For many entrepreneurs, getting their product on the shelves of large retailers is a home run. It usually means more publicity and awareness, higher sales, and less operational costs in exchange for lower profit margins. But today's guest on the podcast turned his back on retailers after an experience that gave him "sleepless nights."
Ethan Woods is the Owner and CEO of Grillbot, maker of the world's first automatic grill-cleaning robot, and is also a previous guest on the podcast, having featured in a 2019 episode. Today he returns to tell us why he stopped working with national retailers and rejected Canada's largest retailer, a decision that made 2022 the company's best year. Ethan also generously reveals how you can find a unique path to entrepreneurial success. You don't want to miss this interesting episode.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
Transitioning from brick-and-mortar retailers to direct-to-consumer marketing.
Growing a reputable brand using infomercials or direct-response TV.
The importance of constantly testing and optimizing advertising instead of using a "one shoe fits all" formula.
Building value in your business from the start, making it attractive to potential investors and partners.
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, click to watch the full video interview here!
Visit Grillbots.com to learn more about how the robot cleans your grill with one push of a button, and why thousands of customers think it is easy to use, durable, and makes a great gift.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare: Today's guest was in thousands of retail stores. Due to low margins and other issues, he completely changed his strategy to focus on direct-to-consumer, including national tv, and stop doing any brick-and-mortar sales. Since then, his sales and profits have skyrocketed. He shares the full story in our interview today.
Speaker 2: Are you looking for new ways to make your sales grow? You've tried other podcasts, but they don't seem to know. Harvest the growth potential of your product or service as we share stories and strategies that'll make your competitors nervous. Now, here's the host of the Harvest Growth podcast, Jon LaClare.
Jon: I'm really excited today to welcome back a previous guest, a close friend, and a good long-term client of ours, Ethan Woods. He's the founder of Grillbot. If you've been a listener of the show for a long time or if you've looked back in our archives, you'll recognize Ethan by his name and his product for sure. He was actually on episode 11, 4 years ago of our show. One of our very early ones where he talked about the launch, the early days of the business. Today we're going to do a bit of a catch-up. What's happened over the past four years, the business has been very successful, has grown, and been a lot of fun, frankly, in many ways.
We're going to talk about that success, and really what's driven it over the past few years, and get into the story of the product itself as well. Tons of great stories. Ethan's always a fun guy to talk to. I know you're going to love this interview. Ethan, welcome to the show today.
Ethan Woods: Thank you, Jon. I appreciate you having me back on after all these years. It's good to see you again, and catch up and everything, so thank you.
Jon: Absolutely. First of all, for those that aren't familiar that maybe didn't hear our podcast a few years ago, let's talk first about the product before we jump into the marketing. If you could just describe for our audience, what is the Grillbot? How does it work?
Ethan: Grillbot, based on the name, you can almost guess it yourself, but it's a robot that cleans your barbecue grill. Problem solves, so to speak. I invented it almost a decade ago, and have been marketing and selling it for a number of years now, and it continues to grow. It's very exciting for me, but basically, it's a push-button, one-and-done, set-it-and-forget-it device that cleans any type of barbecue grill.
Jon: It really is that easy. It's amazing. I've been using it whatever since we started working together several years ago, and it's lasted. I still have the original one, I've been using it--
Ethan: I have my original one. [chuckles]
Jon: Really? That's awesome. Quality's fantastic, but just to visualize a little bit for the audience. Essentially, you literally just hit a button with a timer on it, close your grill, and it runs around scrubbing. You can set a timer for it, et cetera. It's quiet, but it does an amazing job at cleaning your grill so you don't have to, taking away that [crosstalk]
Ethan: Heat resistant up to 250 degrees so you could put it on before you grill, or after you just turn off the flame. It'll clean a hot or cold grill. Picture it as a little mini Roomba for your grill. That's how people describe it. A little vacuum cleaner, but it doesn't vacuum. It scrubs and it's very robust and very powerful. I spent over three years engineering it to withstand the rigors of a hot greasy grill specifically. I'm very proud of the product. I stand by it 100%. We have hundreds of thousands of very happy customers.
Jon: If you're curious, again, as a listener, check out the website Grillbots with an S on the end. So grillbots.com. You'll see a video right at the top of the page, and in literally a second you'll understand exactly how this works. If you don't, just from us talking about it, you'll see some visualizations. I love when I look at the website, it's one of the very few videos where I'm actually in the background. [chuckles] We shot a video for TV years ago that's still running and doing well, and I could see me as an extra sitting at the table. I don't get a lot of those moments in the sun. I'm usually behind camera, so it's funny as I see myself on your website, but again, a great way to see the product and see it in action and see how it works.
Ethan: I was going to interrupt and say, enjoy it while it lasts because we're about three weeks away from launching a brand new website. It's been long overdue. [laughter] I'm not sure if you're in the background on the next one. We'll have to see.
Jon: Please, and our listeners go visit right away if you want to see me. I'm sure you do [laughs] in the background. That's funny. Let's talk about marketing. You talk about a new website you're doing. What else though? Really, what has been driving success for the business today? We'll talk about how it's changed over the years, but what's currently working? Had a great year last year and going into this year as well. What's working for your business today?
Ethan: Sure, last year was by far our best year ever. It really is bar none TV commercials. They work really well for this type of product. It's highly demonstrable. People want to see it in action, and we're able to demonstrate that in 30-second and 60-second spots on TV that we showcase all over the country, basically on the cable TV networks and so on. That has been the driver for 80% of our sales.
Jon: It's interesting. We've been with you on this journey a part of it. You've, of course, done the product and all the hard work, but we've been part of the TV journey and it's been a lot of fun. One really interesting thing is, I always talk about how the traditional TV spot still today, that is the workhorse that works the best is a two-minute spot. We learned fairly quickly on with your campaign, for you, the one minute does better. It's one of those things TV, like any form of marketing, it just takes some optimization, some learnings, and every campaign's going to be a little bit different.
Once we've figured that out, though, we're off the races, as you said, it's been working very well. Even a shorter campaign or a shorter spot, a 30-second spot works, which is not normal. I think in part because the product's been around for a while, brand awareness is higher, it's a later stage than a brand new launch for sure, but those do continue to work really well. Another question we often get is about longevity. How long TV lasts? Are they one and done? If you think about old-school TV infomercials, the cheesy as seen on TV products, I say cheesiness with all the love in the world because for the right product, we love it, and it makes sense.
When you've got a brand, a premium product that you're really building behind it, you can build longevity. The cheesy stuff, the gadgets, gizmos come and go. They can, I would say squeeze all the revenue out in a couple of years and be done with it, move on to the next one. It's the old TV model, but you've used it really well to build a brand that's been around for years, and like you said, still growing.
Ethan: It's definitely walking a fine line because it's not a cheesy product. It costs over $100 as you know. It's a quality product, so we don't want to portray it as some gimmicky item that's going to fade away. We've been pretty successful at really demonstrating that we're here to stay and that the product is robust and long-lasting and you're going to use it for many, many years to come. That's what we're seeing in the marketplace. I guess, just like I bring them up, but Roomba and those other automatic vacuum cleaners, they're not going away. People are going to want to push a button and sweep their floors. I have a couple of them actually, in my house. It's the same thing I think with Grillbot. Once you realize that you can press a button and get away from that dirty hassle work that people don't like to do and it's effective, it's not going to go away.
Jon: Absolutely. I'm glad you also clarified the premium nature of the product and of a TV spot. Ultimately, a lot of people think that, okay, infomercials are always cheesy because they only very narrowly look at a bucket of TV spots, but yours I would call, it's really a direct response TV spot. It has the same benefits, but it's more premium. It feels more premium to reflect the brand, to reflect the product, and that's why it sells and really builds [crosstalk]
Ethan: You don't want that hard sell on something that's more expensive. You want to just showcase the product, feature its highlights. I think also to speak to the 60-second versus two-minute spots. The simplicity of this product and how you demonstrate it on TV speaks for itself, so we can say a lot in half the time.
Ethan: Some products require, I guess a little more explanation, or showing more benefits to it. People get the benefits of hands-free grill cleaning pretty quickly.
Jon: Absolutely. Totally [crosstalk]
Ethan: unarguable. [laughter]
Jon: How would you say your business is different today than it was back in the early days?
Ethan: Back in the early days when we first met, and even before that, I was selling to everybody. I was selling to small [unintelligible 00:08:24] and pop stores, regional chains, and the largest retail chains in the country. I had to learn the hard way that that's a terrible business model, especially if you're just starting out in this business and you don't know anything about how to conduct business with major retailers. It was not a good experience for me. They basically lied sheet and steal [chuckles] and will tell you anything. It doesn't matter what the contract says.
Almost every single retailer, I don't care of the size, has Amazon accounts, eBay accounts, and they are reselling your products anywhere they can. It was a big eye-opener to me. What it does is, it floods the market with product and forces the price down to a point where it's not profitable. When I first met you, I was doing business with all these major retailers. I was shipping containers around the world, and I decided that I had enough of losing sleep. Literally couldn't sleep at night. It was a very stressful time, so I fired everybody, all the big and small.
I stopped shipping around the world, I stopped all of them and I decided I was just going to sell direct-to-consumer. In fact, I'm about to turn down the largest retailer in Canada. They have 1100 stores, they want to launch it there, and I'll do better on my own direct to consumers. That's the biggest change is selling direct to consumers now 100% versus in the past selling to everybody.
Jon: The world is different too. I think your business has matured, and also the world has changed. People are much more amenable to buying direct-to-consumer today, even than five years ago, let's say, for example. It is a trend that I see in a lot of businesses moving away. It's interesting for you to say, it is so hard to turn down business. Turn down revenue, but you've got to understand your core strategy as a business and stick to it.
Ethan: I made this decision about three and a half, four years ago and that whole year was pretty scary. We turned down tons of business and closed accounts and refocus our energies into TV commercials and social media and direct-to-consumer. Like I said, last year has been our best year ever. This year I'm expected to do even better onward and upward.
Jon: Fantastic. Right now we've got one core product, the Grillbot. What are your strategies for growth now over the next few years to continue to grow this business?
Ethan: My passion really is more towards inventing, not running a company. I've been working on half a dozen different prototypes of different inventions. Some related to the grilling industry, some completely unrelated to it. Some are robotics in nature, some are not. You can only do so much at any given time. I've narrowed it down to two that I'm working on. Unfortunately, I can't really describe them right now, but I'm in my eighth or ninth round of prototyping with the engineers, getting very close, hopefully. If I don't launch this summer, it'll certainly be a launch for the Christmas holiday or the holiday season would be the goal.
These things always take longer than anticipated. You think you're getting a final prototype, you get it, you use it, you look at it and there are so many things wrong and it's back to the drawing board, new materials, new shapes, new things, new functionality and it takes time. There's a lot of trial and error.
Jon: Yes, for sure.
Ethan: [crosstalk] somebody else.
Jon: True. Going through that back and forth until you get the product perfected. You're excited and everybody else will be, which is what happened with Grillbot. As you mentioned, it took years to develop it and now it's been essentially these improvements, yes, but that core product has been so successful without having to do major changes across the years. I have Ethan, as you shared with me, what these products are, divulged to our audience because we want to bring them out, but please visit grillbots.com in the future and watch for those in the coming months.
You're going to love these products. I'll pay attention for them too as they come into the market. Talking about the strategy, the reason for bringing out new products, A, it's fun if you're an inventor at heart like you are Ethan. Also, it's a chance to really grow not just a product, but grow it into a brand. You've got automatic benefits from hundreds of thousands of customers over the years that have bought and love Grillbot as a product. They're warm leads as we call them. They're much easier to sell a new product to, especially if it's in that same line. If it's in the grilling space in your category, for example.
It's a great way to grow that brand, build up the premium nature and really build up the value of your business over time as well.
Ethan: That's the ultimate goal of course. I want to bring up the value of the business, I want to become more mainstream and not be a one-hit-wonder. [crosstalk] right now and ever since I've launched, it's been a one-hit wonder and so it's crucial, this is the right time for it to start introducing new innovative products that nobody's seen before.
Ethan: I'm excited about this.
Jon: Absolutely. Likewise. Ethan, are there any resources that you recommend to our audience that have been helpful to you in your journey in growing this business?
Ethan: It's much like what we're doing now. Talking to like-minded people who think in this space, who are innovative and can think outside the box. I don't have a specific mentor. I do a lot of research on my own. I love reading and investigating anything from the proper way to handle patent protection, not just in the US but around the world, certification. Many times when I'm conducting business, people ask me if I'm a lawyer because I read the fine print and I'm not. [chuckles]
I would say educate yourself as much as you can. There's an enormous amount you can glean from the internet obviously. Talking to people in the business and out of the business who have some experience in the area that you want to pursue is very helpful. Be careful there's a lot of sharks out there, a lot of people who are either envious or jealous or want to see you fail. There's a negative aspect to it as well, which has been a little disappointing. You have to learn along the way to take the lessons and the advice with a grain of salt.
Jon: Agreed. Absolutely. Sometimes as a business owner, inventor, it feels lonely. You are at the helm, you're making decisions and sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad as you learn along the way. I think also one benefit of reaching out to a network or finding the right people carefully, vetting them, et cetera, you start to not feel as alone. You realize others have gone through some similar issues and you can learn from those as well and just watch out for the sharks as you do so. There's a lot of information [crosstalk]
Ethan: [crosstalk] we don't trust anybody.
Jon: True. Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would be helpful for our audience?
Ethan: I would say whether you're an inventor or you just want to start a brand new business, I would say the biggest mistakes I made were going it alone. I didn't take on partners early on and by the time I launched the product and was in a better position to take on partners, all of them wanted the upside and none of them wanted the risk. I've had about 15, 20 offers over the years to partner with me, to buy the company, whatever. In every instance, it was the same scenario where they get no risk, but all the reward.
After spending so much money, my own dollars bringing this to where it is now, I'm not going to hand over the firm unless they bring something to the table that's almost a certain guarantee. If it's not going to be cash on the table, it better be an outlet into a major distribution or something of value that would catapult us into the next level. Be careful launching on your own, the dollars in the budget, triple it, quadruple it, do anything you can to increase what you think it's going to cost you because I guarantee you it'll cost a lot more money than you're expecting it to. Those were my parting gifts to you right now.
Jon: That's great advice. A lot of people that have product businesses look for the eventual exit. Acquisition type strategy. That can be a great way to bring value out of your business. As you mentioned, so many of those and other types of partners may come in and do a deal where it's an earnout, for example, where they want to share profits with you long term, but in the meantime, you're out of the business. You have no control, et cetera, so you go looking for that cash.
Ethan: [crosstalk] thinking about what they're going to do with it.
Jon: Yes, exactly. Looking for that upfront cash for all the work and time and money you put in the business. That's great advice. I do want to encourage our audience, please visit grillbots.com. Check out Ethan's line of products. It's amazing what he's done with this. Check out the business. If you don't have one already, if you grill really ever, you're going to love this product. How easy it makes the cleanup process before or after you grill every time so you no longer have to think about it and you've got a clean surface to now grill on without the effort. Ethan, thanks again for your time. I really appreciate it today.
Ethan: Jon. I really appreciate it. I'm excited to work with you again and shooting some brand new Grillbot commercials and getting that on the airwaves soon, so thank you.
Jon: Thank you. Likewise. Very excited. Be sure to visit grillbots.com to learn more. Also, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode, you want to learn how you can profitably grow your consumer products business, please subscribe to our show. Or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak with a member of the Harvest Growth team in a free consultation to learn the process that has worked for hundreds of businesses like Grillbot since 2007.
[00:18:18] [END OF AUDIO]