In this episode of the Physical Product Movement Podcast, we’re joined by Tyler Merrick, Founder of Project 7, a brand with a social mission to fund critical areas of need… such as hunger, clean drinking water, and shelter through their keto-friendly plant-based candies and delicious gummies.
Tyler uncovered his experience from “knocking it out of the park” with a pet care business he started in his twenties. Tyler then moved from that business to launch the more socially motivated brand: Project 7.
Tyler talks about his brand’s near-death experience and how he was able to perform a brand autopsy to figure out how to revive it, which meant reducing the number of SKUs offered to allow him to focus on a single product.
In addition, Tyler shares some important lessons learned the hard way from relying too much on brick and mortar sales and how COVID reinforced that experience.
Listen on Apple Podcasts here or Spotify here.
Ken: Welcome to the physical product movement, a podcast by fiddle, we share stories of the world’s most ambitious and exciting physical product brands to help you capitalize on the monumental change in how, why and where consumers buy. I’m your host, Ken Otjuka.
In this episode of the Physical Product Movement Podcast, we speak with Tyler Merrick, Founder of Project 7, a brand with a social mission to fund critical areas of need like hunger, clean drinking water, and shelter. He shares his experience about knocking it out of the park with a pet care business he started in his twenties. He then moved from that business to launch a more socially motivated brand which he called Project 7 Tyler talks about his brand’s near-death experience and how he was able to perform a brand autopsy to figure out how to revive it, which meant reducing the number of SKUs offered and focusing his company on a single product. He speaks about the lessons learned the hard way of relying too much on brick and mortar sales and how COVID reinforced those lessons, and how he moved successfully into selling on Amazon and D2C Tyler’s a really humble guy with a great brand and fantastic advice for physical product entrepreneurs everywhere. Enjoy.
All right. Hey Tyler, how are you doing? Thanks for joining me.
Tyler: Hey, I’m good. Thank you, Ken, for having me. I appreciate it.
Ken: Yeah. Hey, why don’t you, um, tell us where, where you’re calling in from.
Tyler: I am based out in Orange County, California.
Ken: Oh, nice. Nice. How’s the weather these days? It’s a beautiful spring here in Utah and how’s the weather down there,
Tyler: You know, it’s nice. It’s um, we’re kind of at the tail end of our, um, what, you know, it’s kind of a joke to say our winter season, but, um, so there’s a little bit of red, a little bit of overcast skies and a little bit cooler today, but in general, it’s it’s been, it’s been really nice.
Ken: Yeah. That’s that beautiful California weather for sure.
Tyler: Yeah, but you got some great mountains there and desert air out there. That’s a great area.
Ken: Oh, yeah. I’m looking at my window right now and it’s, you know, this is when I love Utah. Um, it’s warm, uh, warmish outside. Um, but it it’s snowed in the mountains. And so you just see these beautiful, you know, white mountains, um, and everything is starting to turn green.
It’s it’s my favorite time of year, for sure. Yeah. Well, why don’t we kick this off? Um, we usually like to hear a quote, uh, from you, is there anything that, that you could share with the audience, a quote that’s been impacted?
Tyler: Yes. Um, you know, the I, um, between him and my father, um, you know, shared with me, um, shared with me many times over the years and, and I’m sure that he got it from along the way.
Um, definitely I’ll be even take credit for it, but it’s just the quote of, you know, for, for myself or anyone that has. Pursuing, um, you know, a business and it has application beyond business as a parent, as a spouse, um, just in life. But I think if you’re an entrepreneur that has a really great meaning to you because it’s to remember that the highs are never as high and the lows are never as low.
Um, as you think, and just the perspective of, you know, sometimes you can find yourself, things are going really good in your business and you kind of get that adrenaline and that excitement around a really great sales month or, um, a new listing or something. And, and you can kind of start finding your identity and wanting more of that.
Um, But the reality is, is that that’s only part of it. Um, you know, it’s, it’s something not to find your identity and because we know that there’s stuff to come, then you fall back down again, but the lows are never as low as you think they are. So even in those moments where you’re so discouraged, you’re, you know what we’ve all gone through in different ways with COVID you can start to see some things starting to come back and things, it makes you maybe pivot and strengthen in your business and your direction.
Um, and so not to find your identity and either one, um, but, uh, to stay grounded in the middle.
Ken: I like it. I like it. That’s a great quote. Um, yeah. And, and, uh, any entrepreneur knows the, the ups and downs of, you know, the grind and, uh, the lows are never quite as bad as you think. And the highs he, you gotta stay grounded, you gotta find the middle ground and, and, uh, and stay grounded to the things that
Tyler: cause neither one were in the highs are never sustainable.
Um, and the lows, you know, you will get through them. So it’s just not pining your identity in either one.
Ken: Good. I like it. So, so Tyler, why don’t you tell us just a little bit about yourself and your background, um, where, uh, where are you, where are you from?
Tyler: Yeah, I, um, I am, I am from the great state of Texas and, um, I am, uh, the son of an entrepreneur and great grandson of entrepreneur.
Um, And kind of our DNA for many generations and of just trying to make something, whether it’s a product or a service and, and, and make a living off of that. And so I grew up in a, um, in, in the panhandle of Texas where not many people are from, but that’s kind of, um, most of the time when you say taxes, the references are Dallas, Houston, Austin.
Um, I’m up where a little town outside of Amarillo. Called her, which is the beef capital of the world per capita. So there’s more, there’s more cows there per capita than any other place in the world. If you can get your mind around that. So my house was out in the country, very unique upbringing. When I say son of an entrepreneur that only trains a very small part of it.
My family was in the pet food business. And so my home was on the homestead. If you will, where the factory was and hundreds of employees came to work every day. Um, and I could see him from my backyard. I can see him from the front. It was a very unique environment in that sense. And then on each side of the property, um, and then the factory, um, were huge cattle feeding operation.
So what we call feed locks, um, and there was, you know, 50,000 cattle to the left, intense being commercially fed to for the beef industry. And then there was 50,000 to the right and another, you know, 70,000 behind you. So all in all, there was over 150,000, just in my little neck of the woods. Um, so it was a very agribusiness, um, focused community farming, uh, animal feed, uh, I mean, and I’m feeding animals and commercial livestock.
So very humble. My parents started. My dad started in very, very humble beginning. Um, and just, you know, one by one over the years, a little bit farther and farther. And, and before, um, you know, kind of you blink, there was everything from, I tried dog food facility to a canned dog food facility to treat them, we made private label.
Um, you know, most, most of your listeners will be somewhat familiar with that, but just, you know, other people would come to us and ask us to contract to make their specific pet shirt, um, or items. So we did that as well as make our own. So definitely, um, not your average, um, kind of lay of the land for a neighborhood that you would grow up.
And, but a lot of neat things as a result of that,
Ken: Yeah, that actually sounds pretty cool. You, you literally grew up in the middle of, of it. So did you always think that you would, uh, you know, run your own business as well?
Tyler: You know, I think so. I mean, um, I’m the oldest of four kids. And so, um, when, when your dad’s office, you know, a football throw away out of your front door, um, and you’re used to going over there and plan, you know, around in his office and, um, just all over and being around him, I, I just really got immersed in it. And when I was, when you were, when you were about 10 or 11, for sure, my sisters by 12, but for the boys, by that age, you had to start working there in the summer. And so. You had to keep a summer job until my friends who are out, you know, doing normal swimming pool and stuff like that. We were working with everything from being with a maintenance crew that might be doing, you know, landscaping and painting fences and painting, you know, houses to, um, BNN, uh, a factory and sweeping the floors and, you know, making sure that the warehouse, um, you know, broken bags were cleaned up even being on the line at times.
And as he got a little bit older and filling up a bag of dog food or helping pack out of bark and treat, and then as I being the oldest, um, my dad started taking me to trade shows occasionally with him as we started to get in to some of our own, uh, branded items. I just really fell in love with the idea of entrepreneurship.
And so I ended up going to school and went away to Texas a and M and then after I graduated, came back and worked for my dad for almost seven years before I left to start my own venture. So yeah, definitely. Um, one of those things that I feel like I’ve always felt like I would do ran little businesses in college for the terrible student.
Um, we do a little bit, and this was on the side that I was passionate about. So definitely compliment, I think, from an early age with Trump.
Ken: Nice. So, uh, talk about, um, you know, life after the pet care business, um, you, you, you left your dad’s business. What did you do after?
Tyler: Well, man, that definitely spoiled me. Um, because I, when I came back to her for my, for my, my family, There was a little treat business that we had sold the mom and pop type stores. And I was going around, um, you know, felling, those treats to the different, um, independent pet stores across the country. And I’d be at these little small, uh, trade shows and I’d see this kind of trend of natural pet food coming up.
And so I went back to my parents and I said, you know, I think this whole natural pet food thing is going to be a trend, you know, and you guys are, you’re in a very unique position that we own our own factories. When a lot of other people are, you know, having a Komen manufactured elsewhere, would you be open if I came to you with an idea for a natural Pope with mine, would you be open to letting me potentially pursue something like that?
And so they were very gracious and said, you know, if you come to me with an idea, let’s take a look at it. So ended up, you know, uh, well, not too long after that kind of, one of those wake up in the middle of the night had an idea, route it down, started working on it, came to them with it and they were like, this is really cool.
Um, yeah, let’s give it a go. And, um, which was really unique. Um, you know, so I realized that that’s where they really backed me from an early stage of going let’s, let’s give it a try and let me take a chance. Um, but I say it kind of ruined me because it, it, it’s just one of those things as an entrepreneur, it was right place, right time.
Um, the whole thing just, and natural food exploded and the brand exploded. And, um, you know, as a mid 20 year old, you can start to feel like you kind of know what you’re doing, um, when that starts happening. Um, and, and so it was really growing at a pre. You know, record pace. And, um, and so I, I, I loved it. I loved that industry, but there was a part of me that also wanted to just, um, pursue some other, um, consumer product ideas outside of pet.
And so I decided to transition out and I thought that’s, you know, the playbook that had happened before with the tummy world, if I just do that in the products that I was going to go into, that the same thing would happen when I started that kind of like sprinkle water over some seed in the ground and explode.
And, um, I was definitely humbled, um, quickly and regularly of just how difficult it is. So it definitely. Just made me appreciate. I wasn’t like, uh, when I say we were, you know, it’s like one of those things that right place, right time, but also realizing sometimes some opportunities and tell people a lot of times you were born on third, he didn’t hit a triple.
Um, so, and I don’t mean that, like, it was not a silver spoon thing. I’m not a trust fund kid, again, very humble blue collar, you know, upbringing and, and the type of work that my family did and humble beginnings. Um, but because of those humble beginnings, all those things in place I got to come in and the infrastructure was there.
Um, and all those things lined up and it, it, it really took off, which you kind of forget that there was all that to became there that was you’re born on third, you know, scenario. So that definitely, um, Humbled me in a big way over the past several years of trying to scratch out, you know, uh, living on my own as an entrepreneur and make something work.
Um, and just, you appreciate so much more how hard it is when you, when you put your hands to yourself. Right?
Ken: Well, that’s a, that’s an awesome story. Um, let’s, uh, let’s, let’s switch gears a little bit to, um, the company that you’re running today, um, for, for those who haven’t heard of your brand, um, what is project seven and eight? What exactly do you do?
Tyler: Well, the, the, um, when, uh, when I, I left, it was because I was at this real fork in the road, um, professionally, spiritually, where I was trying to figure out, you know, what do I want to do with the rest of my life? And I was, you know, 20, I was 29 when I left. But I, I, so I was still, you know, very young to be saying, what do you want to do with the rest of your life?
But I loved, I loved the Petro industry, like I said, but I had also kind of, kind of began to load some of my own, some of my own doing. So what I mean by that is the growth and the success of the Patriot brand was built around, um, you know, this really premium indulgent Petra for dogs and cats. So, you know, making a California roll for a cat or, you know, a Buffalo stew for a dog, um, I started to be like, man, I mean, this was amazing.
We’re giving quality products for these animals, but I really wrestled with, you know, are there some of these dogs and cats being better than, you know, um, someone in my own community that’s down on our locker in a tough, tough position. And so I was like, do I. Can I do something else that could set it, just make more products that help a Yorkie on the upper West side in Manhattan, um, you know, have a shiny coat.
Um, could I, could I use those gifts? And another way that I felt like would have more purpose. And so I was, I was either going to go work at a nonprofit or a church or just get away from it all. And I, um, I ran into, uh, a guy that was coming through the town that I lived at the time and the people set us up for lunch and he said, well, do you know what a social entrepreneur is?
And I said, no, I don’t. When he told me about that, I was like, wow, that’s what I want to do. I can put the two together and make products and then help out nonprofits at the same time and have kind of that mission plus work. Um, Go on life. And so that’s how project seven was born was I wanted to start a brand of products that if people purchase them, it could be an ongoing revenue stream for seven different areas of need humanitarian areas of need.
And the laughing, you know, joke at myself as it was, that was too many causes. Seven is too many, but I was, I was passionate and trying to cover a range of things. And so they were basic chemo. I say, basic humanitarian needs like shelter and clean drinking, water and hunger. The goal is to be non polarizing issues, not red or blue state issues, but purple in that regard.
Right. So we came out with any kind of product that a retailer would take basically, um, to. Put on the shelf that would find a way to generate revenue for these different, um, you know, uh, charities. And so it was, it was a very random mix of products, not, not a very strategic one way too opportunistic. So it started to have its challenges after about five years, because it was, it was, they were too much like commodity type items.
Ken: Like what, give me an example.
Tyler: Well, like we believe it or not. We got into the bottled water business, which no one would want to get in the bottle, the water business. But at the time I got into it because there was a brand called ethos, which is a Starbucks. And, um, there were two guys that started when it was a bottled water brand, as you bought it, it drill clean drinking, water Wells.
And they had just been acquired by Starbucks, was there as an internal control brand for Starbucks and still to this day. And, um, so I was like, I’m just going to piggyback. I had met the co-founders. And so I was like, I’m just going to use water as a fundraising vehicle. And so got into water and we’re doing things like a caribou coffee shop, which is the second largest coffee chain.
And they, they put the water in all their coffee shops and then other places, airports, blah, blah, blah, and then randomly got into chewing gum and men and then coffee and t-shirts. I mean, it was all over the place. Um, and so it really, it really had lost, uh, purpose of a brand, except it was, it was a fundraising vehicle.
So what would happen was people would buy it at some of these retailers. We actually got it in, you know, at Walmart and target seven 11, but they would buy it and then they would just kind of move on, you know, kind of like, alright, I did my good for the day or I’m going to go back to the brand. And in the class that I felt like really the best in class, you know, and chewing gum or beverage.
So we were seen as just a pity purchase, um, and not really a best in class type product. Um, and so that’s that, that’s the first kind of answer to your question of what business are you running today and how did you get started? That was project seven nutshell. Um, and then what happened was, is. When it, when, when it started to lose some of those, I was losing these large retail accounts.
They were, you know, Hey, there’s a products, just not moving, you know, we’re sorry. We think it’s a great cause, but we’re going to have to discontinue, you start doing some soul searching and what I call brand autopsy and start going, what’s going on? What, what, how did we get here? What went wrong? And so I, I alluded to some of that, um, and the sense that we weren’t really known for something that was special or great.
And we were known just more as a fundraising vehicle. And so I knew that if we were going to have a chance of surviving, we had to strip all that way and get back to the basics. So I picked the one product, which is a really strange thing, but I picked the one product that was actually still selling decent for us and where we had the most.
Um, rapport with buyers and supply chain when there, which was chewing gum was so random. Cause nobody gets them a chewing gum business today, but I said, okay, we’re going to focus. We’re going to kill every product category that we’ve been in. We’re just going to focus on chewing gum and we’re going to be the challenger brand and come out with all sorts of crazy flavors that have never been in the gum category.
It’s been peppermint and spearmint. Um, and if we want to have a shot of carving out a spot on the shelf, we’re going to take a chance and do something like birthday cake and snow cone and cotton candy. And the list goes on and on. And so we still kept the project 70 and eight still, um, uh, move, but move to the giving, uh, to the back of the package.
So now the front of the package, didn’t say like feed the hungry. How’s the homeless heal, the sick, which was the brand. Um, prior to this, and now it moved to birthday cake and snow cone and cotton candy, and then the giving story with on the back of the package and that really reset the business. And, and we got our footing again, and we became known for all these really fun, calm flavors that were alternative to your traditional gum, um, you know, brand what they were doing.
And that takes us forward to the day of Gottlieb from chewing gum into some other candy, which we can talk more about, but that that’s, that, that’s how we got to here.
Ken: All right. So a lot to unpack there. Um, I want to make sure to touch on the point of moving the mission to the back of the package, you know, and even the way that you said it.
Um, I think a lot of brands struggle with that. A lot of social brands. What do you think that that changed, um, in the business and, and your perception to the customer when you did that?
Tyler: Well, I think that, you know, a lot of times, you know, obviously I get people that want to put, implement this kind of mission into their, into their brand and, um, and the heart and is absolutely right.
You know, a lot of times, most of the time, I mean a benefit of the doubt all the time. Um, but, but you’ve got to figure out, you’ve got to get back to the brass tax of consumption at the end of the day is, is really, uh, is one of the most selfish actions we all take every single day. Um, it is about something that I want to consume right now for me.
It’s self-serving so if you think about it, when you go, all right, where do I want to go to lunch today? And peer craving, you know, tacos or whatever, and. And, and you drive by a pizza place and a pizza place says stop by here and with your pizza order, um, we’ll give you five meals into your local community.
How many people are going to change their, their turn signal to pull into the pizza place because why they’re craving taco. And so the reality is, is that it’s really hard to get people to change a behavior that isn’t self-serving first. And so if you want to build mission into the product and some type of giving vehicle, you have to make it. The first thing is it has to be about a really killer product product that is serving a need state for some customer demographic and the cherry on top. This is for you first. And if you want to make it about the reds and your customers, second can be. And by the way, We plant a tree or, Oh, by the way, we give a meal. Um, but you’ve got to get them hooked on a product that is satisfying, whether they’re a vegan or whether they’re Tito, whether they’re, you know, gluten free or whatever it is. And that, that flavor profile, that product has to be really compelling and a really great product that will bring them back then that becomes repeat purchases in a sustainable business that can start to throw off some of the giving that you want.
There’s too much fatigue today around, Hey, go ahead and buy one of our products. And you know, we’re going to plant some trees. Most people just are like, I mean, there’s a percentage of people that go, that’s nice, I’ll do it. But the majority of people are like, you know what? I understand, we’re going to buy the best products, may the best price, the highest rated reviews.
And if you end up doing that, that’s great, but I’m not going to get the guilt. And to doing that, you should be doing that as you’re out in the corporate setting. Um, so I think that’s the thing that I would tell entrepreneurs first and foremost, make a really great product. Not telling you to like, not deny what you want to do.
If you’ve got a mission that you’re passionate about, but don’t, don’t lose track of trying to make the mission more about the product and the product, sustainable business. I learned that the hard way you just have fatigue, it’s kind of like the analogy I give a lot of times as it’s like, if you run into, you know, a grocery store or a CVS or a Walgreens on a Friday and you’re checking out and they on the, on the kiosks, on the prompt, you put your debit card in, it says, Hey, would you like to donate a dollar to children’s miracle network?
And so maybe you feel kind of guilty, you know? Sure. I’ll give a dollar, you give you add a dollar to your purchase. And then Sunday after I’m back in there for some bandaid, you know, for whatever reason you’re checking out and the dollar prompt comes up again, what are the majority of people do when they get to that prompt?
You skipped right past it. Because why? I think it’s some of that fatigue, know I already did it. Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s what happened. People kind of go, no, man, I already did it. Or I did it at another store across town. This is not what I was looking for here. Like if I was in a giving mode, I would go find and giving out to give it to, so this feels a little bit like a tack, a little bit like a social pressure and don’t get me wrong.
Kroger and CVS. And those places happened to, you know, raise a fair amount of money, kind of passing a plate like that. But when you, when you put it into a brand structure, it’s not, it doesn’t have the sustaining power. Um, if, if that makes sense, long-term because it starts to have to, I just want a really great product.
And if you do this great, but I don’t want to feel like I got to do this to unlock some kind of giving thing.
Ken: Understood. What are some brands that come to mind, um, that are doing this well, do you think,
Tyler: Well, it’s changed. It’s changed a lot. I think these things are running Ty calls, like, like fashion, you know, like fluorescent colors back from the nineties.
Ken: Yeah. Big, big pants are back in style apparently.
Tyler: Yeah, totally. I think we’re in a little bit of a Valley right now of how many brands, um, But it’s a thing, quote unquote, um, it’s happening and it’s happening in the background. But I think more of it is resonating with brand like Penn. And this was Tyler’s humble opinion, Ben and Jerry’s and, um, and, uh, Patagonia where it’s it’s, it’s not necessarily buy this to make this giving thing out, but there are brands that are using their brand as a platform to speak about social justice issues, um, the environment, um, you know, trying to pursue legislation to protect certain public lands.
They’re there, they’re there they’re fitting a certain tribal people that support their brand because. Not necessarily, you know, we planted three trees, but they know that there’s the kind of brand I want to buy and support. This is what I’m about. And so I want, I want to support them. You know, you back up six, seven years ago, and you had the peak of like a Tom shoe where it was Berry, you know, big like, Oh cool.
I’ve never been able to give a pair of shoes to someone holding out. We could go out and we have plenty in our calls that we can go and get them out. It calms me this really simple model that was just going to take care of it for you. And it was this, you know, outsourced giving thing. So I was like, don’t really cool.
I bought this pair of cool shoes and somebody somewhere got a pair of shoes because of me, I’m a good person. That was the peak of it, I think five or six years ago. Um, and there’s been other ones that have been, you know, social brands that have tried to make that happen in the food space. There hasn’t been a ton, like there’s a little one here and there.
Um, cause a little bar back SoCal project makes an oatmeal because back, um, you’ll see, like back with the gardening company, you know, went out gardening and schools, but none of them they’re there they’re very small niche brands. They haven’t reached a really big scale, divine chocolate because of slave free chocolate.
Tony’s chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, but people are buying those first and foremost because it’s a really great product, especially on the chocolate ones where with case call file preference. So I would say that I think we’ve moved from a transactional giving, um, kind of storm of brands that we had doing, stuff like that, um, to.
Activism brands that are, you know, like I said, Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia that are out there using their platforms to lobby certain issue and speak up on things. But that’s kind of the thing, I think people are more into right now, but they want to support more than a transactional, um, giving brands.
Ken: Yeah. Interesting. D the other thing that you, uh, that you talked about is, is how, you know, you looked at project seven, you did a brand autopsy, and I wanted you to describe that a little bit for those who may have a product that just isn’t moving, or they’ve been at it for a little while, you know, what, what, what goes into a brand autopsy?
What are you looking for and how do you know when it’s time to, to maybe pivot a little bit,
Tyler: Man, it’s hard. And sometimes you, you know, you’re so close to it that you don’t want to accept that there’s, you know, that the product has died. Um, the brand is, you know, has died. Um, Or it’s in a really bad state.
So, but you, you know, you’re, you’ve got enough for those founders out there, you know, entrepreneurs hearing this, that you, you’re not denying it when you’re laying your head down on your pillow at night, you’re waking up, you know, you’re getting an email on a rejection of a current product or sales on Shopify or down again, you know, that there’s something not right.
What if you can’t get there on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out to, um, you know, an impartial spectator, um, you know, whether it’s a mentor or someone in your space and say, Hey, I need some help here because obviously what I’m doing is not working. And I need to be honest with it. And so for me, um, you know, that autopsy.
We’ll look at it from a number of different ways. And there was truth. It was a combination of kind of getting there, um, certain things on my own, but then other people helping me out, whether an orange trail, other people helping me out, that sounds a little bit shiny. That can also mean rejection.
Ken: You know, it can be painful is what you’re saying?
Tyler: Um, you know, when you’re, when you’re being deleted from a planet ground, You know, nationally a part of it. Um, that’s like why, what, what applique here. Um, and sometimes the buyer will give you feedback and sometimes the feedback is, is good. And sometimes the feedback’s not good. Um, and if you’ve got a buyer that’s, you know, worker’s fault really cares and wants to give you some constructive feedback, um, then that’s good, but if you’ve got one, you know, distance and just, wasn’t a good product, you know, take that with a grain of salt and keep digging just like in an autopsy, nine investigator will keep pushing for more facts and go deeper and, and start to ask other questions.
Um, and you can try again without buyer to get some feedback, you can try the channels. So for me, when we did our autopsy, it was, um, Um, you know, how did we get here? And you kind of unpack that. Why, why didn’t it work? Um, and, um, what, what should we have done? What would we do different if we weren’t for going forward? You know, and those were, you can get much, you can kind of keep naming some other bullet points, but I think those three really help you, um, start to unpack a little bit of, what’s not right with the brand. And so what really important can is that at the, at the, at the end of that autopsy, you really have to try your best to say, I, I don’t have to save this product, or I don’t have to save this business. Um, and that’s going to sound counter intuitive to most people that the best thing you can do, though, in that scenario, if you really are dealing with the brand gas product guys is you have to have enough dental clan to step away from it and say, um, it may, it may be off the list. Um, and the idea is that I have to save, it may not be the ones that would work for it. And so I’m also at the same time going to, um, give myself permission to explore what life would look like if that happened. Would I go get another job somewhere else? What’s the other product that I would launch and why? Um, how would I fix it and give a little bit of room to breathe there? Um, that’s, that was the best thing that I can tell you that saved my business.
The back in the day was. When I took off the pressure that I had to save, even though the savings in it. And I told myself, like, no, I have to fix. If I have to pull it up, I have to make it happen where my wife and I talked and he was like, no, we’ve put a lot into it. And so it might not be the best way to put more into something that’s already a bad thing. That’s broken. It’s got a problem. We need to have permission here to be honest. And maybe we don’t, maybe we have a funeral and we move on. And so I started interviewing for other sales positions and exploring what life would look like. Um, if I did not try and turn the business around, and that gave me that took a lot of crusher off, but at the same time, he gave a little bit of space for me to, to dream.
And between those conversations with some of those people, I was looking at other jobs and that it was out of that. Not as much pressure to save it. Not as much pressure that I have to make this work, but the idea came for the crazy flavors and this unique package. It had never been done before in gum, which was a soft couch, get in your pocket and had a resealable zipper.
And so when I brought that to one more trade show, my wife and I both were like, all right, here’s the deal we’re bringing into this trade show. You’re no sends me off on the plane. And we’d all say either there’s trade show, the market respond to, you know, reinvention of the brand and let’s focus on gum.
And if we don’t, um, we’re not going to try and make this happen. We’re going to pursue some of these other, um, professional employment opportunities and went to that show in new Orleans. And, and had just an incredible response and retailers that had bought the brand in the past saying, yep, this is what it needed.
We’ll get behind it. We’ll put it in. So we ended up relaunching it. But, um, that, that’s an encouraging thing that I would tell people if they can, is try and try to create that space. So, you know, they’re not so too close up to it that they can’t see, you know?
Ken: Yeah. And, and of course, you know, everybody listening to this is going to think, well, easier said than done, right?
[00:40:42] Like this is a very tough thing to do. Um, but I think it kind of goes back to your quote that you started off with, you know, it’s just remember those highs and lows, you know, aren’t quite as dramatic as they might feel at, you know, at those different times. And you have to create that space, like you’re saying in order to be able to see things clearly and see a path forward.
Ken: Okay. Let’s, let’s talk a little bit about that. So you went to this trade show and, um, and you, you had a lot of interest. Um, what was it enough interest that it was all of a sudden, you know, you knew for sure you had to move forward with this, or, you know, some, some of the things that I think are really tough, you know, for a business, um, you know, facing these types of problems is sometimes you still have a little bit of interest, but it’s not like overwhelming, you know, it’s not a clear yes.
[00:41:35] Um, but, but it’s maybe a nudge in the right direction. And so you kind of have to see that. W w how was it for you guys? Was it, was it like a slam dunk? It was like, okay, this is obvious. This is the way forward. Or how did you approach it?
Tyler: You know, going into that trade show, I wasn’t completely blind. I had tested out, you know, with some trusted advisors and a couple of buyer, friends, and brokers.
So I knew there was a little bit of smoke around, you know, the, the retooling of the brand. So that going into that, going into that show, I felt like we had something unique. Um, so I would, I would encourage in, in the, um, autopsy, you know, as you start to rebuild of what you think is going to be your step out of that, to, to then pass that theory out with, you know, from different customers, industry personnel, you know, see if there’s legs to what you’re doing to what you can feel good about potentially going down that new path.
So I think that’s an important part in all this. And then, um, I would say that if you don’t. You don’t, you don’t, if you’re getting pushed back on those things and you’re still not there, you can be aggravating, but, um, just go, go back to the work table and put it up on there and start working and taking that feedback and then come back again to that group and see if you’re getting closer.
Um, and that you can’t just, I would just say in this particular scenario, you can’t just go with an entrepreneur because an entrepreneur has got me starting something I can back into work wall. And because there was never really a science to it and entrepreneurs crazy enough to go. I’m going to make this work owner dealing with a failed business and you’re dealing with, you know, a failed product.
You do need to get to more stakeholders to help you to see is there. No teeth behind what I’m trying to do again here. Um, so if you’re getting pushed back, don’t just bear down even more and be like, no, they had to have it wrong. I’m going forward with it. Maybe that works one out of a hundred times, but it’s also a dangerous path.
Um, so how does that make sense?
Ken: I think it’s great advice, but
Tyler: I think for an entrepreneur, the thing is, I mean, look army, sometime a person that’s an entrepreneur, starts a business, you know, create the product and they’re still using that same one today, 10 years later, and it’s still on it and it’s grown, but there’s a lot of entrepreneurs that started with one that had to pivot into something else.
And then the market changed again. And they’re the pivot again, like I had friends that were in the film business. During COVID moved all their business from the sanitizers. Um, and now sanitizers there’s billions of dollar stock. So they’re trying to give it away and they’ve moved back to soap. Um, and, but there were some of them that were like, we want to be in penitentiaries.
Long-term there’s a really good business here. So it wouldn’t have happened without that kind of challenge for me. My next pivot was we were making cheery gum and we had all these customers that were like, can you make these crazy fun gum flavors? What if you made them into candy? Like a really fun organic coming pair and licorice and all the cops.
So we started to do that when a couple years into it, we started being like, man, you know, organic it’s expensive, it’s a small market. It’s still the same amount of sugar. Still the same amount of carbs is this long term. Uh, now I will have a market to build a business out of. And is this something that is going to be beyond an impulse purchase where a like on candy?
Like I just, I feel like Ms. Craving right now. So I buy what’s in the store, the convenience store. We’re going to be in a really tough spot because we’re three times the price of conventional. So our on call down considerably in an impulse purchase, we need something that’s more, e-comm ready, then it’s more need state feed a certain lifestyle.
And so we started reinventing our key and either being low sugar, keto friendly clambake because we knew that we needed to create a product that wasn’t so dependent on brick and mortar, um, where a buyer found in the product presented before them and goes, I only have so much space guys. I’m sorry. I can’t put you in.
Now we live in a day and age where you can put that item on Amazon or your site, and go connect directly to customers that are looking for that type of product. So that made me pivot again and try to survive as an entrepreneur. Now that’s our bread and butter, and that’s where the majority of the business is that he was crawling at a time.
If I had an add-on, here’s a terrible thing that would have happened before this year. Chewing gum. Well, 50% of my business. Well, during COVID guess what took a 35 to 40% dive on the category.
Ken: That’s interesting.
Tyler: Well, people quit wearing people, quit chewing gum, wearing masks, um, social distancing, um, you know, it wasn’t, I’m not dealing with people as often.
I don’t need that. I just ate lunch, or my, this meeting. I need a fresh, new breath. I’m on this flight. You know, I just got out for the flight to whatever, as a category, you know, if you look at the gum business circuit, free gum being 4 billion or so and change in the us, um, and you look at it being down 30 to 40% of the category, you know, that’s $1.5 billion in a year, gone from people changing their behavior.
So, um, That sometimes you’re just going to have situations and entrepreneurs that you have to respond to the market and figure out a way to survive, um, and pivot. Um, and that’s, that’s all we did and it’s not easy, but I think every entrepreneur needs to be thinking about that, the market marketing is different today that gotta be agile enough to respond to it.
Ken: Right. And so what was the impact of COVID on the, on the rest of your business?
Tyler: Uh, I don’t want to sound like, uh, a sad story, but I mean, it was, it was awful, you know, um, the worst this year I’ve been in business, um, you know, it was, there was three things ahead. We were down 40, 45%, um, as a company and start all the same headcount cost.
You name it. Um, we got hit in three ways. The first one I just told you about. He’s chewing gum. The second one was, I was to, our businesses to reliant on what is called, um, you know, the front end checkout area of the store. And that’s, that’s the last per purchase point for people. We sold a lot of gummy bears and items up there that during COVID people just quit shopping.
Um, they were either just doing panic, buying and buying their stuff in the grocery store and lining up 16, going through the conveyor belt and trying to get out. Um, they weren’t lingering there. And Tom, let me grab a couple of other things here in college. Cause that that whole front end was down or
Ken: There’s shopping online, right?
Tyler: That’s exactly right. Instacart Amazon. That’ll the other one. And then for the fun, crazy thing that people don’t think about, um, for the ones that were in store. You know, for the retailers, they were really struggling to stay in stock, no toilet paper, no bread and eggs, the how Naples. And so they made a predetermined choice that they were going to sacrifice in stock levels on the front end to allocate those people resources, to make sure that those bigger items stayed in stock.
So even if you didn’t have people shopping in the front, they were, they were very, um, shop there. They were very, the inventory was very low, even non-existent because people quit. They quit restocking. I’ll show you tracking with me. And then the third bucket was I had a very good business in what is considered alternative retail.
So what that means is AMC movie theaters. Great customer size customer that I had worked for three years to get our candy in. And the first year we were in it and they shut down, um, and then REI Michael world market, all these places that were deemed non-essential retail. Um, and, and as a result, um, I had all this inventory that I was sitting on that I didn’t have a home to go to.
And so I had to lie it off on the product, you know, um, sell for 10 cents on the dollar. I probably was lucky. So it was, there was a very difficult, um, here, I, I still know people had it worse than he did, obviously. No restaurants. And a lot of those not essential retail and, you know, there’s a lot of challenging ones, but it was, um, it was definitely, it hit us in a big way. Point 25%.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s, it’s interesting. Um, I was in a sprout sprout market the other day and saw your product in there. And then I, I’m trying to think where else I saw it.
Tyler: Yeah. Got it.
Ken: What about Walmart? Are you guys in Walmart?
Tyler: We have some gum in Walmart in the back of the store. We have our candy or target at the front end.
Ken: No, I think it was probably target then, then I’m just trying to think of where, where I was. Okay. So you you’ve, you’ve got really good distribution. Um, you know, I’ve seen you in a lot of places looking at the store locator on your, on your website, you know, you guys are kind of all over the place. Um, what about the future?
What about going, um, getting out of COVID here and moving forward, um, what are, what are some of the things that you’re excited about? What are the plans? You know,
Tyler: I’m really excited about the brand pivot. We phased out all of our core sugar, organic candy, and moved everything into most sugar and keto friendly candy. And I’m excited about that because, um, I think that. It’s not a, it’s not a diet trend, cutting sugar out of guidances. There’s something that couldn’t be around for a long time. And I think the excitement around making really great candy, which we spent two and a half years and innovation to come up with ours.
Ken: That’s great. It is great. I have to say that. And I’m not just saying that because we’re talking right now. Um, my, my wife loves it. My, uh, I have a 12 year old boy who loves your gum, you know? Um, I just think you guys have really great.
Tyler: I really appreciate that. I mean, it’s, um, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a labor of love and not always feel I with every customer, but I think that’s when I get most excited about, and then, um, Finally, instead of trying to be so many things to different people, and that’s another mistake I made as an entrepreneur and a brand owner.
Um, you know, when people would say, well, who’s your call it core and you know, who’s your target customer and I’d be like, whatever you want. And, um, so now having a more focused effort, um, the neat thing is, is that we live in a day and age where you can take that, you know, directly online and you can build up that customer base and you can sell directly to them and scale.
And it’s not that I’m clicking more, but it is going to continue to be challenging for challenger brands, applicant, mortar, because you have to. Two locomotives, you know, that are bigger going up against one major, major brands, um, with crazy, um, ad dollars. So, you know, what they spend with those retailers buys them a lot of shelf space and loyalty on the planet ground, and they’re going to be able to promote and have really great velocity.
And the other locomotive is the rush by retailers to build up their private label, their own brand who gets pinched in there and, you know, the challenge of new ground. And so you kind of figure out a way to have another way to get customers. We weren’t, we, we did not have a very experienced online business for so many years.
Really too, depending on hopefully getting in that strike zone at the end of the purchase, shopping time tackle store, I think at the end of that cycle of the checkout, you would see our unicorn gum or champagne gummies or something and be like, Oh, that’s fun. I want to toss that in here. Now we’re going now let’s create a product that people want to buy in bulk and keeping their pantry and keeping their backpack.
Um, because it, it, it, it takes care of it. It meets a certain lifestyle needs state. And so, um, building out D to C and R low sugar innovation is what I’m most excited about.
Ken: Well, yeah, me too, because, uh, I’ve been, I’ve been low low-carb for a long time. I’ve been keto for almost four years, you know? And, uh, one of the struggles is finding, you know, a good, a good treat that isn’t going to send your blood sugar spiking, you know? And, and so me and me and my wife love your product. Um, one time Tyler, we, you know, we’ve been talking for almost an hour, um, just wanted to move on to the quick fire round. Um, and then we’ll wrap this up. Um, just tell me the, the, the first thing that comes to your mind as I ask you these, these next four questions, um, name one tool or resource that has helped you, um, in your career.
Tyler: I would say, um, Evernote Evernote is, um, an app that, um, is, you know, on both platforms, but, um, I. Use that every single day, um, for a number of things from project management to journaling, to, you know, ideas self-care, you know, thought cycles. Um, it’s helped me out personally for my family things, you know, with my children.
Um, you know, I got tons and tons of journals and notes and because of the, wherever I go through that, that has been a fantastic one.
Ken: Yeah. Awesome. Love Evernote. Uh, what, what’s a book that, um, that’s been really helpful to you,
Tyler: You know, I absolutely devoured shoe dog.
Ken: Awesome. That was a great, yeah.
Tyler: Yeah. I think, you know, especially if you’re an entrepreneur, you’re just like here. To hear someone tell some of the crazy stories, um, and you know, just the setbacks and, you know, the different, um, all sorts pills, uh, left turns. And I turned, I love that one. Not because like, everyone is going to turn into a Nike, but Nike just show up one day, you know? Um, and then they went through a lot of amazing, you know, startup challenges. And so just hearing stories like that, I also left out wires. Yeah. Yeah. Um, I think I love, I love to learn by story. Um, and so hearing those different stories and scenarios and, and observation the data behind it, I just, I eat that kind of stuff up.
Ken: One piece of advice that you’d give your 21 year old self.
Tyler: You’re not the chopped crap. No, I, I would, I would do kind of like what can follow them and setting Julie’s house, um, where he, you know, day would be the richest person, you know, uh, jumping those off about it up together. And they still wouldn’t, you know, reaches his material off and him looking back all that he had and just saying, you know, pretty much, um, I would, it would be hard for the 21 year old self to hear it, but just the wisdom to say that. The accolade of building a successful business or some material gains, um, a very, very short life shelf life and the things that will bring you much more from it, our family and people, and say, don’t, don’t get caught up in trying to hit certain numbers because one number will always move once you hit that number, you’ll want even more. Um, so that’s what I would, I would try to borrow some of that wisdom from him.
Ken: What is, uh, a brand or, um, who’s an entrepreneur that you’re keeping an eye on your following, you like what they do? Um, who would that be?
Tyler: There’s a, there’s a, there’s a couple of them right now. Um, I, I think that, um, in the, in the beverage. Um, say there’s a brand called Ali pop. Um, that’s, you know, reinventing soda, um, with less sugar and they’ve got a very passionate team and a fun brand around it, and they’re doing a really great job. And I think there’ll be an interesting one to watch in the beverage things. Um, I think, um, um, the food side, um, you know, there’s anyone who’s continuing to move inside of? Um, no, it’s like CSA has done an incredible job on the grain free Hispanic market, you know, from Chuck, you know, case out to Mexican wedding cake cookies. Um, they’ve done an amazing job of taking some of those costs and bringing them forward and. They are they’re they’re, they’re passionate. Their family has worked really hard, um, done a great job. Um, and, and those would be, those would be a couple, um, in, in the food and beverage space that, I mean, Oli has done an amazing job. That’s not, that’s kind of captain obvious now, but milk milk is still under valued at how big of a category it’s going to be. Um, just because it has one of the best mouse fields and experiences for all dairy products and a much easier product to grow, then, you know, almonds long-term. So I’m fascinated by it. Now all channel and then anyone who’s just cutting out sugar, um, across, across food, um, in different spaces to think personally, I watch it like a Hawk seen tremendous benefit from it, uh, probably longer than you want to hear, because those are a couple of off.
Ken: Those are awesome. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear. Um, so let’s, uh, let’s wrap this up. If, if somebody wanted to get ahold of you, what’s the best way to contact you and keep up with what you’re doing.
Tyler: You know, I would definitely connect on LinkedIn. Um, you know, from an entrepreneur standpoint, that’s an easy place to connect and obviously can message there. And you know, our conversation, our brand, you know, is simple on Instagram and social. Does that project seven. Um, and so that, you know, you want to sign up for a newsletter on our site products, that sort of thing. So those are the, um, those would be the connect from here, for sure.
Ken: All right. And, uh, any parting words of advice for entrepreneurs out there that are, um, grinding it, um, grinding it out in the physical product world. Right now.
Tyler: You know, I would just tell them that, you know, yeah. You’re just coming out of COVID and it seems, you know, it’s a tough, it’s been a tough time and there’s, it feels like there’s never been more programs when they’re out today, but man, there’s never been a more awesome opportunity to not just count your shop, um, contribute to your main street in your account. Um, you out the worldwide find your tribe. Find your niche, product and launch online there, don’t get hung up on getting the retailer. Can you have a killer story online and how great the loss please, um, you know, have your opportunities to do stuff in brick and mortar. Um, and so that’s an exciting thing. The barrier to entry, you know, it used to be, you had to get into a seven 11. If you wanted to get exposure by customers, you had to get into whole foods. Um, you don’t now, you know, there’s there’s, you can just bypass the whole thing. So that’s an exciting time. To be able to launch a physical product and do it online and just, you know, yeah. There may be some fatigue on amount of ad people get good. Think of other creative ways to disrupt and get people’s attention, but just be encouraged that this is still, this is such an awesome time to launch a clinical product.
Ken: That’s awesome. All right. We’ll end on that note. Hey, thank you, Tyler. Appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today. And this was great.
Tyler: All right, buddy, take care. All right.
Ken: We’ll see you.
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