From Single Mom to Building Massive Growth with Packit Freezable Lunch Bags – Melissa Kieling EP71

Quotes:

  • “Once you humble yourself and realize that you can make it happen, you can create your own path.”– Melissa [12:36]
  • “At the end of the day, you really have to love what you do, be excited, and be passionate about it and it doesn’t feel like work.”– Melissa [9:12]
  • “Not every decision turns out being the right decision that moment, but it’s something that you learn from.”– Melissa [12:20]

How to Build a Strong Brand Awareness and Effective Company Culture- With PackIt CEO Melissa Kieling

What is more important for a new brand; massive revenue or brand recognition? Brand recognition goes a long way especially for a product-based company with an original product that’s looking to be noticed by retailers.

In this episode of the Page One Podcast, Luke Peters speaks with Melissa Kieing, who is the CEO and founder of PackIt. PackIt is the world’s original freezable lunch bag that grew to become a household name. Melissa came from a humble beginning as a struggling single mom to a CEO of the number one fastest-growing women-owned business in Inc. 500 2014. She explains how she utilized the main stream media to create awareness and recognition around her brand for 2 years straight before she got a retailer.

Listen in to learn why it is important to have an entrepreneurial drive and passion to grow your business since it doesn’t feel like work. You will also learn how you can create a strong and effective company culture that involves employees as a huge part of the company.

Key Takeaways:

  • Embracing an entrepreneurship spirit with employees and giving each team member the responsibility of managing their workload.
  • The importance of having entrepreneurial drive to enable you to scale your business amid many responsibilities.
  • How to be comfortable with taking chances and educating yourself to make the right decisions for your business.
  • How to build a brand through media to get the attention of consumers and retailers.
  • The power of an effective company culture that involves employees and making them part and parcel of the day to day operations.

Episode Timeline:

  • [2:04] Melissa explains how she founded her product- freezable lunch bag- as she was struggling to pack her children healthy food plus where they’re distributed across the US and internationally.
  • [3:42] She describes their team; how they operate with an entrepreneurial spirit, their operational model, and manufacturing in China.
  • [6:20] How they keep in track with the profitable and nonprofitable sales opportunities.
  • [7:57] Melissa explains how she was driven by a passion to keep her business soaring even with the responsibility of being a single mom.
  • [9:58] She praises the woman who has been assisting her all these years and explains how she has contributed to her success.
  • [11:04] How she learned to be confident as a businesswoman by picking herself and learning from her experiences, not a set roadmap.
  • [13:32] The importance of seeking help and asking silly questions especially for women business owners.
  • [14:43] The struggles she went through when pitching to many retailers when she first began and how they used the media to get to the consumer.
  • [2:18] Why she took on a financial partner to help deal with the massive demand and growth.
  • [24:07] How and why they transitioned from a retail business to a wholesale business.
  • [25:20] She describes the company culture they have at PackIt that gives employees an excellent work environment and allows them to be part of all company’s operations.
  • [28:33] She talks about the product they’re developing working with the eCommerce grocery delivery companies to expand their reach in a renewable and sustainable manner.

Announcer: Welcome to the Page One podcast, a podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from digital marketing, sales channel strategies, influencer marketing, best-in-class product launches and all the details about how to accelerate sales. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke: Thanks for joining us on this Page One podcast. I’m your host, Luke Peters, CEO of Newair Appliances and Retail Band, digital strategy agency. Business owners, do you wish you had someone to create a custom strategic plan to grow your online sales, someone who would show you how to execute it with the team you have? That’s what we do. If you’re lost, we can help you right now. Just find me on LinkedIn or email me at luke@retailband.com.

Luke: In this episode, you’re going to hear from Melissa Keeling, CEO and founder of PackIT, on how as a single mom, Melissa grew the world’s original freezable lunch bag into a household name. From her humble beginnings as a struggling single mom to CEO of the number one fastest-growing women-owned business, Inc 500 in 2014, Melissa’s story is the ultimate American dream.

Luke: PackIT was born out of necessity. The idea came to Melissa when her kids would complain about warm and mushy blueberries in their school lunches. From there, after extensive trial and error, the first prototype of the new iconic PackIT freezable gel-lined lunch bag was developed. Since its founding in 2009, under Melissa’s leadership, PackIT’s patented, freezable consumer products have been solving cold chain challenges for families and individuals worldwide, and the company has experienced steady double digit growth.

Luke: Melissa, thanks for joining us on the Page One podcast.

Melissa: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Luke: Awesome. I have kids and my wife and daughter, they automatically knew what your product was, so that’s great. You have a lot of brand identity out there, but for the audience, if you’d mind describing the product a little bit more.

Melissa: Sure. I guess the core product, the product concept that was the impetus for the company is, like you mentioned a little bit, I was struggling as a mom trying to pack healthy lunches for my kids and really frustrated that you couldn’t put healthy food in the lunch bag and have it stay fresh come lunchtime. You’ve got options like putting baggies [inaudible 00:02:27] or you could put those little gel packs in that never really work and go missing, never make it home.

Melissa: The concept was to integrate the gel as a freezable liner into the liner of our bags. You simply fold the bag up and you store the entire bag collapsed in the freezer. And when you pull that out in the morning and shake it open, the walls of the bags are actually frozen so you never have to add ice or gel packs and our products keep food food-safe for up to 10 hours.

Luke: Yeah. And you got really cool designs and colors and you guys make it really fun. The audience, you can check it out on the website. We’ll get more into this later on, but where are the products distributed?

Melissa: Yeah. Retail across the US, kind of your list of expected players, Target, Walmart, Bed Bath, Container Store, Whole Foods, Amazon, of course, supermarket and drug, and then internationally as well.

Luke: Yeah. Nonchalantly, you name off every large retailer that you’re in store, so trust me, that’s very difficult to do, so that’s pretty cool. It’s a great story.

Melissa: Thanks.

Luke: Okay. Let’s dive into the business a little bit. How many team members do you have? Do you have warehouses? How do you handle distribution?

Melissa: We have around 20 people in our office here in Westlake Village, California. We have a 3PL. We don’t have our own warehouse, so we have everything in a 3PL and that’s also here in southern California, so everything … we manufacture in Asia, in China, so everything comes in through long Beach and then is warehouse at our 3PL in Chino, California.

Luke: Great. And those 20 people or so, I’m sure you have the typical, the finance, the sales and marketing. On the creative side, curious how the team looks. You guys are doing … because you got some really fun designs. Is the team creative-heavy or do you just have a lean but strong team?

Melissa: No. We always have run very lean and mean. I mean, I think everyone within the company embodies what we always call gangster entrepreneur spirit, just kind of no job is too small or too little. If something has to get done, everybody is all hands on deck. And we have a sign that hangs in our design center that says, “Work hard and be nice to people.” It’s pretty simple life principles.

Luke: Great. And what type of ERP or business system do you guys operate to keep the business glued together?

Melissa: We started on QuickBooks like most, and then we transitioned to NetSuite probably about eight years ago now and it’s been great.

Luke: Oh wow, so you guys are the early adopters.

Melissa: Yeah. Fully comprehensive, integrated. We do a lot of EDI processing with our retail partners and then obviously integration with our 3PL.

Luke: That’s awesome. And on staff, do you guys have EDI and NetSuite experts or do you outsource that and just work an implementation team?

Melissa: I think everybody is very well-versed in using NetSuite. It touches every piece of the company in some capacity, whether it’s sales and contact management, accounting, logistics, supply chain operations. Everyone really has a hand in that. It really is the pulse and the heartbeat of the company. I guess everyone becomes an expert to help it manage their day-to-day workload. We don’t necessarily have one leadership team expert. We would defer outreach to NetSuite directly if we needed any custom projects built or put together to help us with any particular need that might come up.

Luke: Yeah, that makes sense. And also since you have a 3PL, it does save some complexity because you don’t have to have the warehouse end of it, which can be a pretty big piece, so that’s good. And then are you able to share maybe your most important KPI, maybe a number that really is so important to you? It would just be interesting to see how you think about that.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, you and I talked a little bit about this and I think if I look at when we first started the business, we would get super excited about getting placement at retail and always had our eye on door count, which is really exciting. Obviously at that time in the business, it’s really excited to get that door count, but you are always watching POS and if it’s moving off shelf and out the door. And then of course, everything comes back to gross margin and profitability, and we have a deal sheet, what we refer to as a deal sheet template, which is basically a P&L by SKU that is run for every sales opportunity and that has to be approved before a program can move forward. You really keep an eye on what all of the ancillary expenses are on any program so we have insight into some are profitable and some aren’t as much, but at least you go into it knowing what you’re getting into.

Luke: That’s awesome, yeah, so you have an econ model and all the deals and yeah, exactly. Just like you said, you got to know that you’re making money or that this work is going to pay off at the end and sometimes you’re going to accept lower margins and sometimes there’s a big backend. Makes a lot of sense.

Luke: Why don’t we now transition to the theme, which is you being a single mom starting this brand, and just to give the audience a little bit more context, you have three kids and at the time I think your kids were 7, 11 and 13.

Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Luke: I think we were talking about that. You had your hands full and you decided to start a business at the same time. Why don’t you describe how you felt just your first month in business and just describe what that looked like?

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, listen, it’s so funny. My personality is I’m not living unless I’m drinking at the fire hose And that really is what keeps me going every day and the reason I jump out of bed. And now we have a lot of our staff and employees now having babies and it’s really interesting to look at where I am in my life where my kids are older. Two are now out of the house. I just have Emma here at home. When you’re in it and you’re living it, as a single mom with the kids, like anything, you only know what you know.

Melissa: I don’t think in the moment, I really had time to sit back and go, “Holy crap, this is hard.” But now that my kids are older and I’m looking back at other employers, I’m like, “Oh my goodness.” Managing all of this and having young babies, I think it has put an interesting perspective on it for me. When you have babies in their home and they’re crying all night, you only know what you know. You just get up and you do it and you make it happen. But when you get that interesting perspective of reflection through someone else’s experience, yeah, it’s parenting and work and the full life that we lead, especially now with all of the complexities of the environment that we’re living through now. It’s a lot of work. I think that’s why at the end of the day, you really have to love what you do and be excited and be passionate about it and it doesn’t feel like work.

Luke: Yeah. And a lot of things made sense. You have that entrepreneurial drive, but when you’re working probably twice as hard as anybody else, and I think what that does is it’s just kind of like if somebody runs marathons versus running a mile, they understand a lot of it is psychological, right? And you just have to keep pushing. And so it sounds like you had to push through so much at the beginning. How did you budget your time? I mean, because at that time, the kids are going to be in school, so you’re going to have to be doing drop-offs and pickups and all kinds of other things. At the same time, you’re working. Did you have any particular schedule or a way that you kept yourself organized to get through the days?

Melissa: Yeah. I have had a woman in my life that I’ve been so blessed to have. She started as a babysitter when Emma was two and as I started the company, she would fill in and help out and she’s still with me today 13 years later … gosh, probably 14 years later … and is still my assistant today and she just had her first baby, so it’s really fun to see someone who helped me keep it all together and helped take care of my children when I needed someone to step in because I was traveling, it’s really fun to see it come full circle and my kids are older now and getting to experience her being a new mom and still being part of the PackIT team. It’s really fun.

Luke: Yeah, that is a great story. And then when you’re in the beginning and you’re starting this out, and I guess all entrepreneurs are going to have this hurdle, and the same question could be asked, but you had a couple of hurdles in front of you, so how did you gain confidence in yourself and your idea to turn this business into a reality? Did you have prior successes? What allowed you to say, “Hey, I’m going to do this”?

Melissa: Initially, I think I was just so excited about the concept and the product and knowing that it was something that didn’t exist and knowing it was something that I wanted and needed to simplify my life and then the more conversations I had with other people, realizing other people also had a need for this. That really was the motivation behind keeping me going even though a lot of conversations started with no. I was so passionate about it and determined to see it come to market.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, early on, and this was my first stab at a business like this, you’re convinced that there’s a roadmap out there and you’re convinced that everyone else has it figured out and knows which turns and steps to make. And I think once I became comfortable realizing that there is no roadmap, no one has a course that is defined for success, that you’ve got to take chances and educate yourself as best as you can and make the best decisions. I’m a big gut person I rely heavily on when something feels right, making those decisions. And not every decision turns out being the right decision in that moment, but it’s something that you learn from, and the experience of being able to identify that early on and pivot and not focus on bad decisions, but learn from them and keep moving forward, I think once you humble yourself and realize that you can make it happen, you can create your own path and I think I became more comfortable with running a business once I embraced that.

Luke: Yeah. And I think what made a lot of sense is there isn’t that roadmap, like you said, and then we all want to think there is, but then after you have gotten some success, you look back and you realize that the people that you’re competing with or your colleagues or other successful people, they’re kind of just like you. They just kind of just figured it out also. And that can give more confidence when you realize that before you start, you’re looking up and you’re wondering, “Wow, how can I ever get there?” And then once you’re there you realize, “You know what? It didn’t require some skillset that was impossible to attain,” and then also kind of being naive at the beginning can help as well, right? You just kind of go for it without overthinking it. With that, what specific advice would you give to other women or other mothers that are starting their own businesses?

Melissa: One of my strengths, and it’s always something I recommend that anyone, women specifically embrace, is be willing to ask the silly questions, be willing to reach out and ask for help. There are a lot of people out there who are happy … I’m happy to pass along all of the mistakes that I’ve made in an effort to help someone avoid those. And I think there are a lot of people out there like that, so just being willing to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and no question is too simple or too small or too silly and really putting one foot in front of the other daily is what keeps everything moving forward.

Luke: Yeah. I love that quote, ask silly questions, but I think it’s so true. And I think it’s important for everybody to be so curious and open-minded and just have that attitude where you’re going to be the one raising your hand while everybody else is embarrassed to ask the dumb question. I completely agree with you. I think it’s great advice.

Luke: Why don’t we pivot to your business and the brand, PackIT? It’d be great to hear the story of how you got in store. You’re in so many different stores, which is just a massive accomplishment. How’d you get in?

Melissa: Okay. After I had had the idea for the product, I started doing research online, realizing there really wasn’t anything there. I had an idea in my mind of what this should look like and how it should function. Started researching materials to be used, like thermal gel material, freezing them, hanging them up in my home. It’s as simple as that. Laid all the materials out across my dining room table. I had ordered what I thought would work as a liner for the inside of the bag. And when it came, it was one of those hard plastic chair … goes under your office chair that you can roll around on. I was like, “Well, that’s not going to work.”

Melissa: Literally walking past my bathroom one day, seeing the shower curtain hanging there, I was like, “Yeah. Okay, that could work,” so I pulled that down, cut everything apart, pinned it together, took it to the dry cleaners and she sewed the first bag together. At that point I had a prototype in hand. I was able to have conversations then with friends. That led to an early round of friends and family financing. I started going to trade shows. Trade shows are awesome. You are among a community of entrepreneurs and I got a lot of great feedback. I learned that others were interested in what I was doing. And at that trade show we met with Target and I ended up getting a meeting with Target early on. I think my business cards at the time still said, “Entrepreneur, mom.”

Luke: Wow, that’s funny.

Melissa: Yeah. And I was still working out of my kitchen. You can imagine I’m terrified. I get this meeting. I’m going to fly to Minneapolis. And I’m at this point really struggling with who we are and the perception of who we are and What did I think the perception of who we were at that time needed to be in order to be validated enough to put on a shelf like Target, right?

Melissa: And this is where when you’re just starting, all of these insecurities and the fear of, “Am I doing this right?” and you’re feeling like you have to present yourself as something to be accepted and to get that foot in the door. I really struggled with that, and going into that Target meeting, made the decision to go with our true, authentic story, which was the one I just told you. I had an idea for a product that was something I needed. My children needed it. It would make my life simpler. I think other people should have it, too.

Melissa: And I think that throughout my journey, that has really built a great affinity for people to the brand. Just having that connection with our audience has been a great brand building story for us. However, in that meeting with Target, they passed, and they passed because with our product, the uniqueness of our product is on the inside and it’s not necessarily obvious at point-of-sale. If the customer encounters it at point-of-sale and doesn’t really understand how the product works, they were worried that the perceived value and the price point … At that point, when we entered the market [inaudible 00:17:46] 1999, we were on the higher end price point of what that category was, and if people didn’t understand how our products work and the value add that they bring into technology, it might not work for them at retail, so Target ended up passing.

Luke: Melissa, this is before you had a sellable product, right, or were you actually producing a product at this point?

Melissa: Nope. We had a product at the point. We had done a small production run, so we had products.

Luke: Okay, so you had product, and just so the audience knows, this is … I know she’s described it a couple of times, but I just want to make sure, especially if you guys don’t have kids, because if you have kids, this would make complete sense because I’ve lost freezer packs and ice packs a million times. The kids leave them at school and stuff, but it’s literally a lunch bag or a lunch container and it’s a little thicker and it’s got the gel on the inside. It’s kind of flexible and you can stick it in the freezer and freeze it. And how big was the one that you were pitching initially? Was it the lunch box?

Melissa: Yeah, it’s like a lunch bag. It really is our same hero products today and our most popular and recognizable product today are just our original packet lunch bags.

Luke: Okay. Cool. All right. Great, so continue on from that point.

Melissa: Yeah. Target passed, and leaving that meeting, I realized that we were going to have to get creative. We were going to have to do something out of the box to make sure that if we were to get an opportunity with a retailer like that, that we were going to educate the consumer before they hit retail so we would be able to move it off the shelf. And this was nine years ago, so back when people were still watching TV, we didn’t really have an option, we had to watch commercials and direct response TV was … If you had a product that worked for video and direct response, that model was working really well at the time.

Melissa: We produced and ran a two minute as seen on TV type direct response commercial that ran for … It ended up running for about two and a half years and it was wildly successful. Our product, we learned early on that once you educate the consumer on how it works, it’s a no brainer. It’s one of those super simple smart products that just makes sense. Using TV and video to explain to the customer who’s at home how the product works, the direct response … and at that point it was direct to consumer, we were shipping direct to consumer … absolutely exploded for us.

Luke: And that was at that 1999 price point. I always look at those ads and wonder, “How are they making money?” because the shipping’s got to eat into that. But it sounds like you guys either had enough margin or did the consumer also end up paying shipping on that?

Melissa: They ended up paying shipping on it, yeah.

Luke: Oh, there you go.

Melissa: And no, we didn’t make a lot of money and we weren’t doing it to make a lot of money direct to consumer. We were really doing it to build a brand, to market and to capture the attention of retail and get on retail shelves, which is actually exactly what happened after going to IHA, which is where we launched, the first time we really launched at a trade show. It was the Chicago IHA Trade Show at the time, now Inspired Home, but that was the launch platform for us after the very small one that we had done in Vegas where we met Target.

Melissa: We launched this show and I met with Bed Bath and Beyond. And I had been calling on them and calling on them and calling on them and they so kindly passed and passed and passed. And in Chicago at that show, our buyer at the time walked up and she held up her cell phone and she hit play and it was a video of her daughter reciting our PackIT commercial.

Luke: Wow, that’s so cool. What a great story.

Melissa: And she’s like, “All right, let’s give this a try,” so Bed Bath was our first retail partner and that was pretty awesome. When we launched with them, you could walk in … Bed Bath, they can buy their stores, so each store manager can opt in to bring in a huge statement for a product and we could walk in at any given moment and see literally huge floor-to-ceiling columns of PackIT bags.

Luke: How did you finance this at the beginning? Now we’re talking about a year and a half or two years in, right? And you just have that friends and family round at the beginning. Were you making any revenue some other way at this point or enough to keep the business going along? Because I even when retailers buy, the terms obviously are not always in your favor and there can be a lot of challenges on that end, so how’d you cover that part?

Melissa: Yeah. Well, we did have huge growth. We went from 150,000 to seven million in sales in year one and then doubled that in year two so we were growing very quickly. As you know, you’re spending your capital to buy inventory to keep up with demand like that. I did end up taking on a financial partner and we did debt financing. Now, this was 2009 to 2011 where finding capital and having access to debt was with the financial crisis next to impossible. And we took on some pretty expensive money.

Luke: What a great story. I mean, it’s so hard.

Melissa: But it kept us going.

Luke: Yeah. I mean, to grow that quickly is so hard and also to be new and to retail, it’s hard even to structure the deals, because there’s so many ways you can lose, and there just is, on the back ends and the returns and all that kind of stuff. Did you have some guidance or some help when you were actually dealing with the terms?

Melissa: I did, but honestly I had to accept terms that anyone with experience and better judgment would have said, “Oh God, no.” But at the time we just didn’t have a lot of options. And I think unfortunately you get put into that position where even if I had known better, I didn’t have the opportunity at the time and in the moment.

Luke: Yeah. That makes sense.

Melissa: Yeah. Sometimes you have to take that stepping stone to get to the next level.

Luke: Wow. What a great story and ideal partner to start with, especially back then. They had an incredible growing brand and a lot of visibility in store. And so did that help you get back into Target?

Melissa: It did. Yep. It did. Quickly, Target and Walmart and many others soon followed after. And then with direct response and direct to consumer, as long as you’re generating a media return that makes sense and it’s covering your media spend, it still makes sense to keep running that campaign. But we started to have retail sales available at retail and our media returns were declining because the commercial wasn’t throwing off the same return. These people were buying at retail. There is that life cycle where you realize that it’s done what it needed to do and you now are off and running with retail. After two and a half years, we shut that down and transitioned into a wholesale business through retail.

Luke: And then let’s pivot here and talk about building a team, so now you had to build a team. You’re doing a lot of things at once. You didn’t have experience talking to buyers, and that can be really difficult to navigate all the terms. Plus, now there’s financials and all kinds of accounting that when $100,000 business, obviously you can do on QuickBooks and then quickly, you ramped up there, so you probably had to build the team on that side as well. It’d be interesting to hear the story of how you built a team.

Melissa: Yeah. I mean, I’ve really learned to look at myself and be able to identify what my strengths are and where my weaknesses are and making sure that you’re finding strong team players with strengths that fill in your weaknesses and not being intimidated by someone else’s expertise, knowing that, oh my God, the strongest person you can bring in to your greatest weakness is the best advantage you can get on a team.

Melissa: So yeah. And like we were saying, with 20 people, we still run very lean and mean, and I think it’s a part of the culture. We don’t have layers. We don’t have managers of managers. We have people who really are invested in the business and the culture and the company and want to make a difference. And I really don’t think that we have people who come in and say, “Ugh, I got to go to work today.” I truly believe that we’ve built a culture that has a team that feels invested and part of the challenges and part of the successes.

Luke: In the early days, what was maybe the key hire? Was it a sales individual or was it a marketing or finance? That’d be interesting to know what kicked it off.

Melissa: Definitely would have been finance and accounting.

Luke: Oh, wow, so you were running most of the sales? You were handling that part of it?

Melissa: Yeah. I’m super passionate about products. I love sales. I always laugh and say I’m a LinkedIn ninja and I love the challenge of being able to connect and open doors, and those are my strengths and I definitely played towards those and brought someone into operations and finance and accounting where I needed them.

Luke: You know what’s interesting? That’s great. I always waited too long on that end. I think a lot of companies do, but it’s great to have sophisticated financials from the beginning. You guys scaled so quick. It sounds like that was probably a major need of the company.

Melissa: Yeah. And we did a review the first year and then annual gap audits.

Luke: Oh wow. Good for you.

Melissa: I know. We did. And we did them because this was my first rodeo and I wanted to make sure that we were dotting all Is and crossing all Ts.

Luke: What a smart approach on your end, because at first I always look at that and I’m like, “They’re going to cost that much?” You’re always looking … but for you, you had the right attitude. For you, it was kind of like, “I’m going to get assurance that things are being taken care of correctly on the financial side from a third party.” I think that’s really wise. That’s a great viewpoint, especially from a younger and early entrepreneur to do that from the very beginning. I bet it’s really rare. Maybe that was some guidance from your financial investor or was that just something that you wanted to do?

Melissa: I don’t remember if there was … I’m sure there was someone who thought it would be a good idea. And really for me, it was just the reassurance that everything was being managed appropriately and learning and if there’s anything we could figure out we could do better through that process, I think worth the money spent.

Luke: What a great story. Thanks for sharing that, Melissa. What’s next for the company? I know you’re working on another project.

Melissa: Yeah. We just launched a commercial application side of the business called PackIT Fresh. And it’s our technology integrated into a more robust kind of supply chain tool. A few years ago I started getting a meal kit company delivered to the house, right? We live in a society of just the most convenience ever. And this meal kit delivery would come with a corrugated box and a huge Mylar-insulated blanket and two six pound gel packs, and then two days later there’d be another corrugate box with a Mylar-insulated blanket and two six pound gel packs.

Melissa: And for me, I was really disturbed by this huge catastrophic pile of waste that was now growing in my garage and I felt a responsibility to try and make a difference. And looking at what we had done in the consumer product side, really final mile cold chain for us at the time had been how do we get fresh food from the refrigerator to the school lunch table or to the office table? And what these companies were struggling was final mile cold chain. Their final mile looked a little bit different. It was how do they get it from their kitchens, commissaries, distribution centers into the hands of consumer. And really recognizing that with our technology, we could do that for them in a reusable, sustainable way that would eliminate all that one time use expendable packaging.

Melissa: We started working on that about three years ago. A year and a half ago, we launched really in meal kit and the home e-commerce home grocery delivery space. We work directly with meal kit delivery companies on delivery. We work with e-commerce retailers on their e-commerce grocery delivery strategies. Basically with our technology, they can pick and pack their grocery orders directly into our freezable totes, and these freezable totes will keep food at food-safe temperatures up to 15 hours and some up to 24 hours, so they can pick and pack their grocery orders in advance into our frozen totes.

Melissa: And this was a supply chain tool, so it’s not intended for use by the consumer. They can now hold those grocery orders in advance staged in just a room temperature environment without having to build out expensive refrigerators, so it brings a ton of efficiency to the supply chain for home grocery delivery. And then it’s to the point where it’s deployed with a driver on a route. They don’t have to have refrigerated trucks. They can do ambient trucks with longer routes, more deliveries per route, getting it to the customer as fresh as they intended it to be, and all in a reusable, sustainable way.

Luke: What a great idea. The customer’s not actually holding onto the bag, so this is a B2B sale. And yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Wow. That is awesome. And how long have you been doing that for and how’s the business going?

Melissa: We launched a year and a half ago and then with COVID and stay-at-home in play and the e-commerce grocery delivery industry absolutely exploding, it’s been wildly successful. Some things … You couldn’t have timed this better, right? Sometimes things just work out like that, that it’s definitely fitting a need in an industry that’s really working on tiny, thin profitability margins and they’re looking for any way to bring in efficiencies to become more profitable with this new taste and appetite for home delivery that even once we return to pre-COVID type environments, that lifestyle of convenience and home delivery really is here to stay.

Luke: Yeah, no, that’s a huge … It was going to win anyways, but then COVID just ratcheted it up and to the right, I’m sure. What a great idea. I’m sure the audience can totally picture this, but I mean, this whole industry has taken off and you’ve been able to just get right in the middle of it, so congrats on that move. That’s got to be exciting.

Melissa: Thank you.

Luke: And it’s the same team, or is it a totally different company?

Melissa: It’s under our parent company, PackIT, but it is run as a separate company. It’s called PackIT Fresh.

Luke: Yeah, that’s great. Awesome. Well, thanks again for sharing the story and your insights. And I know they’re going to resonate with the listeners here. How can listeners find you or learn more about you and your company?

Melissa: Sure. Yeah. Thank you for having me. This is awesome. I always love connecting with other industry insiders and sharing stories. Always insightful for me, also. You can find our PackIT, the consumer product, at PackIT, just P-A-C-K-I-T, dot com, and then the commercial side of the business is PackIT Fresh, and that’s just PackIT, P-A-C-K-I-T-F-R-E-S-H dot com.

Luke: Awesome. Well, thanks for sharing the story. And also just so the audience knows, I want to give a little plug to IHA and the Inspired Home show. Melissa and myself are both on board members. Saw her on the last meeting and we moved the show. The IHA show is so important. As Melissa mentioned, she launched the brand from the show. It’s in Chicago usually every March. Obviously COVID has impacted that and it’s moved to August of 2021, so just want to give it a plug and everybody can keep an eye out for that and hope to see many of you attending the show.

Luke: And also want to thank everybody for listening to this episode of the Page One podcast, sponsored by Retail Band. Again, if you’re looking for someone to custom strategic plan, help you grow sales digitally, and also somebody who can show your team how to execute, that’s what we do. And you can find me on LinkedIn or at luke@retailband.com. Hope you enjoyed the interview today. Truly appreciate your reviews on iTunes. They really mean a lot and hope you join us for the next interview. Take care.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the Page One podcast with Luke Peters. If you enjoyed this episode, please help us out by leaving us a rating on iTunes. Want to double your online sales? Check out www.retailband.com. And don’t forget to join us next week with our next amazing guest.

Relevant Links:

Website: https://packit.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-kieling-36b4a529/


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Episode References:

Contact Melissa Keiling: LinkedIn

Contact Luke: luke@retailband.comLinkedIn 

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