On this podcast, we talk about how Guava Family has excellent customer service despite having a very little team, their commitment to go all-in on D2C, the value of word-of-mouth in their industry, and so much more!
Scott Crumrine is the co-founder and CEO of Guava Family, a high-performance design company creating baby gear that treats parenting like the extreme sport that it is.
Previously a designer for Motion Water Sports with a specialty in wakeboard design, Scott found parents in his life frustrated with the poor performance of strollers and other family gear.
Before even becoming a parent himself, Scott teamed up with fellow designers Asa Giffin and Reed Schmidt in 2009 to bring Guava Family to life with the mission to make gear more efficient, simple, and elegant to meet their needs and the needs of people like them, particularly those with active lifestyles.
Guava Family's products are loved by active parents across the country, and have received prestigious innovations awards such as TIME Best Inventions, Fast Company's Innovation by Design, and a Red Dot.
Scott holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BS Mechanical Engineering from Santa Clara University.
He holds several patents in the Action Sports and Juvenile Products industry.
He lives with his wife and 3 kids in Carlsbad, CA where, when not working, he loves spending time in the ocean, and teaching his little ones to surf and ski.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
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Just make sure we're growing profitably and not getting ahead of ourselves. And when you do that, then you can develop products without having to raise money.
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.
I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.
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 I'm welcoming to the show, Scott Crumrine.
Scott is the co-founder and CEO of Guava Family, a high performance design company creating award-winning baby gear that treats parenting like the extreme sport that it is.
Scott, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Chase. Super grateful to be here.
Awesome. So let's talk about these extreme sports baby gears. What exactly are you guys selling? What do you bring into the market these days?
Yeah, we design strollers and travel cribs currently. Those are the main 2 categories.
They are much more portable than anything else out on the market to help parents get out and get a recharge.
Parenting is really hard. Getting out and finding adventure is really important, I think for parents to do and also to share with their little ones. So we try [to] help with that.
Absolutely. So where did this idea come from? What was going on?
Yeah. So I was...
I've been in product design. That's my background. And I was designing products in the actual sports industry for quite a while all through my 20s. And I started thinking about wanting to design a company rather than just products.
And I also wanted something, maybe, a little bit [of a] bigger industry. I was specifically in the wakeboarding industry within action sports.
And working in action sports in [my] mid-20s was a perfect fit. It was so much fun. It's all I thought about anyway.
And I was thinking about what's the next phase of life where I'm gonna be spending a lot of my mindshare, because I solved problems as I experienced them.
And so the baby industry, huge industry, lots of room for product innovation. And the next phase of life eventually at the time, and that's where I am now.
Absolutely. So what was the first product that you guys tackled?
Portable sleep. So travel cribs. When we were looking at the options out on the market, they hadn't really changed in a number of years.
Aesthetically, they changed. Internally, they’ve gotten safer. But functionally, it wasn't...
There wasn't a whole lot of innovation.
And so we started from scratch on that and came out with our first product, which is Travel Crib, which we started selling in 2010, actually.
We've been innovating on that kind of slowly but surely ever since.
Absolutely. So with the launch of that product, how did you guys sell it at the beginning?
What was that path to finding new customers and getting those initial sales?
Yeah, it was really traditional. We went to the industry trade shows, we had a little 10 x 10 booth, we tried to sign up wholesale accounts...
The baby industry at the time was...
There's probably 1000 - 1500 good mom and pop shops in the US. And then Amazon, Target, a few of the big box [stores]. And we would spend our time just trying to get wholesale orders.
And we had a little bit of a breakthrough early on where we actually connected with REI at a trade show. And REI picked up our product immediately and put it into a little over 100 stores within about 5 months of meeting them. And so that helped us.
That gave us a lot of credibility. But again, it's really tricky, because it was wholesale, we're a small company, our costs are high, --product costs are high, because our volume was low-- so it's really hard to make that model work. And we realized that we were...
We've worked really hard to get wholesale orders. And we ship a bunch of wholesale orders out.
Once our containers came in, we put the rest up on our website, and we stocked out on our website pretty quickly.
So we realized we were putting all of our inventory down our lowest margin channel and then stocking out at the high margin channel and really just wasn't really working because the margins are so thin.
So in about 2013, we switched and decided to try direct-to-consumer exclusively and haven't looked back since.
Absolutely. So in 2013... I know technology has changed in 10 years. What did you guys use to build your website back then?
Yeah. We used X-Cart.
We had our own installation of X-Cart. This was pre-Shopify, I think. We're on Shopify now. I don't remember when Shopify started .
Probably around that time, yeah.
We were pretty early to move to Shopify. But yeah, we had our own installation of X-Cart that we maintained.
Absolutely. What are some of the other quirks of Ecommerce you remember from back then when it was kind of still in its infancy, I'd say?
Well, we didn't have any idea what we were doing.
Honestly. So just maintaining our own store...
Fortunately, we have a really good development partner that we're really close with who helped us out a lot. He's just a good friend and he's got a brain for that.
And he helped us out a lot. We've built a bunch of custom integrations with his help, which has really helped us streamline our operations and scale really, really leanly, which is one of our principles.
And yeah. Even then, Facebook Marketing was just starting to become something that was getting a little more expensive, because the demand was coming up. But we didn't really know what we were doing.
It was really just a jump in and try to figure things out at the time. And the technologies were not as easy to use [and] were not as efficient.
So I can't believe it's been over 10 years since we were doing that.
Absolutely. Alright, so you guys make the switch and you're jumping into direct-to-consumer first.
You mentioned Facebook, what was that the only channel that you're using there at the beginning to acquire customers online or were there other strategies?
Yeah. Facebook, Google... I think, actually, we were working with a company that was helping us manage our digital spend at the time, which is really our only marketing service. It's still predominantly all we really spend on.
And I think we were actually their first client that said, "Hey, will you experiment on Facebook for us?"
So I think, if I recall, we're starting with Google AdWords and stuff like that. We got on Amazon around the same time.
But again, it was one of those things where I think one of our retail partners --before we even switched to direct-- listed our stuff on Amazon before we even thought about putting stuff on Amazon.
And we're like, "Wait a minute, this is... We need to own our brand on Amazon". And so, yeah. Amazon...
Yes, we're direct but we consider Amazon basically a second channel.
Second owned channel, because we're a seller on Amazon.
But yeah, second channel.
And have those channels grown in parallel? Does one outperform another?
Yeah, we like to keep...
Our goal is to keep our website as the majority of our business and it continues to be that. I just think that's a safer, more secure way to operate a direct business.
As soon as you let any non-owned channel dominate, I think you can get in trouble pretty quickly.
And fortunately, it's not because we're limiting Amazon. It's just because we're doing a good job of growing our own as well.
Absolutely. You guys are known for going above and beyond with your customer service.
Can you give me some more context on what your customer service ethos is? And an example of that above and beyond service.
Yeah. Well, we're all parents. We all have little ones or have had little ones. Some of them are grown up now. But we really get it. We understand what that experience is like. So we're just trying to approach it with as much empathy as possible.
If someone's got a problem, --a shipping problem, a product question-- we try to put ourselves in that position of being exhausted, and just wanting your gear to work, and not have to worry about it.
We're a small team. There's only 4 full-time [and] one part-time [employees] at Guava, 2 in customer service.
But we've got a communication channel all the time with all of us if a question comes up like [if] one of them doesn't understand or need some assistance so we can get back to the customers as quickly as we can.
Yeah, really just meeting...
Trying to meet our customers where they are, the mindset that they are [having]. Think of... If someone has a product problem, or question, or something like that, think maybe they're in a hotel that just got on a vacation.
They're exhausted from traveling, they need this solved right away. How would we want to be treated at that moment?
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Now you guys have been bootstrapping this company for quite some time.
How have you scaled over the last 10 years without taking on any capital?
It's so tempting to try and be like a rocketship growth company where you just pour a bunch of money into paid search and social, and sacrifice margins, and try to build awareness and sales really quickly.
But if you do that, you don't have any margins, you're gonna run out really quickly. Unless you have absolutely perfect product-market fit and that takes time to figure out.
So we've been really conscious about making sure that we're growing...
We're not overspending, and we're growing with good margins, because that's allowed us to take our time to dial in the product, to respond to product improvement opportunities that come up when we hear from our customers or internally when we figure some things out.
But really, [we're] just making sure we're growing profitably and not getting ahead of ourselves.
And when you do that, then you can develop products without having to raise money.
You can increase inventory purchases without having to raise money, because you've been really conscious about it all the way along the way.
And making those updates to the product, making such a superior product, I'm sure that lends itself to word-of-mouth and referrals from your parents [and] from your customers.
Talk to me a bit about word-of-mouth marketing in the baby category. It seems like that's a little more helpful...
...than other categories.
Yeah, it's hugely powerful. When someone finds out that they're gonna have a baby, they're really starting from scratch if this is their first first kid. This is the preparation thinking they've never had to do before.
Maybe they've seen a friend go through it or a sibling or something like that. But you really are starting from scratch.
So it's like a deep time of deep research trying to figure out "What do I need to do to best take care of this baby, to set up this new life we're about to step into?"
And often the most trusted source for that feedback is a friend. And so word-of-mouth, from friends, or, like I said, family and siblings is really, really strong in directing someone's decision making.
It can be very powerful if you are the product or brand that they're recommending at that moment, because it's the most trusted piece of advice that they're going to get when it comes to "What do I need to get? What do I need to buy to get ready for this baby?"
It's really hard to get to become that one that people recommend. I think it really does start with the product.
So we spent a lot of time continually thinking about, improving, iterating on all of our products, even though some of them...
Our current Travel Crib has been on the market for about 10 years. We're always constantly updating it throughout the years.
But yeah, really focusing on the product. Customer service. If someone feels really well taken care of as a customer of your brand, they're going to be obviously...
It's not rocket science, but they're gonna be more likely to recommend you.
The challenge is that that can go against you too, when you're launching a new product.
Because if you're the new product in the category, what you really have to do is break someone's word-of-mouth or another brand's word-of-mouth.
We're having to convince someone to go against a recommendation from a friend, because that friend didn't know about you.
And again, I think it really comes back to product, brand, customer service, making sure someone feels...
Even though they don't know you that well, they can trust you, trust the brand, trust the product.
Now, is there anything I didn't ask you about today that you think is gonna resonate with our audience?
I hate this question.
We have a few criteria that we look at when we think about what new products to launch, because I don't think you want to spend your time or waste your time thinking about things that can't really move the needle.
And by that, I mean either a product that's differentiated enough or a product where the margins work well enough to actually sell it directly online.
And so we've thought about doing maybe a lower price point version of our product or come out with another product in a category that's just a lower price point category.
But if you can't make the margins work in a direct-to-consumer way, then I don't think it's obviously worth...
It's not worth doing. And if the products are not...
We're not selling commodities. I think selling commodities online would be the hardest thing. I don't know how people do it.
They're probably much more sophisticated than we are with their paid efforts because it's really data sensitive.
And really making sure you're making smart decisions about how much you're paying, and how much you're paying to acquire customers and all that stuff.
We really fall back on the product.
If it's demonstrably better online, and you can sell it for a price point where the margins work to include that paid search and social later, and it's not too big that you can actually ship and still not crush your margins because of last mile shipping, then it's something we'll consider.
If we don't see it fulfilling all of those criteria, we won't even consider it even if it's a good idea. It just doesn't make sense for the business.
And then I think the other thing would be like just really know what your business model is and stick to it.
We have chances all the time to expand into other adjacent channels that are not quite direct-to-consumer, as we grow as our awareness builds.
And we say no a lot, because we really decided we have built this as a direct business. And as soon as we start stepping away from that, we're going to spend a lot of time on channels we don't know quite as much about.
And the margin structure, again, is not built to support the way we built this business.
So being really comfortable with the model you want to be, the business model you want to have, and saying no to those things that pull you off that track.
That's great advice, Scott. Now, we've talked a lot about just how great this product is.
If I'm a new parent out there or I'm about to have a child and I want to check out these awesome products, where should I go?
Yeah. guavafamily.com. That's it. You can't go to a store. That's the whole point.
But that is a challenge that we've had to overcome, because a lot of people do want to see it in person before they buy it. These are not low...
These are high AOV products. And so that is something we need to consider when we build our offerings. So we have a really...
Obviously, all of direct-to-consumer does it now but [we're] really leaning into incredibly generous returns, trial periods, that stuff.
And again, making sure the products are demonstrably better online, that helps as well.
But yeah, guavafamily.com is where you can see it and you can get a free trial.
Scott, thank you so much for coming on the show today and sharing your story.
Yeah. Yeah. It's fun. Thanks, Chase. I really do appreciate it.
We 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.
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