Jun 20, 2018
Today my guest is Cristina Auffant from the online party supply store, Via Blossom.
In this episode we talk about how to grow a success ecommerce business, and all the ups and downs she's faced along the way.
Some of these links may be affiliate
Host: [00:00:02] Welcome to the Blogger Genius podcast brought to you by MiloTree. Here's your host,Jillian Leslie.
Jillian: [00:00:10] Hey everyone. Welcome back to the show. Today I have as my guest, Cristina Auffant.
Jillian: [00:00:20] Cristina and her sister Maggie own a online store called Via Blossom. They sell some of the most beautiful party supplies I've ever seen. So welcome to the show, Cristina.
Cristina: [00:00:39] Thank you, Jillian! And what a beautiful intro.
Jillian: [00:00:42] OK so a couple of things. We met by sharing a cab late at night. I was flying into a conference. I was in my sweat pants. I looked horrible.
Jillian: [00:00:56] And I'm waiting on the taxi line. And all of a sudden you come up and say, "Are you Jillian?" And it turns out we were going to a party conference called Bash, which no longer exists.
Jillian: [00:01:13] And you're like, I totally know who you are, in fact I advertise on your site.
Cristina: [00:01:20] Exactly.
Jillian: [00:01:19] And we became fast friends and now cut to probably five years later.
Cristina: [00:01:27] I don't know if I think it was 2015 when we went to that conference. We were lucky to see each other again the next year, that we had time to become friends again.
Cristina: [00:01:41] You were the Rock Star of the rock stars in the conference. You were one of the guest speakers. But it was like the best cab ride I could ever. You know it was incredible.
Cristina: [00:01:52] I never remember people's faces and for some reason, I saw you in the line and I was like that has to be Jillian. I hope I'm not mistaken but if I am I don't care, because nobody knows me here in Phoenix, Arizona.
Cristina: [00:02:08] And I said, "Jillian!" and then you kept on walking and then I said, "Jillian!" And then we ended up sharing the cab and it was like half an hour of you know entrepreneurial talk. So I loved it.
Cristina: [00:02:22] And we hung out for the whole conference.
Jillian: [00:02:27] And then you guys, you and your sister Maggie reached out to me because I started doing some business coaching. And you guys have been working with me for a year year and a half.
Cristina: [00:02:41] Yes. I reached out to you because at the conference, like every piece of advice you gave me was on point.
Cristina: [00:02:50] After coming back you know it's true that when you go to a conference, like a lot of things change in your life, and you feel like brand new, and you want to implementing everything you learn.
Cristina: [00:03:00] But out of every single piece of advice I received during the conference, I think your advice was what I started implementing right away. And I have always trusted you.
[00:03:18] You've always been such an inspiration to me and my sister, Maggie. And everything started working when we start implementing those strategies. Of course like the business coaching, yeah I was thinking, oh I have to call Jillian.
Jillian: [00:03:41] So let's let's talk about Via Blossom and what inspired you and Maggie to start it.
Cristina: [00:03:47] Well it was a very organic. We both had children. I have two, a boy and a girl, and Maggie has two girls.
Cristina: [00:03:59] And it was more like when we were planning those birthday parties, especially the first birthday party, is always so important. You want everything to be perfect. It's your dream.
Cristina: [00:04:08] You know it's something new. So I started looking for party supplies. And also I remember when Maggie was doing her birthday parties for young girls. She was so frustrated.
Cristina: [00:04:20] And I then lived that myself. You know, I was so frustrated looking for everything.
[00:04:27] I had to basically DIY a lot of things, took a lot of time late nights, and I was like, "This is not what I wanted." I wanted to find things that were ready to go and were absolutely beautiful for the theme that I was planning for my son in that case.
Cristina: [00:04:43] And it took me like maybe five or seven trips to different stores, all kinds of stores not only party stores but all kinds of stores to find what I wanted.
Cristina: [00:04:53] And in the end it turned out very beautiful but it was a lot of hard work. And as you know, Jillian, we don't have a lot of time. And our hands are full.
Cristina: [00:05:02] We don't have a lot of time time you want something beautiful for your children, but at the same time you don't want to spend hours or trips and gather and like gas driving here and driving there.
Cristina: [00:05:14] And I told Maggie. Maggie maybe we should start. And at the same time I saw a big trend in the world, as you know if you go to Catch My Party you're going to find huge inspiration when it comes to parties.
Cristina: [00:05:27] The world was changing in terms of the party scene and moms were having more attention to detail when it came to celebrating their birthday parties.
Cristina: [00:05:37] So we saw this new trend of like more curated parties, and Maggie and I would say like, OK we're jumping into that wagon and we're going to do a very curated store with like handpicked party supplies and offering amazing party themes.
Jillian: [00:05:56] OK. And then you thought were going to start Shopify store?
Cristina: [00:06:01] No.
Jillian: [00:06:02] OK. Tell us.
Cristina: [01:58:08] Unfortunately, no, Jillian. We had every single bump in the road. You know when you hear stories you think that everything was perfect then they're so successful. And it's not the case. It was hard.
Cristina: [00:06:16] Jillian, we were inexperienced when it came to ecommerce and platforms. So we we followed the advice of people that we hired and they put us in a very bad platform.
Cristina: [00:06:31] Or maybe those were the times maybe Shopify was just starting. I don't know. And we were on a platform that was very limited.
Cristina: [00:06:41] Everything was hard on that platform and we decided at some point maybe when we were like a year and a half in business even though we were selling parties pretty well.
Cristina: [00:06:51] We were selling from the beginning. So that was a good thing, but the platform was very very outdated and even like printing shipping labels was a mess. Like everything was very hard.
Cristina: [00:07:09] So we wanted something more you know up to date. And we hired a graphic designer and a new programmer and they migrated us to Shopify.
Jillian: [00:07:18] And how like how was that?
Cristina: [00:07:21] The migration was a true disaster. And we lost basically all the traffic that we had worked hard for.
Cristina: [00:07:29] You know we were working really hard to build traffic and you know to work on our social media and everything and suddenly we had a store that was beautiful but it was in the middle of the desert. Nobody could see the store we were penalized by Google and other algorithms.
Cristina: [00:07:51] That's exactly when I met you.
Jillian: [00:07:53] Yes.
Cristina: [00:07:54] And I told you the whole story and you took a lot of interest in us because we were a little down to be honest, because we were selling pretty well for the first year and then seeing our sales go down, our traffic go down. That was not fun.
Jillian: [00:08:11] When you guys approached me you were even thinking of closing the shop.
Cristina: [00:08:15] We were yes. We were not going to quit, somehow, but when we were down. You know when we met, when I saw you, when I saw you for the second time, I'm going to say yeah we're a little down.
Cristina: [00:08:27] We're down because it was like, wow we have a nice store right. Beautiful graphic design, and a beautiful platform like Shopify which is like right now the Ferrari of the e-commerce platforms and yet what is going on?
Jillian: [00:08:44] How did you start crawling your way out?
Cristina: [00:08:48] Well you were one of the ways. I'm going to give you credit for that, Jillian. And also I think Maggie and I were like quitting was never like an option for us.
Cristina: [00:08:59] We were down but we were like, OK it's going to come up again and we improved the design of the website. And the one thing that we did from the advice that you gave me on the at the conference was like, "Christina, work on your Pinterest."
Cristina: [00:09:18] You're going to see the fruit of your work. If you you really really put some time in that. And I only had probably like 600 followers on Pinterest when you gave me that advice.
Cristina: [00:09:31] In a matter of a year. It grew to probably 3,000 followers. And not only that, it started producing sales like crazy.
Jillian: [00:09:40] Right.
Cristina: [00:09:40] And now we're almost reaching 6,000. And you know you don't grow Pinterest as fast as maybe in 2010. You know it's very different now. And still it's working very well, and it's not like we have a hundred thousand followers. We only have about 6000 and they produce sales every day.
Jillian: [00:10:04] And you have MiloTree on your site only growing Pinterest.
Cristina: [00:10:08] Exactly we have it on the blog. And we have Pinterest now, maybe in the future we're going to switch it around and alternate between Instagram and Pinterest. For now, We really want to have it on Pinterest.
Jillian: [00:10:23] And I think that the thing that when we started working together my my one piece of advice to you guys was to really figure out who your customer was and what they were coming to your site for.
Jillian: [00:10:38] And what we decided was, you are not just a general party supply seller.
Cristina: [00:10:45] Yes. And I think that was liberating because when you have a party supply store or any kind of store, you think you have to sell everything you know like everything there is in this specific market.
Cristina: [00:10:58] And I think it was liberating to know that we don't need to sell ninja party supplies or we don't need to sell boy party supplies or even a holiday.
Cristina: [00:11:10] Like, it was ok. And actually you know as you see our growth we've tripled sales selling girl party supplies and focusing on that beautiful market of very curated girly things and elegant things.
Jillian: [00:11:28] Right, yes. And the thing that I kept saying to you guys is set yourselves up as tastemakers.
Cristina: [00:11:35] Listening to our customers and what they want and what they like. We decided to sell tissue paper flowers in bundles. And it's been a total success so far.
Cristina: [00:11:48] And the same thing with other collections for example are tea party collection. Now we offer a tea party in a box, and we also offer that in other other party themes, and it's become very successful.
Jillian: [00:12:05] Right. Because again it's like in the world of e-commerce today, you've got this juggernaut like Amazon and you can find anything on Amazon.
Jillian: [00:12:16] However why you come to your site to Via Blossom, is because you're going to tell me what I need.
Cristina: [00:12:23] That's absolutely correct. Like if you land on our party themes you're going to see that they're very complete and you will find everything that you need.
Cristina: [00:12:32] And on top of that we offer bundles which cuts the time to think and combine and coordinate this with that, like it's so simple and the party lines are so beautiful that it's hard to resist.
Cristina: [00:12:49] Our customers when they buy. And this is something that makes me feel very proud. They truly put their trust in us.
Cristina: [00:12:56] And when you see the average order has increased, the average order value has increased so much in the last year. Because people when they buy, it's over a hundred dollars sometimes and sometimes we've had orders are like ranging in the seven hundreds for parties where everything is from Via Blossom.
[00:13:23] And that makes me very proud as a store owner to see like the average price order value going up like crazy because they're finding everything they need they don't have to drive to 700 places. They don't have time. Moms are busy.
Cristina: [00:13:39] So you find the place where you can find what you need and see a selection that we're it's coordinated for you and curated for you. We're making their lives a little easier.
Cristina: [00:13:53] And at the same time it's so cool to see that the birthday parties are going to be beautiful too.
Jillian: [00:14:00] OK so if you were to be talking to somebody who says, "I want to start a Shopify store I want to sell stuff. "What would you say to them?
Cristina: [00:14:14] Our road has not been straight. And I think for most entrepreneurs that's the road you're going to have it's the hard road. It's not an easy path. You have to work very hard.
Cristina: [00:14:25] But the one thing I'm going to tell them that they have to be strategic and they have to start step by step. They cannot do everything at the same time.
Cristina: [00:14:35] I think when you start a store you are so overwhelmed and you're wearing every single hat, but you need to prioritize.
Cristina: [00:14:42] Say OK if Pinterest is working, you know you need to focus on it. This is something that we've learned from you, from day one is to focus on what works.
Cristina: [00:14:51] You know if Pinterest is giving you sales, so why are you wasting your time on Facebook. When that's not probably producing all the sales that Pinterest is producing.
Cristina: [00:15:01] So focus on this and give all your efforts to this platform for some time. And then when you feel like you have mastered this platform then you can move on to implementing for example, email marketing.
Cristina: [00:15:20] It takes a lot of time for you to become skilled in every single aspect of the business. So you know it takes a lot of thought to become an expert in email marketing.
Cristina: [00:15:31] I'm not an expert yet, but we're working towards that goal. Same thing with social media. I'm not going to be the queen in Instagram for now.
Cristina: [00:15:40] That doesn't mean that one day we're going to though. You know we're going to double, you know we have like 6000 followers. Maybe one day we'll have much more.
Cristina: [00:15:49] But for now Pinterest in our case is the platform that works.
Cristina: [00:15:54] People make the mistake when they start, they want to be in every single platform they want to do email marketing they want to do Facebook advertising. They want to do it all.
Cristina: [00:16:03] They listened to podcasts, they Google things, they read, they take courses and it's overwhelming.
Cristina: [00:16:11] And I think in the end that drains you emotionally, and in the end that you're not productive you're not doing what you're supposed to do you're not working smarter. You're working really hard. But that doesn't mean you're working smart.
Jillian: [00:16:27] Yes. Could we talk about Instagram for a little bit and kind of initially how you were thinking about it and then how you think about it today.
Cristina: [00:16:37] Yes in the beginning of course on your Instagram it's instant gratification. Like every time you post something a lot of people like it and it's amazing. But then if you look at your analytics that's where the truth comes out.
Cristina: [00:16:52] And this is where you are going to realize, "OK, is this platform really working for me Now?"
Cristina: [00:16:57] I look at my analytics and this was also advice from you, Jillian. And suddenly we realized that we're not getting the traffic that we were hoping for on Instagram.
Cristina: [00:17:08] At the same time you see a lot of people on Instagram like rocking Instagram. They have Insta Stories. They have a lot of followers. They're like Instagram stars.
Cristina: [00:17:17] And a lot of us entrepreneurs, we want to become that, but it's not so much the the amount of followers you have. It's if it's working, you know, and that's what we realized.
Cristina: [00:17:34] Instagram is a platform that we of course we work on every week and we post frequently, but we're not concentrating our efforts 100 percent on this platform because it's not bringing the sales.
Cristina: [00:17:48] So a lot of people want to be rockstars and they are not being business people you know. Like if you're not getting the sales I don't recommend putting a lot of time into, for example, Instagram.
Cristina: [00:18:03] You need to work on what works you know you need to focus on what works.
Jillian: [00:18:08] Yes.
Cristina: [00:18:09] And I think Maggie and I have become very savvy about what works and what is doing well
Cristina: [00:18:18] And also we have to recognize when something is not on trend anymore or not as desirable as it was in the past because of some of those collections were hits in the past but not now.
Cristina: [00:18:30] So in terms of purchasing inventory we have to be very savvy about what we buy and how much to stock on the inventory you know.
Jillian: [00:18:43] Right right. And there's always this uncertainty, Will this sell? I don't know.
Cristina: [00:18:50] There is always an uncertainty correct. But as you go, I think that anxiety is lower now. I feel like when we buy we know what we're buying more and I think it's because time and experience.
Cristina: [00:19:07] You know like you have to have collections that didn't do that well in order for you to learn what does well and what works, you know?
Jillian: [00:19:17] Right. One thing I have to give you and Maggie props for and I say this to you guys. So this isn't necessarily new, but what I love about working with you both is that you will take something and you will run with it.
Jillian: [00:19:34] I will work with clients and I'll say OK let's talk about your business. And then we come up with an action plan of like wow you could do this or you could do this.
Jillian: [00:19:42] And I can feel them freezing, thinking that somehow I have that answer.
Cristina: [00:19:49] Yes, resistant to change.
Jillian: [00:19:51] Or is it, there's easy things you can do. And yes there are some easy things you can do. However most of it is hard work.
Cristina: [00:20:04] Yes absolutely. And thank you for saying that.
Jillian: [00:20:09] Because you guys, and this is the other thing. You're not technical. You and Maggie you've taught yourself stuff totally.
Cristina: [00:20:16] Yes exactly I think if you don't fail a little, if you don't find bumps in the road you're never going to learn.
Cristina: [00:20:25] I don't regret any of the little bumps even the migration, which was a disaster, because you learn and now like any time we were going to invest in something new, we know that we're going to encounter difficulties but we're going to know how to deal with them in a more mature way somehow.
Jillian: [00:20:46] Right.
Cristina: [00:20:48] Yes, And we're going to deal with them like with a calm mind and say OK let's just do it and fix it and do what we need to do to get it done.
Jillian: [00:20:56] Yes. Absolutely. And I think the thing that I like what was really exciting was you guys had this idea, hey you know what we're going to do. We're trying to curate collections but here is like we're going to put together a party in a box.
Why you need to run tests with your ecommerce store
Jillian: [00:21:14] And we talk a lot about trying stuff, testing testing testing. And you put it together. You put it up and then that first day what happened?
Cristina: [00:21:24] It sold out. Correct. It's incredible. Yes. Yes.
Jillian: [00:21:30] So we all went, oh my god. Ding ding ding go toward this.
Cristina: [00:21:36] Yes exactly and I think it's been the motto, focus on what works and we have been doing that since day one with you.
Cristina: [00:21:43] You know since the first day we started working with you, I think that was the first day that you started coaching us you told us you, "You have to put your effort on the things that are working."
Cristina: [00:21:58] And I think ever since we implemented this mindset and we changed our minds and we started not looking at what other people were doing.
Cristina: [00:22:08] You know not being influenced by anything else or not being overwhelmed, trying to do everything at the same time and taking everything step by step. I think everything started producing you know the fruit that we invested in it everything started working out.
Jillian: [00:22:28] Yes. And you guys have been less focused on your competition.
Cristina: [00:22:33] And I don't think Maggie and I have been crazy focused on the competition because I think Via Blossom has always had some kind of identity you know.
Cristina: [00:22:42] Our style has always been different and that's what we always wanted to do like we always wanted to have something different.
Cristina: [00:22:54] My sister especially she never focuses on anybody she doesn't. She's not influenced by people. She's not that type of person and I like that a lot about her. And I'm a little like that too you know.
[00:23:09] And so we tried to have a unique story from the beginning but now even more like your saying we try to hyper focus on what is working for us.
Jillian: [00:23:21] Right. And really understanding your customers and your brand.
Cristina: [00:23:24] Understanding the customer, correct. And talking to the customer a lot.
Cristina: [00:23:27] I spend a lot of time talking to my customer and I love it. It's so rewarding to see happy customers and sometimes even when there's problems with the post office. We go out of our way to help our customers.
Cristina: [00:23:45] And these are the best opportunities for you to become a hero and do everything for them. And they and also to get insight of their shopping experience of the products they are the ones that then send the photos and the happy comments and happy e-mails. So it's so rewarding.
Jillian: [00:24:04] What is it like working with your sister and you guys are in different countries?
Cristina: [00:24:10] It works out very well. We've always been very close and we have always shared. When we were little I'm going to say we shared the same room.
Cristina: [00:24:21] Then we went to the same university, to Boston College, and we both got business degrees. So we know each other very well and we are at the same time we're very different.
Cristina: [00:24:35] Maggie is very organized very one thing at a time type of person. She is very technical more than me and she focuses on anything that has to do with photo editing, accounting anything that you can do through a computer because my sister is located overseas.
Jillian: [00:25:02] She's in the Dominican Republic.
Cristina: [00:25:03] Exactly and I am more of a creative. So I work on shooting products. Well the list of things that we have to do is huge. So I'm basically summarizing and you know it's it's just so much. But everything Maggie does she has to sit in a computer.
Cristina: [00:25:26] I have I manage a warehouse. And on top of that I have to do you know we have to work with inventory. I take photos, I do photo shoots of products. I have more of a creative role and I'm more in social media than Maggie.
Cristina: [00:25:47] But we work very well. Our personalities, they go very well because Maggie is a little bit more serious and I'm more creative crazy.
Cristina: [00:25:59] Maggie tells me, "Hey Cristina, you're flying!" you know like put your feet on the ground. Because sometimes I want to do so much and sometimes I get too excited.
Cristina: [00:26:09] Maggie tells me OK you know. Yes we're going to do it but you need to be calm and we're going to do it when it's time to do it. You know so it's a good balance.
Jillian: [00:26:17] It is a good balance.
Cristina: [00:26:19] I feel like sometimes I'm being more creative and I love to listen to podcasts, to know what's the next best thing. I love to inform myself about what people are doing.
Cristina: [00:26:30] Not necessarily that we're going to do it all. Like I say like we were going to focus on what works and we are going to do everything step by step.
Cristina: [00:26:38] But Maggie you know like she's more technical. Maggie is more type A person. You know she's very organized and she has her schedule you know perfectly designed and she knows exactly what she's doing every day. And I'm a little bit more a free spirit in that sense.
Cristina: [00:26:59] It's hard for me to focus more like Maggie. But sometimes you need a person like me to be too. I'm like OK this is a new thing, let's do it!
Cristina: [00:27:09] I'm more adventurous and a little more of a risk taker. Maggie is more conservative.
Jillian: [00:27:15] Totally. But it's a it is a good balance for you guys.
Cristina: [00:27:19] Yes it is.
Jillian: [00:27:20] You're the one who dreams up the ideas and Maggie is the one to hold your feet down.
Cristina: [00:27:24] Exactly. Yes. And she knows how to execute them a little. You know she can take my idea and say let me see how we can do this. It works very well. Right.
Jillian: [00:27:39] And at the end of the day it was an accounting issue when you first started doing it. You had to figure out how to do it and how do you account for it.
Cristina: [00:27:47] There's a lot of work. People think that having a store is simple and easy and it's just a lot of different ramifications. A lot of different things that you need to do every single day.
Cristina: [00:28:01] You know and this is why you need to really make your time valuable every day. Because we don't have a lot of time.
Cristina: [00:28:11] I feel like at this point with the business I feel like if I do one thing and I do it very well I feel good every day. Because before I wanted to do five things every day and then I was very frustrated, like I couldn't do any of them. Or, I did this one and it was I could barely make it. And it's not good.
Cristina: [00:28:31] And now I'm different. I feel like OK if I do one thing and I do it very well and I know it's it's going to work for my business. I feel good.
Jillian: [00:28:39] What are some of these podcasts so let's say I am I want to start a store. What would you recommend I listen to?
Cristina: [00:28:46] Well if you are going to be in ecommerce. I love My Wife Quit Her Job by Steve Chou and I absolutely love Ecommerce Influence. I think those two podcasts are a very good place to start.
Cristina: [00:29:02] The first one with My Wife Quit Her Job he's going to tell you a lot of basic things about starting a business. So it's a lot of very valuable information and also more advanced techniques for business.
Cristina: [00:29:17] But Ecommerce Influence. I love it. They focus a lot on email marketing which is one of the things that we're targeting, and that we're focusing on right now, and they focus a lot on Facebook advertising which is something that we're going to be doing in the near future.
Cristina: [00:29:34] So those two podcasts are very valuable.
Jillian: [00:29:37] That's terrific.
Cristina: [00:29:40] And one more podast that I love because Pinterest is working very well for us as an ecommerce business. Simple Pin Media.
Jillian: [00:29:50] Oh I love her.
Cristina: [00:29:51] Wonderful if you are going to be serious about Pinterest. If you're going to get serious about Pinterest you need to listen to this podcast.
Jillian: [00:29:59] I love it. OK. One piece of parting advice...
Cristina: [00:30:02] And your podcast, Jillian! Of course, this one is wonderful. I have listened to every single episode and every single person that you bring gives me something new something new to learn.
Cristina: [00:30:17] So yes this one of course!
Jillian: [00:30:21] Aww. Thank you. OK I need one piece of parting advice and then let people know how they could reach out to you.
Jillian: [00:30:27] One thing that you would say. Do this!
Cristina: [00:30:35] Yes. You know it's impossible to do everything at the same time. So if you're starting a business you need to to focus on one thing and do it well and also be willing to learn every day.
Cristina: [00:30:57] Maggie has become a Photoshop expert. She took a class. And from there she flew by herself and she is doing an amazing job.
Cristina: [00:31:07] When it comes to photo editing and even even graphic design she is becoming self-taught graphic designer.
Cristina: [00:31:15] I didn't know how to use a camera before starting a business, and now I know how to take photos. You need to learn step by step. You cannot do everything you cannot go on to take a Photoshop class and do Quickbooks in accounting.
Cristina: [00:31:34] You need to allocate some time for everything, but you cannot become overwhelmed trying to do it all in one day. You know it's step by step and it's a very very long walk you walk and you need to be persistent.
Cristina: [00:31:51] You can't give up but up but I feel like if there is something that is working for you you're getting sales from something, then try to elaborate and make it better and better every day.
Cristina: [00:32:05] You know for us for example we have a collection that sells extremely well and it's our Tea Party collection so we every day we try to make that collection even stronger.
Jillian: [00:32:16] I love it. All right. How can people reach out to you if they have questions or they want to see what you're doing?
Cristina: [00:32:22] OK our web site is ViaBlossom.com and our e-mail is email@example.com if you have any questions.
Cristina: [00:32:35] Our Instagram is @viablossomshop and our Pinterest is ViaBlossom.
Jillian: [00:32:41] Perfect. I love it. All right. Well you know how much I love you guys. I adore you. I love working with you guys.
Cristina: [00:32:50] It's been a blessing working with you. I think we've learned so much. You know the proof is in the pudding, our sales are so high so incredible, we've triple sales in 2017 and we're doubling sales in 2018.
Cristina: [00:33:05] So the future looks very bright and I want to thank you for everything you've done for us.
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