Inventing And Selling A Decorative Christmas Product – Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger
INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 50:06)
INTERVIEW VIDEO (ADBRIDGED VERSION) (Length – 28:34)
PODCAST AUDIO[sc name=”sponsors”]
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger invented a simple product to solve the problem of hiding the plastic base of fake Christmas trees. Ryan shares his product development and sales journey from Indiegogo, to Shark Tank, to QVC.
People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode
What You’ll Learn
Interview with Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger
- Could you please share the startup story of Christmas Tree Hugger? How did you come up with the idea? How did you know there would be a market of this product?
- What is your value proposition? What is your target market?
- How did you design and prototype and build your product early on?
- Paying $5 for people to try out your prototype and getting feedback.
- How do you get your product manufactured? Has it evolved since the beginning?
- How did you finance your business in the beginning? Did you invest some personal money at the beginning?
- Indiegogo Campaign – Did you meet your goal? How did you market your campaign?
- Idea behind getting patents (utility+ design), trademarks etc.
- Getting on Shark Tank and Selling through QVC (cold calling efforts)
- What were your first marketing/PR/sales efforts and how did you drive sales during the first year of operation?
- What are the Pros and Cons of having a seasonal business?
- What are your biggest markets?
- What channels and platforms are you selling through? Which one’s are most valuable in terms of generating sales? Do you sell in retail and big box stores?
- Getting Press.
- How do you fulfill your orders?
- What are some of the Ecommerce tools that have worked well for you in terms of growing the business?
- What does your team look like right now?
- What marketing, Ads, and social media efforts are working really well for you?
- Are you planning on adding more products in the future?
- What has been 1 or 2 of the biggest mistakes you have made since starting your business? What lessons can others learn from your mistakes
In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger
- One book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs/business professionals in 2020 and why? (Response: Building a Story Brand)
- An innovative product or idea in the current ecommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Canva and Skillshare)
- A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend? (Response: Grammarly)
- An entrepreneur or a business person who inspires you. (Response: Donald Miller)
- Best business advice you ever received or you would give. (Response: Not being afraid to fail)
Sushant Misra : Hey There entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story, and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today, I’m really excited to welcome Ryan Kenny to the show. Ryan is the founder of Christmas tree hugger. Christmas tree hugger is an adjustable tree pole cover that helps to make your artificial Christmas tree look better by hiding the fuzzy fake looking green base at the bottom of your tree. And today, I want to ask Ryan a few questions about his entrepreneurial story and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business. So thank you so much for joining me today. Trep Talks Ryan.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : No problem.
Sushant Misra : Perfect.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Happy to help out. Thank you.
Sushant Misra : Yeah, thank you on Saturday morning. So yeah, very interested to know about your startup story. How’d you get an idea for this product? Christmas tree hugger? And how do you know that there would be a market for this product.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : So I mean, I’m just kind of a person who constantly has too many strange and odd ideas just gobbling up on a regular basis. My biggest challenge is usually ignoring 99% of them and like picking which ones I want to chase because I tend to get distracted with things but um, this was just one where My wife and I, obviously, like we’ve been putting up Christmas trees for a long time, we just celebrated our 14th year anniversary a couple days ago. And there’s been a lot of trees in our lives. Many of those had been real trees. And at some point we decided to for convenience and traveling and all those normal busy life things, switch over to a fake tree. And just we’re kind of disappointed and honestly, curious about why artificial trees tend to as a small detail, but why they have like this stuff going on at the bottom. And it’s one of the things I have a design background. So it just bothered me from a design sense in general. And I think it’s one of those things where like, once you notice it, you can’t really unsee it too easily. It’s just one of those aesthetic things that bother you. It’s almost like a pet peeve. But when someone calls it out, you’re like, Ah, yeah, that’s kind of pretty ugly out there. And the tree usually looks so good everywhere else. So I was complaining about it. And she just said, you know, if you hate it so much, why don’t you just fix it? And I looked at it. I was like, Okay, sure. So I came up with a rudimentary quick fix, that looked really good. And we kind of went through a holiday season. And friends came over and saw the tree here and there throughout the season. I just started commenting like, Oh, is that a real tree? Or I was like, no, it’s fake. They’re like, Oh, my gosh, I thought it was real. And talking about that bottom piece, and they asked if they could have some. So I started making just like little one offs for friends and family. And then decided to throw it up on Etsy, because that’s such a good platform for simple DIY maker type of stuff. And was putting these things together by hand in a different method than that created now, because I’ve kind of outsourced it production wise. But that was doing really well on Etsy. And the reviews were consistently five out of five stars every time like nobody’s really getting anything lower for the most part. So that’s when I kind of knew I was just like, Okay, well, this thing, very niche, but a really high degree of positive feedback from the people who do decide they want it. So I was like, What the heck, let me just try and see if I can bootstrap this thing, and make it into a real product, which I’ve always kind of wanted to do anyway. So I went from like a handmade, pretty basic DIY style product to something a little more finished. And I took my design sense. And I wanted to take something that doesn’t really exist and make a package design that makes it so cute and fun that like it’s kind of demands attention on the shelf, that thing. So I created a character called the Christmas tree hugger that represents the brand. And it’s almost like I wanted to invent a problem, because people generally, a lot of people just don’t notice it. But once they do, it bothers them. So I figured let me invent this problem, that’s going to take some marketing and like a certain strategy to even surface this problem. And I will have the only solution for it. So that was kind of like a nice little space, I want to plan I was like, if I can if I can invent this problem and get people on board. And I have the only solution that I think I have myself a winner. So that was kind of the plan I I set out to tackle and it worked out pretty well and pretty quickly and things just have consistently come together. The only problem is it’s so seasonal, that you lose a lot of steam in between on the offseason, you have this like little small window of one to three months to make it all happen. And then anything you learn, you have to adjust for and wait a very long period of time to actually implement. So the learning curve is fast and furious for a small amount of time. But the adjustment period takes a long time to actually set it into action. Whereas like other companies, you can figure it out month by month or week by week and keep tweaking, tweaking, tweaking A B testing, AV testing. And it just evolves quicker. So this is like a slow ball. But nonetheless, super fun products started just from a thought. And, and boredom, really, I had nothing to do at work at the day job for a few weeks. So I focused heavily on experimenting, and just to kind of opened up level possibilities down the line.
Sushant Misra : And that’s very interesting. And I want to talk to you more about the seasonal aspect of, you know, business and you know, how seasonal businesses work. But it’s it’s very interesting to me that, you know, you started with such a simple idea where I think, you know, most people who probably use like this artificial Christmas tree, they probably have noticed, you know, this thing doesn’t look good. And you know, those who are a little bit motivated, they actually, you know, try to figure out a way like a home built solution but now you know, nobody or not most people think about creating a business out of it. That was the probably the first instinct would be you know, this is so easy. That you know I can if I can just get something from you know, Walmart or Home Depot and just put it together and it you know, it hides the base of it. But you actually took that idea and actually wanted to test it out on Etsy which is really interesting to me. So you didn’t you didn’t go to eBay or you chose Etsy was there Why didn’t you go to eBay?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : I didn’t go to eBay because my product was it was pretty rudimentary and handmade the way I was doing it like it involves glue. And, you know, Franco had to like physically cut things with a bandsaw in my in my my shop in the basement. So it just didn’t have that production polish that would be necessary for like a main platform provider. But that’s he’s perfect for that stuff, and totally acceptable to test the validity and the concept of an idea, right? Like, you could always tweak your design to be less crafty and handmade. But I just wanted to test the pure concept of is this even an idea that someone’s interested in paying for, you know,
Sushant Misra : that what? At what point in like, did you make like 1000 sales where you realize, okay, this idea has a potential, like, at what point did you think when you put the product on a feed that you realize, okay, this has the potential where I can take another step forward?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Oh, boy, the point I realized that was, when I had the I had the idea first, I was like, Okay, this, this probably should be more than just a handmade item, because I couldn’t make enough of them fast enough on Etsy. So I’m limited by my own hands. That’s sign number one time to scale. sign number two, interest level wise, I started playing with cold calls here and there. And literally, the first one I did, I was, I think my family and I were on our way to vacation. And we stopped by a Kroger to get some supplies, I walked in and talk to the store manager, and told her about what I was doing, I have this Christmas product, I think would be really cool for your aisle during the holidays, is there anyone I can talk to, and she just gave me like the number for the local buyer. And I called her up the first time and she basically on, let me see and place an order on the phone right there. But the interest level was insanely high. And we continued a few conversations after that. And shortly after, I was figuring out how to make this thing for like, a large scale order for Kroger grocery stores in the southeast, which wasn’t the best store to get into in retrospect, but I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna knock an opportunity. Like, I’m gonna try to make the best out of that and make it work but but just there, like the interest level, from that first phone call, and yeah, that’s Look, I happen to be in the right place at the right time. And my personality would have continued to push me to like, try cold calling other places. But when I did have that success, so quickly, I really went off on a tear to do more of that. And that’s kind of how it progressed to me also doing the same process to other buyers. So I reached out to Home Depot, we got into their online only. And I reached out to QVC, which was an awesome one because they they also were extremely interested and excited about the product. They’re always looking for new things. And that’s the thing, like, there’s not a lot of reinvention in that Christmas space. It’s such like a historical traditional area. That is not often when something comes around that kind of like, switches it up like that very often. So PVC led me on the show, obviously. And that’s where things just started take off once I started getting that PR stuff and things started laying out that way.
Sushant Misra : Just out of curiosity, like what of this Christmas tree market look like in the US like how many do you know the the percentage of people who actually purchase like a real tree versus the people who go out and buy these? Yeah,
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : it’s more than half with fake trees and rising steadily year by year. I’m interested to see what happens during COVID-19 are people gonna just do the Christmas tree shopping thing online and buy a lot more of these artificial trees? Probably. And we’ve already seen a higher demand than ever before, in the offseason this year since COVID-19. We never get inquiries for sales in like the hottest months of the year where you wouldn’t even think about buying a holiday product but and we haven’t sold a ton I wouldn’t expect to sell a ton in the offseason but they have been steadily going out the door all year there hasn’t really been a break which is that’s never happened before. So I think this year is set to be a pretty big year for us.
Sushant Misra : So one one part that comes to my mind is given that you know this is I’m sure the people the companies that create these artificial trees. They’re totally probably a handful of them in in the US and now I think you have your you have your patents for this product also is it not a worthwhile thing just to instead of doing the whole business of creating you know, manufacturing it and and selling it through e commerce and different channels and you know, the whole process of it, to try to just license your idea to some of these people who are creating the tree and and sell it directly to them and your business. feedback and, you know, gosh, your check every year?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Well, we kind of here’s the thing, we kind of all we already are sitting back and cashing the checks for the most part, because how we have it set up is highly, it’s highly automated. There’s not much work to do on our end at this point. And we’ve looked, we’ve absolutely gone down that road. I’ve talked to several people about this. And we’ve come pretty close to actually striking deals, but at the end of the day to get the royalties deal that I would want that that that deal hasn’t come up yet, because I’m just not willing to give away that much percentage of profit at this point. With such a new product. It’s something I would consider down the line. And I have talked to people about it, and we’ve come close, but so far. Still, I feel like we’re still in a better position to keep control of the product ourselves right now.
Sushant Misra : Okay. Can you take me to the early days of the Divine? So you created a prototype? That was your own creation? And it was handmade? But when when you got this order from a bigger retailer? Yeah.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Can you hear that? By the way? Is that bothering the God? No. Okay, someone’s not. I
Sushant Misra : think I think it’s okay. It’s okay. I don’t hear it. Too bad. It’s not bad. Yeah. So when you got this order from the retailer, how did you transition from, you know, your handmade design to go into something more mass production? Was there? Did you have to get like a product designer and have a more professionally designed? What was that process? And how did you go from there to finding a manufacturer who can create the thing.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : So I looked for like, like products, I figured out I went actually in walked through Walmart’s and targets and various other stores. And first I went on like a materials search. And I had some ideas in my head. But I wanted to literally go through aisles and just see the things and take a mental catalog of what was out there that would make sense for this product to be created from. So once I found the material that I thought was right, I also paid attention to, you know, what are some similar functionality products, things that like wrap around things? And how are they designed? How are they out there Is it is it glue is it Velcro is a zipper is it snaps like all those different things. So explore that with various products I’d seen in stores as well. So this is very like one on one personal walkthroughs type of stuff. And I landed on a product that I thought was similar and sourced that product, I found someone who made that specific type of product in mass production on alibaba.com. I’d found a few providers that did things like that, and then gave them my plans based on what they were doing to like shift it for a product like mine, asking if they could do it. First of all, the ones that said they could do it, I provided them with additional measurements and specs and I got samples on some of them were terrible. Some of them were really terrible. And some of them were decent. And I ultimately landed on the one that I thought was the best quality and was the easiest to work with where the English language was the least amount of barrier as well, because that kind of hung things up a few times, depending on who I was talking to. and picked pick the company that I thought was a good fit. And that’s that’s kind of how the production things started. And from there, they helped me to find someone that was sourced the actual packaging that surrounds the product. But I designed all of the art that goes on the bark, I design that artwork of the bark, I design, the shape of the package, the inspiration for the design, the inserts, the colors, all that branding stuff. That’s me, but that’s my wheelhouse. So that was easy. Now have a design, marketing, art direction, background and creative direction.
Sushant Misra : And you’re still working with the same manufacturer since you started or did you have to, we actually just
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : just switched this year to a new actor. Yeah.
Sushant Misra : Which and whether the reason because there was something like they were not able to fulfill your demand or something,
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : they were able to fulfill the demand, I felt that they were taking advantage of us with price points. And I knew I could start a new relationship knowing what I’d known working with these people over the last few years, we could probably start from the same ground zero and, and they might respect the relationship a little bit more. I just I started to feel like a lack of trust with what they were telling me and and I was right once I started looking into it, I was able to get exactly what I wanted for the price that I wanted it pretty easily.
Sushant Misra : So I want to talk a little bit about the the whole intellectual property side of things. So I I know, when I did this, some research and you can correct me if I’m wrong. I think you have your patterns already the design and the utility pattern patterns and also trademarks and things like that. When I speak to some of the other entrepreneurs. I think when people are generally getting started the responses that I get is, you know, having the whole application process for the patent and going through the whole process, the time and the effort that it requires, to get a patent is, is too high. As opposed to, you know, me just starting the business and being the first one, and you know, just the velocity of moving forward. So a lot of the times people let go of the this idea of getting a patent, and they focus on the business, and maybe the patent comes later. And a lot of the times the reasoning also is that, you know, if someone copies you in one way or another, the way to enforce your patent like going after them legally, it will be a very challenging and costly process. So I’m very curious to know that given that your product is relatively simple, people can probably make like different tweaks to it and come with a different version of it. What was the reasoning behind to get the patent? And what kind of protection Do you think that you get from these buttons?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : The protection is really good, actually, because we have an it’s hard to get patents, you’re right, it is a pain in the butt, it’s expensive. I have a good friend of mine, who I’ve known for many years, who’s a business attorney, he’s a prominent well established business attorney at that. And he expressed interest in just my my story as things were going on through the years. So there was a point in time where I, I realized, you know, I’m really good at these things. legal stuff, and numbers is never going to be one of them. And that’s his strong suit. So I took him on as a partner. And that’s when we really started attacking the patent situation, because that’s his wheelhouse. So that actually alleviated the concerns you expressed as a new entrepreneur trying to wrangle that, because he was that person who could wrangle that very easily and understood it fully. He also had, and he’s not a patent attorney, but he works with them often. And he and he has a really good one that gave this thing, amazing focus. And I mean, the guy liked what he could do with the product, but the patents so much he he actually wanted to be a partner as well. And we didn’t let that happen. But the fact that he asked that was pretty telling that this was going to be a pretty ironclad situation that he liked so much that he wanted a piece of the pie. So yeah, we have the design and the utility. And what’s nice about those is that the utility is written in a way that’s very broad, which patents should be where it’s any type of closer, that connects, right. And then the what that doesn’t cover from a utility standpoint, the design section covers a ton as far as like the aesthetic end result of making something look like a real tree bark, is where that comes in. So like between those two, it’s a really, really good protection. And we’re stoked about that that’s a little bit of a happy accident that the product just ended up being that, that easy to protect, but I’m glad we have it. And it actually wasn’t that hard for us, fortunately, because of those connections. And that’s where like, those little luck things come in. There’s a luck aspect to it, but you have to see the opportunity and take advantage of the luck. Sometimes you know what I mean? Like I could have known he was a lawyer and just glazed over and never pursued that. But you know, you just got to work the connections you have and build the bridges from point A to point B where you see them.
Sushant Misra : But just the to play the devil’s advocate a little bit. Do let’s say that you know, someone else, or the Chinese manufacturer that you were working with before maybe you know, they start selling your item, which they’re very adept at making at this point? Maybe the you know, the change the the the print of it or something, you know, modify the design a little bit? Would it be worth it for you this is just a hypothetical thing, like would it be worth it for you to go after someone like a Chinese manufacturer? Or even if someone is in the US? Wouldn’t it be like a big legal cost to do something like
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : that? I don’t know that we’d go after them. But what we would do is, is, is bring that information to the platforms. And like where we sell, that’s a no, no. So if we have established documentation that says they’re infringing on XYZ, and I give that to like another platform, then it gets easier for them to at least prohibit them from selling it so and if they can’t sell it, then they’re not going to make the money they need to make so I mean that that was huge, like you need to be uncertain channels to sell large volumes and those channels would be easy to come to with that information to help block that person from doing something like that.
Sushant Misra : Okay. Now I when I was doing the research, I read somewhere that initially to get some of the feedback and things like that you. You went out to trade shows and things like that and you actually paid people some money and get Have them the product and try to get feedback. Can you share a little bit about that process and how that was useful for you?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : That was super useful. Because that let us know like how many people would how many trees they had, if they were interested in like a brown bar, or like a birch versus like a candy cane type of texture. And what we learned was, from that exact thing, we actually learned that this was not really something we wanted to pursue, but people were absolutely interested in, you know, this and this. We did that at trade shows a little bit. It wasn’t paid at trade shows. But we did ask a lot of questions at the trade shows where we actually ended up paying people was, I would go to friends garage sales, and show up with my products. And they’re already they’re like, with a couple bucks cash, trying to buy knickknacks and stuff. So it was like, hey, we’ll give you five bucks. At this garage, they gave us permission to like set up at the front of the driveways and things like that, give five bucks to like review this product, we had an online survey through an app on the iPad, and then fill it out, give them five bucks, and then they go to garage sale and spend it on the garage sale. So it worked out for everybody. And we got some from valuable and some valuable information out of that.
Sushant Misra : So the kind of feedback you were looking for was just different offered the you know if they would be willing to buy this product. Yeah, the store.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Yeah, things like that. Just the stuff that like I said, we could eventually get to and figure out. But by the time you figure it out, the season’s over, I have to wait a whole year to implement it. So that just speeds up the process in the beginning, especially where like, you need to make a few key decisions that will change the future of your business rather quickly. And sometimes you can’t afford to wait a whole year to learn that, like you just want to learn it as fast as possible. So those focus groups and surveys are great for that. And early on in the company, I didn’t have the cash to focus on like an actual professional focus group. So that was the idea that I landed on, like a hack almost to kind of reached out to people who were having garage sales that I knew or ask them if they wanted to have a garage sale and a lot of people just do they don’t get around to it. And I was like, Hey, you know money? If you’re going to do that, let me let me sit out front and ask you some questions. I’ll give them some money to like spend on your garage sale. So that worked out pretty well.
Sushant Misra : I think I think that’s a very interesting point. And you know that that whole guerilla approach of going after the people your your target market and I think your product is more general in terms of you know, a lot of people general public who use Christmas trees would be willing to use it. But anyone I think even there the niche product, I think people and I suppose you would recommend it also is people should go find where those people are hanging out. And I think the best kind of feedback people can get is like face to face one on one. And a lot of times that people are hesitant on doing that kind of thing, or making a phone call. And they want to do this like you know, Facebook ads and things like that. But I would you recommend it’s always a good approach and maybe even a less expensive approach to actually try to find people in person and try to get that feedback. One on one.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Yeah, I mean, if you have the cash that you want to invest into Facebook, that’s that’s wonderful. But there’s something about that face to face, that it’s always better. It’s also like the same thing with cold calls you can generate leads multiple ways. But something about hearing that person’s voice, and especially if it’s a video talk like this, that face to face interaction brings out a different degree of seriousness for the questions and people start to think about it differently. I feel like an online survey is going to be the questions would be answered slightly different than if someone you just gave someone $5 to go shopping and grace sound like you had a personal interaction with them. Like they’re probably going to be more vested and honest with the answers they’re giving to you, you know.
Sushant Misra : Now I want to talk to you about a little bit about financing. In the beginning. I know you did quite a few different things. I know there was an indie Indiegogo campaign that you ran. And I think there was a small bone goal for that. Could you share, like, did you invest some of your personal money in the beginning? What were some of the initial
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : some time to get around that? The whole time, I was starting to set my goal was to be frugal with my personal savings. And I will invest I was willing to invest a lot of my time to make it work. But I wanted to bootstrapped it with some other ways. And that was the way that I needed that much. That’s the thing like what I needed wasn’t a huge amount. It’s not like this crazy tech project project or something that involves all these different molds and it’s pretty simple stuff. So it made so much sense for me to just do the Indiegogo approach and that was more than enough to get my first batch to actually Start with and once you get the first batch, any any profits from that were easily redistributed to developing things further down the line as we progressed. So I mean, yeah, got a little bit lucky there and just having a simple product. It’s a double edged sword, though. There’s no there’s not many places I can take it and it’s very limited seasonality wise, right. So, yeah,
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : but you can’t have it all sometimes.
Sushant Misra : Yeah, I mean, I know, you mentioned seasonality a couple of times. Is it? What are your Do you think people should pursue businesses that are seasonal? Of course, you know, at the end of the day, I would assume that, you know, if overall, you’re profitable, then I think, and if your goal is not, and I don’t know, like what, I guess it would depend on someone’s personal goals on you know, what kind of how big a business someone is looking to build? What are some of your pros and cons that you think, you know, of this kind of business like a seasonal business?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : pros our time, and we, once we get our decisions made for the year, it’s really just a few weeks of going back and forth and my business partner about our plans and goals. They’re not that hard to set an action. And once the season goes, it is pretty, pretty automated at this point. So that time that I put up in the beginning, that I was willing to trade off for maybe investing my own money, it’s kind of reverse now or like, I’m getting a lot of that time back. And this thing is pretty, pretty easy, breezy, hands off as far as maintained maintenance. But as far as any, like plans to take over the world and create a huge, giant juggernaut business. Is it possible? Sure, I’m sure I’m sure, maybe I could do it one day, and maybe somebody else could do better. But it’s not, it’s never really been all about that. It was more for fun, and like a personal bullet check off, like, I want to make my own product type of thing in the beginning, and it’s gone really well. And I’ve had some amazing opportunities that have been searched for myself, and some have just come to me out of out of a little bit of luck. But yeah, the pros and cons are like that time versus money. Really, if you got a non seasonal product here, your opportunity to make more money is pretty high. But you’re also going to be a lot more time consumed throughout the entire year where something like this, you can, you’re probably going to not make as much you could, there are some things that are seasonal, that are just they have insane sales, volume wise, which one day maybe this could be that for, you know, two or three months a year. And we are getting better each year. So I got my fingers crossed on that. But time was very, very minimal impact. So that’s the biggest pro for the seasonal. As far as this is concerned.
Sushant Misra : Shark Tank? Can you share a little bit about you know, what was that process of getting on? And and was it more like you wanted to get on and it would give you this, you know, mass exposure so that you would be able to make more sales? Or was it more of a strategic decision of actually going out for funding?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : No, that was always about that was my super, that was my free superbowl commercial. That’s how I pitched it to myself out loud to other people, like this is my superbowl commercial, like for free. And I always at the trade shows and things like that. I would tell people before it even happened, I’d be like, you know, we’re gonna try to get on Shark Tank. So like keep an eye out for us. And before I even tried, somehow, the producers had seen the product on online. And I think they actually found it on Indiegogo, which is crazy. They just saw the video on Indiegogo, they’re always looking for new ideas for for segments of the show. And the producer. Ice got a random email from a producer at Shark Tank one day. And I didn’t believe it was true. I can’t tell you all the details, because there’s some things I’m just not allowed to talk to based on the gun. So but from the email address that came to it wasn’t apparent that it was 100% Shark Tank contact. Okay, I have a friend of mine who was a little bit of a pain in my butt back then. And I thought he was pranking me. So I came this close to not even responding to it. Which man that was, if I if I just deleted that email, I was like, Man, this guy is really just trying to get on my skin. But I responded to it. And it was real after the first response, that response that was apparent when they responded back to me and then we set up a phone call me and the producer. And we just talked about how Christmas is a tough time of year for them to find something that’s different for their show. So this this was a no brainer for them. And they gave me all the packet of information and the questions. The processes to go through. At any point in the process, this thing could have fallen apart up to the very, very end. It didn’t, it was it was a great experience. I got my butt handed to me. I literally coached myself to get ready to have my butt handed to me because we were so this happened so early on, like we were so new still, like the numbers weren’t there to be that impressive. And I knew Evan was gonna just come out anyway, this hurt his hurricane Kevin storm. And he did and I have thick skin I always have I used to do door to door sales, and I do a lot of pitching and proposals for, for my job on a daily basis, I hear a lot of nose and I get a lot of barriers that have to break through. So that wasn’t an issue. But then, as far as publicity, I mean, if anyone ever gets an opportunity to get on there, even if you think your your stuff is not like up to par, just do it. Because no matter what, that many have eyeballs on your stuff, no matter how that goes is gonna work out for you. You’ll be able to spin that in a way that makes you some money for sure.
Sushant Misra : Yeah, I think it probably has probably opened a lot of opportunities in terms of press and things like that. But did you also after airing of that episode? Did you feel a huge bump and filth?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Oh, yeah. Yeah, for sure. There is. And it’s instant. Right? It can be better if also, this is another like seasonal thing, because of when that airs. And this is the seasonality of the product. It’s like a really tough timeline. So like make it hit perfect when it airs. So that wasn’t spot on. But even so like, the sales were instant, they were non stopped and the phone was vibrating with the alerts for sales is like just moving on it sound like it had legs for for several days. So that was awesome. And he runs to like, I’ll get there’ll be a day randomly in the summer. Sometimes I’m like, Oh my gosh, like I’m just sold a ton of these things. And I realize, okay, yeah, Shark Tank just retired. So that’s nice. It’s evergreen in that way where it just gets replayed on and on and on. So you’re slowly building the audience bigger and bigger and bigger. And the best thing about it, like I mentioned before, this all goes back to the beginning where I was like, I have to invent this problem in a way, I just need people to see it. Because once they see it, they can’t unsee it. And what that show does now is as even if we don’t get sales from it, what it does is it it just makes people aware of like their trays all the way on the bottom. It’s just the simple facts, and it might bother them and it might not, but now they know. Yeah, yeah.
Sushant Misra : QVC? Yeah. I’m very interested in knowing how does one get on QVC? Because if I understand correctly, they have a huge audience base. And I think anyone who gets on QVC, like see the huge sales growth. Could you share a little bit about how did you get on QVC? What is that process like, of pitching on QVC and, and your experience with that,
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : if I remember correctly, it’s been a little bit now, I had gone to LinkedIn, and typed in buyers QVC. And I found a few names. And then I called reception at QVC. And I asked to be connected to those people. And for each of those people, I left a painfully long pitch of my product, where after I left them said you’re like, wow, that was way too long, I probably blew that. But the next day, after I did that, I got a call from one of the buyers and she wanted to hear more about the project. And I remember I was in a parking garage on the top level when she called me back. And I live in Atlanta. And there was it was just there was a day where one of the bridges in Atlanta caught on fire, and it was just burning down. And I’m sitting in this parking lot watching this bridge burned down and talking to Katie. And like as this thing is being destroyed here, like EVC opportunity is like rising. And it’s just this really cool conversation where I just knew right there, this is gonna, this was gonna work out and I was gonna get on that show based on the level of interest. So they had some minor tweaks they want to make to the product to have it be a feasible investment for them, which we made. And then we got on the show and as far as prepping for that I’d practice my pitch in front of friends and family. I took a improv class, just to get over my fear of stages because I hate public speaking and took lots of videos of myself speaking just just tried to make my comfort zone a little a little less insane than it then it was naturally. And you go there and you practice in front of them. They have to make sure you’re not going to pass it on camera before Yeah, all that good stuff.
Sushant Misra : So what is it what is that preparation timeframe like did like two months of preparation, how long did you prepare?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : No, you go there you go. There on set. With a bunch of other people who have segments coming up in the near future, and you have like a day course at QVC, where they go over how they work, what’s the history a little bit behind the personalities of the show, you have certain things you fill out as far as forms that you have to be prepared to talk about in this room. And they have judges that kind of assess your ability to handle being in a situation like that. And then afterwards, they’ll critique and they’ll give feedback. And then there’s a day to where you go back. And it’s, it’s alive. It’s a not live segment, like you’re practicing in front of the camera, and you have your hosts there with you helping you out so you can see exactly what’s going to go down. That’s like your dry run. After that your green lighted or you’re not green lighted, based on how that goes. And then they give you a date, and you show up and go, you go from there. And if it’s not your thing, it’s gonna be hard. Just practice?
Sushant Misra : Yeah. I mean, it’s, it seems like to me a very, very highly, highly structured sales presentation. Do they do they actually buy does QVC, buy a bunch of your products beforehand, and that’s what they’re selling, and you’re basically pitching it? Or is it that you know, whatever they sell, and during that timeframe, that’s what you’re going to know they’re going to pay you based on that
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : they buy a mass amount, and then that pitch is the kickoff to selling it. And then that ad that you have online for that spot for your product is attached to that video after it goes live. So they’ll get like a huge wave of sales based on the live airing. And then they’ll just take that recording and attach it to your product with some product images and descriptions, just like any online sales platform.
Sushant Misra : And the incentive. And the and the incentive for QVC is to always be bringing new products or like, wouldn’t you want to I would assume that everyone would want to go back on QVC and pitch it again and again, because it gives us such a huge boost in sales.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Yeah. And if it does well enough, trust me, they’ll have you back on every year, but it didn’t do to get on every year.
Sushant Misra : Okay. I want to talk briefly about your marketing efforts. So I know that it’s a seasonal business do you have like, it must be really clear for you, you know, which dates you want to do your best marketing leading up to that that really the holiday and the Christmas season? Can you share a little bit about your you know, how you get prepared for marketing every year? And what are some of the digital channels and and, and other marketing efforts that you’re utilizing.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : This is where you’re gonna slap me, I haven’t done you can give me the digital slap. I haven’t done any marketing as far as like Facebook ads and stuff like that, or Google ads or anything like that. It’s it’s just as what I do for the marketing has been the write ups and the photos, just tweaking things like that, that are actually on the sites. And I let the sites that I put it on, do the marketing. So Home Depot does its own marketing for the product. Amazon does its own marketing, because it’s Amazon top choice. And it does like the thing where it recommends your product to go with other things. If you bought this, like you should consider this type of stuff. We could absolutely probably a good idea to ramp up marketing with our own budget, we just haven’t done it. I think part of that is selfishly I as much as I love working on the project. Like I also have, I’m a pretty restless, creative person, I have other things I’m constantly working on. And the things I’m working on now do take up more of the year. So this thing is is in the autopilot realm currently, I do change the packaging, I to change the design, I have a few ideas that we’ll be launching in the next year, that will change the product itself pretty drastically. But um, marketing wise, that’s kind of where I focus as of as of this point so far. It’s more physical changes in images and stuff like that.
Sushant Misra : But as an entrepreneur, do you think that it’s, it’s enough? Like, do you think that you can leverage Facebook and this product like this would make a really great?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Yeah, Facebook ad kind of a thing and that especially in that holiday season, it’s like it could really help you both fulfilled? Yeah, that would probably drive a lot more traffic to our actual website. And out of all the places we sell that we do really well but our our actual website has the least volume of everything. So yeah, we’ve in the past just kind of leaned on the systems that we place it in to do a lot of the heavy lifting. But yes, you know, I should be I should be attacking that a little harder. 100% I should
Sushant Misra : what is coming next for Christmas tree tree hugger? are you adding more products? Are you just continuing to push on this product that you have? What’s next for you?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Yeah, we’re adding more products. I actually, I’m just not comfortable talking about what those will be at this point. But next year, there will be at least one other option, product wise out there. Can you share like, one or two, the year after that? I would say,
Sushant Misra : Okay, can you share one or two mistakes that you think you made during, you know, the whole journey of launching this product? Or the business? Or failures? And what have you learned from that? And what can other entrepreneurs learn from that?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Here’s the thing, I could say, I’ve made this one mistake, but 100%, honesty wise, it’s I’ve made a million mistakes on this thing. There’s been mistakes every year, and there’s been multiple of them. But in retrospect, all the good things that have come in the long run so far, have been born from those mistakes. So it’s not about like, have I made a mistake? It’s, it’s I’ve made many, and I’m proud of them. And I think those mistakes are the reason that I have been successful, I think you should be making mistakes. And if you are, which is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing. Just make sure you’re learning from them.
Sushant Misra : I guess I guess, you know, not everyone has the data and the information to make the perfect decisions all the time. And so it’s like, you have to try it out. And you have to make the decision. And you have to be, I guess, assess the that it’s not going to kill your business, and you’re going to be able to learn from it.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Exactly. There’s an imperfect action that goes behind starting something like this. There’s a lot of new businesses that fail but Tell you what, you start a new business and you make a mistake. And it could be a denture detrimental mistake to that business. But that still doesn’t stop stop you from making another business or learning from that mistake to do something else. And pivot down the line that you won’t make that mistake again, there’s always something to learn from it, there’s always somewhere to go from those mistakes, always
Sushant Misra : know, we’re going to do a rapid fire round, where I’m going to ask you a few quick questions, and you have to answer them in one or two words or one or two sentences. So the first one is, do you have any book recommendations for entrepreneurs or business people in 2020? And why?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : In 2020, I’m really digging in his books are good Donald Miller. He has a book called Building a story brand. And he has a class that he teaches called story brand marketing. And I’ve been fortunate enough to go to that, that training, which is really fun. But just in general, if you if you google Donald Miller, and check out his website and sign up for his daily emails of business insights, they are awesome. I mean, some of those five minute videos are worth as much as I’ve gotten from entire books. So I’d say for 2020, as far as the year that’s changing constantly, and everyone’s distracted and crazy and running around like they’re their heads on fire. Check out Donald Miller and see if you can get on to that list where he gives you those insights daily. Those are great.
Sushant Misra : Any innovative product or idea in the current ecommerce retailer tech landscape that you’re excited about, um,
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : one that I use a lot, as of recent is canva.com. And I think for entrepreneurs especially, it is such a good place to find templates and tools and assets for building logos, presentations, packaging, social media ads, just it’s all there. It’s all built from you and it looks fantastic. I’m a designer by trade and I even go there to get stuff because it just saves so much time and it looks so good. canva.com that’s like an amazing tool that more and more people are catching on to also there’s a site called skillshare.com which is a collective hub if you think of it as is more of like a refined curated YouTube experience where you can go to learn all different types of software’s and programs and things like that to help build your business and your
Sushant Misra : your strategies and things. A productivity tool or software that either you use or you recommend.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Man I think I already mentioned it does kind of fit that category too. Sorry about that. Grammarly. Grammarly is awesome. I was amazed I’ve been amazed over the last few years, how that has streamlined my writing process and made my writing better and more just more confident and sending emails and writing proposals and getting things in front of prospective clients or business partners. That just seemed more polished and buttoned up. It’s a simple tool, it’s easy to use, you can almost use it blindfolded. And it just makes your writing sound better, which is huge, because it makes a big difference.
Sushant Misra : Yep. A beer entrepreneur or business person who inspires you,
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : too. Well, Donald Miller, going back to him, I think he just inspires me because right now he’s just so relevant with the speed and the type of content that he’s coming out with. And his whole thing is focused around changing your your story, your brand’s story. And a lot of that needs to happen right now. And people are finding themselves in situations where it’s, it’s sink, or swim do or die. So I think right now, that would be my go to look up to personality for for right now.
Sushant Misra : The best business advice that you have ever received, or you would give to other entrepreneurs.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : I think we touched on it earlier, but like that, that not not being afraid to fail. And I got that from my uncle, who has his he has been amazingly successful in his career, but has experienced many failures, just to give a reference of who he is. So my uncle is the official voice of SpongeBob SquarePants. And to get to that point, he had to go he had to go through a lot of rejections and auditions and in the course of his career things that, especially in that field of acting and voice acting, and there’s a lot of ups and downs. So hearing a few of his stories have inspired me over the years of like what it takes to push through some of the bad to get to the best things out there in your life.
Sushant Misra : And finally, do you believe in luck?
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : Hell no. Yeah, I do a little bit I just believe in. It’s a crazy world with all sorts of combinations and the more stuff you mix up, the better. There’s always going to be that luck factor. Yeah, but you can have more luck. If you push yourself in a direction that gets you there. Your luck is still gonna happen. If you sit on your butt watching Netflix all day, you’ll probably have just the tiniest bit of luck but off your TV and commit to doing what you’re doing. You’re gonna have more luck, so looks anything like that.
Sushant Misra : Yeah. Those were all the questions that I had today. Ryan, thank you so much for sharing your story for sharing all the different strategies and tactics that you have used to start and grow your business. Now is your time to share your website how people can get in touch by your products. So yeah, your time please go ahead. Your
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : website is the Christmas tree hugger calm and we sell the lion’s share of our products on Amazon so just go to Amazon and type in the Christmas tree hugger and it will come up you’ll see it there this season. We got a whole literal boatload on the sea right now coming over we should have will be fully restock restocked by October
Sushant Misra : Perfect. Thank you so much again, Ryan for joining us today really appreciate your time and all the information that you should store. Yeah.
Ryan Kenny of The Christmas Tree Hugger : No problem. Happy to happy to do it. Thank you.
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