Amazon account management – new product launches – supply chain management – John Holby – EP30

What you’ll learn:

CPG.IO is a one-stop-shop for eCommerce. The Amazon agency and eRetailer management firm does the distribution for direct to consumer shipping and product fulfillment. On today’s episode, CPG.IO founder and CEO John Holby gives us his best strategies for a ton of common brand issues online: omni-channel pricing, new product launches, digital marketing, and account management.

About our guest:

John Holby graduated Carthage collage majoring in MIS with a minor in Entrepreneurial Studies. Worked at the Mercantile Exchange before an 11-year career at CDW. Then, he started CPG.IO. Holby is a 39-year old Christian with two boys and a girl under the age of 10. He has a loving wonderful wife of 13 years. He loves to cook and spend time with friends and family.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • IO: the one-stop-shop for all thing’s eCommerce—2:45
  • IO company stats (employee count, departments, etc.)—4:45
  • Top 3 mistakes brands make on Amazon—7:17
  • Amazon digital selling strategies for larger appliances and products—9:50
  • Amazon’s internal strategies for staying competitive—10:40
  • Step-by-step plan for a new product launch across eRetailers—12:55
  • How to negotiate guaranteed minimal margin (GMM)—16:18
  • How to negotiate fees and get the best terms—17:44
  • How to sell overstock Amazon items—19:23
  • Hacks to optimize Amazon product listings—22:20
  • Should consumer product brands invest in ARA data?—24:10
  • Top tools to improve Amazon sales—26:18
  • How to manage Amazon Advertising Services (AMS), allowances, and other Amazon costs—27:17
  • Omni-channel (Walmart, eBay, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond) pricing strategies—29:09
  • The pros and cons of third-party advertising platforms to drive traffic to eRetailer product listings—32:20
  • Holby’s biggest mistake and lesson as an entrepreneur—34:07
  • Best tip for getting a shutdown account back online on Amazon—35:58
  • Holby’s best habits as a successful businessowner—37:41

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page One Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page One Podcast. I’m your host, Luke Peters. This is the podcast where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the CEO and founder of Newair Appliances where I cut my teeth selling products online and now I’ve started retail band where I help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, B2B online sales strategy, and so much more. And right now I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or email me at luke@retailband.com. In case you’re curious what that might mean, we could look at your digital strategy, see if influencer marketing is an option for your product category, which it almost always is, and just take a look at a lot of other things that are happening on the digital side where you might need some help.

Luke Peters: In this episode, you’re going to learn from John Holby on how to win on Amazon, learn about new distribution option, product reviews. We’ll talk about maybe optimizing vendor central versus seller central and much more about Amazon from expert, John Holby. John graduated from Carthage College majoring in management of information systems with a minor in entrepreneurial studies. Worked at the Mercantile Exchange before an 11 year career at CDW and now is CEO and founder of CPG.IO. John is a 39 year old Christian with two boys and a girl under the age of 10. John, I’ve got you beat by the way. I’ll tell you more later. He’s got a loving, wonderful wife. He loves to cook and spend time with family and friends. John, thanks so much for joining me on the Page One Podcast.

John Holby: Thank you for having me, Luke.

Luke Peters: Cool. So you’ve got three under the age of 10, I’ve got six. Not all, only one under the age of 10 though. You have some busy years ahead of you.

John Holby: Yeah. You got your hands full.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well, now they’re older so they’re more independent. But yeah, it’s a lot… The age of your kids, it’s a lot of fun. A lot of sports I’m sure and cool stuff like that.

John Holby: Definitely.

Luke Peters: Listen, thanks again, John, for joining. First off, why don’t you give the audience a quick introduction on your company. What do you guys do and how do you help brands?

John Holby: Great. Yeah, thank you. So company is CPG.IO. We’re based out here in Chicago, a little bit West of O’Hare Airport. We’ve been in business since 2012 and what we consider ourselves is a one-stop shop for eCommerce. We help brands with a CDC website and we help do the distribution for that, as well as work with Amazon and we work with brands, particularly in the CPG space, consumer packaged goods, and we help them with their one P strategy as well as their 3P strategy. So we work with Vendor Central, we work with Seller Fulfilled Prime, we work with, we call it Seller Central as well as we send a lot of their items to Amazon warehouses in FBA, which is on our dollar over to them.

John Holby: We help them across all that platform as well as we have a team of marketers here and we have a team of data people that go through each listing, make sure everything is optimized and then our company as itself is a platform. So when you work with CPGIO, we’re going to help you with all those things as well as introduce you to the omni-channel. We get our brands on other websites such as Walmart, Target, eBay. We also work with, just onboarded Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Bed Bath & Beyond. Help these brands whatever sites they want to be on, we’ll get them out there and we’ll do the right thing for them for their eCommerce strategy.

Luke Peters: Awesome. So why don’t we dive into a little bit about your company, John. How many total employees do you have?

John Holby: Right now we have a little bit over 70 employees, current time.

Luke Peters: That’s amazing growth since 2012. How does your sales team look? How many folks are on there and how are you guys doing? Is it outbound and inbound or how are you guys building the business so quickly?

John Holby: Yeah, so we’ve worked with some of the largest CPG brands in the industry. By blessing, there’s been a lot of word of mouth. I do have a sales team of two people and they’ve done a great job of going out and selling what we do when these brands hear about us, it’s a no brainer in the ways that we can help them. It doesn’t matter if they have what they would call an Amazon strategy. We can always take a look at their book of business and show them several different ways that we can help them grow sales.

Luke Peters: Before I move on about the company, tell me how that might look. Say a company is already doing good on Amazon, what are those additional ways that you’re able to help them?

John Holby: Yeah, very good. A typical company would most likely have a one P strategy with Amazon where they’re selling their top, let’s just say they have a catalog of 20 items. Amazon might be buying the top five items from them. The brand obviously wants to have their full catalog out there. So what we would do is we would say, Hey, you’re doing great with those five items. But one thing we can do with those items too is look, maybe that’s a one pack depending on the price and the item, not enough or not economical. So we’ll put together a three pack or we’ll put together a variety pack and that gives the consumer a better price point when you consider in shipping and whatnot.

John Holby: Then we will have there, let’s just say items six through 15 and those items they would sell quite a bit, but Amazon’s not buying them. So we’re going to take those and we’re going to do our FBA model and put their inventory in Amazon’s warehouse. And then we’re going to have an FBM strategy for their last five items where they might not be moving and we don’t want them sitting in Amazon’s warehouse. So we’ll keep them in our warehouse and when they’re ordered, we’ll ship them out of our warehouse.

Luke Peters: Great. That’s a helpful description right there. So back to the warehouse, how large is your warehouse? How big is the footprint?

John Holby: We actually, last month just closed on a seven year deal where we currently have 105,000 square feet. And in this deal, picked up another 44,000 square feet for 2020.

Luke Peters: Awesome. So about a hundred and…

John Holby: 50,000.

Luke Peters: That’s awesome. Very good. Congrats on that. Okay, cool. So for the audience in this episode, we’re going to focus on Amazon. John has a wide breadth of knowledge in all those categories that he talked about even with other retailers, but thought it would be helpful to dive deep into Amazon since obviously huge trend in monster in retail. So let’s start with Amazon or dig deeper into it here, John, and let’s start with what do you see as the top three mistakes that brands are making on Amazon?

John Holby: Some mistakes that I see is they’re just saying that we do business with Amazon and we’re happy with our one P strategy. They’re just happy with that and they don’t think that anyone can help them gain 3P strategy where there’s so many times brands come and they say, Hey, I’ve got these 3P sellers that are selling my product. I don’t know how they’re getting them, but I can see through my reports that they’re making up 100,000 up to, we’ve seen $17 million in 3P market that they’re not addressing. One way is we help them with that. Another way is that they don’t optimize their listing. One thing we do for brands, making sure the content is good, making sure the images are great. Adding things like enhanced brand content, adding multiple images. We can also put in videos.

John Holby: The third probably would be, they’re going on a strategy of Amazon where their one P strategy is whatever Amazon buys from them. So if you have seasonal items, for example, Amazon’s not going to necessarily, depending on your brand, pre-buy for your surge and sale. So we help brands and we see that strategy and we’re going to pre-buy before the season starts and make sure that no FBA warehouses are stocked and ready to go. And when we see a spike in sales, we’re also ready to help get that inventory back in there if there was an item they didn’t expect. That keeps the ASIN ranking high. When you go out of stock, the ASIN ranking drops and the momentum is gone. That’s another mistake I see.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And that last point is really excellent about the ASIN ranking and keeping product in stock. It’s so hard to do. We have seasonal product too, and sometimes at the end of the year you don’t want to order it. You want to wait until the following season. So it’s a tough decision that a lot of brands have to make. Then the other two comments, just to summarize, was literally just bad content and you guys obviously can help there. And then companies that only focus on one strategy, like a one P strategy instead of say combining that with the FBA option like you talked about. John, talking about FBA, what do brands do with larger products? Like for example, our products are a little larger and sometimes a lot larger and so FBA doesn’t make sense. Then I guess you just have to do Seller Fulfilled Prime or one of the onsite options. Or is there something that brands are missing with larger products in that they still could work well via FBA?

John Holby: Well, I think you hit it on the head hard. Larger items aren’t exactly something that Amazon wants to get into. You can see that in their strategy for what they buy in Vendor Central as well as when you send them big items, how they charge you and they hit you with the fees. But I do think you’re right in saying that as long as you’re working with a partner that’s is a Seller Fulfilled Prime warehouse, you’re still offering that same service and the customers are getting that prime feeling and knowing that they’re going to get it in two days. So I think that is a good strategy.

Luke Peters: This is a tough one, but I see this happening with Amazon. So I wanted to ask you about this, John. And that is, is Amazon trying to kill brand in a sense? They’re bringing everything in unbranded and there’s no loyalty on their search. I’m not trying to say it in a negative way, just what it seems. It seems like the old days of when Google was updating the algorithm all the time on SEO SERPs when they would just change all the time and it’s becoming that way for a lot of Amazon terms. Any thoughts on that? Because they’re becoming, I mean, I know they have the top brands on there, but it seems like they’re trying to move away from it just by some of the other indicators that I see.

John Holby: Yeah. Well, they are the 800 pound gorilla and you have to play by their rules. That is true. I think that they are a business and they’re trying to do the best that they can to make money and sometimes that means that they’re going to create some competition. But I think for what they are, they’re also still providing brands with a marketplace where millions upon millions of people are seeing their products. There’s definitely strategies when a product might have competition against Amazon from marketing and maybe even negative matching that they can use to stay relevant as well as when you start to see that Amazon is into that place. Maybe more of an omni-channel idea might be successful, maybe getting us some other marketplaces to diversify those sales.

Luke Peters: It makes a lot of sense.

John Holby: Then you would also become into, let Google be your guide and now maybe when you’re typing in I want to buy batteries, let’s just say, Amazon might be on there, but still will Walmart. And if your product’s on Walmart, people might have loyalty to that as well and you’ll pick up that sale versus them hopping over to Amazon and their branded battery being chosen.

Luke Peters: Yeah. So basically be diversified. You got to be smart and not over leveraged with Amazon. That makes plenty of sense. Talking about launching a product on Amazon, AMS is taking over a larger share. It seems like the first way and only way to get a new product up with some exposure on Amazon. Well, not the only, I guess you could tie it to another skew that’s doing really well. But I would like to hear your thoughts. If you guys are launching a new skew for a client, what are three or four steps on a standard product launch strategy? The product comes in, they have other existing skews, some might already be winning. Now they launch a new skew that’s got zero traffic, zero visibility and even zero reviews. We’d love to hear how you guys work through that challenge.

John Holby: Yeah, you are right. That is challenging. New products have opportunities though. So you can work off your existing ASIN strategy and Amazon is starting to crack down on this quite a bit where you would want to take your best moving items and you would also want to put your new items on that list thing via if you had a different flavor, a different color, something like that. You’d want to continue to work with that best ranked ASIN that you have and create a variation to keep that both high ranking and all the reviews are left in one spot.

John Holby: That even strengthens that ASIN quite a bit more. Then just again, going to your AMS strategy and trying to get that product launch, there’s other ways of even sampling or getting that item into customer’s hands so that they can leave reviews. Rebate key might be an option for that, but it is a challenge to get these items going, especially when there’s so many items in these marketplaces that. But yeah, we find that our brands are doing huge marketing pushes to get those items launched.

Luke Peters: Got it. So they’re spending dollars and they’re getting them ranked and then there may be dialing back the AMS later on?

John Holby: Yeah, definitely. We’ve got a marketing team here that’s going to take a look and take your strategy. What do you want to do upfront? It might cost you quite a bit for every sale that you work with. For example, we work with the Hershey’s Corporation and we work with, they call their garage, and we take brand new items that are just launching and we create a D to C site for them to drive traffic as well as put them on Amazon. They’re spending a ton of money up front and then we’re constantly monitoring how are the dollars being spent and let’s put them in the right place. We take a look at that and we start removing words that aren’t converting and we throw more money at places where it is converting.

Luke Peters: Cool. Makes sense. Interesting to hear that you said they’re cracking down on variations. Then the other thing is you mentioned, did you mention a review service there in your comments? What was the name of that and how does that work?

John Holby: It’s rebate key.

Luke Peters: Rebate key.

John Holby: Yeah, rebate key. It’s just a service that I personally use. And what it is, is a site that you can put products on and you’re going to offer a discount. And in that discount, you’re going to get a product, you’re going to put your order number into rebate key, you’re going to spend full price for the item as it is on Amazon. Once you get it, try it out, you then leave a review, you write back to rebate key. They’ve got an interface that you say, I left a review, and then at the end of the month they cut the check for the amount of money that the brand was willing to help PayPal.

Luke Peters: Wow. It sounds amazing. Okay, cool. We’ll put that in the show notes for the listeners out there, it’s called rebate key.

John Holby: Yes.

Luke Peters: I know there’s been a bunch of tools like that, but Amazon has gotten more and more difficult on reviews. So I completely understand what you just said. This is a great work around it, it sounds like. So thanks for that. So John, Amazon has been pushing GMM into their contracts a lot recently. Guaranteed minimum margin. Have you experienced that? And if so, what are your thoughts on this and how do you navigate or negotiate away from that?

John Holby: Yeah, great question. We actually had Nestle in here today and they were going over their Gerber line and we’re explaining some frustrations that they had with some of their lower price items and condemn crapping out. But the great part of having a partner like us is we can take that from a 3P perspective and we can put their items on Amazon any way that we want with our inventory and the prices that they want. And then Amazon’s going to get their 15% clip so they’re happy too.

Luke Peters: Got you. So you’re selling it actually under your account and under their account?

John Holby: That is correct. Yes, we have a store CPGIO and as well as we can manage your Amazon accounts as well.

Luke Peters: Okay, cool. So do you frequently manage other folks’ accounts more often? Is that more often the way it works or are you actually, is the bulk of the business you guys selling other people’s products through your own Amazon account?

John Holby: Several strategic reasons. We are managing many stores, but most of our sales is driven through our CPGIO store.

Luke Peters: Oh, got you. Okay, cool. That’s awesome. That’s a little bit different than actually what I thought at the beginning. So thanks for that. You’re still sticking with negotiating, and I understand that this is a sticky one and we can’t get into it, but if we can, Amazon’s always trying to increase their allowances every single year. Obviously it’s not totally sustainable, so it’s a back and forth and brands have to push back. Is there any negotiating tactics you can share with the audience on that, on how to work and get the best terms? Because at the end of the day, if we all just accepted some of these terms, companies just wouldn’t have enough margin. I’m just curious your thoughts on that because I think that’s coming up for everybody. Like in Q1, you get that we’re all looking forward to that email that we end up getting. And then anything else around that with GMM? I’m curious your feelings, thoughts and experience on that.

John Holby: Yeah, that’s another great question. We hear that from our customers that the fees are just going up and up. As we just came out of the Christmas season, they up fees on all items that are stored at Amazon. But as far as negotiating those terms, I feel you can get a little bit of wiggle room there to reduce those fees, but it is quite challenging. We’ve had our rates for several years and again, they try to crank them up and we try to do our best to negotiate those down. We’ve also had some companies that have come to us just due to the fact that their rates are just too high and they can’t sell on Amazon anymore and it’s not worth their time and effort.

Luke Peters: Wow.

John Holby: So you one option is, I don’t want to just keep plugging CPGIO, but work with a company like us that has better rates and we can get you your profits.

Luke Peters: Cool. Okay. Well, good to hear that. Tell me, so what do companies do when they have overstocked products? Listen, all of us product brands are going to be in that situation from one time or another. Is the Amazon in your experience a good place to move out? Overstocked inventory and just a little bit more detail on my end, it seems like it’s challenging because especially if that product, I mean, the product is going to be overstock for a reason probably because it’s not ranking.

Luke Peters: So if it’s not ranking, in order to move it out, you’re going to have to throw a bunch of AMS at it and it’s probably already going to be difficult to run a lightning deal or something because the price has probably already been compromised down in the past or compressed down. Amazon probably won’t buy it at a lightning deal. I know this is going to be a common thread and a common challenge that all product brands are going to have as far as moving out excess inventory and curious your thoughts on, is Amazon a good place or have you had success on any of the other channels that you work on?

John Holby: Yeah. Amazon does make it a little bit difficult to move out that inventory. As you can imagine, you’re not selling it because you’re probably not seeing it or you’re not… There’s other people a lot of times that we run into that somehow depending on the brand, depending on their strategy, somehow some of their product got out in the market at a discount. Some 3P sellers picked it up and now their price is cheaper than even they can sell it for. So that’s very frustrating for them. But when we start to get, like we work with consumer packaged good companies, items become short coated and sometimes it is hard to move it on Amazon. In our omni-channel platform, we have other spots like eBay and Groupon and we have a strategy and a partnership with a company called Slickdeals to where we create a rock bottom price, the lowest on the internet. And we have this community that drives sales to that listing and liquidate those items.

Luke Peters: Cool. Okay, that’s great. So eBay, Groupon, Slickdeals, but I know Slickdeals doesn’t always work that great, but it sounds like you’ve got the added benefit of having a community and pushing it up to the top of the page I’m sure. So that’s where it’s been beneficial. With those strategies, have you guys been able to move out large quantities of inventory? Has that worked for you or do usually these CPG companies have to go find an in-store partner for that?

John Holby: We’ve had very good success with moving products like that. We also have health companies like Optimum Nutrition and they’ve had a warehouse full of product that Walmart or Costco I believe, had a one and a half inch change in packaging. So they had some product that they originally built, Costco didn’t want it, so we helped them move that out and we did a combination of all of those things I’d mentioned before and helped them optimize their losses, I guess you would say.

Luke Peters: Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Okay, cool. Moving on to listing hacks, I call it listing hacks, but I guess optimizing listings. At the very beginning you talked about poor content is one of the major things you see some brands missing on. At the same time, I’ve seen a big improvement in content on Amazon overall just because brands get it and they’re losing money if they don’t have good content and good titles and good images, but obviously still there’s room to move. That’s why you have these clients probably because you guys can offer better listings and images and strategy on SEO and ranking. But what are three listing hacks that are common that you guys have found success in? So when you take over a product, you do a couple of things to that product listing. What are the top three things that move the needle the most?

John Holby: One strategy on that is to take the best listing and continue to work on that listing. Add all your variations to that listing, that’s going to make it so that you’re merging your ASINs to that a ASIN, the ones that have a little bit less traffic, and that’s all going to collect on that one main ASIN. That’s one way to really, really promote it. On the backend, there’s a strategy of making sure that the terms that you have for that item are relevant and that are going to supplement your AMS strategy. Making sure that the words that you have on the back end, you can even put them negatively matching words for your items that it’s going to help in the search. Those would be two that I could think of offhand. They are going to help just drive the rank down.

Luke Peters: So on the last one, did you mean to make sure that the listing has the best keywords in the title? Or what specifically do you mean on that second comment there?

John Holby: Yes, the title is important, but there’s a way on the backend to add keywords.

Luke Peters: Okay, got it. How do you guys use ARA data, should brands buy it? Is it worth it? Some brands do get this for free, most don’t that I’m aware of at least. It can be quite expensive. And then the thing is, it’s a ton of data and sometimes you know what happens with data overload. It’s really hard to actually implement something from the data overload. But I know ARA provides a really amazing backend data on Amazon and for those that are buying it, sometimes they might be wondering, Hey, am I getting the most out of this and is my team getting the most out of it? Just curious your thoughts on ARA data.

John Holby: Yeah. It’s not something that I feel strongly that it is important. I think we here do not use it. We very rarely use that data. We have a, I guess, a methodology of just going through listing and making them the best that they could be by going back to what we were saying before, optimizing your title for the A9 search algorithms, increasing enhanced brand content. You got your A plus content and so for us, we’ve got this 40, like a 40 point review of every single ASIN and we’re going to go through that and making sure that that listing is the best. You might have some competition out there, but most importantly, make sure that the things that you can control, you’ve made the dots. You’re adding videos, you’re adding the best images, you’re making sure that you’re driving your reviews up. All these ways are, I guess you would say, the most important to drive sales versus just the data that’s just going to tell you how big the market is and who your competition is. It’s the optimization, as we call it, of your ASIN.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Thanks for that answer. That puts a question mark and I really appreciate you being candid there on that, Hey, maybe ARA data may not be needed and that’s great. So those that are paying for that data can take a second look and ask the team and make sure the team is utilizing it. Because like as you mentioned, there’s a lot of data available for about Amazon for third party tools that are pennies on the dollar compared to what we’re paying for ARA and they automate a lot of the thinking as well. On that point actually, what are the top two or three Amazon tools that come to mind that you guys find useful?

John Holby: Tools that we use for Amazon, one would be Price Checker Two. Let’s see, another one that we use is Helium.

Luke Peters: Yep. That’s a good one.

John Holby: And Brand Registry, I feel it is also important. I know it’s not a tool, but making sure that you have brand registry, it’s helping you protect your listing as well as map enforcement if you want to go that route.

Luke Peters: Yep, for sure. Over the years, so AMS, we’ve seen AMS just get more and more competitive. It’s like how AdWords was, ROI was a lot bigger and easier at the beginning then it gets more competitive. Then the same thing with AMS is at least on my end. Do you see a continued narrowing of margins on Amazon in the future? Just overall brand net margins because of competition and increased AMS cost and increased allowances or is there a way that you guys are navigating around that, with more product development or some other way?

John Holby: Right. One way to address that is to make sure if you a brand that you know where your product is going. So if you’re in a situation where you don’t have problems with your pricing because you haven’t sold a bunch of out in the brick and mortar world and people are coming back and selling your items on Amazon and lowering your own prices, that’s good for you. But if you have a business that has close outs and those go out in the world and they drop and you’re buying at close out prices, you’re creating your own competition and as they see prices dropping, Amazon’s going to want to keep those lower prices. Then again, with the brand registry, you’re really helping yourself protect your items and the people that are selling on your ASIN. Those are two strong ways to keep your margins up. Amazon’s always going to ask for you to bring your prices down, they’re going to get recommended prices. I would just say, when they ask for those types of things, you just say no.

Luke Peters: Great answer. Just say no. We’re going back to Nancy Reagan here. But that’s the best answer. I think when Amazon started sending those things out, I remember that a couple of years ago, maybe more than a couple of years ago, but people were like, they didn’t know they could say no sometimes. And yeah, Amazon’s just going to ask. So they’re smart about that. But-

John Holby: Yeah, they play some other dirty tricks like scouting the internet for the lowest price and they will not put a buy box on that listing if there is a lower price on the internet.

Luke Peters: Yep. Even on skews that aren’t the same by the way. They’re looking at it and saying, Hey it’s probably the same skew even if you have the same channel strategy. So they’re getting pretty smart around that. John, speaking of channel strategy, you guys are working with these other channels and do you sometimes, would it be a good strategy for brands to create unique skews where not everybody is getting every skew? Amazon might get some and then some of the other partners might get other skews and so that there’s not this kind of competition to the bottom or do you feel that’s too difficult to do and cost too much inventory and it’s easier just everybody gets everything but then manage channel strategy a different way?

John Holby: I think you made a good point. It is a little tough for brands to do depending on their size. There’s obviously always what we call the club packs that the manufacturers make. But working with a company like us, that is what we call omni-channel across all these channels, we on all the major dotcoms. So we can take your strategy and implement that. Our software for example, would make sure that we have price parody and so all the channels that you’re on the same price and that helps people sleep at night. Again, knowing that they are giving Amazon the best price, but at the same time they’re also trying to protect their brick and mortar strategy by now making it so that Amazon can continue to lower their prices from you and ruin their brick and mortar strategy.

Luke Peters: Now, how are you doing that if Amazon’s got vendor inventory? I mean, that’s more in a 3P world where you’re controlling price. Because unless companies have a map policy, which most don’t, the prices are going to fluctuate around the internet. Or do you guys have a way of keeping the prices in line?

John Holby: I guess you would say every brand has a different strategy. Our software, for example, reprices every five minutes across 100,000 listings, but that’s not what everybody necessarily wants to be doing. Again, I feel that there’s a strong need for this 3P play because Amazon does have the ability to make whatever price they want go match Walmart’s price at a loss. Walmart sees that Amazon comes down and they drop again. And then it’s a race to the bottom sometimes. But we have a 3P strategy where we can work with a product that was at one time a one P listing. We set the price again, then price goes up and once the price goes up then they sometimes sell back to Amazon at the one P and we see that Amazon raises the price back up.

Luke Peters: Yep. Makes a lot of sense. I guess the major theme there is if you can, if your products of that size, control it with FBA or 3P, which as you mentioned and that’s part of your business model, a lot of companies are doing. Because they’re catching on to that and they’re getting a little bit more control over prices, harder to do when you have larger appliances like us. But anyways, that’s good answer. Thanks for that. We were talking about product launches earlier in Amazon and we’ve been talking about AMS a lot and I think Amazon has now launched, I think they had that for seller but now they have it for vendor, where you can track and they give attribution to third party advertising like for example Facebook and Google.

Luke Peters: I was just going to ask if you guys have utilized other third party ad platforms driving traffic to Amazon listings as a way of just simply gaining sales or maybe for product launches. And if so, if that’s been more successful than AMS, I did speak to a friend in the past and he had a lot of success with Facebook because he could hyper target and really drill down to certain cohort of audience and was more successful on Facebook targeting and driving that traffic to his listings than he was on his AMS for his Amazon account. So curious your thoughts and feelings.

John Holby: Yeah. I think that those, for example, Facebook and Instagram, Google, are all additional tools that you have at your disposal. We feel that it is productive and it be cheaper but it can be more expensive. Typically looking at a Facebook ad, you’ve got to create that ad, you’ve got some collateral that you’ve made with be it a video or whatnot that you had to spend money on. Then you got to put your money into that as well as the ad spend. Instagram the same, but it is a good way to additionally drive traffic. And I’m a big fan of diversity, so any way that you can get out there in this digital world is just, in our world, just another billboard to be on or another newspaper to be in and it’s all important but different brands use different strategies to do so.

Luke Peters: Great. John, thanks for all these answers. I think we got a wealth of knowledge there during this podcast specifically on Amazon. Hopefully it’s useful to you the audience who are listening. I’m trying to get really actionable items and I think you really hit a home run there. So thanks again for being so candid. I wanted to ask, what has been maybe your biggest mistake or biggest regret that you’ve had here in business? Maybe something that you learn from or something that the listeners can learn from?

John Holby: I would say in looking at our portal inside of Amazon, we had a few violations. We are one of the top sellers on Amazon. So we have an account manager and our account manager just told us, “Hey, any violations that you have in there, just answer them and don’t worry about it. As long as you’ve answered them and the cases are closed, you’re going to be just fine.” Well, this year we always do that and we do them in a timely matter. This year we got shut down for 11 days and we had a very hard time understanding why and we were putting together our action plans. They didn’t exactly hit what they would call their root causes. Even though I have an account manager helping me write these things and they just kept getting denied over and over leading to millions of dollars in lost sales.

John Holby: At the end of the day when we came up and got back on, we looked back and we’re like, how did this happen? We were told, don’t even worry about it. It’s just something that Amazon’s not really paying attention to. Come to find Amazon terms somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 stores off for their violations and as we did take them seriously, apparently not serious enough. That would be one thing I would say next time, anytime these come in, we’re answering any violations with a clear action plan to stay on.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Wow, that’s amazing. So thanks for that lesson to all of us, I guess. And shut down for 11 days, that’s got to be a terrible feeling. I remember we actually got shut down right before Christmas, but this is like eight or nine years ago and I can’t even remember the reason. But we got back up in a day or two. It was a while ago. But yeah, that’s a tough situation. What did you find was most helpful for getting your account back up?

John Holby: Good question. First of all, my team here really understanding what we had been in violation and it took a few iterations of that. And how we did that is when your account is shut down, and I don’t have maybe the exact terminology or what it’s called, but when you’re shut down, there’s a little button there that says, click this button and someone from Amazon will call you. Those people from Amazon will call you, type in a pin or whatever, and then they get to look at your case. You get to send them your plan of action and then they read it. Then they give you feedback and they help in the best way they know how, what they see for you to write the best plan of action. Then you wrote a plan of action together and then resubmitted it, but under their watchful eye. And I think that every time that we put an Amazon set of eyes on it, they thought differently than we did, which was important so that we were running it how they want it, not how we feel it should be run.

Luke Peters: Great feedback. That’s great. Start to finish, now you guys the audience, listeners, we all have a little bit more information there that could come in helpful if an account gets shut down. I guess the lesson there is don’t get shut down. So really be strict on violations, but if you do, make sure you’ve got someone you’re talking to who’s inside Amazon and that’ll help you get back on. So thanks for that, John. Appreciate it.

Luke Peters: Moving on, what is something obviously super successful individual because you’re only 39, you launched this thing in 2012 and you grown to 70 employees, which is, that’s a big size agency to grow that quickly and producing amazing work. What is something like a habit, a ritual, a practice that you’ve learned or done that has made you a better person either at work or at home?

John Holby: Some habits that I try to stick to, the best that I can is I try to spend some time in the Bible and I try to get my reading done every day and reflect on that. That’s very helpful to me and getting the weight of all of this stress and pressure off my shoulders and onto God. Another thing that I do is I meditate. I use apps like Calm, for example. I try to lay down, relax, get some breathing in, maybe do a little bit of stretching. But just when you come out of both of those scenarios, your buckets are empty. You’ve got the ability to take in life stresses as well as when people bring their stresses on you, the ability to help them out and do it with a smile because you as a person are good. So you have time for others.

Luke Peters: That’s great. I know there’s a lot of productivity tips that people have, but when you’re running a business there’s a lot of stress and spending time in the Bible and meditating and just leading to a more relaxed state of mind, it sounds like has been really beneficial to you. Cool. Thanks for sharing that. How can listeners find more about you? How can they get in touch with you? LinkedIn, website? What’s the best way?

John Holby: Yeah, so LinkedIn is a great way. Also our site, cpg.io. Go out there, see what we do. You’d mentioned we are an agency, but also a one stop shop eCommerce. So as I have that big warehouse, that’s to put your products in because I do the distribution. That’s what separates us or what makes us unique, is that we’re helping so much from the agency but at the same time we’re going to help you do your distribution and do all the direct to the consumer shipping. So that makes us unique as well as a partner of a lot of these brands that we work with.

Luke Peters: Cool. Well, thanks for that and John, thanks again for being on the podcast, Page One Podcast. You really provided a lot of information right to the point, super candid and truly appreciate your time that you put into this and all of your knowledge and wisdom.

John Holby: Thanks. This was a bunch of fun

Luke Peters: Also want to just thank you the listeners for listening to this episode of the Page One Podcast sponsored by Retail Band. Quick reminder that I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. You can take a look at your HD or Wayfair sales, understand your strategy there, talk about influencer marketing and so many more things. I’ll present the findings directly to you. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or email me at luke@retailband.com. And again, I just want to thank everybody for listening to this episode. Truly appreciate all of your comments, suggestions, and of course your reviews on iTunes. They mean a lot, and we’ll see on the next episode.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Page One Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce? Check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers.

Get a FREE evaluation of your online sales strategy

Episode References: http://new.cpg.io/ + Rebate Key + Price Checker 2 + Helium 10

Contact John Holby: LinkedIn

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, Review: Apple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

New product launch formula and the Danby Appliance purchase and digital growth story – Jim Estill – EP29

What you’ll learn:

We all have our own leadership style, but what is leadership? Jim Estill shares his secrets to successful leadership and nonhostile work environments as a legacy leader in the tech and appliance industries. As an innovation driven CEO, Jim talks about how his passion for 2020 trends, technology, sustainability, and social justice all came together to create a more environmentally conscious mail and shipping system to combat climate change.

About our guest:

Jim Estill is a Canadian technology entrepreneur, philanthropist and CEO of Danby Appliances and ShipperBee. Danby Appliances’ latest product is Parcel Guard– a smart mailbox that stops parcel theft. ShipperBee is revamping outdated parcel shipping, increasing efficiency and saving 73.1% of the greenhouse gas per parcel shipped. Jim is the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 Ontario winner.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Introduction to Danby Appliances and new innovation ShipperBee—2:16
  • Danby Appliances stats (employee size, warehouse size, & distribution channels)—5:44
  • Innovation in the product lines and recognizing new growth opportunities—7:13
  • Parcel Guard and Danby Fresh: combining tech, innovation, and 2020 trends to create new products and businesses—8:08
  • How to stay relevant as a big, older, veteran business—12:23
  • Competitive advantage strategies from a legacy business—13:48
  • Jim’s business philosophy: fail often, fail fast, fail cheap—15:58
  • The philanthropic endeavor to help Syrian Refugees that drove motivation at Danby—17:40
  • ShipperBee: a sustainable way to mail and shipping with less impact on the environment—19:27
  • The one leadership trait that leads to a healthy company culture—22:13
  • How to grow a legacy business as the new CEO—25:42
  • Innovation vs acquisition as a growth strategy—27:03
  • A product launch strategy for old and new products—28:48
  • Leadership tactics to drive results and motivate employees—31:16
  • 3 key takeaways to help prioritize tasks, feed your energy, and maximize your time—34:47
  • Jim’s habits and book recommendations that made him a better leader—40:00

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page 1 Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies, to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big-box retailers, or what we call rCommerce. Now, here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page 1 podcast. I’m your host Luke Peters. This is the podcast where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances where I cut my teeth selling products online, and now I started Retail Band, where I hope to help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and B2B online sales strategy. Right now I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. We can go over things like influencer marketing opportunities, look at your Home Depot or Wayfair online sales and see if those can be optimized. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or email me at luke@retailband.com.

Luke Peters: So, in this episode you’re going to learn from Jim Estill, CEO of Danby Appliances and ShipperBee. Learn how Jim has developed a new product called Parcel Guard from the ground up, and Danby sells amazing appliances, and ShipperBee is revamping outdated parcel shipping. Jim’s a Canadian technology entrepreneur, philanthropist, and is the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2019, Ontario winner.

Luke Peters: Jim grew a technology distribution company from zero to 350 million, then sold to SYNNEX and became CEO of SYNNEX Canada, and grew that from 800 million to two billion in sales. His big focus is on philanthropy and, literally, is the reason why he works. At least I took that from your LinkedIn, Jim. Listen, thanks for joining us, really happy to have you on the show, Jim. Thanks.

Jim Estill: Well, thanks for having me. Looking forward to it.

Luke Peters: Cool. I do want to say. I really look up to what you guys have done at Danby, and we talk about you over here at NewAir all the time, Jim, and so it really is an honor to have you, and completely looking forward to this interview. Can you start by telling us, just to let the audience know what does Danby and ShipperBee do?

Jim Estill: Danby is an appliance manufacturer of refrigerators, freezers, wine coolers, and we do microwaves. We don’t make them, we just put our name on them. So, we’re basically an appliance manufacturer. We also do air conditioners, because they have compressors in them. That’s what we do. ShipperBee is a courier. It’s basically a parcel delivery company that reduces the greenhouse gas per parcel shipped by 73.1%

Luke Peters: Awesome. How do you do that with ShipperBee? A little more background would be great.

Jim Estill: Currently traditional couriers all go hub-and-spoke. So, to ship from New York to New Jersey goes New York, to Memphis, to New Jersey. So, we break the hub-and-spoke and go basically point-to-point. But that, you’re going to say, “Well, how do you do that?” So, we replaced the big hubs with microhubs. Because the name of the company is ShipperBee we call those hives. So, you would have a driver pick up five parcels from the business and drop them at the hive, which would be conveniently located at the interstate in the entrance, at the gas station, and then someone will be going down ten exits, they would just go onto their App and say, “I’m going to the office, or I’m going to visit my sister, and it would say, “Great, pick up 12 parcels from the hive as you’re entering the interstate and drop off 12 as you’re exiting the interstate. So, that leg of the journey is done using what I call the power of while. What can you do while you’re doing something anyways?

Jim Estill: Then, an endpoint driver would pick up the parcels at the other end and deliver them to the consumer. So, it is end-to-end, on your doorstep delivery, but part of the journey is traveling in a car that was going to be going there anyways, and we don’t do hub-and-spoke, so you end up with, actually, a faster delivery often, as well. So, we can do even guaranteed four-hour delivery, which is very difficult to do or, actually, it’s impossible to do in an old-fashioned hub-and-spoke.

Luke Peters: Awesome. I looked it up but thanks for explaining that to the audience. I think it’s a great concept and it’ll be fun to watch and see where that goes. Talking about Danby, can you fill me in, tell me how you started Danby. I believe you invested, or even purchased, a company.

Jim Estill: I did. So, I had built my business to a couple billion in sales. I retired and I moved to New York for five years. My dad got sick, so I moved back to Guelph Ontario, just outside of Toronto. I sat on the Board of Danby Appliances. The CEO resigned, and so I said, “Oh, I can go in and run it.” I realized I like operating a business. Then, the family that owned Danby said they wanted me to sell it. I asked how much they wanted me to sell it for and they told me, I said, “Okay, fine, I’ll take it.” So, I bought the business about four years after running it for about a year. That’s how I ended up with Danby.

Luke Peters: How long ago did you buy the business?

Jim Estill: I bought the business about four years ago, and I ran it for a year before that. So, I’ve been in it for five years.

Luke Peters: I was going to ask you, why did you get into this crazy appliance business, especially now with the tariffs? Great. So, we’ll get into that. I mean, that’s good background to get us started, and the audience understand more about Danby. Then, talking about Danby, and feel free to also fill in for ShipperBee if you want to on some of these questions. Can you just give us a little bit more on the scale of the company. So, total employees, warehouse size, or where your HQ is, and maybe how your distribution is set up, and then a breakdown on any unique departments you might have at the company?

Jim Estill: Sure. So, head office for the company is in Guelph Ontario, which is near Toronto. We have a factory in Cobourg Ontario, a factory in Guelph Ontario, factories in Foxborough, Massachusetts, Tolleson, which is just outside Phoenix, Arizona, Saraland, which is near mobile, Alabama, and Findlay, Ohio. In the States we sell about two million appliances a year. We’ve got over a million square feet. So, that’s the company. We’re a sort of a medium-sized appliance company. More than half our sales are in the States. Half our sales are in Canada, roughly. We do business in Mexico. We’ve got an office in the UK, as well.

Luke Peters: Wow. So you do a big proportion in Canada. I know you guys are … The origins are from Canada. The company, I believe, is about 65 years old. Right? Somewhere in that neighborhood.

Jim Estill: That’s right. We started in 1947.

Luke Peters: Great. Then, as far as retailers, you guys are in a lot of the major mass retailers, and I think you do some direct to consumer. What is, maybe, a surprising vertical or category? Is there anything stand out that’s different now, the last year or two, that has surprised you on the growth side?

Jim Estill: We’re kind of weird for an appliance manufacturer. We’re leaders in small large appliances. What do I mean by that? Small white goods. We’re very big in bar fridges, half-size fridges, and not as big in full-size bridges, so I’m not talking about tabletop appliances. When you say small appliances that’s not what I mean, I mean refrigerators and freezers. As far as trends go, everything is going towards Energy Star and higher, better energy. I’d also say that wine coolers are on trend these days. It’s an under penetrated growing market.

Luke Peters: Then, … There’s been a lot of innovation. I know you guys have launched the Parcel Guard, which is kind of a big step. It seems like a step away, or a new launch into a different category, and we can talk about that. Let’s first talk about innovation. You’re doing a lot now at Danby, but in your career you’ve done a lot in innovation going back many years into many different businesses. You’ve sat on the Board of a lot of companies. How do you think about innovation, and where does innovation come from with your companies?

Jim Estill: So, I always look at what are the strengths of the various CEOs. You can be a sales CEO and be good. You can be an accounting CEO and be good. I’m probably an innovation CEO, so I tend to have more ideas than we can actually execute on. So, if you look at some innovations since I arrived, I went out and saw what we were sending off to be recycled, and there were some wine coolers that the compressors were gone on, so I said, “Why don’t we take the compressor off of those and put grow lights in that?” So, we came up with a product called Danby Fresh which allows you to grow Herb’s in your basement, or your kitchen. It’s like a little indoor greenhouse. I figured that’s on trend because everyone’s on a health thing, and E.coli scares, and stuff like that, as well as people like fresh.

Jim Estill: So that’s an innovation. Is that going to change the world? No, it’s a small innovation, but success in business is all about small microcompetitive advantages, and that is one competitive advantage. So, we started doing Danby Fresh using wine coolers that had come back. We told the customers that’s what we’re doing. Then, of course, we sold too many. We didn’t have enough wine coolers coming back, so we actually started producing them as a new product. So, now many more of the ones we sell are brand new production. That’s an example of an innovation.

Jim Estill: Parcel Guard would be a huge innovation. Parcel Guard, that’s changing the way we think of ourselves. I’m sitting in the factory thinking, “Okay, we’re an appliance company. What’s an appliance that we can sell, or what can we do to be innovative?” I started to think, “No, we’re not just an appliance company. We’re a company that sells big-boxes,” because appliances are big, and what’s trends? The trend is everyone’s getting everything delivered on Amazon, and Wayfair, and dotcom, and parcel theft, unfortunately, is the trend. So, how can we stop that? I thought about combining my tech background with making big boxes. So, we came up with a parcel delivery box that when you get a parcel it sends you an email to say you have a five pound parcel arrived at 10:46 today. You can look on the IP camera, see who delivered it. If it’s too big to go in the top then you can give someone a one-time use code to put it in the bottom. You can two-way voice, you can talk to the person on your front porch. So, that’s how that innovation happened.

Luke Peters: In talking about trend, do you have a tool? I mean where are you getting your trend ideas? Is it just reading the news, and running your business, and talking to colleagues, or is there like a special service report, newspaper, or online tool that you put a lot of value in that kind of provides where trends are going?

Jim Estill: So I am an information junkie and I just read everything I can and talk to everybody I can and just try to notice what is on trend. Like we were exhibiting at the CES show and I am sort of trying to pick up what are the trends, right? What’s the trends at the CES show? It’s stuff that we’re not involved in, but it’s good to see that health trackers are on trend, because last year how many health tracker booths were there? I don’t know, maybe three, or four, or five. How many are there this year? Fifty. So I do track trends. I found in business it’s much easier to sell if you’re on trend. So, with parcel theft, for instance, it’s on trend, and parcel delivery is growing by 20% per year. That’s a really growth market. I’d love to say that freezer are going to grow by 20% per year, but they’re not. What’s the trend in freezer? It’s like kind of replacement freezer. It’s a white box that freezes stuff.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Excellent. I mean, that’s great. That’s, good to hear your philosophy on it. kind of going back about five years when you started leading Danby, and then a year after purchased the company, looking back what were the biggest changes that you put into the company? The reason is it would be great to hear just because it’s an older company, probably had a lot of processes in place that it was doing for a long time, and then you’re coming in with fresh ideas. Just curious how you changed things up, or what you added and what you removed?

Jim Estill: Well, I have a tech background so we do tend to add technology to our product. Although appliances don’t seem to be changing much the standards are changing pretty quickly, and the environmental. So, one thing that is one of my personal passions is I believe we have to be good for the environment, so what can we do to be lower power consumption? We’ve spent a lot of time and energy around that. The other thing that people want is styling. That’s particularly true when you’re talking something like a wine cooler. People want …You don’t invite your friends over to show them your fine wine and then put it in a chintzy little box in the back. You want it to look nice, so styling is another … I believe that’s another on trend thing. You don’t need styling in a freezer. I mean, a freezer is kind of like a freezer, as I said. Even refrigerators, people like sexy styling.

Luke Peters: With that, I know you have some thoughts on competitive advantage. You’ve grown from zero to two billion in sales, I mean starting out of the trunk of a car. So, love to hear if you could talk about what competitive advantage means to you, how do you create it in your companies, and maybe a specific example?

Jim Estill: So, competitive advantage is just what’s something that you can do easier, better, cheaper than someone else, or is there a special relationship that you can sell better than someone, or sell at a lower cost than someone else? So, I have generally been successful by small competitive advantages. When I joined the Board of Blackberry they had a huge competitive advantage. There was no such thing as a Smartphone, so their huge competitive advantage was to invent a Smartphone and to become the first Smartphone company in the market.

Jim Estill: As far as examples in my business, we’re not big in tabletop appliances, but I was in the warehouse and I saw at the top of containers on product coming in that there was a one and a half foot gap or one foot gap. I said, “Wait a minute, we just paid to ship that product in. What can we put in that space?” So we went out to a company that makes electric kettles and said, “Can you put Danby on one of your electric kettles, and then we can fill that space with electric kettles.” At the same time, I know everything’s being bought online, and when you buy a normal electric kettle online, it comes in a colored box. They have to put it in their brown box so that the box doesn’t get wrecked. We said, “No, let’s put it in a brown box, so we save a dollar on the cardboard box. You save $1.50 on the shipping. You save 50 cents on the over box. So, at the end of the day you’ve got a $3 cost advantage on an item that’s only worth $30. So, that’s an example of a competitive advantage.

Luke Peters: That’s a good example. I read, … I think I might have read this on, … or maybe it was on the form that you had sent over pre-interview, but I thought it was really interesting where you had fail fast, fail often, fail cheap. I kind of wrote jokingly that I like the fail cheap part because it’s not always easy to fail cheap. The problem is sometimes as an entrepreneur failures can be expensive, but we’d love to hear you elaborate on this and even, … Because it isn’t actually, a real question is really how can you try to fail cheap? I guess you could maybe limit your investment upfront, or take a lot of chances, or opportunities on things. It sounds like you really are an innovative idea guy, so would love to hear your feedback on this.

Jim Estill: So, it’s fail often, fail fast, fail cheap. Another expression that goes along with that is, having a failure does not make you a failure. You’re a show that people, entrepreneurs, listen to and entrepreneurs succeed because they’re willing to take a risk, and they’re willing to have some failures. You do have to do all three. Fail often, that means try a lot of things; fail fast, so don’t go and keep pounding your head against the wall for five years, and fail cheap. So for me, cheap is within the realm of the affordable. So, if I can afford to try something and it doesn’t work I lose money. I don’t enjoy it, but I have to celebrate that I was willing to try it, because some of the things that we’re willing to try work out.

Jim Estill: So, it’s the fail often, fail fast, fail cheap, and also creating a culture of failure in your company. That sounds weird, but the reason that’s important, and what I mean by that is not zapping people for trying, not zapping people for having a failure. So, create the culture of failure and celebrate it, and do it and shake it off when you have a failure.

Luke Peters: With tariffs and then, of course, you’ve probably facing the same thing with all the DOE changes. There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into some of these things. So that phrase couldn’t be, the timing couldn’t be more perfect than right now, because there’s just so much fluctuation in the market. But I like that one, that’s a good description of that.

Luke Peters: Jim, you led some large companies with a lot of people. Love to hear your thoughts on company culture, how you build company culture. I know you’ve won quite a bit of awards for some humanitarian work, and all kinds of cool things that you’ve done in that area, incorporating different folks into your company. If you could elaborate on that I think the audience could learn a lot.

Jim Estill: Sure. You win awards … They like to give entrepreneurs awards. They like to say, “Oh, the entrepreneur did it.” But, as you know, it’s not the entrepreneur that does all the work. I don’t do any of the work, I just go and accept the awards on behalf of all my people that do all of the work. So, I did … The big philanthropic project I was known for is I brought in 500 Syrian refugees and resettled them in our community. One unintended consequence of that was I ended up with galvanizing the company and creating a high spirit, and culturally that galvanized and brought the company together. What I’ve found is that young people particularly, 20 somethings, I like to think it’s inspirational to make another thousand freezers, but they think it’s more inspirational to save the world, for some reason.

Luke Peters: Right. That’s funny. Yep. How did you bring in the 500 refugees? I’d love to hear more on the backstory on that.

Jim Estill: That was done under a Canadian program. Canada has a program where private individuals can pay for people to resettle, so it was done under private sponsorship program. That was the one thing I did, which got a lot of press. There’s a lot of other things which don’t necessarily get press. I believe that using business for good is the way to totally change the world. That’s why I’m so excited by ShipperBee, because ShipperBee can save 73.1% of the greenhouse gas. As we scale ShipperBee just the company being successful means the world’s successful, and it even provides an income for people on the side so it’s just like win, win, win.

Jim Estill: The people make money for driving distances they were already going to drive anyways and we save greenhouse gas. We take trucks off the road, nothing against trucks on the road, but when parcel is growing by 20% per year, even if we were to get 1% of the growth, and I don’t think we would even get that, it means that you still need 20% more trucks to do what the other parcels, or 19% more trucks to do the other parcels, if you know what I mean.

Luke Peters: How is that company doing? What are you able to say about that? I’d love to hear because I haven’t seen as much in the press. I know I’ve seen a lot about the Parcel Guard, and its just because I’m following more on the appliance side of the business.

Jim Estill: Exactly.

Luke Peters: What can you share more about the growth of ShipperBee?

Jim Estill: So, ShipperBee’s a relatively new company. We’ve only launched recently, we’ve only launched it in a small geographic area in Canada. We have not yet rolled out to the States. Unlike Parcel Guard where we’re largely in full production, and we’re largely available North America-wide, and we’re shipping product every day. So, yes, you have not heard much about ShipperBee, because we’re … I’m not going to say we’re beta, but we’re early stage shipping small quantities of parcels.

Jim Estill: When you introduce a new product my experience is you need to have five star reviews. You need to have all perfect product, or in our case it’s a service. So, you have to have five star reviews, so you run the sales a little slower than you could just so that the service experience is perfect for the shipper and perfect for the drivers. So, the drivers say, “Wow, this is a great company, and the shippers say, “Wow, this is a great company,” and then they go tell all their friends.

Jim Estill: I don’t want to say that that’s not important once you’re a well-developed company, but if Danby, if you were to put a one star review up on one of our products, we’ve got 862 other reviews that aren’t one-star, so you don’t kill a product. But, if you bring out a brand-new product and get one one-star reviewer, three one-star reviews, you can kill your product before you start, and it is a beta product so we do need the test and make sure that the routing algorithm works, and the App works, and all of that kind of stuff.

Luke Peters: Makes sense. Kind of sticking with company culture and talking about your leadership team, would just kind of love to hear your wisdom on how … What type of people do you want on your leadership team? How do you choose, or interview, or what skills, characteristics, or attributes do you look for on your key leadership team for either company, or both?

Jim Estill: The most important thing is character. You can’t train character. You can train skills, you can’t train character. It’s very difficult to train basic intelligence. So, if you hire bright people who care, then they can execute. That’s largely what I believe in culture. Above our front door is our tagline which says, “Do the right thing.” I use that as how do you figure out how to do your job? How do you treat your customers? Well, you do the right thing? Do you ship a product that’s not good? No, you do the right thing. How do you treat your coworkers? You do the right thing. It’s way easier than trying to have an employee manual that has ever eventuality and how do you do things? That’s kind of in the culture.

Jim Estill: I am also what I will call exactly the opposite of a micromanager. I believe as you scale a business, the more employees you have, the more important it is for the leader to coach on culture, but let everyone else make the decisions. If I make all the decisions then we get a funnel point and everyone’s waiting for me to decide, and I have to be very careful not to second guess decisions that are made. So, if I come in and someone painted lines on the parking lot and they’re yellow and I would have preferred white, I have to be careful. How important is that battle, because as soon I complain or say, “The lines are the wrong color,” next thing I’m going to be picking the … Everyone’s going to come to me anytime anything gets done.

Jim Estill: Actually, a better example, you come in and the classroom’s painted. I don’t like the color. They say, “Okay, so now we have to get Jim to pick all the paint colors and what not. Now, what’s cultural, if I come in and the classroom’s painted, and the bill comes in at $10,000 and I say, “Whoa, did we get our three quotes on this, and did it really need to be painted?” Because culturally you want a culture of people who care, and people who spend our money wisely. I always tell people to make sure that we add value. Is this adding value? Do our customers want this and are they willing to pay for it? So, otherwise we shouldn’t be spending the money, because why would we spend money on something if the customers don’t think it has any value to them?

Luke Peters: Wise advice. So, do the right thing. I love that quote. And then character, intelligence. The hard thing is it’s hard to interview for character, but I guess that’s where referrals and knowing people’s backgrounds can really help, but definitely agree with that, and I think that’s … You put those two things together and you’re going to get solid people. I love your philosophy, the opposite of a micromanager. I know, especially smaller companies like mine, and other folks listening, it’s tough because there’s so many areas we want to help out in. You gave good examples on why the CEO needs to back off a little bit and let the decisions flow from the team. That was well said.

Luke Peters: Looking at your org chart. Again, you came into the company five years ago. I’m sure there might be some changes, or I’m guessing. Is there like any structural changes? I know you talked about technology earlier and I’d love to … I always like to know how things are put together, and I’m guessing the audience is curious, as well. I’m sure that Danby has a finance, and marketing, and sales, but I’m just curious if anything structurally was changed, or added, that might be unique or different then how it was originally?

Jim Estill: So, I didn’t make any fundamental changes and, as you say, we’ve got sales, and marketing, and finance, and logistics, and all of that kind of stuff. One of the things that I do push, though, is high collaboration, because just because someone’s a marketing person doesn’t mean they don’t have a good idea on how we can do something in logistics, or just because you’re a logistics person doesn’t mean that you can’t coach the sales reps. If you sell these then we can get more on a truck, and by the way these are collecting dust, even though the computer report says they’re collecting dust.

Jim Estill: So, one of my big things is to collaborate and get people to collaborate, and not point fingers. If we’re not doing something it’s okay. We are not doing something, it’s not, “Operations didn’t ship fast enough.” It’s like, “Okay, we didn’t ship fast enough. How are we going to make it so that we can ship faster,” and understanding what our impact is on other areas of the company.

Luke Peters: You’ve talked about, Jim, you talked about some of the different areas that you guys are innovating, and we’ve talked about strategy and kind of the inner workings of Danby. Kind of on the growth strategy, you guys are, I guess, launching, getting into new categories, or going deeper or better into your current categories. Is that the growth strategy, or are you also, do you have an acquisition plan, as well, that Danby is running side by side, of picking up certain brands, or categories, that you guys are interested in? Is there anything you can elaborate on that end?

Jim Estill: So, largely we are expanding around what we do. For instance, we opened our UK office. It didn’t exist five years ago, or three years ago. That is, we’re still selling appliances. It’s going into an incremental market. Things like the herb grower is that it’s a fringe incremental market, so we tend to go into incremental markets. We’re not in the market to buy companies, but I’m not opposed to buying a company if the right fit were to come along. I do believe that many companies buy companies and it doesn’t work out that way. I’ve been involved in many acquisitions. I’ve seen from the sidelines acquisitions that work and don’t. The ones that work tend to be ones that are small enough that the company that’s buying them can digest them well, and tend to be ones that have high synergies, so that you can really goose the sales, because maybe the sales channel is the same, or reduce the cost because you’re using the same trucks to ship product, or something like that.

Luke Peters: It makes a lot of sense. Then, … Another thing I wanted to get into was product launches. I’ve seen you doing a good job pitching Parcel Guard, and follow you on LinkedIn, but also you guys have gotten a lot of good press on Parcel Guard, as well. Obviously, there’s got to be some PR and marketing behind that. Interesting to get your take on product launches. They’re so important, especially in this category. Like you talked about, having good reviews right at the beginning, but there’s a lot more than that. So, are you able to talk about your product launch process? Really, two to three things to you that might stand out that you think you guys are doing a good job but maybe other businesses aren’t, or they’re missing out on, or something that is innovative that you guys might be doing.

Jim Estill: Sure. You mentioned that Parcel Guard has had a lot of press. The interesting thing about that, I think the reason it’s had a lot of press is it’s truly unique. It’s kind of new, and it’s on trend. That makes it easy. So, when we bring out a new bar fridge and tell them, “Oh, it’s a two cubic foot, it’s like, “Well, that’s not very newsworthy.” So, we’ve been lucky to be newsworthy by having something that genuinely is new. Many companies that we’re competing with in the news and send out their press releases, they’re only doing tiny increments, if that makes sense.

Jim Estill: As far as new product launches, my experience is you need to launch, and you need to relaunch, and you need to relaunch, and then you need to relaunch. You need to kick, kick, kick because, although you’ve seen Parcel Guard in the press, you need to see it in the press again, and then you need to read it on social media, then you need to hear more about it, and then the sales rep needs to show it to you, and then the sales rep needs to call you and tell you about it. It just doesn’t happen ever as fast …

Jim Estill: I guess, one other good characteristic of a company is companies that have high sense of urgency with. That means … By nature I’m an impatient guy so nothing ever happens fast enough, and you have to kick, and then re-kick, and then re-kick. Especially when you’re in a brand new category, like a Parcel Guard. But when you’re in a established category like microwaves, again, people aren’t just going to buy my microwave because I have a microwave. It’s kind of like a microwave that heats up food. Why would they buy my microwave versus someone else’s? You have to look at your competitive advantage, and your story, and there almost always is a story for the company you’re selling to.

Luke Peters: Hey, one thing I picked up on there, Jim, was you mentioned you’re an inpatient guy. So, I’m the same way, so maybe I can learn something from you here, but how do you then work with your leadership team on that? Sometimes, the other team, maybe like in my case, they’re more thoughtful but they may not be as always as quick as I want to be. Of course, I’m making a lot of mistakes by being too quick. On your end how has that change been at the company where you come in and you want things to happen yesterday, and then you’ve got to convey that, or change the culture with your leadership team?

Jim Estill: One of my tricks is work on lead measures that creates lag measure. What I mean by that is you may not be able to sell 10,000 units. That’s a lag measure, but you can send a thousand emails, you can make a thousand calls, you can filter activities. So, I focus a lot on what are the lead measures that will ultimately result in sales, and praise, and celebrate, those lead measures, even though you might not yet have the sales that you want on that. The more you can figure out what exactly what your lead measures are the more success you’ll have in the medium term.

Jim Estill: Another management trick I use is what I call roll-up weekly reports. So, the salesperson sends a weekly report to the sales manager, and the sales manager sends a weekly report to the Vice President of Sales, the Vice President of Sales sends a weekly report to me. So, I get all of these weekly reports rolling back in, and I ask them to report on specific things. Parcel Guard would be a good example. Your weekly report says, “My goals this week were this, I accomplished this, my goals next week are this, and here’s what I did around Parcel Guard.” Just by knowing every week you to say, “Here’s what I did around Parcel Guard,” means they’re going to do something around Parcel Guard. You don’t want to send in a weekly report that says, “Well, I didn’t tell anybody about it. I didn’t do anything about it.”

Jim Estill: So, asking people is a polite way of also getting people to focus on it. Everyone knows when I talk to them I’m going to ask about new products and about specific things. Now, as a company leader where we have to be careful, I can’t have 20 important things, so I can’t ask about Danby Fresh, and Parcel Guard, and the new wine cooler, and this and that because then you become completely defocused. That’s how I keep the sense of urgency and focus on is by asking people to report on our specific goal.

Luke Peters: It’s brilliant, and I’m doing something very similar, so I like that. I guess you could even put in your lead measures right into the reporting. So, in some cases-

Jim Estill: You totally do.

Luke Peters: That’s perfect. So, making sure the audience got that. So, lead measures versus lagging measures, I’m on the same page. That’s exactly … I’m always, like you said, focus on the leading. If we have a lot of sales, I mean those are done, but how are we going to get new sales? Or, do those sales happen just because the company went and bought a bunch of stock inventory, meaning they haven’t sold the product yet. It means a lot but not, also, because they have to sell it, and then you could be dealing with the return if there isn’t sell through. So, I definitely appreciate the way you look at it looking at leading measures. So, cool. That’s excellent way of pulling things together.

Luke Peters: Jim, you’ve written a couple books so that was cool. I was looking into that yesterday and found that out. Specifically, I know time management is so important, and it looks like you wrote a book on that called, Time Leadership: Using the Secrets of Leadership for Time Management. I’ve read a lot of time management books. Some of them are just … Everybody has a different style. Some of them are a little bit too rigorous, so those didn’t work for me. Some of the ones with like just big compass ideas, like directional ideas worked really good for me. I think I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years on time management. I’d love to hear what your two to three key takeaways are for say the brand owners listening to this podcast, and where company owners might be making mistakes, and your thoughts on that.

Jim Estill: So, the reason I called the book Time Leadership is leadership is about direction, where management is about the execution, or the speed. So, if I want to go from Cleveland to Chicago the first thing I better do is head the right direction. I don’t want to go at a hundred miles an hour. So, time management, there’s really two dimensions to it. We all have the same amount of time. It’s all about priorities. So, that’s what I’m talking about leadership, knowing what your priorities are. The second part of it, and I’ve seen this more insight more as I’ve gotten older, it’s about energy. So, I find when I’m wasting time it’s usually because I’m low energy. So, I spent a lot of time on my health and trying to get myself more energy, because it’s more about energy than it is about time, to tell you the truth.

Luke Peters: Wow. Any tips, or suggestions, on where you found more energy?

Jim Estill: Well, for me, a lot of it has to do with physical health, so basically it’s exercise and eating right. That’s an obvious one. Another one is focusing on things that inspire me, so when I’m inspired I almost don’t need sleep. Where when I am doing things that I’m not necessarily inspired by I do tend to lose energy. So, knowing more about what I love to do I can spend more time in that, and knowing stuff that I don’t particularly love doing … Interestingly enough, you would say, “Oh, those are bad jobs.” No, there’s actually a lot of people who work for me who love doing what I would consider to be a pull-my-hair-out job, and I don’t particularly enjoy it. Simple example, I don’t particularly love accounting, but if I went over and gave one of my accounting guys, “Oh, do this very complicated spreadsheet,” they’re going to think, “Wow, Jim gave me this awesome project. I just love it. I could spend two hours doing this spreadsheet,” and where I would have lost all my energy doing that.

Luke Peters: I like that because it’s a different way to look at it, but I completely agree, and especially for entrepreneurs who are just running themselves too hard. We get stuck in those ruts where it can actually be unhealthy, and we’re not sleeping enough or getting our head out of the business. I guess also, on the other end of it are there any tools, or ways, that you organize your week, or your day, to stay on point?

Jim Estill: Oh sure. I actually set the alarm on my phone for every meeting, every conference call, and I leave myself enough time. So, if I have a meeting at 2:00, and I’m not in the location, I’ll set it for 5 to 2:00 or 10 to 2:00, or whatever I have to do. That’s an easy, easy. So, as a result I never have to be late, and if I’m actually meeting with you, you tend to respect my alarm. So, if my alarm goes off, I say, “Listen, I’ve got to get to my next meeting.” That’s a simple way to keep on track.

Jim Estill: The other thing I like to do, the night before I always look at my day the next day to see what do I have on when? That kind of gets my mind thinking about it. One of the to do list tricks, which was not my … One in my Time Management book was not my ideas. It was other ideas I gleaned from other places, is on my to do list you put down the to do, what you have to do, and the first thing necessary to move you forward on that to do. What I find is when I do that I often do the first step, or even the first two or three steps, because I’ve thought about what do I need to move forward on that next step.

Luke Peters: That’s key, especially for younger people, because I think what happens is then they can get stuck thinking too much. And then if you just, you keep that pencil moving and, like you said, “Okay, what’s the next step?” I think it’s like magic. Just like you said, it can help really help move it forward. Another question I wanted to ask, Jim, is you’ve had so many successes and worked with a lot of companies and, as we’ve talked about, sat on a bunch of Boards, but what has been maybe one big failure, like a really tough one, something that you’ve learned from and that has actually improved yourself or your business?

Jim Estill: Well, I mean I’ve had a number of failures. I will say, I’m on my second marriage. I lost my first marriage. That was a big failure, and that’s because I did not put on my goal list essentially to stay married. So, I strongly recommend … I did a talk last night to an organization. They asked me to speak about wealth and entrepreneurship. In one of the slides I said is, “Love your spouse and treat them well, because otherwise you lose half your wealth.” That’s the way the world works. Spouses don’t fit as easily around the other goals. I can’t say, “Oh, I’m going to tick this box and make another 50 calls and that’ll make her happy.” That’s an example, and that’s a highly personal example. I even tell people, “Ask me a business problem, I’m good at business problems. Personal problems, a little tougher.”

Luke Peters: Well, listen, I appreciate the honesty there because that’s a very relevant one, though, and definitely something that’s important in culture, and good advice there. Kind of along with that, what is something, maybe it’s a habit, morning habit, a ritual, or a practice that you’ve learned, or done, that has made you a better person, either at work or home?

Jim Estill: So, ShipperBee is based on the power of while. What can you do while you’re doing something else? That’s in my book on time management. I talk about what can you do while you’re doing things? So, one thing that I do that’s very simple, I listen to audio books, and podcasts, when I’m in my car. Everyone thinks, “Wow, Jim’s read every single book.” I will tell you that the ones that I’ve read half of them I listened to. Even though I don’t have a long commute I do end up driving places, and whatnot. I sometimes listen to them while I exercise, as well. So, it’s using that power of while.

Jim Estill: Another thing I’m known for is walking meetings. So, when I meet with people we go for a walk so, I’m getting a little bit of exercise. What can I do while I’m meeting with someone? I get a little bit of exercise. Interestingly enough, it actually makes it more memorable. So, I’ve had a walking meeting with someone and all of a sudden 10 years later, I haven’t talked to them and they say, “Oh, I still remember that meeting,” because if I had a meeting in my boardroom it’s like kind of like every other boring boardroom you ever saw. It’s leveling, too, so if I’m meeting with an employee, it’s kind of scary to meet across the desk from a mean CEO like me. It’s not when you go for a walk, you’re shoulder-to-shoulder outside, so I love it.

Luke Peters: You know what, that’s … you’re actually … I’m actually writing that down because I need to get back into that, and I’ve done it a little bit, and I heard that Steve Jobs did that a lot. He was always running all over the place, but I love it. I think it’s such a … It’s a great idea, and it’s, fun, and you get the two for one, and I’m all about the two for one. Like you said, it can be less intimidating, as well. Those are usually kind of like … Just curious, you walking outside around the building, or is that through the warehouse, or just curious on where those walks happen at Danby?

Jim Estill: I actually have a trail, which I have to get in my car and drive, but it’s only two minutes. You drive two or three minutes to the trail, and I walk, basically, through this little woods and down to a river, and I’ve got a few different walks. Some of them are like … One of them is 20 minutes, one of them is 30 minutes. So, it depends on whether I need to talk to you for 20 minutes or 30 minutes. Another thing I like about a walking meeting is it actually does bring a meeting to a close because we just walk down to the river and back, and that was our half hour. We get in the car and come back. Where if you’re in my office, or in a boardroom, it’s too easy to say, “Oh well, we’ll just keep on chatting here.” You would be surprised at how much you can get done in 20 minutes. I, basically, don’t like one hour meetings. I like 20 minute meetings.

Luke Peters: I’m with you. We try to schedule … We definitely don’t go over an hour. We try to schedule a bunch of half hour, but I like that strategy. I’ll have to do like a walk around the building or a walk over to … We’re kind of near a bunch of restaurants, so it does work really good for lunch, but I wish we had some trails over here. That is pretty cool that you have that. Then you talked about listening to books and podcasts, so would love to hear one of your favorite book recommendations for listeners.

Jim Estill: I mean, an old time classic that I like is The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. I’m a marketing guy. Another one I like is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is another classic for sure. There’s so many that I almost can hardly even think of them all. If you know what I mean?

Luke Peters: Yeah, got you.

Jim Estill: I like Malcolm Gladwell, his-

Luke Peters: Fellow Canadian.

Jim Estill: His books are all good.

Luke Peters: Yeah, he’s a good writer.

Jim Estill: Yes, exactly. Exactly.

Luke Peters: Yeah, he’s super interesting and really good reader, by the way, so you probably listen to his audio books. He’s got a great voice and a good style, so he makes the books fun.

Jim Estill: That’s right. Sapiens is a pretty good one, as well.

Luke Peters: Okay, good. I haven’t read that one. I’ll write that down. Listen, I really enjoyed the time with you here today on the Page 1 Podcast, and appreciate all your thoughts and wisdom here. How can listeners find you, learn more about you or your companies?

Jim Estill: Well, the company is Danby Appliances. It’s just www.danby.com. I have a blog at www.JimEstill.com, although I don’t blog very much. I’m very Google-able. Jim Estill is actually unique name, so anybody can do that. ShipperBee is just shipperbee.com.

Luke Peters: That’s Estill with two Ls at the end. Just want to thank you for joining me on the Page 1 Podcast, and the audience as well. Quick reminder that I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. We can look into your influencer marketing, Amazon, HD, Wayfair, all the digital sales, help you guys from a strategic standpoint, help you understand keyword, and search options, and advertising options on those various channels. Just find me at luke@retailband.com or on LinkedIn and happy to help you from there. I want to thank you all again for listening, and appreciate everybody who listens, all of your comments, suggestions, and reviews. See you on the next episode.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Page 1 Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce, check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big-box retailers.

Get a FREE evaluation of your online sales strategy

Episode References: www.danby.com + www.shipperbee.com + Time Leadership: Using the Secrets of Leadership for Time Management + The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing + Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Contact Jim Estill: www.JimEstill.com

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, Review: Apple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

Housewares gender gap and succeeding in sales as a woman in a male dominated industry – Global Amici – EP28

What you’ll learn:

On today’s episode, our guest Stacey Reid the VP of sales at Global Amici talks about how low overhead cost can be a big manufacturing advantage, how to leverage relationships with sales representative groups and retailers and most importantly how to succeed in a male dominated industry as a women and overcome gender discrimination in the workplace.

About our guest:

Stacey Reid is a third-generation salesperson from Cleveland Ohio. She grew up immersed in consumer products business world. For the last 28 years, Stacey has worked for big brands, Fortune 500 companies, and entrepreneurial startups in the Housewares and Specialty Food industries (Le Creuset, Clad and Calphalon, and more). Currently, she is Vice President of sales with Global Amici.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Global Amici’s path to new product lines (kitchen accessories, pet accessories, private label, and branded products)
  • Why it’s more cost effective small-to-medium sized companies to use a 3PL
  • Global Amici stats (company size, warehouse size, sales rep group sizes, etc.)
  • How to use low overhead as a pricing and manufacturing strategy
  • Discount, off-price retailer channels—TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Marshalls, Burlington, Tuesday Morning—as a thriving wholesale retail channel for pet and kitchen accessory products
  • The housewares home décor business shift to online (Amazon & dot com) and off-price
  • Global Amici’s breakdown of successful dot com businesses
  • How to prevent third party selling and grow online by dropshipping
  • Sexism in the workplace: navigating the male dominated housewares industry
  • Stacey’s advice to women entering the industry as a salesperson + her take on how to be successful and break the gender gap and glass ceiling
  • Stacey’s advice to young women professionals: why becoming a master or industry expert in one category—electric, cookware, or tabletop—will make you more marketable and bring more career success in the long-run
  • Stacey’s big family wake up call that changed her perspective on life and work
  • Life and parenting advice to businessowners from two successful entrepreneurs
  • Stacey’s one piece of advice to building a strong work culture full of diverse women and personalities
  • Top 3 tips for young professionals on the path to growing a business career
  • Top Takeaway habit to make you a better version of yourself

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page 1 Podcast, a twice weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best-in-class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers, or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page 1 Podcast. I am your host, Luke Peters. This is the podcast where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances, where I cut my teeth selling products online, and now I’ve started Retail Band, where I hope to help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and B2B online sale strategy. And right now, I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sale strategy. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn, or email me at luke@retailband.com. We can talk about opportunities with influencer marketing, or just look at your digital strategy, how you’re doing with Amazon, HD.com, lowes.com, wayfair.com and you know, hopefully provide a lot of value for you. So again, find me on LinkedIn or email at luke@retailband.com.

Luke Peters: So in this episode you are going to learn from Stacey Reid, VP of sales with Global Amici, on what it takes to succeed as a woman in a male dominated category of mass retail sales. We’ll talk about how low overhead can be a big advantage, how to leverage relationships with rep groups and retailers and as stated how to navigate a male dominated industry as a woman. Stacey, thanks for joining me today on the Page 1 Podcast.

Stacey Reid: Thanks Luke, I’m happy to be here.

Luke Peters: Great. And as I just previously mentioned, I was just talking to Stacey before the podcast started here, that I have two daughters. So looking forward to learning more. One just turned 18 and one is 21. She just graduated and is a really good public speaker. So I’m looking forward to this episode and a little bit more introduction on Stacey. She’s a third-generation salesperson from Cleveland, Ohio. That grew up in consumer products for the last 28 years. She’s worked with big brands from Fortune 500 companies to entrepreneurial startups in the housewares and specialty food businesses.

Luke Peters: She was director of National Accounts at Igloo Products Corp. Stacey holds a BA in international affairs from the University of Cincinnati. And Stacey, before this podcast I looked online, so I was looking at Global Amici’s website and it looks like you guys sell beautiful glassware, but can you share more about what the company does? What else do you guys sell and who do you sell to?

Stacey Reid: Sure. Global Amici was founded back in 1982 and specializes in home decor. Our core competency, in this decade is glass and metal food storage. So if you think about the flour, coffee, tea canisters that you’re having on your kitchen countertop, that’s what we do. A few years ago, we made the jump from home décor into pets, because it was very easy to take those flour, coffee, tea canisters change the graphics, change the knob, do a bone or a paw and blammo, we’re in the pet accessory business.

Stacey Reid: So we’ve got about 120 skews on the pets side, and about 450 skews on the home decor side, the Amici home side. And it’s skew intensive, but it’s a really on industry, our channel of distribution to be in. It is part of the housewares industry, but coming from gourmet cookware, this is fun and fashionable and got some flare to it. So a little bit more pizzazz than a fry pan.

Luke Peters: Perfect. Well that gives us a good picture of it. So about 570 skews total. So why don’t we talk a little bit more about the company here. How about the number of employees, and are you guys warehousing and distributing yourselves? Are you using 3PLs? And if so, how does it look on the warehouse side?

Stacey Reid: Yeah, sure. We previously had our warehouse located at our headquarters in San Diego, California. And two years ago we made the decision purely for cost effectiveness, and really I guess just an overall better fulfillment process. We partnered with a 3PL up in Reno, Nevada, and it has been a total game changer for us. I highly recommend small, mid-sized company to do 3PLs. And I forgot totally what your other question was.

Luke Peters: The total number of employees, I guess.

Stacey Reid: Oh yeah. So we’ve got about 10 people in the office. And then we’ve got a dozen or so independent reps’ groups out in the field. Remy who is the president along with his brother Tanner, the Sloan brothers, I call them, Tanner’s the CEO. And I’ll manage the sales and marketing of it. And we’ve got graphic designers, we’ve got accounts payable, customer service, one person dedicated for the dot-com business. And the other for brick & mortar. So it’s nice, and we do have a person on the ground in China as well. It’s a great size business.

Stacey Reid: You know, our low overhead allows for immediate turnaround, and we’re able to go from ideation to shelf or DC in about 110, 120 days. So we can really turn product around quickly. Plus we also are able to offer great competitive costs, whether it’d be private label or branded products. We really have become a destination or retailers.

Luke Peters: That’s super helpful, and we’ll dive more into that later. And you know, something I picked up on what you said that the 3PL in Reno has been a game changer. Is there a specific reason why? Is it just because it kind of takes a lot of the logistics out of the company so you can focus on sales and marketing or is there something else to it?

Stacey Reid: Absolutely it has to do with that focus and really comes back down to can you find good quality, reliable help. And in this day and age it’s just been harder and harder to find people who want to work or show up to work, and in warehouse shop it’s been challenging whether you need forklift drivers, pick and packers. So absolutely that distraction really took our eye off of our focus of getting products developed and out in the marketplace. So it’s just been a huge relief for us.

Luke Peters: And you guys sell into a ton of… I mean, most of the big names that you know that the listeners might recognize. I know you had a big laundry list of companies that you’re working with, but what would be your best retailer growth channel right now? Is there somebody that’s really standing out or growing for your brand?

Stacey Reid: Well, I’ll tell you. So I’ve been in the retail industry for almost 30 years. And I’ve got to stop saying that because I date myself with it. But you know, where I grew up in the age of specialty stores and the big power of department stores, and I’ve literally seen the evolution go 180 degrees where it’s really the off-price/discount channels that are the healthiest and that they’re thriving. So I’ve always been a big fan of the off-price discount channel and I’m talking like Tuesday mornings, Burlington, TJ Maxx’s.

Stacey Reid: And it’s just they’re a pleasure to do business with. And in this day and age, they are the wealthiest, they pay their bills, there’s no mark down, the ease of transaction of doing business is nothing. Whereas, I’ve got one retailer that requires upwards 19% in allowances and it’s just ridiculous. So I really, really appreciate the clean net-net business of that channel. And I will tell you that TJX companies, TJX Marshalls, HomeGoods, HomeSense are just phenomenal to work with. Top notch buyers. They’ve got great eyes, they’re always on trend, and they currently are our largest customer.

Stacey Reid: We’ve broken into a new channel grocery with Fred Meyer, Kroger and Publix, Winn-Dixie and Albertson in just the last year. And that’s a great and growing channel for us personally. But I also see them as healthy retailers in the marketplace. And it’s sad to say that beyond a powerhouse specialty retailer in the housewares home decor business has just floundered and just has been flopping like a fish on a dock for the last three years. So it’s been very painful to watch a retailer like that stop, but I think that in this day and age, the shopper is gravitating towards that off-price as well as dot-com. That’s where I’ve seen the money shift hands there.

Stacey Reid: I just road tripped up to Michigan last week, and in my 600-mile round trip, I noticed that there were only about three Walmart trucks that I passed. I didn’t see a single Target truck, handful of Meyer trucks, because of course we’re right there in their backyard. But I did see a whole bunch of Amazon Prime trucks. And back in my early days when I would travel Ohio in the surrounding States for my job, you would see Target, Target, Target, Walmart, Walmart, Walmart, and it’s just notice the shift in retail from the personal side, where do I shop, where do I friends shop? To the logistic side where the reflection out on the roadway is really dot-com has taken a lot of that market share away from brick and mortars.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And thanks for all the candid comments. I mean that’s great. And just to summarize, because I have a question about Amazon, but just to summarize, so Friday morning, Burlington, TJX and just your comment on clean net-net business, no huge allowance, which allowances it seems sometimes for me, because I don’t know the in store side as well and the newer brand is started on more of the dot-com and the rCommerce and the eRetailer side. So there’s a lot of allowances, with marketing and all these other things. But that was a definitely an interesting call out. And I just love the candid voice there about those retailers and your thoughts on that.

Luke Peters: So, speaking of Amazon, talk about the two different channels briefly with Global Amici. You guys it sounds like are mostly in store. But how about your digital business? Is that a growing business and about how much percentage wise of total sales is that business?

Stacey Reid: So we do business with target.com, Wayfair, Amazon, walmart.com. There’s like Dulily, there’s fair, there’s like a few handful of other dot-coms. But we’ve limited to about 8, 10 dot-com retailers. I think the biggest hurdle is preventing like third party selling. Because of the price force that happened between them. So it’s a challenge and we have it dedicated eCommerce salesperson who does nothing manage those dot-com businesses. We have the ability to drop ship, fulfill, so that’s been a great angle for improving our businesses online. And it makes it seamless for the retailer.

Stacey Reid: Amazon is our largest retailer, but I’ll say that Target Plus or Target marketplace, whichever the new moniker is, has come on strong. And I don’t think it will ever gain or catch up to Amazon, but it is definitely a solid second place dot-com retailer for us. And just working with a sender allows for us to put more products up. You know, the more products you have up there the better business that you’re going to have. But Amazon day in and day out impresses me as a retailer. And then we used to joke that they’re really a logistics company who dabbles in consumers products, but they really are the bar, the gold standard when it comes to dot-com and I say the same thing for Walmart brick and mortar stores.

Stacey Reid: They really are the gold standard as a retailer. You know, people have sometimes a negative view of Walmart, but they really are a very impressive retailer. And again, I’ve been privileged to work with them for the last 25 years and watch them grow into the world’s largest retailer just as I have watched Amazon grow as well. So dot-com is a very important part of our business. I think being owned by few millennials, makes part of our corporate mantra that dot-com online business is here to stay. This is where we shop and we’re going to support it 110%.

Luke Peters: Awesome. Okay. Well thanks for that recap. And it might be the first time that we’ve had, as a number two on digital target being a number two. So that’s great feedback and, probably aligns well with your product category. So cool to hear that. And funny Amazon a logistics company, or an accounting and charge back company or compliance company. There’s a few jokes that you could put in there. Cool. So anyways thanks for that and appreciate the numbers and kind of talking about the low overhead and how you guys are efficient at Global Amici. So let’s dig into this week’s theme, how female sales leaders can navigate a male dominated category.

Luke Peters: So again, just as I mentioned, I have two daughters and maybe it can help me, ignorant guy here. Describe maybe more specifically why it’s a challenge to be a female sales leader in a male dominated category.

Stacey Reid: Well, I think we don’t want to admit that sexism is in the workplace, but it really is. And my mother is professional. She’s an attorney at one of the national banks. And so I’ve kind of grown up with professional people, and I’ve looked at my dad and I’ve looked at my mom and, basically my mom has had to work twice as hard to be as successful as my father. And I’d have to say that’s still true today. You know, being in this male dominated industry of housewares, for the majority of my career, has it gotten better? Yeah, I’ll say that it has gotten better. I think a lot more women have entered into the industry, which helps, but at the end of the day, we’re still earning less and we still have to work extra hard or that much harder to be successful.

Stacey Reid: So should I recommend, “Don’t come into this industry, don’t go into sales?” Absolutely not. Just be smart about it, and know what challenges you’re going to be facing and just have some realistic expectation.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And what might be something specific that you’ve had to change to be more successful along the way?

Stacey Reid: Well, I’ve got very strong characteristics that would be labeled as you know, male. And when you’re labeled as aggressive as a male, you’re looked at as, “Oh, that’s great, that’s dynamite.” But when you’re labeled aggressive as a woman< there could be some backlash to it. "Oh, she's just a bitch, she's mean, she's evil." And so I've learned to not quite soften my approach, but change that aggressive moniker to assertive, and try and have a positive spin on things.

Stacey Reid: But at the end of the day, if I’m fighting for something that’s right, I could still get into a pickle, because what comes out of my mouth or how I approach a subject is looked at through the eyes or there’s a lens there that, hmm, women shouldn’t be acting like that. Women shouldn’t be saying something like that. So I think that would help me in being able to adjust myself to my audiences. I grew up attending acting classes at a local community theater, I’ll give them a shout out there. And so I’m able to somewhat manipulate myself to appease who’s in front of me.

Stacey Reid: And that works really well as a salesperson when working with a variety of personalities of buyers on the other side of the desk. But I also found that it helps with interoffice working, whether you’re doing cross departmental teams or you’re speaking with your superiors, that I’ve been able to kind of shape shift myself into what they want to see at the end of the day, having my end goal in mind. So, I mean it’s a little bit of a tap dance and it’s still sucks that we have work a little bit harder and kind of Jerry rig the system in order to be successful. But I can say that I’ve been successful for the last 25 years and I’m happy where I am and I really have no regret in what I’ve done and accomplished.

Stacey Reid: So it’s been a very satisfying career. And I would highly recommend anybody getting in here, just remember to have some realistic expectations wherever you go.

Luke Peters: Great. And let me dive a little bit more into that. So it sounds like you didn’t really necessarily have to tone it down, but you had to kind of change your aggressive or the approach that you would normally take you. It sounds like you’ve learned to alter that or change it a little bit, but you sound really confident. I mean that’s always helpful in sales. So we’re talking about how that approach can be taken from a woman’s standpoint, or how it can be taken as a woman. But let’s talk about the three different potential people that you’re working with. So it could be employees, or say leadership at the company that you’re at or the buyers on the other end. Are you saying that the challenges with all of them, or is it stronger with say one of those three categories?

Stacey Reid: Well, I think dealing with superiors or lateral employees, I think that’s where… Or just employees in general. I think that’s where the biggest challenge is. You know, you do have to manipulate yourself in front of a buyer in order to gain their competence or their interest in you and your line. So I don’t think that so much of a challenge from buyer to seller’s standpoint. I think it’s much more internal at the corporate level. And I’ve worked for some great people and I’ve worked for some not so great people. And I’ve come to a point where I don’t tolerate not so great people anymore, and I have the luxury of not having to work for them.

Stacey Reid: You know, early on in my career it was all about the brand. I chased the brand, the brand, the brand. And then it was all about the money, the money, the money, and now it’s all about the people. And if you can find a company that has awesome people with an awesome product, you hit the lottery with that. So if I could make that recommendation, save yourself some heartache and some sweat and go for that company that has quality people because life is just too short to really waste it on not so nice people.

Luke Peters: That’s a nice way to put it. So work with great people and there you go. I mean those are choices that people can make.

Stacey Reid: Right. Because I mean again, I’ve worked for some iconic brand. I mean All Clad and Calphalon are the top of the game in the gourmet cookware industry. And at the end of the day, they have the most beautiful, beautiful cookware in the world. But are you working in an environment that is healthy for you? And so part of my maturing process as I got older, I realized, that it’s not all about the brand. It’s not all about the company. It really is what you can accomplish with the people that you’re working with. And you spend more time with work people than you do with your family. So you better enjoy yourself while you’re out there.

Luke Peters: 100% agree. And from everything from college, choice, to degree to your decision to be an entrepreneur, or go work for somebody or whatever categories you get into. And the great thing about sales is you get to meet a lot of people and you get to travel. So there’s so many benefits. There’s the pressures on your back, it’s all results oriented. What are some mistakes, especially for young professionals listening some mistakes and learnings that you have made along the way that you wish you knew when you were first getting started?

Stacey Reid: Again chasing that brand or chasing that unknown. And I can give you this example back in ’90s, so early on in my career I had a goal, goals for myself. I wanted to be a president of a housewares company, by the time I was 50. I wanted to be a VP by the time I was 40, and you know down, down, down. And so I had arrived at a level where I’m due to be a national sales manager by golly. And I received an offer from Anchor Hocking and as well as Meyer Cookware. And this is coming from Le Creuset and Calphalon, or the two previous companies that I worked for. The next progression in the cookware industry would, “Let’s go work for Meyer Cookware.”

Stacey Reid: Anchor Hocking obviously it was an opening price point, glass commodity and a very different business model. But they offered me the opportunity to manage Walmart. And again, back in the 90s, Walmart… I think we had just switched from fax, orders to actual email. But they still had item change form, their famous form 33s were still in triplicate legal-size paper that you had to submit. So we were just on that verge of going over 2000 stores at that time.

Stacey Reid: So the regret, and I don’t want to say regret because I really don’t have any, but it would have been easier for my career to follow and stay in the same thing as Gourmet Cookware. I made the choice to go with Anchor Hocking to manage Walmart because I knew that if I wanted to be a president of a housewares company, I probably need diversity outside of specialty retailers and high-end department stores. And so working with a mass merchant was going to offer me well-roundedness. I look back now, I probably should’ve stayed in the same vein, and then eventually I would have found the mastering of different channel of distribution, aka mass or drug or whatever it be.

Stacey Reid: So I would advise people today kind of stay with a mastery of a consumer products vein. Again, I’m very blessed to where I am today because I have sold a whole level of products that fall into different channels within the department store or retailer, as well as channels of distribution. So there’s only a handful of retailers that I have yet to cross the threshold on. So I’d love that variety, where I can call on a Home Depot as easily as I can call on a Walgreen’s as I can at Target as I can a Williams-Sonoma. I would prefer young people become masters of electric or cookware or tabletop. I think that you would probably wind up more successful, more marketable that level of expertise, does that make sense?

Luke Peters: It totally makes sense. So you had a lot of… I mean, you were really focused it sounds like, as you’re writing your goals and you know, when I’m 40 I want to do this, when I’m 50 I want to be president of a company. And so I guess it is good that you went out and got those other skills, but just looking back, you think it might be more valuable to just really become an expert, which in today’s world and economy is true for like almost every category actually. You know those are the folks that are kind of making the biggest waves and can call their own shots and are adding the most value because a lot of everything else can be automated or outsourced, but true expertise are difficult to come by, and they take a lot of time, and they’re not easily replicable, so that’s great feedback.

Stacey Reid: So, I mean, I kind of jumped around within an industry. So I can still say that I’m an industry expert, but honestly, I would definitely recommend somebody stay in pharmaceuticals or somebody stay in medical supplies, or somebody even within the housewares industry, try and stay within a specific vein. But having said that, I’m a happy camper where I am and, I’ve been at the vice president level for the last 10, 12 years. I do have three teenage boys. Which that wasn’t part of my plans originally. I was never going to get married and never going to have kids, but by golly, I was going to be that president of a house ware company by the time I was 50.

Stacey Reid: So I’ve had to modify my goals in order to have that work life balance, which is very important. You know, again, early on I was all about work, work, work, rise, rise, rise, rise, climb, climb, climb that ladder. And I realized again, that life is too short and that you really need to enjoy that journey as opposed to just that end game. I don’t want to say I’ve softened, but I’d like to say that I’m much wiser in my age today. And I’m very, very happy with being able to attend marching band concerts, or hockey games or whatever it’d be, and truly live in that moment and not be worrying about a presentation that I have to put together for Pet Supplies Plus.

Luke Peters: Yeah, I mean at the end of it, when our lives are about to end, it’s I think the family component is going to be the area we wish we spend more time on.

Stacey Reid: There’s no doubt. Yeah. And I’ll just share this with you and you can have it be on the podcast or not, but my husband 52, had a heart attack last week, and I was just finishing up my appointment in Detroit with Pet Supplies Plus when my youngest son texted me and said, “Hey, has dad told you what’s going on?” And I’m like, “No.” And so there went the back and forth exchange and talking to my husband and he had chest pains and my youngest son was smart enough, he gave him an aspirin, dragged him into the car because of course John didn’t want to go because he’s 52 doesn’t want to blow the $200 on the ER copay.

Stacey Reid: But my son took him to the ER as I was racing back from Detroit. And sure enough, it was a heart attack, 24 hours later he had a cardiac cath, and they put a stent in and it was 99% block, one of the arteries. And it was a pretty big wake up call. Like you really could have been gone. Again, to your point about focusing on the family is a 100% because this is what matters. Everything else outside of it. So it was great. My middle child is a senior and he’s playing varsity ice hockey. So we literally went from the hospital on Friday to the rink. And people of course, were just astounded that, “Oh my God, you just had a heart attack two days ago, three days ago.”

Stacey Reid: And it’s like, “This is what’s important. Yes. Should I go home and rest? I could. Was it not required? You know, I’m here supporting my child and being with my family.” So it definitely is a wake up call. We were all about family to begin with, but it was like, “Okay, now we’re really about family.”

Luke Peters: It’s a big reminder. Thanks for sharing that personal story and glad that he’s doing better. And yeah, I mean everything’s fragile. It just unfortunately and sadly is, it happened with Kobe Bryant in the plane crash.

Stacey Reid: Oh my God, that was so devastating. And again, this can just be between you and I, but the other family… So yes, Kobe and his daughter are dead, but it was a husband and wife and then, Kobe’s daughters’ best friend who were killed and they left behind a daughter who’s a junior in high school. And here this poor child is without parents and a sibling, I wanted to throw myself off a cliff. I’m like, “Oh my God, are you kidding me? Coming home to an empty house?”

Luke Peters: It’s tough.

Stacey Reid: You know?

Luke Peters: Yup.

Stacey Reid: Oh my God.

Luke Peters: And down here, you know I know you’re in Cleveland by the way my family was all born and raised in Cleveland, even my parents.

Stacey Reid: Oh stop it.

Luke Peters: I’m not kidding you. So I have all kind of extended family there. But anyways, out here in L.A. Kobe is just completely, everybody loves Kobe because he really did a lot of things in the community by the way. He was really active. But anyways, no, I’m definitely going to leave this in the podcast because I think people will find it interesting and it’s timely, it’s what happened and people can just kind of re-evaluate their lives.

Stacey Reid: And hopefully these kids… My kids are generation Z just like your oldest daughter, right? My oldest is actually a junior at Cleveland State who’s also in marketing. And I actually look at him, and he’s got everything going for him. He’s athletic, he’s good looking, he’s a fourth-generation salesman, and I tell him, I’m like, “You’re going to have such an easier time being successful in sales doing whatever unlike me.” And so I’m really excited. I never look at it like, “Damn, I wish I was that” I am just super jazzed for my children entering into the workplace because they’re just going to have this phenomenal ride.

Stacey Reid: And I think that they’re smarter than I was okay back at their age, where they are a little bit more well-rounded when it comes to balance between life and work. My kids have all worked through high school and through college. And I think that they see us now with a good work life balance. So hopefully they’ll have a leg up when it comes two that making sure to have that family time or that downtime or that self-care time, and not killing yourself for the man.

Luke Peters: Oh man. Hopefully I’m not the man being a business owner. But I know what you’re saying.

Stacey Reid: Right. Don’t be the man.

Luke Peters: Don’t be the man. But you know what? It’s like I tell kids, speaking at like a middle school, or high school, or a middle school just as like a career day. But it’s like everybody should look at entrepreneurship now, and I think it’s easier for kids to be entrepreneurs than it ever has been.

Stacey Reid: Yeah. I mean come on, there were not entrepreneurial classes, let alone free, offered back when I was in college. You know, it was your basic business admin and marketing. And today there’s a plethora reference of degrees, including entrepreneurialship, which is phenomenal, because we used to think that you had to have it within you, right? You had to be that self-starter that want to do it. Which is great if you’ve got it, but having these degrees nowadays, just fine tunes these kids in to business management, it allows for them again to work with or without people. They can create these great cultures now and call the shots. Do you want to take Wednesdays off? Take the Wednesday off, go for it. Do you want to have a four-day work week? Go for it. So I agree with you 100%. I think it’s dynamite. And especially in this day and age where the traditional roles in consumer product companies may not be there.

Stacey Reid: And it’s so easy to develop a brand and get brands products in front of consumers. I mean, the internet is just like amazing. What used to take us 15 years to build a “brand” you can do it in 9, 12 months just with the power of social media. So I couldn’t agree with you more on that, having the young kids get into entrepreneurials.

Luke Peters: So there’s so many options and kind of… I know that you believe in transparency and honesty, ducky, you’re really direct and I can tell that, which is always really good in sales. And then you’ve had to reign in three teenage boys, which is another challenge in and of itself. But for women and just staying on theme for, how women should approach feedback, can you give some examples of how that’s helped you, but also how it’s backfired as far as giving direct feedback. And then maybe what young professional women can learn from that.

Stacey Reid: So direct feedback or constructive criticism is the political correct way. And I have no problem sharing that because I phrase it in a positive way. And I phrase it and I speak it in a way that I would like to be spoken to. And I grew up in the ranks of men where I was yelled at like a drill sergeant. And you don’t want to call it hazing, but it was somewhat of that cutthroat environment. And what I learned over the years is that’s really not appropriate behavior. And that old boys club, you can keep your nasty behavior over there.

Stacey Reid: And I’ve learned you share constructive criticism in a way where it’s more uplifting and empowering to people. And it’s been great. I do hire a lot of women not to have reverse sexism. But you know, I had this selling team at Igloo that was amazing. I had three women plus myself and we called ourselves the wonder women, and really it was just phenomenal. I mean, there was three very different personalities, including myself and it was just such a great dynamic. I’m not one to beat around the bush, and I think that allows for people to be at ease because it’s not like I’m over here squalling away, taking notes, keeping score, and then I’m going to come at you a month later, and you’re going to get a tongue wagging, finger wagging.

Stacey Reid: It’s definitely everything’s on the table, and nothing is barred. So it can be two ways. It doesn’t have to be just that one way. And so I believe that, that immediate feedback allows for an easier breathing environment. Does that make sense to you? I want to make sure if I was able to clearly articulate that.

Luke Peters: Well, no it does. It does. How about if we ask it this way, and this is kind of like to pull it all together. So let’s say we can put a number on it. What are three important things that new female sales professionals need to do maybe in their habits, in their personal growth or in their career to succeed? So not just the last time, the last question, but just everything about like what you’ve learned, and if you’re able to kind of prioritize what you feel might be the three most important things, that would help young ladies as they’re kind of getting started in their sales careers.

Stacey Reid: Sure. And it could apply to men as well. I mean, I don’t want to not share the same information I give to my children, my boys as I would a young woman. Most importantly is be true to yourself. Don’t ever sell yourself short. There’s a line out there that says, “Know your worth and don’t offer discounts on it.” And I think that I sold myself short one too many times. And thankfully I’ve learned. So I think first and foremost, being true to yourself and being honest with yourself is first and foremost. And then the honesty would be number two, that we’re all human. And if you make a mistake, you got to own up to it. Nothing is more distracting, detracting to an office environment where either somebody steals your idea or somebody throws you under the bus for having done something.

Stacey Reid: And I think that we need a little higher level or injection of honesty in a workplace. And that everybody takes responsibility for what they do or don’t do. So that would be the second one. And the third one is really to have fun. And if you’re in a place where you’re not having fun, you need to find another place because when we circle back around to, life is too short to waste your time, in a not so healthy environment. So that should be a red flag. If you’re not having fun at work, you need to get out that old adage of work should be fun. Because it is. Life is just much too short.

Luke Peters: Totally agree. Totally, and that’s why you want to be working with great people, but to summarize don’t sell yourself short, own up to your own mistakes, be honest, and then have fun and make sure that make sure you’re enjoying where you are.

Stacey Reid: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, when my dad sent me to college I had three things. Three goals. One was meet as many people as I could, because he knew that it was about connections and making connections later in life, it’s so great that it’s like materialized into something like a LinkedIn or a Facebook, which is totally true. Because you can always learn something from anyone that you meet. The second one was to have fun and the third one was to graduate and he gave it to me in that order for a reason. And it’s networking. Make sure you have some social life and please at the end of the day graduate.

Luke Peters: That’s great advice. It really is. Actually, it’s funny because I was just telling you my daughter graduated and she had like a 3.5 and she had jobs and she was doing stuff. And I encourage her to do those things because it’s like if you already have a 3.5, I don’t think an employer is going to say, “Well why didn’t you get a 3.75?” Like at that point go out and make sure you experience all these other things. Right? And so yeah, that was good.

Stacey Reid: And really at the end of the day, what we want to see or I want to see as an employer, I want to see that you finished what you started. So I think it’s great that you may be on a roll. I think it’s great that you went to this blah, blah blah school. But at the end of the day, you know what, having a degree from Cleveland State and you have a 3.0, but you graduated, and you learned and you know, you’re a well-balanced person. That’s really what is important to me as an employer.

Luke Peters: Yep. And so that’s great. Good advice. And people get caught up, I think just like you were talking about earlier, too much in grades or even in their career too much.

Stacey Reid: I’m with you with the college thing. River at Cleveland State, my oldest and then Brody is the senior and he’s got a couple Ivy leagues that he applied to and then he’s got Ohio State University and everything in between. And I have too many fellow parents have gotten caught up in the upper end colleges that feel like that’s a must. And what I’ve told all three of my children is “We’ll pay for any state school that you want. Anything else beyond that you’re going to have to get in scholarship.” But at the end of the day, you’re walking out of college with little or no debt the end, because there are so many people in front of you that have assumed this ginormous college debt. And are in careers where they basically will never be able to pay them off.

Stacey Reid: So I think having that realistic expectation, for my kids and that can be applied into the workplace as well. You know, you’ve got to have realistic expectations here in life. And so it’s interesting how so many people get caught up. Like, “Am I going to go work for this Fortune 500 company? Or should I maybe start with you… Work for a small startup,” and it’s the same thing. Should I go to Cornell or can I be just as successful at Cleveland State University. So that needs to be taken into consideration.

Luke Peters: And that debt eliminates a lot of flexibility. So when kids are young and they get out of school and they’re testing out jobs, now they’re a little less flexible because they have all this debt load.

Stacey Reid: It’s terrifying. I mean, they’ll never be able to own a home or it will take them a long time. And again I just don’t you that they saw or completely understood what that debt really is. And you know what a $50,000 a year school does. Again, I’ll chalk it up to bad parenting, but don’t put that in there.

Luke Peters: Well, it’s in there. That’s funny. But Stacey, what is I guess interesting to learn maybe a habit, a ritual or a practice, that you’ve learned or done that has made you a better person either at work or at home. It could be like a morning routine or just something that you’ve learned from your experience that that has become a daily or weekly thing that’s helped you.

Stacey Reid: So I’m definitely going to say that self-care, which is a big trend buzzword thing now. I really, I truly do believe in that. And I do have a meditation practice. I do yoga. I’ll do stretching and/or rowing. And I think that having this meditation, mindfulness self-care practice, it’s 100% has made me a better person. And I think mindfulness rose out of self-care. You know I look at that as what I project out onto humanity because I’m taking care of myself, I’m bettering myself, I’m always striving to be a better version of today’s self. I do do a lot of reading. Of course it’s all digital now. I always say I read the paper and then my mom will say, “Hey, did you see that article, in the Cleveland plain dealer?” And I’m like, “Oh man, we don’t have the print paper anymore. So no.”

Stacey Reid: Or she’ll flip out an article for me whereas I very easily could have just looked it up online, but I do read a lot current affairs. And again I feel that that keeps me connected with I guess my community, my thing. So taking care of myself, broadening my mind, whether it’s through self-help books or reading newspapers, reading books and then just making sure I’m taking care of myself.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Interesting, we talked about health earlier, but self-care sounds a lot better than, me saying, “Hey honey, I’m going surfing,” but I guess I can turn my surfing into it… Because it really is like that’s my self-care.

Stacey Reid: It really is. It really is. Did you know it allows you to decompress?

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Stacey Reid: It allows you to get some sunshine and some saltwater. Right? And some physical exercise and so it is. So even though it’s a buzzword today, it really does make a difference for sure.

Luke Peters: Oh, I like that. So you’ve got self-care, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and kind of with that, do you have a book or an article that you’d suggest the audience to read?

Stacey Reid: So there’s one on my desk right now. And I know you told me not to drop the F bomb, but it’s The Subtle Art of Giving a Fuck.

Luke Peters: I’ve read it actually. Oh great, what am I going to do if my kids listen to this?

Stacey Reid: So that’s a good one. And then, No Assholes Allowed, that’s another one that’s a few years old.

Luke Peters: That’s funny.

Stacey Reid: Yeah.

Luke Peters: Good stuff.

Stacey Reid: But it’s that type of… I resonate with the reality. Let’s be real people here. And so I mean Tony Robbins is a great speaker, motivational speaker, none of those guys can hurt, but I seem to gravitate towards the tell it like it is types of books.

Luke Peters: Well, I mean that’s probably why you’ve been successful. So you get to the point and honestly in sales that’s like the most important thing. You get to the point and you’re direct. And then probably with that, with being direct, you probably gained people’s trust. And like you said, you talked about honesty earlier.

Stacey Reid: Absolutely. You are 100% right. You know, what you see is what you get. And again, it removes that air of, I’m not sure who this person is. Should I trust them? Are they out to get me? And that’s just all taken away when you tell it like it is. Now, I will tell you that sometimes telling it like it is, has gotten me into trouble. So it comes with it. But at the end of the day, I believe that it’s all part of the process. And if I get into trouble, there’s probably a learning lesson that needs to happen there. So you just have to trust that you’re doing the right thing by doing the right thing. You can never really get into that much of trouble when your motivation is what’s the next right thing.

Luke Peters: And you got to take your shots in life. So sometimes they’re not always going to fall, but you got to take your shots and listen it’s been a great episode here. Great catching up with you.

Stacey Reid: Is an hour already gone by? Are we really up? Because I feel like we’ve only been talking a bit.

Luke Peters: Well that’s because it’s just a natural conversation. So that’s what I love about the Page 1 Podcast, and I get a chance to meet people like you, but no, I love your personality and it comes through. And I guess with that, how can listeners find you? Is it good to connect on LinkedIn or what’s a place that listeners might be able to find you on?

Stacey Reid: Yeah, absolutely. I’m on LinkedIn. I do believe I am searchable. Stacey Reid, S-T-A-C-E-Y R-E-I-D. I know it’s always a challenge when you’ve got extra vowels, and your names are not arranged where most well like them to be. So yes, Stacey Reid on LinkedIn. I’m also on Facebook, but I think probably it’s best for your peeps to stick on the business side. But again, I’m more than happy. If you want to provide my personal email, that’s fine too. And I’d be happy to talk to anybody.

Luke Peters: Cool.

Stacey Reid: Whether you’re late in your career, just starting out, thinking about what you want to do, most likely I’ve been there, done that, so I’d be happy to share.

Luke Peters: Yeah, I love it. Thanks Stacey, and just want to thank everybody for listening to this episode of the Page 1 Podcast sponsored by Retail Band. And quick reminder, I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. We can look at your digital strategy on Amazon, Home Depot and Wayfair. We can review your products, look at your selling tools that you’re using, and also utilize our selling tools to understand your products. And we’ll present the findings directly to you. Look at opportunities with influencer marketing and if you’re interested, so find me on LinkedIn or you can email me at luke@retailband.com.

Luke Peters: Thanks again for listening to this episode of the Page 1 Podcast. I appreciate everybody that listens, appreciate your comments, suggestions and especially your reviews. We’ll see on the next episode.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Page 1 Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce, check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers.

Get a FREE evaluation of your online sales strategy

Episode References: Wingtips for Women: Success Without Compromise

Contact Stacey Reid: staceyannereid@yahoo.com+ LinkedIn

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, Review: Apple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts



What is the coronavirus? A Virologist talks infection rate, treatment options, travel precautions and Supply Chain delays – Dr. Marylou Gibson – EP27

What you’ll learn:

The Coronavirus is at the center of the news cycle. If you do business in China, you’re probably wondering if you are taking the right precautionary measures to protect this SARS like virus from affecting your supply chain management (SCM) and overall production. But what is the coronavirus? What is the infection caused by? How was it transmitted to humans? Is there a treatment or vaccine? We answer all these questions and more in today’s episode—just in time to help you navigate upcoming travel to the China Canton Fair 2020 and other Q1 tradeshows.

About our guest:

Virapur was formed in 2000 based on Marylou Gibson’s invention of the adenovirus purification kit, which has now revolutionized how viruses are purified by researchers worldwide. Marylou Gibson is a Virologist and Chief Scientific Officer at Virapur. Virapur grows and purifies many different influenza viruses, including H1N1, H3N2, and swine flu, using eggs and tissue culture. Gibson’s experience has been gained over the past 25 years in production and purification of biopharmaceuticals. Her Ph.D. degree is in virology, so making viraceuticals was the next a logical step in her career.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • What is the coronavirus and how was it transmitted from animals to humans? –4:41
  • Is a virus a living organism?
  • How is the coronavirus like SARS?
  • The #1 way of avoiding the coronavirus
  • How far and how does coronavirus travel in the air?
  • Travel Tips: best precautions to take when traveling on an airplane
  • Face mask pros and cons: are effective at preventing transmission?
  • How China is mobilizing to protect worldwide spread to other countries
  • Cause of illness in coronavirus patients
  • Long-term effects
  • Shocking unknown fact about coronavirus and cold symptoms
  • A Virologist’s advice on vaccines

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page 1 Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies, to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers, or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page 1 Podcast. This is the podcast where I generally interview consumer product specialists and leaders in the industry, but today we have a special episode with Dr. Marylou Gibson who is a Virologist and Chief Scientific Officer at VIRAPUR and we’ll learn more about that later on. I thought it’s really timely for you, listeners, and audience here on the Page 1 podcast to understand the challenges of travel right now. With the recent coronavirus outbreak. Interestingly, I have a little bit of background in that, just enough to be dangerous. I have a bachelors in microbiology and studied just all the fields that are involved in that in microbiology, like parasitology and bacteriology and then chemistry minor. Anyways, along the way I worked as a hazardous waste scientist before I started NewAir.

Luke Peters: So, I thought when this outbreak happened, looking at our industry, the housewares, the home and hardware industry. For all of you listeners out there who might be traveling to China or even worried about your supply chain, I just thought talking about the Coronavirus would be fascinating, but also really important to business. Just admittedly today we’re looking in contacting suppliers as the Chinese New Year wines up or wines down and wondering, are they all going to be open for business? Are they going to have the labor force to continue production? So, today we’ll dive into some of those questions. As I interview Dr. Marylou Gibson, she’s an expert in this field, but what is also unique about Dr. Marylou Gibson is that she is an entrepreneur as well.

Luke Peters: She just sold the business that she started in the year of 2000 and we’ll get back into that. So, Dr. Gibson is an expert virologist trained in virus growth, diagnostics and vaccines. She received her PhD and postdoctoral training from The University of Illinois and The University of Chicago, and she has worked as a scientist for several Fortune 500 companies during their career. Marylou is an entrepreneur, formed VIRAPUR, a contract research lab providing services to the virus industry and recently sold the business to Microbiologics. Dr. Gibson, I fumbled a few of these complex words here, but I’m thrilled to have you on the podcast and I think I’m looking forward to an interesting conversation here.

Marylou Gibson: Well, thank you Luke. I’m very happy to help people understand what’s going on with this Coronavirus epidemic that looks like it’s turning into a pandemic as we speak today on January 31st. Things are moving very, very quickly with this new coronavirus outbreak. In seven days, the infected population has grown tenfold and certainly will grow larger within China and possibly outside of China.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well, that’s a perfect segue. I guess for our listeners we’re going to dive … I’ll have a series of questions here for Dr. Gibson about the virus but also about travel. We have the International Housewares Show coming up, the Home + Hardware Show coming up, the Canton Fair in Southern China, which most of us will travel to once or twice a year. So, all of this travel is happening in Q1, it’s trade show season. Besides the coronavirus, let’s talk about travel in general as well. So, I thought, overall, I want to provide a really useful and actionable set of information here for the listeners.

Luke Peters: Dr. Gibson, as mentioned, is such an expert in this area but also an entrepreneur. So, at the very end of the episode, if you guys can manage to go through all the science here at the beginning, we will talk about her business, what it does and a little bit about the sale and what she’s looking to do in the future. I thought that would be cool as well because there aren’t a lot of female entrepreneurs in the science fields. This is a pretty unique opportunity for me to interview somebody who’s accomplished so much. Dr. Gibson, let’s start with the Coronavirus details. What is unique about it and what is known at this point?

Marylou Gibson: Sure. Well, coronavirus is one of probably five or six different common cold viruses. They’re really quite different from each other. We’re all familiar with influenza, which is not one of the common cold viruses, but those that are common cold viruses, maybe you’ve heard Rhino virus or RSV, which stands for respiratory syncytial virus and there’s a few others, and they’re all quite genetically different. Corona is one of these common cold viruses which belonged to a family of viruses, the coronas, that infect all sorts of animals on this planet. There is about 50 viruses that we have full genomic sequence for where they’ve sequenced the actual virus nucleic acid. They range from infecting animals as wide from beluga whales, to rats, to pigs, to turkeys. There are about six or seven viruses now that infect humans in this family of the coronaviruses.

Marylou Gibson: They’re unique in the sense that well, they have an envelope which makes them a little bit easier to inactivate if we want to kill them. There’s no antiviral drug at this point that is directed to the coronaviruses. That’s unlike influenza where we have several antiviral drugs now. We haven’t developed any antiviral … Well, there are drugs in development but they’re not for sale to the population yet. They do have the ability to mutate and change and enter different animal populations as they mutate. That’s possibly what has happened in this instance where the virus, which was potentially in a bat population somehow just genetically mutated. Mutation is a common thing that happens with these viruses.

Marylou Gibson: When a change happens by chance that then allows that virus to now be more infectious to humans, and if bats get really close to humans for some reason or another, like in the animal market in Hunan, then that virus has the opportunity to jump into a new population. These viruses are all about just replicating themselves and making more of themselves. Like the old adage, selfish DNA. DNA just wants to make more of itself and viruses they’re like that. They’re selfish RNA. These coronavirus is an RNA virus. Its material is RNA.

Luke Peters: We’ll get a little bit into the weeds here for the audience, but hopefully it’s … this part’s interesting, and again at the very end we’ll talk about Dr. Gibson’s business if some of this is too much and you guys want to forward through. But Dr. Gibson, when I was in school, a virus was not considered a living organism because it couldn’t reproduce itself. Is that still kind of the case today? Also, does this virus actually have RNA in it or it just uses a host RNA to replicate?

Marylou Gibson: Well, to answer your first question, are viruses living? I think there’s still differences of opinion between scientist one and scientist two. But I mean, in the sense that they can propagate themselves and they have a strong force to propagate. I consider them some sort of a living organism. Living organisms sometimes are considered those that have all of the enzymatic systems and all of the systems to propagate themselves, but viruses have to rely on the cell that they infect for a lot of their replication and amplification business that they have to go through. Viruses don’t usually have all of the critical components to replicate themselves. They rely on something else. Therein, lies this living-nonliving discussion. Being a virologist, I think they’re very powerful entities and I’m glad I spent my entire career studying them.

Luke Peters: Yeah, it’s so interesting.

Marylou Gibson: These viruses actually do, in case their own RNA genome, so to speak. Well, it is called the genome. Coronaviruses have 29,000 linear stretch of RNA. Within that linear stretch is a lot of information that the virus uses to get into the host cell and to replicate its own RNA and to then make tens of thousands more copies of virus and then blow out of that host cell and infect additional cells. So, the virus does hold its own information in that 29,000 stretch of basis that it needs to propagate itself and to mutate itself.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Does that mean then that UV light does disable virus because it could alternate the RNA structure just like it would a DNA structure? Is that still work for disabling, like say …?

Marylou Gibson: That is correct. You can inactivate this virus in particular. Well, they’ve shown that the SARS virus, which is very related to this virus, genetically. The SARS virus can be UV inactivated. Even exposure to UV light in the sunshine will inactivate this virus probably within minutes, less than hour.

Luke Peters: Yeah, which is really important. Just because, and again, I’ll jump around a little bit and I’m trying to think of like what’s important for the listener here and we’ll jump into hygiene. I ask that question just because from what I remember, desiccation was like the best way to kill bacteria in that case. It’s like, wash our hands and everything, but when things dry out, they die. Do you think air purification is …? You guys probably have clean rooms in your lab, I’m assuming. Does HEPA air purification with UV, is that enough to capture virus particles or are they too small?

Marylou Gibson: Virus particles should be captured. This virus is a very small virus in the realm of how big viruses are. So, it’s pretty small but it should be captured by a HEPA filters. They haven’t tested this virus in particular yet for whether it passes through certain size filters, but HEPA filters are designed to capture very, very small particles and also some charged particles. So HEPA filters, in my opinion, should be useful to remove some of the particles that would be in an environment. Pretty much speaking, I think if you want to avoid this virus, you probably shouldn’t be in enclosed space with people who are potentially infectious or in a space that has recycled air. The goal would be to be in wide-open spaces or places with good air that is passed through and then exhausted to the environment. You don’t want recycled air.

Luke Peters: Yeah. On that question, let’s jump into some travel suggestions. This doesn’t have to just be focused on the coronavirus, this is on any virus as people are trying to avoid getting sick. A couple of questions about that. How should people think about protecting themselves, say on a plane or crowded trade shows? Because the trade shows we go to, I think in the Housewares show in Chicago, there’s probably 60,000 people. And you’re in a big ventilated room, it’s high ceilings, you’re shaking hands all day. Then on a plane, obviously people are flying back and forth. The first question here is because is like when somebody coughs or sneezes and they’re sick with anything, does that create a cloud of smoke? If somebody’s exhaling a cigarette, is it the same idea where like the smoke lingers in the air, and is there a radius of infectiveness?

Marylou Gibson: Yeah, there is. There has been studies that study how far a cough projects. Pretty much a cough can project droplets up to two yards, six feet, two meters. There’s about a whole gallon of your air that is thrust out when an adult person coughs, so there’s a gallon volume of air. In that cough, there’s a lot of different droplets sizes. Because when you cough, you don’t just make one droplet size, you make a whole bunch of different sizes. Big, sometimes you can see stuff that comes out of people’s mouth if you’re in the right light. There’s larger droplets that are way bigger than a virus, the actual liquid drops within. Then there’s teeny, tiny little droplets too and there’s a whole range of volume. In those droplets can be liquid and also virus.

Marylou Gibson: Some of these droplets can impact the surface, like stick to the wall if you’re close to a wall. Some are so heavy that they fall by gravity and some are so small that they stay suspended in the air for hours potentially. Especially if there’s virus in there and it dries, it can be suspended in the air for hours. For a matter of fact, this is how measles spread so quickly because the virus is suspended in teeny droplets and hours later in a room, somebody could come in and get infected with measles.

Luke Peters: Yeah. So, even though it’s two yards or six feet for a cough, but if it’s suspended or if the air system’s moving that air around in a plane, does it mean probably you’re more likely to get sick if you’re closer to the person, but even if you’re, say 10 rows back, there’s a chance I guess because …?

Marylou Gibson: Right. Well, that’s true. Ideally, you want to stay out of small enclosed spaces. I’ve had friends in the last month on planes that have gotten sick from their seatmates. You want a place that has adequate ventilation and not circulating air. I don’t know if they recirculate air in planes, I don’t really know, but ideally you wouldn’t want the air to be recirculated. The other thing about this virus, and I’m presupposing things on this novel coronavirus, that they’ve discovered or showed with SARS, which is a very close family member to this new virus, is that this virus can remain viable on surfaces for up to four days. It can dry on a surface and still be viable on that surface. Viable I mean alive. If you took your hand and touch and picked up a load of that from a surface and rubbed your eye or stuck it in your mouth, you could potentially become ill.

Marylou Gibson: It all depends on how much virus is in that droplet that you touch and how much of it actually gets in your eye and whatnot. But they haven’t done full studies on how many virus particles are actually required to be infectious with this new coronavirus, but infection depends on the viral load that you actually infect yourself with.

Luke Peters: Sorry, excuse me. This one has a cell membrane, like a lipid membrane? Like you said, there’s an …

Marylou Gibson: A lipid membrane. Yeah.

Luke Peters: Oh, that’s interesting.

Marylou Gibson: There’s two kinds of viruses in the world that we work with. There are viruses like this that actually bugged through the membrane of the cell and pick up some of the membrane. It’s a unique mechanism that these viruses have, that they utilize the cells so much that they look like a cell, but they insert their own proteins and business into this membrane. But that’s the bad part about it, but the good part about it is since they’re surrounded by this lipid or fat membrane, that they’re sensitive to an activation with organic solvents like alcohol, PURELL type hand sanitizers. Certainly soap and water is your first go to for anything. So, if you can wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, that’s great too.

Luke Peters: Got it. Yeah, that’s so interesting how virus … You’ve spent your whole career on it, but I just find it fascinating. How about supplements? There’s so many on the market, but just common supplements that you hear for improving immune response or keeping people from getting sick, like Vitamin C, Zinc, Echinacea there’s others. I think vitamin C had something to do with … geez, I don’t even actually don’t remember the mode, but it was something where it prevented cold viruses from penetrating cells or supposedly that’s what I read about it. But do you think there’s any efficacy or proven results on these types of things and should travelers even consider these?

Marylou Gibson: It’s not my thing. I’m not a big proponent of supplements. I think if you feel it’s going to help you, that’s fine, but I don’t have any recommendation for supplements. I also think, keep yourself hydrated well especially on an airplane, keep your membranes, your mouth hydrated. I think hydration has something to do with susceptibility as well, but I can’t really say anything about supplements.

Luke Peters: Okay. No problem. That is interesting about hydration. Dr. Gibson, just wrapping up this, as far as the traveling section goes, it sounds like you’re more likely to catch this from breathing it in, than you are touching it from the surface. I’m just extrapolating that. Would that be correct?

Marylou Gibson: Right. Well, I think you’re in control of touching. You’re in control of what you touch and what you put in your eyes or your nose or your mouth. But you may not be so in control of what you breathe. Try to stay clear of people that are obviously coughing. The question is whether wearing a mask is going to help you or not. Masks are designed really to help the person that’s infected from coughing on you. So, it’s the infected person who should be wearing the mask, but a mask does offer a small degree of potential protection from large droplets that might be projected towards you. Another thing that I would wear in a situation that’s dangerous or sketchy is I would wear glasses.

Marylou Gibson: If somebody is coughing, if they coughed something directly at you, the glasses protect that from hitting your eye without … you can do something about it. I was just listening to a YouTube video of a young teacher, Irish teacher in Hunan who was going to the grocery store and he wore his swim goggles to protect his eyes. I thought that’s brilliant that he’s thinking through this thing because viruses can enter through the mucus membrane of your eye.

Luke Peters: Yeah. It’s super interesting to think that way and also just for people to understand all the ways a virus can get in. So it’s not just breathing it in. Also, just like you talked about the mask could have some benefit. It’s mostly for those who are sick. I always just think air and water, they always take path of least resistance, and it’s hard to get a perfect seal on your face. So like when you’re breathing air in, I’m guessing a high percentage of that air is just coming through cracks on the side of the mask.

Marylou Gibson: Right, and most of the masks that people wear that you see on the street in China, I don’t believe are the very high pore … they should be N95 which, which has a certain pore size and are designed not to let most viruses through. I’m sure they’re just fabric masks or something like that. They’ll protect a certain size of droplet but not very small droplets or not very small dried particles from coming through.

Luke Peters: Great. Let’s dive into what we know directly about the coronavirus. I know it changes daily. So I was like looking at it this morning and there’s I think over 10,000 cases that are at least being reported and then a little bit over 200 deaths. It’s hard I guess to get a mortality rate, or is there anything you can extrapolate where this virus is going compared to say the influenza virus?

Marylou Gibson: Well, things are changing daily. So if someone listens today, it’ll be at about 10,000. Tomorrow, it could be well higher than that. The mortality rate that they’re calculating right now is about 2% to 3% of the people effected, but these data lag from the number of infected people that they’re reporting may not be the full number of people that actually are infected because everybody’s not sick in the same intensity. There’s people that are super duper sick, that can’t breathe and have a respiratory distress syndrome. Those are probably the hospitalized people. But then on the other side of this virus spectrum, there are people that maybe just have the sniffles and are barely bothered by this infection.

Marylou Gibson: Those probably are not counted in this full number of folks that are being reported right now. The other issue this early in this, it’s really not an epidemic anymore. I think it’s turning into a pandemic. Another thing that is true, is I don’t think that the diagnostic laboratories can keep up with all these folks that are potentially presenting being infected. So there’s quite likely a lot of under-reporting of people that are affected because they’re not really diagnosed yet, and they probably will never diagnosed the people that just have the sniffles from this.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Marylou Gibson: Right. Just yesterday, the World Health Organization decided to make this a more serious threat and they feel that the virus infection is a threat beyond just China. They’ve made a move to heighten their response to the outbreak worldwide because they’re worried that lesser equipped countries won’t be able to respond in the same fashion that China has. China is responding, I think in a very amazing and thorough way. The world health leaders said that there’s never in history been this sort of mobilization in China as they see with this virus. It’s costing China a lot of money to shut down this entire area to … it’s really a significant mobilization that they have put into effect and it is protecting the world really, what China’s doing is serving to protect the world because the people that potentially are infected aren’t being allowed, or at least most of them, aren’t being allowed to circulate to other regions or other countries.

Luke Peters: Yeah. They’re building hospitals in like 12 days. It’s incredible.

Marylou Gibson: That’s right.

Luke Peters: I guess, part of the skeptic in me is always thinking, whoa, it is an amazing like quick turn of events that China has been able to do, and like you said, the way they’ve mobilized, but part of the skeptic in me was thinking, well, maybe they know something we don’t about how virulent or dangerous this virus could be, but the numbers are coming out. It is dangerous, but it’s not like it’s 50%.

Marylou Gibson: The health infrastructure of the globe is aware of things like this that can happen. China has record of doing a very similar thing for stars in the early two thousands where they did build a hospital in short order, which now has been abandoned. But essentially, what it is, is a whole bunch of military barrack style buildings I think that are not designed for longterm use, but they want to use it to assist the population and treat the population and isolate some people. China is known to be able to turn construction projects around very, very quickly. So I’m not surprised.

Luke Peters: I’ve seen it firsthand. Yeah, they can do things that most other countries can’t for some obvious reasons. Yeah. Dr. Gibson, a quick question on how people are dying from viruses, from any virus, but maybe from this one if you know more specifically, but when people die, is it because of the actual virus that it somehow it causes so much cell death that there’s certain issues with certain organs or is it usually a secondary infection like a bacterial infection, like a pneumonia that comes in because of a weakened immune response or some other cause?

Marylou Gibson: I don’t know medically exactly, but what I understand is happening is that these folks are getting acute respiratory distress syndrome. Their lungs are reacting to infection to this pneumonia. They’re getting inflamed and they can’t take the oxygen out of the air adequately, so they are often put on respirators. They just have a lot of the issues of getting good oxygen transfer through their lungs. Ultimately, that’s the cause of death as I understand it, but I’m not a medical doctor either.

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Marylou Gibson: Some very well may be coming down with secondary bacterial infections, but I don’t know really the course of the disease. That’ll come out in the next few weeks I think, more information on that, because the Chinese have been very forthright with information. Those infections that we’ve had in Western countries luckily have not led to any fatalities yet, so we can’t really map things out exactly.

Luke Peters: Yeah, which is good news. So we can hold on to that. But like you said, it updates daily. We’ll keep this, once this podcast launches, we’ll update some numbers to that day because every day things are moving up 50% in some cases and changing rapidly. Do viruses like this or even other viruses, just because I remember just from my studies that some of them can cause cancer later in life. Not to be alarming, I’m asking this question more from just a curiosity standpoint because I think it’s so interesting on how viruses can cause mutations and changes in their host. Do viruses have any long-term effects on people? I guess, we can talk about the typical cold and flu viruses. What’s known in the science community?

Marylou Gibson: That’s a really a deep question. Any virologists listening will understand how I have trouble exactly giving you an answer to that. But on the whole, the RNA viruses, which corona is one, influenza is another, they usually don’t have any long term stick-around effect. Your body deals with them, clears them and you can’t look for them and your body’s not holding onto their sequences or anything. Some of the DNA viruses can insert their DNA into the host. Also, the HIV virus has can leave tracks of itself in your genome, but most of the common cold viruses, they come, they conquer and then they leave. Most of the common cold viruses on earth, I misspoke. The common cold viruses that are RNA viruses just come hit, infect and then burn out, either because your immune system is able to conquer them most likely or you die.

Luke Peters: Yep. Let’s hope it’s not the latter. Spoken like a true virologist. Cool. That is really interesting actually. So the RNA viruses don’t have these longer term effects that DNA viruses do. That’s what I meant by asking the question is that viruses can insert DNA, and I don’t know a lot more than that, but that’s a very helpful and succinct answer. What’s a surprising fact, and I know you spent your career on this Dr. Gibson, but maybe for the general public, what might be something surprising about viruses that would be interesting to know about?

Marylou Gibson: Well, I just want to reiterate that antibiotics that we commonly go to the doctor and get for … that are prescribed like a Z-Pak or ampicillin or something like that have no effect on viruses. The first day that you come down with the sniffles and you think you’re getting a cold, an antibiotic treatment is very likely going to do nothing for your cold symptoms. Sometimes people after days or a week of a cold might get a secondary infection of their sinuses or something else, which that would merit antibiotic treatment quite likely. Going to the doctor on day one for a sniffle or a cold for antibiotics is not going to work, and on top of it, it’s possibly going to generate a resistant bacteria in your body, that then when you need an antibiotic to kill it, it won’t work. That’s something that I would like everybody to know. The other thing is, get the various vaccines that are available to you and protect yourself at least from those common infections that we can vaccinate ourselves against, especially influenza.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And good point on the … I mean, we didn’t get into a difference of virus and bacteria, but hopefully that the general public is somewhat well versed that at least they’re two different things. Like you said, antibiotic is not going to … it’s targeted for certain bacteria and certain organelles in the bacteria and also can mess up your gut flora too. So people, yeah, be careful on that and think about that.

Marylou Gibson: Absolutely. Yeah. For flu, there are a couple antiviral drugs, but most usually your body can wipe out flu infections without the need for an antiviral drug. That’s up to you and your doctor. I guess whether you request an antiviral for the flu, but you need to be positively diagnosed with flu before they will give you something like Tamiflu, which is on the market or Baloxavir. It just was put on the market last year by Roche. I can’t remember what the trade name is, but there’s two antivirals out there for flu.

Luke Peters: Cool. That’s helpful. I want to jump into your business actually. This will kind of be the end portion of us talking about coronavirus, but I just thought some listeners might find it super interesting that you’re also an entrepreneur. I just wanted to summarize it. We talked about kind of the virus details and where we are with the infection, but that is going to change really quick, and that we’re recording this to last day of the month. We talked about some travel tips and how viruses, I guess talking about why you get sick and you talked about the respiratory illness, and that it’s not always a secondary infection due to a bacteria. I thought that was actually pretty interesting.

Luke Peters: Thanks for all of that information, Dr. Gibson. So now I’d quickly like to just talk about your business because I found that fascinating. What did the company actually do at a VIRAPUR?

Marylou Gibson: I invented a virus purification kit for gene therapy applications in the early 2000s, and started selling that through and started this company VIRAPUR. I decided to start the company just because I was a mother with young children. I needed a little bit more flexibility from the 8:00 to 5:00 routine, pick up kids from school and whatnot. So I decided, well I’ve had enough of the 8:00 to 5:00 thing and I’m just going to use … There seemed to be interest in this invention so I decided to take a really big step and get out of the work world and start this effort myself. Then one thing led to another organically. Customers would say, “Well, that’s great, you can purify viruses, but can you grow viruses?”

Marylou Gibson: So we started a laboratory growing certain viruses. Mostly, things like influenza. Most of the common cold viruses we grow. The customers started becoming things like vaccine companies that are developing vaccines or diagnostic companies that are trying to diagnose certain viral illnesses they need controls that make sure that they’re their diagnostics work. Lastly, people asked us to screen new antiviral compounds that they think should have an effect against influenza or herpes virus or any number of viruses. Over the years, we developed a large clientele and in all of these services and the company has been fairly successful. In 2017, we sold the company to a Microbiologics Incorporated that has a larger interest in bacteria and viral diagnostics and custom services. So we’ve been a good match for their product line. I continue to serve as their scientific advisor for viruses.

Luke Peters: Wow. That’s got to be a challenge building the business with kids. How many kids do you have?

Marylou Gibson: I have three girls. All adults now. One is a surgeon and others are developing families or their own careers, mostly in medicine, so it’s interesting.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well, that’s a great story. You grew the business. When you sold, how many people were on the team? Did you have other scientists working with you?

Marylou Gibson: I had five scientists at the time, now we’re up to 12 so we’ve had a lot of support from the company that’s purchased us, from Microbiologics, and the company continues to grow. We have some unique skills in virology that are hard to put together in other businesses. Some of our business is from companies that may not want to put their own research effort together to do the sorts of things that we do because it takes a lot of training. Virology in some ways is an art. A lot of sciences and arts. That’s how I look at it. Now we’re doing this artful science with very high level of quality and containment.

Luke Peters: Yeah. It looks like you teach for a while at UCSD, which is a University … well, UC San Diego, right?

Marylou Gibson: Yeah, University of California, San Diego. I taught in their extension program for seven years. I taught students who are pretty much in the workforce, new skills in biological manufacturing. For a while, when I worked in an industry, I was doing biological manufacturing. I was one of the people at Amgen involved in early Enbrel, which was a drug that’s sold by Amgen. It’s been on the market for probably almost 20 years now as well. I’ve done that kind of manufacturing of getting biological drugs on the market. San Diego being such a big biotech locus, there’s a lot of people interested in making drugs and control of drugs, what’s the science behind the making of drugs. Those are the types of things that I taught at UCSD.

Luke Peters: How did you bridge the gap? Because for a lot of scientists, they’re focused on their love and passion of science, but a business is a completely different discipline, and can sometimes be a turnoff for people who want to focus on the science. How did you bridge that gap and run a business at the same time? Because it’s a different skill set and just different activities that are involved there.

Marylou Gibson: I maybe blame it somewhat on my father who was himself an entrepreneur and ran a small business. From being small, I saw how hard it was, but how rewarding it was to run your own business. When I worked in industry, I think I learned a lot from just being another cog in the wheel, and in industry, I learned a lot from doing that. It kind of came naturally. You learn a lot as you go as a small business person. You make mistakes, you learn. But my goal has always been to serve and to do high quality work and do it ethically. That’s why I like running my own business when I did, that I can have control over those aspects.

Luke Peters: Yep. That’s absolutely … I just spoke at a middle school yesterday, just a quick little career day thing and that’s what I was telling the kids, it’s a different … there’s a lot of ways to look at business, and sometimes, kids when they’re young, they just want new pair of shoes and more money, but I said,” Hey, there’s other options.” Just like you said, you got a flexible schedule, you’re raising a family and you were able to start a business in a very complicated field. So that’s very challenging and hard to do, and especially as a woman, so that’s really a cool story. What are your plans post-sale? Sounds you’re still working at the new company and it’s growing. Anything, any thoughts on the future and what’s next for you?

Marylou Gibson: Well, thanks for asking. I’m open to opportunities. I enjoy teaching still. I’m interested in those aspects or being a consultant in teaching what I’ve amassed in my field over the last 40 years. I’m sure new opportunities will emerge for me. I’m open.

Luke Peters: Great, and what’s the best way for any of those folks to get in contact with you? Would it be LinkedIn or is there another preferred method?

Marylou Gibson: I am on LinkedIn. That’d be great. Yeah.

Luke Peters: Cool. Well, listen, thanks Dr. Gibson, really enjoyed the conversation and really looking forward to publishing this podcast. Hopefully, for the listeners, this was helpful and you guys learned some safety tips and also hopefully the science. We didn’t go too deep on that, but I just find all of that interesting in this world that most people don’t really talk about or even understand what these things are called viruses. I just want to thank all of you listeners for joining us today on the Page 1 Podcast, travel safely. Hopefully, all the supply chain stay fine for us as we go through Q1. I appreciate all your reviews on iTunes and we’ll see you on the next episode. Thank you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Page 1 Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce, check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailer.

***CNN World News Live UPDATE AS OF 2/5/2020: Coronavirus cases reach nearly 25,000***

Get a FREE evaluation of your online sales strategy

Episode Links: www.Virapur.com 

Contact Dr. Marylou Gibson: LinkedIn

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, ReviewApple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

How the Father Daughter Duo of The Companion Group utilizes private label & patent protection to avoid channel conflict – Leah Belzer-Adams – EP26

What you’ll learn:

This week on the Page 1 Podcast, we’re breaking down the IP process—from how to decide when to get a patent to building it into a company’s product creation process. We also dive deep into the Private Label industry with the help of our guest, Leah Belzer-Adams.

About our guest:

Leah Belzer-Adams is the COO of The Companion Group. Leah is unintentionally taking over a housewares business founded by her dad, Chuck Adams. The business was never meant to be a family business, but Leah came to help the company one summer and fell in love with both sales and the consumer product industry! Innovation is her company’s bread and butter and she finds it incredible to be a part of a company that’s such a thought leader in the industry.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • The CG’s “head-to-toe” approach to product design and manufacturing—2:10
  • A breakdown of CG’s product categories—3:30
  • Private label as an online channel conflict strategy—5:00
  • The Companion Group stats (company size, departments, warehouses, etc.)—5:45
  • How CG uses 3D printers to make products in 24 hours and cut production costs—7:10
  • Sales channel breakdown: in-store versus online sales—11:06
  • Key in-store clients—12:00
  • The CG’s quick-to-market product launch strategy—17:13
  • IP advice from a company with over 90 patents—23:30
  • Steps on how to create a more patentable product—25:00
  • Biggest lesson from a veteran consumer product company—29:58
  • A young professional’s take on how to remain relevant—32:46  
  • How to develop talent within your organization—35:10
  • One habit to make you a better leader—36:34
  • Most influential book for entrepreneurs to read—39:29

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page One Podcast. A weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page One Podcast. I’m your host, Luke Peters. This is the podcast where we bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances where I cut my teeth selling products online and now started Retail Band where I hope to help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and B2B online sales strategy. I am also offering a free sales evaluation right now for your digital strategy. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or email me at luke@retailband.com. We can look at things like if influencer marketing might be a good opportunity for you or just check out your various sales channels, digital strategy, direct to consumer or wholesale. We can look at all of it and see if we can help you.

Luke Peters: Let’s get into this episode. In this episode, you’re going to learn from Leah Belzer-Adams, COO at The Companion Group. Leah unintentionally took over the housewares business. Founded by her dad, Chuck, the business was never meant to be a family business, but she came in to help one summer, fell in love with sales and product. Innovation is their strength. We’re going to dive deep into this father-daughter dynamic and learn about all of the innovation, the patents that they have, and should be an awesome podcast. I’m excited to get going on this. Leah, nice to have you on board.

Belzer-Adams, L: Thanks. Glad to be here.

Luke Peters: Cool, so Leah, why don’t you just give a quick intro about yourself if I missed anything there.

Belzer-Adams, L: I don’t think you missed much. I’m excited to jump into more detail.

Luke Peters: Great.

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, I guess the only thing would be a little bit more about our company. I think you’re going to jump into that.

Luke Peters: Perfect. Good segue. That’s the next question. If you can just talk about The Companion Group. What do you guys do? What do you make? What do you sell?

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, so traditionally, we call ourselves a housewares company. We design and manufacture products. We own every piece of it, all the way from the inception of design all the way through the manufacturing and handing it over to the customer. We really, really focus on innovation. How can we do things better? Differently? We think a lot about turning trends into product. I think one of the things I’ve really learned from my dad is approaching the world and looking at everything as a potential product. I think that’s been a really interesting insight for me.

Belzer-Adams, L: Then we actually have multiple brands. Our longest running brand is Charcoal Companion. We have several others that have either been in sort of outdoor entertaining or really indoor housewares. De La Terre is our newest brand, which is a ceramic cookware brand that can go, basically it’d be used over electric stove, flame, in the oven, in the freezer, in the microwave, in the dishwasher. We’re really excited to be launching it.

Luke Peters: Great, and can you just mention maybe a few other products that way the consumer gets a good visual, maybe actual products. Describe them a little bit more.

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, of course. Pizzacraft and PizzaQue is one of our big brands. Essentially we have the largest, most comprehensive brand of at home pizza making accessories. Then PizzaQue, which is an outdoor oven. For us, it’s a really cool product. It’s propane run. It’s portable. It’s about 23 pounds in total when it has its table top leg. It cooks the pizza in five minutes. It gets up to 900 degrees, generally cooking between 700 and 800. That’s a pretty awesome product. Not In My Backyard is one of our brands. Really like all natural wearable bug repellents in places like … you’ll see it out at Walgreens and Target and those kinds of places. Then Charcoal Companion like I said, is our longest standing brand. There’s some gajillion products in the line, probably too many/ Himalayan salt blocks and other sort of salt products are really big for us. The Pit Mitt, top of grill is huge for us. That’s our biggest category. Flame Friendlies, so yeah. Does that help? Does that cover it?

Luke Peters: Perfect, perfect. No, that’s great. I like that because for the listeners, it’s easy to go right past that when talking about companies and sometimes they may not know what The Companion Group does. I know you guys, I think you guys, do you white label or at least your IP is used with a lot of other brands, right? You guys have a ton of IP.

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, so actually a 65% of our business or more is private label. We’ve really seen that shift as internet has become more and more of a player. It’s so easy to look up a product and see the price right online. Each retailer is really interested in having their own SKU. We’ve really moved to private label in large part because of that. And then also just private label as a strategy has become really big for retailers.

Luke Peters: Yeah, channel conflicts. That’s super smart and solves that problem. How about some details about the company itself, maybe the size of the buildings. I know I was talking to Chuck. He mentioned you guys had moved warehouses and so talking about your footprint, number of employees different departments that you guys operate. I’m sure it’s the standard sales, marketing, finance and warehouse, but any specifics around that to give the listener a little bit more details about the company.

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, absolutely. I think the one thing I want to go back to really quickly is I talked a little bit about a head to toe approach in designing and manufacturing product. For us that means we actually own every piece of that. We have an on-staff chef who cooks every meal that is photographed by our in house photography team and our videography team and obviously product development and marketing. We take a lot of pride in that. I think one of the things that’s been key for us is that we have the resources to do what the major retailers need, and yet we’re nimble enough to do it quickly and to change gears when things aren’t working. I think that’s one thing.

Belzer-Adams, L: With that we have obviously a facility in Berkeley that nurtures that culture and business. We have a big creative department. We have open floor space so people have their own cube, so they can keep to themselves and work on their projects and not get distracted, but also connect with their team members pretty easily. We have multiple 3D printers, which has really changed the way that we do business. We used to have to send everything to China, right, and wait for tools to get made and wait for changes and air freighting product and now our ability to design something and print it in 24 hours has completely changed that. We really, really love using those 3D printers. There’s often times when we actually have 3D printed product at a meeting or at a trade show when final product isn’t available.

Belzer-Adams, L: The total company is 75 people, maybe a hundred. We have, like I mentioned, our Berkeley offices. That’s where our all of our creative teams are, our sales exec team, finance. Then we have offices in both Hong Kong and in mainland as well as a warehouse and consolidations facility in mainland China. Also we just recently moved, as you mentioned, from San Leandro, California or Hayward, California to Woodland, which is near Davis. That’s our warehouse facility here. The change really, in large part, comes from just the Bay area being so expensive to operate in. It gave us a really good opportunity to look at what we were doing here in Hayward and make it more efficient and Woodland.

Luke Peters: Great summary. For me to summarize, you guys are, so it sounds like more than 50%, your 65% private label. You have everybody’s dream of an on-staff chef. That has got to be pretty awesome to have. Just interesting that 3D printers are making such a dent in speed to market for you guys. That’s a cool insight. Then warehousing in China for consolidation, super interesting. It sounds like you have sourcing in China and Hong Kong. Why do you have … Tell me more. What’s the benefit of having the warehouse consolidation on the ground in China versus say factories maybe having them hold product for you or just shipping product? How does that help out?

Belzer-Adams, L: In large part it’s because we work with between 30 and 40 factories.

Luke Peters: Oh wow.

Belzer-Adams, L: We have so many factories and also so many different materials. We actually, as we were a smaller, we had a few main factories. We would ask them to deliver a product to each other and fill containers. Getting to work between partners was not super fun. As we grew and worked with more and more factories and more and more types of products, the consolidation center that we owned became more and more important. Then, as I mentioned, the same philosophy that we have here about keeping things in-house, we have in China. In China, we have engineers, we have QC team, we have production teams. In Hong Kong is really just an office. They do all of our bookings and shipping, which is big. That’s what really drove the consolidation center. We have a great, our president of our Asia team is awesome and really runs a tight ship over there. It’s really been awesome for us and made a big difference in what we do.

Luke Peters: How big is the team in China?

Belzer-Adams, L: It can fluctuate depending on the time of year. Pre-Chinese New Year, it grows. On average during the year we have, I’d say 15 to 20 team members.

Luke Peters: Wow, that’s awesome. That’s got to be a powerhouse to have that team over there and helping drive the brand. Then taking the product, so we talked about sourcing a little bit and then products coming in. Let’s talk about sales mix. You guys are mostly in-store, I believe. What’s the breakdown between in store and online? Then from that, why don’t you talk about a couple of your key customers or sales channels.

Belzer-Adams, L: You’re going to test my knowledge. I don’t know from a percentage actually specifically what the breakdown between in store and online, but we do have a big presence on Amazon, and the also Walmart.com, homedepot.com. Obviously Amazon is always growing, so we’re trying to nurture that relationship while still being very focused on our brick and mortar relationships are very important as well. I think everybody focuses online, online, online. That’s where it’s going. I don’t agree with that, that that is sort of the future. I also know that brick and mortar is still the largest percent of our sales. I think it’s very important to stay focused on that and not just our sales but all sales in general. Yeah, so that … I’m sorry. I forgot the second part of the question.

Luke Peters: No, no. Well how about a couple of customers. Who are your key in store customers?

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, absolutely. Walmart and Target are big ones. Walgreens is new this year. We’re really excited to be working with them. One of the things that we’ve done really well is I think, somewhat because of the nature of our product being impulse product and then somewhat of just the way that we’ve positioned it, we’ve been able to sell across channels really well. We sell all the way from Williams Sonoma, Crate and Barrel to Walmart, Home Depot and as well as in the middle of there’s Macy’s and Belk, etc. We’re pretty well saturated and have pretty good penetration in the retail market.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s huge reach. Wow, congratulations on that. It’s nice when you have all those customers to sell into.

Belzer-Adams, L: Sometimes, yeah.

Luke Peters: Yeah, sales are always good. Let’s talk about the father daughter relationship. I think that’s awesome. Your dad Chuck started the business. I guess before we get into it, talk about the early years. He’s starting a business. You’re growing up in the family. At some point maybe you had become interested in the business. Are you exposed to it? Anything to share there? What stood out in the early years?

Belzer-Adams, L: My parents both are entrepreneurial. My dad started this business. He actually has a business partner, Doug fielding, who’s no longer in the business, although still a shareholder. My mom actually owns and runs her own business as well. I think, I’ve been very entrepreneurial from a very young age. I am, my dad always tells his story of me taking excess products from the warehouse, I must have been eight or nine, and selling it in front of our house, making quite a bit of money doing it. I loved the strategy. I’m hyper competitive. I think that that’s always been in my blood. I think that people are just naturally entrepreneurial.

Belzer-Adams, L: He started the business before I was born, so it’s always been a part of my life. Actually, my brother and I grew up hanging, when it was much smaller business, hanging out in the offices, in the warehouse and that kind of stuff, riding bikes around the warehouse. Definitely was always exposed to it but never really interested in it.

Belzer-Adams, L: I actually went to school for psychology. I was on summer break. My dad asked me was come help, somebody was on maternity leave or something. That was on the sales team. I totally fell in love with that. I did use to always say to him, “If you sold shoes, I’d be way more into it.”

Luke Peters: That’s funny.

Belzer-Adams, L: I came to realize that it wasn’t really about the product itself, the very specific product but more about selling innovative product and exciting products and being in a category that people, it’s fun and people are excited about. Then I also really love the sales strategy and bringing out how to read people and understand retail strategies and how we can fit in to those strategies.

Luke Peters: You coming into the business as a family member, like we talked about in the intro, it wasn’t designed or meant to be a family business and you coming in, did you feel a little bit of extra pressure or anything that was different or unique about that dynamic when you, when you took over and became a leader at the company?

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, absolutely. It’s complicated. I came in as an assistant. I moved all the way up to where I am today. I was never just handed a executive position. My dad was always really hard on me. I think that that is obviously always complicated, but I think it drove me to just want to be better at what I’m doing and gain more skills and look outside for additional education around retail strategies and management. I think I felt a lot of pressure also from the team members around nepotism and what me being their meant and what moving through the chain meant. When I was moved into a leadership role, I worked really hard to connect with the team, especially because of the companies has had people there for a long time and worked really hard to connect with them and show them that I’m there because I belong there rather than, because I was just given this spot.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and that makes sense that he would put, I think a lot of parents would do that because it’s good for the incoming family member to really earn it and feel like they’ve earned it. I’m sure the team sees that too. Yeah, it’s a great story. It sounds like you’re in the entrepreneurial family, both of your parents actually. Then you went to school. You weren’t even planning on being in this position. That summer you came in and worked, fell in love with it, and now you’re a COO and leading a large part of the company.

Luke Peters: Now let’s talk about this new launch of a cookware brand called De La Terre. I know Chuck, I think Chuck was describing a little bit about it’s, I wish I was more of an expert in these types of products, but it can handle heat in different ways or better ways than the competing products. Why don’t you take a start to finish. First start with what the product is and then conception to product launch. How did that go?

Belzer-Adams, L: Actually, we originally started with, we were looking for a ceramic that we could use on the grill. It doesn’t have to sort of take as much heat as a ceramic that goes on the stove just because it’s not sitting in a flame usually. It’s over the flame quite a bit more than if you’re cooking on a gas stove, right? Originally, we were looking for that, and we found material that’s actually a natural material that has a proprietary additive to it that makes it high heat resistance. It gives it thermal shock resistance. We started there. That’s the flame friendly line within Charcoal Companion.

Belzer-Adams, L: Then I was just looking at the product and thinking about it and thinking about the response to it and what else can we do with this, what else can we do with this material? It’s obviously, it’s really cool. It’s different. It’s unique, so started doing more. We haven’t really been so ever in the indoor cookware arena, which is a little bit scary. It’s definitely a big, big market with lots of big players. Looking around, there wasn’t really anything like it. There are couple of pieces here and there that you can use the ceramic on the stove, but not exactly, not huge brands and not several use, etc. Really got excited about the material and starting to think about how we can turn it into an indoor brand.

Belzer-Adams, L: From there I guess we started both doing product design. Really, again, I had to work really closely with the team, because we’re really used to the barbecue style or outdoor entertainment style. It’s not all about aesthetic. I think this has really tested them in terms of their design ability and made them grow in terms of really being able to be thoughtful, very thoughtful about aesthetic and not just function.

Belzer-Adams, L: In parallel to that, we were doing a ton of product testing. Essentially what I always say is our staff chef is also does all of our product testing like as you would if you’re a chef. I always say he’s trying out, he tries to break the product, right? He does everything that any consumer would do to get the product to break. I spent a long time on that piece of it, because it’s complicated.

Belzer-Adams, L: But sorry, I’m just going to go back. Just essentially what this says is this does, it’s a ceramic, like you would see any other ceramic cookware, although it has thermal shock resistance. It can go, like I mentioned, over the electric stove, over the gas stove. It can go from the freezer directly into the oven. It can go in the microwave. It can go in the dishwasher. It’s pretty incredible what it can do.

Luke Peters: The competitors would crack, right, in that situation?

Belzer-Adams, L: Mostly, yeah. Emile Henri has launched a similar product, actually. They’ve had a couple of SKUs out for a while and then actually right as we were launching ours at the Housewares last year, we saw Emile Henri come out with more of a statement around this. That’s really the only big competition we have right now. Anything else would crack in all those scenarios pretty much other than the oven.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and so you found this unique material. Then you created a new product for the company and had to design this product, like you said, around the aesthetic. Did you already have the designs done and then you got buyer input or buyer sales and then you brought it to market? Or did you have to do some marketing and consumer testing and a lot of versioning with buyers before you got to the final sellable product?

Belzer-Adams, L: We like to move pretty quickly if you get to market first, especially when we see competitors coming out with similar types of products. We did all of those things in parallel, right? We were designing. We were testing. Then we’re showing our retailers who have close relationships with. The we put it out to the public last year at IJ. It wasn’t ready to ship, but just this is coming, right? Got really good feedback, especially around the aesthetic. I think that’s what draws people in. Then what keeps them interested and engaged is all of the elements and what the material can handle. I think that’s really important. I think that getting people there is really important, because otherwise everyone just views it as another piece of ceramic.

Luke Peters: Are you guys now selling that? Is that live in some store shelves and brick and mortar or online or where are we at now with this product launch?

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, so it just went live last month. We have it definitely in some independence and then online, we have our direct to consumer site is live. I think my team worked with you Luke on an influencer strategy and really executing that, being strong there.

Luke Peters: Oh, that’d be fun.

Belzer-Adams, L: Well, it’s been really fun.

Luke Peters: Yeah, because it’s a visual product. Those are the best for social media and YouTube. How long start to finish? From the very beginning when you guys found the unique properties of the material that you would then use into the ceramic pot to now launching the product, what was the start to finish time on that? Was there any IP involved?

Belzer-Adams, L: I think there was about a year and a half on this. Unlike most of our products, there’s no specific IP. We can’t patent the material. Because we worked with our factory who has already been doing something similar. Then obviously we can always do design patents, but I don’t think that’s really valuable here. We are very well versed in patents. We have over 90 patents. IP is our bread and butter. There’s not IP on this right now.

Luke Peters: Well, that’s a great story and thanks for taking us through it. Leah, why don’t we kind of staying on the IP and the patent side of things. I thought there’s definitely some questions I have that I want to dive deeper into. Your company holds over 90 patents. Can you give us a specific case of a patent that’s been really, really helpful to you. That way we can get a visual or a picture of what the patent is? Is it some sort of design or how it’s protecting the product? Then we can dive deeper after that.

Belzer-Adams, L: Sure. It’s a little complicated. We have both a mix of design and utility patents. Obviously the design patents are good, especially when you’re coming first to market, but they can pretty much always be designed around. Utility patents are often more valuable because they’re able to protect you in more ways than just the design patents. I think the pizza oven is a great example. We have both design and utility patents on. Although there are definitely competitors in the market, I think that people have not been able to drastically knock off or dramatically or exactly knock off what we have in terms of our PizzaQue pizza oven or Pizzeria Pronto. I think that that IP is really valuable. As I said, I think that even if it’s just design patents, it helps you get it out onto the market and be first and force people to design around you.

Luke Peters: Perfect. That’s a good example, Leah. Also what I wanted to ask this is, this is more about processing and ideation, but how can a company internalize, be creating more IP and more patents within the company? Is that just something that Chuck or a department within the company, it’s already in their DNA? Let’s say a company doesn’t have that in their DNA, what do you think are two or three steps that they could then do to start creating more patentable product? What I mean is, verse just doing contract manufacturing and taking stuff off the shelf, but not actually putting their own patentable IP on the product that then protects them down the line? How can a company bring that into its DNA and into its processes?

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. It’s absolutely in my dad’s DNA. I think that he’s helped bring it into the DNA of the company. I do also think that, I hope he doesn’t listen to this, I think that every company needs really, they need that visionary and that person really driving innovation at least as they’re starting along the path of innovation. Then they need somebody who’s more grounded and more process oriented, has more, better at system. I think that my dad has always been a visionary. He’s always been able to bring innovation to the table. Like I said, he has a good mechanical mind, which helps, but also just very creative and always thinking about the next thing. He goes through these interesting creative ups and downs in terms of he’s cranking out all these ideas and then not. I think we all have that. But I do also think that, so I think every company needs that sort of visionary.

Belzer-Adams, L: But I also think it’s very important to be grounded. I don’t necessarily think that my dad always had a partner that kept him grounded, that allowed him the space to come up with all crazy ideas and then helped him say, “Great idea. Not so great idea, let’s shelf it.” I think that’s in large part where our partnership has been successful is that I feel like he does a better job of listening to me then listening to others often and that I’ve been able to say, “Hey, cool idea, let’s keep thinking about it, but let’s put it on the shelf for now because it’s definitely not a home run as is.” I think companies need to have that visionary and give them the opportunity to really just let them go and then they need a partner to always bring them back as well. I also think companies need to take risks. I think that’s one huge risk. Let’s take a risk here. I think it doesn’t always pay out, but it often does. I think that’s really important.

Luke Peters: Yeah, I mean it makes a lot of sense what you’re saying. I’m guilty of that all the time, by the way. I’m sure Chuck’s going to be fine hearing that part of the podcast. I actually want people here at the company to do. It’s more fun. You want to have the free range to come up with the crazy ideas. Then you want your, and then the rest of the leadership needs to be able to push back and everybody has to settle on what the best path forward is. I think that’s a totally a healthy dynamic. That’s a good story. What do you think about, I don’t know, productizing IP within a company. Is it part of a process or a new product launch or new product creation process where you guys say, “Hey stuff’s doesn’t make it to the new product stage unless it has IP.” Or is it just people behind the scenes who are actually doing this product creation are just used to thinking that way and coming up with products that are going to have IP? Is it just something natural or is it something that you think companies can actually mandate and build into their product creation?

Belzer-Adams, L: We definitely don’t have any rule or anything that no new product comes to the table unless it has IP. I think that’s very limiting. What we do is we always think about when we’re developing something, “Okay, how is it different than what’s out there or is it totally new? Is it our crazy innovation here or are we taking something that’s in the market and making it better?” We often think about how big we think a product is going to be. Doing IP is time consuming. It can be expensive. Really being strategic about like, “Okay, we can get a design patent on this, but is it worth it? Is there value there?” I think yes, in the one sense that it can be built into the product development process and that as you’re developing, being thinking about how you can do something that’s different from what the market has and what the market scene and then own that and own IP on it. But I also don’t think you should limit yourself to, we don’t let anything go out the door that doesn’t have IP or forcing IP on products that there’s just not enough value there.

Luke Peters: Yeah, it makes sense. There’s that happy medium. Cool, that’s super interesting and really helpful. IP is just, it’s enormously important and has been important to your brand. It’s good to hear the backstory there. Talking about leadership and your role as COO and running a major part of the company, what might be your biggest mistake along the way that the audience can learn from?

Belzer-Adams, L: Oh, that’s a really good question. So many mistakes. I think that the biggest mistake we’ve made as an overall company has been to grow fast and not implement processes in order to scale. I think that again speaks a little bit to my dad being a visionary and just kind of being out there with all these ideas and really focused on product development and lost track a little bit of how important it is that you have sales to back that product development. I think at one point we had more products than we have sales.

Luke Peters: That’s funny.

Belzer-Adams, L: I think making that shift to really being process oriented, system oriented is really important. I think we’re still working on that. I think that’s a large part of what I’m bringing to the table. I think, it’s great to be flexible and nimble, but that should be the exception to the rule rather than being always flexible or always nimble and not always having processes and system.

Belzer-Adams, L: I guess, the mistake I’ve made personally, I think part of it and it’s just really hard, it’s so emotional for me in that I love what I do. I’m so committed to it. I have incredibly high expectations of myself. But also I think there’s a lot of people have high expectations of me given that I am the daughter of the founder. My dad has high expectations of me. Sometimes just making it too personal. Business is business, right? There’s always those hard things. Do you let people go at the right time or are you emotionally connected, because they’ve been there for 20 years? Do you table this product idea because you’ve been really invested in it, you think it’s really cool. Those kinds of things. I think that’s really challenging.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing that Leah. It helps us connect more on the podcast. I think the mistake of growing fast without process is actually par for the course. I think, it’s literally like a stage of companies. It’s like you’re a teenager at that time and causing trouble and growing fast and doing everything that comes in front of you. Then later on, you’ve got to decide which products to jump into. It sounds like that’s the perfect role for you. That’s great. There’s a book called Traction, I think it talks, it says you need to be …

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, I’ve read Traction.

Luke Peters: Okay, there you go. There you go. You guys are the yin-yang, the perfect fit on a company there.

Belzer-Adams, L: I don’t know about that, but we’re working on it.

Luke Peters: Yeah, it’s a great book. It’s cool that you read it. You bring new energy to an older industry. I mean, I guess, housewares, I’ll call it an older industry. I mean, we go to the same trade shows. I’m over at IHA as well. You guys are probably in a different hall. Just thinking about that, how do you bring, how do you think differently. That’s question one. And then what advice would you give to establish brands that haven’t kept up with the recent changes and digital changes and are still maybe a little bit old? How would you bring more youth into those brands?

Belzer-Adams, L: Yeah, I think bring young people on. Let them speak. Give them an opportunity to really bring something to the table rather than have them just be junior people. My generation is going to be the biggest generation in the workforce now or shortly. I think it’s really important that you’re listening to young people and giving them a voice. I also think it’s important to obviously look at what’s going on. I think it’s not always easy, but try to figure out what’s a quick fad and what’s a longer running trend. I definitely think there’s a lot of quick fads. We make all these changes to fit into these quick fads, and then they’re gone. It can make a company feel novelty or disingenuous. That’s not always easy. I don’t have a lot of good advice on figuring that out. I think those are a couple of things.

Belzer-Adams, L: I just joined the IJ, young professionals group. This year it will be my first year getting together with other young professionals in the housewares market. After the show thinking about what the show did and didn’t do to bring young energy to the table. I’m really excited to do that.

Luke Peters: Cool, so I like your first advice. Just bring young people on. Young people with new ideas, I think that’s great. I’ve never heard of this young professionals group with IHA. Any more details on that?

Belzer-Adams, L: Not a lot. I mean just as a group of, I don’t even think it’s like 30 or so young professionals, either people in positions like myself who have started businesses or taking over business from their families or have moved up the executive chain and get together after the trade show a few months later and talk about what then didn’t work and what’s going on in the housewares industry and how we can help give insight to companies and the organizations based on, on what we see.

Luke Peters: What would be your advice to other business owners on developing talent from within the company? Just curious if you have any stories or how you have developed talent within your organization.

Belzer-Adams, L: My philosophy as a leader is to one, always bring people on in positions that are better than yourself. I think that I could go to every position in my company and say what each person is better at than me because that’s what I want from them. I want them to be executing the things really well that either aren’t my strengths or don’t have time for, etc. I think that’s a really important, it’s super important not to have an ego and not in that way. I think that’s how you get the best people. Let them thrive. I mean, give them enough support and oversight to do what you need to do for your business as well as to make them feel supportive. I find that the team works best when they feel like they’ve really owned something. I think, trying to figure out how to bring up is really same thing, always teaching them what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, why you’re thinking about it so that they can keep moving up. Theoretically you should keep moving up as well as they move up. I think again, just not bringing the least amount of ego to it and gets the best results.

Luke Peters: Perfect. Just thinking about how you prepare for the day professionally, is there maybe a habit or a ritual or a practice that you have that has made you a better person either at work or at home?

Belzer-Adams, L: The most important thing for me is working out. I’m so much of a better person, a better thinker, a better manager when I’ve been able to cut that time out to work out. I think maybe it’s working out for other people, maybe it’s not, but making sure that you’ve cut that time out of the day for yourself and be selfish about it. It’s going to make you better at everything else. I think I’ve really learned that working at all hours and always being on email or whatever, burned me out. I wasn’t thinking as clearly and those kinds of things. Obviously I still work a lot of hours, but making sure you take that time out to do whatever it is for yourself. That is important.

Luke Peters: Totally.

Belzer-Adams, L: A lot of people like meditation. I’m just too type A for that. I know it works well for a lot of people.

Luke Peters: Yeah, no, workouts are a must. Do you have a routine? Is it morning or is it late afternoon or evening? How does your routine look there?

Belzer-Adams, L: I see a trainer twice a week. That’s in the evening. Then try to do my own gym the same time, 5:30/6 every day after work.

Luke Peters: Oh that’s perfect. Yeah, it’s a huge energy boost. It’s important. It’s funny, because people think about working out like as if it’s an extra thing. But the problem is like in today’s work, we’re sitting down too much. It’s really just coming back to normal. The body should be moving. Yeah, it’s a complete necessity and so that’s awesome.

Belzer-Adams, L: Gives you enough energy to come home and work again at night, right?

Luke Peters: Oh exactly. Sometimes if it’s too late, I’ll get too wired. I’ll usually do the workout in the morning but anytime it’s like workout, morning or afternoon. It doesn’t even have to be strenuous. It’s just enough to get the … I have this thing called the aura ring. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this. It’s pretty cool. If you haven’t, it’s a so yeah I know you just shared before the episode that you’re going to be getting married. Yeah, you wouldn’t want this in place of a wedding ring, but it’s cool because it tracks all your motion and your sleep and everything. It’s cool on the workout side, because you can see history of all of the, it tracks all your motions. It’s got a bunch of gyroscopes in it. It tells you how many steps and equivalency of steps and also even how hard you work out was, because it can measure your heart rate and stuff. It’s pretty cool. It makes you kind of more competitive when you can look at previous days or previous weeks or months.

Belzer-Adams, L: Awesome. I think that’s really cool. I think I compete really, really well against myself. It’s very, very helpful to be able to look at where you’ve come from.

Luke Peters: Yeah, so check it out. It’s called aura ring. The only thing is you got to wear it. You have to wear it. It’s clunky. It looks like I got this like massive ring on. Anyways, it’s tracking what I do. Leah, do you have a favorite book to recommend to listeners?

Belzer-Adams, L: Let’s see. I really actually liked the Traction book. I think that was really helpful, especially for a company trying to come from a small phase into the next phase and scaling. I’m going to kick myself because I don’t remember the exact name of this book. It was all about culture and company culture. If I didn’t have a broken ankle, I’d go grab it. It’s all about company culture. It’s really, really interesting. I think one of the things that stuck out for me the most, and I’ll get the name, so you can put it in the podcast.

Luke Peters: Yeah, cool.

Belzer-Adams, L: It was … Description, but it was the most interesting thing for me I got out of the book was that they did a test. They basically gave a group of CEOs, a group of attorneys, a group of teachers and a group of kindergartners, all the exact same project. It was a very basic product. I think it was taking marshmallows and toothpicks and all having the same amount and starting with the same number and then building the highest structure that you said build. What was so interesting was so they compared who did the best, who, who had the highest structure and then group dynamic. The kindergartners had the highest structure. They beat everybody. CEOs came in next. I think what was so interesting and insightful was they really talked about how the kindergartens didn’t care what other people thought of them. They didn’t really have a hierarchy in the group. They just all did what they thought was best and played each role in order to execute the project.

Belzer-Adams, L: I thought that was really, really interesting, and it helped me think about how to, obviously there’s some hierarchy in business and there has to be some hierarchy, but also how to make people feel like they have a voice no matter what their role is in the company and that they’re heard and that they can share their ideas whether than the best ideas or not. I thought that was really, really interesting. And then I had a lot of other interesting, insightful pieces about company culture and what kind of cultures work well and how to shape those cultures.

Belzer-Adams, L: I think that’s really important right now because I think that as tech has kind of blown up, everybody has really tried to foster these very tech cultures, right? Like having beer in the fridge or whatever it is. I think the reality is a lot of the tech cultures are very toxic. And so trying to figure out the balance of being casual and making people feel comfortable, but also not taking that so far that it’s then uncomfortable. I think one of the things I always say to my team is we’re a team, not a family, right? We’re a group of people choosing to be together and working together and committing to each other rather than a family who has to be to gather. Often there’s dysfunction in family. I think that that’s really important. I think that book was really helpful for me.

Luke Peters: Yeah, I remember doing that. I think it was like called the marshmallow test or something like that. I think we did it. We’d done it at work. I’ve done it at different projects. It really is fun. Anybody listening, if you guys haven’t done that, it’s a pretty cool team-building project that you could do at your business. You could just look it up on YouTube. I thought your other comment about flipping the Org chart was great or flattening the Org chart or however you want to look at that and couldn’t agree more with comment on toxic tech. I’ve seen it time and time again with companies like that where they’ll, they’ll have the image, but it isn’t like that on the inside. Yeah, that’s super insightful. Thanks for that. How can listeners find more about you or connect with you? What’s the best place?

Belzer-Adams, L: Probably LinkedIn, although I should update my LinkedIn. Yeah, I think that’s probably the best place.

Luke Peters: Awesome, and then at LinkedIn you’re Leah Belzer-Adams, so for those listening.

Belzer-Adams, L: Yes.

Luke Peters: They can connect with you there. Leah, listen, I want to thank you for joining me on this episode of the Page One Podcast sponsored by Retail Band. Quick reminder that I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. We will take a look at your Amazon, Home Depot, Wayfair, Lowe’s, Walmart, Target, wherever you’re selling online, we can evaluate your strategy and all of those channels and optimize your sales there. Then we can use our selling tools to look at your keywords and how you have your product set up. Finally, we can help you with influencer marketing. It’s an awesome fit for most products, especially visual or products that can be tested on YouTube. We can help you gain a share of the world’s number two search engine, which is YouTube and which your company needs to be showing up for on the keywords that are going to make a difference for your brand. Connect with me on LinkedIn. You can ask about that free evaluation that we can do or you can email me at luke@retailband.com. Thanks all for listening to this episode of the Page One Podcast. I appreciate everybody that listens, all of your comments, suggestions and reviews. We’ll see on the next episode. Thank you.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the page one podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce, check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailer.

Get a FREE evaluation of your online sales strategy

Episode Links: https://the-companion-group.com/

Contact Leah Belzer-Adams: LinkedIn + leah@companion-group.com  

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, Review: Apple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

The 13 Billion Dollar Industry – Marketing and sales for the Builder, Architectural, and Home Design Sales Channels – Premier Group – EP25

What you’ll learn:

This week on the Page 1 Podcast, Jason and Jamie take us on a guided tour of Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA)—the 13-billion-dollar industry bringing you new technology solutions for the home. They also dish out marketing tactics to help houseware companies tap into the underrated channels of builders, architectures, and designers.

About our guest:

Jason Barth drives the overall company vision for The Premier Group and operates day-to-day by leading the sales and design team. Jason is passionate about the solutions that Premier curates for each individual client and takes great responsibility for not just the end result, but in consistently providing the “Ultimate Customer Experience.”

Jamie Carey graduate from Miami university of Ohio with a bachelor’s in marketing. Post college, she became a professional photographer for 14 years, which eventual lead her to the role of Director of Business Development at The Premier Group where she leads in design, content creation, and overall marketing strategy.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Jason’s & Jamie’s unconventional career paths to The Premier Group—2:12
  • What is CEDIA and why is it such a big deal?—4:40
  • The Premier Group stats (number of employees, different departments, etc.)—5:34
  • A breakdown of The Premier Group revenue per sales channel—6:50
  • TPG’s two fastest growing segments—10:30
  • How homeowners can use smart product analytics in a way that is easy & relevant—12:11
  • Ins-and-outs of The Short Throw Project: LG’s new innovative tech product with TPG—15:28
  • How to tap into an underrated market of Builders and Home Professionals—24:10
  • Top Tradeshows for houseware brands to network and target the Builders channel—26:35
  • Step-by-step strategy to break into the Builders channel—28:03
  • Marketing tactics to engage designers and architectures—31:55
  • How to create key messages that resonate with multiple customer personas—34:14
  • Favorite book, habit, ritual that made Jamie and Jason more successful—37:39

Podcast Transcription

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Page 1 Podcast, a twice weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best-in-class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers, or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page 1 Podcast. I am your host, Luke Peters. This is the podcast where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I am the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances, where I cut my teeth selling products online, and now I’ve started Retail Band, where I hope to help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and B2B online sale strategy. And quickly, right now, I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sale strategy. So if you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn, or email me at luke@retailband.com. And let’s get started here.

Luke Peters: In this episode, you will learn from Jason Barth and Jamie Carey about the company Premier Group. And we’re going to talk about designing, engineering smart homes. But what I thought was really interesting is we’re going to talk about a $13 billion portion of the economy called CEDIA, and Jason will talk more about that. And also just talk about how we can sell into the builder’s sales channel and learn more about builders and architects. And for those of you that have home products and home appliances, learning about how you can grow your business with builders. So Jason and Jamie, thank you both for joining me today.

Jason: How you doing?

Jamie: Thank you.

Luke Peters: And Jason, I have your bio here. Quickly, you graduated from DePaul with degrees in communications, consumer psychology, and finance. Is that three degrees?

Jason: Yeah, I like to say I didn’t like any of it enough to go overboard, so I just learned a little bit about everything.

Luke Peters: There you go.

Jason: But they’ve all served me well.

Luke Peters: You’re a glutton for punishment. And then, Jamie, if you don’t mind giving a quick intro about your background.

Jamie: I graduated from Miami University in Ohio and graduated with a marketing degree. But, out of college, I became a professional photographer for 14 years. So this job now combines those two skill sets, marketing and photography for The Premier Group.

Luke Peters: Are you a Canon or Nikon gear user?

Jamie: Canon. Canon.

Luke Peters: Oh man. Come on.

Jamie: But I’m not going to hate on Nikon.

Luke Peters: I got a bunch of Nikon gear and all these expensive lenses. Photography’s awesome. What kind of stuff are you shooting?

Jamie: I started off as a portrait photographer. So weddings, families, senior portraits. I’d always been interested in architecture, but based on my schedule and the age of my children I needed to get out of nights and weekends and started getting into more commercial or architectural photography, which is what ultimately led to this opportunity here with The Premier Group.

Luke Peters: Good for you. And you know what, being good at photography, it helps so many ways. I’m sure you know this, and probably ways you don’t even realize. Especially when you’re shooting products or even stuff around the house, you’re probably the go-to person for everything because you know how to properly frame something. So it’s cool to have that skill set, I bet.

Jason: It’s amazing how difficult it is to shoot the interior of a home and get the right perspective without distortion, the color balance, get the lighting correct. It’s extremely challenging and we’re fortunate that Jamie’s very talented. We brag a lot. We look at pictures of our projects and then we see other pictures and we’re like wow, ours look a lot better.

Jamie: It’s just one of those things that many companies, not even just our industry, but many companies neglect to photograph their finished work. It’s just something where when you finally get done with something you’re already onto the next one or two projects. So once I came on board and I had that skill set, it’s just been nice to be able to document our projects and then submit them for some of these awards that we’ve recently won.

Luke Peters: Absolutely. I started out shooting our products. We do appliances and they are really difficult with glass and stainless steel. And luckily we’ve been able to hire in or bring in some contractors that are just experts. And if you don’t start with a good image first before they get to Photoshop, there’s some things that just can’t be fixed.

Jamie: You got to nail it in camera.

Luke Peters: You got to get it in camera. Cool. So moving on into this, so Jason, you’re the CEO, and Jamie, you’re director of marketing and you handle social media, photography and relationships with some of the builders. So why don’t we get started on this, Jason, and why don’t you quickly describe the company and then describe what CEDIA is because I thought that was really interesting in our pre-discussion.

Jason: So we’re a member of what’s called the CEDIA Organization. That’s the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. That comprises about a $13 billion a year industry. It’s roughly 4500 companies across the United States are members of the CEDIA Organization, and we design and install home technology systems. So starting with network, then security systems, alarm systems, camera surveillance, access control. Of course audio/video and entertainment category. And then smart home automation. Lighting control, heating and cooling, control thermostats, motorized shapes, drapes and blinds. Essentially, if it has a wire we probably do it. But those are our major categories.

Luke Peters: Perfect. And then how about a little bit about the company? If you can just break down a total number of employees, talk a little bit about your physical footprint and the different departments you have at the company.

Jason: So we’re in our 21st year in business. This year we’ve got 23 full-time staff that focus on sales and design of technology systems and curating all the product information that’s out there, and then the physical implementation with onsite with project management and onsite installation. We work directly for consumers, and as you started to allude to, we work a lot in the builder channels, so with builders and people building new houses. And we also get a lot of leads at the top level from architects and interior designers.

Luke Peters: Cool. And of that, so you said, I think, 23 full-time staff, how many of those are focused on sales or are most of them out in the field performing the work?

Jason: There’s five of us that are on the front end sales and design team. Myself and Jamie as well as Ken, and Tyler in my office, so technically design and engineering and sales. And then my business partner Matt manages the operations side of the business, so that’s all the rest of the field workers, technicians, programmers, network gurus-

Jamie: Service department.

Jason: Service team.

Luke Peters: And then talking about your channels, so you said obviously the end consumer and then you have the builder channel. Would the builder and the architect, would you see that as the same channel or would those be two different channels?

Jason: I think the obvious answer is that if you’re hiring an architect you intend to build the house… I think at the production level, you have the Toll Brothers and the Pultes of the world. You don’t ever meet with the architect. You choose from a pre-defined set of floor plans and that’s how they bring a little more value. They’ve built these houses before, they have methods and techniques and economies of scale. And if you’re building a custom home, well then it’s possibly a one of a kind, never been built before, and so then you’re working with an architect who is specifying all of the materials and products and design. And then that goes to, perhaps then you shop and get bids from multiple builders until you choose a builder who’s going to build your one of a kind custom home.

Luke Peters: And these are questions that really help the listeners understand the business more, and what I always find fascinating is the breakdown of sales per channel. So it sounds like the main channels would be the architect and builders, let’s just combine that for the sake of this question, and then the next one is direct into the consumers.

Jason: Correct.

Luke Peters: So you’re literally having to work directly with the consumer, sell that project. It’s, I’m guessing, longer individual sales cycle.

Jamie: Yeah, Luke, and sometimes those customers come directly to us. So not all of our leads are from the trade. Some of the leads are the customers themselves, just…

Luke Peters: For sure. Because of your reputation and the marketing you’re doing.

Jamie: And our growth.

Luke Peters: If you want to just break it down by projects or dollars, what percent is going to be direct consumer, so you’re doing individual consumer homes, versus builder and architect?

Jason: It’s interesting. Certainly we do more projects in terms of the overall quantity for consumers that come to us directly who live in an existing home. Let’s say at any point in time, 96, 97% of America lives in an existing home and three percent are building at any given time. So we do a lot of volume, number of projects, but they gross dollars comes from the new construction projects because they tend to be larger. When people are building a home they’re buying more new things. Just like they’re buying new appliances. So they may be buying a new television or a new audio system, or if they’re putting in an alarm system. They’re higher dollar projects. They generate more revenue.

Jamie: Because they cross over into all of our categories versus just coming to us with an existing home, for example, and asking to put in a security system. Or asking to build a network. A new construction allows us to cross over into all of our categories of business. Then they just have one guy to deal with versus six different individual companies that might point fingers at one another. We manage the whole thing and make it the most efficient design for that customer.

Jason: Or try to go it alone and figure out themselves, which is a really horrible idea.

Luke Peters: Well, I mean hey, that’s really interesting. Obviously you love all your customers, but that builder vertical is a really valuable one for the company, just like you said, because you’re able to do maybe more bigger, deeper projects because it’s a home from scratch. And just for the audience, we’re going to go deep into that because I thought just in looking at Jason’s background and what Jamie has done for the company, I thought for the audience here on the Page 1 Podcast, it’s going to be valuable to learn more about this builder category because I don’t think it’s as well known as maybe it should be. We’re all focused on mass. So we’ll get into that. Before we get going there though, Jason, I wanted to ask a couple, hopefully, fun questions. So as far as technology goes, everybody loves technology, what is on trend right now? What’s new and exciting that people are putting in their houses?

Jason: Well, I can tell you for sure, for the last five years in a row the two fastest growing segments of our business are lighting control or lighting automation and security cameras. Everybody wants cameras. There’s no question that’s probably the hottest subject. Whoever you talk to they’re like yeah, I’ve got a Ring doorbell or I want the Google Hello or any of the other camera systems. And they want to keep an eye on the backyard and the driveway and the nursery and the you name it. So people want to keep an eye on their property and they want to feel safe and secure in their house. I think that’s always been number one. If you live in a home and you don’t feel safe and secure, that’s the first thing you’re going to focus on.

Jason: And then you get into the more fun categories. Lighting automation has been big for the convenience. And a lot of the time it starts with security. Automating front porch lights and garage driveway lights and flood lights, and then interior lights so it looks like you’re home when you’re not. Having a simple button like the goodnight button that turns all the lights off in the house when you go to bed. Having everything be dimable, being able to set themes for the home that are really pleasing. So that’s a big category.

Luke Peters: The camera section, I totally see that growing and it’s surprising, I didn’t actually think that would be the answer when I asked you this question. I thought you might talk about something in the sound department because there’s some cool stuff with Sonos going on and other brands like that. But it totally makes sense. I see the video camera and the security industry, you can just tell it’s massively growing. But that’s cool to hear it from someone who’s actually doing these installs.

Luke Peters: One thing I always think with that though is you’re collecting all this data and all this video and sometimes there’s data overload, like there’s analytics overload in business. And then it’s one thing to collect it but another thing to actually look at it. Are there a lot of automated triggers put on that tell the homeowner when they actually need to go look at that video, and otherwise they don’t have to touch that app? Or just diving deeper into it, I just think it’s interesting because there’s all these things we can do, but do we really have time in a day to go check, monitor and turn this into valuable new data or video or information that we have?

Jason: That’s an absolutely fantastic question. You used a couple key words there. One was you used the word analytics. And then you talked about do we really have time in the day to use this stuff properly. And of course, as a company who our primary role is to curate the information that’s out there for our customers and help them make choices with right are the right technologies for them. And then to make those technologies easy to use and relevant to their lifestyle, that’s our primary focus. So choosing the right product is big.

Jason: And so when we talk about analytic space cameras, I think there’s a lot of misleading advertising out there, where a manufacturer might call it analytics but it’s just basic simple pixel based motion. So if certain amount of pixels in the camera image move you get a notification. And with that basic technology, it could be effective but it could also create a lot of false positives. That’s the technology that falls by the wayside. Your homeowner can’t trust it. They don’t know that for sure that something happened. When you take it to the next level and use true analytics, where we can tell the difference between a deer and a dog, and a dog and a person, and a car and a deer or whatever it is that’s around your property, that that becomes a whole other level of reliability and security.

Jason: So again, there’s tiers of products for everyone based on price, point aesthetics, performance, et cetera. I think to the earlier point, it was interesting you said well, those weren’t the answers I was expecting, camera surveillance and lighting control. Those are two of the categories if you think about the CEDIA channel and the 4500 companies that are designing and installing systems for customers, that those are the categories they need help with. They’re less likely to try to do it themselves. Sonos is a great DIY product, and actually, interesting enough, we’re a huge Sonos dealer. That’s just a tool to us that we use to help provide music systems. But we’re typically not selling the Sonos One or the Play:5, we’re typically selling a client the Connect or the Connect Amp, or it’s now called the Port. The new product, the Port and the amplifier. And we’re connecting them to speakers that are mounted maybe in their walls or their ceiling or surrounding a swimming pool or a patio or a deck and embracing a more customized look and feel to the music system.

Luke Peters: That’s a really good thorough answer, and super interesting that the cameras can tell the difference of deer, dog, car. And I definitely understand or can appreciate the value of that versus say a pixel, something that’s monitoring if this many pixels move we’re going to call, we’re going to alert you of that movement. So that is really helpful and hopefully helpful to listeners. And I guess with that we got the Super Bowl coming up in a couple weeks and I think it would be fun to hear from you guys about maybe a fun project that you built with TV or sound in mind, and just give the audience of just an idea of what that looked like start to finish, maybe what the cost was, and what the components were that went into that.

Jason: Jamie can speak a little bit towards how we actually do market towards what you just said. We think ahead. Implementing a project, how far out in advance do we need to market about the Super Bowl. Or the Summer Olympics coming up this summer is going to be big, or March Madness before that. These are big times where customers are thinking about a deadline. Hey, I want to have my system ready for the big game.

Jason: So one of the really, really coolest new products that we’ve had the privilege of partnering with at LG is their new short throw projector. It’s a 4K laser projector that sits about seven inches from the wall and projects 120 inch image on a bright screen. And it’s just amazing. Everybody that comes into the showroom that sees that display is immediately thinking about where can I put this, what room is this going in, where do I have space? Whether it’s a rec room, a family room. We’ve had clients put them in the master bedroom. And just a big, bright, clear image. And the benefit of the short throw projection, the technology’s in the lens that allows the projector, instead of hanging it way back on your ceiling in the middle of the room or the back of the room, we basically can install that system anyplace where someone has a television. your television’s mounted on the wall or sitting on a cabinet, well now we can put the projector in the same location and project this huge image on the wall, a 10 foot image.

Jamie: And because of the special lensing and the projection screen itself, it gives us more flexibility in the environment that we could put it in. Because Jason could speak to the actual technology of the lenses, but now we can put them in more common rooms versus just a dedicated theater.

Jason: In a brightly lit space.

Jamie: Exactly.

Jason: It’s not for the private theater anymore.

Luke Peters: So just so we can understand, is that better than having a big TV? Are there some advantages to this projector technology? Or is it mainly because it’s bigger?

Jason: It’s size. There’s no question that size drives a lot of buying decisions and price drives a lot of buyer’s decisions. You look at the marketplace and, reasonably, for the last several years, a Sony 85 inch TV, which is a big TV, it’s heavy, it’s bulky, but it’s a large image and it’s a great image, and you’re going to spend anywhere from four to six thousand dollars. In fact, at CES this year, the trade show in Vegas, the new 8K Sony televisions are out and they’re $13 thousand for an 85 inch.

Luke Peters: Wow.

Jason: So when you look at televisions, that’s reasonably the largest size television you’re going to buy for the three to six thousand dollar price range. This LG projector, it’s 5995. It’s six grand. And we can go 100 inches, 110, 120. We can go up to 120 inches. Some people think well 85 to 120, is it that big of a difference? It’s massive. You’re talking about the diagonal of an image, so you’re adding 75% more viewing area. It’s dramatic. It’s very immersive and really spectacular. It’s a completely different experience.

Jamie: And it just solves that design, I don’t know if problem is the word, but you don’t have to have it mounted on the ceiling. That’s key because before that eliminated a projector in most people’s mind unless they had a dedicated room like a theater or a basement. Now it’s just so flexible on where you can place this projector.

Luke Peters: So how far from the screen is it then? I’m trying to visualize how this projector would set up.

Jason: The projector, I’m going to say it’s maybe 21 inches wide and maybe four inches tall, and about 15 inches deeps, and it sits about seven inches off the wall. So you sit it on a credenza or a media cabinet or really anything-

Jamie: Below the screen.

Jason: … below the screen, and it projects at a very severe angle up to 120 inch picture.

Luke Peters: That’s amazing. So it’s pointing straight up right up on the screen, and somehow the image is corrected for and shows up on this screen.

Jamie: Exactly.

Jason: Yeah, there’s a lot of technology in the lens, and then LG took it all away and they built this projector with a laser light engine. So it turns on instantly and it turns off instantly and there’s no bulb to replace like traditional projectors. It also has all of the features that LG built into their smart televisions all built into the projector. So you literally plug it into the wall, set it on your cabinet, shoot your big, bright, clear 4K image, and you can scroll through YouTube and Netflix and Hulu and all the apps that you would want to download directly into the unit.

Jamie: And there is a lot of design to the projection screen itself. With the lensing making sure that that image isn’t distorted in any way and it’s a crystal clear picture at 120 inches.

Luke Peters: Wow. This is going to be dangerous because my kids would never want to get off it, but what about the actual quality or clarity or, I don’t know how you guys measure it with televisions, but that versus say a typical, whatever the current technology is, LCD technology on the regular television versus the laser bouncing off a screen. What is better, when you’re looking at it straight or when you’re looking at it from, say, a 45 degree angle?

Jason: So the angle of viewing that you just mentioned really is a non-issue with any modern video displays. I know years ago if you get off access from a television would fade considerably. Especially the old Mitsubishi big screen TVs were probably the greatest selling big screen TV of all time, and at 65 and 75 inches they were massive and they weighed 400 pounds and people loved them. But if you got off access the image would look shaded. And that’s not an issue with any of the projection technologies that we use from LG or Sony or anyone else. And neither is the case with the flat screens. You almost can stand at a 170 degree angle, very severe angle, and there’s no difference in the picture quality.

Jason: What you were referring to, I think, was resolution and light output. All video images are created by light somehow. We have plasma televisions, where electricity excited plasma particles and they created a billion colors and you had a bright clear picture. And then we moved to LCD televisions which was basically tubes. LCD lights reflecting through a substrate to create a picture. And then we moved to LED lights, which just made the TVs thinner. And then they started local dimming where you had banks of LEDs, instead of around the perimeter of the TV they’re all back lighting the TV so that you could get better black level.

Jason: Certainly you and your listeners can review the whole history of these technologies and how they’ve gotten thinner and brighter and clearer and better contrast so the latest evolution in projection technologies to go to a laser light engine instead of a light bulb. So the laser is simply the light engine. It’s still projecting off of a chip set. So you have DLP projectors, you have LCoS projectors, you still have all the traditional technologies, you just have the new light engine. A laser doesn’t run as hot as a metal-halide bulb or whatever kind of lamp a different manufacturer uses. And it’s instant on and instant off. There’s no cooling period, it strikes immediately. So it feels like a really high end television experience. Resolution wise the chip sets are the same. You’re viewing a full 4K image. So you’ve got eight million pixels shining on your screen. The same as a 4K television.

Luke Peters: And so just to wrap it up here, probably too late to get it for the Super Bowl this year, but what’s that going to cost? So it’s six thousand dollars for the projector, but then there’s going to be installation. It sounds like a screen’s involved. What’s the approximate total all then?

Jason: So we have clients that spend on a home theater, whether it’s that exact projector and screen or something else, we have tiers. A lot of times they’ll spend anywhere from maybe five to $15 thousand on a home theater experience. And then we the next jump, people spend somewhere between 15 to 30 thousand. And then you have your 30 thousand and up clients, where you’re starting to focus on maybe it’s more of a dedicated room or a dedicated space. But your open media room’s anywhere from five thousand to 30 thousand for a video display of some type, a surround system, componentry, packed installation cabling, the whole deal. As with all products it ranges greatly. Just like buying a car or buying a watch, kind of anything. Or buying…

Luke Peters: Well, listen, thanks for taking us through and hopefully the audience finds that fascinating. And that’s the fun stuff. Talking about how we can have a cool Super Bowl or movie experience. But now let’s get into business. Let’s talk about this builder vertical, this category that maybe a lot of us could be selling more into and we’re not. And you alluded to it earlier with a CEDIA and talked about the industry a bit. I guess before we deep dive into the builder category, talk to me about the trade shows because you mentioned that earlier. You said there was a builder home show, there’s KBIS. Tell me a little bit about the trade shows, who’s there and what’s happening in that industry for those who are not familiar with it.

Jason: So KBIS is in Vegas right now as we speak. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Luke Peters: My team’s just coming back right now, actually.

Jason: Just about every builder that we know has been out there. And so there are manufacturers in our channel that have taken advantage of that. Smart home automation manufacturers like Control4, Sonos, a lot of manufacturers. No reason to name them all, but they’re all pitching to builders. Why should you show our product to customers, why should we be in your house. I come back to Sonos as a great example. We have a program for a handful of builders where the home owner can select speakers in different rooms with Sonos to drive it. And they can add a sound bar to their TV and it’s all wired in and installed as part of the house. Honeywell has a great program for builders that we utilize with their Resideo product for security systems and basic smart home automation. And so the advantage to the consumer, of course, is that you can make a selection with your builder and it’s installed before you move in and it’s wrapped into your mortgage. That makes a lot of sense for some people that you don’t have to come out of pocket. I’ve always said in this day and age you can operate everything from your smartphone, why not your house? It just makes sense that you should be able to do this.

Jason: So the building community, I think, has to be paying attention to these technologies. And I think the ones that aren’t are really going to fall behind in terms of even just their perception of the general public of how sharp of a builder they are based on they’re embracing technology or not.

Luke Peters: And Jason, what are the shows? So we talked about KBIS, were there other builder shows? And again, just thinking about other companies that maybe are strong in Home Depot, strong in Amazon but they haven’t looked at this builder channel. So what shows should they be putting on their calendar?

Jason: There’s the National Builder Show, like that, NHAB, the National Association of Home Builders. And those are in Vegas or Orlando or whichever. All the way down to regional and local shows. So I can speak for us, we attend local NARI events, the National Association of Remodelers. ASID, the American Society of Interior Designers, they have regular events. And so maybe we’re just attending those events to network, but sometimes we’re helping host those events so that we’re driving that traffic coming to our location. We happen to be inside of what’s called the Indiana Design Center. It’s a beautiful building on the north side of Indianapolis in Carmel, Indiana, and it’s the home to the design community for building and construction, remodeling and home design. And so we have a great space where we can host events and do continuing education credits for architects and designers who are specifying in working with builders. The whole community ties together in a really neat way. We’re all working towards the same goal, which is happy home owners with the right selection. It starts, I guess, for each individual, it starts locally and then for large multinational corporations they should be looking at the big shows.

Luke Peters: I’ll put myself on the spot here so we have wine coolers and beer coolers and we’re actually coming out with this really awesome beer froster. So if you’re advising me and could break it down into a couple steps and we’re not in the builder market and you’d say, Luke, you got to do these things to get into the builder market, there’s a huge opportunity, what might those things be? Just so we can make this tangible for the listeners here on actually breaking into this market.

Jason: So I think one of the things you could start out by doing is contacting your local builder’s association and finding out who all the members of the local builder’s association are. And they host a lot of events, like I said, ongoing education events or networking events for the builders. And maybe hosting one of those either in your own space, like your own retail environment or at a space, like a lot of times they’ll go to a local event center or hosted space where you can sponsor these events, and then they give you time to showcase your products or services at or during the event. They have their regular meetings that you can sponsor. And just start reaching out and try to get ingrained with the building community.

Jamie: And the design community as well, because a lot of projects like basement remodels or a specialty product like you’re mentioning with beer and wine, that’s something that a creative mind is definitely going to think of when they’re designing a space. It might even be the focal point or feature of the design. So chapters like ASID. For example, we’re hosting ASID next week, our local chapter. And it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to speak about what we do and how that might affect their design and basically just educating them on all the options so they don’t overlook something when they’re creating a beautiful space for their customer.

Luke Peters: And Jamie, so ASID is architect? Is that a architect group?

Jason: Yeah, American Society of Interior Designers.

Luke Peters: Got it.

Jason: And AIA is architect. So American Institute of Architecture. So all of these groups, the builders, architects, and designers. What we’re really building, what we’ve really built over 20 plus years is groups of people that are evangelizing for us. They’re out telling the market like oh my gosh, you need to go talk to Premier, you need to go look at what they do. You need to do this in your house, or we’ve incorporated this design element into your home with these products. You’re getting the people on the front end that are specifying these things, specifying your product and specifying your services. So the homeowner’s very likely, if they’ve hired one of these individuals, they’re not going to hire them if they don’t trust them. They’re not going to hire them if they don’t like them. So they tend to, once they’ve built that relationship with their homeowner or their customer, then that customer is really listening to them as an influencer that they have great influence on who their customer works with in terms of all the vendors. Whether it’s cabinetry or appliances or the painter, or the flooring company, in all of our categories. And we’re the resources for home consumer electronics.

Jamie: And technology and electronics, as we all know, it’s always changing. So these short little classes that we’re able to host, it’s basically a condensed Cliff version for the designers and for the building community because they don’t have the time or necessarily the knowledge to keep up with everything. So it’s their opportunity to come get their CEU credits and keep on top of their game when it comes to the latest and greatest and how to design spaces for those technologies.

Jason: They need to know enough to recommend the right partner.

Jamie: Exactly.

Luke Peters: Well, listen, it’s really insightful. So so far, and we’re talking about this, the home building and also we got a little bit into design and architect and started these trade shows, NHAB, I think was the home builders association, and look at the regional shows. And then also look at it from a perspective of shows and organizations as related to builders, but then also separately to designers and separately to architects. And Jamie, from a marketing and branding perspective, is there more to it on the back end and how are you engaging with these different chapters and organizations besides attending the shows? Is there anything else you guys might be doing?

Jamie: Well, I think first and foremost, for us, our location certainly sets the tone for that. We’re within the Indiana Design Center, as Jason mentioned, which really is the hub for all of interior design here in central Indiana. So we’re very fortunate to have this location. And then with the 20 plus years of being in business, just that reputation and word of mouth referral, repeat business. When clients go on to finish their basement or when they move onto their next home, they don’t have to think twice about who they’re going to call. They know that we did a great job the first time, and now they’re probably thinking of this even at a more advanced stage or at the very beginning of their process versus considering it a little bit too late in the game and they couldn’t have expanded on the system as they wanted to. Do you want to expand on that?

Jason: Yeah, I think what Jamie neglected to mention there is that she’s an amazing photographer and when she utilizes the social media to tell our story through pictures and compelling videos… Like she posted a photograph of a project one time. We installed an LG video wall. Really spectacular video wall. It went in a office of a wealth management firm in their front lobby. And she took a picture of it and posted it to Instagram and we got a call from a client that said, hey, that looks absolutely amazing, I want that.

Jamie: That was a residential client that he owns his own business too. So it’s just interesting how you put these ideas in front of our customers or our followers and now all of a sudden they need something that they didn’t even know they needed.

Jason: Exactly. So storytelling, I think is huge.

Jamie: Education and storytelling.

Jason: Your showcasing what’s possible. You’re getting your customers or potential customer’s mind brainstorming about what’s important to them, what their priorities are. They’re thinking about their budgets, they’re planning. And then when they come to you, it’s surprising and often refreshing that they’ve already thought about this stuff and the light bulb has started to go off and maybe they’ve expanded their budget a little bit in a category because they suddenly realize how important the things that we do are for their life. And that’s pretty fun.

Jamie: Or maybe just explaining a technology in a different light. Not to separate male/female, but sometimes our technology decisions are driven by the male, for example, in a relationship. Well, then I’m a female, I can give the female’s perspective or the mom perspective on why these technologies make my environment more safe or make it more efficient. So just telling stories from a bunch of different angles too, to really create that need for the customer. And like Jason said, maybe it’s something they didn’t know that they needed.

Jason: To find that connection, where they’re connecting the dots. The light bulb goes off. You know what, I need that because I do this in my life and that product or that service would help.

Luke Peters: And I think the last part’s really interesting because you probably have a couple customer personas. And like you said, Jamie, there’s different customers. It might be the technology part with the guys. But then the guys are probably clueless, as we normally are, to a bunch of other important things in the house. And so you bring your perspective.

Jason: Nothing like a good stereotype.

Jamie: I brought it up, it’s my fault.

Luke Peters: Well, you didn’t have to say the clueless part, I’ll say that part.

Jason: There’s a lot of validity to with what we do, with home technology, it’s to get the buy-in from the whole family. We actually, I’d like to take a hard stance and say we will not sell a system to just one member of the family. We want everybody to come into the showroom, experience it, say wow, we all get it, we all love it, let’s do this as a family. But certainly you got to get the husband and wife together on the decision. And I find more often than not, again, nothing like a good stereotype, but women use these systems more than men. They really do, honestly. We all watch television, we all listen to music, we all turn lights on and off, we all get warm and cold, we all need security, but women tend to take more of the nurturing approach for the whole family. Hey, are the doors shut, are the doors locked? Is the alarm system on? Did you turn your lights off in your bedroom? All these kinds of technologies that we implement. And they also like to host and entertain. So we’ve suddenly made these things really easy to embrace.

Jamie: Jason and I joke a lot that sometimes the first step in our sales process, getting customers into our showroom for a private consultation, we laugh that sometimes it’s more like a marriage counseling session. Only because only one of the two…

Jason: Really wants to be here.

Jamie: Wants to be here. But one’s pointing fingers because the other one is the only one in the family that knows how to use the system because he or she is the one that designed the system but the other doesn’t know how to handle it. So we get really excited when those opportunities come through our door because our experience that we give our customers is all about intuitiveness and ease of use for anybody in the family.

Luke Peters: So what I heard there is just brands and companies, especially kitchen, home, and appliance should look for these design centers in their locales, and it sounds like that’s a great lead generator. And you’re next to the decision makers at the Indiana Design Center, so that’s definitely a valuable nugget and hopefully the audience can utilize that one. And then also telling your story on Instagram with great photography. We all know that, but it’s hard to do that, and it sounds like you guys are doing a great job. And just super interesting talking to both of you guys and learning about the company. And I think it would be great to wrap it up on a business perspective, do either of you guys have a favorite book you’d recommend to listeners?

Jason: Favorite book. So honestly, I read an enormous amount but it’s all industry related. So trade magazine, all that type of stuff. I’ve read Good to Great, but I’m hoping that anybody that’s running a company has read Good to Great.

Luke Peters: How about this from a different angle. Is there a habit, a ritual or a practice that either of you have learned that’s made you a more successful person?

Jason: Be consistent. Be deadly… If there’s anything customers want to count on it’s consistency in everything you do. Consistency means you’re reliable, that they can count on you. If you say you’re going to do something of course do it. But doing it consistently, I think is hugely important. So that’s for your customers, whether it’s a builder, or an end consumer or whoever, they can rely on your process.

Jamie: Our business is really focused on the ultimate customer experience. We take a real hands-on approach. We dedicate a lot of upfront hours in the sales process honestly before we even have made a dime. And a lot of times that earns us the business because of the level of trust we’ve been able to build with them over the hours we’ve spent directly with the customer. And just they’re then seeing us understand every square inch of their home plan.

Luke Peters: I think that’s great advice. So there you go, you guys have it. Be consistent. Consistency translates into reliability and into trust. And I think it’s great feedback, well said. How can listeners find more about you guys? How can they learn about you or connect with you?

Jason: Well of course our website. It’s we’re at premier-group.com. And then Jamie would love to connect on all our social media accounts.

Jamie: Facebook and Instagram and then LinkedIn as well.

Jason: And then House is a good resource. We didn’t mention that. We have a profile on House, but that’s a great resource for people shopping for all home goods really. Design and home goods. You can create an idea book and bookmark stuff.

Luke Peters: Wow. So are you getting a bunch of business or some business referral from Houzz?

Jason: We have. We’ve posted projects where clients have, not dissimilar to seeing something on Instagram, where they’ve said, hey, I saw this project, I want to do something similar. Absolutely. We probably have not been as aggressive with House as we could be, but I think it’s a great platform for sure.

Luke Peters: Local, fast-growing company, so that’s good to hear about that. In a later episode I’m going to look for a guest who’s had a lot of success on House. It would be interesting to hear that. And I know they’re in your category, so maybe from a slightly different angle because they’re a lot of consumer product-facing. But it sounds like your work is also referred through that. So listen, Jason, Jamie, I want to thank you both for joining me today on the Page 1 Podcast. And just want to thank all the listeners for listening to the Page 1 Podcast. Quick reminder that I am offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. You can take a look at sales strategy with Amazon, Home Depot, Wayfair. We can look at your product listings and your selling tools and see if influencer marketing might be a fit for you. And then we can present the findings directly to you. It’s quick, easy, painless and you get a lot of value. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn, or at luke@retailband.com. Thanks again, everybody, for listening to the Page 1 Podcast, sponsored by Retail Band. I appreciate all of you guys, all of your comments, suggestions and reviews, and we’ll see you on the next episode.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Page 1 Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce, check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers.

Get your FREE evaluation of your online sales strategy

Episode Links: The Premier Group website & Houzz Profile

Contact Jason Barth: LinkedIn

Contact Jamie Carey: LinkedIn + Instagram

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, Review: Apple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

Sell into Walmart, TJX, Costco, and others – CPG Marketing Strategies – get on shelves, and stay there – EP24 – Chris Rebsamen

What you’ll learn:

Whether you are a CPG startup or established company, you’ve dealt with the challenges of getting in-store at National Retail Channels. Today’s episode is full of sage advice on how to get products in front of buyers, along with marketing strategies to raise awareness on products already in-store. As most business owners know, getting on the shelf is half the battle—it’s how to stay there that matters.

About our guest:

Chris Rebsamen is a strategic senior sales/business development executive, with extensive 30 years’ experience in the consumer product industry. He manages sales and marketing efforts in the National Retail Channel points of Distribution. Chris is driven by implementing innovation and generating new revenue at existing and new National Retail Accounts across all channels. He started Jupiter Sales and Marketing as a turnkey sales and marketing solution for CPG and consumer product companies that want to both learn and succeed in the end to end business of retail. JSM works with startups to established firms with revenues of up to $100MM per year.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Chris’s path to founder of Jupiter Sales and Marketing—2:00
  • Park City, Utah’s underrated entrepreneurial network—8:12
  • The biggest lesson startups learn the hard way when they get in-store—10:00
  • Top 3 retailers JSM accelerates in—10:25
  • The most common misconception entrepreneurs have when trying to get instore—12:55
  • Client example: what happens 2 years after getting in-store at Walmart?—14:00
  • What percent of JSM clients end up in-store? –15:10
  • Marketing strategies to raise product awareness once in-store—15:35
  • Your silent salesperson: product packaging—16:30
  • Sales strategies don’t start with big-box retailers—17:20
  • Why CPG should start with regional sales stores—18:40
  • How to navigate tariffs on products already in-store—21:00
  • Pricing strategies, net margin & EBITA goals—22:20
  • CFO Controller: a key early investment for entrepreneurs—28:00
  • Key advice for entrepreneurs to hold onto capital in early stages of growth—28:45
  • The best strategy and channel for moving excess inventory—31:15

Podcast Transcription

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Page 1 Podcast, a twice weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the page one podcast. I am your host, Luke Peters. This is where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances, where I cut my teeth selling products online, and now I’ve started Retail Band, where we help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and B2B online sales strategy. And really quickly, let me get this in here. I’m now offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy, so if you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or email me luke@retailband.com, and we’ll try to help you generate more sales online.

Luke Peters: In this episode you’re going to learn from Chris Rebsamen on the challenges that CPG companies face today, especially startups and small companies. So, why some retail is stuck and where the growth areas are. Learn where you can still grow in store. Thanks, Chris, for joining me on the Page 1 Podcast.

Chris Rebsamen: Thank you for having me.

Luke Peters: So, a quick bio for you, Chris. Chris is the owner of Jupiter Sales and Marketing and has 30 years experience in consumer products with a focus in hard goods, textiles, food, and beverage. Chris also has a B.S. In management from St. Francis University in Pennsylvania. And anything that I left out there, Chris?

Chris Rebsamen: No, not the summary.

Luke Peters: So Chris, why don’t we start with your early years? I always love to learn what got people started are going, so maybe you could just briefly describe what formed your youth in a way that helped guide you to this point in your business career.

Chris Rebsamen: It’s a funny question because I go back when he graduated college in 1989 in May. My sister was getting married in June and came home and did a lot of work for my father. New roofs, new gardens, kind of spruced the house up to make it look good. And I went right to looking for a job, and the first job that I got I actually started working for a company called Gruber Industries, which was a division of Springs Global. That’s how I got into textile business. Springs Global was the largest U.S., at the time, manufacturer of textiles. They own brands called Wamsutta, so on, so forth.

Chris Rebsamen: And I started as a sales service rep servicing the stores at store level, so I learned about a lot of inventory, how to manage inventory, and that was kind of my intro into the retail channel. I sold a lot into the home center channel. We were living in New York. A chain called Pergament Home Centers. Kind of owned that. And that was really where I got my understanding on retail margins, ROI, and I really enjoyed it, and I’ve just stuck with it the whole way.

Chris Rebsamen: Moved on into management. I was in the picture frame industry for about 15 years, both custom and also on the ready-made side. We were dealing with customers such as AC Moore, Michael, Kohls, doing everything from ready-made to framed art, and really understanding the creative side. That was really where I got what I’ll call my MBA retail. Had some real solid people that took me under their wings to help me truly understand the challenges of retailers back then. So, then I just graduated and moved up into rankings with a smaller company in Rochester, New York, and then it was time to either buy or move. So, we moved on. I picked up my family, and we moved to Park City, Utah about 10 years ago. We didn’t have actually a game plan at all. It was more of a whim than a test.

Chris Rebsamen: And so we planted here, and then that’s how I kind of started Jupiter Sales and Marketing. Jupiter Sales and Marketing was kind of created not out of the need, just by accident. And what I mean by accident, we just had some friends in the consumer industry during the financial crisis kind of hold onto their sales that they currently had it in the marketplace, and getting cash was very difficult at that moment in time. So, they offered me a small salary and asked for me to help manage their sales and try to grow their sales as best as possible. So, I did that for a while, and then I went to look for a management position and kept coming back to Jupiter. Jupiter was again just helping those companies grow, develop new acceleration, understanding the challenges and strategies behind getting into the retail channels. So, I decided to finally make it a business instead of a hobby and 10 years. There we are.

Luke Peters: Great story. And wow, you’re fortunate, you got into Park City 10 years ago. I think the first time I went on a family vacation over there was about seven years, and I’m kicking myself for not buying a condo or something. The real estate has gone through the roof.

Chris Rebsamen: It has.

Luke Peters: Have you guys stayed in the same place, or have you kind of moved around along the way? And that must’ve been a ride in itself.

Chris Rebsamen: The funny thing is all the moving parts during the real estate housing crisis and all the Wall Street… The funny thing is that my sister was in the process of moving as well from Arizona. She had a condo up here as a second home because we had been here earlier in our lives skiing, so we knew Park City. So, we all moved into this three-bedroom condo with two dogs, nine people, and that’s how we got started. And then luckily, my sister’s neighbor was looking for someone to rent a place, and we were there for a couple of years, and we moved on. So, we’ve been in the same place for about five years now. So, we moved around few times, but it has been an experience. I have nothing I would ever… I wish I did this 20 years ago to be honest with you. But this is an experience I would never ever trade for. Hard to explain.

Luke Peters: Yeah. For the listeners out there, and I don’t want to get into inundation… I guess the inundation into Park City has already happened, but if you guys haven’t been, you fly into Salt Lake, and it’s about a 45-minute drive through an easy freeway. There’s no mountain driving, and it’s really a beautiful city with just a lot of culture and fun shops to walk in. And then of course, lots of fun skiing and snowboarding, and beyond Park City, there are tons of other snowboarding and skiing in the area with Brighton and Alta and just a bunch of other mountains. So it’s a unique place. We go to Mammoth quite often. We’re in Southern California, and if I wasn’t flying so many kids up, it would be just as quick or easier to go to Park City because you can hop on a plane and rent a car. And if not for having to load all the gear and everything, I’d probably be doing that more often. But yeah, it’s a great place.

Chris Rebsamen: It is, and what’s unique about Park City we have about 7,000 or 8,000 full-time residents. But during Sundance, we swell to tens of thousands of people in Christmas, and the funny thing is the community here is so strong for entrepreneurial because I’m also part of PandoLab, which helps the entrepreneurs learn increased strategies. So, it is an incubator for entrepreneurs. I’m very connected with them and have been involved with them as a mentor for the last six years.

Chris Rebsamen: So, I’ve been fortunate to be involved with that, and it’s such a tight-knit community here around the entrepreneurs and people kind of growing the business because at the time, Salt Lake City didn’t have a ton of jobs available. We now have the opposite problem where we don’t have enough people to fill the jobs that are needed within the Salt Lake City area. But my point being is that the school district had a program called PC Tap, which teaches students in 11th and 12th grade how to build a business from the ground up. And those opportunities in Park City have just been monumental for my children that went through the school system here. So, that’s one of things that’s kind of under the radar as far as Park City is concerned as it offers in the community.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s great, and it’s cool that they have that with the kids. And wow, we could do a whole another podcast on that.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah, I know. I’m didn’t mean to deviate, I’m sorry.

Luke Peters: I got you. So, why don’t we… So, we were talking before we started this podcast just a little bit more about your firm, and it your firm operates, it sounds like, like a fractional VP of sales and marketing or like a consultancy. Can you quickly describe anything I missed there, or is there another way to describe the company?

Chris Rebsamen: We are kind of a fractional vice president or so company. We’re kind of that value add, so we provide services of marketing more in store. So, we have a sales team on the ground that’s already working and already has relationships within the retail channel. And then we also have some of our partners also have those established relationships in the years. But yes, we definitely we fit into the management side of the business, and we become part of the company’s DNA. So, we’re not just a rep firm. We’re kind of a multifunctional consumer, CPG, go-to-market sales company. We kind of sew each function.

Chris Rebsamen: But it’s very directive. One of the things we don’t do is we don’t have a pile of clients just trying to make a buck. We choose each client. We go through a process to establish and make sure of the synergy, and we’re all on the same page. So, to understand what it takes because there’s going to be work up front to get the company ready because in a lot of cases, we find that the actual entrepreneur over there, if they’re starting, they always think that getting into retail is an easy process from end to end, not understanding the hoops you have to jump through to get products on shelf. We don’t run into that with our more established companies, but one of the challenges that we do have with startups is understanding actual retail channel because it is very complex, especially in today’s market.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And that’s what we’ll focus this podcast on is on our listeners, and the listenership here is usually brand owners, so it’s right up your alley. But really to make it focused and direct what are, say, the top retailers that you guys see yourselves as experts with? And that way, these brand owners can kind of understand that and think about their own product lines and in conjunction with those retailers.

Chris Rebsamen: So if I was to take two channels where we accelerate, it would be mass in grocery. And within the grocery channel, that also includes the natural channel, which is the Whole Foods, Sprouts of the world. And as far as mass is concerned, we really do understand the business that Walmart operates. It’s hard to say where we’re experts because retail at the end of the day, first you function with different numbers, but at the end of the day, the layout of it is everybody wants to make a certain percentage after EBITDA. So, we fight sometimes because everybody’s really looking for a specialist, but in retail today, whether you’re an off price or you’re a grocery channel, a grocer, you’re still… It’s a margin game.

Chris Rebsamen: In grocery, you have filing fees, and they work on a tighter margin. So, filing fees to offset the margin, so it’s all wants are the same. Different distribution channels, different mythology. How they do the numbers in their PML could be a little different. But understanding grocery is a little bit different than off price. But at the end of the day, just it’s different. It’s not that much different. Excuse me. I’m sorry. It really isn’t. Retail is retail, but if we were to accelerate in three channels, it would be grocery, off-price, mass.

Luke Peters: Great. And so off-price, it’d be like a TJX, something like that?

Chris Rebsamen: Correct.

Luke Peters: Okay, great. So, so we’ll keep this conversation. How about we keep it focused on the mass and the off price? In that realm. We’ll stay away from grocery just because otherwise, the conversation might get too diluted. But focus on the Walmart and TJX, and again, just because the listenership here could be a lot of physical products and maybe less so on the food and beverage. And so, we can kind of direct it that way.

Luke Peters: That’s great. Thanks for clearing that part up. And you mentioned that entrepreneurs… There are often challenges because they’re not thinking about all the hoops and steps, but briefly, what is one big missing point if we were to boil everything down that entrepreneurs are missing out on in understanding how to get in store? What do you commonly run against?

Chris Rebsamen: Difficulty? If I was to really just pare it down.

Luke Peters: Them being difficult?

Chris Rebsamen: Mo. It’s just the difficulty of getting the product in front of a buyer today.

Luke Peters: Oh, I got ya. Yep.

Chris Rebsamen: I’ve talked to a lot of entrepreneurs in consumer products, and they feel like, “Well, I’ll just get my product in Walmart.” It just doesn’t happen that way anymore. And in a nutshell, that’s really pretty much our biggest obstacle. It’s the educational part of understanding the process from start to finish with a retail channel. That’s really where I find, and I’m sure others may have different opinions, but that’s kind of really where I find the disconnect.

Luke Peters: And what is the main thing that… So, you take on a client, and you want to give into Walmart. And you probably like you said, were kind of vetting the client too. You want to make sure it’s a good fit for you, so you’ve had a chance to kind of understand their product and pricing and okay. Walmart’s going to be a target. I’ll put you on the spot here a little bit, but what is your success rate, say two and a half years in, of getting them into Walmart? I know it’s very, very difficult. So, are you able to kind of put a percentage on that? And then what is usually the thing that keeps companies out of Walmart? Is it a pricing thing, a competition thing, a margin thing? It’d . be great to hear your thoughts on those.

Chris Rebsamen: So, if we were to kind of look at… You mentioned Target, but we have better success with Walmart getting product on shelves. Now, the second step to that is getting on shelf is only half the battle. It’s staying on shelf, and that’s where you get into the pull through and making sure that the consumer is aware that the product is sitting in a Walmart because we haven’t won every time. Sometimes, they’ll put you on the shelf. They give you 12 months to perform, and if you don’t perform within their minimum expectations on turn, you’re going to be removed for the next guy. So, the work really starts after you get on shelf. A lot of work to understand how to get to that point, and you have to work to get distribution channel on shelf and then after that, how do you… So, you kind of need to be able to run the awareness program at the same time as you’re trying to pitch the retailer.

Luke Peters: Okay, great. And then now, are you able to kind of give just an average percentage of how many clients you’re able to get into Walmart, like I said, two and a half years, maybe three years?

Chris Rebsamen: Probably 40%.

Luke Peters: About 40. Okay, and that’s fair, but that’s great to hear because I think for the listeners who haven’t tried, that just gives them an idea like this isn’t a slam dunk. So, 40% or so. And then once you’re in store, what are you doing to raise awareness? I’d love to hear kind of on the marketing end and what percent of sales maybe has to go into that to keep product on shelf? So, maybe the activities involved. What are folks doing to keep it on shelf, and how much are they spending?

Chris Rebsamen: It varies how much they’re spending. We normally suggest to put away three to 5% of total sales. So, if you’re doing a million dollars, you put three to 5% away for marketing funds. And those marketing funds are already preplanned through whether it’s social media outlets, through trade magazines, through good housekeeping. That is all planned out to really isolate really exactly how that works. It does change based on the category of food, beverage, hard goods.

Chris Rebsamen: You also need… One of the biggest things is your silent salesperson. Your silent salesperson is on the packaging. Remember when you’ve got a… Think about when you’re shopping in the store, what catches, why do you pick up a new product? So, you’ve got some of those tags that come off the shelf and says new item. You’ll stop and take a look at it. But if you don’t understand that product or what it does within a five second period, you’re just putting it back on shelf. So, part of the marketing behind that is to make sure that the packaging is simple, understandable quickly because the attention span of that consumer, again, is so short. And you’re getting a lot of traffic, so you have people to grab. You have your audience. It’s just a matter of trying to figure out if you know what that product, the functionality of it.

Luke Peters: That’s helpful. So, spend a lot of time in that packaging. Maybe even AB tested and three to 5% into your marketing spend, and about 40% success rate getting into Walmart. But at the same time when you’re working with brands, are you also helping them? Are you guys shooting for multiple retailers at the same time, or is it kind of a sole focus on Walmart? And so, like if Walmart doesn’t hit…

Chris Rebsamen: There are two things. We have good success inside Walmart, but that’s not where we usually start. You’ve got to have an established presence in the market, so you want to start with the smaller regional chains. You want to build your business before you get involved with Walmart. There have been a lot of entrepreneurs that have gotten into Walmart out of the gate because their product is unique, and the buyers are Walmart realized that. So, just not the thing about Walmart. Same is for Kroger or target. They also take on new products. It’s not common, but it’s still a point of difference, and it’s easy to explain that you can get wrapped up in this.

Chris Rebsamen: And that’s why entrepreneurs can go out of business because they may have taken on more than they can chew. It’s not always the right place to go. You have a lot of building blocks in between. You still have the smaller regional chains that you can go after. We have a company here local in Park City that their first major customer was Costco. Costco put them out of business just because the-

Luke Peters: Returns or?

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. Just return. You got to be careful where you start and what kind of financial backing you have. So, a lot of these entrepreneurs are bootstrapped. If you’re bootstrapping, Walmart necessarily isn’t the best place to go.

Luke Peters: That’s sage advice. So, what are a couple of names of these regional chains that you guys also like to work with?

Chris Rebsamen: Depending on where you want to go, so a lot of in relationship to that. We deal with a lot of grocery channels. I know you didn’t want to kind of focus on that, but we get into the regional grocery chain, Whole Foods, buying offices, Sprouts. Shopco has gone out of business, and a lot of your… So, you have Menards. We focused on the grocery side of the business because that seems to be a very… It hasn’t really been affected.

Luke Peters: Well, that’s an interesting point. So, it hasn’t been as affected by Amazon as, say, a bunch of these other mid mid-market retailers or home and hardware stores.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah, it has, but it’s funny. So, you have a lot in your smaller ACE and True Value. They have a lot of the hundred-,store chains under their umbrella as franchisees. So you have a lot of that also going on. The retail market has really kind of changed. That’s why you have more regional off-price players like City Trends and Beall’s Outlet, whether or not national like]. But the market has kind of shifted, and grocery has spent more time and efforts on the general merchandise channel because they’re trying to encompass that all one stop shop kind of philosophy. And Kroger has done a good job of it. Sprouts, Whole Foods. Whole Foods is now into apparel within their strategy. But yeah, everybody is kind of changing their way of doing retail if that makes any sense.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s helpful. Why don’t we talk about tariffs? I know that’s on everybody’s mind, and I’m sure you’ve had the deal with that, and it’s hard enough when you’re selling online to deal with terrorists but might even be more difficult when you’re in store because the product is already… It’s so long and so hard to get that in store placement, and then all of a sudden you got to push a tariff through. I’d love to hear a couple stories about that. Have all of the brands that you’ve worked with? Have you had to already push it through, especially if you’re in the 25% tier, which a lot of product brands are? Mine is mostly. And have you guys had to push it through? Have there been some cases where you couldn’t? And how have you kind of navigated tariffs?

Chris Rebsamen: We saw a problem ahead of time, so we kind of shifted a lot of business into other countries to kind of avoid tariffs. We had a pass on the long. It really didn’t affect our business that much because certain items that we were involved with didn’t have any tariff issues. And recently, we have shipped with some things from China to India.

Luke Peters: Well, yeah. Well, you’re fortunate to be able to do that. It’s tough for a lot of consumer electronics companies, but you guys, if you’re on more hard goods I guess, or textiles, it’s easier to kind of make that move. So, good on you for doing that. What about pricing strategies? Are you able to explain a specific price strategy that you’ve had success with whether it’s for channel conflict or omni-channel or even if it’s just how one has to think about their margin, their net margin? And then I’d love to even get deeper and talk about if you’re involved in companies’ EBITDA goals, but let’s start talking about price strategies.

Chris Rebsamen: So, pricing strategy. We have had some CPG companies that we’ve come to market where pricing we just know it’s just not going to work. And in other cases, we are always trying to create a new channel of pricing. What I mean by that. So, if there’s a product for 399 and 599, there’s a space for a 499 product. That’s kind of strategy that we’re looking at. We’re always trying to be not the highest and definitely not the lowest because we don’t want to race to the bottom. We’re always trying to see if we can sew a hole, a gap in the pricing in a retailer.

Chris Rebsamen: So, in a lot of cases, there are usually some products that you can actually go in between, but it’s a value add too. So, can you be 9.99? If you’re going to go toe-to-toe with somebody that was an established brand but while you’re a product, you have to think about the extra value add. And that goes back into not just the pricing strategy, but it also goes back into the marketing strategy for the consumer to understand why your product is a better value at 9.99 than your competitor’s at 9.99. But consistently over the years, we’ve always tried to fill the gaps and voids in pricing. There’s always a gap somewhere usually that we like to kind of go after.

Luke Peters: And how do you guys think about back ends? I mean those have to be kind of built in to some extent. Otherwise, there’s not going to be any margin left. And I know they can be different with different retailers. Is there a rule of thumb that you can share with the listeners that, hey, save 15 or 20% for backend and marketing co-ops and allowances. That’d be cool if there was kind of a rule of thumb on that. And then also, have you guys ever worked with brands that say, “Hey, we need to hit this. We need to have a 10% EBITDA, or we need to have 20% margins”? And I’m curious where a lot of these brands are hitting on the margin side?

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. You’ve asked a pretty loaded question because there are a lot of things that can actually manipulate and change margins, cost of goods. So, your retailer comes to you and says, “I want a widget. It’s got to hit 4.99 99. Go build it. This is margin requirement.” You just build backwards to make sure that the parts and materials that you’re using to build that widget fit into the cost structure of the retailer. And in a lot of cases, some of the entrepreneurs that are coming to market are very attached to their products, and they only want to use the best ingredients. Because of that, adding in five, 10% of marketing allowances that the retailer requires, you can’t hit it unless you have to go up to a higher price. So, there are two things with that. You have less buyer remorse with the better quality of the product, less returns, so on and so forth.

Chris Rebsamen: So, a higher retail or shorter margin for the retailer is not always a bad thing because sometimes where they get lost inside is if they can buy it cheaper, have a better margin. They’re not really calculating the cost of returns, the processing returns. That’s very expensive. Yes. So, the retailer thinks that the supplier will eat it, which is true, right? It’s all factored into will cost the goods. So, I’m not really answering your question where you want, but as far as addressing the market, you’ve got to be able to keep the pricing structure competitive, and usually 10% for co-op will cover you end to end. There are some retailers that ask for a lot more, but if you can factor 10% into your cost of goods and have that margin in there and still be comfortable, you’re usually safe.

Luke Peters: Makes sense. That’s helpful to have that rule of thumb. And then again, this is a loaded question, but I’ll hopefully ask it in a way that you’re able to answer it. Now, it does sound like these are smaller priced products, so the margin and EBITDAs are different for a lot of reasons just because sometimes the sales in companies that are selling those might be also lower. But would you say that more than 50 or less than 50% of the companies are above 10% net EBITDA or net profit? I’m just curious… experience in that side because I think that it’s just fun for business owners to hear that and then grade themselves against it as far as what these companies are doing with their in store final margins.

Chris Rebsamen: Those margins are all over the place. It really is. Retailers work on single digits when it gets to EBITDA.

Luke Peters: Well, I mean on the brand side, so the actual companies.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah, no, I know. I know. And I’m just trying to in relationship. If you can save between 10 and 20%, it’s pretty solid.

Luke Peters: Oh yeah. Well, absolutely. That’s why I’m asking. So, for sure if companies can get above 10, that can be a challenge in itself with all the backends and that’s kind of why I’m asking it. But you’re saying, from that answer, it sounds like a good chunk of companies are able to do that.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. It all depends on the cost of goods and the volume because the more volume you put out, the smaller your EBITDA number can be because then the dollars are greater. It is a loaded question. We do get involved with it, but I don’t think a lot of entrepreneurs are looking at that number very carefully. Entrepreneurs themselves do not look at their balance sheet and their P&L very tightly. We just ran into a company that probably invested millions of dollars, and we’re still only generating less than a million dollars in sales, so they were completely upside down just because of . the mistakes that they’ve made. So, it varies so much. All I’m going to say is that you have to have a really good CFO or controller to make sure your numbers make sense.

Luke Peters: Listen, I mean that’s an excellent… That’s funny that you brought that up, and I’d love to ask another question around it, so feedback there. Get a great CEO or CFO controller, and I can speak from personal experience on that that is extremely important. And sometimes, we as entrepreneurs run too long without it because we can just to shoot from the hip. So, that’s excellent feedback. And it sounds you’ve seen a lot of that, and that’s even on self funded companies that entrepreneurs are just to-

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah.

Luke Peters: Okay.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. They just don’t pay attention to the numbers. They think it’ll catch up.

Luke Peters: Until they have to.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. I’ve seen it too many times. The other thing is entrepreneurs change their mind so much that they want to retool, restart, repackage, and they’re already in a hole, a lot of money, even before they made their first presentation.

Luke Peters: Now, what do you think is the solution for that for them? So, if these entrepreneurs are listening or new entrepreneurs or even ones that are kind of stuck in that rut, what is the one piece of advice to get them out of it? What should they change, do differently, or implement in their companies?

Chris Rebsamen: Instead of investing money into a gazillion products… And I’m being a little facetious. Sorry.

Luke Peters: I get you.

Chris Rebsamen: But I think you need to be smart and methodical to understand and hire someone that can teach you to understand what the challenges are going into the retail channel. It’ll be painful upfront because you’re laying out some capital. At the end of the day, it will actually save you money and time and frustration because I’ve been doing this 30 years. I don’t know of a business that is more challenging than the retail channel just because of just the way the dynamic and how it works today versus when I started in the 90s when a lot of it was just relationship. Now, it’s really becoming a financial product unit. ROI at shelf. Remember, the buyers today are behind computer screens 80% of the time. Buyers today are-

Luke Peters: Yeah, they all have P&Ls.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. Think about it. Think about a buyer back in retail. They used to go out and build product assortments. They don’t do that anymore. And diversity localization is kind of coming in, and the consumer is becoming much more demanding, so retailers need to be more nimble and are changing faster. So, that also deters building an assortment. So, the buyer is overwhelmed today, and it’s not their fault. And they will do business with people that can actually help take more work off of their plate. To really answer your question, the entrepreneurs should put some money aside to be coached to understand the challenges, and a lot of people don’t. They burn through so much more capital, not understanding the challenges and being prepared for them, and just jumping in with both feet.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s good advice, Chris. So, listeners, go out there and get a coach, and also it sounds like your advice was slow down. Think more, plan more, don’t go crazy on product launches. And yeah. So, I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that last piece of advice because when you’re in the middle of 25% tariffs, that’s like status quo. You got to relaunch, but I get you.

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. And you work with someone for 60 to 90 days and to understand your market as well because just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean the consumer is going to think you do.

Luke Peters: Cool. Well, I’m glad we went deep into that. And why don’t we finish it up with a question about excess inventory? You’re working with all these retailers and you said off channel as well. And I would love to hear kind of what is the best channel or even the best way to move out excess inventory. And the other part of that is a lot of companies have already discounted that inventory online.

Luke Peters: So, if buyers are looking at prices, they may be able to see that, and then it makes it even harder. And frankly from my point of view, if if I’m going to sell it at 50 cents on the dollar, I might as well hold onto it. I got a big warehouse, and I’ll try to find a way to sell it online even if it takes me longer because I don’t want to discount it that far. Maybe it is a bad decision on my part, but I’d love to hear your perspective because it seems like a lot of the excess inventory, like a lot of these discount buyers, are buying it for like pennies on the dollar where it doesn’t make a lot of sense if one knows how to sell it slowly online and offload it that way. But we’d love to hear your insights on that.

Chris Rebsamen: I’m more of the if you’re going to rip the bandaid, rip it off. It’s how long would it take you to sell online versus someone like TJ Maxx or Ross to back up a truck and take everything at once. So, really I’m a guy who that would… My strategy is always if you’re getting out of product or it doesn’t sell well, and you need to in the cash to invest in something else, you’re better off just selling it through one of the off price channels and moving on. I think the process with the online, you have to put marketing dollars into it. You have to sit on the product and remember this carrying costs with inventory and did you follow the money to pay for the inventory so there’s higher interest.

Chris Rebsamen: So, you need to know what is the best way to do this, and that’s another side of when people get shortsighted. It’s, “Okay. Well, I’ll sit on it, and I’ll sell it online, and I’ll sell it through my website.” How many hits are you getting a day? How many purchases? How many transactions are you really, really getting a day even at a discounted price? Are you moving a thousand a month versus TJX coming in and buying all 10,000 in one day? So, it all depends because to me from a financial perspective, I’ve seen selling an online. And a guess, so not an the online expert… would cost more in the end even with the higher margin and profit dollars.

Luke Peters: Yeah. No, you have excellent points there. And in finishing up that answer, you mentioned TJX and Ross. Any other names that listeners should be thinking about on the off channel? And just because this is always a constant problem with anybody.

Chris Rebsamen: Yep. We’ve got Tuesday Morning, Beall’s Outlet, Menards which is a home center. They buy stress products. Big Lots. So, there are plenty of them out there, and City Trends is one. Ross and TJ Maxx have two buying offices, one in L.A. and one in the East coast. TJ Maxx has a buying office in Canada as well. So, there are plenty of places if you need to move the merchandise and make it disappear. There are plenty of places that you can go to.

Luke Peters: Yep. Well, listen, I’ve learned a lot here, Chris. I’m taking notes. I’m reassessing my inventory storage right there. So, just want to thank you for diving deep into this. And before we leave, I just want to finish with this question. You shared a lot about your business and your expertise. What is maybe the most practical bit of advice that you can give a small mid-size company.

Chris Rebsamen: Do your homework.

Luke Peters: Yep. And then getting deeper into that, is that just say making slower decisions or?

Chris Rebsamen: Yeah. Reach out to… Interview some people that have industry knowledge and that can actually help you, guide you down the right path, but make sure that you interview, ask for references, making sure that there’s synergy between the both of you because that little investment up front can actually save you a ton of money on the backend.

Luke Peters: For sure. I’ve been there, done that, and can vouch for that. How can listeners find more about you, get a hold of you, find more about your business?

Chris Rebsamen: On my LinkedIn profile, Chris Rebsamen. We have a company page, Jupiter Sales and Marketing on LinkedIn, and we also have a website, jupitersalesandmarketing.com, all one word.

Luke Peters: Great. And we will have this in the show notes for you guys, listeners, at retailband.com. You’ll have the correct spelling of Chris’s name and the links and all those details in the show notes. So, listen, Chris, I want to thank you again for joining me today on the Page 1 Podcast sponsored by Retail Band. And quick reminder for everybody, yeah, that I’m offering a quick free evaluation of your online sales strategy. You can look at your Amazon, HD, Wayfair. We can review your product listings and present our findings directly to you. And if you’re interested, you can email me at luke@retailband.com or find me on LinkedIn. Hope you all enjoyed the interview today. Truly appreciate your reviews on iTunes and hope you join us for the next interview. Thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Page 1 Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce? Check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailer.

Get your FREE evaluation of your online sales strategy

Episode References: http://www.jupitersalesandmarketing.com/  

Contact Jeff Thiessen: chris@jupitersalesandmarketing.com

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, Review: Apple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

How Dansons innovative Wood Pellet Grills aggressively grew it from 12 to 200 staff in multiple distribution centers in 5 years – Jeff Thiessen – EP23

What you’ll learn:

Dansons has seen massive growth in the last 5 years, scaling the company from 12 to 200 people. On today’s episode, we learn about Dansons speed-to-store product development process along with the aggressive expansion of distribution centers in anticipation of a push for more online sales.

About our guest:

Jeff Thiessen is the President of Dansons, the manufacturer of Louisiana Grills, Pit Boss, Wood Pellet and Kamado Charcoal Grills. Jeff has worked along-side his father and brother to take Dansons from a 12-person company to a 200 employee, international powerhouse. Dansons offers the broadest product offering in the industry and continually launches innovative products into the marketplace.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • How Dansons evolved into what it is today—2:45
  • The brand and channel strategy behind Dansons continued growth—5:24
  • Dansons stats (distribution, warehouses, employees, etc.)—9:20
  • The secret to Dansons aggressive growth in the past 5 years—10:56
  • How trust, faith, and execution are the foundations of Dansons’ ability to scale quickly—13:37
  • Dansons in store strategies for Walmart, Lowe’s and other big box retailers—16:27
  • Percentage of online vs in store sales + 2020 online sales strategy—19:14
  • New Dansons product line in 2020 + Dansons massive SKU count—25:51
  • Product development: forecasting trends, collaborating with retailers, & listening to customers—27:03
  • The 3-pronged distribution strategy behind a push for online sales expansion—30:29
  • 3 key takeaways for growing a winning organization—35:41
  • 2019 company recap: Dansons’ biggest win—41:06

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page One Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies, to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers, or what we call rCommerce. Now, here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page One Podcast. I am your host, Luke Peters. This is the podcast where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer, product, sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances, where I cut my teeth selling products online, and now started Retail Band, where I hope to help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing and B2B online sales strategy. Right now, I am offering free evaluation of your online sale strategy. If you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or Luke@RetailBand.com. Let’s get into the podcast. In this episode, you’re going to learn from Jeff Thiessen, President of Dansons, which is a manufacturer of Louisiana Grills, Pit Boss, Wood Pellet and Kamado Charcoal Grills. Thanks for joining me, Jeff.

Jeff Thiessen: Happy to be here. Thank you.

Luke Peters: Cool. Jeff, I looked up a little bit about your past, EY Entrepreneur of the Year, Pit Boss was a National Hardware Retailer Choice Award winner, so congratulations on those awards. That’s awesome. I know you have a unique story as a family business, are you able to fill in some of the gaps there?

Jeff Thiessen: Sure. Dansons is Dan and then sons, so Dan is my dad, and-

Luke Peters: I didn’t even think of that.

Jeff Thiessen: Yeah, I’m one of the sons, and my younger brother is the other son that’s involved in the business currently. I’ve actually been working with my dad for 20 years under the Dansons banner here. We started the business together September of ’99, and just a lot of answered prayers from where God’s brought the business. Very excited to still have my dad onboard with the business, at 69, he’s not slowing down, he’s speeding up. He’s still our CEO, he heads up our product development side of the business, and just tons of creative energy with him and his team there. It’s been lots of fun, a real blessing to be able to work with my dad so long.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s great. I come from a family business of donut shops, so I was flipping donuts with my dad at an early age. Are you able to talk briefly about your early years, and what drove you and your dad, Dan, to start the business?

Jeff Thiessen: Sure. We started working 20 years ago with wood sawmill plans, trying to get rid of their wood waste and trying to find different value add projects. That led us into bagging wood shavings for horse bedding, of all things, was one of our first projects, and then that eventually morphed into also doing wood pellet fuel for heating stoves. From that, we got into actually manufacturing wood pellet stoves, which looks just like a wood stove, except it’s different internal components that burn compressed wood pellets. Then in the off season, my dad’s like, “We’ve got to do something with all this equipment in the off season, why don’t we make pellet barbecues?”

Jeff Thiessen: At the time, there was only one other manufacturer, or maybe two in the whole US that did such wood pellet grills, and it was a small business. Then as things grew up over the years, then the recession hit and the housing crisis started, and our partners in the sawmills wanted to divest of all the non-core businesses that we were doing with them. We did the management buyout back in 2007, and then that was pretty much right in time to get ready for the recession in 2009.

Luke Peters: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff Thiessen: The business for pellet heating, for pellet stoves, which was our core business by that point, just fell right apart. We ended up selling the pellet stove business to a much larger company called Heart and Home Technologies at the time. Then all we were left with was this little pellet grill business, and that was such a blessing. We looked back and said, “God works in mysterious ways,” but it really helped us focus our business at that point. We went to Asia in 2013 to augment our manufacturing, because we were doing everything in North America at that time, and the business has just been on an absolute rocket ship ever since.

Jeff Thiessen: We feel very blessed, a lot of answered prayers. Our Pit Boss brand was born in 2013 or ’14, Louisiana Grills is much older, it’s been around a lot longer, and both brands continue to grow in notoriety. We really try to focus on providing the best value proposition within the marketplace with whatever brand that we’re presenting. That’s really resonating with our customers, which we feel very blessed with.

Luke Peters: Yeah, thanks for that background, Jeff. Why don’t we, before we get more into the company, we’re talking grills here, but if you could just briefly describe the products, so that the audience understands the business a little bit better. You have a few different brands, and why don’t we start there?

Jeff Thiessen: We have a good, better, best brand strategy, so we introduced our country smoker brand recently, which is an opening price point focused primarily around wood pellets, but you’ll see some other offerings in the gas area as well here in the next year. Our main brand is Pit Boss, which is our better brand, it probably … Well, we know it’s the best value proposition within the pellet grilling industry by far. Our brand growth presence tracked through TraQline data, which is a third party data provider, is showing unbelievable growth within that brand in the last year.

Jeff Thiessen: Then our Louisiana Grills is really our upper end brand, some other stuff, your retailer brand. It has kind of tip of the spear as far as product development and feature benefits. With that three-brand strategy, we’re able to really attack all areas of the grilling marketplace. Now, wood pellet is our core within each of them. That said, we also do ceramic charcoal grills under both Pit Boss and Louisiana Grills brands, and then we also manufacture some different gas appliances, whether it be gas/charcoal smoker mixes, we have not just grills, we also have vertical smokers both in pellet and in gas and in electric.

Jeff Thiessen: We probably have the broadest product offering of anybody in the grilling business, I’d say. It’s a bold statement, but I’d say it’d be very close, if not the broadest. The reason we do that, and you were probably going to ask the question, but I’ll tell you why, the reason why is because we really try and build programs that are specific to our retail partners, and they have different needs for different areas and different retailers. It’s just through listening to what our retailers really need instead of telling them what they need, we ask them what they need and we respond that way, and we develop to what their needs are. That’s been just very, very key to our success the last number of years.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that makes sense. I guess that would be your channel strategy, as you’re listening to them and developing different products for different retailers, and that solves any channel issues?

Jeff Thiessen: Yeah. It’s neat to see how God’s developed that for us. We are a Christian company, and you’ll hear me refer to a lot of answered prayers and lessons.

Luke Peters: Yeah, I think it’s great.

Jeff Thiessen: We truly believe that in the last number of years. If we look back and we say, “Hey, we had this channel strategy from the beginning,” that wouldn’t be the truth. The truth is, it really has developed, and we really think it’s a God thing. It’s just been such a blessing to be along for the ride, it’s been unbelievable.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s a great message, and cool to hear that about the company’s story. Tell me about, so you mentioned something really quick, I was going to go more into the business, but I want to stop here because you mentioned something about some sort of brand tracker. What are you utilizing to understand the strength of the brand and where it’s going, what was that software or product?

Jeff Thiessen: It’s called TraQline, TraQline’s a third party data provider that actually goes out and assesses the market quarter by quarter, and they do it in a number of different industries, Just in barbecue, that’s one of the most well-cited sources for strong data as far as industry trends, brand growth, brand share, and we tapped into it a few years ago and it really helps to keep a scorecard that you’re achieving the goals that you want to within the industry itself. It’s not directly off point of sale, it’s more off end consumer data, but certainly it’s directionally accurate for how you’re ranking within the industry.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s great, I’m going to look it up afterwards. It’s always as companies are working on their brands, sometimes they don’t have line of sight to how they’re doing in the industry and how they’re doing compared to their competition. It sounds like this might be a tool that can help there. We’re in the middle of actually working, I forget the name of it, but we’re just getting into another one, so we’ll look up this one as well. It’s called TraQline, is what you said.

Jeff Thiessen: Yep, TraQline.

Luke Peters: All right, cool. Jeff, why don’t we continue here, tell me, just talking about company scale and size, are you able to share total number of employees, and maybe how you guys set up your distribution, size of buildings, warehouses? Do you do it yourself, do you 3PL? How do you guys look there?

Jeff Thiessen: We’re over 200 people within the operation. We sell worldwide, we’re in a number of countries, and it’s drawing all the time. We’re a Costco vendor, so they start with about nine countries there, and then we’re probably in, I’d say, north of 20 countries at least right now, and growing. We have product distribution in several points in the US, Washington state is our largest distribution point. We have three different warehouses, two of them are company or leased warehouses, and then we do use 3PL to augment if we have flex that we need throughout the year, but that’s not a large part of what we do. 3PL is not our core way of dealing with warehousing and distribution.

Jeff Thiessen: We really do handle it internally, we’re blessed with a really strong warehousing distribution team and leadership that’s really helped us to grow. We have a distribution point, and where we started actually was Edmonton, Alberta, so we have a distribution point in Canada in west, and then like I said, three of them right currently in Washington, and we have another one in Minnesota as well. We’re looking to expand out aggressively this next year, we have one that should be active in the first quarter in Arizona, and you’ll see us probably look to populate something in the southeast, and then possibly the Texas market as well in the next 18 months. There’s a lot going on on the distribution side, as the company continues to grow in leaps and bounds.

Luke Peters: You might be able to share or not, but how are you guys able to grow so quickly? You have 200 people, all these different distribution centers, that’s got to require a lot of capital. Just, it sounds like, five years ago, you were a shell of the company that you are right now, so you guys have had some dramatic growth, how’ve you done it?

Jeff Thiessen: That’s accurate. A lot of answered prayers. I look at the growth and I’d say it is miraculous how we’ve been able to get the support that we need from our manufacturing partners overseas, and we’ve been able to scale aggressively there, been able to scale aggressively in warehousing with great people and a strong organization. Financially, we’ve had great support from JP Morgan, who’s been a great partner of ours as we’ve grown. We do not have any venture capital or outside money, for the most part. We had some smaller partners, that we’re actually taking their ownership back into the company now, back to the family hands.

Jeff Thiessen: We’ve used very, very, very little outside money. Interestingly enough, with just the way that we’re financed and with the support that we’ve had, in Asia we’ve been able to grow aggressively. A big part of that is, my dad is meticulous about paying vendors on time or before time, and that’s helped us grow our reputation and actually our ability to get more and more manufacturing support in Asia with terms that make sense. There’s a lot of things that play together, I wouldn’t say it’s … The only one thing I could tell you, the answered prayers, the rest of it, it’s been phenomenal with every part coming together to allow us to grow.

Jeff Thiessen: We’re poised to grow aggressively again this year. We had strong growth last year, even in the tariff environment, we still posted double-digit growth, and we feel very blessed to have had experience to do that. We’re poised to have a huge growth year this year, we have a lot of new product development and product launches this year. We’re in anywhere from 12 to 15,000 retail locations around the company, depending on the products that we sell.

Luke Peters: That’s just amazing, to be able to grow that quick and the capital that’s needed, because you’re filling up warehouses with inventory, so obviously it sounds, JPM is a great partner, we work with them, and it sounds like you’re getting good terms from the manufacturers and that helps with the cashflow. It takes more than that, so you guys are doing a lot of things right to be able to grow that quickly. You have 200 people on the team, probably a large team of warehouse and distribution, but how about, on the departments I’m sure you guys have the typical and required departments like the sales and the marketing and the finance, but is there a special sauce in your team, is it the product development or the marketing? Or if you are able to describe maybe one department in your company and how it’s put together, that’d be interesting to hear.

Jeff Thiessen: I think what makes us, I think, very special is that we are family owned and operated still, but we were able to scale to a national brand size very quickly. We haven’t lost that within the business still, as far as the family feel to everything that we do. My dad heads up product development, like I said, but he has a very strong team of leaders with him. Then I work more on the sales side of the business with our sales department, but we have excellent leadership there. Then on the warehousing, my brother is our chief operating officer, so the one thing that’s interesting and we’ve noticed as the company grows, the trust that’s needed in order to scale quickly within the operation.

Jeff Thiessen: With three of us really focusing on different areas and having different lanes that we’re probably gifted in, hopefully, certainly that’s helped an awful lot, so that we have a high level of trust between each of us, and we’re able to make a lot of decisions probably a lot quicker than others, without having to go out to outside money or to a committee or the bank. Because we are well-financed and we have a lot of faith in what we’re doing, so it’s the type of situation that our speed to execution has been absolutely pivotal in our ability to grow this business.

Jeff Thiessen: Then when we talk to customers, we can put it from concept to retail shelf in a year. A lot of our competitors simply can’t do that. We look at business in the long term, everything is long term the way we look at things and when we look at this business, so we don’t make decisions for the next quarter, we don’t make decisions because we’re looking at an event. My dad tells people, “The event within this company happened 20 years ago, when we partnered together,” so success was already built into this business, and my dad’s very happy and comfortable with that. Jordan and I are very significant owners, and I think that trust level and that ability to operate a big company with a small company mentality in some ways, there’s some maturity that’s had to be forced on the business over time, but it certainly has been really critical, and the three of us all believe it’s guided the business, we’re very united in that.

Jeff Thiessen: It just makes a huge difference in how we approach every decision and every situation, every opportunity, and every obstacle that comes along. We pray about this business, and we’re blessed.

Luke Peters: That’s a great story. It’s like the family dynamic has made you guys stronger, and your faith along with that. Man, I can feel the energy, so this is going to be a good interview, I can feel it already.

Jeff Thiessen: Thank you.

Luke Peters: One thing you talked about was, we haven’t talked about Channel Mix, I wanted to get into that, but you said you were in 12,000 retailers’ stores, you’re in Costco. Before we get into that, when did you first get in store? Because we’re talking about how quickly the brand’s growing, it takes awhile sometimes to get into stores. Was that prior to 2008, or was that more recent as well where you’re getting in store?

Jeff Thiessen: Back in 2001, I believe, we started dealing with Menard’s for the heating appliances for the pellet stoves, and so that was our first exposure to a box store, and there’s a lot of learning that came along with that. Eventually going to, I think, Aubuchon Hardware, Home Depot Canada, we dabbled with Lowe’s a little bit, but it’s a very small niche when it comes to the heating side in comparison to the barbecue. It taught us a lot of lessons back then, how to deal and how to program, how to service larger customers, even though we weren’t a big vendor at the time.

Jeff Thiessen: It certainly was a great learning for us. Then when we got out of the heating side, we had already had some of that experience already. Menard’s was our first major box customer, then we expanded pretty aggressively, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s. Lowe’s came on I think slightly before Wal-Mart, and then Wal-Mart came on, and they were looking for a national brand to handle pellet. They’ve been a phenomenal retail partner of ours, just as Lowe’s has been, just as Menard’s has been. Academy Sports, we deal with a lot of different hardware channels on one level or another and depending on the product mix, we deal with a number of buying groups like Mid-State’s buying group.

Jeff Thiessen: It’s been, door after door has opened up. Certainly the Pit Boss brand, the value proposition, it’s just superior to anything in the marketplace right now. It just resonated with our customers, and it resonated with box stores looking for quality products. Then we also boast one of the best warranties in the industry, we have a five-year warranty which is one of, if not the best in the pellet grill industry. As a family, we stand behind the product and really care. We also set up some very extended customer service hours with our customer service center that we set up in Oregon in the last few years.

Jeff Thiessen: It’s one thing selling products, it’s another thing keeping products sold, and most importantly, keeping customers happy. That’s something we just take very seriously and we take it to heart, and so all those things play together to help us not just get into these box stores and grow the retail presence, but maintain it and then grow this deal offering within it. I don’t know that there’s anything super novel about what I can tell you about our business, it’s just that we just truly care about it and we pray about it.

Luke Peters: No, it is. Every business is unique, and that’s actually the most fun part of my job here. I’m taking notes here, kind of understanding the channel. What is your percentage of online to in store sales? It sounds like you guys are heavily skewed towards in store, would that be correct?

Jeff Thiessen: Yeah, heavily in store, we do less than 20% of our business currently, is online, but that is also one of the key initiatives, our goal initiatives for this next few years. We have spent a lot of time and money and effort around the social media aspect of the business building up the brand, and now I just see us focus aggressively on expanding our online retailers and some direct to consumer play as well, that doesn’t conflict with our mass business or our specialty business. We want to support both of them, but make sure that online shoppers have the ability to obtain our products as well.

Luke Peters: It sounds like, like you said, under 20% online but growing, and then as far as your major partners, Costco, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Menard’s, Academy Sports, buying groups, hardware. Of those, of the smaller ones, and I’m sure you guys probably do a lot of business with mid-majors or companies … There’s a lot of, in the Midwestern states, a lot of home and hardware brands. Who is someone just that surprised you, or a name you weren’t sure the business was going to be as strong as it actually ended up being, anybody stand out there?

Jeff Thiessen: Boy, I can’t say that one of them necessarily stood out ahead of another one. The rapid growth of the space, actually is the thing that surprised us overall, and then success where very often, if it’s a slow, steady growth area, you’ll have winners and losers. We don’t have losers with our retailers, we provide them with unique product offerings even though they’re the same brand. Very often with Pit Boss we try very carefully to provide unique SKUs and to have different value propositions, and that’s helped us an awful lot. That’s why they’re all winning, I can’t point at one that was way, way ahead of the other ones. They’re all very strong, for the most part.

Jeff Thiessen: There’ll be certain SKUs from time to time that don’t do as well, depending on geographic location and what type of store. You don’t want to have huge grills in a downtown store location, that’s just it, that people don’t have houses, they have apartments. You’ve just got to be careful with some of that stuff, but yeah, overall I’d say the category has surprised us how it continues to expand rapidly. The pellet grill category is estimated at about 12% of the total grill marketplace, while I’d say two years ago, someone would’ve said probably it’s more like four or five, at the very most.

Jeff Thiessen: We’ve had an awful lot of expansion, and anybody you talk to that’s cooked on a pellet grill, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would say negative, whether it’s our product or somebody else’s. The experience of cooking with wood but with the convenience of gas, it’s a one touch, you touch it, dial in your temperature, and away you go, the value proposition that comes with pellet grilling is amazing. Then the quality of the food that you’re taking off is really what it’s all about, and you can grill like an expert griller with that real rich smoke flavor, but you can just be a novice. If you can run an oven, you can run a pellet grill and produce some of the best barbecue in the world.

Luke Peters: In talking about the product, earlier you alluded to supply chain and how you guys are mostly based in Asia, what tariff bracket are you guys in? Are you guys getting hit by the 25%, or is it a lower bracket?

Jeff Thiessen: Certainly, our gas products are tariff-ed at 25%, our pellet products are not currently.

Luke Peters: That’s nice.

Jeff Thiessen: God willing, that stays that way.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s tough. I was going to ask, and that’s obviously probably disrupted those product lines for the whole industry, right, on the gas side?

Jeff Thiessen: I would say it actually has disrupted the entire industry, in terms of the pending tariff would’ve affected us. We’re seeing major retailers with major retail point of sale dollar increases, but with reduced inventories that’s in the previous year. That I would say is probably across many, many, many industries. If the truth be known about actual retail inventory dollars in the US right now, I’d say it’s probably way down because of the tariffs.

Luke Peters: Meaning they’re holding out and hoping they go away, because they’ve got to buy the product if it’s getting sold, so they’re just running leaner inventory and faster turns, so that when the tariffs do go away, they’re not stuck with a bunch of overpriced inventory?

Jeff Thiessen: That’s 100%, I think that’s exactly … Through the recession, it was a little different, it was dollars weren’t available for inventory. It’s not that dollars aren’t available, everyone’s afraid of having high priced inventory, and then obviously having a quarter or two of massively reduced margins. I don’t blame retailers for being skittish on inventory, they’ve been fairly upfront with us on that, but over time you can only get so efficient on inventory when you have to re-buy. The nice part is, looking at the tariffs, at least on our products, or the core of our business, that being pellet, hopefully don’t get applied ever, so that’s been a real blessing for us.

Luke Peters: Jeff, so it sounds like you guys are directly affected, and like you said, blessed by being in a great category that’s growing quite a bit, as you mentioned, from, say, 4% of total grills to 12% right now in the pellet category. Is there a secret sauce, or what is something that makes your brand unique that you think is giving you this advantage in the marketplace?

Jeff Thiessen: Value proposition. We can comp up with anybody in this marketplace, and if you look at the dollars per selling features, our units are bigger, hotter, and heavier than almost all our competitors’, and we’re selling them for anywhere from 20 to 40% less, if you want to mark them up by square inch. There’s a few small exceptions with that, but overall, our total value proposition within our breadth of product, nobody’s been able to match us on that. A big part of that is because we don’t have outside influences, we don’t have outside money in the business.

Jeff Thiessen: We make a fair margin that keeps the business healthy, and we’re feel very blessed, but the reality is, we don’t have to have massive margins in order to support massive debt loads. Those are the realities of business, when you have a lot of debt, someone’s got to pay for it. We’re just not debt laden, and that’s made a huge difference in our ability to provide that best value proposition, and we’re very thankful for that. We’re very keenly aware that being a family business and able to make your own decisions and not being influenced by outside money has been a huge blessing for us, and it’s allowed us a huge market advantage.

Luke Peters: Wow. Are you able to share, so how many SKUs do you guys have total?

Jeff Thiessen: SKUs? Hundreds, and that’s not just barbecues. We do barbecues both in pellet, gas, and charcoal, but we also do spices, we do accessories, our accessory programs are expanding rapidly with Lowe’s, Academy Sports, Menard’s, a number of different retailers are picking up our accessories program. We look at grilling, the entire outside grilling atmosphere. Some people want to stay in their lane, only in their lane, and that’s good. I respect that, I respect sticking to your knitting. At the same time, we are passionate about outside cooking in general, so for us, we’re launching a brand new line of griddles coming up here.

Jeff Thiessen: They are propane griddles, but we see that as a great market expansion this next year, and we already have some products that we’ll be hitting the shelves the next few weeks on. We look at all different trends, and what we try to go back to is providing a superior value proposition to our consumers. Pit Boss is known for providing a better product for a more economical price. For us, and it’s our family standing behind it, we truly care about what we’re putting in the marketplace.

Luke Peters: It sounds like you guys are obviously moving quick on all fronts and the company is strong all around, but it sounds like it especially must be on the product development side, because I can see through these conversations how quickly you guys are launching SKUs and listening to the buyers and innovating in the market. Obviously your dad’s involved on that side, is there a team in China that is working alongside of him, or what does that team look like that makes it so effective and innovative?

Jeff Thiessen: Certainly that’s critical, having engineering on both sides of the ocean. The core of our ideation in product development is here in Phoenix, we have a phenomenal team that my dad leads, and we have over 100 different items within product development right now. Ideation and product development comes in several forms, number one is from the customer. When we have a collaborative relationship with our retail partners, they know their end consumer. A good buyer knows their end consumer and they know where the holes are, they know what questions are being asked, what products are being asked for, we just try to ask the right questions and respond quickly.

Jeff Thiessen: When we look at our business, you’re absolutely right, that’s one thing that’s been absolutely critical. If we weren’t willing to invest large amounts of money in tooling and in personnel to keep the product development cycle very short and very lively and very exciting … One of the questions we get asked all the time is, “Is this patented? Is this trademarked?” For the most part, yes, we are patenting and trademarking a lot of things these days, but at the same time, pretty hard for our competitors to react if we’re constantly bringing out new products.

Jeff Thiessen: Now, that’s not a popular thing to do on the economic side, because yes, we do carry more inventory than others, we have more money in tooling than others. Once again, we’re not about just a short term gain, we look at things in the long game, we look at things, how do we build relationships with our customers, how do we listen and respond to their needs, and how do we invest in the long term? When they see us leading in investing and seeing other companies that are not willing to do that, that’s what sets us apart in a lot of ways from other competitors of ours.

Jeff Thiessen: I’m not trying to be hard the competitors, there are great competitors in this industry and it’s a wonderful industry to be part of, when there’s outside influences and outside money, there’s different types of decisions that are made. It’s just a blessing for us to be able not to have to respond differently in product development, that’s where we lean in heavy and spend a huge amount of money, which we’re happy to do because it’s coming back to us.

Luke Peters: A lot of paraphrasing, that’s a great answer, you get ideas from the customer, and then like you said, you have to get those from your buyers. Having that buyer relationship and just being curious and listening, and that’s where it starts. Also what I thought was interesting is, you talked about you’re okay to have some more tools that are paid for, meaning more dollars sunk into tooling and more inventory, because that allows you to be more innovative and bring in more products. I know that’s always a back and forth of working with contract manufacturers or really being involved in the product development, but if you’re not doing that, then it’s going to be hard for you to have these innovative products. You have to invest there, and it’s great to understand how you guys think about that.

Luke Peters: Cool. Let’s talk about operation, because that seems to be another struggle. You guys have, I stopped counting, but you guys are over five distribution centers, it sounds like, and more to come?

Jeff Thiessen: Yes.

Luke Peters: You don’t need to have that many, or do you? Or maybe it’s because of the size of these products, because they’re going on pallets, is that why in your business it’s needed to have more distribution centers, or what’s the purpose of all of those?

Jeff Thiessen: We have some large competitors that also use 3PL. We like to control the products, as the end consumer experience is extremely important to us, and when you have it in house, you can control a lot of that process a lot more. With our focus on online expansion, you have to carry inventory to a large degree, and so we want to make sure that we have that available when a customer wants it. That’s why we have a lot of distribution, I wouldn’t call it an industry specific type of need, but certainly we just view it a bit differently than some of our competitors do. There’s a lot of competitors that have their own variety as well, it’s not that unique within our space.

Jeff Thiessen: We also have product in Europe and a warehouse in Europe, and that’ll be expanded this next year as well as we attack that market. It’s just a way for us to keep a control on something internally and provide a superior service experience to our customers. I should probably mention, we do a lot of, our customers also pick up product from our factories in Asia as well, so it’s a hybrid. We don’t run everything through our distribution points.

Luke Peters: Right, you’re going to have some DI. I’m just saying, I’m with you, we have a pretty big warehouse as well, but what I thought was unique is that it seems like you have a lot of different distribution points. I guess that cuts down shipping time to your customers, but in this case, most of the customers are going to be the retail stores. Yeah, that’s going to be a big advantage once you do go online, because then you’re going to have shorter shipping times and less damages.

Jeff Thiessen: It’s really three-pronged, because I think everyone would agree that the online consumer is growing and growing and growing, I think it’d be crazy not to think that. You need to consider the freight factors from each region, and it’s something that’s top of mind these days around here as we continue to expand those programs. We need to make sure that we’re closer to markets, have product relatively close to markets whenever possible, being aggressive in our freight negotiation is extremely important. It’s not a one size fits all, where you just plug into something to handle direct to consumer shipments, whether that be for our online sales ourselves or through our online retailers, because not all of them have their own logistics programs either.

Jeff Thiessen: Freight is just such a critical part of what we’re doing in today’s retail landscape, especially on online retail. Then we get into, retail right now in store is our big portion, but you have to be able to support them as well in the online. That’s really where that need comes from, I think, to a large degree. Like I said, I don’t think it’s specific to our industry though.

Luke Peters: I love it, that’s important ops, but you guys have hit that critical mass on the shipping. It’s interesting, when companies are smaller, it’s tough because sending product to the east coast, if they were, say, a west coast and they’re working out of port of Long Beach, and then they see 70% of their product is shipped to the east coast, so they want to put up a warehouse over there, but the problem is that it costs a lot more to get a container there. Then it’s going to cost a lot more to store it there if it’s not their building. Yeah, you guys have that critical mass, there has to be a certain amount of volume, and when you hit that critical mass that a larger company like yours is at, then it’s a no brainer to have the different satellite warehouses, because you’re going to save on the UPS or FedEx freight.

Luke Peters: Makes total sense, and I think that’s what I was looking for. That’s the answer, it’s dollars and cents on shipping. Is a lot of your stuff, are you grills going LTL, or are a lot of them able to ship small parcel?

Jeff Thiessen: It’s depending on the size. We have such a range within products that some are UPS-able, and some are LTL. I’d say what you’ll see from more of us is more UPS designed products as we move forward, as that landscape continues to demand more and more and more, so you’ll see that. Right now, 150 pounds is that threshold. I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes slightly as the delivery networks change and adapt. What an advantage it would be for some of these guys to move that up, and that’d give them a definite advantage on the freight side if it was 160 or 165. I think you’re going to see how products are delivered change a lot over the next 10 years.

Luke Peters: Totally agree, especially with the news on FedEx. We’re having this interview in late December 2019 right now, and FedEx has been in the news, Amazon dropped them. We use FedEx, I love FedEx, but they’ve had some challenges. Yeah, that is an excellent point you bring up, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if to become more competitive, UPS and FedEx change some of those requirements, try to get some of that larger parcel business. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Hey Jeff, you built a winning organization obviously with your family, and what are maybe three pieces of advice that you would give other leaders? From your learnings in building Dansons, are there maybe three pieces of advice that stand out as far as what helped you and how you think?

Jeff Thiessen: How I think is that you pray about everything, that’s where we start and where we finish everything. Number two is trusting, you’re trusting your people, so you’ve got to have good people. I can’t tell you enough good things about my dad or my brother, and how much I love working with them, and not just them, the team that we’ve been blessed with. We trust these people to make good decisions, and we support them. We could not do it alone, we couldn’t do it, number one, like I said, without God, number two, without good people. There’s nothing novel about those approaches to business.

Jeff Thiessen: Everyone talks about you have to have good product, you have to have sales, you have to have good financing, you have to have good warehousing. All these things have to play together. One thing I would say, one of the things we’ve learned is you can’t ignore any one of those as you’re growing a business. Then also, honestly, when we pray about everything, it keeps a pretty relaxed atmosphere, for the most part. Some people love dealing with high stress and high pressure all the time, we don’t. We have a very family atmosphere here, we care about our people, care about our customers, and I think that really rings true, going back to the people. We have great people that want to be around, we have a high level of retention around those people, and we’re very thankful for that. It’s such a blessing to us.

Jeff Thiessen: I don’t know, I’m not exactly a good MBA case, that’s not the way we look at our business. There’s a lot of guys that think they’re real smart. We’re maybe guys that aren’t that smart, but are blessed with a phenomenal opportunity and a great business, and that’s with God doing it, and we’re happy to say it.

Luke Peters: You’re obviously humble, because you’ve grown a company really good, so you guys are doing something right. Summarizing that up, you guys pray about everything, you trust good people, and you guys have a relaxed atmosphere, which kind of goes into point number two about trusting good, good people that you’ve brought onto the team. You’ve got to have that when you’re growing that fast, and on that point, you guys are 200 people now. Move the business back five or 10 years when you were smaller, I’m guessing about the number of people, but let’s say 20 or 30, I have no idea.

Jeff Thiessen: Let’s say 12.

Luke Peters: Okay, let’s say 12, so 12, less than 10 years. What is the main thing that had to change in the company? Because you did say that, the company’s grown up, you still have the family atmosphere, but you guys had to get more disciplined, so what happened between 12 and 200? What are the different types of hires or people you needed or processes you had to put in place?

Jeff Thiessen: Procedure, process and procedure are pretty key in that. The beauty of how we’re set up is, my brother is our chief operating officer, so there was a high level of trust immediately when we had to make moves of maturity in product development with my dad or product fulfillment with warehousing. One thing we do on a regular basis is to pray for our team, and we’ve been blessed with a great team. Our team, our people have come with a lot of experience, not necessarily in our industry, but certainly within whether it be warehousing or sales or finance.

Jeff Thiessen: We’re just blessed with great people that have a higher level of aptitude and excellence around. It moved from, the big changes, it used to be three of us making absolutely every decision, to having a team of high functioning professionals that are making good decisions and supporting them. That is a very big culture shift internally, because interestingly enough, like I said earlier, we retained a lot of the small company mentality at the same time because we care so deeply for our people. My dad and brother and I can still have lunch and launch a new product line for our new division, and that happens sometimes, and which is lots of fun. But at the same time, now we have a mechanism, a machine here that can execute on a lot of that vision, that we’re not pulling all those levers ourselves.

Jeff Thiessen: That’s been a huge difference, like when you have that infrastructure and that size and that critical mass to be able to vision and execute so much faster with good, solid people, it is a game changer for us, it has been. It’s been so much fun, it’s been such a blessing.

Luke Peters: You sound a lot like Dave Ramsey, have you ever been to any of his events?

Jeff Thiessen: No, I-

Luke Peters: You and Dave must be brothers.

Jeff Thiessen: I do admire the man in some ways. Dave Ramsey is not necessarily an entrepreneur’s kind of guy though either, because to get to the size that we have been, you have to use bank money. That’s not a Dave Ramsey thing at all.

Luke Peters: I agree 100%, yeah.

Jeff Thiessen: But certainly I do respect his fiscal approach to many things. I’ve enjoyed listening to him over the years.

Luke Peters: That’s funny. You guys went from 12 to 200 people during this period that we talked about, and like you said, you were three people making the decisions, and now you’ve built out a team. You joked around, you don’t have an MBA but you’ve learned a heck of a lot over that time period. Looking back at the business over the past year, what do you think your biggest win has been in business?

Jeff Thiessen: That’s a good question. I think retention. We’ve had a lot of growth the last two years, retention, I think, of our faith and our attitude. We have moved into a different level size-wise, economics-wise, we’re probably in the top five in the barbecue industry, if not higher than that, without saying too much, and it’s the type of thing that we’ve still been able to retain that family feel to what we do. I think that’s a huge win, and our customers feel it, and that allows us to grow more, because they have a lot more faith that these people that they’re dealing with are the same people today as they were 10 years ago even when we were tiny, and they’re going to be in 10 years when we move forward.

Jeff Thiessen: I’m still in my mid-40s and I have, hopefully, lots of time left, and I’m having a ball. I absolutely love the team we have, I love the family aspect of working together, and I think that comes through in preserving our culture.

Luke Peters: Cool. Jeff, do you happen to have a favorite book that’s inspired you, or whatever book you might recommend?

Jeff Thiessen: I’m going to start with The Bible.

Luke Peters: That’s great.

Jeff Thiessen: I read into it again, and I don’t mean that in a glib way, because if you just take a little bit of time and slow down and think about the lessons, the lessons that are taught in that are just, when I read management books, which I do, I read leadership books, which I do, recently a book by Chuck Swindoll Hand Me Another Brick, it was a great leadership book of principles, but I just find it very interesting when I read management books how a lot of the principles that suddenly people think are novel, they’re not novel at all.

Jeff Thiessen: Caring about people, having ethics in your business, working hard and providing an example, these are all things that are very Biblical in nature. That might not be politically correct, but that’s just how we live our lives. Not that we’re perfect, boy do we make lots of mistakes, but certainly it helped guide us and get us back on track again and again.

Luke Peters: That’s a great message. The passion in your voice I think has made this an engaging interview, so thanks for sharing all of those details about the family business, your faith, and how you guys think about business, and where Dansons has grown, from 10 or so years ago to where it is now. How can listeners find more about you and learn more about your business?

Jeff Thiessen: Dansons.com is our main site, they’re going to want pitboss-grills.com, both of them. One thing I would like to mention, when we talk about our culture, and it’s something that we actually struggled with but it’s helped with our culture an awful lot the last few years, is we tithe 10% of our profits to Christian charities through our foundation. We’ve recently started sharing that with our staff, and I think that means an awful lot, I know it means an awful lot to them. Because no matter what faith they’re supporting, what we try and do is get behind organizations that have women at risk or young kids that need support. We also do some stuff around the breast cancer foundation, things like that.

Jeff Thiessen: When people feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, not just enriching somebody or some organization, that plays a pivotal role in how they feel about what they’re doing and the effort that they put in. We started sharing that the last few years with our staff, and we’re not looking for any thank yous, except that they need to know that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. It’s been transformative, there’s no rule that we have here, we just want to be very welcoming and very loving, but we want to be very sharing in what God’s put on our hearts at the same time, and honest. That’s been pretty critical for us the last few years, and something that has changed, as it comes to mind.

Luke Peters: That’s amazing that you guys were able to give 10% of your profits to charity, I could definitely see how that is going to pull the company together on that point.

Jeff Thiessen: It’s a blessing just being part of it, so we just feel it truly is a blessing, being able to give back.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and Jeff, that’s amazing that you guys give 10% of your profits to charity. I think so many companies wish they could be doing that, but you guys are doing it, so I think it’s a great way to complete this interview.

Jeff Thiessen: I certainly enjoy the conversations with our bankers when we first meet them, and let them know that that is something that’s non-negotiable, no matter how they want to write their covenant. It’s interesting, because at first you see kind of a negative look, but then very quickly they understand the culture of the business that we’re part of, and they really learn to appreciate it too. It’s been an interesting part of our business, but certainly that’s a fundamental my dad has instilled in each of us, and that’s certainly his legacy that will live on. We’re just glad to be part of it.

Luke Peters: I’m sure with your growth rate, and JPM is lucky and happy to have you guys … Listen Jeff, I want to thank you again for being on the Page One Podcast, appreciate all of your insights, and I’m sure the audience is better now than they were before this interview. Also, just a quick reminder to the audience, that I’m offering a free evaluation of your online sales strategy. If you guys need help launching products or improving your sales on Home Depot, Wayfair, or any of those other digital channels, find me on LinkedIn or Luke@retailband.com. Again, thank y’all for joining us on the Page One Podcast, have a wonderful day.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Page One Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce? Check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers.

Episode References: FREE evaluation of online sales strategy + TraQline

Contact Jeff Thiessen: LinkedIn + Dansons + Pit Boss

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, ReviewApple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

Hacking Growth: Insights Driven Content Marketing Strategy & The Power of Customer Profiles – Coravin – Yvethe Tyszka – EP22

What you’ll learn:

How do you market to consumers outside your target audience? How do you market to multiple audiences shopping at the same retailer? Today’s episode is jam packed with insights driven marketing strategies to grow your business—no matter its current scale or size. Our guest even shares her personal methodology for creating assets that optimize sales.

About our guest:

Yvethe Tyszka is the Vice President of Marketing for Coravin. She is a passionate insight driven marketer with global experience and local execution. She is successful at turning businesses around, building and motivating teams, and creating consumer centric strategies to accelerate growth.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • Yvethe’s path to VP of Marketing—2:14
  • The Coravin Mission—5:55
  • Coravin stats (employee count, # of skus, etc.) — 8:26
  • Coravin Moments: The Coravin Wine Pairing App —10:00
  • How Coravin’s unique growth build customer trust and brand credibility—11:27
  • How to attract new customers outside your target audience—14:15
  • How Corvain uses IP to protect product innovation—15:20
  • Insights driven marketing strategy—19:18
  • How to market to multiple audiences shopping at the same retailer—23:45
  • A new take on competing against market leaders—25:55
  • Yvethe’s marketing methodology for creating content that sells: Hacking Growth—29:42
  • Create a team that owns your company’s brand—32:26
  • MAP Strategy: work with retailers to create cross-channel sales—35:40
  • How to create a deeper brand experience for consumers—36:46
  • Key Marketing Strategy Takeaway—38:28

Podcast Transcription

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Page 1 Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best in class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your ecommerce sales with the big box retailers, or what we call rcommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page 1 Podcast. I’m your host Luke Peters, and this is a podcast where I bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. On the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances, where I cut my teeth selling products online and have now started Retail Band where I hope to help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and also B2B online sales strategy.

Luke Peters: Just a quick heads up, right now I am offering a free business evaluation of your online sales strategy. If you’re a brand owner online, and you’re looking for some support, advice, and really a clear cut plan to help you move forward, go ahead and find me on LinkedIn or email me at luke@retailband.com. And today, I’m excited to interview Yvethe Tyszka. And Yvethe works for a brand called Coravin, which helps you preserve your wine for a longer period of time. We’ll get into that.

Luke Peters: So in this episode, we’re going to learn from Yvethe on how she’s deploying customer insight driven strategy to drive sales and exposure for Coravin. Every marketing department and brand leader needs to hear this episode. Welcome to the podcast, Yvethe.

Yvethe Tyszka: Hi. How are you? Thank you, Luke, for having me.

Luke Peters: Great to have you. Thanks for joining us today. And Yvethe is vice-president of marketing for Coravin. Prior to Coravin, she worked for Newell Brands and Spectrum Brands. Looks like you got some great experience working with some really strong brands. Before we dive into Coravin, kind of, is there anything that really shaped your marketing career? Was it one of those companies? Maybe before that? Just curious to hear how you really got excited and deep into marketing.

Yvethe Tyszka: Absolutely. Actually, it started at Nestle, which is a brand powerhouse more than a product powerhouse. I was recruited as a marketing basic trainee. That’s how all the marketing people get in, and given exposure to a lot of areas of the company, including sales, operations, warehousing, manufacturing. When you get to finally manage a brand, you have the understanding of what the sales team goes through, what the operations team goes through.

Yvethe Tyszka: You’re able to put together better strategies. One of the most fun anecdotes that I have from my time at Nestle was managing Nesquik. So at the time, Nesquik was the number seven brand in the country on milk modifiers. And the brand that was the leader was the brand that was marketing to teens. We had a bunny. Bunny is not very attractive to kids that are that old. But they’re very attractive to little kids. So we actually changed our marketing strategy to the younger kids, kids that was 3, 4, 5, started kindergarten. And we were able in two years to get form number 7 to number 2 in the market, in sales.

Luke Peters: Wow. That’s awesome. That’s a really clear, actionable example. Thanks for sharing that .Nestle. Great brand. You’ve really been fortunate to work with some brand powerhouses. No, I love speaking to marketing experts. It’s a passion of mine, with our brand at New ]Air, and something we really enjoy learning about product launches. So I’m hoping to gain some insights from you. Before we get started, I also just wanted to mention to the audience, Yvethe, obviously very deeply knowledgeable about marketing, but also deeply engaged in volunteering her time.

Luke Peters: Has been, or is a licensed, or was a licensed foster mom, which is really cool. I just did some LinkedIn stalking on you. And I know Christmas is around the corner, so I saw that you also volunteering for Operation Christmas Child. Thanks for doing that. I think that’s just… people getting involved like that make a big difference.

Yvethe Tyszka: It actually has been a great experience for me as a person and for us as a family to be involved in these experiences, especially fostering. Fostering is a very difficult in a way experience, because you fall in love with these kids that come to your home. You know this kid, that the objective of fostering is that this kid goes back to its parents. But through our experience and our training, I think what we learned and embraced is you got to be willing to let your heart be broken, if that can mend their hearts.

Yvethe Tyszka: Offering these kids love, and comfort in a situation that is very difficult… imagine you’re six, seven years old. You wake up, and you’re in a home that you don’t know, with people you don’t know, in a place that you don’t even know where it is geographically, because these kids have no process of that. It’s remarkable how resilient children are, and how with love, and compassion, these kids can really navigate that time. Most times goes back to their parents when their parents go through the process they need to go through.

Yvethe Tyszka: It was a really interesting experience for us when we lived in Florida. Now that we moved to Massachusetts, it’s a different licensing process, and we haven’t really got into it. But we really love being able to do that.

Luke Peters: Well, yeah. And you know, something that I guess on the outside you don’t know, or people who haven’t been foster parents, is you don’t think about that last part, which is you have to let go of these kids, and when they move back, if the goal is going back to their parents. So yeah, thanks for doing that. I mean, that’s making a real difference in someone’s life.

Luke Peters: But wow. So you have a full, well-rounded life. And speaking of marketing, and I guess why don’t we introduce the company that you’re heading up marketing for. That’s Coravin. Are you able to kind of share a little bit about the company size, as far as say total employees? And then also, just because it’s fun to understand operations, are you guys managing the distribution of your product through a warehouse yourself? Or are you using a 3PL? Would be interesting to hear a little bit about the company. And also what… also, if you could start with explaining the Coravin product.

Yvethe Tyszka: Absolutely. So our mission is a very lofty but I think real one, which is to change the way the world drinks wine. There’s a mission around the world of offering wine lovers a way to drink the wine they want in any amount without ever opening the bottle. So you don’t have to compromise with… usually, it’s one less fight to have with your spouse. Like, “Oh, I want white! I want red!” Doesn’t matter.

Yvethe Tyszka: You choose what you want. Not what’s open. When people come over to your house, you always have that person that says, “Hey, can I have one more glass?” And you have to open a new bottle. You’re like, “Ugh.” Not anymore. You can actually do that. You can also cellar your bottles, if you want to have a bottle that needs time to reach its peak. You can actually test it without opening.

Yvethe Tyszka: The flavor in that wine is not going to change more than it would change if it was closed, because there’s no oxygen that it can touch with the wine, and there’s only a needle that goes through the cork. It uses Argon gas to create pressure in the bottle. Argon is the same gas that is used by bottle makers, or sorry, by wine makers in the bottling process. It’s not going to impact the smell, or flavor, or the development of the wine. And you get your wine out, as much or as little as you want.

Yvethe Tyszka: You remove the Coravin, and the cork will reseal naturally, because it’s a very elastic material, and the design of the needle is special, so it will open a channel in the cork instead of piercing it. So it is a really great product for wine lovers, for wine connoisseurs, and it’s kind of the reason why I joined the company. Because I know that in a few years, we’re going to be asking ourselves, “Why did people ever open bottles to drink wine? It makes no sense.”

Luke Peters: Yeah. I mean, that’s a great explanation. And we’ll get into that, because I’m curious. Because I’ve been going to the Housewares show… sorry, not the Housewares. That one as well, but just the Canton Fair. I’ve seen a lot of similar products. So we’ll get a little bit into the technology. Would love to learn more there.

Luke Peters: It’s actually, partially one of the reasons I don’t drink wine, and not the only, but… or don’t drink as much, just because I might be the only wine drinker at home. My wife doesn’t. So yeah, this sounds like a remedy for that, right? When people don’t want to open up a whole bottle.

Yvethe Tyszka: Exactly.

Luke Peters: Yeah. So are you able to share any about the company size, just to understanding… are you guys doing your warehousing? Is that being done elsewhere? Also say the total employee count, or something in that range, so we can get an idea?

Yvethe Tyszka: I can share some things, because we’re a private company. We have about 70 global employees or so. We’re present as a brand in over 60 countries. U.S. is our largest market. France is the number two. And we have been growing steadily, double digit growth, in the last few years. It is definitely a startup. It’s small, and lean, but at the same time, we’ve been able to grow from only the winery to then restaurants. And now we’re in retail where consumers can purchase a Coravin at Bed, Bath & Beyond, or an Amazon, or Williams-Sonoma with ease.

Luke Peters: Yeah, wow. And that’s incredible scale though, to be in that many countries with only 70 employees. So you guys are lean, and mean, and must be doing a great job there. How about number of products, number of SKUs? Because again, it’s a product that pierces the cork, so that you can bring the wine out but not disturb the wine, so that you can drink it again later on.

Luke Peters: Are there a lot of different… I know there’s a couple versions. But is the SKU quantity kind of limited, because it’s really a uniquely focused product? Or what can you share there?

Yvethe Tyszka: Probably from a product line perspective… so we have one system, like you said, that has a needle, goes through the cork, and you can pour without removing the cork. There’s only kind of two big flavors of it. One of them has a self-pouring feature, so it’s actually electronic, and it’s Bluetooth connected to an app that is called Coravin Moments. That’s another app, actually, that we have. The app.

Yvethe Tyszka: And the app is developed to have a pairing engine, so that you can tell it, “Hey, I want to have pizza,” and it will suggest wines for you. Or, “I have this wine,” and it will suggest foods for you. It has pairings of wine with movies, or books, or songs, or occasions, because we know that wine is usually a part of those things.

Yvethe Tyszka: You’re never just drinking wine. You’re drinking wine, or reading, or hanging out with friends. That product specifically, which is called Model Eleven, was our latest product launch. We launched in January of 2018. A very successful launch. We won three awards at the show.

Yvethe Tyszka: It’s been selling really, really well. The app, you can have the app with or without Model Eleven. Even if you don’t have a Coravin, you should have the app if you love wine. And then the other systems that are not electronic are basically differentiated by materials, color, and accents. All of them perform the same job. Even Model Eleven does. They let you pour wine without removing the cork.

Luke Peters: Wow, so interesting. So I guess driving, diving right into the business… and I know a private company, only so much you can share. But whatever you’re comfortable with. It sounds like you guys are selling… or it looks like you’re selling direct to consumer. I was on the website earlier today. You’re selling some B2B and some restaurants, and then you’re also selling different channels online.

Luke Peters: Couple questions around that. So you have just a couple SKUs. So I want to just get your thoughts on channel management, because if those same SKUs are going out to all these different channels, that can be a big challenge on the marketing and sales side. And along with that, do you implement a map pricing policy? Or do you have another way to handle the channel management and channel conflict?

Yvethe Tyszka: On the first question, I think part of the… what has made the growth of the product successful is we started with wine makers and with wineries. We wanted to make sure that we could gain their trust and their endorsement of the efficacy of the product. For the first year, year and a half, we were mainly working with wine makers. And then we progressed to restaurants and high end retailers. I think that was very critical, for us to not only have the trust and the credibility coming from winemakers, but also from restaurants that are able to open up their cellars and serve any wine they own by the glass.

Yvethe Tyszka: So once the consumers started seeing the Coravin used by increase the channels, they’re like, “Huh, I wonder where I can buy it.” At that time, we didn’t have our direct channel, so that was the only way for our consumers to get a hold of it. And that gave us credibility with the high end retailers and the very few people at the beginning that started retailing it. That started to grow, and grow, and grow as we expanded.

Yvethe Tyszka: So I think the progression was critical. I think we would have started just at retail, it would have not been the same. But by now, we’ve done over 900 different wines across the globe where we have blind tasted, or we’ve done blind tastings with over 500 wine professionals, and we’ve been successful in all of them.

Luke Peters: Wow. I mean, what a smart way to start. How long back was that? When was the company kind of gaining that traction? What year was that when it was building its trust and credibility working with winemakers first?

Yvethe Tyszka: The company opened in July 2013. I think the first year and a half or two years, it was very focused on winemakers. For example, in Napa, the biggest winemakers in Napa all loved, and endorsed, and used Coravin. If you look at Rombauer, or PEJU, Stag’s Leap, all of them use Coravin. Bordeaux, huge area for Coravin, and around the world, the main wine areas.

Yvethe Tyszka: I just went to Rioja over the summer for an event with Coravin, and most of the winemakers in Rioja use and endorse Coravin. That takes away the question of does it work, because it’s kind of difficult to… like, does it really work? Is it really years? It’s a lofty promise, that you can drink a wine in years from today. But when you see a winemaker that cannot identify bottles opened three years ago versus today of their own wine, it’s kind of like you see a picture of your child, and you don’t really know which one of the pictures is your kid.

Yvethe Tyszka: It makes it get over the barrier of credibility. So now you can trust the system. It does what it’s supposed to do. I think the next biggest hurdle is, how does it fit into my life and awareness, obviously? Because if you don’t know it exists, then it’s a moot point. The second part is, how does this fit into my life? I’m not a collectioner. I’m not a wine connoisseur. I’m just a regular person that likes to drink wine.

Yvethe Tyszka: Or in your case, if your spouse doesn’t drink wine, do I really need that? And that is the part that right now is the biggest part of our work, from a marketing perspective, is sharing this occasion, whether it’s entertaining, or my spouse doesn’t drink, or drinks a different wine than I do. I actually talked to a couple about a month ago that they don’t drink at all. And I asked them, “So what do you do when people go visit?”

Yvethe Tyszka: And they looked at each other and went, “Yeah, we need this thing!” Because we always buy a bottle, we pour a glass for them. And we have half a bottle we don’t drink, so we have to trash it. So I said, “There you go. You need a Coravin as well.”

Luke Peters: Yeah, I mean, there’s so many opportunities. At the same time, I guess I was going to talk about this later on, but it kind of fits into this conversation. I have seen similar products at the Canton Fair, but not to the quality of the Coravin brand. Is that because you guys must have some IP protection on it? Or have been able to keep those copy catters out because of your IP protection? Are you able to speak to that side?

Yvethe Tyszka: Yeah, it definitely is very well protected from an IP perspective. We are the only system that allows you to pour without removing the cork.

Luke Peters: Got it.

Yvethe Tyszka: In the world.

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Yvethe Tyszka: So what the difference is, when you have a system that you open and close, there’s two issues that happen. One, the wine starts degrading the moment oxygen gets in touch with it. It’s more of a process of delaying the dump it moment than truly preserving your wine. So with Coravin, if you have a bottle, they only need five more years. You put it back in the cellar. As long as it’s preserved in the right conditions, and you don’t put it in the sun or in heat, you go five years later, and it will have evolved as if you had never used the Coravin or opened the bottle, because using the Coravin, you don’t open the bottle.

Yvethe Tyszka: So that is actually a promise that is very unique. It’s a unique selling proposition from Coravin that nobody else has.

Luke Peters: And that makes a lot of sense. Because I have heard that the cheaper ones don’t work. Kind of to that point, they’re letting oxygen get in. And so I guess whenever you can say, “We’re the only one that does this,” that’s got to be a huge, huge marketing benefit. I want to talk about how do you think about marketing and how you launch products.

Luke Peters: But before we get to that, it seems the product is very specific. There’s not a lot of variations it sounds like. Is it fair to say that there are not a lot of product launches, because there’s just not new variations every year? Or are there variations coming out every year? Just curious on the product roadmap strategy.

Yvethe Tyszka: Sure, so we have… I think there’s a little bit of truth to both statements. On the one hand, the system per se, we’ve refreshed it in a way every two to three years. We launched Model Eleven, which was a complete different system. Just because we have electronics, and there’s a lot of things associated with that, with that auto pour.

Yvethe Tyszka: But we also have launched very unique accessories. I’ll tell you my favorite story was the aerator. About two years ago, we started talking about aerators with the founder and inventor of the product. Works with us at the office all the time. He is a very high end wine connoisseur. He was like, “I don’t like aerators,” blah, blah, blah.

Yvethe Tyszka: But he kind of got into the conversation based on insights, on how many wine drinkers know about aerators and appreciate aeration. And actually decanting, which actually aerates the bottle. He on a plane came up with this idea of utilizing the pressure that is created by the Argon in the system to break the wine into micro jets of wine. So it’s actually a very cool thing. You should check it out on the website. If you see a video of it, it looks like a shower of wine.

Luke Peters: Wow, okay, cool. I’ll take a look.

Yvethe Tyszka: It is the coolest thing you’ll see. By breaking the wine into 24 micro jets, you expose more wine to more oxygen faster. So you get the same effect of 60 to 90 minutes of decanting. You’ll get it in 10 seconds, while you’re pouring. That was invented, created, designed, manufactured, and sold in 99 days.

Luke Peters: Wow. That’s some speed to market. I guess what’s interesting is a lot of brands, including mine with NewAir, there’s a lot of SKUs. When you’re launching SKUs, when you’re launching new products, you give them a lot of love, but at the same time there’s others coming right behind it, and with… so it’ll be interesting to hear your philosophy on it, because with Coravin, I mean these are really highly focused. It sounds like you’re going to be able to get the whole company around these, and plan it out, and work on them a lot at a lot deeper level since there’s so many fewer product launches, which can be a benefit because you’re able to go really deep.

Luke Peters: Starting down that path, how do you gain insights on a new category? You just talked about decanting. I think I would be a great place to start, is how you gain insights. And then describe your insights driven marketing strategy.

Yvethe Tyszka: So one of the things that I found as I joined the company three and a half years ago is because we’re a startup, we don’t have a lot of investments, or departments, or resources allocated to research. So I started, and in all my interviews as I was joining, the number one question that kept coming up is, “We don’t know our consumer. We don’t know who we sell to.”

Yvethe Tyszka: However, we have a very robust, direct business. So when I joined, I managed customer care is under me. I went to my head of customer care and I said, “Tell me about what you do.” And what one of the things that she mentioned, that we had a customer satisfaction survey and a club, a loyalty club.

Yvethe Tyszka: And the loyalty club required you to register your system with us. It’s free, but you have to register. So we had information about people that owned a Coravin, that use a Coravin, and they have been answering questions for at least since 2016. So I looked into that data with her. We analyzed it, and we realized that there’s a profile that these owners of Coravin that were answering the question had. We came up with a profile of a user that is an early adopter, that has been buying Coravin since inception. And they were using it in their own homes, not necessarily in a business.

Yvethe Tyszka: These were wine connoisseurs, a little bit older in age. Skewing male. Very affluent. Extremely knowledgeable about wine. We created a persona around this profile that we called James. And there’s a way in which you have to talk to this profile about wine. However, at the same time, we went and looked into our social media properties.

Yvethe Tyszka: The traffic on Google Analytics and the behavior in the customer journeys in Google Analytics. We have at the time a loyalty tool called Hand Buy that is one of those things where if you buy, I get $25 and you get $25. I think Uber has them, and other companies have them. So we started looking at who was advocating for us. And who was this emerging consumer that was coming up?

Yvethe Tyszka: And it was completely different. It was a skew in female, a little bit younger, say 40s. Customer knows about wine, but at a point in her life where, “I know what I want, and I want that experience with my wine to be good. But I use wine as a difference in my day. I come home, I take off my shoes, I pour a glass of wine, and now my day about me starts. I stop doing what I have to do and do what I want to do.

Yvethe Tyszka: So that was kind of a pivotal moment in our marketing strategy, in being able to talk to two different audiences, and understanding that they don’t want to hear the same things. So with that knowledge very fresh in our hands, we started studying about what’s happening in social media in our own property. And we realized that when we posted casual content in Twitter, for example, the content bombed. But if you posted it on Instagram, it was very successful.

Yvethe Tyszka: And by continuing to dig in this data that we owned, we realized that James lives in Twitter. Jennifer lives in Instagram and Facebook. You can’t talk to James about 50 Shades of Red Wine, because he thinks it’s stupid. But if you talk to Jennifer about it, she finds it’s fun, and she engages with that. However, if you talk to Jennifer about the side of the river that the grapes were on in such and such vineyard, it’s boring for her. So that content has to go to Twitter, where James absolutely loves to talk about that.

Yvethe Tyszka: I think that was a very critical moment for us to truly focus the resources that we had, which are not… we’re not a big company resource. We’re very lean and mean, also in how we allocate our resourcing. In telling James, and talking to James in the way he wants to talk about and engage in wine, and creating a parallel strategy for Jennifer, who’s a more casual wine drinker.

Yvethe Tyszka: And that has allowed us to do different colors in our Coravin, different promotional strategies, different channels. Because James is a little bit more digital than Jennifer. Jennifer is the one that goes to retail. So if we don’t have that audience, if we don’t talk to her, our retail distribution is not going to be vibrant.

Luke Peters: Super interesting. That’s interesting that you even managed customer care. I thought that was… just being VP of the marketing function, but also managing customer care, and then going through the data, and then finding your two profiles, and putting those together. I was going to dig deeper and find out, wait a minute. If you have two different profiles, how do you not get your marketing message mixed up? But I think you kind of explained it by just saying that Twitter is for James, and then the female profile is on Instagram and Facebook.

Luke Peters: But you’re creating… you still don’t have different SKUs, do you? I mean, it’s still the same SKU. So then what are you do say on your digital retail pages, like on a Wayfair or a Williams-Sonoma? Do you have to combine the two profiles? How do you have to think about it from that experience?

Yvethe Tyszka: Yeah, so I think that’s a great question. What we did is, once we identified these profiles, so we have this data, we wanted to make sure that we listened to them live. We did some focus groups with James and Jennifer, and combined, and some targets… some people that were not our targets, but a little bit younger, millennials, to understand how they view wine.

Yvethe Tyszka: And one of the things that was very clear is that wine, whether you’re a Jennifer or a James, wine is an intermediate point in your day. You may see it a little bit different, maybe for James. Wine is a little bit more about what he knows about it, but it’s also a reward for a job well done during the day.

Yvethe Tyszka: For Jennifer, it’s a moment of relaxation. It’s a break in her day. Even if she did a fantastic job at work, she doesn’t think of it as a reward. She thinks of it like, “Great, now I can think about me, and I can relax. I can celebrate the little things in life, like putting my kids to bed.” That is a Coravin moment I can celebrate.

Yvethe Tyszka: We heard these things from them, and we actually crafted our first campaign which was launched in 2017, a for TV commercial. Every line of that commercial came from the mouth of a consumer. I think that’s why it resonated so well with them, whether it was a Jennifer or a James. The theme of having wine be a break in the day was constant.

Yvethe Tyszka: I can tell you, from that moment to today, every single time that we do qualitative research and we ask them how they feel about wine, inevitably it comes up at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than a glass of wine. Every single time.

Luke Peters: Wow. Super insightful. We sell wine coolers, so this is like… I’m taking notes here. I’ll send our final podcast to my marketing team. Yeah, we’re always… we’re doing the same things. We’re looking at customer insights, shelving types, and glass types, and what they’re looking for for storage. But I like that, how you summed it up. It’s a break in the day, and I think that’s that’s a great way to say it.

Luke Peters: Yvethe, by the way, question just kind of going back in time, when you were with other Nestle, and Newell, and Spectrum, did you have really clear customer profiles like you do here at Coravin? Was that something that you always had?

Yvethe Tyszka: Not really. In Nestle a little bit better, especially with brands like Nesquik, which is the milk modifier made for children. It actually depends on how you see it. You can succeed or fail. And in Nestle, specifically with Nesquik, when I started managing the brand, the market was dominated by a brand that was marketing to teens.

Yvethe Tyszka: So 14, 15, that were drinking this as a smoothie, as a chocolate smoothie. The character for Nesquik is a bunny. So honestly, it’s lame if you’re 14 or 13. So the strategy that we practiced to win in the market was to actually appeal to children, to four, five-year-olds that are starting to drink milk, or that are not wanting to drink milk anymore, or formula, and are getting into, “You have to drink milk, so now we’re going to make it taste like chocolate.”

Yvethe Tyszka: And by doing that for three years in a row, we went from number seven in the market to number two in the market. We actually created, if you will, a generation Nesquik that was starting very young, and then growing with them, until they were too cool for the bunny. So you get to capitalize on seven years of milk drinking that in the past would’ve been, “Oh, let’s go with what the leader in the market is going.” Sometimes you have to… I am a big believer in promotion.

Yvethe Tyszka: What happens was, I don’t have the money, and the resource, and the type of brand to go fight with this guy. There’s a whole promotion next to it, but nobody’s switching. That’s what I’m going to make my market. And it was tremendously successful, to the point that we were the second brand.

Luke Peters: That’s gold. And I think it’s funny. I’ve seen those brands in my house as well, I think Ovaltine, and I think there might’ve been another as well. I’m always seeing these chocolate drinks, and I’m like, “Man, where’s the water?” I’m always giving the kids a hard time.

Yvethe Tyszka: It’s true. But you know, I had grown up with the Nesquik bunny when I was a kid. So I had… when I was offered the opportunity to manage everything, I was actually told that I could change the chocolate brand if I wanted to and bring Milo, which was very strong in Brazil, my country. And I told the vice-president of marketing at the time, “No, no, no. We’re going to find a way with Nesquik, because I grew up with it. The bunny went to my birthday.” One of my birthdays. I think I was like eight.

Yvethe Tyszka: It was something where we just have to look at the problem in a different way. Why go after the same audience that the market leader has? It’s also a fight, and it kind of tires you when there’s a whole other segment of the market that is not being catered to. There’s not a real brand that is leading the charge. And we created a direct marketing… at the time, there wasn’t email as it is today.

Yvethe Tyszka: There was a direct marketing club where we send them things four times a year in the mail. And it was a type of a DHL or FedEx type of mail. So imagine if the FedEx person comes to your door and goes, and knocks, and asks for your four-year-old. The moms were like, “What?” And the kids were all excited that they’re getting a package for them. So it did end up being very successful in brand awareness, and brand equity, but also in sales.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and the way you approach it is spot-on with the going with the Blue Ocean strategy. And 100%, if there’s a new market out there that can be created, or if you can avoid competing head-to-head with somebody who’s already entrenched in a category, that’s the right approach. That’s a cool story, just seeing it all the way through. Bringing it back to Coravin, because I really, really like how you really, really clearly identified these customer profiles.

Luke Peters: A lot of us brands, that’s who this audience is, a lot of brand owners and CEOs, we always say we’re going to do it. And we think our marketing teams are doing it, but truth be told it’s it’s hard to be so clear about it, because you’re always afraid of leaving some profiles out, right? Or if you’re only speak to one, are you not speaking to others? So I really like that approach.

Luke Peters: And how about walking us through how you handle assets? Even if you want to talk about how they’re created at the company, if you have internal teams, as far as content photography and video, or if your Outsourcing part of those functions. It would be interesting to understand just the assets and the cycle of creating it. Because your site’s really… it’s beautifully done. And it’s because you’re dealing with a sophisticated end consumer, but it would be great to hear your approach.

Yvethe Tyszka: Well, thank you for your comments on the website. Actually, the website is one of those stories that I like as well, as a nimble, small company. I’m in charge of eCommerce for the world, but I’m also in charge of a bunch of other stuff. So the VP of IT and myself got together, and we decided to implement this methodology called hacking growth.

Yvethe Tyszka: Hacking growth is a team methodology where we have different people in a team. We have a product person. We have a designer, a content creator that is part of the team. We have developers. And we all work together on the site. So it’s the core of the methodology is test small and scale what wins.

Yvethe Tyszka: So we spend the whole year testing, and… because Q4 obviously is a big season for us. Testing and scaling, testing and modifying, so that when we got to the end of the year, the site would be optimized for us to make the most of it. So this is truly a complete team effort, even though I do the forecast and I own the revenue, at the end of the day, the way the site works has been a collaboration of people who have other jobs in the company, but that also are part of this team.

Yvethe Tyszka: So we found that that’s a really good way to have content that is created, and to have value that is added by people that don’t necessarily own the website, but they co-own it, and they do in little, tiny pieces. So going back to your question on content, we have a content manager in house. But we also create content for the world. So it’s not realistic to think that she’s going to do all the work.

Yvethe Tyszka: So we partner with certain vendors for some videos, the videos on how to unbox, and how to use the products we do outside. The design of a lot of the things is done inside. So a lot of the point of sale material is designed internally. The social media content is designed with our social media agency. They curate the content, they curate it and they publish it for us. So it’s a really good balance of both.

Yvethe Tyszka: But we have internally a director of consumer and corporate marketing, and the content managers that make sure that everything looks and feels the same, so that our brand is present in the same way everywhere.

Luke Peters: Yeah, makes sense.

Yvethe Tyszka: So I hope that helps.

Luke Peters: Yeah, no, it does.

Yvethe Tyszka: I don’t know if I answered your question well.

Luke Peters: I’m writing questions down, so I’m listening to how you have it set up and writing it down. But no, I like that. So you call that terminology, you call it hacking growth, where you test-

Yvethe Tyszka: Hacking growth. It’s actually based on a book.

Luke Peters: Wow, okay. Do you know the name of it?

Yvethe Tyszka: We didn’t come up with it, but it’s based on a book, and it was recommended to us by the company that we partnered for the website development. So all of our developers, they work for this other company. They have been reading the book, and have been talking about the book, and our VP of IT went for a conference over there and came back and said, “Oh, we need to read this book.” And we read it and was like, “Wow, the methodology looks interesting, but it seems like a daunting task when you first think of it.”

Yvethe Tyszka: It’s like, “Who’s going to be in the team? How are these people going to have time?” It’s a lot of time. So we decided to… we polled the team, and we said, “Okay, guys. This is the first time we do this. This is all about working together. But we want all of these to have a piece of the website. You have different skill sets and abilities that we… there’s no one person in the room that can have all of that, so we’re going to work as a team.

Yvethe Tyszka: So every Monday since January, we’ve met for an hour, at least every Monday. And every Monday we go through, “What are the things that we’re going to test? What are the results of the test last week? What are we going to implement?” And truly, at the beginning it was a little bumpy. I think like, everything usually is.

Yvethe Tyszka: But by now, it’s a well-oiled machine. They have taken such a huge ownership of the things that we do on the website, and digitally, and email marketing, or on the website, that it has become easier for the VP of IT and myself to become more augmentors and guiders for this team than doers, which we had to be at the beginning. So it also I think empowers the team in a very different way. If they fail, if something that we test doesn’t succeed, your test is so small that it doesn’t impact overall the performance of the site.

Yvethe Tyszka: But if it succeeds, you’re able to scale and make a huge impact. So I think it has the best of both worlds.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and so talking about the site really quick, are you guys on… are you able to share the platform? Are you on Shopify, or Magento? Or what’s the backend platform that you’re on?

Yvethe Tyszka: We’re on Magento.

Luke Peters: You’re on Magento.

Yvethe Tyszka: Magento.

Luke Peters: Okay. And then do you have an eCommerce manager? Or are you having to kind of handle all of that, as far as deciding on apps and-

Yvethe Tyszka: Yeah, so global eCommerce falls under me. And I don’t have a person that manages that. So that’s a part of what I do. A lot of that is making sure we are firm on the pricing, the forecast, the revenue. I kind of co-own that with the VP of IT, but ultimately, I’m responsible for it. So I think this methodology of having a team that can own the execution, the ideas, the testing, they truly are the owners of how the website looks in every single country where we are.

Yvethe Tyszka: We do this on a global level, so we have members of the team in Europe that participate in our course every week. And they can bring that experience and that knowledge of what’s going on in their regions. But we do the forecast, for example, from here. So it’s been a really interesting experience for all of us.

Luke Peters: And again, you may or may not be able to share, but just with a lot of companies, even mine included, obviously it’s selling through some of these large retailers. It’s easier to get eyeballs on products, especially now, than it was seven or eight years ago. So Amazon’s owning a huge share of online sales. Other companies that you work with, Wayfair and all those others, are owning a huge share. And a lot of direct to consumer brands are… usually their websites is a much smaller share of total business sales. Is that the same with you guys? Or is that actually a really strong component of overall sales and growth?

Yvethe Tyszka: I wouldn’t say it’s the main one. I think the way that we have partnered with the sales team I think has been the most critical thing that we’ve done, to make sure that both can grow at the same time. So we decided when… at least when I started managing the site, I talked to the head of sales, and I said, “I want to be a complementary channel to you, not a competitor.” So when you go to our site, you will see a lot of bundles, and a lot of things that nobody else offers.

Yvethe Tyszka: And that’s because we want to offer the consumer a different experience. We want to make sure that if you want to buy an accessory for your product, that you can find it with us. Any type of needle. Every type of aerator. Cases. Carry cases. So there’s no way a retailer’s going to carry this big of an assortment. And we also create bundles that offer you more value.

Yvethe Tyszka: But price-wise, and I think you asked this question a little bit earlier, we do have kind of a match policy, where all of us sell at the same price. When we are on sale, everybody is on sale. When we’re not on sale, we’re not on sale. So we don’t want to be a competitor to our retailers. We want to make sure the consumer can find kind of a deeper experience with us. So you have a lot more learning, kind of like we talked Coravin as a product is always the same, regardless of the flavor.

Yvethe Tyszka: So a lot of people ask, “Which one should I buy?” So we offer people ways to identify that. You can take a quiz, which is kind of fun. You can look at a chart. And if you’re more analytical and you want to see the differences. And then it’s easier for you to choose. If you want to see reviews, this is the place to come. The history of the company. So I think we’re offering a different experience. And we’ve been growing steadily, at the same rate that the retailer’s growing, but it is a part of our business, but it’s not the number one driver of the business. Retail is the lion’s share.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And thanks for sharing that extra, that information. Because that is interesting. I always ask that on the podcast about channel conflict, because it’s always a big deal. So congrats, you guys were able to manage that with a map policy. But also, I think for the audience, a key takeaway there is that if they can bundle products… and it’s hard to do it with every type of product. But if you’re creative, you’re going to find a way. It sounds like that’s another way that you can avoid channel conflict, is by creating unique bundles on the Coravin website. So thanks for sharing.

Luke Peters: That’s really tangible, useful information, and a cool, really cool strategy. I can tell your marketing knowledge is so deep, and I think a lot of… by the way, a lot of the audience is going to be companies, brands that are really good. Maybe they came in store first, you know? And Coravin is starting in July 2013, you guys kind of started digital. So if you can think, a lot of brands will start in-store, and they really have to learn digital. And that’s not really their DNA. I guess just kind of finishing up our conversation here, what is maybe a really key, practical bit of advice or even a philosophy that you can share with other brand owners on how they can improve their marketing strategy or even marketing teams at their companies?

Yvethe Tyszka: I think for me, and this has been throughout my whole career in marketing, I always start with the consumer. I think sometimes, we want to start with the product, because it’s easier. We want to start with the experience or the channels. I think if you start with the consumer, and you really listen, they will give you everything you need to craft your marketing strategy. They’ll tell you where they want to listen from you. They’ll tell you where they want to engage with you. They’ll tell you the products they’re thinking about.

Yvethe Tyszka: I think a lot of people that I talk to, a lot of my peers, they tell me, “Well, if the consumer doesn’t know that the product exists, they can’t really tell you. Then the item wouldn’t exist. And I tend to disagree with that. I think the need of a knife for me was never verbalized by any consumer. But the need of communication and connectivity, I bet you was verbalized 1,000 times. So we have to listen beyond the product, and just listen for the need of the consumer. If you hear people that are saying, “Ugh, I have to buy this wine,” and like you would tell me, “Maybe my spouse doesn’t drink, and I do, and I don’t know what to do, because… maybe I’ll just pass and I won’t drink anything.” Well, that is a need right there. There is an answer.

Yvethe Tyszka: The consumer will find kind of ways around to solve for it, until you tell them, “You don’t have to. You don’t have to compromise. You don’t have to settle. You actually can do what you deep inside want to do.” And all of this is coming from the consumer. So I guess that is something that has been a constant in my whole career.

Yvethe Tyszka: If you listen to the consumer and really try to lead with data and insights, versus just go in purely with your gut. I think that’s a really good balance between the two, but a lot of times, as innovators, and especially in categories of products that are new, we tend to think, “The consumer doesn’t know. I just have to tell them.” And when you turn that around, I think you find a richer pool of information to really craft strategies that work.

Luke Peters: Wow. That’s spot on. I love it. And I like how you’re able to say things so succinctly. But always start with the consumer, not the product. We’re all guilty of doing the opposite, so that’s a perfect message at your end. Yeah, we always want to tinker with the product. How do we make the product better, and on, and on, and on. But yeah, like you said, the consumer will tell you what to do. That’s awesome. Thanks for that, Yvethe.

Luke Peters: How can listeners connect with you or find you? Is LinkedIn a good option? Or is there anywhere else that you would prefer?

Yvethe Tyszka: Yeah, LinkedIn is a great option. Yvethe Tyszka. The spelling of my last name is a little interesting. It’s T Y S Z K A. But absolutely, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. You can check out Coravin.com. You can see the senior management team here, and I’ll be there. A picture of me. And I’m sure you can connect with me that way as well.

Luke Peters: Awesome. Thanks, Yvethe. I want to thank you for joining us on the Page 1 Podcast, and also all of our listeners. Thanks for joining us on the Page 1 Podcast, sponsored by Retail Band. And quick reminder, if you’re looking for a free evaluation of your online digital strategy, and also take a look to see if influencer marketing could be an opportunity for you, contact me on LinkedIn or find me at Luke@RetailBand.com. Thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed this content, would really appreciate a review. And take care.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Page 1 Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to learn more, check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rcommerce? Check out www.retailband.com to get more tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers.

Contact Yvethe Tyszka: LinkedIn + Coravin

Contact Luke Peters: luke@retailband.com + LinkedIn

Listen, Subscribe, ReviewApple Podcasts + Spotify Podcasts

Product Information Management (PIM) the Salsify way – streamline product launches & enhance content with aggregated analytics – Jason Purcell EP21

What you’ll learn:

How do you unify your online and offline presence? How do you merchandise your products online? How do you manage your sales assets across all retailers and synchronize your entire eCommerce activity? Today we learn about Salsify, a company that not only simplifies the digital product launch process, but measures the sales success of your creative content and product assets. Today, you learn how to manage your company’s digital shelf.

About our guest:

Jason Purcell is the Co-Founder and CEO of Salsify. Before Salsify, Jason ran Endeca’s e-commerce business. He was with Endeca almost from the beginning as employee #24 and helped grow the business to its $1B+ exit.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • What is a PIM?
  • What is the digital shelf?
  • What makes Salsify different?
  • Salsify stats (employee count, international locations, customers, etc.)
  • Salsify’s Annual Event: Digital Transformers Summit
  • Scaling Salsify with self-funding before taking on VC Funds
  • Key challenges brands face when building their digital shelf
  • Aggregated data to create a brand’s full digital story
  • Gaining competitor comparative data
  • Salsify onboarding and channel integration
  • Type of companies that need a PXM
  • Uploading a new product image on retailers in less than a minute
  • Best advice and strategies to improve your digital shelf

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page 1 Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies, to tariffs, influencer marketing, best-in-class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big-box retailers, or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on the Page 1 Podcast. I am your host, Luke Peters. This is the podcast where we bring you the best and brightest leaders to share consumer product sales and marketing strategies that will help you grow your business. I’m the CEO and founder of NewAir Appliances, where I cut my teeth selling products online, and have now started Retail Band, where I help other brands succeed in product launches, influencer marketing, and B2B online sales strategy. Before we jump into this podcast I just want to let everybody know that I’m offering a free business evaluation of your sales strategy online. So, if you’re interested, find me on LinkedIn or luke@retailband.com. Great.

Luke Peters: In this episode you’re going to learn from Jason Purcell how he co-founded Salsify, learn what a PIM is, and if this is something that you should implement with your company and, specifically, how a PIM can help brand manufacturers win the digital shelf. Also learn at what point, or what size, in your growth should you be looking to move over to a PIM. Just for clarification, and I know Jason will get into this, PIM standing for Product Information Management System. So, thanks for joining me, Jason, on the Page 1 Podcast.

Jason Purcell: Absolutely, Luke, thanks for having me.

Luke Peters: Cool. And then, just a little bit more about Jason for the audience. As mentioned, co-founder and CEO of Salsify, and before Salsify Jason ran Endeca’s eCommerce business. He was with Endeca almost from the beginning, employee number 24, and helped grow the business to a one billion plus exit. That must have been awesome to be a part of that, Jason.

Jason Purcell: It was a good ride. Learned a lot. It was a good chance to be right at the forefront of what some of the big eCommerce retailers were doing back in the early 2000s.

Luke Peters: Cool. I guess before we get started, because we were kind of talking about this pre record, do you want to give a quick explanation about PIM, what a PIM is, and then also just a little bit about how Salsify is different.

Jason Purcell: PIMs have been around… Really, there’s a whole category of these different fragmented tools, Product Information Management, Digital Asset Management, DAM systems, syndication tools, that are all kind of in the same general space. I think back to the early days when we were helping at Endeca with the retailers. You think about the problem that a retailer has, they’ve got thousands of suppliers, they’re onboarding millions of products from those suppliers, they’re trying to combine data feeds coming from all these different sources, and get it all into kind of a place that they can make it searchable on the eCommerce site. PIM’s, I think, were really, really helpful tools for the retailers to do that.

Jason Purcell: We kind of saw the space and said that I think that there’s an opportunity here to rethink, though, what a PIM is for a brand manufacturer, because they’ve got a very different set of problems. The retailers are trying to bring in all this content together. The brands have kind of the inverse, they’re trying to deliver experiences across a pretty broad range of places where the consumer’s engaging. How can we support that? What are the capabilities, and the outcomes, you’re trying to deliver there? That’s what led to starting Salsify. We thought there was a chance to really rethink that whole category. PIM is a big piece of it, but more broadly speaking what are the capabilities that brands need to win on the digital shelf, that whole portfolio of experiences across 1P, and 3P, and direct-to-consumer, and social, and even brick and mortar?

Luke Peters: Perfect. Cool. I was going to ask what drove you to start Salsify, but you kind of answered. You found kind of a market gap and you’re filling that gap. Is it fair to say … I know there’s more to it, but the funny thing is I’m still learning about this, too, so I hope to, myself, even gain a lot on this podcast. Is it fair to say … So, the PIM is going to be your central repository of all of your information, and then, at the same time, it’s going to connect you with all of these retailers that may not have direct APIs. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but it’s going to allow you to push your data out to all of these different retailers and channels and then also hold the data all in one place so that you’re more uniform. Is that the basic principle, so myself and everybody can kind of get that?

Jason Purcell: I think a basic principle of a PIM the way that … This is a category that’s been around for decades, is that having your big central database of all your product content, all your product data. That’s kinda where PIMs historically stop. This was the place where people could collaborate on new product introduction, on making sure that the sales team was looking at the same data as the marketing team, and using it to feed downstream systems. I think that narrowly defined it was unclear to us when we started Salsify how valuable that was to a brand manufacturer. Certainly there’s big brands and manufacturers that have hundreds of thousands, or millions, of products that that’s the main thing that they’re trying to focus on. But, when we look at the market we thought the problem was probably bigger than just centralizing the content. We started to think that it included things like what you’re describing. We got to take the concept of a PIM and you got to add onto it all these capabilities around connecting to the retailers, and the marketplaces, and the social experiences, and the direct-to-consumer sites.

Jason Purcell: You’re got to close the loop and measure whether that content’s actually there and how is it performing? How does it compare to what your competitors are doing? We saw that broadly speaking we felt like PIM was really too narrow of a set of capabilities that a brand would need and that’s what led to building out a much broader product portfolio than just … We think by and large brands probably need more of that unified suite than just a pure PIM system.

Luke Peters: Okay, perfect. That’s a great explanation. What my aim is, and it always is in every podcast, is to really deliver really tangible, clear, useful information to brands. So, this is a perfect subject, just because … I’ve got, obviously, a bunch of … When you’re in this business you’re going to have a lot of friends that are also running similar businesses, so I’m going to ask a lot of questions around what stage companies should look at, and when they make this jump because how most brands start, I guess, is they’re going to be doing this themselves. They might start like how we started was more direct to consumer then you … These channels kind of have evolved over the years, like the Amazon, and eBay, and all of those channels, and now the retailers. Those are another channel. We kind of term that rCommerce, but the Home Depots, and Wayfarers, and everybody of the world.

Luke Peters: Then, at some point … I guess we can just jump right into this question before I ask more about Salsify, because this is … It is probably key to me and a lot of folks is … At some point they’re doing it themselves and then there’s maybe a hiccup, or an issue, because there’s too much data and too many SKUs and then they decide, hey we need a platform to kind of get our data into that platform and get it out to these retailers because there’s too many one offs happening. Does that kind of explain the customer journey. If not, it would be useful to hear kind of your perspective on that.

Jason Purcell: I think there’s a few. There’s a few things that sort of catalyze the manufacturers out there to say maybe we need to do something different than just rolling it all ourselves. I mean, one of them is exactly what you described. The complexity of trying to sell across direct-to-consumer and rCommerce or eRetailing, you know Brick and Mortar setups. That tends to become something that even if you’re doing a Brick and Mortar item setup they’re looking for some pretty rich content to power some of the in-store experiences.

Jason Purcell: At some point that complexity gets … It’s hard, right? You know if you’re doing rCommerce that what Lowe’s wants, and what Home Depot needs, and what Amazon wants, it’s all about the same product but the way that they describe that product to the end consumer, the way it’s categorized, the attributes they want to collect, the opportunities you have to merchandise on those sites they’re all different. You have to kind of … You kind of have a strategy that says, we’re going to maintain kind of our golden record of all of our content but we’re going to make sure that it’s very easy for us to tailor that to the unique requirements and opportunities that each retailer has. Certainly, one of the big things is that you just get this explosion of products, times channels, times experiences. That’s probably the one that we see most commonly. Somebody might have an initiative to expand their assortment on Walmart, or they’re trying to accelerate how quickly they can launch a new product into the market across a number of different experiences.

Jason Purcell: The other one, Luke, that we’ll sometimes see is more internally, or operationally, focused. Think about all the work that’s required to bring a product into existence. It probably starts with ideation in the sales team and it starts to get into the whole product lifecycle management space. But, how do you let all of the internal teams collaborate on making one of those products ready? How do you ensure that the agencies, and the creative teams, and the product, and the brand teams, are working towards a shared goal so that you can condense how quickly one of those products comes to market. That’s where things like workflow and visibility and permissions and all that comes into play. That’s another catalyst sometimes for brands like a SharkNinja, for example, that are trying to accelerate how quickly they can get a new product into the hands of the consumer.

Luke Peters: Oh great. Okay, so it fits into the product launch like on the process and the planning on the backend. Okay, great. We’ll dive into that a little bit. Before we do, why don’t we talk a little bit more about Salsify and your company. If you’re able to share some basic stats that might be kind of useful and tangible and give some context for the listeners. Maybe … Are you able to share total number of employees, and maybe just some of the key departments at the company?

Jason Purcell: Absolutely. We’re based in Boston. We’re about 400 people overall. We’ve got offices in the U.S. and Europe. Our European headquarters is out of Lisbon. We have a number of our larger brand manufacturers, like a L’Oréal, or a Mars, or a GSK, are based out of Europe. We support and service them locally. We’re about 700 customers, and it’s primarily all brand manufacturers, Luke, so it’s across verticals but it’s everything from the Canada Gooses, to the Escalade Sports, to the Libby glassware, to the 3Ms. This problem of trying to deliver a great experience across all these channels is actually pretty consistent across verticals. We’re even starting to see it happen in places where verticals like B2B and industrial where you normally think about kind of a sales team that’s distributing the products, but increasingly consumers, even in those verticals, really want to get great experiences. Our customers kind of span across all those verticals.

Jason Purcell: We started the company about seven years ago and, I think, probably the newest entrant into this space, in the space in general, at least the PIM portion of it has been around for quite awhile. Hopefully that gives kind of a good overview for the listeners. We really started out in the mid market. That was where our early customers came from, and we tended to really do a good job servicing kind of the mid-market customers on up to the enterprise.

Luke Peters: I think that’s perfect. So, about 400 team members, about 700 customers, serving the brand manufacturers, seven years old, international. I know you know this, but I just wanted to share with the audience that I ran into Salsify, well besides the ubiquitous business development that you guys have, which is … So, you guys were already like on my radar, but I ran into you guys at a show you guys host in Copley Center, because I was at a Wayfarer visit. Yeah, it looks like you guys handle, host a great trade show. I ran into, believe it or not, I think I ran into your L’Oréal team in the elevator, because I was like, “What is this conference about?” They say, “It’s about PIMs,” and I’m like, “What’s a PIM?” They’re like, they go, “One day you’ll need one.” It was kind of funny. Anyways, that’s where-

Jason Purcell: That conference has been great. We do it annually and it started out really as a user group meeting when we were small and had 15 customers. We’d bring them up to Boston. It was a great chance to pick their brains on what they needed and where they wanted us to go. It’s grown into this thing which has really transcended Salsify. It’s become this digital shelf summit where we get people that are using competitive products, people that are just, in general, focused on what strategies should I put in place? How do I organizationally structure my teams? What are the technologies I need? What are the opportunities I should be looking at?

Jason Purcell: It’s become a really cool venue for gathering people that are all struggling with the same problems. So many of the shows out there are really kind of mixing retailers and brands, or they’re more about retail generically. I think that it’s kind of been lacking to have a place where brand manufacturers come together. So, it was really cool. We were seeing people there that weren’t even Salsify customers, still aren’t Salsify customers but they still got a lot of value out of it.

Luke Peters: What is the date of that conference?

Jason Purcell: I think … We generally do it in a May time frame. I should know it off the top of my head, but I think we’re doing it in May. This year we had over, I guess, right around 500 people. This year, Luke, we’re expecting 800 plus people. It should be a good gathering.

Luke Peters: It’s amazing. We’ll put it in the show notes for the listeners. Yeah, it looked like an amazing event so congrats on doing that. Just kind of before we move on from this, Jason, are you guys self-funded or do you guys have investor funding, or how does that look for the organization?

Jason Purcell: We bootstrapped the company initially, so we started out there were three co-founders, myself, and Rob and Jeremy, and we started the company initially just with our own capital. Since, as we’ve started to scale up we’ve taken on some venture capital investment that’s been really helpful in accelerating how quickly we can invest in R&D. That’s probably our single biggest experience, as well as making sure that we’re doing a good job getting the message out there to customers and our customer success team.

Luke Peters: Great. Well, that’s tough to bootstrap and get some of those initial customers, so good on you for doing that. Thinking about your product and how you’re helping brands, what are some of the key challenges in front of brands trying to win the digital shelf? Then, how is Salsify helping there?

Jason Purcell: You can empathize, right, because you’re trying to do this with NewAir?

Luke Peters: Yep.

Jason Purcell: Think about … First of all, if you take any one of these eRetailers, or any one of these marketplaces, you’ve got to be able to set up the items. The faster, more accurately you do that the better and faster you’re going to start to sell. So, certainly getting assortments on line, making sure that they’re accurate, getting those things published out is one of the big challenges.

Jason Purcell: Another one is measuring whether it’s working. How do I know if the content that’s up there is what I want it to be? How do I know if I’m going in and out of stock? I want to be notified if I lose the buy box so I can do something about it instead of finding out three days later. How do I know whether the quality of the content is comparable to what others in my category are doing? So, you want visibility, actionable visibility, so that you can see how you’re performing.

Jason Purcell: Another one is … I don’t know, Luke, are you doing anything with like A+ Content on Amazon where you can really tell the story about a product]?

Luke Peters: Absolutely.

Jason Purcell: You can do that, right? If you’re selling on Amazon, if you’re selling on Walmart, on Target. A lot of them provide these rich opportunities for you to merchandise beyond just, “Here’s what the item is and the feature bullets.” How do you compose that? How do you manage that? How do you publish them? How do you make sure that they’re synchronized with the rest of your assortment? That’s a big thing, this whole idea of enhanced content,

Jason Purcell: Another one is, and this sort of varies depending on the size of the brand loop, but in-store set up. If you’re selling at a Walmart you got to work through Supplier Center. You may also have to publish through networks like GDSN, or Global Data Synchronization Network, to transmit things like cases and pallets and all that sort of information, supply chain data. How do you unify your online and your offline item setup? That’s another challenge that a lot of these brands have.

Jason Purcell: Another one that we’ve seeing a lot of is they shift from being just a one-key seller to being a hybrid seller where you are now starting to think about fulfilling those items. So, how do you synchronize orders across those different marketplace platforms and networks like Instagram where you can start to transact directly. It’s amazing, people are buying $500 baby strollers off the photo of an influencer and you want to be able to make sure that you capture that and synchronize inventory. You see a lot of those sorts of challenges that all sort of fundamentally revolve around, “I need a command center. I need a hub that lets me drive all these commerce activities.”

Jason Purcell: Those are the ones that we typically see with most brands. Of course, there’s also just the basic one of the content that describes my products is all over my organization. It’s in spreadsheets, it’s in email. I got to make sure that my distributors have access to up-to-date content, too, because they’re probably trying to drive their experiences. I want to make sure my sales team isn’t just picking up the phone and calling marketing anytime they need a new image. So, that’s sort of what we typically see out there that’s driving it. These problems, obviously, get a lot worse as you grow, especially if you start to go global.

Luke Peters: I’m taking some notes here, so let me ask a couple questions about your answer. It was a really descriptive answer, by the way, so you paint a really nice picture of all the different ways that you can plug in and act as that command center. When you’re talking about measurement, so putting content up there, comparing content and measuring if it works. What does that mean? Are you guys able to actually kind of tie into product conversation rates, or are you able to kind of share more about how you’re able to measure what type of either AB improvement or before/after improvement you’re seeing?

Jason Purcell: This is a whole category. Kind of like PIM, there’s a whole another category of software out there that generally is called Digital Shelf Analytics. You see really good companies like Clavis and Profitero in this space. Salsify has an offering in this space, kind of integrated with the rest of our platform. It’s really around … When you think about what you’ve got to do to provide that, you’re out there crawling these hundreds of retailer sites so that you can detect what content is up there, when does content change? It’s not the content but availability, other sellers, search rankings, and you’re crawling all that content and synthesizing it into a set of dashboards and workflow tasks, in our case, that give the brand owner the opportunity to react to those changes. Part of that crawling and visibility into all that content across a really broad portfolio of brands will give us the ability to start to synthesize things like share of search, right?

Jason Purcell: How often am I winning on certain search terms? What should I be doing in terms of optimizing my listings to make sure that I’m appearing on the first page of organic search results? When do I have advertising on a product that I might, or when do I not have advertising and a search term that might be really valuable? Those are the insights that this general category of digital shelf analytics does a really good job of providing the brand. It’s historically been really targeted at the very large brands, the Unilevers and the PNGs of the world, but one of the things with the rise of software as a service, and some newer players in the market like us, has led to that being a little more democratized and available to the mid market.

Jason Purcell: I think that’s going to be an important tool in the hands of brands as they’re trying to keep track of all these presences. That’s typically what we see out of that category. This is a trend you’ll see. If you’re a brand and you want to deliver a solution you end up usually having to buy four or five different categories of things. I think this shift to consolidated suites is going to be a really big benefit over time for the brands.

Luke Peters: That sounds amazing. These are all the things that most of us are doing manually because we understand each of these channels, say a Home Depot, and a Wayfarer, and then you have your direct to consumer so you can have your own analytics that are kind of a lot easier, because you own that 100%. With Amazon you’re going to get some stuff but not all of it depending on if you want to pay for ARA data or not.

Luke Peters: How are you guys, just kind of going deeper on that, so you’re measuring what works. Is that … Are you able to measure what works based on some sort of other aggregate knowledge in your systems, or are you literally able to kind of tie into the Home Depots, and the Wayfarers, to kind of understand this competitive data, or at least your own brand data to see, “Hey, I updated this listing and now my conversion rates increased,” or it’s tracking the rankings of your product. How much of it is information you’re able to get out of the platforms, or information that you’re able to, that you’re kind of having to address without knowing the backend data?

Jason Purcell: It sort of depends on the retailer. Amazon, for example, doesn’t share anything with anybody. So, a lot of times what we’ll do is as part of an implementation, bring in some of the ARA data. ARA basic data is valuable because you can start to track history of that in our platform over time, and you tie that into some of the stuff that we can infer as we’re crawling. I think that … You can tell a pretty good story.

Jason Purcell: In other cases, some retailers … They all generally are very uncomfortable sharing data for very understandable reasons, but as we start to have a number of customers that span a number of verticals we can start to aggregate and anonymize the data that we do have and use that to provide benchmarking and guess at things like share of category, conversion rates, et cetera. So, do those silver bullet? In the end you’re never going to have data when you’re selling through a 1P or third-party site that’s as good as what you have on your own direct-to-consumer efforts. I think directionally you can get really good guidance. That’s not restrict to Salsify, just in general that whole space of digital self-analytics. Those solutions, I think, are really good tools to have in the box of a brand marketer.

Luke Peters: Perfect. Thanks for that because that helps me, and I think that kind of clears it up. So, it’s directional but at the same time like when brand owners, we always are comparing to our competitors, so directional information is perfect. We want to know are we doing better, are we doing worse? Where do we rank? Those types of things are always in our mind, or knowing share of total business like you talked about. So, that is really interesting. I think …

Luke Peters: Moving on, another concern, maybe not concern, but probably like a frictional point of most potential brands who are looking at these types of products is going to be integration and how much time integration is required. Is there anything you can say to that? Also, who usually leads on integration? Is it usually a marketing driven process or a sales-driven process? It would be great to understand that.

Jason Purcell: So, Luke, integration, just to clarify, integration with what? With the retailers, or with their existing systems, or kind of what do you see as the friction point?

Luke Peters: Got you. Okay, so integration, so meaning someone’s doing this on their own and now they’re going and looking at Salsify, and other competitors, and they’re saying, “Okay, I need one of these systems to manage my products and manage all the channels.” It’s kind of like if somebody’s moving to a new ERP and they are looking at it, okay, what integration is going to be involved? Then, I got to do EDI integration, and then I may have to do warehouse management system. So, it seems like for this product to work there would be, let’s call it an onboarding, a brand would have to get all of its data into the system, so I guess that’s kind of what I’m terming the integration.

Jason Purcell: I think, kind of look at the landscape of … I’ll speak for Salsify customers but I suspect this is very similar as you look across the landscape more broadly. The system that you almost always integrate with is ERP. That tends to be where baseline information about a product lives. It may be pretty unsophisticated, it might not be anything more than the UPC or the G10, and weights and measures, but that tends to be where it often starts. Nearly always Salsify customers have a very simple integration. We packaged a handful of the common ones. We also integrate with everything from the green screens on back with simple flat file FTP-type integrations. That’s pretty common. One of the nice things is once you start to implement a system like a Salsify it is your system of record for that content, so this is where your workflows happen. This is where the digital assets live. This is where I transform them, so the integration isn’t as complicated as it might be if I was trying to piece together eight different systems.

Jason Purcell: That’s typically what we see there. Of course, on the other side when it comes to the retailers, I mean that’s where we’ve invested millions and millions of dollars, and god knows how many hours and hours of people’s time in building out the relationships with those retailers, understanding what the requirements are, building the connectivity out so we can … In many cases, like take an Amazon or a Walmart, you know Coca Cola can change a package image and press a button and see that reflected on walmart.com in 30 seconds. It’s awesome. The large retailers by and large are moving more towards those sorts of opportunities. In smaller long-tail retailers will automate the process of generating and emailing or FTP-ing spreadsheets that the experienced, or you as a brand marketer, is really the same. So, we’ve taken a lot of that integration effort to the marketplaces, to the Pinterests and the YouTubes of the world on our shoulders to make sure that the brands don’t have to do it themselves.

Luke Peters: Cool. That’s really helpful. In thinking about brands and what size in their growth journey that they want to be looking at a product like this, is there a way to kind of … Is there like a stepping off point where it’s like, well, you have this many SKUs it’s really going to make a big difference? I’m sure there’s kind of a gray area. Let’s say a retailer … A lot of the friends I work with and meet with are, a lot of them are going to be Amazon intensive, and then after that they may or may not have a lot of other channels, and then they’re going to probably have their own website, and then they might be doing some social. So, let’s say typical customer is Amazon. They’re doing, like I said, their own channel, their own website, some social, and then maybe Home Depot and Wayfarer, so just a couple of other channels and if they have a couple of hundred products to maybe 500 products, is that still … Are they going to get a lot of value from moving over to a product like this versus doing everything themselves internally?

Jason Purcell: What you just described actually fits a profile that probably characterizes the majority of our customers, and I suspect most of the customers of solutions in this space overall. Even managing that is complex, and a lot of it depends on the velocity of how often you’re introducing new products. It is a gray area. Look, if we happen to have somebody who comes in … This happens all the time. We’ll have a small manufacturer come in who’s just trying to research and understand the space, and they’ve got five products, and they’re only selling on Amazon Marketplace, or Vendor Central, and they’re managing all on a spreadsheet, honestly that’s probably the right place to stay right now. You don’t have enough complexity to justify investing in a software solution to help you there.

Jason Purcell: But, the complexity shoots up pretty quick. You mentioned adding a direct-to-consumer site. Well, now I want to make sure that I’m not having to manage two versions of the product. Then, you add a couple more eRetailers. Well, now I’ve got to manage different variations of the product for each of them because they’ve each got a unique SCHEMA. The complexity shoots up pretty quick. I, frankly, have customers that have 20, 30 products with three or four eRetailers that are trying to build great experiences where they’re using below the fold content to tell a story that rave about how much time Salsify is saving them.

Jason Purcell: I think a lot of it depends on look internally as a brand. Ask yourself, how much time are you spending and what opportunities are you sacrificing because you’re not focused on the end result? Which is, okay, wait a second this could be a better listing. This could be selling more. This could be … You want your time spent there not on, wait a second I think I had a version of this product in the spreadsheet from a week ago. I don’t know where it is anymore.

Luke Peters: That’s perfect. You’re right. Most companies, at least most of the friends I know … Like you said, you guys are kind in the, you started out in that mid category, but so many brands are in that space and so many brands fit that profile. I guess that would make sense that the product is kind of developed around them to help them and make things easier with less hands having to touch all the different retailers.

Luke Peters: Kind of with that in mind, what are things … Often if one is uploading products directly to a retailer a buyer is still going to have to initially approve that product to be sold on that retailer. Now, does Salsify, and other products like this, are you automatically able to get approvals? What things are still going to be approval-based by a buyer, or what things, and what’s going to be automated that in the past still may have been manual by a brand?

Jason Purcell: I think there’s still very much, especially on 1P when the retailer’s buying the inventory, there’s very much an approval process. I’ll tell you, we’ve seen a really interesting shift, though … It started with Walmart probably five years ago where … Walmart’s not going to just, you’re not just going to submit a pallet of items to Walmart and they’re magically going to buy it, right? It doesn’t work that way, but what Walmart’s wanted to do is make it easier for the buyers across all their various categories to know what’s available, to know what their options are as they’re doing research within a category. So, we’ve seen this interesting trend where at a minimum, particularly the larger retailers would like to see your entire catalog. You’re not going to share your entire catalog. You have private-label items, you have exclusives so, of course, you’re not going to share it all, but in general they make it easy for you to publish everything. Then, we often see a multi-stage process where a buyer may then decide that they want to carry a particular item and that leads to a request for additional information.

Jason Purcell: In a platform like ours that request gets automatically handled because you already have all the information and it just goes through. Retailers like Home Depot that have a very multi-stage process where the buyer and the merchandising team is very heavily involved in not just deciding whether to accept the item but even in approving whether the description, and the content, is consistent with the brand. We still have to support those kinds of workloads. It’s interesting. I’ve seen this trend where the large retails really would like to see the entire catalog just because it opens up opportunities for them to carry products they didn’t even know existed. Of course, in marketplaces it’s always kind of been that way, right?

Luke Peters: Yeah, but you touched on it right there. So, that was a good example of Home Depot. They’re trying to get to one platform. In the meantime there’s a lot of checks and balances, but it sounds like when people are doing it manually it’s a lot slower, and then with a product like yours then once that approval happens, boom your data’s right there for them so the decisions can happen quicker, product launches can happen quicker. That sounds like that’s a major benefit, right?

Jason Purcell: One of the trends you’ll see is … Take Home Depot as a specific example. They are one of the more onerous item set up processes out there, as anybody who’s tried to set up items knows that they have very high bar for the amount of information they want to collect, and it’s very category specific. You cut any corner that you possibly can cut, so you’ll see over and over these brands will do the minimum required to get an item set up. It’s laborious, and it’s time consuming. Because it’s multistage you end up injecting days into the process. Then, even when it’s done … It’s funny, we’ll often see Salsify customers that before Salsify would have one or two images on Home Depot and they didn’t submit the optional information like a manual. Those are the things that, those are those lost opportunities to deliver a great experience that if the technology is really helping there it’s an autopilot for you as a brand marketer. All of a sudden you’ll see, okay, great now I’ve really got a fleshed-out experience.

Jason Purcell: Enhanced content’s another great example. I mean, for years this was a space where there were some very parasitic vendors that were changing per SKU to publish an item on a site like Target. It was really counterproductive for both Target and the brand. I would love to be able to merchandise with very rich stories my entire assortment, but to do that it’s very time consuming for me as a brand. How am I going to lay out each of these products individually, and then I’m going to have to pay a tax on every item I set up? It’s ridiculous, right?

Jason Purcell: Nowadays what your seeing is this trend, certainly I think this is one that we’ve spearheaded, where I should be able to merchandise my entire catalog with enhanced content below the fold with the press of a button. I should be able to auto populate templates, and comparison charts, and above the fold product tours based on the data that’s stored in my content management platform. I think that there is a lot of opportunity to accelerate both the speed at which these products get there but then the quality they experience that results.

Luke Peters: Perfect. That paints a picture and that’s a common theme so super helpful. What are three pieces of advice for an executive out there trying to think about how they should organize teams and processes to get agile enough to take advantage of the digital shelf? Obviously, using products like Salsify, but curious any other strategies or pieces of advice for those executives?

Jason Purcell: Let’s put the technology aside because I think there’s some really basic fundamental approaches that whether or not you invest in any technology at all I think are very valuable. The first is, even that concept, how can they be agile is a little bit of a shift in mindset for most of these brands. There’s often a desire, or a natural tendency, to boil the ocean. This is a space that lends itself to being really incremental. Get those quick wins. Scope the progress in small victories. Identify … Don’t try to fix your entire Amazon assortment at once. Go identify the top 10 products. Fix those first. Measure whether it works. It’s obvious if you’re entrepreneurial … Luke, I’m sure this is how you and many of the mid-market brands our already operating but it’s surprising as you get bigger and bigger sort of that mindset towards being incremental tends to go away.

Jason Purcell: The next one I would say is there is this interesting just organizationally content, or marketing, and the trade teams, and eCommerce, especially eCommerce if they’re running their direct-to-consumer site, are often pretty siloed. There’s often not a lot of communication between them and it creates a lot of repeat work and a lot of inconsistency in terms of how the brand is perceived by the consumer that I think it can be ameliorated by just thinking about where are there opportunities to combine some of those functions? There is a great … We do our own podcast, Luke, that Unpacking the Digital Shelf, which is sort of, and get a similar audience. We just had, I don’t know a few weeks ago, Sonesh from Bosch was on and he’s a great example of where you start to see the marketing, and the digital, and the trade, teams start to come together. He talked a lot about how they organized and what their evolution was like. I would say that’s one where …

Jason Purcell: The way that you organized as a brand manufacturer in the day when you were primarily shipping through Brick and Mortar and you have circulars and such is probably due. That’s the other one I would say is that there are huge opportunities. Again, you can get benefits from that without making any investments in tech.

Luke Peters: Yep, yep. So, work to get less silos. There’s too many of them and too much duplicate work. I’m there with you on that one. Still work to get those quick wins, even if you have that longer-term strategy, and measure, measure what’s working. That’s great advice. Beyond that, companies are always looking … I think you really did explain a lot of these things but I kind of want to pull it out one more time because I think for myself, and a lot of other CEOs or founders listening to the podcast, they always are thinking about, how am I making more money? So, breaking it down to that basic level, if they are implementing a software that’s automating, obviously brands are going to make, can become more profitable because they’re being more efficient. It’s taking less hands to get products up, and the content’s going to be richer, as we’ve spoken about here, and they can get wins on better content.

Luke Peters: Then, there’s beyond that there’s tools that are measuring what works, so it sounds like you can get kind of like KPIs or a dashboard so you can quickly measure and manage a lot of products at a glance instead of individually having that data all over the place. Anything else that I might miss there, just kind of finishing off the conversation and really understanding how really breaking it down to profit, anything else that I might have missed there?

Jason Purcell: I think it’s also the behavior changes that it supports. This is probably true of larger brands more than some of the more entrepreneurial ones. I think it’s so painful to get some of these items set up that you often treat it as a one-time set it and forget it. It’s really a missed opportunity. If you treat it instead, treat that product detail page like it’s a living, breathing thing where you can … It’s so awesome. You have the ability to be evolving the message that that product is telling based on the season, based on what your competitors are doing, based on what you’re learning from the activity that consumers are engaging on, based on what’s happening in the outside world. There’s a great …

Jason Purcell: This isn’t even a Salsify customer, but I remember hearing a really cool story about Elmer’s glue. They had some great product listings on Amazon that were for Elmer’s glue. If you searched for glue you’d find it. They realized that … This is kind of how much money they missed out on as a result of this, they finally realized that what people were really searching for was slime. That was one of the big ingredients used to make slime. They recognized that if they changed the way that they described the product to capture those sorts of search terms that would lead to a much higher sales and conversion rates.

Jason Purcell: If you treat that as a living, breathing thing I think that creates these behavior changes, which is really cool. Starting to think of it as and ongoing opportunity to evolve the message that you’re trying to present to the consumer. That behavior change, I think, is a mindset shift that not every brand has embraced yet. In many cases it’s because of simply the people cost of just getting a stupid image up is … You don’t even want to go into work to do it because it’s going to be so much of an effort. That’s the sort of stuff that technology should be taking off of your plate and letting you focus on the outcome, which is the great experience for the consumer.

Luke Peters: That makes a lot of sense to me, actually, because I do see … Hopefully we’re not too guilty of this that often, but everybody is because it is so much work. Sometimes it can be a set it and forget it type of attitude. Like you said, you want that page to be living, breathing, changing, evolving, improving. That’s great. I love that answer. It’s a mindset type of answer.

Luke Peters: Listen, Jason, I really enjoyed this conversation today. I appreciate all the insights and you, obviously, a busy guy taking time out to join me on the Page 1 Podcast. How can listeners find you if they’re interested in learning more and then, also, if you can just let us know a little more about your podcast and where they can find that.

Jason Purcell: So, certainly Salsify, the company, we’re easy to find, salsify.com. There’s a lot of information on the site that I think is just generally beneficial to folks that are trying to educate themselves about the space. Certainly, if they’re interested in our product to learn more. The other thing that is an investment we made for the community as a whole is around trying to up-level the discussion from just talking about the tech and starting to think about the process, and the organization structures, and the trends. One of the things we’ve invested in is this whole idea of the Digital Shelf Institute, which is a great collection of information, and it’s available at digitalshelfinstitute.org, that really tries to be product agnostic but is a great educational tool for folks. They can also find information about our podcast there, and that I think should be pretty easy to find.

Luke Peters: That’s awesome. Again, thanks for joining. I can tell there’s a lot of passion in your voice so as a founder of a growing company I’m sure you guys have a long way to go. So, super appreciative for you being here. Also, just want to thank all of our listeners for joining us today on the Page 1 Podcast. Hopefully you guys learned some valuable information here and something new to dig into if you haven’t already. Quick reminder, offering that free evaluation of your online business strategy. If you’re interested find me on LinkedIn or luke@retailband.com. Thanks so much for listening and appreciate any reviews if you found this information helpful.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Page 1 Podcast with Luke Peters. If you like our show and want to know more check out our other segments. Also, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to learn more about rCommerce check out www.retailband.com to get more great tips and tricks on how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big-box retailers.