How Dansons Family Business Managed 40% Growth – Jeff Thiessen EP86

Quotes:

  • “Other companies look at their businesses as financial instruments to just make money, we just like making great products so people can interact with.”– Jeff [12:29]
  • “There’s no fancy software that’s going to help you overcome not having great people.”– Jeff [23:03]
  • “People that lean on their degree that that’s the reason why you should hire them, probably aren’t the right people.”– Jeff [37:39]

Achieving Authentic Business Growth During the Pandemic

What is the strategy to successfully growing a privately owned and funded business, especially during COVID? Hiring the right people as part of your team and striving for authenticity make all the difference in growing a business. 

In this episode of the Page One Podcast, Luke Peters speaks with Jeff Thiessen on massive business growth and hiring right during the pandemic. Jeff is the President and International Sales Manager for Dansons Inc. He has held various positions within a hearth distribution company and spent several years learning all aspects of the hearth and BBQ industry, including sales, transportation, and distribution.

Listen in to learn the importance of acquiring and retaining highly valuable people to drive the growth of your company. You will also learn how to approach effective and authentic marketing strategies.

Key Takeaways:

  • How COVID taught businesses to plan ahead to be prepared for any possible crisis.
  • The importance of having the right team to help manage things when planning ahead.
  • How to strategically grow a family-owned and funded business.
  • The value of hiring leaders and teams for their teachable attitude and skillsets and not their academic achievements.

Episode Timeline:

  • [2:53] Jeff explains how things worked out for Dansons months after COVID started.
  • [4:51] How advance planning with suppliers worked out for Dansons during the pandemic.
  • [7:59] How to expand your bandwidth to handle a business’s demand and supply.
  • [9:44] He explains how they have been able to strategically manage the business as a family business without any outside funding.
  • [13:24] How Dansons have grown on socials with influencers and association with other brands over the last year.
  • [16:09] He explains how they approach in-house marketing to maintain the business’s authenticity.
  • [18:54] How they strategically market their products not to compete with their retailers.
  • [21:46] How they highly depend on great leaders and teams to run things smoothly plus prayer.
  • [24:52] Jeff explains their growth goals, offering the best without focusing on the competitors.
  • [29:40] The key strategic hires that Dansons has done over the last year as they continue to expand.
  • [37:11] The importance of hiring people according to their skillsets and the right attitude, not their academic qualifications.
  • [40:03] Jeff describes how COVID has changed his perspective both professionally and personally.

Luke Peters: Thanks for joining us on The Page One Podcast. I’m your host Luke Peters, CEO of NewAir Appliance. And before we get started here, I have an important announcement. I really need your help if you’re a vacation home owner for a new cause that I am working on. You guys can learn more at vetcation.org, and you can see how we’re supporting veterans with dream vacations. Right now, we need caring vacation homeowners to donate a weeks’ vacation to a deserving military family during Purple Heart Day in early August. And this is something that might just be another weeks’ vacation for you or your family, but literally this can be a life-changing vacation for one of these struggling families. So I hope you all will pause the podcast now, check out vetcation.org to learn more, and please email me to get involved, and also I can share more of how I came up with this idea. Looking for as much support. Right now, the kink in the hose and the area we need help is we need more vacation homeowners to get us that free week. We got plenty of families that are in need that we can connect you with. Okay, cool, getting into this week’s episode. In this episode, we’re honored to have Jeff Thiessen back for round two. This time, we’re going to focus on what Jeff has learned in the new world of COVID. As a Co-Founder and President of Dansons Inc., Jeff has over 20 years of experience in the hearth and barbecue industry. He’s played a pivotal role in leading Dansons customer and business development. And his chief responsibilities include providing strategic direction and vision for all of Dansons’ global sales and marketing activities. Jeff formerly served as the President of Pellet Fuels Institute, and the President of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada. Since starting Dansons with his dad in 1999, he feels blessed and humbled to work with an incredibly accomplished team of people that has helped Dansons emerge as one of the fastest growing businesses in the pellet grilling industry. And everybody, we’re going to focus on what Jeff has learned and how the company has really thrived through this COVID process. And if you want to hear the whole story, go back to Episode 28 on The Page One Podcast and you can hear our first interview. So Jeff, welcome to The Page One Podcast.

Jeff Thiessen: Thanks for having me, appreciate it.

Luke Peters: Awesome. And so listen, just so the audience knows, it’s an incredible story. A family business, and last time I interviewed you Jeff, I think you were in like 12,000 physical stores. You guys are in over 20 different countries. And with your leading brand Pit Boss Barbecues and a couple of other brands, anything change in the last six or eight months? I bet you guys are crushing it.

Jeff Thiessen: I’d say what hasn’t changed? God’s got his hand on this business, we truly believe it, and it’s been quite a ride this last number of years, but it certainly is business and it’s just absolutely taken off in the last few years. Last year quite honestly at this time, we were very nervous as many other business owners we, and we applied for PPP money and didn’t know how the market would respond. Within 90 days, we had paid it back with interest, and the business just absolutely surged ahead. We had no idea it was going to do that, but certainly felt that other companies needed the money a lot more than we did. And we’ve been absolutely floored by how we’ve been blessed this last year in growth. It’s been quite a ride. COVID shook us all up I think on the front end. One think that we didn’t do though is we didn’t back up on our supply change, and that has paid off in a huge way as the market really did take off after a few months when COVID started.

Luke Peters: Yeah, well that was smart because I think most of us got kind of caught in that boomerang where we kind of put the brakes on, and then we’re like, “Whoa, we shouldn’t have done that,” and then a lot of companies were stuck out of stock later in the year. So it sounds like you guys worked around that. Why don’t we start with supply chain, and again for all the business owners listening, Jeff’s business, you guys got to check it out online, what they’re doing and how fast they’ve done this, literally in about … The business has been around over 20 years, but in this category only around 10, and you guys have a global footprint. So start with supply chain, I mean the ports are really backed up now. Companies planning for Q1 if they didn’t really get out in front of it would’ve been caught behind on inventory. And then there’s these crazy, especially here in Port of LA/Long Beach, crazy demerge and detention charges and stuff like that. What are you seeing on the supply chain? What are you experiencing? How are you guys planning for that?

Jeff Thiessen: Yeah, they are a challenge that we’re all facing, there’s no doubt. I think you hit the nail on the head though is if you didn’t plan ahead. We [inaudible 00:05:00] a really good logistics management chain here that was looking ahead, that was planning ahead. That said, we still are struggling with moving ahead as many containers as we want when we want to. That is a challenge, and the costs have gone way up. And that’s the other thing. Realistically, there is no inflating yourself with the company with whatever strategy gains that, so we’re in a situation that demand far outstrips supply, and we got an issue around it. So it’s just planning and planning out further ahead than you would in the past. I think that’s been beneficial for us. We’re letting the carriers know what our demand planning is way in advance now, and we work very closely as well with our key customers who do a lot of their own logistics out of Asia as well. It’s a lot more advanced planning than ever before. A big part of that is making sure that we understand what our customers need when they need it, so there’s a lot more analytics going into that planning than there was in previous plans. So what we are looking out two and three quarters here, looking out a whole year now plus, and then you’re planning income the following year. So it’s a lot different. Your thought process, I think through this, and how we address it. And it’s been a godsend that the team we’ve been blessed with to help actually handle a challenge like this. But I’m not saying that we don’t have our challenges with it. It’s been difficult, but certainly it’s taught us to plan ahead, and it’s paying off.

Luke Peters: And Jeff, anything special you can share on the software or ERP or planning side? Any tools that you guys are using that have worked out really well?

Jeff Thiessen: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a software around it. We’re actually making a navigation to NetSuite’s ourselves here next year. So I wouldn’t say that our current GP system was something that really helped an awful lot. What it really comes down to is taking the time, analyzing the data, and having the team that can actually understand, comprehend, and create planning to support the type of growth and demand that we have. So yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s a new software. It’s the people. It always comes down to people, and we’re just blessed with a phenomenal team of people that we’re just so thankful that they chose to work here.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well, we actually did convert the NetSuite coming up on about two years, and I think you’ll like it. And you hit the nail on the head. It’s like you have the right people, because I’ve heard horror stories on people doing the conversions in NetSuite and others love it, and at the end of the day it really is the people because they’re going to implement it. And yeah, you’ll enjoy it, there’s all kinds of cool plugins for you that you could use on the demand planning side. Are you able to share, or do you have handy, how much percentage of container intake is happening by your customers versus having to go into your DCs?

Jeff Thiessen: All right, good-

Luke Peters: Are you guys … Yeah, sorry, go ahead.

Jeff Thiessen: Yeah no, good question. I mean I’d say probably 60% of our business is actually handled by our customers as far as our import side.

Luke Peters: That’s awesome.

Jeff Thiessen: And so that’s been a huge blessing for us. We have had some insulation. That said, with the growth of our business this last year, we grew by 60% this last year. So with that growth, that’s not something that … I mean it strained every part of supply chain. But I have to say, our product team, led by Bobby Martin, has done a phenomenal job for us in flexing on that and then creating additional bandwidth to continue to grow. So certainly that was a huge help that a bunch of our main customers did pick up, but at the same time there was demand all the way across the spectrum. And we’ve expanded our own infrastructure here significantly in order to handle some of the demand increases.

Luke Peters: Wow. Congratulations on 60%. I mean for how big you guys are, just remember audience. You guys are in over 10,000 stores, many countries, many distribution centers. And from the last podcast you mentioned, still basically privately bootstrapped and funded with no large outside investors. Obviously a good bank relationship, you mentioned you’re with JPM last time, and good supplier relationships. That’s really hard to do that, to grow 60% with an inventory based model that you have, so you’re having to bring in all this and just handling that, so really good, unbelievable cashflow management I guess.

Jeff Thiessen: It’s been a blessing. I mean our supply chain in Asia has been wonderful to work with. We deal with close to 20 plants right now, and they’ve been great. We have a model by which we double tool at most plants on key SKUs so that if a plant has an issue, has an issue with personnel not coming back, with COVID or whatnot, we can flex to different plants. I think that’s been a godsend for us the last number of years. So that’s been very helpful, and some of the things that my dad actually setup and has implemented within the company.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and how many main SKUs do you have? Because that could be a lot on the tooling investment as well it sounds like?

Jeff Thiessen: Oh yeah. Core SKUs, I’d say we probably have about 30 core SKUs, but we have hundreds of SKUs all across because it’s [inaudible 00:10:37] business. We’re known for our pellet grills, but we also do gas grills and charcoal grills. We have a really exciting new launch with a proprietary covering for a griddle. Now that business has really taken off, so we’re super excited about that. But we also have pellet fuel, that’s a key part of what we’re doing, and then we also have sauces, spices, accessories. We just look at the entire outside grilling and eating experience, and how do we do it better? Where do we see opportunities and how do we provide a compelling value proposition? And there’s nothing that’s off limits. So many people want to get stuck in their lane and this is the only thing that they do. We just look at that whole outside eating experience and how can we make it better? We haven’t changed in the fact that we’re still, my dad, brother, and myself own the business. We don’t have any outside funding. Not looking for any, don’t need any, and we’re just very thankful for that. It’s a real blessing. We have no interest in selling the business or bringing outside money into the business because we don’t need it for anything. And that’s been an absolute godsend for us, so it’s been fun. We can also make decisions quickly. We can make decisions … I just had lunch with my dad and brother not more than an hour ago discussing expansion into Europe for example. We have a warehouse in The Netherlands, and how to expand what we’re doing there. So we can gain alignment very quickly, we can move faster than our competitors because of that. We don’t have to wait for the next quarterly meeting. I can walk into my dad’s office, he’s sitting a few feet away from me, and we can have a discussion and the three of us get together and away we go. It’s just been an absolute blessing. It also makes it fun. I love doing what we’re doing. And what a blessing that is, because other companies look at their businesses as financial instruments to just make money. We just like making great products that people interact with, and I think that authenticity shows through. And certainly I think the growth in the business probably supports that, so it resonates with other people too. It’s from our family to theirs, and we just take it very personally. We’re passionate about it and we’re excited about it. And like I said, it’s a huge blessing.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And pellet grills are a relatively new category, like 10 years or so, and obviously like I mentioned in the start of this, Pit Boss being I think your major brand in that category. And it’s an enthusiast category, which has got to be a lot of fun on the marketing end. What has worked in the last year for you guys there on the marketing end? Where do you put most of your investment, especially as people have really more quickly transitioned to digital?

Jeff Thiessen: Certainly content. I mean this is where we really are leaning in. Our growth of our social channels has been phenomenal. We’re just thrilled with how people are wanting to be part of the Pit Boss nation. Along with content is influencers. We have some great influencers like Willie Robertson, Aric Almirola, Rich Froning. These are people that have a lot of influence. A number of athletes. Patrick Peterson. It’s the type of thing that we’re just really thankful that these guys be willing to get onboard, and it’s because these guys just love grilling. A lot of these guys like grilling and they like the products and they interact with them, and so having those key influencers has been big, big, big for us. Once again, we’re the official grill of NASCAR, that’s continuing. And we’re going to do more and more activations within that sport as we feel the demographic is right kind of where we are at. And then, we just became the official sponsor of the Cornhole League. So it’s kind of the official grill of the Cornhole League, which is kind of a neat thing. And I think through COVID, I think we’ve all looked for entertainment in different areas, and so when cornhole is on ESPN now and we kind of go, “Who watches that?”, we we all seem to like playing it in our backyard, so-

Luke Peters: I’ve actually seen it on there, it’s so funny.

Jeff Thiessen: And it’s interesting because you actually sit and watch it, it’s very engaging. Maybe it’s a sport that we can all aspire to be really good at, I don’t know, but it’s been fun to get involved with that. And then strategic partnerships that come along, events and stuff. We’re doing the Johnsonville and some other brands. It’s not just one thing. It’s certainly a symphony. We are fully committed to growing the brand, making sure that we get our message out there of a superior value proposition. We base everything on quality and authenticity, so we want to make sure influencers, our marketing, everything comes through with that. And it’s open for everybody. We want to make sure that everyone feels they can engage with our products. And we’re not a political company, we’re just a company that loves to have people eat great food and enjoy great times. In such a hypercharged atmosphere, we just try to keep a real positive spin on everything we’re doing on the marketing side.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And Jeff, where do you find those influencers? It sounds like you guys are going for really maybe strategic or higher level engagements there. Is that just some PR outreach? It’d be interesting if you guys have any process around finding the right influencers.

Jeff Thiessen: It’s interesting. It’s a good question because people are interested in it. People that we’ve followed ourselves on social media that we just seem to like. Go back to authenticity, people that we would like authentically like to spend time with and that we feel would properly represent the brand. So we don’t use a PR agency. We do it all ourselves. We have an agency within the company basically. We’ve built out that muscle internally so that we keep our message pure and our brand message pure. And how we approach the business, that influence comes directly from us to work directly with all aspects, from creative partnerships, digital marketing, into our B2C, all of that stuff is in-house inside the business. The temptation very often is to farm a lot of those things out, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. We just want to make sure that we really controlled the authenticity of everything that we do. And so, keeping our marketing department in-house has been very helpful for us. And we’re blessed a great team of people over the last number of years that have helped us continue to grow that. So once again, great people that we’re just very thankful to have on the team.

Luke Peters: Yeah. And I think last time we talked, you had about 200 or 250 employees. Have you guys grown in any specific departments during this COVID?

Jeff Thiessen: Good question. Yeah, all departments I’d say.

Luke Peters: That’s awesome.

Jeff Thiessen: Yeah, we’re close to 400 people now, and we expect that to probably be in the neighborhood of 500 to 600 by the end of next year. But we’re also at the same time expanding our pellet mill operations, and that’s a very significant part of that growth. Along with our distribution warehousing network, that’s growing as well. And that’s not growing just here, it’s growing abroad. So up in Canada, we’re growing that. Like I mentioned earlier, in Europe we’re growing that. So as the demand grows, every part of the business is taxed and stretched. What we’re trying to do is challenge our leaders within the business to make sure they’re hiring above skillsets that they actually need so that we can continue to grow and grow aggressively.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that makes sense. And now on the sales side, we took a deep dive there in marketing. Last time we spoke, you guys were making some investments in online. You’re still extremely strong in-store, which makes a lot of sense for this product category. But talk about how you guys have adapted to online sales during COVID. Have you guys made any major shifts or investments on the online side?

Jeff Thiessen: Yes we have. We’ve certainly seen a huge uptick like everyone else in online traffic through this with so many people staying home. We’re a lot more strategic and deliberate about the products that we offer on our own website. We’re very careful to support our retail customers, that they’ve really brought us to this dance and we don’t want to compete with them. What we don’t want to do though is lose an opportunity to make a sale either for a retail partner or for ourselves. So we’re very strategic in not … We do have a number of exclusive brands for different retailers that we work with. We don’t market those ourselves. We market other products that wouldn’t compete directly with them, and still offer some value proposition to a consumer. So we’ve added a number of people to that team. We’re a lot more deliberate about that. It’s not just an afterthought, it is a legitimate sales channel. But certainly, the vast majority of what we do is still through brick and mortar, and we want to make sure that our retailers feel supported by us in that and not threatened by us in that. It’s very important that we maintain that trust. At the same time, like I said, we want to maximize the opportunity within the market. It’s been good, it’s a good adder for the business, but it certainly isn’t a driver to our business currently. That’s going to continue to grow though I think. Online is here to stay, even in a post-COVID world. I think the trend will still be towards online purchases. I know the way that I act now and things I would otherwise have gone to a store for I don’t. I still go to stores though, just not as often. So I think that behavior’s not just going to go away when things really open up.

Luke Peters: Yeah, but a lot of your content activities and social media and all the great things you guys are doing online, it still could drive people into the store, so it’s really synergistic even still with your in-store partnerships and just growing the brand overall. So both ways, you win pretty much on both ends of the coin when it comes to that.

Jeff Thiessen: Completely agree, but the E-commerce side of the business is different than the D2C side of the business. Although you could say they’re the same, one is supporting your own sales and the other one is supporting your retailers’ sales. And that’s why we spent a lot time, effort, and focus making sure that we’re strategic in how we approach items, and making sure that the brand message is consistent across all those channels. So consistency is extremely important through this.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Now with a growing team, like I said last time we talked you’re like 250, now you’re 400, you’re going to 500. How do you guys do strategic planning? Do you guys use a specific tool? OKRs, X Matrix, anything else, so that you’re able to get the message out to your team with the communication, and also kind of hold accountability within the team? How are you guys doing that?

Jeff Thiessen: Certainly everything starts with we pray about it. That’s probably not what’s going to teach you at any business school, but that’s how we operate our business and we’re happy to tell people that. God plays a pivotal role in all the decisions that we make. We pray at the end of each day for this business when we’re together, and that’s kind of the start and stop of so many things. As far as the business tools beyond that, we certainly are leaning heavily upon the team that God blessed us with here as far as input on how we’re making planning strategically. We’ve moved beyond a reactive process to a lot more proactive. We’ll have senior management team meetings, and the thing about it that’s interesting is because there’s three of us that are owners and basically founders, my brother joined us before we even got into barbecues, but it actually is amazing how much we can handle, the three of us, and then cascade that down through a really talented team of VPs and senior VPs in the company and C Level people. And so I think … I just keep going back to the same thing. It’s people. That’s how we get that message down. That’s how it goes through the company. And we’re just blessed with a phenomenal team. I don’t see any tools. There’s no fancy software that’s going to help you overcome not having great people. If you have great people, it’s amazing what you can do. And going back to we start with prayer, and we’re praying for good people and we get great people. The growth of the brand, the excitement around it, it’s been awesome. It’s been absolutely awesome the team that we have. It’s fun coming to work here every day, and I just feel really blessed with that. I don’t have a great business school analogy to share with people because what I’ve found in business, it’s actually a lot simpler than people think sometimes. I don’t say I work any harder than I did when we were a tiny little company. We try to work smarter and listen to great people that are around us, make sure we have good advisors in how we do things, and be very prayerful and pensive in how we address opportunities and challenges quite frankly, and it’s been the way that we handle business. This is the way we do things. It might be a lot simpler than some people think, but it’s awesome [inaudible 00:24:03]. This business, we don’t think it’s anywhere close to the top end of where it could be.

Luke Peters: Yeah. That’s a great message. And you keep mentioning leadership, and you have to have leaders within the company. It doesn’t matter what tools you have, you have to start with leaders. It sounds like you’re fortunate to find the right people, and then of course you got to give yourself some credit, which I know you’re a humble guy, but you got to be able to hire the right leaders, train the right leaders, and put the right teams together. It’s not easy. What about longer term? So how have your three to five year goals changed maybe after COVID? Obviously you have rapid growth. You’re expanding the brand, not just into the pellet barbecues but also into gas, into accessories and food and rubs and things like that. Anything different on the longer term outlook with the brand.

Jeff Thiessen: The vision has broadened I’d say. I think the worldwide opportunity I think is certainly at the forefront of a lot of the discussions that we have, where we see the potential of the brand and of the space. The interesting part about pellet grills in general is four or five years ago, it was under 2% of the industry. Today, arguably it’s between 17 and 20% of the entire barbecue industry in North America. And that’s track line data that’s available. So if you look at trajectory over the last few years, I truly feel pellet grill is going to be bigger than gas one day. And people laugh at that right now, but I do think that once you’ve experienced the benefits of grilling with wood pellets, and I’m not saying that there’s no other ways of cooking outside because we’re in gas, we’re in charcoal, and those aren’t going away. But the ease of cooking with pellets and the superior flavor profile when you actually grill with it. Our units, you can actually sear a steak, so you could sear a steak or smoke a brisket. I mean you have a massive range with how you operate the units. Now with the wifi controls as well, just super easy and convenient to operate. So I see the opportunity differently, much bigger, than I used to think. I used to think when we grow by 20 or 30%, there’s just no way we’re going to grow by that again next year. And I just figure God’s taught me the lesson the last few years is quit thinking small, think as big because if he’s for us, who can be against us? We don’t spend our time fixating on competitors. That’s not how we operate. We just think about how do we do the best job we can for our customers, how do we leverage our customer relationships, and provide more solid products for them. We’re I’d say probably the top five I guess in size in the business. We’re probably the fastest growing brand, I’m quite certain we are from what I’ve read recently in reports. And I think the reality is the sky’s the limit. So certainly going back to vision has been broadened through this, especially through COVID, and looking at economic indicators as things start opening up again, I do think that we’re set for a great year or two ahead of us as well. Now compound that along with pellet grill growth, and we have our eye set on the prize which who knows what that is, but the prize is whatever God wants it to be, which is zero limitations, which is the best in this industry. That’s what our goal is. It’s bold, but we just figure [inaudible 00:27:30] business, why not shoot for the absolute best and biggest in this industry? And not for any end game. People then ask, “Okay, what’s the number? What do you get to? How has that changed?” Well in the world of [inaudible 00:27:42] right now and guys doing IPOs at wildly overvalued companies and things like that, that’s not our goal. That’s not our interest. I figure God has never put that on our hearts to sell out and not work again. We just love doing what we’re doing, so what a blessing. That’s the other thing is through this is, and our hearts hurt for people that are going through tough times, but COVID has also given us a bit of we are so blessed with what we have and what God’s doing in the business. And it’s been awesome quite honestly last year in so many ways. And I would like to share my dad actually came back to work this week. He’s been sheltering since March of last year. He got the second vaccination, so we’re thrilled to have him back here, although he was on pretty much every call anyways so he was still very active in the business. That’s the other thing is I think COVID’s taught us to appreciate the hugs when you can get them because dad’s back and we’re thrilled to have him.

Luke Peters: That’s a great story. Well hey, you get to wake up every day and you get to work with your dad and your brother, and you guys got a great growing business. I mean it’s got to be a lot of fun, so that’s-

Jeff Thiessen: It is.

Luke Peters: Yeah, why would you want to do anything else? You’re in an enviable position for sure. Yeah, my parents, I think they’re 81 and 82 now, and they’re still working. They own a Catholic bookstore now, and we grew up making doughnuts, and they never stop working so they love what they’re doing. And people should like what they’re doing. There’s no reason to, it’s part of life.

Jeff Thiessen: Absolutely.

Luke Peters: Talk to us about key strategic hires. Obviously you guys are expanding. You got a great team everywhere. It’d be great to understand, for other CEOs out there, as they grow sometimes we expand our org chart. We’re like, “Whoa, we need to actually create this department,” or we don’t have somebody doing this activity, but we need to now as we’re growing. Has there been anything new that you guys have added to the company on the org chart?

Jeff Thiessen: We added a Chief Revenue Officer this last year. And a CFO, replaced the CFO over the last years, which have been great positions for us. I think we brought someone on the Chief Revenue Officer side that had a lot of retail experience, so understood our space, understood us. Number one with these people is the cultural fit. That’s really where we start is if we can’t get along as people, it’s going to be a real hard fit every day. We have a Senior VP in the supply chain side with products. The guy comes from Cabela’s background and brought a lot of big company experience, but just a wonderful guy. His name is Bobby Martin. And Head of Logistics Scott Wadsworth, these last couple years with us, comes from the Target background, so big business. Brings in a lot of maturity into what we’re doing, has been a wonderful addition to our team. David Ortiz on our Chief Revenue Officer side spent a number of years with a large retailer in the U.S. This is a type of bench strength that we’re trying to bring into the company, and then give them the freedom and the tools in which to utilize their skillsets. So I think that’s what a lot of us leaders I think that have come from a tiny little business, a ma and pa business, and it does not feel that long ago that we had 12 people in the business and we operated out of a warehouse. And my window was to the warehouse, not to the outside. It doesn’t feel that long ago, and God blessed the business in such a mighty way. But one thing my dad has challenged with is make sure that we’re hiring and hiring beyond our skillset. And like I said earlier, we encourage our team leads to do as well. And then the other thing is caring about the people, making sure that we’re paying them well, taking care of them well, listening to them, and letting them use their gifts. I mean we were in meetings recently, and if there’s a guy in Marketing but he has a great idea on how we can do order processing better, speak up. We’d love to hear it. We’re a very flat organization in many ways. The majority of the key people are actually in this location. If the door’s open, the door’s open, please come in. That’s the culture that we try to foster within the business. So we want to get great people, make sure we’re aligned culturally, and then let them use their gifts. There’s nothing novel about what we do except it all starts and stops where we pray about it. And that’s I think how we’ve been blessed.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well I mean you said a lot of important things there, and you guys are obviously a larger company now. But when companies are small, it’s hard sometimes to afford those right people. Like you correctly pointed out, you zeroed in on, I mean they came from big companies. And a lot of times they got that incredible training, and not only that but people who come from big companies have seen big numbers. And so when they come in to other companies, they’re able to handle the numbers or the team building, and oftentimes they’re very organized. And it sounds like you got those people to lead your departments, and you guys bring along the vision, which not everybody can have or is able to do.

Jeff Thiessen: I think you touched on something there, if you don’t mind, is they come from big companies, but they weren’t in love with big company cultural [inaudible 00:33:18]. And so this gave us the ability to give them small company culture back, where they could make a difference and feel like not just a tiny cog in a massive wheel. And we love that because we’re seeing these people just come alive, and it’s super exciting. I mean the head of our Customer Care, we used to call it Customer Service, Matt came in and he’s like, “It shouldn’t be Customer Service. It’s Customer Care.” Well that resonated with us immediately. Matt comes from GoDaddy, a lot of big company experience there, and runs our Customer Care department now and has taught us something. I love it when our people teach us something. Our CFO Jill [inaudible 00:34:01], she’s a wonderful woman. She’s done an excellent job of bringing maturity into our financial reporting side of our business, and thinking of things that we don’t think about and then bringing that as a new tool for us to use. I absolutely love that. I think another thing with these big companies is they come in, and like you said they’re used to dealing with big numbers which are shocking to us, it keeps us humble I think too. Just because the business is doing hundreds of millions of dollars, nothing compared to where they came from, which keeps I think our feet planted firmly on the ground and wanting to continue to grow. I think it’s been a very healthy thing with a lot of these people coming on board, and I can’t say enough about our team. Our senior leadership team here, we’re just blessed to have them. I’m so thankful they chose to be here. And it’s fun learning from those people. I think that’s the attitude my dad’s instilled in us. I think it’s super important for our growth in the future.

Luke Peters: Yeah, and kudos to your HR. So have you been doing this hiring internally, or have you used agencies externally to find these great hires?

Jeff Thiessen: The vast majority is internal, so it’s usually someone that we might know or knows of somebody. I’m just trying to think quickly on the team. I think two of those that I mentioned were using an agency. And we do use agencies from time to time. I’m certainly not against that. But it’s a hybrid I would say certainly. And the neat part about it too is you’ll have people that join us, and then bring other people that they’ve worked with in the past at one business or another that they like working with. And so I think for us that’s really gratifying because if they like the culture that much they want to bring good people along with them, not from the company necessarily that they’re with or if they’ve gone somewhere else, but people that they liked interacting with because they think they’d fit in with our culture. That’s very gratifying for us.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well, that is so true on that other point as well. You bring these great people in, and they bring their team, so it’s like a domino effect. And you’re like, “Wow,” you hired five people but now you’ve got 20 rock stars at the company because they ended up bringing other people from previous experience. And it really is a huge add-on. And we haven’t done it to your extent. We’re still a smaller company, but have done some of that. And people who’ve run billion dollar P&Ls and so on and so forth, and just the thinking and the leadership, it just makes a massive difference when they come into your company. So definitely would encourage everybody to think that way. There’s two lines of thinking, and sometimes small businesses or medium-size businesses owners or executives might think if they bring in this person with an MBA or this person who worked at this large company, they’re not going to be flexible or they’re going to be used to having somebody doing everything for them. And that can be true, but like you said, sometimes they actually crave that small or mid-size culture and the ability to actually make a difference. So it goes both ways, and it’s important for us business owners to be open-minded on that.

Jeff Thiessen: I can tell you the business is built on prayers, but certainly I couldn’t tell you … I know of one person on our senior … or I should say two, degrees they might have. I don’t care. If you’ve got the right attitude and you have some experience and you’re bringing something new to the table, that’s what we care about. And this business is blessed with that. Don’t get me wrong. I think having a degree’s a great thing and all that, and I think it shows a great discipline. But people that lean on their degrees that’s that the reason why you should hire them, probably aren’t the right people. If optics are all you care about, I mean that’s what I love about what we do is we have a very diverse workplace and it’s not done with a mandate of optics. It’s done with hire the best people. You know what? The best people come in add different shapes and sizes, everything else. It’s awesome to be able to hire that way, and the big beauty of it is it is from everywhere this talent’s coming from. And it’s not about what degree or what school they went to. Yes, they have to have the knowledge, that’s critical. I’m not saying that’s not important. But if a guy rolls in here and says, “I got three MBAs and you should hire me because I have all this training,” good for you. That’s not a culture for us. I encourage them to go look for a huge company where optics are the only thing they care about. But for us, it’s all about attitude. If we have a humble learning attitude, an attitude that you have the skillset and you can teach others with your skillset, that’s what gets us excited. We’re not owners that know everything. [inaudible 00:38:49] we’re owners that know very little. We know that God’s in control, and after that we want to be very teachable. And that’s something I go back to my dad, this is stuff my dad has instilled in us. He’s a wonderful human being if you ever get a chance to meet him. His heart is so big, but he cares about people more than … I mean I can’t tell you how important people are to him, and hopefully he’s instilled that in us as well. So I always keep going back to people. I’ll keep going back to people. Yes, you have to have a good process. But if you don’t have good people, it doesn’t make any difference.

Luke Peters: And they make your life a lot easier too. Sometimes it-

Jeff Thiessen: And you like being around them. It’s fun being around them too, yeah.

Luke Peters: Yeah. Well listen, it’s been great catching up again and just hearing how you guys have continued to grow just so fast during COVID. Why don’t we finish up here with usually I like to hear the best words of business advice, and you can share that, but what might be interesting is if there is anything specific on maybe the best advice or learning that you have from the last year just because everybody’s mind is on COVID. And some people are challenged, and some people are growing like crazy. But yeah, is there any words of wisdom or business advice you’ve learned over the last year that you want to share with the audience?

Jeff Thiessen: Certainly that God’s in control of a lot more than you think he is. It’s a humbling fact, but we can only control so many things. Do I deserve to be in the situation? No, I deserve a lot worse, but I’m very thankful for the opportunity. I mean I try to do the best with what I have, and then let God deal with the rest of it. And it’s very freeing for me certainly, not just professionally but obviously personally, and it’s been an awesome year. I’d say the one thing, we’re standing on my dad’s shoulders here, and it was really weird not having him around. So having him come back is awesome. The things you took for granted before, I got to hug my dad again after many months of not, which is very strange, and the things you take for granted before, I think has been an eye-opener. It’s been great though. And it didn’t happen overnight. I think so many times we get attention because this business has been growing [inaudible 00:41:10]. And I think where you started with this, we’ve been around for over 20 years. The thing about us is we’ve been through some real dark times. We didn’t know if we’d be in business the next day. God carried us through those. We prayed through those things. And when people say, “Hey, was there something that just flipped the switch and it was all the sudden great?” No, there was no just one day it was better, it was just persevering through all of that. And I don’t think that COVID necessarily taught us that, I don’t think that at all, I think it’s been just business in general. And that’s a theme that you’re going to get with probably every business leader that’s stuck it out for a long time that’s now blessed with success, is just sticking in there and just don’t give up. Everyone else will tell you to give up, just don’t do it.

Luke Peters: Yeah, that’s what separates you and business owners from people who haven’t done it. And it is a journey. And like you said, it’s not just one point or one inflection point. It’s all that sticktoitness and determination, and you just grinding every day. And you look up, and this is where the business is, this is what it’s achieved and where it is, and it’s a great story. But like you said, it actually can be a common story. A lot of business owners can relate and empathize with what you’re talking about here.

Jeff Thiessen: Yeah. And it’s been a blessing to be part of this. And I don’t know where God’s going to take it, but I’m just happy to be on board. It’s been awesome.

Luke Peters: Well thanks again for joining us on The Page One Podcast. Jeff, where can listeners find you or learn more about Pit Boss and your brands?

Jeff Thiessen: Www.dansons,D-A-N-S-O-N-S.com will have our links to our Pit Boss Grills page and Louisiana Grills page as well. So there’s information on our different companies, and we have multiple companies beyond that as well, but Dansons is kind of the hub for that. Dan’s sons is Dan, my dad’s name, and I’m one of the sons and my younger brother’s the other one that’s in the business. We actually have other family that’s involved as well. So yeah, if they want to check that out. The one thing if you don’t mind me adding is the other thing that’s a key part of one of the covers that we work under is we give 10% of our profits back to Christian charities through our Family Foundation.

Luke Peters: Oh wow, that’s amazing.

Jeff Thiessen: And the one thing that I think has been really illuminating the last years is a lot of young people, they’re good people. These young people are great people, but they’re looking for purpose and reason in their life as well. And being able to share that they’re part of a company that wants to give back, and we focus a lot on women at risk and kids in third world countries that need protection, and so they are part of this company that is also being able to give back. And that means a lot to people, and I think that’s been a bit of an eye-opener too even through these difficult times. There’s a lot of empathy for people, and I’m thankful that we have people in the business that do care about others and make an impact in this world, not just for a business. Yeah, so more information can be found at dansons.com about that as well.

Luke Peters: Well thanks for doing that. That’s really cool that you guys are tithing your profits. And it’s hard because as private business owners, you’re looking at those profits at the end of the year, it’s not like you’re putting those in your pocket. I mean you’re buying inventory, you’re paying taxes. It’s not a cakewalk. And then to give 10% of those away to help out those less fortunate is really, really hard. You know it is, but people who aren’t running a business, they don’t really understand how that P&L works completely. And I totally agree that especially in this day and age, hiring, and kids nowadays are very mission-focused, and that’s a great recruiting tool that you have there. So great job all around on that. That is inspiring. And I guess that’ll let me lead into my little ask here for the audience. Again, I’m doing something similar actually with NewAir, and so I’m putting this organization together called Vetcation.org. And quickly just so the audience knows, I’ve been doing this with my own beach house for like 10 years, and then one of the families is just telling me, “Hey Luke, you got to take this nationwide.” And so, I’m working with some veterans, and it’s a great couple, and then some other people are involved as well. So the kink in the hose is we need vacation homeowners who are willing to donate their home for one week to provide an amazing vacation for veteran families. You can learn more at vetcation.org, or you can email me or find me on LinkedIn. I can share more details with you. Again, thanks again for your attention on that, and I hope everybody enjoyed the interview today. I truly appreciate your reviews on iTunes, and I hope you join us for the next interview. Take care everybody.

Relevant Links:

Website: https://dansons.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-thiessen-42a75b2/


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