started to see high undeliverability rates.  When we approached them for help, they acted as if they didn’t know what we were talking about.  I knew then we needed to look elsewhere.

LuxSci’s Solution for Halloween Express

LuxSci’s High Volume service provides high capacity SMTP Replaying via shared or dedicated server(s).  This is “SMTP Only” where you bring your own sending software.  Many customers only want SMTP; for those that want more, LuxSci does offer Spotlight Mailer as an optional add-on to provide complete email campaign and mailing list management.

Halloween Express just needed SMTP sending services, but they needed the ability to warm up and scale sending to many millions of messages.  They wanted to be in charge of their own sending reputation and needed to brand everything down to the email message headers.

To meet these business needs, LuxSci provided them with a number of dedicated sending servers — servers whose capacity and IP addresses were dedicated to Halloween Express’ use only.  Through the parallel use of multiple independent servers, Halloween Express was able to multiply their outbound message sending throughput and thus ramp up their delivery rate from tens of thousands of messages a week to millions.

How does the large sending seasonal fluctuation affect the price?

LuxSci offers different levels of server power and, for each level, a range of permitted sending volumes for various prices (see list).  Halloween Express used a number of our “Performance x1” servers which start at $100/mo for 250,000 recipients/month/server.  At this level, they can send all of their normal mailing through these servers and build up a really good sending reputation for a relatively low cost.

For the months leading up to Halloween, LuxSci ramped up the sending limits for each server (these $100/mo servers can scale to 2 million messages/month for $250/mo), increasing sending capacity by up to 800% with only 150% increase in price.  Once Halloween was over, we lowered the limits back to nominal levels and prices.

This enabled them to ramp up the usage dramatically with little notice and a modest cost which is limited only to their period of exceptional sending activity.

This was a perfect solution for them.

How did Private Labeling work?

Like most SMTP providers, messages sent through LuxSci’s outbound email servers include some “headers” added for abuse tracking and sender tracking, and have server names listed in these headers that indicate that LuxSci is involved.

With Private Labeling applied to dedicated SMTP servers:

  1. LuxSci changes all of the server names to your organizations’ domain name, e.g. “smtp.yourdomain.com”
  2. LuxSci changes all of the abuse reporting and tracking headers to reference your own abuse email address and your company name.

There is no mention of LuxSci left.

What comes with an SMTP-Only service that enables great delivery?

LuxSci has a great amount of expertise in email sending and we know how to help you achieve excellent deliverability, even in a high-capacity scenario.  Beyond issues under your control such as the quality of your own mailing lists and the good quality content of your messages, LuxSci provides:

  1. SPF records to indicate that our servers are authorized to send messages as you
  2. DKIM signing to prove the your messages came from legitimate, approved servers
  3. Feedback loop integration, so you can get automatic report of messages marked as spam, allowing you to clean your lists quickly and effectively
  4. Reports of delivery failures and problems, so you can verify deliverability and prune your list of defunct email addresses.
  5. Guidance with respect to warming your server IP addresses and sending best practices.

These features, together with responsive support that can understand your goals and issues for a prompt resolution to questions, is critical for highly effective, high scale mailing campaigns.

How do you do load balancing with multiple servers?

The simple and effective method, used by Halloween Express, is to let your sending software take care of it.  Many programs and systems can have multiple designated SMTP servers and can loan balance between them and handle failover … suspending use of one temporarily if there is an issue.  This is simplest, most cost effective, and the most flexible way to manage it if your sending software is flexible (as is Halloween Express’).

The other option is for LuxSci to setup a load balancing IP.  Your system connects to this IP and our system picks whatever server is next (e.g. in a round robin sense), omitting any that are down (failover).  This works well, but does not give you any direct control over the process.

How does this solution mitigate inadvertent backlisting?

There are so many different blacklists and so many different ways of getting on them … some block you after one or two “complaints.”  No matter how good your mailing list is, chances are that your server’s IP will be blocked by a blacklist once in a while.  In all cases, these can affect the deliverability of messages sent through the server. Usually, these are temporary and LuxSci can help you resolve the problem.

With multiple, independent, dedicated servers, you can simply partially or completely suspend sending through a server that has a temporary blacklisting problem for a few days until the issue is resolved.  This flexibility maximizes the deliverability of your email marketing campaigns even in the fact of inadvertent blacklisting: its a form of insurance and failover.

Conclusions

There are many SMTP providers out there and many of them may work well for small campaigns, when you are not tracking your delivery status closely, and when you don’t need help.

LuxSci’s support and service quality, combined with provisioning flexibility, allows us to meet the needs of organizations with sustained large-scale sending needs and those, such as Halloween Express, with the need to drastically ramp capacity up and down one or more times a year.

From the mouth of Brad Butler:

The big picture, though, is that you guys are absolutely doing it right in my view.   Your platform is flexible and easy to use.  Your team is quick to respond to tickets and your technology is solid.   I couldn’t be more pleased with how things turned out using your outbound servers.

You guys also actually saved us money over our previous solution.  Also, you were priced lower than all of the other solutions I checked into.  So, from an ROI perspective, LuxSci was an easy decision to make.

 

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