Turning a Failing Nut Shop into Nuts.com
In this week’s podcast episode, Jeff Braverman explains the marketing lessons he’s learned since going to work in the family nut shop.
Here are today’s highlights:
John Oliver highlights the movie-parody marketing of a local plumber.
San Francisco is helping local businesses cope with accessibility litigation.
Touchscreens are one reason the norms of tipping are evolving rapidly.
When a founder decides to walk away: “Without my persona as the ‘CEO of VNN,’ I realized that I had no idea who I was anymore.”
THE 21 HATS PODCAST: MARKETING WORKSHOP
Turning a Failing Nut Shop into Nuts.com: This week, Shawn Busse and Loren Feldman talk to Jeff Braverman about why he walked away from a career as an investment banker and went to work in the family’s nut store, the Newark Nut Co. “My dad and my uncle told me I was nuts,” says Jeff. But with an instinct for taking calculated risks—like acquiring the URL Nuts.com—Braverman has turned the family business into a direct-to-consumer juggernaut, unleashing years of explosive growth. And despite being a former investment banker, he’s managed to do that without taking any outside capital. And he’s far from finished. “To this day,” he says, “we're doing deep brand research: What is Nuts.com? What can it be? Can it scale? Can it transcend just the word nuts?”
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In his most recent show, John Oliver featured the movie-parody commercials of a plumbing business in Austin: “John Oliver just did about seven minutes on Radiant Plumbing & Air Conditioning's outstanding advertising that the PHCPPros community has known about for years, including our fav, ‘The Toiletnator.’ Oliver concluded his show by challenging Radiant to film a commercial about an unknown movie in a gold envelope. If they agree, Oliver says he will donate $10,000 to the Central Texas Food Bank.”
TikTok is the best social platform for customer engagement: “Brands are getting higher engagement on TikTok than on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, according to a new report by social-media analytics company Rival IQ. The firm released in February its seventh annual Social Media Industry Benchmark Report that measures social-media engagement across 14 different industries with 150 brands represented in each. The brands studied had at least 5,000 followers apiece on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, and 25,000 to 1 million followers on Facebook.”
“The median engagement rate on Instagram fell 30 percent year over year in 2022 — the third straight year of declines in the Rival IQ study. But [Blair Feehan, the author of the report] said Instagram's short-form videos, known as Reels, have been a bright spot, though the study did not include engagement data on Reels.”
“Posting frequency by brands on Twitter and Facebook declined by around 20 percent from 2021 to 2022. That could be because brands were focusing more on videos for TikTok and Instagram, which can take more time to produce than static content.”
“Higher-education brands, like colleges and universities, have consistently ranked highly in terms of engagement each year of Rival IQ's study. ... ‘The best universities are handing the phone over to Gen Z or current students,’ Feehan said. ‘They will get campus ambassadors or current students to be in front of the camera as well. And those are often the videos that do the best.’" READ MORE
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Tipping norms are evolving rapidly: “I spoke with Michael Lynn, a professor of consumer behavior and marketing at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, who has been studying why and how Americans tip for decades, about the new landscape and why efforts to move away from gratuities in America always fail.”
Q: “It’s a norm of American culture to tip bartenders, waiters, waitresses. But recently, there’s been a proliferation of touchscreens at cafés, restaurants, and other places, which encourage people to add gratuities for services that haven’t always been associated with them. It feels like a new rule of society that just got rolled out one day to the next and —”
A: “Hold it. Hold it. What do you mean it’s a ‘rule of society’? Who is saying that you have to do that? What you should take from that screen is that the employees at the establishment want you to tip them. And the employer is at least willing to go along with it. That doesn’t mean that it’s normative, or that you have to do it, or even that other people are. I have to see what the numbers are after the pandemic, but before, only about 25 percent of people would tip on restaurant carryout. People asked for a tip on restaurant carryout, but it didn’t mean that was normative. In fact, 75 percent of people didn’t do it.” READ MORE
San Francisco is offering small businesses $10,000 grants to improve accessibility—and avoid compliance litigation: “The number of filings in U.S. federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act reached a record in 2021, and they were especially high in California and New York. Such lawsuits are a way that private citizens seek enforcement of protections under the landmark civil rights law. But the district attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles have accused the law firm in the suit against [pizzeria owner Paul] Geffner of filing thousands of fraudulent ADA claims that exploit small business owners, many of them immigrants. In general, there is little support and few guidelines to help existing small businesses comply, unlike other regulations such as city health inspections.”
“To aid small businesses like Geffner’s and improve accessibility, San Francisco launched a program last year to help owners comply with the ADA. The city is granting businesses up to $10,000 to make renovations or hire inspectors, in what may be the first program of its kind in a major city.”
“Geffner got a $10,000 grant to hire an inspector, change counters, buy new tables, modify entrances and more at his two restaurants. ‘It’s nice to see the city defend us for a change,’ said Geffner.”
“In an April 2022 lawsuit, the San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorneys accused Potter Handy, the law firm in the case against Geffner, of fraud and siphoning tens of millions of dollars from small businesses forced to settle litigation.” READ MORE
That recession we’ve been promised always seems to be six months away: “Recent strong hiring and consumer spending are the latest evidence that the pandemic and the unprecedented policy measures that followed are interfering with the Federal Reserve’s campaign to tame inflation. The government’s stimulus measures left household and business finances in unusually strong shape. Shortages of materials and workers mean companies are still struggling to satisfy demand for rate-sensitive goods, such as homes and autos. And Americans are splurging on labor-intensive activities they avoided in recent years, including dining out, travel and live entertainment.”
“Employers added 517,000 jobs in January, a big figure that shocked economists who were anticipating a slowdown, and pushed the unemployment rate down to 3.4 percent, a 53-year low. Revisions to earlier reports also pointed to less weakness than initially thought.”
“The Labor Department’s report on February hiring, due for release Friday, will offer clues as to whether January’s was a one-off blip or a sign of an economy that’s accelerating. A separate report Wednesday could show whether workers continue to quit their jobs at historically high rates, which can indicate greater confidence in their ability to find new jobs with better pay.”
“Business owners report confidence about their own prospects but unease about the broader economic backdrop, said [Atlanta Fed President Raphael] Bostic: ‘Everyone is wondering if and when the shoe will drop, but they’re all expecting it to drop for somebody else.’” READ MORE
THE ENTREPRENEURIAL LIFE
When a CEO decides to walk away: “Over 15 years I founded and served as CEO to three companies. The last of those, VNN, became the largest and fastest growing high school sports marketing platform in the U.S. I raised $20 million from leading VCs, built a world class team of over 100 professionals, and scaled that company to nearly 20 percent of the U.S. market. All while doing everything I could to present only the most polished, hyper-competent version of myself and my company, at all times. And then in 2020 I left it all behind. When I signed the papers, officially removing myself as CEO of the company I’d started a decade prior, it felt like I’d been punched in the gut.”
“Without my persona as the ‘CEO of VNN,’ I realized that I had no idea who I was anymore, or what to do with my life. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. I spent the next 2 years searching, meditating, hanging out with monks, diving into psychedelics, and trying on new identities that never felt right.”
“And then, I finally opened up. I started being honest about my struggles, despite the voice in my head telling me to play a role. I let go of my compulsion to be ‘Ryan the CEO,’ or ‘Ryan the entrepreneur,’ or even ‘Ryan the guy who’s raised a ton of money and scaled a media company.’ I was just, Ryan.”
“Today, in my work as a coach I see the tendency to present that veneer of polished competence in nearly every founder I meet. And while I recognize the need for presentation in some cases (fundraising, recruiting), I also see how that need to look good actually gets in the way of our learning and growth.” READ MORE
How the Baroness of Bare reinvented a beauty niche: “Noemi Grupenmager has made her mark in a lucrative and fast-growing niche in the U.S. beauty industry – unisex body waxing. It is a $7.8 billion market expected to grow to an estimated $10.8 billion by 2028, according to Marketwatch.com’s marketing analysis. Over the last three decades, she’s built her company, UKW Franchising Co., into a franchising empire. It now has 33 Uni K Wax Studio franchise locations that span Florida, New York, New Jersey and Texas as demand for personal grooming services among men and women has boomed. Known as the ‘Baroness of Bare,’ Grupenmager has revolutionized the industry by inventing a natural body wax that is elastic, can be applied at body temperature and removed without the use of paper strips.”
“A serial entrepreneur that ran printing businesses in Miami and previously Buenos Aires, Grupenmager hired a chemical engineer friend who was in the beauty industry to work on her project. As a single mother raising two twin daughters alone— Grupenmager was newly divorced—she decided the time was right to pursue her dream to launch a new type of waxing business.”
“Grupenmager invested $70,000 of her personal savings and opened her first Uni K Waxing Studio in South Beach, Miami in 1993. It was on the third floor of an office building since she could not afford to rent a storefront. She trained her 18-year-old daughters—Romina and Vanesa—on waxing procedures so they could be employees.”
“Uni K Studio franchises range in cost from about $340,000 to $590,000. This includes: a $40,000 franchise fee for training; management support and a crew to help set up the week of launch; grand opening advertising support; plus, a deposit for rent.”
“The rest of the price depends on the real estate location, the size of the studio, architect, permits and construction costs, equipment, millwork, and furnishings needed. Studios can be purchased with four, six or 11 waxing rooms. Besides the flat franchise fee, Uni K Wax also collects 7 percent in royalties from franchisees annually.” READ MORE
How Icon, a 3-D printing company, found opportunity in what could have been a devastating fire: “All told, two buildings—our headquarters and our engineering lab—were destroyed by the fire, along with almost everything inside them. Just days earlier, we had made headlines when we announced we were building one of the largest communities of 3-D-printed homes in the world, in partnership with one of the nation's largest developers, Lennar, and one of the world's top architectural firms, Bjarke Ingels Group. ... Fortunately, nearly our entire fleet of printers was deployed in the field for paying customers. Fortunately, no one had been in the buildings when the fire started, since the day before had been a holiday. Fortunately, most folks had brought their computers home for the holiday.”
“When you're in the business of 3-D-printing homes, one of your most fundamental success metrics is the number of linear inches printed per day, because speed and scale are the keys to this technology's impact. And, in spite of the fire, the following week would prove to be the most productive week of printing in the history of our company, to that date.”
“We mostly associate fire with destruction and tragedy and danger. And, as we learned on that day in November, those impacts are undeniably true. Still, throughout human history, fire has had another equally powerful meaning: purification.”
“I began to realize that instead of getting sucked into the vortex of sorrow, frustration, and loss, we could see this as a moment of renewal. A question hung in my mind: If we could lose our HQ, our engineering lab, and so many things that had meant so much to us -- things that we thought we had to have—without any measurable impact on the outcomes that mattered most to Icon—then what else could we change?” READ MORE
THE 21 HATS PODCAST: DASHBOARD
The Three Reports Every Business Owner Needs: This week, Gene Marks says too few business owners really know how their business is performing. He suggests three reports that they should review regularly—beyond their monthly financials—if they want to get a better grip on managing their business. Plus: Gene explains how businesses can save money on energy and why everyone should hire a CRM consultant (like Gene, for example).
You can subscribe to the 21 Hats Podcast wherever you get podcasts.
Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren