How This Entrepreneur Built Relationships With Independent Retailers
by Felix Thea Podcasts Jul 11, 2017 36 minute read Leave a comment Email Pinterest Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
Before you can get your products into retail stores, retailers need to trust that they have the potential to fly off the shelves.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you’ll hear from John DePaola, the creator of The Paint Brush Cover, who started selling his product to retailers by going door-to-door and ended up appearing on Shark Tank to get an offer that was 4X what he expected.
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I wanted to give them a feeling of comfort that, hey, I’m not going to order something that’s not going to sell and I’m going to lose out.
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Why you should create your first prototype yourself.How to get retailers to trust selling your product for the first time.The keys to a successful trade show.
Store: The Paint Brush Cover
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Felix: Today, I’m joined by John DePaola from The Paintbrush Cover. The Paintbrush Cover keeps your brushes wet and ready to use in between coats, and was also a contestant on Shark Tank. The business started in 2012 and based out of Jackson, New Jersey. Welcome, John.
John: Oh, thank you, Felix. How are you doing today?
Felix: I’m doing great. So yeah, tell us a bit more about the business. What is this paintbrush cover that is popularized through your brand?
John: Yeah, well, you know, it’s very, very exciting in a way because not only do we have the paintbrush cover, but we continued on to make other products, but I’ll start with the paintbrush cover nonetheless. If you were to ever experience, I think everyone can relate to the fact that at some time you’re painting and you have to put your brush down. And all it takes is a few minutes, really, for that brush to start drying, therefore making it less flexible and in some cases, you know, a longer period of time, that brush is gonna be as hard as a rock.
So it was a problem forever, but now they’ve formulated the paints to dry quicker so that saves you time in between coats. So you can get an email and you stop work, you put your brush down to answer an email or a text back and forth, you go back to that, the brush is done. You could spend $10, $15, $25, $50 for a brush. Nobody wants to waste that type of money. By the same token, you could just want to take a lunch break. And hey, you put it in my cover, you stand it up, you go to lunch, you come back, you paint. You could put it in my cover and forget it’s there for eight weeks, come back, open it up in eight weeks.
John: And it’ll still be wet and ready to go. So, paint is all over the world, which is exciting to me, are enjoying the use of my Paint Brush Cover and roller cover, alike. And now, my other products as well that we’ve started branding, so it’s been quite a trip and a heck of a lot of fun too.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, so obviously, the use of it makes a ton of sense, but where did the idea come from? How did you guys come up with this idea for a product like this?
John: Well, my cousin, he worked for me. I had a pretty nice painting company, and I would hire a lot of the younger guys, and I would train them myself and what not. And that always was a problem, was all right, I’m constantly spending money on these expensive brushes. And hey guys, you know what, you’ve gotta take care of them. You gotta wash them. So, my cousin and I discussed the possibility, and this is years back. You know how some things go, you know, you talk.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: But it’s the action. It’s not the idea. To me, the idea is the easy part. So I was working down at the World Trade Center. I was actually the site manager of the new World Trade Center, and [inaudible 00:03:38] our job was to set up the fountains for the 10 year anniversary. After that, I was pretty much had a lot of free time on my hands. So, my cousin got in touch with me. He’s like, “Come on.” He’s like, “You have free time now. Let’s do it.” I’m like, “All right. As long as you travel to me, I’ll do it.”
So, he did. We got to work and we put pen to paper, so to speak, and started setting it up. So the idea was sort of born, I’m gonna say maybe in the ’90s, late ’90s. It just took that amount of time. It just took the right stars to align in order to bring it to [inaudible 00:04:16].
Felix: So this was just an idea that you guys were going back and forth with for many years before actually going and creating the product. What needed to align for you to take action on this idea?
John: You know, as anything else, you have life, and I have children at home, and I have a family. I was also self-employed. I had my own business. Just life in general, there’s always something to do and always something to catch up on, and there’s always tomorrow.
John: And you could push things off and then you could talk about them, and I guess it just takes that niche moment where … Like, there was a situation I was working on a very big project and now I was able to take off from that, and literally, to do whatever I wanted for a few months. If I wanted to just take it easy, that was my choice. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. And then the suggestion, once again, came in from my cousin to go ahead with a project we had been talking about, you know, here and there for the past few years. So it’s like, hey, yeah, that was it.
So, now all of a sudden, the timing was right. I wasn’t restricted with work, so I had a heck of a lot of free time, and he worked as a New York City firefighter. Their schedules are very, very flexible as well. So, you know, for him to have a couple of days off in a row is just not unheard of. They do 24 hour tours. So, I guess it was amount of we just came to the right amount of timing to make it work. We were able to get together to lay the foundation. That was just to lay the foundation. There was a lot more after that, but that’s what did it, the availability of the time.
Felix: Yeah, so let’s talk about the foundation once you … Once everything did align and you guys started taking action. What was involved? What were some early steps that you knew you had to take?
John: Well, it was definitely, it was quite interesting because I, before, had LLCs, and corporations, and things of that nature, and I’ve been in business where my cousin hadn’t, you know, never really had an LLC or a business of his own. He worked for the fire department. So, I basically showed him the roadmap together. I got a lawyer that I was friendly with and we set up the LLC. So, as we were going, I was also able to not only set everything up with, but just sort of show him the roadmap, so to speak.
Then I went and I was like, “Listen, also, I have another friend who’s an engineer. This isn’t his specialty, but as a favor to me, he’ll be able to draw us up pretty much exactly what we need to dimensions in a CAD sort of format.” And just, I was able to put the ducks in the row and together. You know, I might’ve gave him an assignment, “Here, you call this,” or, “You meet me here and then we’re gonna go see the attorney, then we’re gonna go see the engineer,” and so on and so forth.
And we just took the steps. We even took some classes, too, which I was amazed at because the classes were through local community colleges, they were free, they were very informative, and me and my cousin were the only ones in the class. So there’s a lot out there for entrepreneurs to take advantage of. Maybe they’re not aware of it, but they’re there. And I took a couple of classes where I was the only one there. So, there’s a lot that you can do and that was like the foundation, so we’re out taking classes. And by being the only ones in the class, now you have almost a one-on-one personal meeting, so to speak.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). These are like business classes?
John: Yes. Business classes, business classes geared towards entrepreneurs, how to show you to go to step one, two, and three of how to get into a big box and how buyers work, and just a ton of information was out there in regards to it. We did take advantage of it. Also, we got some other people involved and we did our own research. My cousin read a lot, read a lot of books and brushed up as much as he could. The next thing you know, I actually had a product. I also had a manufacturer, so I took the manufacturer who a friend of mine was using, and he was actually using a couple of manufacturers. I met them all and I [inaudible 00:08:55] them accordingly, and I came up with who I felt was the best person for the job, and we still work together at this time and it’s a great relationship.
And then I actually went and I did things the old fashioned way. Once I got my product and I actually had it delivered, going door to door, from one paint store to another paint store, to another paint store, until they added up to quite a bit, like well over 100 paint stores and I was selling my product and reordering. And I guess that’s sort of where Shark Tank sort of kicked in.
Felix: Before we get too far ahead, now when it comes to … You mentioned first that you had this idea, but you actually had to design it. You found an engineer to create the CAD drawings for it. When you work with an engineer to do something like this, what’s involved? What’s your involvement? How do you contribute to guiding the engineer to design the product?
John: Yeah, great question. I don’t know. I’ve always been handy. I mean, I’m in construction. I build things. That’s what I do. I’ve always been very good with a ruler, and a pencil, and drafting. I actually do architectural drawings, as well. So for me to come up and take a pencil to a piece of paper, and try to manipulate and do things to scale isn’t that hard. But then again, I’m doing it in my garage. So I got it. I drew the pieces how I wanted it to be, and then on some fine particulars, I actually drew the inner components of what I needed to do separately, like the phone that we have and some other components that we have patented.
And once I had that, I went out and I went to Home Depot, I believe, and I bought some sheet plastic, clear plastic, and then I actually began with a [inaudible 00:10:53] just to cut the pieces out as I needed. So I built not too much of a primitive prototype of [inaudible 00:11:02]. It was a primitive prototype, and I brought those things to the engineer and I was like, “Here. Here’s what I need, but I need you to refine it to the point where it’s perfect.” And he did an excellent job on that. In fact, when I made my molds, it was nothing. It was just that cut and clear, and it came out right the first time.
Felix: So, you actually created the first prototype, and then you approached the engineer and [inaudible 00:11:30] had them refine what you already had. You didn’t just go them sort of empty handed?
John: No way. Yeah, I’m not … I like to do things. I like to do them myself. I like to start out my first … And don’t get me wrong, everybody needs help, but I don’t want to go anywhere empty handed, you know?
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: Even when I went to Home Depot and I got my product at Home Depot, I went there with sales. I didn’t go there like, “Hey, I have this thing. Could you sell it for me?” In fact, I went there with a lot of sales to show them what I did and the buyer, at the time, had asked me like, “Why didn’t you come to us first?” I’m like, “Because I would’ve been sort of at your mercy. Like, ‘Hey, I have this thing. Do you think you want it? Could you sell it?’” I was like, “Why wouldn’t I want to come to you with a proven track record of how many I’ve sold to date?” And with that, he fully understood, you know?
John: So if I’m going somewhere and I’m going into do something, I want to be able to show somebody that, “Hey, this will work because before I came here, I tried it.”
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. So now the next step after having those drawings done was to, you mentioned, going to the manufacturer. Now, was it as easy as just handing off the CAD drawings to them? Or were there hiccups along the way from turning that design into an actual product that you could hold in your hands?
John: Well, you know what, while there were plenty of hiccups in the business going along from the point we started to now, I mean you can’t expect not to have hiccups. Believe it or not, maybe because of the simplicity of the product itself, maybe that added to it, but there were no hiccups whatsoever. I drew it, and then I made it, and then I brought it to the engineer and I just had him refine it to where it looked A–1 professional. There wasn’t a smudge on the piece of paper or anything. Then he did it with CAD and I sent that out. And with that, they sent me …
You know, right now, there’s 3D printers, 3D printer at the time when we were starting, not every manufacturer had them, so they’d do what’s called a hand tooled. So they hand tooled it, they made it by hand, but to the exact specifications and then they sent it out to me. And I’m like, wow, I was very, very impressed with it and just how on target they were. It came out perfect, they worked perfect, it was great. The material they used was a little bit different. We weren’t concerned about the clarity ’cause my product is clear, so this was a little cloudy. I saved it ’til this day. I still have it. Maybe I’ll frame it one day, but yeah, I was amazed on how they hand tooled it. And then after that, I gave them like hey, the go ahead. Start the mold. You know?
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: And you know what, they did the mold. They sent me out samples from the mold, and there weren’t any hiccups there either. It really did, it came out perfect. And then from there, we just put our first order in and by the time I knew it, I had tens of thousands of Paint Brush Covers laying around.
Felix: Wow. So now, tens of thousands come in an initial order and you said you went just door to door. Talk to us about this process. Once you got the first shipment, did you send it to your house or something? And then you just went out to these paint shops, and walked in and started talking to the person behind the register?
John: Yeah, pretty much so. I mean, I was lucky enough to be in construction, so I had my own office, my own construction office. And fortunately, it was a fairly large office with a lot of space. So, I quickly converted my construction office into my Paint Brush Cover office. I stored them there and I did have probably some in my garage too, as well. And I just got to … I said to myself, I made a map. I got a map of the area and I scoped out every paint-related store. You know, you can’t walk into Home Depot and say, “Do you want to buy my product?” That’s a whole different procedure. But an independent owner, you know, could have the right to [inaudible 00:15:41] the right to be like, “Wow, that’s great. I’ll take it right now.”
So I mapped all of those out and I put myself in the middle. I was like, okay, I’ll try to reach 10 to 15 stores a day, and that’s exactly what I did. And I went out and first, it was a little bit awkward, but after the first few times, I got it down. I realized exactly who I needed to speak to when I got into the store, how to present it to them. And I gotta tell you, not one person, and I was just really, really blessed with this, not one person was like, “Oh, yeah, let me think about it,” or, “I’m not sure.” They all like, “Wow, this is genius. I can’t believe that they never had anything like this.”
So they would take them, and I gave them the product, so I didn’t take money away from them right away, although some insisted on paying me right away and giving me a check right there on the spot. But I gave them 30-days invoices, which you know, made it a little tough on the cash crunch aspect of things. But nonetheless, I knew what my capabilities were. So then maybe not the next day, let’s say I did it on Monday. Then maybe on Wednesday, I did another area and I did the same exact thing, and I sold them.
We used social media to our full advantage. We had a website. We had people ordering them on the website. And we did something, which I think was one of the best things that we did. We went to the National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. And we got a … I think we were in the new inventors’ section, and we just got so much attention over there. It was unbelievable. I mean, I had buyers from big boxes handing me cards being like, “Yeah, you know what, I could go through a million of these things in a year.”
And you know, some, not everything pans out. There’s a lot of people out there, they do a lot of talking. And then once again, you learn that … Like there, there would be something where there would be a hiccup, so to speak, where you really think that this person could do something when they actually can’t. You know, so little things like that, but we went there.
We got a lot of attention. But there were a lot of sincere people that we met there, a lot of great people, which is also a big part of it that means more than anything to me and it really is the truth. It’s not even just, hey, having a successful product and being able to make money. It’s, you’re meeting some really good people out there. You meet some bad people too, don’t get me wrong, you know, like anything else. But the people that I’ve met and the relationships that I’ve made over the time to me, and my family, are as equal as the success of the product, itself.
Felix: Yeah, that’s beautiful. So when you do build these relationships, especially early on with these independent retailers, how did you meet the right person? Like when you walk in, you mentioned that you had to kind of refine your approach and learn more about how to get to the right person. What was your approach? How did you determine who should be the right person to talk to?
John: Well, you know, most of the times you walk in the shop and there’s just, you know, a vast array of people that are working and everyone’s doing their job. So, you know, I would never interrupt somebody that was talking. So if I saw somebody who looked like he was the manager and he was talking to someone on the phone, I never wanted to interrupt somebody. So even if I had to look at the stock person that was stocking the shelf, let’s say, and just being like, “Hey, excuse me,” and start a casual conversation and tell them a little bit about it. And then ask them, “Who do you think would be the right person?” And actually, they would usually say the manager or the owner. And then I would simply ask them, if they’re here, maybe you could get them. I just need a minute of their time.
And I would have the actual product with the brush in it besides the box of it with the paint in it to be like, “Here, look at this.” So I was able to show them, “This has been in here for two weeks and look how wet it is.” But they’d either direct me to the person, or be like, “Yeah, sorry, he’s not in until Tuesday.” “Hey, great, thank you so much.” And I’d be like, “Here, do me a favor.” And I would leave a sample behind with my card and I would tell them, “Hey, I’ll be back maybe in two or three days.” Or I give them a specific date when they say he would be back, and I’d call ahead and just sort of make an appointment, make sure that they were there this time and go on in, and it was always pretty much a … The majority of time, it was a positive outcome. They liked the product, they understood the product, and they took it in their store.
Felix: And you mentioned that there were some stores that didn’t want to take, or that wanted to give you money right away, but you decided not to take it from them and gave them a 30-day invoice for it. What made you make this decision? Why not take the money if they were willing to pay you for it?
John: No, no. The people that did, or maybe you understood me. The people that were like, “Here, I’ll give you a check right now.” I took the check.
John: You know, but what I’m saying is, I didn’t impose that, “Hey, you have to pay me now,” or anything like that. I wanted to make it where they were in a comfortable position to take my product, and it is sort of a standard in the industry, the invoice on 30, 60, or 90 days. So I wanted to give them the … And I also gave them … If it doesn’t sell and you’re not happy with it, I’ll just come right back and pick it up. You know?
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: So, I feel I put them in a zero risk situation. I gave the opportunity and I took all the risk out of it, basically, and the margins were really good for them. They could double their money or close to it, and retailers just love that. So I wanted to give them a feeling of comfort that, hey, I’m not gonna order something that’s not gonna sell. I’m gonna lose out. By doing that, it … Listen, I’ll try something if it makes sense, and if I don’t have to pay for it for 30 days and if I have the luxury if I don’t like it, I can have my money back, I think I’d be more out to try it than if I was trying to be the hard sell guy where I’m ramming it down someone’s throat, which isn’t my personality at all, and trying to get payment right there. You know what, I just wasn’t about that. I considered the less abrasive approach. I’m not a hard sells guy and I don’t like when people try to hard sell me either. So, that obviously worked because nobody said [inaudible 00:22:24].
I mean in all honesty, this is how I know no one said no, ’cause there was one person that actually did say no. And it was just amazing to me, even until this day, I wonder what he thinks because he has to, and I won’t name the name of the store obviously, but it was a very, very … How would you say … Known in the industry paint store, and I mean, hey, listen, maybe the guy was having a bad day. But he almost practically yelled at me and threw me out of the store. I’m like, “Hey, listen, I’m just asking you to buy something.”
His idea was, “Why would I want people to save money on brushes? I want to sell more brushes.” What he didn’t get was that in all honesty, my cover actually makes people buy more of the quality brushes because now they feel they have a way to protect them. So the guy that’s going in normally and he’s gonna buy one brush, $12 or $15, that’s a mini investment. Now he goes in there and people know what happens to the brushes, and he sees the Paint Brush Cover. He’s like, “Wow,” he’s like, “I can take care of my brush. You know what? I’m gonna go for the three brushes, the 1.5”, the 2.5 angle, and the 3“ brush, ’cause it fits all of them and I’m gonna buy a few covers.” He says, “I’m never gonna have to worry about my brush going out again.”
So really, it works both ways. He was just, like I said, maybe he was having a bad day, or maybe he didn’t care for his … I care about my consumer. It brings me great joy to know that if I were to sell you, Felix, my Paint Brush Cover and you were painting, in the first hour of use, you will save time and money. And I see a lot of products out there for sale that they honestly do not do what they … They don’t perform the way they’re supposed to and they’re just … And they’ve been for sale for years, for 30 years, and people buy them, but they don’t really work. So I’m very proud to be able to deliver to the consumer something that’s gonna help them.
Felix: Yeah, that’s definitely how you get these loyal customers, right, by providing the value right off the bat and delivering on the promise of the product.
Felix: Now, when you left these stores after leaving some of the products with them, did you have to follow-up with them? Or did you kind of wait for them to call you? What was the process after getting a completed deal?
John: Well, yeah, I definitely, I feel comfortable following up with them. Of course, I didn’t want to be overly pushy. You know, I know what it’s like to have a day and have a call in at the wrong time, and it’s like you know, it’s just, you can’t talk to everyone at once. I will say this, one of the big paint companies in my area that have, I don’t know, by now they might have more than 50 stores. So, the gentleman that I called, and I don’t know if it’s cool if I mention his name. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, but let’s just call him Glenn [inaudible 00:25:30], ’cause he’ll know who I’m talking about.
I had to call Glenn, I’m not kidding you, 20 some odd times. And each time, he’d be like, “John, I’m just so busy. I can’t talk about it now.” Until the point where I was like, “Listen, if you’re really just trying to be polite and you’re really not interested, I won’t continue to bug you.” He’s like, “No, trust me,” he’s like, “I’m interested.” He’s like, “I’m just that busy.” So, I was persistent and the persistence, it just, it paid off because at the end of the day, all his stores had my cover in it.
Then three days later, I got a reorder from him and I was very surprised how he could go through so many covers. They come in boxes of 100, and he’s like, “A couple of my guys have union shops and the minute they seen it, they didn’t want to buy one, two, or three. They just said, ‘Hey, could you give me a better price if I buy all 100 in the case?’” You know, so he’s like, “I wouldn’t sell them all the 100. I would sell them,” ’cause it came in a massive carton of 100 with two boxes of 50 inside it. So he’s like, “John, I would sell them the 50, but that would still put me 50 down below and I want to keep them at 50 so I have them in the store for the other people.”
So you know what, it really is, it’s about persistent and you can’t be afraid to fail. You can’t be afraid … If I was afraid of what people thought, because at the very, very beginning, I got a lot of people that were sort of like, “Yeah, you’re crazy. Oh, it could never work. Oh, you could never do it.” And you know what? The more I was told that I couldn’t do it, the more I was told it couldn’t work, the harder it made me want to make it work. That might’ve even fueled me, as well.
As you could see now, it’s surreal to think that you could walk into a paint store in Germany and buy my product. You could walk into a paint store in the Netherlands, in Iceland and buy my products. You could go into Norway and Sweden, and buy my products. You could go to London. I did London QVC. I did a couple of shows there.
So, you know, for people that were sort of laughing at me thinking that I was out of my mind, I came a long way. And you know what, it wasn’t an idea of, hey, listen, I want to put it in your face, not at all. It was just that, listen, I believed in something, and other people thought I was crazy and that wasn’t gonna deter me from believing in myself, and I think that’s one of the main things that any entrepreneur should always hold close to their heart no matter what anyone says.
If it’s what you want to do, and what you believe in, you better go for it. Because if you don’t, you might find yourself sitting down in your older years saying to yourself, wow, I wonder what would’ve happened if I really would’ve went through with it. That’s not a nice feeling. So no matter what anyone says, people put you down, they’ll say it can’t be done, if you believe in your heart, you have to continue and go for it.
Felix: Beautiful. Now, you mentioned that one of the keys to launching the business even further was the hardware show that you mentioned going to. What was that like? What was the hardware show and what were the results of going to it?
John: Well, you know how the shows work. You have booths and aisles, and they’re right next to each other, so you have neighbors. I guess it’s like moving anywhere, you could have a good neighbor or a bad neighbor. We were very fortunate. We had some really good neighbors that were in the business with new products. Then we had some people that had new products, but had older products that they’ve been successful with. And it was all about making friends and the whole purpose of the show is to have buyers come up and see it. I gotta tell you, and this is all pre- Shark Tank. This is well before Shark Tank. We had a crowd around our booth like you wouldn’t believe, and just build buyers from all over the world come to this show. I think it’s like the largest hardware show in the world, and it was quite overwhelming.
So what happens after that? “Hey, meet me after the show. I want to take you to dinner.” “Meet me after the show. I want to buy you a drink. I want to talk about this. This could be great.” The whole thing. And like I said, you have to … You know, that who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy? But for the most part, there were just many people out there that were interested. There were many people out there that were honestly, and I work with still to this day that are, “Hey, I’m in the business for 30 years. You need any advice, give me a call,” and they meant it.
And then there were always people … There’s always gonna be people that are gonna try to get into your pocket, and that’s what I mean. Not everybody is the good guy. You gotta have eyes behind your back. That’s true, but there are a lot of good people out there and those are the people that I met out there. Then even people that were just, that had to do with the show, that don’t even do products or anything, even they know somebody that could help you. So we just got a lot of information and a lot of, hey, see this guy, or a lot of people coming up and saying, “Hey, I distribute for this, this, and that. Your product will compliment this other product I’m doing. Let’s talk.” And yeah, and that boosted everything up.
And by the time you know it now, I wasn’t just on the East Coast. I was nationwide selling stuff. So I had products in Florida, products in Georgia, I had products in California, and so on and so forth.
Felix: So you just came back from a trade show. It sort of sounds like trade shows are a big factor in your business. What are the keys to having a successful showing now that you have the experience of going to so many?
John: Well, like you said, I really did. I just got back around nine o’clock last night, [inaudible 00:31:20] brutal too ’cause you’re gone for days, and traveling and what not. But listen, my success is to be honest with the consumer and let them understand. I do the same thing. At this trade show that I just did, it was a trade show and we went out to Queens, and it was the first time … Most of the other trade shows I’ve been to numerous times, so this was a whole new distribution company that does a ton of [inaudible 00:31:49] and paint-related items.
So, it was the first time it was an introduction. And I think they might’ve had cold feet ’cause they were one of the last ones on board. We went out there and we were just selling product, like the product sold itself at that point. Yeah, I might’ve had to explain, and talk, and everything, but I didn’t have to twist anybody’s arm to buy the product to get in the store. They’re like, “Yeah, we’ve been looking. People are coming in and they’re asking us for this product, and we feel funny like we don’t have it.”
But now there’s a difference between them buying at the trade show with the company, okay, because you could buy it and not be in the warehouse. Being in the warehouse is key. So with this particular company, we were not in the warehouse. It was our first show, but the people were able to buy it and we would drop ship it to them directly. It was really freezing out, so I think that might’ve [inaudible 00:32:41] some attendance on the second day.
But at the end of it all no matter what, we always had a crowd at our booth, and I’m very proud to say we sold to a lot of great, amazing people. And you know what, some very kind individuals and they want to take a picture with you with the product. At the end, I’m gonna say around 11:00, just halfway through the show … ’Cause usually how it works is you do the show and then weeks later, they come back and they say, “Hey, you know what, you sold enough product at the show. We want to take you in the warehouse.”
We had pretty much the buyers and the merchants come to us at 11:00 on the second day of the show, and there was no hesitation. “We want you in our warehouse.” And they wanted to take two products. So I was like, “Hey, why don’t you take four?” They’re like, “Yeah, why don’t we take four?” So, we had four of our new … We had two, the Paint Brush Cover and the Roller Cover, and then we have the Drift Clip, which is an invention that was, I’m gonna say birthed by this girl that … I just happened to be in my office, and she called from out of town. She was an entrepreneur, but she didn’t know the right way and the right angle of how to do things. We helped her to find her packaging and sort of partnered up with her, and got into the right manufacturer, and got it in big boxes already.
So not only we were doing products for us, we’re helping other people get their products, and we’re partnering up with some good people and we’re making our own products as well at the same time. So, it brought me great joy that I know I was able to bring this girl, [inaudible 00:34:23] into another big box. To me, that’s just, you know, it’s not just about us. It’s about helping other people, no different than the people at the trade show in the early stages helped us, and gave us tips and what not. You know, just pay it forward and if you can help somebody, definitely do it.
Felix: For sure. Now, your Shark Tank appearance, talk to us a little bit about that. How were you able to get onto the show?
John: I gotta say, I’ll give my cousin the credit on that one. He emailed them and I guess maybe he sent them the product. I don’t know exactly how he did, but he emailed them and I guess they weren’t as popular ’cause it was season four. They’re up to season nine now, you know? Season four, they were all booked, but they’re like, “We’ll give you a call right back for season five.” And sure enough without hesitation, when that time came, they called us. And at the time, there was some things that I wasn’t particularly fond of in the business. I enjoyed the show, but in the business sense of you going on, what you had to sign on for and all of that, I wasn’t too sure.
So I wasn’t sure if I want to actually go on. And then we were talking and there was one rule where no matter what happened, whether you struck a deal or not, if you became successful, they took 3 to 5% of your earnings. And then I believe it was Mark Cuban who said that that’s not fair and if you do it, then I’m not coming back.
So then when they called us back, they’re like, “Yeah, that’s not even a [inaudible 00:36:01].” I gotta say, and I don’t mean this … I’m not trying to be cocky at all, but sort of the more I was unsure and I didn’t want to go on the show, it was almost like the more they wanted me on the show. So, they’re like, “Listen, please. Fill out an application. It’s not gonna hurt you to fill out an application.” So I fill out this big application, we send it out to them. They’re like, “Hey, could you make us a video explaining and showing?” I’m like, “All right, I guess so.” They’re like, “Could you have it to us in three days?” I was like, “I don’t know. I’ll try my best.”
But we did. Listen, I’m not in television or anything like that. I don’t know much about editing, although I got a crash course in it. I’ll tell you that. But we made a video and it was spectacular, and with the aid of some friends and what not, we were able to edit it to the time that it need to be and the specifications of it. We got it out there, the phone rings the minute they get it. “Oh my God, it was wonderful.” They really did, they enjoyed it, they loved it. The next thing we know, we sort of agreed to doing it and we were practicing with the producers over the phone about pitches, and this and that.
I’m gonna say within four months from the date … And it’s funny because every time Sony finishes a conversation with you, they’re like, “By the way, there’s no guarantees.” Like they have to say it, and it’s the truth. There are no guarantees. And a lot of people do air on the show, and they’re never seen. They go on the show, they never air. You follow?
John: Or they fly them all the way out to California and they never get to pitch either. So far, we’ve been lucky enough. I mean, heck, I’ve been on Shark Tank for them to say [inaudible 00:37:48] time. Then we had a couple of follow-ups then we were on Beyond The Tank. I’m gonna say eight times, eight separate times. So, the same product and the same thing that I had been on Shark Tank. So for me, every time they told me, “There’s no guarantees,” I realized there were no guarantees, but everything came through. We were very, very blessed.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: Where other people actually got down there and they never even got to film, and they just got a free plane ride and a hotel in LA.
Felix: Right. So speaking of the success on the show, not only did you get on, but you ended up, at least on the show, closing a $200,000 investment for 10% from Lori. So, what was that like? What was the moment like when you were able to get a deal?
John: Oh my goodness. How could you say it? See, well, you gotta figure. It’s very nerve-racking. You’re going on a show, you’re going on TV, and it’s every bit of live. And live when I say, not live like you’re gonna see it, but there’s no, “Oh, I messed up. Could we start over?”
John: So if you go in there and so you saw the episode. My cousin forgot his lines, so that compounded the nervousness, and then I just sort of got him back on track and started it over again. Not started it over again, just … ’Cause there was no start over. I just like smacked him on the side of his arm. I was like, “Come on. Let’s get it together here.” And then I just said the last line that he said to get him back on track. And he was visibly nervous, you could see, but he finished his pitch. And then I think it put a human element to the whole thing because the sharks were all smiling and they clapped when he finished, and they were like, “You did it.” Where a lot of people just get booted off the show for not remembering their lines. So yeah, we got lucky in that respect, and then we just kept going on.
But Mr. Wonderful, okay, Kevin, he loved our product. And he’s the guy that says, “Hey, you know what, you got a hobby. Get the hell out of here.” Or even meaner than that, and I think you know what I’m getting at if you’re familiar with the show.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: He was, oh my God, we had him smiling from ear to ear. Not only did he put in an offer, but he doubled down on his offer. And then Robert went in, and then Lori went in, and then Barbara went in, Mark was … Oh my God, Mark paid us so many compliments. I mean, you gotta figure, we’re in there for an hour and a half, but you’ll see an edited version of eight, nine minutes.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: So you weren’t able to see. There was a lot of interesting things that went on in there. But the feeling … Put it this way. We were in LA and that night, we weren’t hanging out reading in our hotel rooms. We were out partying and having a good time. It was so exciting, and yeah. That’s the best way I can say it. That’s what we went there for. We actually went there with the intentions of partnering up with Lori Greiner. So, we pretty much got what we wanted and we got an offer of four times what we asked for, so that was great too, as well.
We went on to renegotiate the deal at the end part after the fact with Lori after the show, because necessarily what you see on the show, you know … They don’t know who you are. So you can say, “Hey, I did $10 million in sales last year,” and you could be a little bit less than truthful when you’re reeling it in. So if they investigate that, well naturally they’re not gonna go through with the deal that they made, so there is a due diligence process involved. They just have to make sure you’re a clean guy, and you pay your taxes, and everything that you said is pretty much the truth. So it’s basically about telling the truth and yeah.
After that, we started right away. We didn’t wait for due diligence. They wanted to do business right away, and we did. We got on QVC a couple of times. It was pretty cool.
Felix: That’s awesome. So now working with Lori specifically, what’s been your most favorite or useful business advice that you’ve got from her?
John: Gee, you know what, that’s a difficult question to answer, only because there’s been so many, there’s been so many things that … How would you say? That we might’ve talked about or spoke about. Listen, I’ll put it to you like this. I like to handle things myself. If there’s a fire, I go, I put the fire out. Okay, I take care of the situation and I fix it, and then I tell them. I don’t look for advice unless it’s something that I know nothing about.
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John: Do you follow? So she was instrumental, I believe, in getting us on Beyond The Tank. And, you know, giving us some tips here and there, but to focus in on one specific one, I’m sorry, but it’s just difficult for me.
Felix: No, for sure. Now, you mentioned before that, of course, you have multiple products and you’re rolling out new products all the time. How do you decide what to be working on? How do you decide what product should be the next thing to release?
John: Well, I’ll tell you. I listen to the people’s needs, and a lot of times, someone will come up and be like, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this,” or, “I can’t believe someone else … No one ever thought of it.” “Hey, I once had an idea. Here, think about this.” So, a lot of times, you’ll hear something or see something. I mean listen, I’ve had ideas. That’s what I’ve done. Besides my construction business, I’ve always, I would just sort of dream in my mind an idea and I would make something easier. It could be manufactured, make something easier for the consumer. So that’s my motto. I go out there looking for something that’s gonna … You know, you gotta put the money aspect of it … To really be successful, in my opinion, put the money aspect of it to the side, okay, and worry more about how you’re gonna make your customer’s life easier and you’re gonna make your customer happy. Okay, then the money will follow. The money will catch up. So that’s my thing.
Right now, I’m working with paint, but I got so many other inventions and I intend to take them on and bring them to market as time goes on. I’m the type of person, I can’t really sit still for too long of a period of time. So, I’m always thinking of something new. Right now I figure, there’s strength in numbers. Let me just keep everything paint-related, you know?
John: So everything that I do right now, even at my show, people are really and truly amazed. They’re like, “Oh my God.” When I’m painting, I run into that problem. So we have these things that you plug right into your receptacles, your electrical receptacles, so that you don’t slip with the roller and paint your receptacle. Then you gotta clean it with water. Water and electricity don’t mix very well. And no matter how you clean it, it always looks like there’s a little bit of paint still on there. So you plug these things in the receptacle, even if you roll over it, not a bit of paint touches the receptacle. So that’s the Outlet Cover, as opposed to the Paint Brush Cover. Then we have the Roller Cover, then we actually have a paint pan that you could put the cover right on the paint pan.
So instead of taking a bag, let’s say, when you’re working outside and you go to lunch and you gotta put this bag over it so the paint don’t skin, then you just slide the cover right on there. You’re good to go, you leave. It creates … It makes painting environmentally friendly as well too because you don’t have all these … You’re not cleaning as often so you’re not putting paint down the drain, which ultimately ends up wherever it ends up. So that’s a problem in the way of environmental. A lot of the stuff goes down streams or what not and ends up in drinking water. You can’t bring paint to a local dump. You have to go to a special facility in many, many states to bring your paint so that they could dispose of it.
So, I think that we did some sort of equation that if everybody used the cover, we would save like, I don’t know, 20 billion gallons of water a year. So, we’re saving water. We’re not putting contaminants down our drain. We’re not taking plastic bags, which in the environmental world, I mean, they take plastic bags and they have animals that are just caught up in these plastic bags. Or, I’ve seen a picture of a dolphin that had a, just a used plastic bag stuck in the blowhole, sea turtles, things of that nature. So on an environmental end, you’re eliminating that plastic bag, which to me, is environmental too because there’s a certain timeframe that it takes for that thing to decompose. And it’s a very long time, like a lot longer than you and I are gonna live. So that plastic could decompose, so …
Felix: Yeah, I love that your approach is not to think about how much revenue, how much profit you can make on a new product. You think about what kind of value you can provide for your customers, and of course what kind of value you can provide for the world in terms of the savings for the environment. So, thepaintbrushcover.com is the website. Where do you want to see the business go in the next year?
John: Oh, I gotta tell you, I’m very excited. And the way I see it, I mean right now, I’m in so many big boxes. It’s tremendous and that gives me the ability to be able to afford to buy more molds to make new products, so I mean, I’m looking in the next year to have my own little section in every store that has my liquid concepts paint saving products. And so far, it’s on track to do that. I mean, I’m literally selling millions of pieces. Now I just want to double that, and then double that again, and double that again. And it’s, once again, it’s about finding, okay, how could I do it this time? How could I make my consumer happier, make their life easier while they’re doing something that’s sometimes a pain in the neck?
There are a lot of changes, I gotta tell you. I mean, a lot of changes, you know, throughout these past four years. You know, we talk about hiccups and what not. So, I took my product, and I took it … I started in China, so I brought it out to the US. So I’m proud to say I make my products in America, and with that, I mean I get to see firsthand besides the consumers, I’m employing people. And if I’m not employing them, then I’m losing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of UPS and other big [inaudible 00:49:03] companies to deliver stuff. So that, in turn, makes more jobs for them.
I have the printer that does my corrugated and my displays, so that’s more jobs for someone. So, I’m creating jobs at a rapid rate by making my products here in America. That’s a great form of satisfaction that … I know that maybe because of my product, two more people might’ve gotten hired at a place that makes my displays.
And maybe two more people, maybe four more people, I don’t know, but I know more people will get hired at my manufacturing plant because we’re ramping up production and we’re moving at such a speed they need to hire people. So I’m creating jobs too. That makes me feel great. So, yeah. There’s a lot.
I did buy out my partners, so I am the sole owner. I obtain 100% equity of the company right now, and that worked out great for everybody because my cousin, just, he’s very much into health and fitness. So he went on to open up a gym and he’s got some partners, and he’s very, very successful with the gym. And it’s what he loves to do, and he loves being in shape, and he loves teaching people. They have classes and all of that stuff too, as well. So, he went and he got himself a gym, and he’s doing well. So, he sort of sprung off of the diving board into another area that makes him even happier.
And you know what, it makes it a lot easier because I know when I make a decision to do something, I have such a great crew. I mean, the guy that does my artwork, we have been friends for 35, maybe 40 years. The people I use that I hired to do my IT and to do my EDI and my billing, I mean to me, they’re second to none. Right down to the girl that does, in fact, [inaudible 00:51:09] with Jessica. She’s just, she’s working in every aspect and going above and beyond to help me out. And if I’m dropping the ball, she’s there to pick it up.
My wife, my daughter, even my son, we all help out. And hey, if I make a decision and I mess it up, then it’s on me. When you have a lot of partners, sometimes it’s a little bit difficult because you can spend three weeks deciding if you’re gonna go with red or blue. You know what I mean? And now I’m just, I’m moving at a lot quicker pace ’cause I’m just, I’m making the decision. I’m going with it. And if it works, great. And if it doesn’t work, then I go back to the drawing board. But there’s no … How would you say, where one person wants it blue, and one person wants it red, or one person wants it large, one person wants it small. There’s none of that, which I’d just say it’s a time waster.
Felix: Awesome. So it sounds like a very fast-paced upcoming year for you. Thank you so much for your time, again, John.
John: Oh, Felix, I mean, any time. I can’t thank you enough, and yeah, that’s great. So we’re looking ahead to 2017, as well as ’18 already, so some things we’re gonna launch out there, so everybody could look out for their new products. In fact, if you go on the website, we probably have around 20 some odd products on there right now, besides the Paint Brush cover and the Roller Cover. So definitely take a look out there.
Felix: Awesome, cool. Thank you so much, John.
John: All right, thanks again.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: If you only hire people that you or your network know, you’re gonna be constrained by a somewhat similar thought process.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the eCommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30-day free trial.
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About the author
Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.