Building bonds with the power of play.
The Tether Tug people are dog fanatics who passionately create interactive and interchangeable products to improve the overall well-being of dogs through physical exercise and mental stimulation.
Tether Tug’s mission is to help make it easy for pet owners to keep their dogs playing and having fun while helping to improve behavior and promote the loving bond between pets and people.
Remember, dogs unite us!
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- [00:00] Intro
- [01:15] From healthcare to dog toys
- [03:37] Producing a product with no experience
- [04:54] How Tether Tug got its first sales
- [06:30] Don’t just follow the money
- [07:42] Protecting the brand on Amazon
- [09:06] Marketing expertise is very platform dependent
- [10:15] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
- [10:35] Sponsor: Mesa apps.shopify.com/mesa
- [11:33] Sponsor: Loop loopreturns.com/honest
- [12:16] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
- [13:03] Amazon is a “necessary evil”
- [13:27] Consumers and brands need protection
- [14:16] Good ideas need appropriate action
- [15:34] Failure at something is inevitable yet invaluable
- [16:25] Store owners should love what they do
- [17:33] Visiting websites just to analyze how it works
- [18:04] Ecommerce is constantly changing
- [18:23] Embracing the culture of your industry
- [19:51] Where to find Tether Tug
- Subscribe to Honest Ecommerce on Youtube
- Durable, interactive dog toy system designed for active dogs of all breeds and sizes tethertug.com
- Connect with David linkedin.com/in/david-hayford-7b815621
- Scale your business with electriceye.io
- Download Mesa at the Shopify App Store apps.shopify.com/mesa
- Transform your returns into exchanges https://loopreturns.com/honest
- Get started with a free account at klaviyo.com/honest
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You're going to do your due diligence. But regardless of how much due diligence you do, you're going to make mistakes. If you don't, you're not going past that.
Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.
On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results.
Let's get on with the show.
Hey, everybody, welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer.
And today, welcoming to the show, the founder of Tether Tug, a unique interactive dog toy company.
David Hayford, how're you doing today?
Doing good, Chase. What's going on, man?
Oh, nothing. Enjoying the not sunny, very cold and rainy Ohio day.
The weather is not ideal here in the Midwest.
I understand. We got the same thing in Missouri.
Awesome, David. You've got a pretty interesting journey here. So you started out in healthcare and evolved into the dog toy industry?
How about you take us back in time and walk us through that time in your life?
Yeah. It's a funny story, because you just never really know where you're going to end up. Probably about 7 - 8 years ago now. A guy I knew through...
Our daughters were friends with each other. He wanted to start...
He was a trauma surgeon, retired trauma surgeon. He wanted to start up a medical consulting company. People had come to us ask if this was a viable product in the hospital. We vetted it through.
We did some other stuff. And while we were doing that, we've made some health stuff for the pet industry like paw spray, first-aid spray, and hair spray, stuff like that. And the health stuff was crawling along. Beginning in a hospital takes forever.
But one day he comes walking in and he says, "Hey, we're gonna make a dog toy."
"No, we're not."
"No, we're gonna make a dog toy."
This is seriously how the conversation went. "We're not doing this. This is crazy. We can't even sell the stuff we have."
But because he's a trauma surgeon, so he has more money than me and he's taller than me, he said, "No, we're gonna go make a dog toy. And we'll get it going like that. We'll see how it goes."
So he spent a year messing around to try to get it going. And then we remember our first month, we sold 13 Tether Tugs.
It's great. But it was just a neat side hustle before side hustles or something. We didn't know what we're going to do with it.
And I remember it, we got a call on Black Friday, right after Thanksgiving. And the guy asked me. He's like, "So how do you guys do on inventory?"
And at the time, we were like a bakery. If you ordered 6 things, we made 6 of them. If you ordered 12, we had to make 12 that day. "Because I had orders for like 150 for you on Monday."
I'm a salesman at heart. So I said "Sure. Yeah, we got you covered". The thing is, Coupaw had 150, Amazon had 150, our website had 150.
We come in on Monday after Thanksgiving and we have orders for 400 units and we can only make 100 a week.
So that was the day that Tether Tug went from being a little hobby, a little... "Well, it's a cute little toy" to "Okay, this is a real deal, man. People want it." And that's when I went from being a… Working in the health consulting arena to “I'm a dog toy guy now.”
Now, that's awesome. There's a lot of interesting stuff in that whole journey.
So the first part of it is, you guys were just iterating and building out these products at the beginning and didn't really know what you were doing.
Did any of you have any experience with building products or product development?
No, not really. My old partner was... He's a tinkerer, he likes to mess with stuff.
So the trauma surgeon is the guy, when you get in a car accident, you come to the hospital, and you get your bone sticking out for internal bleeding and stuff like that. And he just puts it back together till the other doctors can fix it. That's what he likes to do.
So he made Tether Tug but didn't really finish it, which is why it ended up with me because I'm the one who finished it. But no, we weren't in the pet space. We were truly jumping in blind.
And it's funny as it wasn't that long ago, but 7 - 8 years ago that if the availability of information wasn't there like it is now.
There wasn't a Shopify to run to. "I'm going to watch 1000 videos on how to do this." It was step by step, picking up the phone and calling people and saying "How do we get to you, and how do we get to them?"
It was fun but there were days that sucked, for sure.
Oh yeah. That's the entrepreneurship journey. So you said that when you launched the first version of the Tether Tug, you got 13 sales that month and you guys were ecstatic about it. How did you get those sales?
We built a Facebook page and started reaching out through the little pet stores in the area to spread the word a little bit and get some likes about it. We did have a...
We had a web page, obviously, but... And I forget. I think it was like 3 pages.
It was like "Here's your homepage, and then here's your [how to] buy."
And it's funny, we made... At the time, we only had one toy. And it was a... We don't even make it anymore because it was so small.
But at the core of our toy is a fiberglass pole. And we had no idea that there were all different kinds of strengths of dogs.
We need to think that part through so we get it out there with some big dogs and they just take our poll and just break it like "Huh. We need a bigger pole."
The next one, next size up, next size... Finally, we've got one that's like a telephone pole that a dog can't break. But we just deal with that learning journey.
Absolutely. And then... So you mentioned after the 13 sales in a month, things are a little bit serious. You're taking the stuff more seriously now until you're...
You've got your own direct-to-consumer line through your own website. And then you're also selling on Amazon. And then you're doing these wholesale deals, essentially with a Coupon or...
I didn't recall that one off the top of my head, the Groupon for dog toys. What were the advantages of...
Today, they pretty much call that like an omnichannel approach. Did you have any foresight going into it? Or were you just taking any opportunity that came along?
That's a good question. The name of the company was Coupaw like the dog's paw. We like to say weird stuff like that in the pet industry. So when you're brand new...
And man, this was a lesson learned. We just went wherever there was money. So we had our website, which was good. We put some stuff up on Amazon.
But then we would get these emails, from people that see our stuff on Amazon moving well while still brand new.
But they say "Hey, we want to sell your stuff on Amazon." And I was like, "Right on, man. Let's go. Here's, here's our credit card. There's our PO. Let's rock."
About 2 years later, we looked up... And I don't know how many people we had sold on Amazon. I'll probably say 30. And Amazon was a race to the bottom back then.
So we had our website and then we had all these guys on Amazon, who are just taking a dime off a quarter and just continually flow down.
That was probably one of the tougher lessons for us. Because once that happened, we had those shut the Amazon [sellers] down so that they wouldn't keep running it to the bottom because it wasn't fair to the wholesalers.
It wasn't fair to the people who were keeping map pricing for us. It was a tough lesson. But yeah, initially, if you had a rack, if you had a good credit card, we would sell it to you.
Not so much anymore.
Now, do you guys still have a presence on Amazon? And if so I'm just assuming that you guys are fully managing that yourself to make sure things stay the way you need it.
Yeah. So we've had a good journey on Amazon. Like I said, we dialed it back. And there's... So we wouldn't be just sending it out to everybody. A guy who worked with us for a while had a really interesting quote.
He said, "Anybody can sell on Amazon. Anybody can. But it takes somebody special to do it."
And what we did is I went back to one of my old customers who we had, who we started getting initial sales from Amazon, and I let her take off with it.
I said "You're going to be a butcher, my only want... You know how to do it. You know how to get the keywords. You know how to get the orders processed. And we're just gonna have you do it right now. And nobody else can."
I probably still get a solicitation twice a week for people who want to sell on Amazon. And it's just... You just have to be careful on that one. It really is just a race for everybody to go there.
And I've seen people who will still pop up... A retail store will show up and they're like, "Yeah, we want... We want to sell it here. So we're just gonna go $1 less than everybody else."
You just can't. You got to really... You got to protect your brand. That was where I learned that your brand... I learned that Amazon's a commodity, products on Amazon, they're commodities.
If people have a lot, they're going to reduce your price, and you get rid of it. If they have a few, they're gonna raise their price so they can slow the sales down.
And you can't manage that with a bunch of people going. You've got to control it.
Yeah, that's great advice for people that are trying to understand just the... Amazon is just a completely different monster than, say, your own website on Shopify.
And we try to say that all the time whenever we're talking to clients in consulting.
It's like "We're really good at the Shopify side of things but then anything that's in a marketplace like that, we're not the guys. We don't know what we're doing."
Sure some things translate but it's just a completely different thing to deal with, honestly.
Yeah, that's a great point. And that's kudos to you to be able to actually admit that because you the two don't translate although they're both online platforms. And you I think in real life you have to be on Amazon anymore.
It's just we drive a lot of traffic to our website, and people will look at it on our website, especially us you know, Tether Tug.
Probably most people listening to your show have never heard of us until now. So if you want to validate it, Amazon's a good place to validate a product.
Whether they come back and buy from my website or they stay on Amazon and buy it.
But I also know I'm the one who drives all those people to our website because they're happy on Amazon. "I'm gonna look at Tether Tug. It just seems like some fun brand.
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Yeah, I heard that from a lot of guests lately that Amazon is the necessary evil or something like that.
You have to have your product there, or at least some of it so you have the brand awareness, so when people are searching for it and vetting you, that's almost something that they...
They go and see if you are on Amazon and if you have reviews there because they almost trust that more, because it's such a big company that you can't get fake reviews, which we all know is not real.
Yeah, very true. No, that's... If there's something I want to look at that I'm not completely sure of the company.
And unfortunately, there's some stuff that gets jank out there. We've had our websites, what do you call it, "skinned" once or twice, actually, where somebody took... Instead of tethertug.com, they put tethertugtoy.com
They went to Facebook, created [and] bought a big audience, started putting ads out there, people were buying from that website that wasn't real. You gotta protect yourself. So you gotta...
You look at the reviews, ask a couple of questions, see how long it takes them to respond to you..
What's the feedback on their pages? Everybody's trying their hardest to make it safe? There's always going to be that guy.
Now. Is there anything I didn't ask you about that you think would resonate with our audience today?
I think if you have a Shopify store, I think... I've heard you say this on your show, "It's really easy to have a good product. But putting that product into action and actually making it happen, that's where the rubber meets the road."
Good ideas are a dime a dozen. It comes down to how well you're able to put things together. And you can also sit on... You can go one of 2 ways, too.
You can be that guy who says "Hey, I've got a great idea. Go!" And you take off and I think that was awesome to figure it out as we went.
Then there's the other side that says "Hey, I've got a really good idea." And then they overanalyze it forever and forever, forever.
And by the time they get out there, everything changes because Shopify changes... The Ecommerce platform world changes so quickly, I just... I laughed and it seemed like..
It seemed like to me when we got on Shopify --I wanna say it was 5 years ago-- there were 12 apps I could plug in. That was it. There was a pop up app, there was... You could plug it into Mailchimp or something.
And now there's like thousands of them. It's overwhelming to find them. So if you're gonna get into it, get into it. Then you're gonna do your due diligence.
But regardless of how much due diligence you do, you're gonna make mistakes. If you don't, you're not going past that.
Yeah. If you are over analyzing... If you're just not making choices... I think a lot of people are scared to make a choice. They're scared to fail so they [didn't] want to get started.
And it's like, "Hey, here's the thing, you're going to fail at something. You're going to make the wrong decision at something. It's inevitable as is waking up in the morning."
It's happening. So just do the thing and then you'll start to learn from it, and you'll start to make less and less, and your knowledge will grow.
And then the one thing I know about this industry is people that start brands meet with a brand that doesn't go and do what they want it to do...
The skills that they've acquired building that make them extremely valuable in the workplace, that they go work for other brands or other startup mentality-type businesses that...
It's just the learnings that you get from just doing it and starting it are invaluable.
Yeah. Yeah, you're absolutely right. It's really cool how you can keep building on everything.
If you start with your product and then you look at, "Well, how do I get it in front of people? How do I get it back in front of people? How do I engage them?" And I love that piece of the puzzle. It's "How do you make this the most frictionless experience possible?"
Hopefully, anybody who has a company, who's got a Shopify store loves what they're representing, even if it's t-shirts. You love the logos you're putting on it, you love what you're doing.
For me, I take exception that our conversion rate is 2%. That means 98% of the people went to look at our dog toy and didn't like it.
"How come? It hurts my feelings. It's a pretty great toy. Why doesn't everybody want to buy it?"
And that drive to [say] "Okay, so how do we get to 2.5? How do we get 3%? What are we doing wrong? What are they seeing on the website that they don't like? It's just...
And it's funny. Anytime I'm on somebody else's website, I'm like, "Oh, I'm just pissing this guy off. He's gonna have a low conversion rate because I visited 4 times. Oh man. I'm sorry. Too bad."
It becomes a great game.
Yeah. I think that some of us who are in the game for too long, we.. (laughs)
We're starting to play inside baseball with ourselves or something. We're like, "Oh, we're that guy on that Hotjar heatmap.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. (laughs) But they start thinking about what they're doing at work and I go, "How does this work?"
Then you start testing their check their shopping carts. “How does that work? Are they going to send me an email? What does their email say?” It's fun.
And I love the puzzle of it. I think that's probably my favorite thing and the most part that keeps you awake at night.
Yeah. There's no one way to do it. And that's what makes all these interviews interesting. And makes every project we work on interesting at the agency. It's just there's no right or...
There's a few wrong ways, I guess, but there's no perfect way to do it. And it's always evolving. It's always changing. And people are finding new creative ways to do it better and faster. So it keeps us on our toes.
Yeah, yeah. I think one of the things... You asked if there's anything that will be missed, I think it's just you gotta find you got to find that space that you dig the first wedding or first...
Excuse me, the first Christmas gift I gave my wife was a dog. We're a family of dogs. We add them all the time. And I never thought I'd go and be in the dog space.
But once I got here, it was really cool. You've got to find what you dig being in. I think, to open up a Shopify store because it's easy, you've got to find your right mindset. Because it is going to consume you.
You're gonna have to learn to [speak] the language. Dog people are funny. We say things that we say like "Have a PAWsitive day." But it's not... [It's] P-A-W positive.
The guys who run their companies are the "Big Barkers" or the "Head Dog", the "Lead Dog." And it's hilarious. They're a fanatical group and what you got to find...
You have to find the tribe that you'll embrace. If it's skincare, you have to love that. If it's just simply shirts, you have to love the design and the culture you're creating.
And we love being with the dog people. The dog industry is colorful. And it's a fun place for us to live.
Absolutely. Now, we talked about this dog toy. So if people are curious and they want to check out the toy. Where should they go?
They can go to tethertug.com And it's tether like a tether ball. T-E-T-H-E-R-T-U-G.com We're on Chewy, we're on Amazon, but of course we love it when you come to our website.
If you come buy something, don't drive my conversion rate down, man. It just kills me. I'll be awake at night wondering why there's a spike and they haven't bought a thing.
Awesome. David, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Oh, absolutely. It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us.
We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes.