Today we are joined on the podcast by Bob Thorsen, Co-founder and inventor of the Little Burros's products, and Mollie Thorsen, Chief Operating Officer at the Little Burros. Over the years, our guests have built their business into a success and have sold their product in major retail stores. They did this by ignoring generic, conventional e-commerce advice and designing a unique strategy that fits their business model. Join us now to see why they prefer selling on Amazon to their website and how they got into some of the most known retail stores.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
How to get your product into thousands of brick-and-mortar retail stores.
How generic advice can hurt your business, and what to do instead.
How your values and choices can positively impact your business.
Why mentorship can accelerate business success.
And so much more!
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Or, click to watch the full video interview here!
If you love the idea of having your drinks, cell phone, garden handle tools, and other essentials organized in one place and readily accessible while you work outdoors, then you need the Original Little Burro or Burro Buddy. Visit LittleBurros.com, or search for the Original Little Burro or the Burro Buddy on Amazon.com, Walmart.com or at your favorite retailer.
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 LeClare: Today's guests brought their product line into thousands of Walmart, Lowe's, and Ace Hardware brick-and-mortar stores and also grew their business on Amazon and other online retailers. If you're looking to grow your product sales in online or physical retail, then you'll love this interview.
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 LeClare.
Jon: I'm so excited to have on the show with us today, Mollie and Bob Thorsen. Now they are the inventor. Bob is the inventor and co-founder of littleburrows.com. We're going to talk about their product, really cool product that's had great success, we'll talk about their story along the way, and then his daughter, Mollie, is also on the interview with us. She's the Chief Operating Officer of the company. They've got, again, great story to share with you today so please listen in and I'm sure you're going to really enjoy this. Mollie and Bob, welcome to the show.
Bob: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Jon: Again, thanks for taking the time. Let's jump in and talk first about what is the Little Burros. You've got a couple of products under that, under the Little Burros branding. What's the main product? What does it do?
Mollie: Yes, we have two products. What we started with was the original Little Burros which is a garden tray that sits over your wheelbarrow holding your long-handle tools, your short-handle tools, your drinks. It also holds your like seeds, your sunglasses, your keys. What we made fits onto a 4, 5, 6, and 7-cubic-foot wheelbarrow. We have that second version which is a smaller version and really is our best seller. It's called the Burro Buddy. It's a garden tray that sits over your wheelbarrow and it organizes all your tools so you make less trips running back and forth.
You keep everything at waist level, you keep everything organized and it's really just like a garden game changer. You just save time and you get to spend more time doing what you love which is gardening and less time doing what you hate which is running back and forth and wasting time.
Jon: How did you originally come up with this idea? Some of the best ideas obviously are the ones that we look at and like of course why didn't I think of that? We should have this, it should have been thought a long time ago but it wasn't until you so what made you really spawn the idea originally?
Bob: Yes, thank you for the question. I was working with my wife in the garden, and she would have her cell phone outside and her cup of iced tea and a bottle of water and gloves, and all these things. As she would work around the house, she would say, Bob, where's my, where'd I leave this? Where'd I leave that? I'd say, okay, it's in the front yard, I'll go get it and bring it to her. I was constantly looking for things that she was leaving as she was gardening. The idea occurred to me maybe we could come up with something that would sit on the wheelbarrow and hold all these things in place.
So she would just move the wheelbarrow around with her. I made a cardboard with duct tape prototype and showed it to my family and they said, dad, this is a great idea keep researching it. That's how it started.
Jon: Love it. I'm sure you've got a lot of personal experiences, but you guys have had some great success along the way as well both in retail and online and we'll dive into some more specifics later on in that. Have you heard any stories coming back in from customers how this has changed their gardening? A lot of times you get great reviews and just interactions with customers to see how you've changed their lives or at least their gardening for sure along the way. Any interesting stories along the way?
Mollie: We get a lot of interesting stories. We get a lot of interesting emails especially we are on Shark Tank and we had the most phenomenal I'm not going to say fans because we don't have fans but the most phenomenal feedback from just viewers of Shark Tank. I think my favorite one and dad can go into his if he wants but we had been going to a buyer's meeting for years for a pretty big hardware company. For years they said, no, we're not going to put it in store. We're not going to put it in store.
Then one day I get an email from that buyer and he said, Mollie, I was out building a fence and I had to run back and get my shovel, I had to run back and get the fence post and I had to run back and get the bag of cement. He said I needed a Burro Buddy. From then on I knew that we need you in stores and he invited us back and put us on shelves next year. Just seeing that buyer go out and use these tools and realize that there is a simpler way and now that he knew about it he really wanted to have that product and give it to his customer.
For me, that was probably one of the most interesting stories. Honestly, it really warms my heart to see it. I see it on a lot of wedding registries. I see it on baby shower gifts so just seeing people going through these new phases of lives and wanting the Burro Buddy to be one of those gifts that they received during that, that's probably my favorite as well.
Jon: Both great stories or types of stories I guess. The retailer reminds me. My background was some of the early days of OxiClean years ago and we had something similar happen to us where it was the buyer's wife of Sam's Club back in the day that had heard about the infomercial for OxiClean, tried the product, loved it, and same thing so went back to her husband and said, why don't you have this product so we can buy it locally and our Sam's Club? That was a part of the spawn or the initial direction of the company in terms of retail that went on to great success after that.
Likewise, for you, you've grown your retail presence beyond since that point. Can you talk about what brick and mortar retailers you are currently in?
Mollie: Yes, so right now we're in select, Ace, and True Values as well as Do It Best and Select [unintelligible 00:06:39] We're also in Menards, Fleet Farm. We are in Lowe's and we are in Walmart.
Jon: Fantastic. What was the first retailer? Sometimes that's the hardest to get. Once you get a success story, it becomes a little bit easier to get into other retailers. What was the first big retailer that you would consider a success?
Mollie: I think our first purchase order ever and this wasn't a brick-and-mortar retailer but it was a catalog was Plow & Hearth. I love our buyer at Plow & Hearth. I see them at every show and it was just so big for us because it was the first purchase order we ever received. It's not a brick-and-mortar but they were our first ones ever and that was about seven years ago. We were just so happy. What about you?
Bob: I think the first brick-and-mortar large one was probably Target. We got into Target and we were across the country in their stores and that was exciting to see.
Jon: That's great. Both big brand names in their own regard. Maybe there's a similar answer to this question for both the online or magazine as well as the brick-and-mortar retailer. What do you think helped you most to get into store or into their catalog?
Mollie: There [unintelligible 00:08:17]
Jon: Hard question.
Mollie: I'm going to say and I know dad will have his but I'll say perseverance.
Mollie: I think looking at our journey with Walmart and our journey with Lowe's, we've been meeting with these buyers for over six years, and every year we went back and every year we listened to their feedback, changed the packaging, changed the amount that are in the selling case like changed little aspects. Everything from like placement of UPC codes, like every feedback they gave us we took into consideration and just changed it as much as we could to make it the best version of itself and not just their feedback but also the consumer feedback.
Listening to reviews and honestly, that's how our second product the Burro Buddy came into play because we listened to our first product was a little bit too big for some of the consumers so we shrinked it down and made the Burro Buddy which is our best selling out of the two and just persevering, being able to take advice and being able to take that advice and use it to improve your product is something that I think has made a huge difference in getting into those retailers.
Bob: Yes, Jon, that's exactly right. I would just second what Mollie said is perseverance, listening to feedback. The original Little Burro we heard that it was taking up too much floor space or shelf space, and the retailer's price point was a little too high. We came up with the Burro Buddy, which is fine-tuned. We haven't been able to improve on the Burro Buddy, but it took the first step of coming up with the original Little Burro, listening to the feedback, being persistent like Mollie said. That's what I would recommend to your listeners that you don't give up.
Jon: I love that. It's a common answer. Especially when dealing with retailers, it takes that perseverance of just working at it, keep trying. It's rare that you hear, "Oh, they called me up because they saw it somewhere. That does happen, as you mentioned. Sometimes you get that story, but a lot of them, it just takes time, effort, pushing, and then comes the success, whether that's in brick and mortar, whether that's in online, or really any form of the business. I love how you talked, both of you, about, the other word was listen. That's listening to customers. Absolutely.
Also being open to listening to retailers. They do know their customer very well and their customer might be different from your direct-to-consumer customer that you're selling on Amazon or through your own website, or what have you. It is listening to their feedback and not just doing it as, "Okay, they told me to do it so I have to do it." Realizing that they know their customer. Sometimes I've seen a lot of success stories, you probably have as well where you learn something from your retailer, you make a change, packaging or whatever it might be, and then you implement that across other retailers or on your own website or on Amazon, and also see growing results there too.
Being able to realize when you're an inventor, you have ownership. You came up with this amazing idea, you created it, but it's okay and really helpful to listen to others to continue to help improve it along the way. That's another great point to bring up. Let's shift gears and talk about online as well. You have a lot of success on the retail side, both brick and mortar catalog, et cetera. How about online? Where are you successful or where are you seeing revenues come in, in the online world?
Mollie: Online is such an interesting portal for us because when we started out this business and with this product 10 years ago, online was never our end goal. Our end goal was always brick and mortar. Especially with such a large product, you never really-- 10 years ago, shipping was a total different ballgame. Shipping was a lot higher of an expense than it is now. Really in the past five years, we've really focused on building an online strategy and building out our product for online as well as brick-and-mortar. I think our greatest success has been on Amazon. Even then, it's been really a trial and error with Amazon.
For a lot of people, going with Amazon Prime is the way to go, but our product is so large that the storage fees for Amazon Prime really wasn't beneficial for us. Looking at that Amazon seller fulfilled, that's where we have found our niche in the Amazon sphere if you will. I think that would probably be our number one. We love walmart.com. As we mentioned, we're in-store at Walmart too, so finding those outlets where we have both an online presence and an in-store presence is really great because that allows us to have that dual-purpose marketing. We love our Amazon platform. If you're listening, you can go find us the Burro Buddy on Amazon.
Jon: Just search for the Little Burro or the original Little Burro or the Burro Buddy to find your products on Amazon.
Bob: Jon, I'd like to expound on that a little bit, is that we didn't want a warehouse and fulfill ourselves. In other words, we didn't want to have it where people come to our website and buy directly from us. We wanted to direct them to Amazon or to Walmart or to Lowe's, to open up the brick-and-mortar. That's, I think something I want your audience to understand that. Some of the times when you take all the orders yourself and fulfill them, and you don't push them through the other stores, you may be hurting yourself in the long run because the brick and mortars stores look at how your product's selling through their website, through their portal to determine if they want it in their stores.
That was a strategy we had to throw as much through Lowe's and Home Depot and Walmart as we could, and it worked. They saw it was selling well and they said, "We'd like to get it in the store." I would just have your audience keep that in mind if they're planning to do this. Just don't jump all in on fulfilling it yourself without giving it a lot of thought.
Jon: Yes, great point.
Mollie: I think just to go further into what dad was saying because that is a really good point. I'm glad you said that. When we were building out all of this too, every little thing comes into play. Even when we're selling on Amazon, your searchability is so much higher on Amazon than it can be on your own website. Just looking at other things that can be boosters for your sales in other areas and looking at it as a whole rather than just online, it really is beneficial to have a robust strategy and not just selling online and one portal.
Jon: Great points. We've helped launch hundreds of products in the last 16 years, and one thing I've learned is every launch is different. I love how you talked about Amazon, for example, where the comment, if you Google, how do I best sell on Amazon, Amazon Prime is the answer, in a blog. If you read through, you think, "That's the right thing for me." Maybe that is right for 80% of businesses or whatever, but there are different reasons. Make sure that you understand your own business strategy.
For you guys, because of the size of the product, seller fulfilled made a lot more sense, and it's different how you're going to take it to market on Amazon and in other channels than another product might be. Realizing that there is no standard answer that works for everything, it's about finding the right strategy for your own product to lead to success. I also love, and I wouldn't reiterate for our audience, the thought of the strategy of starting with success online. It's not easy, but it's a lot easier to get onto walmart.com with a product than it is to get into the brick-and-mortar stores, but it's a great stepping stone.
Showing success there, as you said, can lead to getting into and seeing success in the brick-and-mortar stores. Very similar to driving traffic to your own website. You can do a marketing campaign, paid campaigns, PR, et cetera, that drive traffic to Amazon, to walmart.com, to other online retailers that can then, like you said, think long term in the strategy, if your goal is to get into brick and mortar retail stores as well.
Mollie: Even things that you don't initially think about, but when you're not fulfilling or when you're fulfilling from all these different websites, like using your shipping and getting that volume shipping discount rather than using the Amazon Prime shipping can help you get lower shipping discounts on different websites. Just little nuances that really can make a huge difference in your profit and in your margins. Just really paying attention to those, and like you said, customizing them to your product and to your company rather than just a blanket statement that most people go by is a good idea.
Jon: Well said. One of the things I love about your story as well is that you give back. Can you talk a little bit about the organization that you, from your business provide funds to and help support?
Mollie: Yes. We are really passionate. One, when dad thought of this concept and when he presented it to all of us kids. Originally us five. Dad's had five kids, I'm the youngest, and then my sister Becca and my three older brothers. We knew that if this product was to go to market and go into production, it would 100% have to be made in the USA because just as ethics as a family, that's always been the backbone of not just giving back to the American economy, but supporting American jobs and ethical labor as well. We knew that if we had a product made in the United States, we would never have to wonder about where this material was sourced from or anything surrounding labor trafficking.
As a part of our company, we give back to A21, which is a global anti-trafficking organization that battles human trafficking all around the world, including here in the United States. We started our efforts in giving back when my sister Becca passed away. She was a phenomenal woman, she was our CFO at the time, and she was just a heart of justice and had compassion for-- I like to say the good, right, and real things of the world. When we were giving back, we knew that this wouldn't be a really obvious choice for us. We've been able to give back to A21 for seven years now and we've held a walk in Washington DC every year in her honor and have had thousands of people walking with us.
Through that walk have raised over a quarter of a million dollars in the past seven years.
Mollie: We're really proud of our work with them and see a huge difference being made and we love that every person who buys a Little Burro and a Burro Buddy gets a card on the back that says you're supporting A21 in honor of Becca Thorsen. I can tell you some of the greatest joy and peaks in my career of working for Little Burros has been knowing that tens of thousands of people are getting a product that has my sister's name on the back and has, "You're supporting A21" on the back too. For us, it's never just been about building a brand and making a bunch of money. It's about being a part of the community and doing what we can with what we have.
Bob: Well said.
Mollie: Okay. [laughs]
Bob: Well said.
Jon: Thank you for sharing that story. I think a lot of people talk about giving to get, not in a negative sense, but as we give of ourselves, of our companies, of our time, our money, our resources, more comes back to us and that's a great benefit. The most successful people that I see, they give from their heart and you'll get from it. I'm sure this has helped grow your company, but there's a difference when it's the why. When you have a personal why behind what you're doing, as customers of your company we admire you.
We seek it out and it's a positive experience for us, and we buy more. It's a great benefit, but it isn't the why. It's about finding the right purpose behind your giving, whatever that might be. This is a personal story that fits for you and your brand and I believe every company should find their own personal story that they should really get behind that means something to them, and it's going to mean something to the customers and people that follow them as well and really the most important, it gives you the chance to really give in a big and meaningful way. Thank you for that story. That's fantastic. Are there any resources that you guys recommend that have been really helpful to you as a business?
Mollie: Unfortunately, for the audience listening, my number one resource has been my dad. [laughter] I can't--
Jon: What's your phone number?
Mollie: No, I can't. You can maybe email him maybe on our website, but my dad would be my biggest resource. Dad's been an entrepreneur all his life, and I grew up watching him in a family business aspect, and I learned everything from him. He's been my biggest resource that he has lots of good advice. Let's hear. [laughs]
Bob: I learned a lot from my dad. We're just continuing the-- He was a businessman and taught me. I can't think of one resource like a magazine or something that I turned to or even school, but I'm sure there's lots of them out there and I would tell your audience to search and find out what is a good reference for them, a resource for them.
Jon: I think I actually love the answer both of you gave. For you, it's your dad, and whether it's our parents or whatever it is, people are a phenomenal resource. People listening, you may have a dad that has entrepreneurial experience, fantastic, go to him or a mom, but it also could be a friend or somebody in the area to reach out to but finding a mentor, whether you're related to him or not, but people are a fantastic resource. That's a great answer, and I think it's something that everybody should consider. Was there anything I didn't ask in this interview that you guys think would be helpful for our audience?
Mollie: I really quickly also just want to go back to that resource question. I love now also looking at other entrepreneurs' stories. I think your podcast is a great resource, listening to other entrepreneurs, but just even like movies, Shark Tank.
Bob: Shark Tank, yes.
Mollie: Just looking at other entrepreneurs and seeing their mistakes and seeing how you can learn from them and listening to their advice too. I think advice is some of the best. Sorry, but--
Jon: No, perfect. Thank you very much and this has been super helpful and I think that's great advice as well. I encourage the audience, please go check out their website, littleburros.com. If you're driving this will all be in the show notes, so go check it out as well. You can also search for their products on Amazon. It's also available on walmart.com or of course, in retailers near everybody across the United States. Little Burros and the Burro Buddy as well. Great products, please go check them out and learn more from the story of this great company. Mollie and Bob, thanks again for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Mollie: Thank you.
Bob: Thank you, Jon.
Jon: Please go to littleburros.com or search for the original Little Burro or the Burro Buddy at walmart.com, amazon.com, or your favorite local retailer. Also, be sure to check out harvestgrowth.com to see other episodes recorded. If you like this episode and you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product or service business, please subscribe to our show. Or you can set up an appointment right from our website to speak directly with a member of the Harvest Growth Team in a free consultation to learn the process that has worked for hundreds of businesses since 2007.
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