Big retail stores like Walmart are often viewed as cutthroat competitors for many small business owners.
But for this entrepreneur, figuring out retail distribution in both big box and boutique stores has helped sell their products like nothing else.
On today’s podcast you’ll hear from Dallas Robinson, the founder of Kisstixx, a lip locking balm that adds chemistry to every kiss.
Find out how he used online advertising to drive traffic to offline retail stores and why he chose to do it.
You have to help that retailer move products off the shelf. One of the things we spend most of our marketing budget on is specific demographic info—who's in that community where there's a Walmart or Target.
Tune in to learn
- What makes a product scalable
- How to successfully launch your product at a trade show
- How to spend your first 30 days when developing a new product
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Today, I’m joined by Dallas Robinson from kisstixx.com. That’s K-I-S-S-T-I-X-X.COM. Kisstixx sells a lip-locking balm that adds chemistry to every kiss and was started in 2010 and based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Welcome, Dallas.
Dallas: Hey, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.
Felix: Yeah, excited to have you on. I actually heard about the business through CharTech, myself. I’m not sure when it aired, but I remember seeing it on the TV. Tell us, the audience a little bit more about your story and the product that you started.
Dallas: Absolutely. I had a crazy idea in high school, actually. I did a lot of outdoor sports. I was all the time, outside, wakeboarding, snowboarding, doing motocross, and my lips would get all dry and chapped. Then, I’d have like prom the next weekend, so I tried every type of lip balm possible that was out there. I hated it all. Either it would tasted disgusting, and it worked really well, or it didn’t work, and it tasted great, or it tasted great, and it was made for little teenage girls, you know?
I thought how cool would it be to have a lip balm that comes in two compatible flavors, that I could use when I’m out riding motocross or on a lake, wakeboarding, and then, at prom, I could give another one to my date, and the two would come together and create a reaction on contact. Something would happen. Some cool experience, when the two lip balms came together.
That’s how it started. It was just a total idea in high school. I kept thinking about it through my first couple of years of college, and then, finally, as a junior in college, I had a business presentations class. I used the concept of Kisstixx and presented to the class, and everybody loved it and went crazy. The professor actually held me after class and said it was one of the most scalable ideas he’d ever seen, and he would actually invest it in, if I was going to move forward with it. That kind of gave me the confidence to just jump into it and create a company.
Felix: That’s awesome that you had so much support early on. Did you ever have experience launching other products in the past, like during college or anything or was this your very first entrepreneurial?
Dallas: Yeah, not at all. I had zero experience. I had no idea how to launch a product or take a product to market. I had no idea how to create lip balm. I had no background in chemistry or anything like that, so it was really starting completely from scratch.
Felix: Awesome. You said the professor mentioned that it was a very scalable idea. Can you speak more about this? What makes the particular product a very scalable product?
Dallas: Yeah. He said he had seen hundreds of these presentations before. A lot of business concepts. A lot of different business ideas. He thought and from his perspective, he could see the virality of this product and the ability to go into a bunch of stores, across multiple demographics and be something, the marketing side really be something that people could get excited about, and it would be sharable. That’s kind of what he saw in it and initially was like, “Okay, this is pretty cool.”
Felix: Did he end up investing in the business?
Dallas: I did not end up taking anything from him. It was too early on. It was just so concept stage at this point. It was very, very just slapped together for this presentation. I didn’t end up taking any money from him, but he gave me that extra confidence and that push over the edge, into the unknown. That’s, I think, the biggest … That was a critical moment for me of leaving behind a fantastic job. I was in the family business. My dad owns a very, very successful business. I jumped off the cliff into the unknown of entrepreneurship. That kind of gave me that extra shove that I needed.
Felix: Makes sense. What was the first step, then? You had all this great feedback early on. Did you jump on it right away or did you sit on it and kind of plan things out?
Dallas: Immediately after that, I started trying to figure out the chemistry because that was one of the most critical parts of the product. As a broke college kid, I had no money going into this at all, so I had to be creative. That’s one of the biggest things I learned early on is to how to get things done creatively without having to spend the money.
Literally, what I did is I went to Google and typed into Google “how to make lip balm.” I started learning about all the different ingredients that could go into it. I started learning about all the different ones that I did want and I didn’t want, and how to make it taste the way I wanted but still have that SPF sunscreen protection that I wanted. Pretty soon, I had a good idea of what I did and didn’t want.
I started finding chemists and found actually a local chemist. Turns out in Salt Lake City, there’s a whole bunch of a … There’s actually some of the biggest lip balm producers in the country, here, in Salt Lake, which I had no idea. I was able to get appointments with them and able to convince them to go ahead and create the formulations for me, for free, and then was able to start ordering product from them.
I took a loan from my parents. They gave me $5,000 to kick this business off. I went to the school and had the graphic design department create me packaging and a logo and a website for some of their senior projects. It was just the scrappiest startup you can imagine. We just had zero budget and did everything on the cheap and ended up launching the company.
It took a long time doing it that way, with no budget, but it ended up good. We finally got packaging. We used that first $5,000 to buy initial inventory. We started just selling that everywhere we could. In the hallways of the school, to little salons and boutiques around town, and then, we threw up our first website.
Felix: Very cool. Like you said, you got creative when you didn’t have the budget to pay people, not necessarily, I guess, market rates or [inaudible 00:07:06] at all, to do these things for you. I think that’s a very smart approach early on, especially like you were saying, you don’t have the budget. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, when they are in this kind of situation, they are hesitant to do that because maybe they’re ashamed to ask or pull in favors. Did you ever have that kind of feeling? Maybe it’s not right to … I’m not saying it’s not right, but people might think that it’s not right to be bugging people to get them cheap or free stuff?
Dallas: No. I didn’t really care because this is the way I looked at it. First of all, there’s a lot of mentors out there and a lot of people that will take young entrepreneurs under their wing and help you along. We did that. We reached out to a lot of people for some guidance and for help. Then, on the other side, we looked at, it was beneficial for these people who were creating our logos and our packaging. We couldn’t afford a huge ad agency or people who had tons of experience in logo design, but these kids needed to do a senior project. It’s something they had to do anyways, and we were giving them an idea to be able to create something really cool. They were doing it anyway. To us, that was a win-win.
Being able to ask favors and do that sort of stuff, we asked that of everyone. The way we looked at it is, they were rocking it. They were successful. They were doing a great job, and we had this cool little idea, and there’s no way other way to get it off the ground. People were so amazing and so awesome to be able to kind of give back to us as these young little hustler entrepreneurs. It was amazing how the entrepreneurial community really like gathers around and roots for you and cheers you as you’re going up. It was amazing. Incredible experience.
Felix: Yeah, definitely don’t undervalue the scrappy story, I guess, angle that you definitely took advantage of because a lot of people, like you’re saying, have been in those shoes before, especially since that’s what entrepreneurs, and they do want to help, and they’re just kind of surprised, a lot times waiting for people to seek them out because they sometimes don’t need the monetary benefits of helping you today, want that feeling of giving back to the community that helped them get started.
Felix: You mentioned that you first, you started looking around for a chemist. Now, are these chemists, are they focused on creating commercial products? How do you even begin … I don’t know where to even begin looking for a chemist to create a product. How did you put on this process?
Dallas: Yeah, honestly, I just started hitting Google. I ended up looking “chemist lip balm chemist,” and then it took me on this, down this rabbit hole of finding, there’s this factory in Oregon that does it. Typically, what I found out is a chemist, a factory will have an in-house chemist. They typically have a range of specialties. They do everything from cosmetics to lip balm to consumer products. I mean all types of lotions and potions, we call it. Once I found that, then I started contacting the factories and started talking to their in-house chemist. That’s really when I was able to get to the next level and find out what I needed. I started getting quotes back from people. I started having these conversations and learning. Some of my quotes were as high as $50,000 to create my formula. That obviously wasn’t going to work.
Eventually, after talking to enough people and finding somebody who was in my own backyard here in Salt Lake City, I was able to find someone who believed in the product and the project enough to be able to do that formulation for me for free, and then, of course, purchase the lip balm from them.
Felix: Very nice. When you are working with a chemist, based on your experience working with chemist, what kind of industries requires a chemist? It sounds like, obviously, yours, but like do people work with chemists in the food industry? What industries requires chemists?
Dallas: Now, I’m in multiple industries. Definitely the food side, you have to have a food chemist for all types of different projects and make sure you’re abiding by certain guidelines, especially in the food side, but then on the cosmetics side, where it all started, is you have to somebody who really knows what they’re doing to combine ingredients and especially because SPF, if you put sunscreen in anything, it actually becomes an over-the-counter drug, which is watched by the FDA. It’s regulated by the FDA. There’s all types of things you have to be aware of and be cautious of, when you put sunscreen in your product.
All that kind of learning curve, you start to really, as you have more and more of these conversations, you find out what they can and can’t do, what types of lotions can they specialize in, and cosmetics. Then, you take it even a step further if you go into like color cosmetics and makeup, which we’ve dabbled in a little bit. It’s a whole different set of rules. Everybody has their expertise is what I’ve found. You really have to understand what that factory and what that chemist can do and where their specialty lies and use them for that and use another factory for a different project. Don’t try to put everything under one roof.
Felix: Because these chemists that you’re working with, the people in the industry, they’re so specialized, were you ever concerned that you just couldn’t keep up with what they’re talking about? How did you make sure that you were educated enough to make the right product design and business decisions?
Dallas: That’s one thing that I love is absorbing that information. As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is that I need to be teachable. That’s one of the biggest things I always tell when I’m speaking to young entrepreneurs or talking to people is being teachable and absorbing other people’s info and being around people who know so much more than you do. It’s amazing, and it’s wonderful the types of things that you can just absorb that way.
Felix: What mistakes do you think aspiring entrepreneurs make that prevents them from being teachable?
Dallas: I think they feel like they have to know it all, from the beginning. They feel like, “Oh, now, I’m an entrepreneur. Now, I have to know everything right away,” and that’s not the case. I mean you really have to lean on people with the expertise in a new market. Like you’ve got the idea. You’ve got the vision. That’s fantastic. Run with it, but you got to pick up people along the way and get guidance from people who have been there before and who know this product and this industry backwards and forwards, or it’s going to be very, very difficult to succeed.
Felix: Yeah, I’ve heard this phrase called the beginner’s mind, which is that you always want to approach any problem, even if you are in the industry for a long time, with a beginner’s kind of perspective. Otherwise, you will, and I think once you start getting a little more arrogant, I guess, about knowing too much or expecting that you don’t want to make it seem like you don’t know an answer to something, that’s when the kind of young guns that are coming up behind you that have this kind of teachable attribute to them will essentially take over because they are willing to absorb as much information as possible, and you kind of just hang around at where you’re at before.
Dallas: Yeah. You’ll get left behind. Absolutely.
Felix: For sure. When you are working with a chemist, what’s that process like? What kind of input do you give, and what do they provide back to you, at the end of the day?
Dallas: Typically, the way it works is you go in there and have an initial meeting and you lay out exactly what the project will look like. For example, on lip balm, we go in there, and we say, “Okay, here’s the type of … ” “We want it to feel like this.” We take in certain brands. That’s one way I found really effective way to do this is I take in certain brands, and I say, “I would love for it to feel like this one. The touch and the feel should be like this. The flavor should be like this, and the consistency should be like this.” Essentially, I’m going to combine five or six items to create exactly what I want. Now, I don’t know the types of ingredients it will take to get there, but that’s the chemist’s job. They can pull the ingredients and say, “Okay. To make the consistency right, I need this percentage of this ingredient. I need the taste right. I need this percentage of this ingredient and this type of flavor,” and then their job is to combine that all and get you samples back.
Usually, it takes a couple of weeks, depending on how fast the chemist house is to crank out a first initial sample. We went through six months of samples until we had it right. It can be a discouraging process, going through and saying, “Man, this just isn’t quite right,” and having to learn how to communicate that back to the chemist to get what you want. Those lines of communication really have to be open because you’ve got something in your head, you have to be able to describe that, and they have to be able to create that. That could be a difficult process and a lengthy process as well, but finally, we got something awesome. Then, we’ve done it over and over and over again.
Felix: Yeah, this six-month’s process, I think a lot of people would be discouraged. They might even just drop out because they might think that I’m never get to the right formulation. Now, for you, how did you know that you arrived at that right formulation that made you say okay this is good to ship?
Dallas: It’s just something that I think I had in my mind exactly how I wanted it. I wanted a smooth consistency. I wanted at least an SPF 15 level. I wanted the taste just to be like unreal. That’s one thing that I ramped up the flavor content probably six or seven times. I kept coming back, and I was like, “No, more flavor. More flavor. More flavor.” I wanted something that I would be comfortable using on a everyday basis that would be good and protect my lips, but then, also, have this punch of flavor and this combination effect. It really had to do that. The flavors really had to mix on contact or the whole point of, the whole marketing spin of our product would not work. Finally, when we got it back, and the flavors were right, the consistency was right, the SPF content was right, you couldn’t taste any of the SPF, it was right on and dialed. We’re like, “Okay. Game on. Let’s do this. Let’s make our first shipment.”
Felix: Nice. Once that formula was done, what was next? How did you prepare the products for that first shipment?
Dallas: We used that first 5,000 bucks. We used some of it on packaging and some of it on the lip balm, put everything together, and we actually packed everything ourselves. That first initial one. We got packaging from one supplier. We did little boxes that they went in. We packaged every single one of them in my apartment. Once we had them all together, then it was time to just get them out there and start selling them. We booked every single inexpensive trade show we could possibly think of. We started selling to little boutiques, little salons, stuff that’s easy to get in there and talk to a buyer. Then, we threw up the website. We started, initially, trying to market on the website, but we had no idea what we were doing, on that side, so we were better at the face-to-face sales, I think, than we were ever were on the online side.
Felix: Did you have to validate the product with anyone while going through this process of creating that formula or even before you ordered that first shipment or did you know it that inside that this was the right product?
Dallas: I always had wanted to try it. Something inside of me was just … I kept having this little nagging feeling of, “If you don’t do it, you’re going to kick yourself later. It’s going to be two, three, four years down the road, and you’re just really gonna kick yourself.” As I looked at it, I knew I was pretty good at sales. That’s what I had done in college. That’s what I did for my dad’s company. I thought. “It’s a fairly low risk for me to buy $5,000 worth of product, and even if I have to go out there and sell every one of these units myself, I probably can sell these.”
The first $5,000 was really our test. That was our test market. We didn’t do any focus groups or market studies or anything like that. I felt it was a low enough risk. Because I was fairly good at sales, I could go out there and hustle through that first 5 grand.
Felix: You mentioned, I think, three different avenues that you took right off the bat. You looked for trade shows to go to. You sold to boutiques. I think you’re also maybe just selling, you said in the hallways and everything. You’re selling to people directly.
Felix: Did you attack all three channels at the same time or was there one of the three that you wanted to focus on first?
Dallas: I did. I wanted to get it everywhere as fast as I possibly could, so I went after anything and everything, where I could sell some of these things.
Felix: Okay. Let’s start with the trade shows, then. What was that like? How did you identify which trade shows to be at?
Dallas: I just looked anything up in my local community of where people could set up booths and sell stuff. I mean that’s how it started. It led me to different little local trade shows like that are called “What Women Want,” for example. It’s like a shopping trade show, where you have a ton of booths and a ton of women and their daughters and their friends and girls’ night and whatever, show up to these trade shows and just buy a whole bunch of stuff. I was like, “Brilliant. That’s perfect.” We know at least 50% of our demographic is women, and so we’re going after this. We’d show up to these things. It’d cost us 400 bucks for a booth. We’d show up, and we just sell these things $5 at a time.
Felix: Were you taking this kind of targeted approach in the beginning or did you learn over time, how to identify which trade shows had the demographic that you’re going after?
Dallas: We knew fairly quickly, after being in the hallways, selling these in the hallways of our school and that type of thing, that women actually gravitated more quickly to our product than men did, so it was kind of … We saw that very early on just from selling it face-to-face. That’s what we learned really quickly. After that, once we got girls in big groups, and they saw our product and saw kind of the concept behind it and laughed and thought it was hilarious, they all would buy like several sets. We’re like, “Okay, brilliant. We go to get in front of a lot of women.”
Felix: For anyone out there that’s thinking about taking this route of going to trade shows to kick off their sales, any tips that you can offer on how to successfully launch at a trade show?
Dallas: Yeah. I mean don’t go too big, too fast. When I say trade show, I’m using the term very loosely because these were like local, almost like just vendors setting up booths. They market it fairly well, but it’s like a weekend sort of thing. It’s not like a traditional massive trade show because you can spend so much money on a trade show. We’ve done it both ways. We’ve been to the massive retail trade shows. We’ve been to these little ones.
It’s a nice way to kick off, these little ones, because they’re inexpensive. You can go set up, and you can get real customer feedback immediately. I think that was the most valuable thing is for us to hear people talking about our product, trying it right in front of us, and showing, and being like, “Oh, yeah. I really like this flavor.” Or, “Oh, I don’t care for this flavor as much.” Getting that information and data back was priceless for us. Then, when we went to big retail afterwards, and we started marketing more online, we knew a lot more about our customer. We were there on the front lines, you know, grinding at these trade shows, but really learning a lot.
Felix: During these in-person sales at these trade shows or just selling in person, were people pretty honest with their feedback or did you have to kind of try to dig out of them, dig out the negative?
Dallas: It depends, yeah. It depends on the person, but most people are pretty honest. I found people are pretty honest if they like or don’t like something, you can tell immediately, and then we would push it a little bit and just say, “It looks like you kind of don’t like that. What don’t you like about that?” Most of that was flavor. Flavor is something that’s unique to every single individual, whether they like something or whether they don’t. We found a lot of people like certain flavors, and then there’s a section of people who really just hate coconut, for example. But the majority of people like it, so it’s a pretty safe flavor to roll out there, nationwide.
Felix: I like how pursued learning more about why someone didn’t like something. A lot of times, our natural reaction to someone not liking something is to say, “Let me let you try this one instead,” and try to direct them to different product rather than trying to learn about why didn’t like that specific one. I think there’s a great lesson to be learned there. Did people get the product right away when they saw it or did it require some education or explanation, especially early on when you maybe didn’t have all the learnings yet?
Dallas: Yeah, it required a ton of explanation. People had no clue what our booth was. They’d walk by and be like, “Lip balm, really? Like you have a whole booth for just lip balm?” We had to be out there, like pulling people into the booth, explaining it. Then, we had to develop a way for them to try it, so if it’s a huge group of girls out there with their girlfriends, they’re like, “Oh, cool. It’s a novel concept, but how am I actually gonna try this product?”
We actually developed a way with wax paper that we could put one flavor on one side, one flavor on another side, and they could put the wax paper between their lips, get some on both of their lips, and then actually experience the product in a way that they would when they were using it. We developed that way. Then, we were pulling people in and having them sample it. Everybody was having a great time. We got a big group around our booth. Once you get a group, everybody wants to see what’s going on over there. We got more and more people. We found that that was really the best way to get them to experience it. Almost every time, once they experienced it, our buy rate was just so much higher.
Felix: Awesome. Now, you mentioned a boutiques as well as the second kind of channel that you went after right away. What was the approach here? How did you find the boutiques and how did you approach them?
Dallas: I just looked for anything that was like small and like two or three or four stores or salons. I’d go talk to salon owners. They typically have a boutique within their salon that they push product. I said, “At first, just let me put some product here and put it on consignment and let me throw it up and see how well it sells. Let me test the price points. Let me see how this goes in a retail-type setting,” because there’s so much that goes into retail from your packaging to your display to your price point. Is it going to move off the shelf? Can it tell the story, when we’re not there sitting and making people try this product?
We went around everywhere in Salt Lake City and Utah County here and just started talking to every little boutique that we possibly could and just placing product because the issue was is with lip balm, you got to sell a lot to make any money. I mean you have to sell hundreds of thousands of units of this stuff to make any money at all. It’s just such a low price point. Decent margin, but low price point.
Felix: I like that you offer them this consignment opinion because it’s low risk to them. Did you approach them with this offer right off the bat or did you first try to sell them, I guess, wholesale first and then if they didn’t like that, then you went to the consignment option?
Dallas: At the very first, when we had zero distribution, we put a few out there because it wasn’t very much risk to us because we really needed to see if it would sell. We didn’t want them to buy it for a incorrect wholesale price point and then have to be taking it back. We didn’t want to have that transaction happen multiple times, so initially, we just offered consignment to figure out the price point. Once we figured out the price point and we had a program that would work, then, we went strictly wholesale.
We only did that for maybe 15 or 20 salons where we put a … Salons and boutiques to go back and talk to those owners and say, “Okay, how’s it selling through? Have you seen it, people react for it at $6 or $5 or $3.99? Like where is that magic price point?”
Felix: Now, how were you testing this? Were you just in these 15 or so salons where you’re just offering different price points at each one and seeing which ones sold better?
Dallas: Yeah, we would play with it, especially based on how high-end the salon was. For example, we have one very high-end salon that sold the product for $11.99 each and sold out on a regular basis, but they have a very high-end clientele. They’re spending thousands of dollars, and so putting a $12 item, $12 lip balm is no problem for them, but then, in a boutique, a smaller boutique, we’re $4.99 all day long and couldn’t get much more out of that than that. We kind of had to test that, and we ended up coming like somewhere right in the middle. We figured like a $5.99 online price point is perfect, and then $4.99 in like the boutique setting is perfect. Then, at big retail, through Target, through some of these Kroger, these big retailers, like $3.99 was the price point that really moved off the shelf.
Felix: Nice. One thing you mentioned to me during the interview questions was that you focus a lot on demographic targeting in driving customers to stores through digital. Does that mean digital, running online ads to drive people to a physical store?
Dallas: Yeah, because that’s mainly my background is and my experience has been up to this point, has been with big retail. This was our first launch with this product, and then we’ve launched several other projects through big retail. The Targets and the Wal-Marts and all that type of distribution, which is a challenge because you have to drive people to the shelf, and you have to help that retailer move products off the shelf.
One of the big tactics that we use and where we spend most of our marketing budget is on specific demographic info of who is in that community, where is a Wal-Mart store or Target store, and based on demographic info, this person is more likely or less likely to go to a Target or a Wal-Mart, and we’re going to show them ads that drive them in store. We can actually track it. We’ve got it to where we can actually track when they open it, when they see it, and if they have certain things available on their phone, you can actually see them basically walk through the doors of a Wal-Mart. You can’t see them make the transaction, but you can compare it against your sales numbers to see if it’s really working for you.
Felix: That’s awesome. Was there some kind of co-marketing budget that you worked out with these retailers or was it all funded through your company?
Dallas: No. It’s all funded through, yeah. It’s all funded through us. We use it as a trade spend, so we hold a portion of all of the … Basically, put it is as part of cost of goods that you know you’re going to have to use a certain budget of marketing to really push it at these retailers.
Felix: Okay. It sounds like you have a very hyper local demographic information because it needs to be tied to specific retail stores. How did you find this information? What kind of sources were you looking at to gather this?
Dallas: We go through a couple of agencies that, depending on which product, their very product-specific agencies. For most of our products, they’re targeted to women demographics because that’s where we started. That’s where we learned the most about, and then every one of our products since and project since, have been kind of focused on women. We partner with an agency who specializes in marketing to women. They’ve done a lot of stuff for massive companies, and they have these demographics just dialed in.
Felix: [inaudible 00:30:44] ask the next one. How did you scale something like this up because there’s so many different locations that you have to identify and all that? That’s all done through the agency?
Dallas: It’s all done through the agency. It’s all done through zip code, based on where our stores are. I give them a list of … For example, if I launch in 250 Wal-Mart stores, I give them a list of these 250 stores, and I target my digital only around the zip codes where those stores are, so I know that people that are seeing these ads could potentially shop and most likely shop at this Wal-Mart, based on their demographic info. I’m not wasting any money at all, spending, digitally, in somewhere where the person can’t go in and buy our product.
Felix: Is there a name for these kind of agencies? It doesn’t sound like they’re typical marketing agencies because like you’re saying, they’re specific for your industry and are they specialized in driving online traffic to offline stores?
Dallas: Yes. Yeah. They’re pretty specialized in doing exactly that. I mean they do some for e-commerce, but specifically, this is a big problem for a lot of companies that are trying to launch and go retail. We joke about it and say it’s so hard to get your product in front of a buyer and actually get a sale, but that’s the easiest part. Once you get the sale, pushing it through at retail is really the challenge and making sure that it moves off the shelf and that you can stay on the shelf for a long period of time.
Felix: I was going to say because a lot of times, people will have this finish line that they’re trying to get to, which is to get into the retail store and then hope that just the traffic that that store generates is going to be enough, but you’re taking this step beyond that and actually funding the marketing to drive people to these stores. Did you have to … You mentioned, as well, in the interview questions about the focus is now switching a little bit over to driving traffic to the online store. What has that process been like? What’s that transition been like for you?
Dallas: See, no, it’s been interesting because I’ve been retail, retail, retail for the past little while, and I’ve done some consulting the last couple of years for some large companies like I was brought in and looked at their … I looked at everything that they’re doing in retail, and some of these companies are doing $200 million plus at retail at the biggest retailers in the nation. Something every one of them was missing was a really good online presence. They were leaving so much money on the table, that none of them had Amazon stores. None of them had any type of retail presence on the Internet. I thought, “Man, you’re really missing the boat.”
One of the things I implemented at a few of these places was to immediately get Amazon going. I mean sure enough, as soon as Amazon presence was up, and people knew about it, their retail sales stayed the same, and they started selling like crazy on Amazon. What I saw there was some white space to create another company, which is we created an agency to help people sell on Amazon and ended up learning a whole lot about Amazon, which is I launched several brands on Amazon of my own brands. Now, the focus is learning the e-commerce side.
Now, I kind of had retail, then, I learned Amazon, and now, just fairly recently, the last couple of months is we are, my team has really looked at this and said, okay. We need to become professionals at driving traffic, driving people to our website, and selling off our website. We put a couple of test businesses up, got some product in just a few months ago, and we’re starting to push traffic just these coming weeks. We’ve learned so much so far, and we have a goal to do $1 million via the website this year. We’re really pushing to get that done. We’re excited. It’s been a really crazy learning process and just soaking in every bit of information I can right now on getting traffic over there.
Felix: Yeah, so far, based on what you guys have been doing, what’s different about driving traffic to an offline store versus an online store? How does your marketing change?
Dallas: I love that I can track it all the way through. That’s the most amazing piece is it’s fantastic to watch people react to your ads, and then go to your site, and make the purchase. You can see everything right there in front of you. There’s a lot of guesswork in driving them to an offline store, where you’re hoping a lot of things happen, and then you have to compare it against your in-store sales, and you have to do a lot of inferring that, “Yeah, maybe, we think that this worked, and we’re pretty sure that this had a good positive effect,” but with the online store, we know within a second if we’re doing A/B testing, we immediately can say, “Yes, this worked. Kill this campaign. Let’s go full blast on this one.” We see the sales roll in. It’s pretty amazing to watch.
Felix: Because there’s so much more data available online and you’re learning about all this, has it impacted your approach to what you’re doing before with driving or I guess what you’re still doing with driving traffic to the retail store?
Dallas: Yeah, you know what? It’s a way bigger focus. I mean the margins are much better online because you control everything. You’re spending your ad spend, but that’s all you have. You’re not selling wholesale. You’re not worried about the marketing. You’re not shipping to 12 different distribution centers across the US. I mean there’s so much less work that happens on the online side for a much higher profit, so it just makes a ton more sense. When we noticed that and recognized that, we really put a lot of focus on, this year, we’re launching, we have four different companies. All four of those are going to have a heavy, heavy online presence.
Felix: Awesome. You mentioned throughout this interview about launching all these different products. Especially since you have experience launching a product and getting it into a retail space, what do see entrepreneurs tripping up during this process of having an idea, having a concept for a product, and carrying it all the way through to getting it onto a shelf?
Dallas: Most of the people that I talk to just get stuck. They have a great idea, and that’s it. They don’t know where to go from there. They don’t know whether they should patent. They don’t know whether they should, what type of protections they need. They’re nervous to get it out there in the world. Then, they don’t know how to actually fabricate the product and prototype it. There’s all those little pieces that, now, I kind of take for granted just that I know because I’ve been through it, but that’s the biggest thing is they just don’t know where to go and what to do next. That’s where I think really grabbing a mentor and having somebody who’s been through it to just say, “Okay, this isn’t a big deal. Now, we’re going on a prototyping phase. Here’s three different prototype companies that can crank out your design and get you a CAD file and show you an actual prototype within about a month.” That kind of information, having those people to point you in the right direction is just invaluable. Saves you a ton of time and a ton of headache.
Felix: Awesome. What would you say you should be doing, spending your time in, during the first few months of having a concept? Is is just searching for a mentor or are there other things that you can be doing better with your time?
Dallas: Yeah, I think when you’re concepting it out, I really love going to Pinterest. Honestly, Pinterest is one of my favorite places to go and create a board of what I want the product to look and feel like. I create a whole collage of “this is the look and feel. This is my brand. This is where it’s going to live.” Then, I can take that board, and I can go show it to ,whether it’s an ad agency, whether it’s somebody who’s building your … just somebody who’s moonlighting and helping you build a logo on a website. You’re really going to be able to communicate a whole lot better, if you have a bunch of images down of what you like and what you want your concept and your product to be and feel like.
I feel like that’s been super important to convey the message because there’s … People come to me all the time, and they’res like, “My graphic designer is just not getting it. They just don’t get what I’m trying to say.” It’s because that communication isn’t getting all the way through to them. What’s in your brain isn’t getting across, and so I feel like with those images, you can really convey that. Saves you a ton of time and a ton of money.
Felix: Yeah, I think that that’s a point that a lot of entrepreneurs get stuck up at is that, especially if they don’t have a design focus or design mind is what you’re saying where it’s hard for them to communicate. You don’t have to always try to come up with the design from scratch, from within your own mind. If you just create this kind of board, like what you’re talking about, where you not only list the things that you do like, but then also what you don’t like, what you want to stay from-
Felix: … I think makes it way easier to communicate. I’ve seen this myself, too, working with designers that way. It’s easier on your side and also easier for them, too, because that’s how they think as well.
I want to talk about your Shark Tank experience. Like I was saying earlier on, that was when I first heard about your product. So kind of give a little bit of background here. You went in to the show seeking $200,000 for a 20% equity deal. You ended up getting a deal, right? Can you share the details of it with us?
Dallas: Yeah. What a trip. That was amazing, just an incredible experience. First of all, you only see about 8 minutes of what happens on the show. We were in there for an hour and a half. It was like real deal, back-and-forth negotiating. They knew everything about us. It’s real money. What you see is what you get on that show. It’s the real deal. We went in there, asking for 200 grand. Brand-new little company and still in college. Did not know what we were doing at all.
Mark Cuban was awesome. He took a chance on us. He’s been awesome. Just a really cool mentor. Through the ups and downs of learning this business and trying to get … Selling lip balm is hard. Selling a lot of lip balm, thousands and thousands a unit is difficult. It has been a fantastic experience to work with him, and now, he has a team. When we initially were invested, and we were on Season 3, so he didn’t have a large team at that point, but now he’s got an entire team that is dedicated to helping his Shark Tank companies, Which is really cool.
Overall, man, just a fantastic experience. It really put us on the map and did what we wanted it to, as far as the marketing side, and really helped launch this first little company.
Felix: How did you get on the show? Like you’re saying, you’re a brand-new company. You got on, arguably one of the best avenues for launching a new product. How did you get on the show?
Dallas: It was really out of pure necessity. My buddy and I, who, he came on about a year after I had been concepting this out in my mind and got some initial samples and had some initial packaging. He came on, and we were just trying to scrap enough to get by. We got jobs at night at a local grocery store, stocking shelves. Then, we’d work our business during the day. The absolute grind. We had the idea. We were going to go out. We were going to do summer sales. Basically ,door-to-door sales, selling security systems because we knew some of our friends made a lot of money doing that, just to try to keep our company going.
We’re out there, sitting on a curb in Austin, Texas. It’s like 112 degrees. We’re just dying, doing door-to-door sales. We’re looking at each other, and we’re like, “We’ve gotta get Kisstixx on the map. How can we do that?” We’re brainstorming, just sitting out there in the heat, and we’re like, “Reality TV.” We both have no money at this point. Reality TV is free. If you can get onto a show, it’s millions and millions of people that see your product, and we’re like, “We have got to get on Shark Tank.” We had seen the show. We liked the show. We were fans. We literally, right then, pulled out our phones and googled “how to get on Shark Tank.”
It just so happens that that weekend in Dallas, Texas were open casting calls. We were out in Austin, Texas. We took that Saturday off, and we drove out to Dallas and stood in line for 8 hours to get a 30-second pitch with a casting director. That’s just how things fell into place, and it’s just very … huge opportunity that happened to be casting calls that weekend.
Felix: Yeah, that’s amazing that you’re able to … There’s a little bit of luck, but then you’re also prepared, of course, to look for this opportunity. What do you think made your company attractive to, I guess, the producers of Shark Tank?
Dallas: I think a couple of things. I think, at the end of the day, Shark Tank is a TV show. I has to be entertaining, so our product is definitely entertaining, right? It’s a goofy product. It’s a silly concept, but we had sales. We’d been in business for only four or five months at that point, and we had about $80,000 in sales from pure hustle. For lip balm, that’s a lot of lip balm. When we’re talking to the casting director, and we’re like, “Here’s our concept, this is … ” In her mind, she’s going, “This could be hilarious on TV. It’s actually a real, somewhat real company with a small amount of sales right now, and these kids are in college, you know? These are young entrepreneurs, who know nothing, and nobody can tell these guys ‘no.’” I think that naivety helped us. Nobody could tell us if this was a crappy idea or this is a goofy marketing ploy, or whatever. We didn’t care. I think that was attractive to the producers.
Felix: Nice. Now, that you worked with Mark Cuban, can you share one of the most useful, general business tips that he’s given you?
Dallas: He always is saying, “Outwork your competition.” He looks at business like a sport. If you’ve never read his book, it’s pretty fascinating. It’s basically a bunch of his blog posts combined into a book, but I think it’s like $3 on Amazon or something. It’s “How to Win at the Sport of Business.” I love it. It talks about his story and the hustle that he did to make it to where he is today. He always says, “Work like somebody’s trying to take it away from you 24 hours a day.” That holds true for everything he does. I mean he’ll email me at three o’clock in the morning. Two o’clock in the morning. He’s always on the grind. I really look up to him for that.
Felix: That sounds like it could lead to a … Maybe a stressful life. I think that’s the common place for any entrepreneur. How do you balance that, though? Do you try to look for balance when you are trying to always work that way, outwork your competition?
Dallas: It’s interesting because I would say, and I think my wife would tell you that there isn’t a lot of balance. I think the balance gets thrown out the window when you’re going for the gold. I like to liken it onto Olympic athletes, right? If you talk to those guys about life balance, there is none. They work 24/7 towards a goal. Once you achieve some of those goals, then I think you can back off the gas pedal a little bit, but I also think as an entrepreneur, when you’re a true entrepreneur, and you love this lifestyle, this becomes exciting for you. This becomes, “What is the next gig? What is the next deal? How can I just make this company mad successful?”
You settle in to where you find your balance among the total chaos. That’s truly what it is, but it becomes fun. It becomes exciting. In my family, I have two little girls and a wife, and they’ve come along for the ride. They are awesome about supporting me in that and being able to handle the madness a lot, and the late nights. We work it out to where, schedules, so I’m present. I’m not just gone all the time. When I’m here, I’m here, but an opportunity pos up, and everybody knows that that’s what I’ve got to do to keep these businesses going. Balance is a funny one. It’s just crazy. It’s madness all the time, but it’s awesome.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks so much for your time, Dallas. Kisstixx.com, K-I-S-S-T-I-X-X.com is the website. You also have a couple other sites. Can you share the URLs for them and give us a little background on each?
Dallas: Our test site that I mentioned that we’re launching that we launched on Amazon initially and now we’re launching through the Internet and through Shopify is From the Avenue baby products, so fromtheavenue.com, a bunch of baby products for moms and toddlers and kids and fun little project there. My Amazon agency is Elemerce, E-L-E-M-E-R-C-E.com. I just launched a little mentoring site. I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking lately and mentoring. That’s really a passion of mine that I’m growing this year, and that’s just dallasrobinsonmentoring.com.
Felix: Awesome. Thanks again so much for your time, Dallas.
Dallas: Yeah, you bet. Thanks.
Felix: Here’s a sneak peek of what’s in store for the next Shopify Masters episode.
Speaker 3: They wanted us on there for entertainment value. We weren’t looking for investors that sounded antithetical to what we were trying to do, but the marketing aspect of it was amazing.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce 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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