Do you have strengths that can help other business owners? Do you have skills that can be used to help elevate someone else’s business to new heights? Do you have expertise that makes you the perfect partner for someone else’s business?
If so, starting a business isn’t the only way to become a successful business owner!
Dustin talks about how to analyze your abilities and use them to start generating income for you TODAY. And also use them to generate opportunity for tomorrow. Specifically, Dustin provides us two great ways to turn anything that you’re good at into a potential new income stream! We also dig into the nitty-gritty of product marketing, including how Dustin was able to get his product into some of the largest retailers in the world, including Walmart.
Make sure you listen til the end to hear Dustin’s amazing piece of wisdom for those scared to take massive action.
Check him out, and subscribe to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast so you won’t miss our next show!
J: Welcome to the BiggerPockets business podcast show number
Dustin: 81. We are believers in the small wins will compound over time and we’ll eventually get like the big fish. Right. And so it’s getting people to try it more people try it. You know, maybe this guy knows someone at. Costco, maybe this guy, you know, you just don’t know who knows who.
And so it’s really just getting the product out there. Welcome to a real world. MBA from the school of hard knocks, where entrepreneurs reveal,
J: what it really takes
Dustin: to make it, whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there. This show is for you. This
J: is BiggerPockets
J: How’s it going, everybody. I am Jay Scott. I am your co-host for the BiggerPockets business podcast here again, this Tuesday, or? Well, I guess you might not be listening on a Tuesday, but I’m recording on a Tuesday and I’m here with my lovely co-host. Mrs. Carol Scott. How’s it going today? Ms. Carol Scott
Carol: doing so well, mr.
Jay Scott. Oh my goodness. I just can’t believe this year is so crazy, but it’s flying by like huge shout out to all the parents, all the teachers, all the kids who are still doing remote learning or learning or in school learning or just this whole different school situation. We here in Florida have finished an entire quarter of remote learning.
Thrilled. We just had Halloween it’s election day. Next is holiday holiday holiday, 2021, right around the corner. Everything is crazy and nonstop and I love it.
J: Yep. And hopefully 2021 is less crazy than 2020 has been. Uh, but I guess we have to wait and see
Carol: how far we’re out far. But it was a good year.
Anyway, go for it. Intro the show, baby.
J: So we have a great show today. We have a guest. His name is Dustin Riekeman. He is a partner at a company called fire Creek snacks, a company that makes basically meat sticks. So if you’re not familiar, it’s kind of like beef jerky, but in a stick format, Dustin started out as a marketing consultant to the company’s founder and through a combination of sweat equity, financial contribution to the company.
And just adding massive value over a long period of time, he was able to build equity and become a partner in this growing company. And in this episode, Dustin tells us all about his story of becoming a partner in an existing business, as opposed to starting a business from scratch. Like we often talk about, we also talk about in this episode, a couple of great ways to turn it.
Anything you’re doing into an opportunity to build a new revenue stream. Dustin has done a whole lot of entrepreneurship and, uh, started a number of businesses before he joined fire Creek snacks. And we talk a lot about how you can basically turn anything you’re doing into a revenue stream. If you’re creative enough, then we dig into the nitty-gritty of it.
Product marketing, including how Dustin was able to get his product into Walmart and the process of getting a product into a retail chain like Walmart and make sure you listen to the end because Dustin gives us an amazing piece of wisdom for those who might be scared to take massive action. Are you thinking about quitting your job?
Are you thinking about going full time into a business or you think about doing something else? Crazy big, right. But you’re just scared to make that jump. Well, listen to, Dustin’s amazing piece of wisdom that I promise you is going to make you feel a whole lot better about taking that massive action.
And then finally make sure you listen to the very, very end. If you want a promo code for big discounts on fire Creek snack products, just available to BiggerPockets business podcast listeners. So we talk about that at the very end of the show during the more part of the four more. If you want more information about anything we talk about here.
If you want more information about Dustin fire Creek snacks or anything we discussed in this episode, please check out our show notes at biggerpockets.com/biz show 81. Again, that’s biggerpockets.com/biz show 81. Okay. Now without any further ado, let’s welcome. Dustin repin to the show.
Carol: Dustin, welcome to our show.
We are. So looking forward to learning all about your story, to learning all about fire Creek snacks, how you balance it all and all kinds of great tips for our listeners. So thanks for being here today.
Dustin: Yeah, Jane Carol, it’s truly an honor. And a pleasure. I’ve been a big fan of the show for a while. So it’s really cool to come on and be able to share my own story.
J: Really appreciate that. Okay. So for our listeners that don’t know who you are and don’t know what fire Creek snacks is. Can you take us back, start with wherever you want to start with, but give us a little bit of your history, who you are, what you’ve done and how you kind of came to be associated with fire Creek snacks.
Dustin: Sure. Yes. People ask what I do. And I like to say I’m an engineer who coaches or married couples and sells a meat snacks. So it’s pretty simple story, but now it’s, uh, like many of our backgrounds, it’s, it’s a little bit convoluted and it goes all over the place. But in a short summation, I’m an engineer by trade.
So I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in civil engineering. And gotten into a specialty of traffic engineering. So, you know, traffic flow intersections, interchanges, that sort of thing did that professionally for almost 20 years. And to the point that I was managing a group and, you know, managing multimillion dollar budgets and things like that, and just kind of got burnt out.
So kind of the classic, you know, technical professional burnout. So. There’s a lot of overlap in the story, because that was only two years ago that I left engineering, but I’ve been doing business and entrepreneurship for about 12 years. And so the Genesis of that was actually ministry of all things. So my wife and I were involved in marriage ministry, very analog, you know, doing things, sitting down with engaged couples.
Coaching them and that sort of thing really early on in our marriage hosting marriage retreats, that kind of background. And I had this real desire, even though I was working full-time as an engineer to kind of bring that online. This was 2008, 2009. Blogging was a really big buzzword at that time. And so we went on vacation.
I kind of had this brainstorm that, you know, I need a creative outlet. I need a way to reach these younger couples. Where they’re at. And so came home, Googled how to start a website and created a website called engaged marriage.com and just wrote my heart out for three or four days a week. I would be posting new things and eventually wrote a book, develop some products.
And so that business still exists today. It’s very passive. We don’t create a lot of new. Products, but we do have digital products. They’re a membership program. Um, my wife, Bethany, and I still get invited to speak pre Corona time at least, and kind of host date nights out and things like that. So still a passion project, but it also allowed me to cut my teeth with digital marketing.
So for the first five years or so again, we had a book, we were on Amazon. We weren’t trying too hard, but we had built a little bit of a side business there and we had three children in the meantime. And. I really grew in my desire to create more side incomes. So I went on to do a bunch of different things, about a dozen different kind of side hustles and side projects and different partnerships.
And we can go into any of those if they come up of interest. But basically about 2015, about five years ago, I got really serious about engaged marriage and wanting to grow it. And so I really got into digital marketing. And learning all about how to sell things online, basically. And so, as that was growing, my engineering burnout was starting to grow.
And so I kind of reached that tipping point in 2017. I was like, you know, I really. I’m scared, but I want to try doing this full time. You know, I had a lot of different projects that had multiple sources of income and I, and I felt like I could do it. So I kind of made this big push for six months where I basically just worked two full-time jobs and was able to take that leap, uh, right at the beginning of 2018.
And so the way that it turns into a fire Creek, next story is when I left engineering, part of what I was doing was consulting and doing marketing for other businesses, some online, but also some locally. So. I always joke that, you know, I’m like the worst marketer ever of my own services. Cause I’ve never marketed my own services.
It’s all been inbound kind of word of mouth. And I worked with my dentist. I worked with a real estate broker that we knew, just people asked me, what are you doing? You know, how’d you leave engineering. And as I would explain it, I would say, well, you know, I know how to do Facebook ads, or I know how to come up with campaigns and strategize with businesses to help them grow.
And they would say, can you help me with that? And so. I was doing that and I was doing engaged marriage. And then ironically, I just walked into my wife and I were about half an hour from here. Or our hometown is near st. Louis. We were in a little meat market and looking around and bought some steaks to, to grow that evening.
When we got back home out for a Sunday stroll with our family and I found. These meat snacks, this does jerky and these, these snack sticks pick them up. But you know, I’ve generally low carb. So like, yeah, this looks pretty good assumed it was like most other meat snacks. Like, you know, the corner gas station greasy stuff, took it home, had one that evening.
I was like, wow, this is different. This is really good. You know, the texture was good. And so I was like, who makes these things, flipped it over? Cause it said fire Creek on it. And the, the business I was in was called Hanson meat company. And so I didn’t make any connection at all. And then I realized it was, it says it’s made in Jerseyville, Illinois.
Which very ironically is where I grew up. It’s about an hour from here, very small farm town, about 7,000 people. And it was how has this made in Jerseyville? And then I realized that handsome meat company is based in Jerseyville and the shop we were in was a second location. So I engage the owner, not about the snacks, but he was opening a new location in our town where I’m at now.
And he was about my age and I just said, Hey, can we have one sometime when you’re down here, you know, starting up your store, I’m excited to have your meat market in our local town. And so. One thing led to another and he ended up engaging me to help him with marketing, just with his local brick and mortar stores.
And so that’s how I got to know Ryan Hansen, who, as we can kind of bridge the gap here is now my business partner was fired freaks.
Carol: This is so called Dustin. We, so of course, want to focus on fire Creek snacks. That’s the kind of main. Topic of this episode. Semi-colon however, there are a couple of things you said that I think are so, so, so massively relevant to our audience that I would love to talk more about.
Right. So you were talking about the fact that you are a civil engineer for all these years. I think before the show, we were talking about the fact that your wife’s a teacher, correct. A special ed teacher. Okay, great. Yeah. Yeah. So you both had full-time jobs, you have kids, but it sounds like you mentioned, you’ve mentioned a couple of different times that before you went down this venture with fire Creek snacks, you had various passive income streams that you of course had focused on back in 2008, starting in 2008, digital marketing with engaged marriage and creating a business out of that.
You also said that you’ve got lots of different businesses and most importantly, I think it’s very interesting that you mentioned the way. So many of these things came about were simply by word of mouth, right? When you were telling different business owners, when they asked what you did and you told them, and they started being like, Oh, well, can you do that for me too?
Can you talk more about that? Because I think so many of our listeners are in full-time jobs and they’re so interested in side hustles, different ways to make money, different ways to generate income. Talk to us more about how that all evolved.
Dustin: Yeah, for sure. And it’s all completely relevant to fire Creek because I’ve learned so many different lessons from being in so many different industries, if you will, or trying lots of different things.
And I think it really, it comes back to. That time was engaged marriage. We were pretty heavily in debt. My wife actually wanted to stay home and eventually for about eight years did stay home as our kids were small. And she just went back to work this year, you know, right before Toronto, the, the, the COVID-19 issues, uh, sprung up.
So in that time though, yeah, it was, I just developed like an opportunity mindset, I guess. And so every time I solve a problem for myself now, I immediately think is this. A business idea. Is this a side hustle? Is this something that other people would benefit from maybe for money, maybe for ministry purposes, maybe just to help a friend.
And so a couple of quick examples of that. One of the first things I did before engaged marriage was really making money. And I knew that we wanted to get out of debt and allow my wife to stay home was I started buying and selling golf clubs. And so. This started because I wanted a new golf clothes, but I couldn’t afford new golf clubs.
So I wanted to try out different clubs and just see if I liked them. So I would buy them locally on Craigslist. At that time it was safe. And then I tried a few sets. I was like, yeah, these are okay. I’m going to relist them on eBay. eBay was big at that time. And so I just got good at that. And I started realizing that I was making a spread.
I buy them locally. People just wanted them out of the garage and I’ve started figuring out what they’re actually worth. I would sign them up. My kids would help me, you know, take pictures of them. And I got pretty good at copywriting and I could make them get more than market value on eBay. So we were making 1500, $2,000 a month just buying and reselling golf clubs.
Our whole basement was full of golf clubs. Uh, it was kind of labor intensive. Another example is I was training for my first half marathon in 2013. And got shin splints really bad. So it’s like really bad pain in the front of your shins when you’re chubby and shouldn’t be running long distances, but you do it anyway.
And so I was in a lot of pain. I wanted to keep doing my half marathon plan. And so I just started looking at everything on YouTube and found different ways. My foam rolling and icing and stretching and different things. You could kind of combine. And I got rid of the shin splints pain pretty quickly. Um, so I had another friend that was training.
He had shin splints, so how’d you get rid of him? So I told him, and so I ended up making a YouTube video just for fun. And it went like crazy. I think it got like 400,000 views. Now. It was like how to fiction splints in five minutes or something like that. So I was like, we know that people are interested in this.
So I ultimately ended up making a shin splints treatment kit, where basically I put at the end of the video. Hey. But you saw me use all this stuff in the video. If you’d like your own, I’ve packaged it up. I put a manual with it and you can buy it cheaper for me than you can buy all this stuff on your own on Amazon.
So I just found like a wholesaler who sold foam rollers, a wholesaler who sold ice packs. And I bought them at bulk, put them in a box and my kids again helped with that business. So there’s, there’s a lot of those. So I say, I have like a dozen, I do have a lot. And so in those cases it was just like, literally I had a pain or literally I was trying to overcome and a problem with trying out new golf clubs without spending a bunch of money.
And then I, you know, I saw an opportunity for other people to learn from that. And then the, the, I guess it’s similar, but a little bit different, but the relationships we just, I think we all shortchanged how many people we know how many people we interact with on a given day that can benefit from something that I know that I might take for granted, for me, the.
The motivation. I have to try a new dentist. I know why I would want to do that. You know, I haven’t, I know my pain points. I know the things I’m concerned about for my children, and I know he should be leading with those. And so I have a conversation with him in his chair. Hey, you know, have you, I didn’t know, you offered this service.
Why don’t you talk more about sleep apnea or whatever? And he’s like, I didn’t, I didn’t think about how to, you know, how, how would I do that? So we get into a conversation and talk about Facebook ads and how he can target people locally and the demographics that he really wants to serve. And so, yeah, it’s, it’s.
I think just having an open mind to not being shy, I guess, for one thing about what, you know, offering that for free to people and just help them out. And then a lot of times people will. Want you to, uh, to do that and get paid for it, whether it’s a product service or consulting,
J: there are two great lessons in there.
And, and this is something I think everybody out there should be thinking about. Number one, always look for opportunities. Like you said, you wanted to buy golf clubs and you figured out how to turn that into a business opportunity you were running and you got shin splits. You figured out how to turn that into a business opportunity, everything you do, you always have in the back of your mind.
Is there an opportunity to turn this into a money-making venture. And then number two, when you have these money-making opportunities, you’re always thinking about who can I sell this to? Who can benefit from that? Who can I partner with? And I think this is something that for a lot of us, as, as entrepreneurs, this comes naturally because we’re, we’re always in this mindset of how, how can I make money and who can I work with to, to, to grow it.
But for those who are out there, who aren’t. In this mindset every day. It’s a good reminder that this is a, this is a, uh, uh, something that can be learned. It’s a habit that can be formed. And if we make a conscious effort to always be thinking everything I’m doing, how can I turn that into a potential business?
And every business idea I have? How do I potentially scale that by talking to other people? If you can do that consciously, if you can make an effort to do that every day. Ultimately, you’re going to, you’re going to grow that like a muscle and you’re going to become a better entrepreneur. Okay. So with that said, clearly you were, you were going through this methodology of figuring out how to, to turn everything you’re doing and do a business.
One of those things was online marketing that you were getting pretty good at, right. And you were also thinking about how can I network with other people and, and find people to bring this expertise to. And ultimately those two things led you to your partner, Ryan and fire Creek snacks. So you, you buy this meat stick, you’re eating it.
You like it. You realize that it’s it’s nearby, Ryan’s nearby. What are your next steps? How do you actually go and end up in a partnership with Ryan?
Dustin: Yeah. So at the, at this moment in time, 2018, mid 2018, uh, Ryan had already established a product. So we had these snack, he had tried whole muscle jerky. So when people think of jerky, you know, kind of the expensive stuff that is just kind of a dried up meat snack that you might think of, he had tried that he tried to do it his own way.
It was a really good product, but just never really got off the ground. It’s a very, very competitive high price point. Um, just tough to get that kind of shelf space anywhere. And he was, had some partners and they were fully focused on wholesale or solely focused on getting it into gas stations, airports, the traditional places that you would do a high volume, you know, distribution type of thing.
And they just really never made it made much traction. He had this vision of. What if I took the quality and the flavors that I developed for the jerky and put them into a snack stick form. And that’s about the time I met him because I actually purchased snack sticks. He still had some jerky leftover, but he was getting away from that.
And so. Well, again, I, I kind of prove my chops by helping him grow his brick and mortar. He really liked what we were doing there and the strategy and kind of fresh ideas and again, online marketing, but for his brick and mortar stores, we established an email list for the first time for his business and did a loyalty program.
So he could kind of see, Hey, Dustin’s filling in some gaps here. Like he thinks differently than I do because. His business is a third generation butcher shop. So his grandpa started at 1952. Now Ryan has a business degree, very smart guy. So I’m not, I don’t mean to think he’s, you know, I don’t paint him in that picture, but he just thinks about how do I sell stuff in my retail shop?
You know, who’s going to buy this and can I get a restaurant to maybe become a client to buy some steaks that’s about as the reach that he had, because he could only sell locally, but the types of products and with licensing, you know, you can’t ship over state lines. There’s some limitations with what he was doing in his store.
So after a few months of that, I said, Hey man, have you ever thought about selling these online? Like I’ve seen other brands do it. I wasn’t, I hadn’t really done much. E-commerce in the sense of selling physical products online, aside from a book and you know, some, some minor things like that, but I felt like if we can, we can do it.
So he was still paying to help him with the brick and mortar. And I said, Hey, I know you’re getting out of this partnership. You know, you’re not really looking to take a new partner on that. Didn’t work out too well, but you’ve got the product he had co-packers at that point. So he originally created all these things, literally in the back of his shop, he bought a Hickory smokehouse.
It’s still like the footprint of where it used to be is still there. And it’s now our warehouse, but I mean, he was literally making this stuff in the back of the kitchen. But he had gotten sophisticated enough on the product side that he had two co-packers lined up. So people that can now produce his recipes at scale, without him having to do it.
And he had a pretty good. Brand message decent packaging. I was like, I really think we could do something with this. Why don’t you let me help you. I will build the website for free and if we sell, what are we selling line? There’ll be more than you’re selling. Now you can give me 5%. We’ll do it on a simple one page agreement, handshake, more or less, and if works out great.
If it doesn’t, there’s no risk to you. I’m interested in kind of learning e-commerce I love the brand. I love the logo. I like the story behind it. The fact that he’s the third generation a true, you know, butcher shop guy versus, you know, some lawyer in Texas who decided to make a brand out of thin air and thought that this was a good vertical to get into.
And so, yeah, it really grew out of that. So by the end of 2018, Few months later, we had a website pretty basic it’s more or less what we have today. Pretty simple, simple product line. And we had the 5% agreement. I was not making much money. It didn’t really justify my time, but I saw a huge potential upside there.
And I thought it was worth that risk. Cause I had other things I was doing. I had other, you know, again, streams of income that I wasn’t, it wasn’t like I had to do this and make all my money. I had some patients I guess is a way to say that. And so stepping a little bit further to get to the partnership moment.
In very early 2019, Brian calls me up and he says, Hey, you want to go to a trade show? I was like, I don’t know. I never been to a trade show. I go, he’s like, it’s in Orlando. It’ll be fun. It’s a golf show. I’m like, Oh, heck yeah. You know, I like golf. We’ll go down there and have fun. And so we went to the PGA merchandise show in Orlando in 2019.
Craziest week of my life, uh, for, for a lot of reasons, but he had never been to a trade. So I’d never been to a trade show. He signed up again. This is all just his business at this point. So I don’t really care about the expenses, but it was like 15 grand to have this booth. He had had two buddies come down.
Paid for all the airfare, we stayed in an Airbnb and for four days straight, it was just a constant stream of people coming to our booth and sampling. You know, it was like, Hey, try this, try this, try this. And sometimes it was the golf pros. Sometimes it was their wives and children who were kind of wandering around on their own.
And just put them up by baptism, by fire. Like we learned immediately what makes our product different? Why do we need to say, to get people’s attention? What do people care about? What does the mom care about for her kid? What does the PGA club pro care about for his customers and what he wants to sell in his shop?
And we kind of, I think a massive success. I think we wrote like 180 new golf courses here, and we didn’t have anything really at this point from a wholesale distribution standpoint. So it was direct to consumer direct to their mouth and. Just learn so much in such a condensed amount of time. And, uh, yeah, so we came back from that show, did another show in February.
Again, he was paying for my expenses, but otherwise I was just burning all my own time to do this, but we were definitely getting traction. We were making online sales. We’ve talked about kind of how those rules came from, but we now had some distribution wholesale. We both saw that there was something here.
We had rebranded a little bit and changed some of our messaging. And so in February of 2019, That’s where we finally get to the partnership. He said, Hey, you know, do you want to buy in frankly, he was a little short on cash, but he also would kind of want to lock me in. He saw the talents that I brought in that were just very much complimentary skillsets.
He was very much strong product guy spoke wholesale language, but I could do the direct to consumer thing, branding and copywriting and those sorts of those sorts of skills. And so, yeah, I ended up buying in, we kind of made up evaluation that we thought was reasonable on both sides. And I became a minority partner at that point.
Did some sweat equity things later in the year and earned some more and basically not have an option to buy some more, uh, it would be, uh, early next year. Um, and then we’ll, we’ll kind of be set with our partnership at that point.
J: I love that. And so basically what you did was instead of what, and I know a lot of people do this and there’s nothing wrong with doing this, but a lot of people kind of say, okay, let’s be 50 50 partners and you do this and I’ll do this and we’ll see how it goes.
He already had an established business. And you at the time were consultant, but you were willing to prove that you could bring more to the table than just a consultant, but instead of suggesting, Hey, let’s, let’s be 50 50 partners, or you give me some of your business, you stood back and you said, let me prove my value.
Let me actually put some money in and buy in, give me some option to buy and more, or to do some sweat equity. And so for you, this wasn’t a get rich quick sort of thing. This was a, I’m going to prove myself. I’m going to add value. Um, I’m going to make this company more successful and at the same time, I’m going to give myself the opportunity to, to build and gain equity over time.
As I’m successful in the businesses successful. So I, I love the fact that you were looking at this as a long-term opportunity and not just a way to make a quick buck.
Dustin: And that was really it. I think I view business partnerships. They’re not as permanent as marriages because you have a, hopefully marriage is for life and business partnerships typically aren’t and you have kind of a mutually agreed upon termination date, but.
In a very real sense. I mean, this is a pretty deep relationship. You spent a lot of time with this person. You have to have a lot of trust and you can’t just develop trust overnight. You know, you’ve got to, you’ve got to build that. So you kind of have to date for awhile. And so, in a sense, in my work I did with his brick and mortars, the coroner trade shows, you know, getting to know each other’s families.
I mean, we, we developed a level of comfort, not only that we had skills that were complimentary and that we’d be able to grow a business, but that we can actually get along. And grow together and have common goals, I guess, for the business long-term. And so, in a sense, he had kind of come out of a bad breakup, right?
It wasn’t, it wasn’t. I shouldn’t, you know, it wasn’t like they had a lot of animosity, but the partnership that he had, the product they attempted just didn’t work. So there’s some baggage there. And I know, I knew Ryan, wasn’t looking to jump headlong into a new marriage, you know, uh, on the rebound. He needed some time to kind of trust and make sure that this was actually gonna work this time.
And what was different about this approach than what he had just, just endured for, you know, two years of frustration and not be able to get the product where he wanted it. And so, yeah, we, we, uh, kind of took it slow. I, I have a big philosophy. You kind of heard it in some of the other businesses and things, that opportunities that have come up that always be looking to give someone else a win first.
So if you, if you serve first, you can’t go wrong. Like the worst case, nothing comes of it, but. You’ve helped someone a little bit and you’ve made their day a little better. And so in a larger sense, that’s what I was trying to do here is like, let me build a website. Let me see if we can sell this online.
Let’s try this messaging at the trade show. Let’s do this show special next time and see if it sells better. And there was a mutual benefit there, but I was really. No trying to serve first and not like you said it wasn’t, I certainly wasn’t looking for a rich get rich quick opportunity in this case.
Carol: This is all so great. So, Dustin, I want to, I want to learn more about essentially when you met Ryan, you two were strangers, right? You tried his snacks and you’re, you’re two strangers that ended up doing business together. You talked about how Ryan had just come out of quote unquote. Bad partnership, a bad marriage, it wasn’t working, et cetera.
You wanted to make sure that you kind of inserted yourself into the business and provided value before you became a partner. I think a lot of us just like you said, struggle with figuring out the right people to have as partners. And it’s really important to date and make sure your values align and so on and so forth.
Can you talk to us a little bit more about some tips you might have about vetting a partner, the types of things you look for, and also what are some red flags we should try to be
Dustin: avoiding. Yeah. And that’s a great question. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in partnerships, but I’ve, I’ve had a couple, um, I had, uh, another like fitness marriage, uh, type of partnership with a guy from San Diego that we had a common background, but similar story, I think you find people that you’re compatible with people that, to me, it’s important for a business partnership that you don’t have to be best friends, but someone you can be friendly with.
Uh, someone you can travel with and go have a beer with and be able to relate to. I think I th I think vision is really important that you guys have a common vision. And so if, if, if you’re, if you have someone you wanna approach for a partnership, or you have an acquaintance that you guys have a business idea, either way, I think that, you know, some tips would be to individually and then collectively talk about the vision.
Like what would be a win for you? What would be a win for me? You know, is this something you want to build for five years and sell? Is this something you want to do for the rest of your life? Or do you not know? Maybe you both don’t know and that’s okay. As long as you’re open and honest about that, but I think finding someone who’s complimentary and skillsets is important from a practical standpoint, to me, it would not make a lot of sense to have a partner who’s.
Really good online marketing, but doesn’t know anything about, you know, producing the product we want to make. It makes a lot more sense because I’m not a product guy in this case. I’m very much the marketing guy. I really need someone who’s operations and product to make a good business partnership. If we’re going to be kind of the two chiefs, you know, that are trying to lead the thing.
So I think practical skillsets compatibility from a personality standpoint, um, I mentioned families and so. Part of that visioning. And part of that compatibility is what’s our home life. Like if we have to decide when we’re going to travel for trade shows and he’s a single guy who can do whatever he wants and I’ve got three kids and a wife that works that can create a lot of tension, right.
But Ryan’s a family guy. He has two kids. He has a wife, that’s an education. So we can relate to each other in that way too. Like, Hey man, I get it. You can’t do that trade show. I’ll take this when you take the next one, rather than both of us traveled together, like that’s a lesson we learned last year, we’re doing a dozen trade shows.
Hey, it doesn’t make sense for both of us to go to all of these, you know, and that we know what we’re doing. Let’s alternate and make it easy on our families. And so being able to communicate openly, I think is really important. So if you have a. Potential partner, but you find that they hold things back or they’re not necessarily that they’re lying, but they’re just, they don’t have the ability to be open and honest.
When you guys sit down and have a conversation that would be a definitely a red flag. Obviously, if there’s any real dishonesty, you know, that’s, that’s a, that’s a red flag for sure. It’s it, it, it’s just, it’s a they’re complex relationships. And again, I don’t, I don’t use the marriage analogy lightly. You, if you’re going to have a successful, I mean, you could do some side projects, which is more of my previous partnership was, and we’re still great friends that, you know, that.
Which that little cell of the business, and it was great, but we both knew that that was always just a little side thing for Ryan and I, we both have expectations that fire Creek will be our full-time thing, that this is going to be a major business for years to come. It’s got huge potential and we’ve got a lot of good traction.
So we’re both very serious about this. And, you know, before we. We dated for six months, basically before we entered any kind of partnership. And then we incrementally leveled it up and continued to do so. Right. Like, like Jay said, it wasn’t like, Hey, you know, I, I really like you. And I think you’re a good compliment to this business.
Let’s be 50, 50 partners. That’s not fair. You know, he’s been developing this for years. I need to earn that trust. And he asked to, um, you know, he doesn’t give away equity lightly as he shouldn’t. And so. We are still stair-stepping that up over basically the two year plan of, well, when I’ll get to the point where I have, you know, the agreed upon option, uh, executed by early next year, but that’s, it’s been a two year process to get to that point.
J: That’s awesome. So I want to talk about some of the more nuts and bolts, the logistics, the tactical. Aspects, because we’ve talked before about partnerships and I think it’s a little bit more straight forward. When two partners kind of go into this from the beginning, you started LLC together. Maybe you have a JV agreement, you have an operating agreement, everything’s talked out and, and you kind of have roles and responsibilities, but you came into an existing business.
So what did it look like from a legal standpoint? What kind of documents did you use to solidify your equity in the business? Uh, he owned a, uh, this is, uh, this is this. Piece of the business. I presume as part of a larger business, because he was doing other stuff with meat, not just the meat snack business.
So did you break off the LLC and start a separate business or do you have equity in his entire business? How is the decision making made? What is the like more nuts and bolts, actual stuff look like for you joining an existing business?
Dustin: Yeah. So fortunately he already had a separate LLC for fire Creek snacks.
So there’s a holding company because he had former partners and he did not want them that’s part of his family business. So he, his family business is a wholesale customer of fire Creek snacks. So we sell Hanson pack or Hanson meat company sticks to selling their store, just like we sell to Walmart now and to others.
So in that sense, they’re definitely separate entities. They have to be co located. So, you know, our warehouse is in still on that family property. So there’s definitely some things there that, that overlap, but legally they’re completely separate entities. He’s, he’s the sole owner of his family business now.
And he and I are the two partners in fire Creek, different LLC. We have a partnership agreement again, it was fairly laid out because they had former partners. And so there were some things in there that he wanted to change. I had had another partnership, so there’s some things I was looking for. And basically we went and sat in a law office and took.
A mock of, of one of the previous partners schedule and said, you know, here’s my buy-in amount. Here’s my percentage. Here’s the points. I’ll have an option to buy more up to this point, you know, up to this percentage. So that was really clear and pretty simple. And then, you know, he’s, he’s the majority owner.
He will still be the majority owner, even whenever I exercise the full option. And so he ultimately kind of has that Trump card, you know, he, he has the final say, but there’s a lot of language in our partnership agreement that requires both of our agreements to do certain things like to bring on another partner.
Yeah. I have to be on board, you know, to terminate the LLC. I have to sign off on it too. If it’s a bankruptcy, you know, say you have to protect them against all of these. Things that you never think would happen. Divorce, bankruptcy, drug. They call them like the DS, um, all the bad stuff that can happen in a partnership.
So we, you know, that’s pretty spelled out in there for the most part business decisions. Uh, I honestly don’t remember what it is. There’s a certain amount that either of us could spend from the business without the other one signing off. But if it’s pretty large amount, we both have to sign off on that as well.
So in a sense, Ryan signs, the checks. He is the CEO, the, the general, the, the partner in charge. I’m a minority partner, but I have, there are certain actions that require both of our signatures. If we’re going to make major changes to the business or the structure.
Carol: Very cool. I love how detailed and well thought through all of that is again, just to recap and not to just not to belabor this point so much, but it just sounds like you, you two really took the right steps to make sure that this is a very, um, a very successful partnership.
By laying out the expectations accordingly. Right? I think so many people go into a partnership and aren’t necessarily that detailed and don’t necessarily see the need for making sure that everybody is 100% on the same page. So I just think that’s a great thing for all of our listeners to remember that in any type of partnership agreement, make sure that everybody’s needs, wants expectations are all understood.
Stood and agreed upon upfront and along the way, and that it changes as necessary together so that you can keep working together and growing your business
Dustin: and to reiterate just so people don’t feel overwhelmed. Like I’ll never start a partnership. Cause I don’t know, you know, how would I know all these details to put into this, this agreement the first six months were not like that.
It was basically a handshake. You know, he gave me a 5% check, which didn’t amount to much at first it got better, but at the end of the month, and then it kind of reached a point. Where we said, you know, this is either going to get dumb in the sense that 5% is gonna be too much, or it’s going to get dumb in the sense that 5% is never going to be enough, you know?
And that’s when the partnership thing came up and then it got a legal document and we knew the things we wanted to address. You know, we knew we had communicated before we sat in that lawyer’s office about. How we would schedule this out. Hey, you know, I understand you’re the majority owner, but I don’t want you to be able to do this without my permission, because I’m putting a bunch of cash in here, you know?
And so we knew the questions to ask because we took six months of, of working up to that point. So it would be pretty tough to on day one of a new business to know exactly what to put in there, but you could do something pretty simple and even put a date that this is valid until six months from now.
And then we’re going to enter them a more detailed agreement at that time.
Carol: That’s great. So let’s focus a little bit more now, not only on the tactical parts of forming the partnership, but let’s talk more about the tactical parts of growing that business. Right? You mentioned which PS, I find very fascinating and pretty awesome that the first trade show that you two decided to go to together was.
A golf trade show. And I assume that was because it was one of your interests, but, so I want to talk more about the decision-making about how that was your first one. And then from there, I would love for you to talk about you come back from that trade show. And I think you said you signed something like 100.
80 golf courses. So what did you begin doing in the business? What were the steps you had to take to begin fulfilling those orders? Changing up the operation meeting demand and grow. When, like you said, this was something you hadn’t done before. It was a whole new challenge for you.
Dustin: Right. Yeah. So the reason it was a golf show, I guess, first of all, is Ryan is a very good golfer, loves golf, actually tried to play professionally for awhile before it didn’t work out.
And he had to come back and do the family business thing. So I think it was just on his radar in our local area. That was his primary customer base for fire Creek, but he did get it into a lot of local courses because he knew people at those courses, he was plugged into the local PGA association, things like that.
I’m very much recreational golfer. I just thought it sounded cool to go to Orlando in January and get away from the snow and just, I was like, yeah, if I’m, if I’m, if I’m going to be away from my family, it might as well be in Orlando, you know, for a week. Uh, and. And then yeah, the kind of the, the approach to that show is a little interesting because we, again, we had no idea what we were doing.
So we shipped 10,000 samples down there, which turned out to be way too much. And we paid all these fees and freight fees and union fees and everything else moving all that product around. We actually hired models. There, there there’s an agency called catty girls that basically they go out and Academy on courses, but they also will do promotions.
And so they, we actually had them stand at the end of the main aisles and direct traffic down our aisle. So all of the people in our aisle loved us and like bought us dinner every night because we were sending so much foot traffic down an aisle that would normally not get so much foot traffic. So we, it was like insane, like all day for four days, constantly people, constantly people are giving us credit cards and we had a square reader and writing purchase orders.
And. I made an Excel sheet, like on the flight down there to figure out we have to be able to take an order for people that don’t want to pay on the spot, but we want them to pay on the spot cause we needed to need the money. So we were given a 10% discount if you pay now. So we’d have these guys like, well, I guess everyone else does like professional and scanning stuff in, but sure.
Here’s your, here’s my credit card. And so we kind of figured that out as we went, but to your point, when we got home, we’re like, wow, we have a lot of orders to ship out. We have to make sure we don’t run out of inventory. I hope we didn’t oversell. And so. It was just kind of learning as we went now, again, Ryan being in the meat business already has trucks and, you know, shipping, receiving, and he knew how to do pallet sized orders and how to, how to get a freight company and come pick stuff up for big orders.
Like he’s comfortable with that. That was completely foreign to me. But those first orders were him and I standing in the back of the warehouse, shoving cartons onto. Then in that case, it was FedEx, but basically just, we filled up a FedEx truck of boarders that we just spent like two days packing them up and taking them out of boxes and putting them in different boxes, getting on fedex.com and making shipping labels.
And then we called the FedEx guy and he came sweet. I remember we put photos like on our Facebook page, like, look what we did. And we filled up a whole FedEx truck coming out of the Jerseyville, Illinois, like a, uh, almost semi sized truck. It was really awesome, but yeah, so that was, that was the start of.
Wholesale. That was kind of the start of, of the, the larger quantity of orders. We had already been getting some online orders. And the ironic part of the story and all the things we’ve talked about so far, my background is online. You know, I wanted to do the direct to consumer thing and we joked that 2019 kind of became the year of wholesale because we got sucked into these trade shows.
We’re going to, you know, at least one a month, we had we’ll, we’ll talk about when we got into Walmart. And so it was all about that. And we still made online sales. They were pretty good, but. My passion is growing the direct consumer from our website sales. And so 2020 has, for various reasons, we kind of came into 2020 saying, look, we need to balance the scale here.
We really want half our business to be direct to consumer and have to be wholesale in an ideal world. Last year, we were like 90 10 on the wholesale side. And so. We were already going to do that in 2020, we already paring back on the trade show schedules. Um, and then COVID happened. And so it kind of forced us to do it because there have been no trade shows.
So I know we can talk about any details on any of that, but I, we tend to talk a lot about the wholesale because we did so much to that last year, but we’ve learned a lot of lessons direct to consumer to that. I think, you know, listeners would certainly, uh, Find valuable. That’s awesome.
Carol: I, I do want to talk about the lessons learned this year during COVID, but I want to follow up more first about these dozen trade shows you did in 2019, because that’s all a lot, right?
I mean, 12 back in the day, a million years ago, I did trade shows like crazy in one, one for a few days. Is massively exhausting. So to do one a month is like, I, I can’t even wrap my head around that. So I’m curious what I’d like to know for our listeners. Cause there will be a day when COVID is over in some day, I think we will be able to go back to trade shows and that type of thing.
And it sounds like that was a really a critical part of your growth was identifying and attending these trade shows. So a couple of questions are, how did you decide. Aside which trade shows were the right ones to go to. And what type of big accounts where you landing out? Yeah.
Dustin: Yeah. So we honestly never have landed a really big wholesale account.
A lot of the trade shows we went to are ones that allowed us to be at them that had impulse snacks. It was kind of the, the, the main thing. So what we tried, like a convenience store show, which you would think, yeah. Does snack sticks. You saw them in a gas station, huge barriers to enter there because. We have all these owners come by the sample of product and they would say, Oh, I love this.
Are you on Hackney’s truck? Are you on this company’s truck? Or that company’s truck. They all have a distributor that brings all their stuff in. And if you’re not on their truck already, like, Oh man, this is awesome. But yeah, I’m not going to fool the drop shipping and heavy. If it’s not on the truck, I don’t want it.
So we would literally, Ryan would take four customers that would be. Around our table. They’re all huge fans. They all had a single distributor. He would go over to that distributors booth and say, we need to be on your truck. Listen to these owners. You know, we guarantee you will increase your sales, all this stuff.
And we still haven’t gotten on those. We got a one truck, but it’s one big national distributor, but it’s really focused in the st. Louis area is where they’re distributing for us currently. But that was a big win recently. And that we’re. On their truck so that if we ever do have trade shows, we can go to a convenience store show.
And we’re, we’re an approved vendor now at that one distributor, but the distributor thing is a huge barrier to entry, um, probably for all products, but I know at least for impulse snacks, do you know, there’s a couple of national brands that buy up all that shelf space. They make it extremely difficult to get on a distributor or Yellen on a national account.
They put up huge barriers to entry so we can sell direct to consumer. Or in the re on the wholesale side and the trade show space, we said, you know what? We can sell direct to owner, but we have to go. We have to be in a different model. It’s like the C store convenience store model is not going to work at our scale yet.
Once they’re begging us to be in their store, then it works. But right now, no one knows who we are. They love the product when they eat it, we talk about why it’s so much better for their customers and they will, they become consumers of it. They, you know, we, I want to buy this for my family. But I can’t, it’s not in the truck.
I can’t put it in my store. So what we did instead was we went to largely independent hardware co-ops so you think of ACE hardware, true value. Do it best or go there’s about four major ones. And we started going to those shows because in those shows. You can be in their warehouses. And ultimately we got into true value and do it best warehouses based on the performance at their trade shows.
But we were able to kind of prove ourselves there and there, those owners oftentimes own one store or they own three stores. And so they’re much more open to like drop shipping, which means they buy it from us and we just ship it straight to their store. There is no distributor. And, and we got enough of those orders going that we got the attention of the buyers of our category.
And we said, look, we went to your show. We don’t, we’re not on your truck. We’re in an aisle, the six other snacks stick vendors. And we sold, you know, whatever, 150, we’d be the top seller at the show because. The product speaks for itself. Our, our, our whole marketing issue is getting people to try the product once.
Cause we’re very confident once they do. And once they understand the, the healthy attributes and the nutrition behind it is a huge bonus, but we lead with taste. That’s true sampling at Walmart, but that’s also true for the ACE hardware store owner. Who’s coming down. An aisle has no intention of adding a new snack to their, to their store.
Who is, Hey, just try this. It’s an impulse decision, just like it’s an impulse decision to buy it at the, at the corner grocery store. And we would get, just get sales like that. And we put together great specials and, and really incentivize them to just try us in your store and we’ll provide guarantees, buy back guarantees.
You know, if this, this doesn’t sell, we’ll buy it back. Luckily that’s never happened. So we, we just, I guess we were hungry. We still are. And you talked about how tiring it is to be at a trade show for people that haven’t been to one, I mean, you’re standing on very thin carpet, the concrete floors, basically 12 hours to 10 hours.
And in our case, it’s an impulse item. There’s a lot of people selling candy and different things all around you, and you have to get people’s attention. You have to get them to stop. And a lot of people. Are coming by our booth and they have never, you know, I’m not eating that nasty stuff because they think it’s the stuff that’s at the corner gas station.
So we have an education problem. So we have to get them to stop or we have to get them to be willing to actually try it. And again, it’s hard to even imagine going to a trade show and sampling food out of a bowl or whatever, like, you know, post COVID the last year people would actually eat snacks right out of a bowl sitting on an open air table.
So the classic example that happened all the time was a couple or a couple of the kids. Cause a lot of these are just small family owned hardware stores. They’re coming down the aisle and we could usually get the guy to try it. And he’s like, Oh, I love jerky. Sure. It’s free. I’ll I’ll take a bite. The mom would kind of turn away and the kids would be kind of interested.
And we’d say, mom, you know, your son or your daughter try this. It’s gluten-free, it’s no MSG. It’s, you know, it’s all natural ingredients. This is not what you think it is. Well, no, I’m not gonna let them try it. Well, w will you please try it? And we kind of, we get a little sticky, a little carnival Barker is, you know, sometimes I say, if you don’t like it, you can punch Ryan.
You know, like I guarantee you’re going to like it. Not saying you’re going to buy it. And as long as we get them to try it universally. Pretty much the only objection that we can overcome, we always joke is veganism or vegetarianism. Like, okay, if you don’t eat meat, you’re not going to like this. But if you have any other objections like nitrates and gluten and just the greasy, aftertaste, all that kind of stuff that people traditionally associate with snack sticks.
We can overcome that by just one bite, one bite. And you’ll be a believer is something we say a lot, you know? And so we could do that. And once we get the mom, you know, the, the, usually the female in the, in the, the family owned business. So acknowledge that this is really good, especially if the kids like it.
Boom. We want this in our store. This is different. This is going to bring people in. We can, you know, we can talk this up. This is in some cases, a locally sourced product, but it’s all sourced in the U S so anyone in us was pretty excited to be able to bring the product in, have something different. And they really could almost immediately see that it was a service to their customer.
It wasn’t just another product in the category of something really different. And they also connected to the story. You know, Ryan’s really good in 20 seconds about talking about his grandpa started in their meat business and he built this in the back of the kitchen with the smoke, his own smokehouse.
All true. But. People did. It’s like the American dream kind of wrapped up in a little, in a little snack state product. Um, and, and so we definitely use that to our advantage in these trade show settings as well. And I’m, I’m an introvert talking a lot, you know, being here on the podcast, but it’s exhausting for me to talk to people, especially strangers and to.
Carnival bark someone over to, to try a snack. So yeah, it was definitely trying, uh, 10 hours a day of doing that really takes its toll on you, but super energizing at the same time, because of the feedback you’re getting, you know, I get, every time you convince someone that had no interest in this type of product, just to try it, and then they realize that something different here, we realize it’s working, right?
Like we’re, we’re, we’re winning at this game. One little customer at a time on the trade show floor.
J: Something I’ve noticed is, and, and there’s, there’s, there’s kind of a rule I live by in the business world. If you want to be successful, you either have to be first. You have to be better. You have to be different.
And a lot of business owners come in and they’re confused about which of those three they’re trying to be, or they’re trying to be all three. They’re trying to be something new. And they’re also trying to be better than all the competition. They’re also trying to be different than all the competition.
And it’s really tough to be all three. Listening to you speak the word different came up over and over and over and over. And I love the fact that you seem to know what your goal is here and your goal is you’re not the first one to ever put out a meat snack, and you’re not necessarily trying to be the same as everybody else.
Only 10 times better. You’re trying to build a different product. And so. The fact that like, you’ve kind of recognized what your goal is. It allows you to brand your product and allows you to tailor your message. It’s not go with this brand or go with us. It’s go with us because we’re different. We’re not better than the other brand.
Maybe we’re Brent. Well, hopefully we’re better too, but more importantly we’re different. So I just, I just want to reinforce for anybody that’s listening out there, how important it is to kind of know what your competitive advantages and you clearly know the difference is one of your big competitive advantages and just the way you talk.
It’s pretty clear. I do want to talk about, because you’ve mentioned Walmart in passing a couple times. Yeah. And I, I know that a lot of our listeners kind of their ears perk up. I know we’ve had guests on who have had their products in Walmart and Costco and some other large chains. And the question I get from a lot of people is you need to follow up and find out how they did that because people always want to know how do you get into a place like that.
So can you talk a little bit about how did you get into Walmart and what does that process look like for any of our listeners who may be working on a product or have a product that they’re looking to get into one of these, these big retailers. Sure.
Dustin: So it’s similar kind of the trade show story. And in a lot of ways we are believers in the small wins will compound over time and we’ll eventually get like the big fish.
Right. And so it’s just getting people to try it more people try it. You know, maybe this guy knows someone at Costco, maybe this guy, you know, you just don’t know who knows who. And so it’s really just getting the product out there to deliver that message of what. Why it’s different, which we’ve developed through repetition and doing live sampling with thousands of people at this point.
But the Walmart story specifically is a little anti-climatic because it was a store manager locally here in the st. Louis area who actually called us and said, I really like your product. Can we have lunch. And so we said yes, and like, wow, this is cool. You know, I don’t know what, what he’s up to because in our mind, like probably with this, I think this is a big takeaway from the listeners.
I know it’s true of Walmart. I think it’s true of almost every major brand. They have more flexibility and autonomy at a store level than most people would assume. Like I always thought it’s in all the warehouses, you know, coming out of Bentonville Arkansas, or it’s not in Walmart. But Walmart really wants, they have a program called store of the community.
So their ideal situation is if I go to a Walmart in San Diego, or I go to Walmart in New York city, they’re different. Right. They have different products in them because they’re, they’re supposed to be a reflection of their community. And so that’s what this manager was basically approaching us about.
He’s like, this is a great product. He just wanted to know where it’s made what’s in it. You know, what kind of, what, what makes it different? ’cause he, he really, he innately liked the taste and the texture and thought it was different. And he’s trying to see if there was a place for it in the store. It was, there was no guarantees.
So he said, yeah, you know, it’s made in Jerseyville, it’s like 30 minutes from where his store was. You could very much promote it as a local product. And he, as a store manager, frankly, gets points for having local products or, you know, Highlighting things from the community, being able to sample in store a local product.
Like there’s, there’s certain things that he’s incentivized to do. And so we got into this store now to say we had an, a store there, there is still a major barrier to entry to get into a corporate entity. He wanted it in his store and all that’s all he really knew about the process. I had to deal with all these people in Bentonville and figure out I had to learn what EDI is.
No electronic data interchange. We had to sign up for third party software to basically get our items sucked into the Walmart system. Right. And then we had to learn all their backend systems to be able to provide, you know, inventory and invoicing. So was it worth it? Yeah. I got more gray hair, I think in, in the, in the three months of getting that all done.
And they were very complimentary that we were able to figure it out because most people have to hire a consultant and all this stuff to be able to. Get make a big splash in their system. We couldn’t afford to do that. And we were only getting in one store. So it was like, you know, we got to figure this out on our own.
Just kind of figured it out. So we eventually got our item numbers, which is like the magical moment that then he can scan it into their thing at the dock and put it in a store and sell it. And so we leveraged that. We said, Hey, what store managers do you know? That would also like to have a local product.
So we still aren’t started on the Illinois side. Here we are in like 10 stores within about five months. I think. And now we’re in 55. So we’re basically in all the st. Louis area stores. And we’ve did that one by one by Ryan or I going to the front of the store meeting with the store manager. They’re not allowed to sample products, so we just show it to them.
You know, I’m sure they could try it on their own time, but they’re not, we’re not allowed as a vendor to say, open it up and try this, you know, like we would at a trade show, but it’s more in that case. Again, a good lesson for the listeners is who is your specific audience and what is, what are the benefits they’re seeking?
So if you’re a keto diet or you might want my product because it’s low sugar and it’s high protein, that’s a very different message than the Walmart store manager. He doesn’t care about that. He wants to know how’s, how’s this going to sell more than the thing I’m displacing it with? When I put it on an end cap in the front of my store, because they only have certain areas of the store where they have flexibility.
To put new products or different products. And so that’s the story. Yeah. You have to tell them what’s the sell through rate. What’s the, the kind of the numbers, you know, what, how many of these sell in a week typically and these other stores. And once we had that initial store, it gives us a story. We went in personally and did sampling to drive those sales up, to understand the Walmart customer better because a Walmart customer is different than our online customer and it’s different than the trade show customer.
Right. So we had to understand what they cared about. And so, yeah, so we just kind of leveraged that. Front of the store. Hey, store manager, let me in, not everyone did the first time, but the store managers turn over and we kind of keep track of, they got a new store manager over in this place. Let’s go try it again.
And we eventually got an, almost every st. Louis store with COVID. We lost some of those to be fully transparent because. An impulse meat snack was no longer the highest priorities for the front end cap, right? They, when a hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes up there also a lot of stores are getting remodeled a lot more self checkout, a lot less in cast space that gives us a store manager, less flexibility.
If you’re not on the mod or in the modular planning gram, where you have a dedicated spot in every store in a given region. Because you’re in their warehouse. We’re not that. So we have to kind of get the leftover space. And so it’s kind of a constant fight. We also have to fulfill our own product and service our own product.
So you may see like the Frito-Lay guy in a Walmart he’s in there every day and I’ve talked to them like they have two stores and they spend full time job moving ships around front, facing their product, making sure that everything’s stocked we’re that for fire Creek. So we’ve got a contractor now who helps us with that, but basically the Walmart employees don’t touch our product and we have to get approval.
Have a spot in the store, then we have to bring it to the back of the dock. They scan it all in. We get paid electronically at that point, and then we have to put it on the shelf and then service it and make sure it looks good. Make sure it’s cleaned up. And that’s it. It’s been a huge learning lesson. We hope that it will, uh, soon or eventually turn into an opportunity to get in their actual warehouse.
Because at that point, we become more what traditionally people think about a Walmart product, where we ship pallets of stuff to a warehouse and they put it on the shelf and we know her around on the shelf, but it’s been more of a drill and marketing at this point and going store to store to get that shelf space.
Carol: That is so cool. And I’ve, uh, doesn’t truly, my mind is kind of blown at how much. Expertise you have gained in such a short time. I sit here and I continue to look at the bottom corner of my screen and I’m like, it’s 11 three 2020 is the date we’re recording this. So you’ve really only been at this for two years, right in two years is really not that long of a time, especially considering that half of this was during this whole COVID craziness.
So the fact that you’ve gained so much expertise in Kentucky, Speak, so fluently about every nitty gritty detail and nook and cranny of this operation is just, it’s fascinating. And it shows that your growth has been so explosive and exponential and that, um, you know, to be a successful business, you have to be able to understand all of those different components to make it run and grow and succeed.
Can you talk to us just a bit about how this year has changed? And you mentioned earlier that there were some, um, intricacies with the direct to consumer that, you know, of course are very different, right? Then when you’re doing a wholesale customers or trade show customers, that type of thing, just some maybe quick pointers, quick tips, some big, just any considerations that you had to take to make sure that that business was able to start growing as well.
Dustin: Yeah, for sure. So again, we were gearing up to really put our attention on direct to consumer this year. We felt like we had a good baseline on the wholesale. We were kind of like did what we could do in the hardware channel for awhile. Kind of start seeing the same people at the spring and fall shows is kind of, you know, the returns were less and less generous, I guess, for showing up and putting all that time in and yeah.
And then COVID happened. So with the COVID shutdowns, like on Ryan’s on his meat market side, in our area, The grocery stores were never closed, but there was this huge fear that there’s not gonna be food. And it was like a run on the shelves. He was, he was like three months straight of his lines out the door when he opened every morning and as meat markets.
And we saw a little bit of that kind of on the online side too. Like people were suddenly seeking out food to be delivered to their doorstep. More people were more, they grew, they quickly grew more accustomed to just buying everything online because they, you know, they just. Couldn’t physically go shop or they weren’t comfortable to go shop in stores any longer.
So they really were seeking out new products. So the timing was really great for us because we were wanting to grow a direct consumer. We already had a pretty good baseline of customers. So we learned a lot more about how to get them to refer to their friends. We did this year has been a lot more about partnerships.
So. I think traditionally people think of an e-commerce brand. It’s all about Facebook ads, right? It’s YouTube, Facebook, Instagram ads. And we do a little of that, but it’s mostly retargeting, meaning people that have already been to our site, we may follow up with them with some ads and that’s pretty effective.
But we don’t spend hardly anything on, on first touch ads on social media. And instead what we’ve done is leveraged partnerships. And so, you know, we talked about partnerships in the sense of Ryan and I as business partnerships, but I see a similar thing. In a lot of different ways to be able to grow an online business.
And that’s basically how I grew engaged marriage as well. And it’s looking for what we call shoulder audiences. So people who have an audience that might like our product, but that our product is not competing with what they’re already selling. So an example would be, I coached a guy and he has a online business about barbecue and about cooking meat.
Right. So he has. People that buy his products. Cause they want to know how to barbecue better. They buy recipes, those sorts of things. So we know that there are people who like meat and so it’s pretty. Complimentary for him to send an, and he also is a subscriber to our product. He literally was already a, a fan.
So I said, Hey, if we give you 500 bucks, would you write a review, email, be honest, take pictures and just send it out to your audience and we’ll give them a coupon code. So you win, they win. And you know, so we do that sort of thing where we find people who have a similar audience, we do do a relationship of some sort.
Um, and, and so we’ve, we’ve grown in that way. The partnerships, I think partnerships are the most undervalued. Approach to marketing. Especially direct to consumer, but even B2B, you know, I I’m on the podcast because I love you guys. I love the podcast, but who knows, there may be some store owner who’s like, I want to try your product in my store.
Or there could be someone who’s like, yeah, I want to eat low carb. And I like meat snacks. So I’m going to go order some, you know, when we hang up. So yeah. There’s a partnership here, giving content, hopefully people get some good business insights, but you know, so podcasts are one great partnership channel.
We’ve partnered with tons of subscription boxes this year. So again, and those have really flourished, uh, during COVID, especially the kind of healthy eating ones. People are trying to eat better since they’re at home and they want to have convenient food options. So there’s, you know, keto box in my keto box.
There’s one called snack nation, which is really big and they sell. Primarily to corporations. And then those corporations provide healthy snacks to their employees traditionally in the office setting. But now they’re sending them to their homes because they’re all working from home. And so same thing, you know, and find out who the decision makers are, send them samples once, once they liked the product, then the conversation develops and we can work out the details for any individual partnership.
Always make it a win for them. Hopefully make it a win for us and we’ll make it a win for their end user. In the case of a subscription box, we’ve partnered with Groupon this year. It was, you know, I saw I’ve been seeing Groupon things. I’m like, why don’t, you know, why can’t we do Groupon? So we found the guy in Chicago that works at Groupon and send him some samples.
And he’s like, this is really good. And so we came up with a deal. That makes them money makes us a little money, but mostly for us, it’s acquiring a new customer. And then we have hundreds of Groupon five-star reviews now from people that would have never seen or tried our product, but we’re kind of patient with the customer acquisition process.
So our philosophy is if we can acquire a customer at breakeven, We have a very good retention rate. We get people that want to come back and buy again and again, they start buying them as gifts. So the lifetime value of a customer is way more than that initial purchase value in our case. And so that does translate into Facebook ads and things.
It’s not that that can’t work and we do some of it. But it’s much more exciting to me. It’s much more of a long-term strategy to partner with other people make, give it a win for their audiences, because those are relationships that we’re going to have, you know, for years to come and have true fans of the brand and brand ambassadors, I guess, in the sense that aren’t just paid influencers, aren’t just.
Paid ads. We just try to do things different. You, we use the word difference, come up a lot, but our approach to marketing is different too. I think a lot of that, not to belabor the quality of the product or whatever, but it’s just different. So if we can just get someone to try it, we can just get someone to share it with their audience.
Then we have a very high level of confidence that it’s going to pay off from a business standpoint on our end.
Carol: That’s awesome. And I, I love again, France. We keep mentioning different, and I think it’s just worth noting that other, that rather than going after a consumer and a consumer and a consumer, you look for these great partnership opportunities to go after large groups of consumers at once.
So I think that’s just a really notable, a way that you’re different and that other business owners can consider rather than just having those expensive customer customer. I’m losing the word customer retention customer getting caught. Thank you. Oh my gosh. That’s such an easy word that was right there and I couldn’t get it rather than having those really expensive customer acquisition costs by going after one or small groups of people, you’re doing it on a much larger scale to grow your business more rapidly and get more brand ambassadorship moving forward.
I love it. Yep.
J: Dustin. This has been really awesome, but it is now a time for us to get into the final segment of our show called the four more. And that’s where we ask you the same four questions we ask all of our guests. And then the more part is where we let you tell our listeners where they can find out a bit more about you and your business.
You’re ready for it.
J: Let’s do it. Okay. I’m going to take question number one, Dustin, what was your very first or your very worst? I’ll let you decide job. And what lessons did you take from it that you’re still using today?
Dustin: Yeah. So my, uh, my first job was fortunately my worst job also. So when I was 13, I started working at a horse farm, putting up hay bales.
So anyone that’s in the Midwest or probably in the South, maybe familiar with that, but it’s probably like the worst job on earth. I was lifting hay bales that were probably heavier. And I was at that point young, uh, Farm kid and working out in the heat and the dust and making $4 an hour. And so I think what I took away from that is I learned the value of a dollar, honestly, as, as, as simple as that may sound, I found at the end of the summer, I’ve worked so hard and sunburns and cuts and bruises and realized I had no money left.
Cause I spent every penny I earned on baseball cards and renting video games. So pretty much after that summer, Every time I’ve earned money. Some of it gets saved. Some of it gets money. Love it.
Carol: That’s a great tip. I love it. Okay. So my second question for you is what is one piece of advice you have Dustin for small business owners, young entrepreneurs that you would love to share that you haven’t yet shared today?
Dustin: Sure. I, I, uh, I love to share this because it was really my breakthrough moment when I left my engineering job. It’s that most decisions in your life are not permanent. So I held on, I was doing all this stuff on the side. I knew I eventually wanted to get away from engineering, but I was always so just fearful.
Of well, if I leave that, I leave kind of leave that identity behind, you know, this is all I’ve ever done. I went to school for this. It’d be insane to try something different. Eventually what brought me peace was realizing that it wasn’t a permanent decision. Like I could leave this job. I’m leaving on good terms.
I can always get another job. I can always go back into engineering. I could still go back and do engineering if I wanted to. And so a lot of us that’s one of the things that’s held me back a lot in life. Is fretting that if I do this, it’s a permanent decision. I can never go back. And there’s very few things you’re going to do in life that are permanent.
So you might as well try different things and don’t let that fear of making a fatal mistake hold you back because almost nothing is actually that serious.
J: That is an amazing tip. And it’s amazing. It’s an amazing piece of wisdom for anybody out there who is just. It feels like they’re paralyzed. They don’t know if they should be taking that big leap or not.
It’s not permanent. You can go back. You can go forward. You can go sideways. So I, I absolutely, I love that advice. Okay. Question number three. Favorite book, business book or investing book and okay. Let’s do any books.
Carol: Dustin’s has done so many cool different things and so many different arenas that I bet he’s got something
But I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I am gonna put a little disclaimer on it, a book that maybe people haven’t heard of, or aren’t, uh, aren’t aware of.
Dustin: Oh, boy, that makes it a lot harder. So the book that came to mind was rich dad, poor dad only because I’m currently rereading it. It’s like the 20th anniversary edition.
And, and I’m sure everyone’s heard of that, especially, you know, a lot of people in real estate that, that listen to BiggerPockets. Real estate is like the one thing I haven’t done, but I, uh, I’m an interest in it. But the reason I had poured that message to me in a nutshell is that you should be building assets every day.
And so I think of assets. Sure. It’s like, you know, buying a rental home, that’s a big asset. You might do that every once in a while, but every day you could learn something new. You could write a blog post, or if you reach out and try to form a partnership. And I think those little deposits every day is how we’ve grown fire Creek.
It’s how I’ve grown my career and done a lot of different things. Yeah. And probably the other book that. People in my circle, probably I’ve never heard of, but everyone listening to this probably has, is a simple path to wealth. I just kinda got into the whole fi realm. Uh, I’d say late last year, that’s I think that’s, I’ve probably found bigger pockets, money at some point, which was eventually I found this podcast.
Um, and so that I, again, I really love those. Holistic simplistic messages that like, and, you know, I could summarize a one page, the simple path to wealth. I can summarize in one page, the underlying wisdom that’s enriched dad, poor dad. And so I like to reread those kinds of books to kind of remind myself that it really is as simple.
If you just kind of, you know, follow those, the wisdom that’s already been laid out in front of you on the financial side.
Carol: Love it. And thank you also. That’s always nice to give a shout out to our bigger pockets, money podcast, Mindy and Scott, you guys rock and keep doing your awesome stuff that you do.
Okay. Bye. Fourth and final question is what is something along the way in your personal life, your work life, whatever that you’ve splurged on, that was totally an entirely worth it.
Dustin: Yes for us. And I hear this a lot from your guests that not so much about material stuff. Like we have a nice house and whatever.
We drive old cars for the most part, we live comfortably, but it’s always about experiences for us and for our family. And so like for me personally, I like to go on backpacking trips or, you know, go spend time at the beach and things like that with, with my wife. But the one trip I think that stands out the most is our Disney world trip.
So a couple of years back, we. Did the right to the nines. Like we’d never been to Disney world at all. We’ll probably never be back. At least with our kids. W we might go, you know, as, as adults, but we took our kids that were a couple of years younger than they are now. So they were like the perfect age for Disney.
We stayed on the resort, like a two-minute walk to the Gates magic kingdom. We saw the fireworks every night from our hotel balcony, our condo balcony there. And we took our in-laws. So we were able to bring, uh, my wife’s mom and dad with us. They never really got to travel very much in life. And so they got to spend that week with us.
And then on the way home, we extended it to spend a couple of days in Panama city on the beach. So that, that stands out because I’m typically of course, being the engineer type, trying to find like the most efficient travel and trying to do things and make our dollar spread. We kind of threw caution to the wind and said, we’re going to set a big budget for this.
And we’re going to just have the time of our life and be able to. Give those memories to our kids and you know, their grandparents all in one trip and totally worth it. Awesome.
J: Love that. Okay. So that was the four part of the four more. Now it’s time for the more part of the four more. And that’s where you tell our listeners where they can find out more about you, where they can find out more about fire Creek snacks, where they can connect with you.
Dustin: Absolutely. So, um, I’m an open book. If someone wants to reach out and connect, uh, they can email me. It’s Dustin, D U S T I [email protected] If they want to find out more about the brand and try some snacks, it’s fire Creek, snacks.com or fire Creek snacks and all the socials. Um, kind of two things. If someone’s listening to this, when it first comes out and it’s like November 20, 20.
We are running like an insane promotion. So anything I said sounded interesting. And you wanted to check out how we’re doing the promotion, or if you want to actually order some snacks. If you go to fire Creek snacks.com/golden. We’re doing this golden ticket giveaway. So we’re giving away $5,000 this month or this kind of our extended black Friday extravaganza.
So they’re getting a big discount on a bundle of snacks that they can enjoy themselves or give away as gifts. But they’re also, we’re literally inserting like Willy Wonka style, golden tickets. In random orders and giving away a thousand bucks cash to each of those this month, too. And in all these orders, and we’ve got some referral bonuses where people can make a hundred bucks for sending a friend over lots of cool stuff.
So if they go to fire Creek, snacks.com/golden, as long as they’re listening to this in the near future, that will still be active and they’ll be able to see what we’re doing there. And then if they listen to it later, if they just want to try something different, we’d love to give a discount. So any [email protected], if they use biz.
B I Z as a discount code, uh, they’ll get 20% off and get free shipping on any order. That
J: is awesome. I had never tried fire Creek snacks, speed sticks before this week, but you were kind enough to send us some, uh, so that we could be familiar with the product before the show. And let me tell you something.
It is. Awesome.
Dustin: So it looks crazy.
J: I am not a huge meat guy and I’m not a huge meat stick guy, but let me tell you that we took them out. We shared them with our neighbors for a little Halloween party the other day, and they were absolutely the hit so fantastic product. And certainly you, you kind of delivered on your promise of being different.
So. Thank you for that
Carol: million percent. Yes. A great I’m the mom you were talking about earlier. That’s why I was like, eh, I don’t know. And Jay’s like, try this. I’m like, wow. They know what they’re doing. A totally different deal. Fantastic.
J: So, yes, Dustin, this was awesome. Thank you for sharing your story for sharing your wisdom and your knowledge, and we really appreciate it.
And hopefully we can have you back in a year or two, and we can talk about all the great strides you’ve made in that time as well.
Dustin: I would love it. Thanks so much for having me on.
Carol: Thank you, Dustin. Have a good day.
Dustin: All right. Thanks guys.
Carol: Wow, absolutely loved everything. Dustin brought to the table today, right?
I thought it was absolutely fantastic. How I got him off on a tangent right in the beginning. Guilty is charged, but I think it was really great. That he talked about all these different business opportunities that he saw and just started providing to other people. And I thought it was really valuable when he talked about, just think about the circle of people that, you know, he’s so right.
You underestimate the number of people that we come into contact with on a daily basis. And you never know who might. Need the services that you have to offer. Right. So that was fun right up in the beginning. And then he talks about the evolution of the snack company and just so many other great things, so many great lessons thought it was super.
J: Yeah, I, I agree. And I guess my favorite takeaway from this whole episode, and we mentioned it in the, uh, in the intro was just that little piece of wisdom for anybody out there. That’s. Considering taking some massive action, uh, but might be scared to take the leap. I loved when Dustin said most decisions in your life are not permanent.
And it’s so true, no matter what you decide to do, if it doesn’t work out well, most of the time there’s, there’s a backup plan or you can go a different direction. So don’t let fear of what might happen. Stop you from taking massive action, because as Dustin said it yet, most decisions in your life are not permanent.
Alrighty. Well, I think we’re good for this week. You good for this week, Carol?
Carol: I’m good. But Jay, you talked about the permanent thing and that was going to be my closing wrap up. All right. I’m coming up with something on the fly.
J: Go. Let’s do it again. Okay. You’re ready. I will say it slowly. I will say it slowly, everybody.
Thank you so much for tuning in. I hope you have an amazing week and we look forward to hearing you again next week on the BiggerPockets business podcast. She’s Carol I’m Jay.
Carol: Now go recognize the opportunity, tell people about it. Cause you never know who might need your product or service today.
Everybody have a wonderful week. Thanks for tuning in. We so appreciate you.
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