The Balancing Act of Being Unique (But Not Too Unique)

grilla grills on shopify masters

Being different is the shortest path to standing out with your products in a crowded space. That's not always a good thing, however, when it wins your customer's attention but loses their confidence as a buyer.

In this episode of Shopify Masters, we talk about why it's important to create products that are unique but recognizable to new customers.

Our guest is Mark Graham who heads up engineering at Grilla Grills: the best wood pellet, smoker, and ceramic grills to meet your needs.

The grill—people love it much like a car...You really want to get in it and drive it and see how it’s built and for the Grilla, since it had a different shape to it, people just didn’t get it.

Tune in to learn

  • The power of a unique-looking product
  • Why you want to create a video comparing all of your products
  • When to release new products versus improve upon existing products
          Don't miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.

          Show Notes


          Felix: Today, I’m joined by Mark Graham from Gorilla Grills. Grilla Grills offers the best wood pellet smoker grills and ceramic grills that meet your needs and was started in 2012 and based out of Holland, Michigan. Welcome, Mark.

          Mark: Thank you so much for having me on your show.

          Felix: Yeah, welcome abroad. So you guys have been around even before selling online, right?

          Mark: Yeah. We actually kind of got into this because we started making pellet furnaces back in 2007 which is kind of an off-shoot from our core automotive and construction business. So we diversified our way down to pellet grills over the years and it’s just part of the family-owned diversification projects that’s turned into a really nice business for us.

          Felix: Yeah, so this transition, tell us a little bit more about this. What did you guys start off selling? Was it … you said automotive and construction products and then transitioned into, I guess, basically consumer grills?

          Mark: Yeah. It’s kind of a fun story for me, actually, ’cause it’s a family-owned business and I actually grew up next to the family since I was four years old and over the years, I watched it grow from just an automotive in a cow barn stamping out little parts and as I went through high school, the company got bigger and bigger and I actually left for the military and I’d come back every year for like 11 years and the company kept growing and growing. They got out … they continued with the automotive. They went into construction components for building poured concrete walls and foundations and that basically was a diversification project that grew bigger than the automotive and when I got out of the military, I came back and started working for the family and they wanted the … my best friend, obviously, was part owner in the business as well. So I started working with him in the automotive division and again, we wanted to do some diversification so these corn burners/wood pellet furnaces were kind of a hot thing in 2007 when heating costs were so horrific.

          So we developed a pellet furnace and we had metal fabrication here the whole time so it wasn’t too bad for us. It was a challenge undeniably but after doing that, traveling around, meeting dealers, going to shows, in about 2009 or 10, I started seeing these pellet grills and I thought, “Man, those are pretty cool.” Same technology, little auger, little computer, little fan, and burning fire and we already did that with the furnaces.

          So it was just a matter of making some sheet metal and some design and then in about 2010, we developed our first prototype and started kind of taking it out there and from that point, it was pretty decent. We went through dealerships and after that, for a while, we decided that, you know, “I think the world’s kind of moving more to an e-commerce type of business and we can kind of get rid of the dealers” and I know that’s kind of terrible to say but I think we all know that’s the way the world’s going to and we found out that we can bring a lot better value to the consumer by cutting out the middle man, so to speak, and man, it just catapulted our business.

          Felix: Yeah, so you guys, when you launched this new … diversify launches, new product launch, selling the consumer grills, was it a completely different audience/customer base or did you … were you able to work with … sell to existing customers?

          Mark: We had a few of the pellet furnace people buy them but it was basically starting from scratch from a consumer standpoint.

          Felix: Got it. How do you kind of divide the resources at a company? It sounds like a family-owned business. Obviously, you’re not a huge corporation or anything so resources are always going to be scarce. How do you decide split the resources, the man power, between the construction business and the consumer grills and the furnaces? How do you guys divide all that up?

          Mark: Well, I think that’s actually a huge benefit to have a larger company backing you up because I could get a little bit of time from our purchasing manager to look for pieces and parts. We could use our accounting people that are already set up to help with accounting. I had other engineers I could bounce ideas off. Had fabricators here already. So it was just basically using all their time and even splitting my time up a little bit in the beginning and as it slowly migrated into a bigger business, it was pretty darn nice that we had that ability not to have to hire all these people when we really didn’t need them full-time in the beginning. So for us to just kind of tap them and use them to get us going, it was just a huge benefit. And I think one of the main reasons that we are able to keep our expenditures down low in the beginning as we developed and grew this business.

          Felix: I got it. That makes sense. As long your production team essentially is already in place and expertise is already there, that can certainly accelerate the time to market for you guys. So how long did it take from the first ideation phase where you realized this could be a thing to actually being a product on the shelves?

          Mark: Well, I think if I remember right, 2009, 2010 is when I first took the first one to a Hearth and Home show as a prototype and I was going to that show anyway because of the furnaces so I kind of took to the, what’s referred to as the OG now which is the original Grilla, the first design, and I took it to that show with me and it has a unique look which is what we wanted and we kind of sent it off into like this new products section and I stood to the side and watched what people did and so many people gravitated towards it because of the look and then construction quality of it.

          And then we drug it out by our other booth by us the next day and we had so many people come up to us and say, “Man, this thing’s cool. This thing’s unique. This thing’s different.” All the keywords that we thought are essential to get someone’s attention and then once you have their attention, if you back that up with a good quality build, that’s a recipe for a good business and then from that point on, we’re like, “Man, I think we may have something here.” And that’s kind of when we figured out we’d just go after it.

          Felix: Yeah. So that’s a great approach where you took the prototype to a trade show and you just kind of observed. What were some things that you guys wanted to learn before going to this trade show about the prototype?

          Mark: Well, like as I mentioned earlier, it’s a … the Grilla, which is the first one, is very unique looking. So I was a little bit worried it was too over the top and people wouldn’t get it but in this world, you almost have to have that ’cause if it looked like every other grill, people would just walk by. “Oh, what’s the price? Okay, thanks,” and walk on by. “This looks like another grill.” But if you have something that’s unique and different, that’s what people look for these days and that’s when I realized, “You know what? Hey, this is something that is catching people’s attention and it’s unique and it’s not just another one that is going to show up in a Big Box Store which is something that we just don’t do and we don’t ever want to do quite frankly.”

          Felix: I like that. You want a unique looking product. You want it to be unique enough so it breaks the customer out of this kind of price shopping zone that they’re in. How … is there … can you get too unique though? It sounds like you were kind of nervous about that, right? Nowadays, like how far are you willing to take it?

          Mark: No, you’re 100% right. So it was … although it was good to get people’s attention, the other negative of that since we … then we started our e-commerce store, people couldn’t touch and feel it and that was … that’s a huge problem in e-commerce. The grill, people love much like a car or anything. You really want to get in it and drive it or feel it and see how it’s built and for the Grilla, since it had a different shape to it, people just didn’t get it. They’re like, “Okay, looks cool but what is this thing?” You couldn’t even see inside of it. So it kind of, in hindsight, it hindered the growth in the beginning, although people that got them, absolutely loved them. There’s a lot of people that just didn’t get it from looking at picture and at the trade shows, they can walk up to it but when you’re talking about an e-commerce store, they got a picture and some videos are about the best you can do.

          So what honestly what really catapulted the business is when we came out with our Silverbac. Now the Silverbac is your traditional barrel-style smoker with a smoke stack off to the side which was what I was like way against in the beginning because I didn’t want to be like everybody else but when we came out with that one, that just really catapulted the business and we’ve maintained our bill quality and now we’re really gathering a presence. People understand it’s a smoker when they see the smokestack coming off to the side which the Grilla did not have but what’s fun for me honestly right now is that the people that are buying the Silverbac more than the Grilla, they’re getting it and now they’re starting to see more and more people get the Grilla and the feedback these people are getting from the Grilla is like, “Man, I love unique. It’s just different from everything else out there.” And these people are like, “Dang it, maybe I should have got that one.”

          So I see this transition now that our name’s getting out there, people are understanding who we are, the quality of our grills. They’re seeing more people using the Grilla. They’re coming back like, “Okay, it’s different and it’s actually pretty darn good” and that’s a transition that we love to see ’cause we always wanted to be different, just not another company with grill that’s maybe or maybe not in your price range.

          Felix: I see. So the way it worked out for you was that you had some kind of almost introduction product to the … that was relatable or related to other products people knew about which was a Silverbac. It looked more like a traditional smoker. So people understood what it was but once they discovered your products or they discovered the brand, that’s when they’re more willing to become adventurous and potentially try different products like the Grilla out because it looked much more unique but they understood the brand, understood what kind of products you guys are putting out there, they’re not kind of willing to take that risk and try a different type of product from you.

          Mark: Absolutely. I’d actually seen a guy … we have an owners group on Facebook that’s just been tremendous for us. Over 11,000 people. And a guy posted the other day, he goes, “All right, that’s it! I’m selling my Silverbac. I’m getting a Grilla.” I mean, they do the same thing. They just look different but they’re so passionate about it and they just want … everybody wants the Grilla but everybody’s scared of it just ’cause it looks a little different but now that people are seeing that it performs actually a little bit better because of the shape, now people are saying, “Wait, these things are good? Dang it! That’s it! I wanted that to begin with. I was just scared of it.” So I love this transition that we’re seeing a little bit.

          Felix: Awesome. So you mentioned that when you first started, you were working with the middle man, essentially, and then you were able to do go online, set up and e-commerce presence and then cut out the middle man. Now looking back, would you still … would you go with the e-commerce route right away or are there benefits with starting with working a distributor to begin with?

          Mark: That’s a good question. I think we thought we had the whole in one here with the distributor … the distribution network we already had set up with the furnaces because we figured the grill would be a great off season product for these brick and mortar stores so we’re like, “Man, I don’t need to set up distribution. I already have 60 to 80 dealers set up through the United States. All I’ve got to do is come to them and say, ’Hey guys! We have furnaces but guess what? We’ve got a grill now too.’” And that did work and so it got us in front of a lot of people really fast but what really killed us at that point was our price point because we had our price but then the dealers did their thing jacked it up what they needed to make and it just blew us right out of the water when compared to some of our competitors.

          Felix: Got it. Now, when you are introducing new products to a distributor, what’s that process like? How do you present in a way where they know they want to carry in their store?

          Mark: Yeah. Well, one of the things that we were able to do is those 60 plus dealers that we probably had, I personally drove around like Tommy Boy in my truck and trailer all over the US and I believe in proof is in the pudding and I didn’t do any cold calls. I didn’t call anybody. I would literally drive up to these places and say, “Hey, you got five minutes? Come out here and take a look at it” because yeah, when you feel something and you feel the quality and you … that does a lot more than someone saying, “Hey, I got a new grill. You want to take a look at it?” “Nah, we’re too busy today” but when you show up, say, “Come check this out real quick. I just drove here from Michigan.” “Yeah, yeah, okay.” They come out there and I knew once they touched it and had an opportunity to see it in person, it was game over and that’s what worked well for us.

          And we already had a good history with these … most of these dealers. I was very close with them anyway over the years so they knew that what we put out was good quality so they was a lot of trust there as well.

          Felix: Got it. So when you are now making this transition to selling online, what are some of the changes you have to make at the company? Like what kind of new skills did you guys have to learn during this transition?

          Mark: That was massive because as we grew the biggest thing, I think, for us was the customer service side of it and not to mention the managing a website, inventory through the e-commerce platform, and Shopify’s been fabulous for us on that standpoint because a lot of the stuff’s already integrated but again, we did nothing consumer direct. Ever. We’re a construction … I’m sorry. Construction-based company that sold to dealers. We never sold product to the end user. So it was a B2B and for us, understanding, “Hey, we’ve got the old customers, customer’s calling in, ‘Hey, I can’t … where’s my product?,’ ‘Hey, I got an issue with my grill,’ or ‘Hey, when’s it going to ship? I can’t track it.’” All these things that were just like, “Holy cow!” And “Hey! The website’s locked up!” And so for us, it was real eye-opener to try to figure all of that out and so our learning curve was kind of like a totem pole so to speak.

          Felix: Yeah, I think you mentioned to us was providing the best customer service was really important to this growth. Can you say a little bit more about this? Nowadays, what do you consider mandatory levels of great customer service? What are some of the things that you want to make sure you guys get right?

          Mark: Well, one of the things that we do we have an automated answering service but it rarely ever goes to that. We have enough staff here all the time that are highly skilled. You call in, you’re going to get a human here within a couple rings and then if that ever gets to where it’s too many rings, we’ll hire more people. You have to get somebody right away, not get pulled into a customer service queue and the other thing that we’re able to do and myself and a couple other employees here we answer calls on the weekends and although it takes a lot of time out of our lives, it absolutely, 100% makes a difference because those people that email in and say, “Hey, I’ve got a problem” or “I’ve got a question,” when you respond to them on a Saturday or a Sunday morning, which doesn’t take a lot of time.

          For me, I’ve got my cellphone and we all know that you can do most of your work from your cellphone’s these days. I just simply email them real quick. Takes me two minutes. “Hey, you bet. We do have these available. And you can buy them online. There’s no taxes or whatever it may be” and we get a response saying, “Man, thank you so much for answering on a Sunday.” And it took two minutes out of my life which is not that big of a deal. If I’m sitting there on my recliner anyway but it made that sale, right there, and that’s, I think, was huge and we continue to do that in the after hours and we have to … you have to answer quick and fast. Otherwise, you’re going to lose out these days.

          Felix: Now when you have a new member joining the customer service team, how do you make sure they’re ramped up and kind of taught these standards that you guys have for the company?

          Mark: Well, what we’ve done in the past, we start them out on just the front desk where they basically we have a checklist of things that could go wrong or things that … standard questions. There’s probably about 12 questions that get asked all the time. “Where’s my grill?” “When’s it going to ship?” “What prices are they?” The majority of this is … almost all the information’s online but as you know, as American’s, we’d rather just talk to somebody real quick and get an answer.

          So we have canned answers and so we put them up there first and once they … basically, they filter out. They’ll try to answer the questions and if it’s above what they know, they’ll say, “You know what? I’m sorry but I’m going to get someone else that can help you right now.” So then it go to one of us other more seasoned employees. Then they’ll … we’ll usually kind of pace around, walk in the office, and at least I do. It probably drives them crazy but after I get of the phone, we talked to them, “Hey, this is what the answer was” or they overheard the answer and what we find is they develop their own tactics and listen to us talk. They gather that information and they get better and better and better to where we’re finally like, “All right, you’re full-blown. Let’s train somebody else new.”

          So they get a little taste of it. They fight through those initial calls and they answer what they can and give them the opportunity to just to pass it off if it’s above and I think a lot of people appreciate that and sometimes, they’re like, “I don’t want to tell them I don’t know the answer.” I was like, “I think they’d rather you say that you don’t know the answer instead of trying to come off like you’re really trying hard but you don’t know. People are going to read through that. So just own up to it, say, ’Hey, I’m sorry. I just don’t have that answer but guess what? Give me 30 seconds, I’ll get the answer for you.’”

          Felix: That’s awesome. Do you guys have any like documentation internally that you like to create for training purposes?

          Mark: Yeah. We have a Google Doc that, again, has those top probably dozen questions that people ask, either shipping questions, how … as far as how the product is built and constructed, they all … all of our employees have the grills and they all use the grills and just that alone, they can answer a majority of the questions ’cause the know everything about them. So that’s definitely a key.

          Felix: Makes sense. So you mentioned to us that word of mouth has been one of the biggest marketing tools in-

          Mark: Oh yeah.

          Felix: Well, how does that work? How does … how are you able to encourage people to kind of share their grills, share their experience with the grills?

          Mark: What’s fun about that is we actually don’t have to encourage them to do this and I guess the only thing I can relate it to is like if I was selling tires for a car, nobody likes to buy tires for their car and if I get a nice set of tires on my car, I’m probably not going to tell my friend like, “Man, these tires are nice.” They’re tires. But this is a fun product. People enjoy it. They cook for other people on the weekends and what we find is especially here locally, we got a couple of large businesses and one of their guys will stop by, pick up a grill. The next week he comes by with his buddy that he works with. He gets a grill and it just … it’s like this snowball effect and they start sharing pictures. “Oh! Check out what I smoked this weekend! This is what I cooked!”

          And it just spreads like wildfire and I know the one company in particular is probably at least 10 people in this engineering group that have the grill and it all started off with just one guy buying it. I didn’t have to do anything or we didn’t have to do anything. They just enjoy the grill so much and who doesn’t like talking about good food, man?

          Felix: So it because the … that you’re creating such a great product, I’m assuming that there’s been a lot of kind of feedback that you’ve been able to take in and improve the product for time. What’s that like? What is that like to do with a product that’s pretty large, right? And it sounds like that requires a good amount of production to create? How do you incorporate customer feedback into the design of products?

          Mark: That’s a great question and a great point too. So had the initial Silverbac that we came out with and after the first year of sales, we had a good idea of where … what people are asking for that our grill didn’t have at the time or what problems that we had seen over the years. So when we … two years later, we came out with a new version of that grill and we vamped the whole thing. We just … come out with a brand new grill. What we did is we fixed that grill, everything that we had a concern about, we fixed. Everything people asked for, we added. And I think there’s something to that in nowadays when you get a new car and they tell you never to buy the first model because they’re still working out the bugs. Sooner they work at the bugs, guess what? They come out with another model car and then they start with the bugs all over again. So for us, we just keep trying to make the current chassis, so to speak, better.

          So for instance, what we did when the second version of the Silverbac came out, it looks identical but all the internal components are now stainless steel because people are like, “Ah man! I really like your grill but I really want stainless steel so sorry.” So we’re like, “Okay, we need to take note of this.” The other thing people are asking for, “I really wish you had a way to dump the pellets so I can change the flavor of pellets.” We’re like, “Okay. Noted.” And then so two years later, we come out with all those things that we didn’t have that people asked for and we addressed the issues that we’d seen from a design standpoint and then we came out with grill that addressed both of those avenues. Man, it was huge. And that’s how you get better. You listen to your consumers and you adjust accordingly.

          Felix: Which iteration are you guys on now?

          Mark: It’s the second one.

          Felix: Got it. Now, when you are going through this process, how do you know what kind of feedback you should be taking? ’Cause I’m assuming that there’s tons of people that give feedback on different things, right? You can’t take all of them. How do you know which one is … are ones that you should take seriously?

          Mark: Well yeah. I got by the number of request and what people are asking for and that was pretty easy, the stainless steel and the pellet dump was the main things. The biggest thing that we always kept in mind is the cost and our theory has been from day one that we’re not going to put a ton of bells and whistles on this thing to make it so expensive that the average consumer can’t buy it because one, we want to keep it at a price range that it’s … more people would be interested in and in my personal opinion, the more things you put on stuff, the more things can go wrong.

          And so from standpoint, my military days is like, “Kids keep it simple” is that we still try to think that. I’d rather put more money in the thickness of the steel, the build quality, then putting bells and horns and whistles and light bulbs all over the thing and just so it looks cool. I think a lot of people appreciate that.

          Felix: So speaking of talk. Within in the community, you guys found a lot of value in the Facebook groups and I think was it that an owner of one of the grills started a Facebook group for you guys?

          Mark: Yeah. That has been absolutely amazing. John Bazyk … to your point, you’re absolutely right and I think it was October of 2016 which we’re probably six to eight months into our business, John reached out to me and said, “Hey, do you mind if I start a group just for owners?” And we’re like, “Yeah, sure. Go ahead,” not thinking anything of it and now were at … I remember I was down at a world food championship and it was a month after he started the group and he called me when I was down there. I’ll never forget it. Walk into the parking lot, he said, “Hey Mark! We hit 100 people in the group already!” I’m like, “No way! That’s awesome!” And we’re like going crazy. If I look right now, I think we’re at, 11,200 … yeah, we got 11,200 people in this group now.

          Felix: These are all owners of your products?

          Mark: No, not necessarily. I don’t know the percentage of them but there’s quite a few of them are but more importantly, there’s a majority of those people aren’t yet but what we find is that they come to these groups, they see the conversations going on, they get feedback from these people like, “Man, I’ve been watching. You guys are putting out some dang good food and your feedback is great.” They don’t bash other products. They just say, “Hey man, I love my grill. I mean, I’ve told everybody about it” and they get part of this family and they’re just like, “You know what?”

          I had a guy, matter of fact, if I can find his post, just the other day, he does, “All right, I’ve been watching you guys for about six months. I can’t take it anymore. You guys are awesome. These grills look awesome. I’m jumping in” and that’s just so cool. Then that person becomes a new super fan. Then he starts talking about and what’s awesome about the Facebook side of it, as we all know, that person may be in our group but he may be in another barbecue group and two or three other barbecue groups. So he may be over there and says, “Hey, by the way, guys I just bought this new grill.” Well, guess what? He just told this whole other group so it’s a network beast that is just amazing.

          Felix: Right. That makes sense. Do you guys do anything to, I guess, participate actively in these groups?

          Mark: Well, we said from day one is we wanted to keep it organic for the owners. It’s not ran by Grilla Grills. However, I do step in there to answer questions only if the group is struggling with them and the same with our pit master. If the pit master is like … they see people like, “What do I … how do I make this whatever?” The group is getting pretty powerful and very intelligent at this point but still, we … Shane will come in there, our pit master, and say, “You know what? Hey, just try this recipe. Works well.” So I think people appreciate the … us jumping in there every now and then and we don’t want to be in there too much to dilute and make it seem like a company-ran group but we do it just enough that people appreciate us sticking our nose in there and helping them out when needed.

          Felix: Right, makes sense. So I want to talk a little bit about the logistics and shipping for a product that’s this size? What is that like? What kind of challenges have you … do you face when shipping a product of this size? Especially through e-commerce?

          Mark: Yeah. Well, the first thing is the price is brutal because what we offer, our price of our grills includes shipping and threshold shipping. What that means, when it leaves here on a pallet, they contact you once it gets in an area or terminal near you. They set up a delivery window. They deliver it to your house with a drop gate truck. They take on a pallet jack and roll it right up to your door, be it your garage door, because they are heavy. So that service runs … is very expensive but in this day and time, people love that thing. You know, they don’t have to grow throw it in the back of their truck. They don’t have to run to the store then try to figure out how to get it out the checkout line. They order. It shows up right at their door step.Now, there’s obviously, like I said, it’s pretty expensive and that’s obviously built into the price of grills but people absolutely love that part of it.

          The logistics side of it is the damages that can incur from shipping from here to California and they show up and their damaged and that stinks but you know what? You go back to the customer service side of it and jump on it right away and say, “Man, I am sorry. Got a new one going out for you tomorrow.” And you move on.

          Felix: That’s awesome. So the shipping is built into the price of the grills like you mentioned. Other than that, how do you determine when you think about pricing, how do you … what kind of exercise are you guys through … do? Or how do you determine what is the right price for your products?

          Mark: Well, what we also decided from day one is that we weren’t going to be this company that had sales on our grills every two months. Anytime the weather changed, we’re going to have a sale. Our theory, again, and I go back to the kiss theory is we got one price. That’s what it is all year long. We have never discounted the grills or ran a sale on the grills, the current models. What we have done is on rare occasions, we did a Black Friday sale on some old version grills, trying to blow out some old inventory. We have ran a few specials where if you buy a grill you get some accessories for a percentage off but in all … for intents and purposes, are goal is to build a price and margin that we’re comfortable with, nothing more, nothing less, and just … that’s what it is every day.

          That way you don’t get people, “Oh, I missed out on the sale!” Or “Hey, when are you guys going to have a sale? I’m just sitting here waiting for you guys to have a sale” ’cause once you do one, people just expect it. “Hey, when’s the next one coming?” “Hey, when’s the next one coming?” And you basically devalue your product ’cause they’re just waiting for it to come back onto that price they seen two months ago.

          Felix: Right. That makes a lot of sense. So I want to talk a little bit about the site, the e-commerce side. So one interesting thing that I saw on there was this video where it compares a Silverbac verus the Grilla. What was the idea behind creating something like this?

          Mark: Oh the Silverbac versus Grilla? That was based on people calling in, asking the question 45 times a day.

          Felix: Yeah. It was like the top is the very first thing you see on the website.

          Mark: Yeah ’cause I mean, people calling in like, “Man, I really like this Silverbac but that Grilla really intrigues me. What’s the difference?” And after getting ask that question over and over and over, we’re like, “You know what? People love videos” and for us and it’s not a … not being lazy but it … how can I get that person the information so they don’t have to call? And it’s not that we don’t want to talk to them ’cause once, honestly, once we talk to them, it’s better but I want to have that information in front of them as soon as possible. So after being asked that many questions, I called our marketing group and said, “Come over here. Let’s just shoot a video of what I say on the phone every day.” And it’s worked out really well.

          Felix: Amazing. So what other kind of changes have you guys made to this site or have tried to make recently that have made a big impact on the conversions or sales or just like overall customer experience on the site?

          Mark: Well, one of the things we’re trying to do right now working with Shopify’s trying to work on our conversions and what we’re learning and again, this is a massive learning curve for us, is that how the user interface is on the website, how easy is the navigate from, “Hey, I want this! Here’s the information, put in my cart, and check out.” If that process isn’t smooth, people may get turned off and like, “I don’t know if this is legit” and then back out of it. So we’re really trying to learn that whole avenue and working with Shopify’s team there. We’re … we some room for opportunity and then also using some of the other plug-ins out of follow-up with customers that may have abandoned their cart. “Hey, I see you left your cart. You guys interested? Did we miss something? Is something wrong?” And those are the tools that help engage these customers that were interested but then they got a little bit leery and how do we reach back out to those people.

          Felix: Have you changed anything from the checkout process to make it smoother? Either removing things or adding things?

          Mark: We’re in the middle of that right now something fierce.

          Felix: Nice. And because this is a product that’s on the higher end when it comes to buying and selling things online and just for anyone that’s listening, it’s around the $700, I guess, for the products on sale up to $800 for the Grilla and the Kong here. How … I’m assuming that it’s the sales cycle is much longer and people are considering a product for much longer than if they were to buy a T-shirt for example. How do you make sure that you’re staying top of mind when people are kind of shopping around for other products?

          Mark: So, again, those are one of these things that we’re learning. One of the things that we’re doing now is more digital ads through Google and Facebook where you’ve got to touch a person they say seven times before they made a purchase. So sending them one ad is not going to do it because a lot of the people we talk to and a lot of the emails we see, they’re like, “All right guys, I’ve been searching grills for two to three months but I keep coming back to you guys. I’ve seen … I keep watching your YouTube’s. I keep seeing your reviews. I’ve been to these groups and everything seems good so I think I’m going to go with you guys.” So it’s key to having all those different informative areas via YouTube, recipes on Facebook. They keep seeing us in all of these different areas and then it just gives them a better feel, I think, that A, we’re a legit company and after a few times, like, “Okay. You know what? Maybe these guys are the real deal and everything I see is positive” and it’s just been working really well for us.

          Felix: Are these reviews and recipes, are they done by the community or others outside of the business within the company?

          Mark: Within the company. We have a pit master that we partner with out of Kentucky and he’s actually going to come here this week as well and we’re going to shoot a bunch more recipes. Honestly, a lot of posts on social media, they are taken from our customer’s pictures. That owners group I spoke of, they’ve become some picture taking monsters, man. They produce some great pictures ’cause they’re all trying to parade what they can do, right? So they use these pictures. They share to our Facebook. We use the pictures in newsletters and everything else because it’s free and it carries a little more weight when we’re showing what customers are doing, not what our professional pit master’s doing and I think people can relate.

          Felix: Makes sense. Well, where did the idea come behind creating content around like the pit master and the recipes and all that? Where did that come from?

          Mark: I think we knew that we’re a metal company. We had no idea how to cook food. So we needed someone to help in that. You can’t be good at everything so what you need to is surround yourself with people that are good in those areas and it’s absolutely essential that we knew and we had somebody on staff that knew how to cook and there to talk to talk and that was a key component for us.

          Felix: Got it. Now, what about running the business a whole? Any tools or apps that you guys rely on to keep the business running?

          Mark: Right now, in … from a design standpoint, we use different software but for the customer service standpoint, one of the apps that we use is ZenDesk and that’s key for us for keeping our consumers … getting them answers, creating tickets, making sure we’re getting them answers back and obviously the Shopify app is awesome on my phone. I can do most everything from my phone using the Shopify and ZenDesk. If I need to refund an order, if I need to track an order, I can do that all from my phone, sitting on my chair at Saturday at home and I’ve done that. People have called me or email in and I was like, “Hey, where’s my order at?” And I’ll jump on my Shopify app on my phone. I’ll track it, screenshot it, email it to them, and boom! And man, that kind of response is just huge.

          Felix: Yeah, it sounds like you’re involved in a lot of the business. Like how … what portion of the company, how many members of the team, are dedicated towards like Grilla Grills verus the rest of the business?

          Mark: Our core business is we got well over 100 people and we’re probably maybe 10, 20% of that but right now, with the e-commerce, what’s exciting about is you don’t need to have massive staff. I mean, the grills come in here, we inspect them, and we ship them out. Where you have staff is the customer service side of it. Product coming in, product going out. You do have to increase your shipping staff but our staff out there can do probably close double what they’re doing right now if we had the orders and it’s more just the handling of the consumers internally.

          Felix: Right. So if you were to invest somewhere in the e-commerce business, it would be around staffing and customer service?

          Mark: Yeah, for sure. The customer service is the … definitely the hardest part because you have to be … to get someone in shipping and I don’t mean to take anything away from shipping but to hire somebody else just to help a guy box up skids and ship them is not that big of deal. What is hard is someone that can talk to people intelligently, respectfully, and knowledgeably to … if they got a question on a grill, if they got a problem on the grill, if they … to have someone that knows how to talk to people is key in customer service and if you’re rude to people, it’s just not good.

          Felix: Right.

          Mark: So that’s where it takes a little more time to find the right people and we’ve been absolutely blessed with a staff that is just absolutely awesome on the phones.

          Felix: Well, what do you look for, too, when you’re hiring for the customer service role? How do you make sure you’re hiring the right person?

          Mark: I’m not going to lie. I stole a couple of people from our core business because when I moved over to our other building when we kicked this one off, there’s a couple of key people over there that I’m like, “Can have them? ’Cause I know they’re really good.” So I stole a few people from over there and the rest of them is just … you do the interview process and it seems weird and I went through a lot of resumes and I’m not … as much as resumes are important, I go with my gut more than anything and just how I … someone talks and I don’t know. It’s just your gut, man. I know it seems weird but you can just tell if someone’s a good person and they try hard and they mean well. I mean, that’s all I’m looking for, man. I mean, I don’t need a 14 page resume to tell me if you’re good or not.

          Felix: So what do you want to see the business go next? Like what do you want to see it grow towards this year?

          Mark: Well, we just want to continue to see the trajectory we’ve seen from 2017 to 2018. If we’ve seen that seen that same growth, we’d be more than ecstatic. We do know for a fact if you grow too fast, you can get yourself in a cashflow problem and I don’t think it’s healthy for so us, if we can maintain the type of growth we had last year, we won’t get ourselves in the inventory problem, a cashflow problem, a customer service where we can’t keep up with it, and you start tripping on yourself. That’s where you’ve got to be a little careful. You go too fast, too hard.

          Felix: Right. The one thing I did see on the site, I guess, in your product line is that there are lots of accessories that you sell for each of these products. How does that kind of fit into the “It’s our production”? Like how do you make sure that you have the accessories that you’re customers need or that they’re asking for for the products that they buy?

          Mark: Yeah, it’s … well, I tell you a quick funny story that goes right along with that for there’s one particular accessory. It’s called the … well, it’s called the Accessory Pack ironically but what it includes is this little thing that clips onto the front of it and this happened to be something that I’d seen on my Grilla at home. I noticed the front was getting a little bit dirty with grease which, for me, was driving me nuts so I came into work. I designed something on the laser center. We cut it. I clipped it on. I put it on mine at home. I’m like, “Hey, that’s kind of nice.” I was like, “Hey, you know what? I wonder if the people want one of these.”

          So I literally had Jenna, one of our staff here, we did a Facebook Live and I held up this little widget at that time. I said, “Hey guys! I made this little thing for my Grilla at home” and I did this in the Facebook group which, at the time, probably had 9,000 people in it. I said, “What would you guys think? Would you guys want this?” And immediately, everybody’s like, “Oh man! I’ll take one! I would take one!” So then I had a little fun with it. I’m like, “All right, what would you guys name this?” So I give … so what really included the customers in on the concept and potentially even naming the thing and man did that work at well! From that point on, the owner’s group, I bounce ideas off them. I say, “Hey, what do you guys … what would you like to see?” Obviously, some of them are ridiculous and there’s no way I’d make them because you’d probably sell two of them but they just want one personally but you can weed through the madness and then bounce ideas off of them and it’s really …

          And for us, the other benefit is we have laser centers like I mentioned so we can build a couple prototypes, test them here, send them out to … we have probably I’d say 12 people in the group that we’re pretty darn close to and they do a lot of beta testing for us behind the scenes. I’m like, “Hey, here. Try this out for me” and I can try things out in different environments and different people that have … one guy may beat up his grill. One guy may take really good care of it. So when you build something and you test it here, it’s not the same as putting it out in an environment with a customer that treats his stuff completely different.

          Felix: Awesome! Thank you so much for your time, Mark!’s the website. And thank you so much for coming on and sharing your experience.

          Mark: Absolutely! Thank you so much!

          Felix: Thanks for tuning into another episode of Shopify Masters, the e-commerce podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs, powered by Shopify. To get you an exclusive 30 day extended trial, visit