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Customer Loyalty as the Key Ingredient for Success

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Repeat customers are the heart and soul of just about every business. But when your product is something that you purchase maybe two or three times throughout your life, how do you create a repeat experience that will sustain your company long-term? That was one of the questions that Chip Malt had to answer when he co-founded Made In Cookware, a digitally-native kitchenware company that launched in September 2017 and is disrupting this $17B cookware industry.

And the solution he came up with was a good one: produce the highest quality products possible, have a deep understanding of the industry you’re entering into, deliver an all-around experience that goes beyond those products, then keep scaling to bring more must-haves to market.

This episode was such a fun one because we dove into the history of the cookware industry, long term partnerships they’ve set up in France (their knives are made from the great-great-great-granddaughter of a French knife maker who invented the modern chef knife in the middle of Central France), secret recipes for their cookware ingredients, the best cooking tip he ever learned, and more. Enjoy this episode.

Main Takeaways:

  • Make It Memorable: Customers today are looking for experiences. In order to secure a sale or differentiate your brand, bringing a next-level experience to the table is a proven tactic. Partner with the people you are connected to in your industry — influencers, celebrities, etc. — who are fans of your brand and create something special for potential customers.
  • A Living Legacy: Connections are made constantly in personal and professional life. Smart business owners use those connections to their advantage. When you can tap into a reservoir of friends, friends of friends, family connections or business relationships of the past who can speak on your behalf or join you in a new venture, you immediately start to create a sense of legitimacy that can spread more easily to those you have yet to connect with.
  • First Time, Best Time: There are many examples of brands that have launched products quickly because they thought it was better to get a product to market than wait for perfection. But the opposite approach is also worth consideration. Rushing a product to market that isn’t up to your brand standards might be what dooms you with new customers who find you for the first time through this subpar product and then judge the entire brand based solely on that experience.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“I would love to tell you that we sat in a boardroom and whiteboarded out the perfect strategy and absolutely nailed it off the bat, but that was clearly not the case and that’s not how it played out.”

“Our launching hypothesis was that food is so emotional and people are spending so much money going to a Whole Foods or a farmer’s market and getting super excited about a marvelous grass-fed steak from a local rancher who is 30 miles away. And then they’re coming home and they’re cooking it on a frying pan that’s a hand-me-down that they couldn’t even name the brand of and it’s ruining that steak. There is this behavioral disconnect from the beginning part of a process and all the care that went into it with the actual cooking at the end of the day, which was delivering the final product. So we wanted to make people care about their cookware in an emotional way as much as they did the ingredients they were grabbing at the farmer’s market.”

“Most stuff in our industry comes off of a boat overseas in Asia and is nameless and faceless and has a name printed on it, all looks the same, and no one was putting this time and attention and care into the supply chain portion.”

“These aren’t traditional influencer or endorsement deals. every chef we work with, they’re authentic customers of ours. They’re buying for their restaurants. It’s not a pay-to-play deal. This is a real authentic relationship.”

“The first year is all about learning what people really cared about, how to market our product. Our product is a performance-based product. It will fundamentally make the food you cook better tasting, but how to deliver that in a way that makes sense to the normal consumer and it’s not too chef-y, especially when we have all the chefs behind us. That was a huge learning process.”

“We actually have a duty as a company, we have this entire group of chef partners and this entire group of home consumers to be the bridge between those so everyone else can have that experience and heighten their enjoyment of the use of the products.”

“It’s never been easier to order Uber Eats and have any meal you want delivered to your door within 40 minutes at a pretty good price. But people are cooking more and more, and why is that? It’s because people actually love the process of the creativity behind it, of the expression behind it, of just the sense of accomplishment, or people do it to destress, or they’re doing it for a specific diet. People are doing it for a very personal reason…If we can give you technique and how-tos as opposed to step by step by step recipes with the chefs who have gone to culinary school, who have done all this technique work for you, then it’ll be a really powerful experience for the home consumer.”

“To be a business that’ll be around for two decades, three decades, forever, we need to make sure that we’re treating people correctly.”

“If we have only one chip to put it in, we would always put it into the product category because we believe that is what drives behavior….Everything you launch needs to be a great experience if that is their first product they’ve ever bought. So, don’t launch tail skews that aren’t up to the quality standards that you want, that don’t have the manufacturer and craftsmanship story that you want, that don’t have a good unboxing experience. So we’ve taken that to heart because I think you see a lot of ecommerce companies just launch a whole bunch of stuff really quickly without that thought and attention behind it.”

Bio:

Bradford Chip Malt is the Founder and CEO of Made In, a digitally native kitchen brand. He has a background in computer science and expertise in leveraging the newest technologies for a better and more efficient digital experience.

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO and Mission.org. Today on the show, we have Chip Malt, the co-founder and CEO at Made In Cookware. Chip, welcome to the show.

Chip:

Awesome. Thanks for having me, Stephanie.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I’m really excited to have you here. I might not be the biggest chef, but I feel like I’m still down to talk all things cookware and maybe you can train me up on what I should be doing, and I need all the help I can get. That’s my caveat to start this show.

Chip:

Awesome. We’re happy to do so.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I like that. So, I want to dive into the background of Made In Cookware because I think you have super interesting story where, correct me if I’m wrong, you started and co-founded the company with a childhood best friend and you guys have a lot of history in the industry with your family and family’s family, and I would love to dive deep into all that background before we get into the actual company of where it is today.

Chip:

Absolutely. Yeah. So, we started the company, or officially launched it, in 2017. So, we’re just over three years old, now entering our fourth year. But really, the story began a long time before that, as you mentioned. My co-founder, Jake Kalick, he comes from a hundred year old family that has experience with cookware. So, his great-grandfather in Boston where he grew up started a business that outfitted restaurants and hotels, their kitchens with everything from walk-in refrigerators to knives to cookware to a lot of stuff that we’re selling today. So, he comes from almost 10 decades of experience in the cookware space, or his family does. Then Jake and I grew up together. We actually went to preschool together.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Chip:

We were in the yellow and blue room together, then we went to pre-kindergarten and went to a school that was the same all the way from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade when we left for college. So, our history goes back 28 years and we’re 33. So, almost to the beginning of when you can even start to remember, and we’ve been best friends ever since. So, it’s been a pretty incredible journey. We’ve been able to mesh his background, his family’s background, his family’s history into our childhood friendship into a business and have fun doing it. So, it’s been a pretty cool journey so far.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Were there ever points when you guys veered apart, came back together? When did you know or even think, oh, we should do something together?

Chip:

Yeah. To be honest, and it’s nice that he’s not on this podcast because he can’t defend himself, but I don’t think growing up I would ever start a business with him. I was more of the studious one.

Stephanie:

I know too much about you.

Chip:

Yeah, exactly. I was more of the studious one. I would say he would copy off me in high school if we had to simplify it, and also that I remember me in the space, in the cookware space as well. That’s his background and his journey. So, it’s been really cool. To be honest, the startup world and starting a business, I feel like the public only gets to see the glamorous side of things. But it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of ups and downs. For just as many amazing days and successful days we have, you have a really tough day as well. So, going through that with someone you’re close with that at the end of the day, you can just have a beer and destress is a pretty incredible experience.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, when taking best practices and lessons from maybe his family history and how they’ve been doing things, what did that feel like, taking this company and maybe bringing in new practices and new ideas? Was there any bit of a struggle behind that where they’re like, “No, no, no. We’ve done this for a hundred years. We know what we’re doing. Come on, Chip. Just follow the lead”?

Chip:

No, we get that a lot. At some point or at some level, we are cutting out his family business. His family is a distributor. They take some of the incumbents who we’re competing with now and then they sell them to restaurants and act as the middle man. Ecommerce and direct to consumer in general is a cut out the middle man strategy, and so we get that question a lot. Are they mad we’re displacing that to some degree? No, his family’s been nothing but supportive. They’re super happy we’re maintaining the history into something new and just evolving it into the way that the world is moving. So, they’ve been awesome.

Chip:

His family and his knowledge of just the product and the industry has been absolutely crucial [inaudible] starting a business. When we walk into a kitchen and we’re talking to a Grant Achatz, who is one of the best chefs in the world, he’s able to talk about BTUs of the burner that Grant’s using and the oven and why it’s better, and he’s able to talk the talk. It really gives us an air of authenticity and an air of just immediate warmth when we have … Food in general is a very relationship driven business. It has a lot of credibility when we’re approaching partners.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I saw that you’re in crazy restaurants, really big ones. Top chefs use you guys. How did you even get in the door of those people? Because to me, I think you can be really smart around the product stuff and why you need it, like you’re talking about the BTUs of the burner and all this stuff. You can have that, but if you can’t even get your foot in the door or get in front of those people, you can’t really go anywhere. So, how did you guys make those relationships and get in there?

Chip:

Yeah. I would love to tell you that we sat in a boardroom and whiteboarded out the perfect strategy and absolutely nailed it off the bat, but that was clearly not the case and that’s not how it played out. The way the company came about, and taking a step back, what we do is we sell kitchen goods. So, knives, cookware, multiclad stainless steel, carbon steel frying pans, down to wine glasses and table top items, and really anything to outfit a new kitchen you’re walking into, Made In will provide that.

Chip:

Our ethos to start and our launching hypothesis was that food is so emotional and people are spending so much money going to a Whole Foods or a farmer’s market and getting super excited about a marvelous grass fed steak from a local rancher who is 30 miles away and it’s beautiful cut and then they’re coming home and they’re cooking it on a frying pan that’s a hand-me-down that they couldn’t even name the brand of, and it’s ruining that steak. So, there is this behavioral disconnect of the beginning part of a process and all the care that went into it with the actual cooking at the end of the day, which was delivering the final product.

Chip:

So, we wanted to make people care about their cookware in an emotional way as much as they did the ingredient they were grabbing at the farmer’s market. For us, that was meshing Jake’s family history, that a hundred year old family history, with the craftsmanship approach of the manufacturers and partners that we work with. So, a good example of that is our knives are made from the great-great-great-granddaughter of a French knife maker who invented the modern chef knife in the middle of Central France. This area is the birthplace of cutlery, has so much deep history.

Chip:

You walk through and everything about this town is dedicated around knives. There’s still the old factories with the old windmills that would power the old forges and it’s just pure and center all knives. What we wanted to do was make a product and go back to that source and resource and tell that story so that when you pull the knife out to cut the steak that you just fell in love with, you also know all the craftsmanship and all the story that went into that knives.

Chip:

So, it was this approach of blending love and care on both side, a product to ingredient. So, that was in launch approach, and we carry that ethos through all our product lines. Our bakeware we just launched is from a proprietary recipe that’s over 200 years old from the center of France as well, and that’s what carries through every single product we make. That actually attracted all these partners. So, most stuff in our industry comes off of a boat oversees in Asia and is nameless and faceless and has a name printed on it, all looks the same, and no one was putting this time and attention and care into the supply chain portion.

Chip:

As soon as that happened, Tom Colicchio approached us and he said, “Honestly, I’ve been working in this industry for decades waiting for a company like you guys to come along. I want to partner with you guys,” and he invested in us. From there, it was a snowball effect. Tom is just an incredible human being. Everyone respects him. He was able to be the first stamp of approval, along with our supply chain store being the second stamp, that started to attract a lot of amazing shops from around the world to be part of our brand.

Chip:

I’d say the last point in that, these aren’t traditional influencer or endorsement deals. So, every chef we work with, they’re authentic customers of ours. They’re buying for their restaurants. It’s not a pay to play deal. This is a real authentic relationship.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. Yeah. That’s a theme I always hear and I think even for our company as well, that first customer is like the stamp of approval. Once you get the one big whale, then you can just be like, “Well, look. So-and-so is using it,” and you can find their network. Yeah. Once you get that first one, I think everything gets easier. How did Tom hear about you? Were you guys doing some marketing tactics to get in front of him?

Chip:

No, through the grapevine. We approached Danny Meyer’s fund as an investment proposal and we were too small. It was too early for them. They write 20 and $30 million checks for growth stage businesses and we hadn’t even launched really yet. So, he introduced us. He was like, “Would you like to meet our friend, Tom Colicchio? He writes angel checks, and would that be okay to make the intro?” Obviously, we were trying to play it cool. We were like, “Yeah. I think we’d be okay with that.” But obviously, we were ecstatic and super excited.

Chip:

We emailed Tom and didn’t hear back from him for months were like, “All right. That clearly is not going to happen.” All of a sudden, we got an email from him two months later out of the blue that was just, “Hey, guys. Landed back from filming Top Chef for two months. So sorry for the delay. Can you meet in New York tomorrow?” I don’t know if he thought we were in New York as well. But obviously, we’re in Austin, Texas and we were like, “Sure,” and booked an immediate flight and more or less had a handshake deal to partner with him and get an investment from him that day. He was just a super awesome guy, super genuine, and believed in what we were doing, most importantly.

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. So, what did that initial startup look like? You have an infusion of cash. What were your next steps? Was it already mapped out, or now you’re like, “Whoa. This is really getting us to that next level. We need to change how we were thinking about it”?

Chip:

I had come from the apparel space, which I was working at a company called Rhone, helping them with digital marketing. So, if you were saying, “Hey, Chip. I need to go buy some stuff right now. I don’t even know where to start,” is generally the refrain we hear, and that was different from the apparel space because no one is looking at a T-shirt and saying, “I don’t know how to use that. I don’t know what to use that T-shirt.” I put it on my body. We know that, right?

Chip:

So, the first year is all about learning what people really cared about, how to market our product. Our product is a performance based product. It will fundamentally make the food you cook better tasting, but how to deliver that in a way that makes sense to the normal consumer and it’s not too chef-y, especially when we have all the chefs behind us. That was a huge learning process.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Someone once gave me a really big cast iron skillet and I remember being like, “Thank you so much. What do I do with this? How do I clean it?” And she’s telling me, do salt and this and that. I’m like, “Oh, my gosh. Can I cook my engineering in here?” I tried a couple times and it just was burning and, okay, education is key around stuff like that. The one thing I was reading that I thought was really interesting too was your post-purchase engagement of basically using that as a training funnel, because you were maybe having people come in and complaining because they didn’t really know how to use the cookware, and so you used that as a channel to start training them right after they purchased and maybe were checking in on the shipping and trying to see where their product was, that instead you would guide them to the website to train them. I’d love to hear how you thought about that, and do you still do that today?

Chip:

Yeah. I think we’re very lucky in the sense that we have some of the best chefs in the world that are, again, our authentic partners and using our cookware. So, we thought a lot about and we sat back and we’re lucky enough that because we work with these people, we’re able to go into a restaurant and then the chefs generally come out and explain exactly how they made the dish they’re serving us and there’s very personal experience that heightens the entire enjoyment of going to that restaurant.

Chip:

So, we’re sitting there and we actually kind of have a duty as a company, we have this entire group of chef partners and this entire group of home consumers to be the bridge between those so everyone else can have that experience and heighten their enjoyment of the use of the products. So, we work with these chefs. Grant Achatz taught us how to make an omelet, and he’s known for this crazy molecular gastronomy. But actually, Grant Achatz grew up cooking in his parents’ diner making eggs, and now he can do it the best in the world.

Chip:

We talk a lot about what can Made In do that no one else can, and we have this two-sided relationship that no one else does. So, how can we bridge that gap between the consumer and the chef in a way that really values and adds value to the consumer’s process, and to us, that’s education. So, you buy a carbon steel frying pan or you buy a piece of bakeware. Nancy Silverton, the best baker in the world, is going to give you a recipe to enjoy that product. If you buy carbon steel, as you said, carbon steel to us is a better cast iron, but there’s a learning curve. The chef [inaudible] in New York is going to teach you how to season it, teaching you how to … Wait. What the hell is that salt thing that that person was talking about, what that is, and how to use it, and that’s coming from a real expert in the space.

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s a really unique and interesting strategy. You’re using the chefs as your influencers to train, and I feel like a lot of these chefs know how to speak in a language that’ll connect with me so you don’t really have to be like, “Wait, wait, wait. You’re going too intense here. Let’s dumb it down a bit.” It seems like a lot of the best chefs have learned how to be the, what’s the one, the Chef Ramsays of the world. Or there’s another one I follow that’s really good too on Instagram. Anyways, he does things in a way where I’m like, “I can do that,” and it’s just like, it’s only five steps, it looks beautiful, but here’s the two things that’ll really take it to the next level.

Chip:

Yeah. Tom Colicchio and my co-founder, Jake, they both have the same philosophy, which is that you really get to enjoy cooking once you can just do the fundamentals. As soon as you break free of the recipe, you can actually start to enjoy the creative process [inaudible]. We talked about that a lot too, right? It’s like, it’s never been easier to order Uber Eats and have any meal you want delivered to your door within 40 minutes at a pretty good price. But people are cooking more and more, and why is that? It’s because people actually love the process of the creativity behind it, of the expression behind it, of just the sense of accomplishment, or people do it to destress, or they’re doing it for a specific diet.

Chip:

People are doing it for a very personal reason, and if we can give them the fundamentals of, hey, this is just a technique of how to sear a steak correctly, we don’t need to give you, okay, add salt at the end or add a [inaudible] on it. That becomes your personal sense of creativity and your enjoyment for it. So, I’m just taking that to heart as well. If we can give you technique and how-tos as opposed to step by step by step recipes with the chefs who have gone to culinary school, who have done all this technique work for you, then it’ll be a really powerful experience for the home consumer.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s cool. What are a few of the top maybe cooking tips or tricks where you’re like, “Once I learn this one thing, it changed my whole worldview on cooking”?

Chip:

Yeah. Definitely heat control. I think that is where most home cooks get in trouble. You talked a lot about just burning your eggs, or something like that, and it’s not a hard concept, but there’s everything flying around the internet of you need high heat to sear, and that’s just not true, and low and slow is the best way to cook, etc. It really becomes down to your personal preference and style. You can sear a steak on low heat if you just do it correctly and give it its proper time and you can still have the exact reaction you want.

Chip:

Tom Colicchio is a low and slow guy and Grant Achatz tends to cook on higher heat. Everyone is doing it in their own way. So, I think for me, and even in my personal journey, understanding heat control and learning it correctly was the biggest unlock because that applies to the most amount of dishes that you cook. I think a good example of that is Tom Colicchio talks a lot about listening to your meal. So, when you have a pan and you heat it up, no oil, because most people will heat it with oil and burn the oil on and have a lot of dishes to do. So, you put a stainless clad piece of cookware on the burner, heat it up to temperature, dumping cold oil, let that heat up quickly, and then put on a cold steak.

Chip:

What is that cold steak going to do? It’s going to drop the temperature in the pan. So, at that point, you need to have more heat into the pan to get that sear. But once everything gets up to rise, if you leave that high heat on, it’s going to overcook everything and burn that oil again. So, then lowering it down. Everything on that is done to just paying attention to heat control.

Stephanie:

Is there any pushback that you guys have felt? You’re in an industry that, to me, feels like an older one where people are like, “Oh, I’ve always used nonstick and it’s fine.” Now, it does feel like thing are changing where people are like, “These pans are toxic. They’re not the best for the environment. There’s a lot of things that you should think about.” What kind of education around just using the products, but what else are you encountering right now when you’re trying to push into this industry?

Chip:

Yeah. People do have a preference towards nonstick. It’s the biggest objective business market to attack, and I think that’s why you get the most amount of entrance into the nonstick space. It’s also the most just Wild West of marketing as well, which we try and stay out of. The big push right now is “ceramic”. I put it in air quotes or visual quotes because it’s not actually ceramic. It’s a Sol-Gel coating that looks like ceramic, and so the GreenPans of the world a decade ago dubbed it ceramic because it sounded nicer and sounded more premium. But really, it’s a Sol-Gel coating.

Chip:

This was back in the day when DuPont was dumping stuff in water and all this stuff. So, they created this decade long fearmonger marketing tactic that a lot of companies have latched onto over the decades, and now GreenPan’s actually in a class action lawsuit about all their face claims.

Stephanie:

I used to have a GreenPan.

Chip:

Yeah, exactly.

Stephanie:

I had to throw it away because I’m like, “I don’t this is good to cook on.”

Chip:

The problem with those too is Sol-Gel and “ceramic”, which is how the normal person listening to this would hear it as, it doesn’t last long. By definition, it’s called a self-sacrificing surface. Every time you use it, it removes some surface. It scores four out of 10 on a durability score.

Stephanie:

That goes in your food, doesn’t it?

Chip:

It does. But it’s made out of what makes hair conditioner. So, you can eat your hair conditioner [inaudible]. But whatever. But just in terms of business, we’re making performance based tools. We’re not making a marketing gimmick company. Our gold standard is would this hold up in a commercial kitchen and would Grant Achatz or Tom Colicchio or Mashama Bailey, would they want to use this piece of cookware in their restaurant? You will never see a ceramic pan, a GreenPan pan in kitchen because that would last one week in a commercial kitchen.

Chip:

So, then they’re making all these claims about better for you, better for the environment. If that thing’s ending up in a landfill a week later, two weeks later, a month later, whatever it is, it’s up to you to determine if that’s actually better for the environment. [crosstalk] Yeah. Exactly. So, we’re not in that game. We don’t play in that game. We’re here to make great tools that the best chefs in the world and the best home cooks and people who love to cook can use.

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, what kind of marketing are you guys finding most effective right now? When you said a lot of the other cookware brands are maybe using the fearmongering and just making claims that maybe aren’t always the most accurate, what are you guys finding success in?

Chip:

Yeah. So, we love to tell the manufacturing story and the craftsmanship story. So, I’m just talking a lot about bakeware right now because we just launched on April 8th, and we went out to the factory in France and watched … It goes through 50 people’s hands who touch and inspect this and have been doing it for 30 or 40 years and it’s such a beautiful process and it’s pouring this clay and porcelain that is proprietary to them. I think there’s one person who actually only knows the recipe and we’re sitting there being like, this seems like a single point of failure as a business owner. You should make sure this person doesn’t [crosstalk]-

Stephanie:

Oh, you’re good.

Chip:

… [crosstalk] something. Like put it on Google Drive with a password protect or something. I don’t know. But it’s such a intimate, unique process and our customers love to see that, and the customer that appreciates that is our customer. Everything we make in the bakeware space is hand painted, and so we have these white porcelain with blue rims and red rims and every single piece is literally hand painted by brush. That’s just so different than a lot of our competitors and what they do where the coolness comes from applying some coating that’s powder blue or something like that. It’s just totally different.

Chip:

So, we want to express that and for us on the marketing side, showing that is really beneficial because one, it is all the work we’re doing, like scaling and working with these artisans and craftsman, is tough. It’s tough business. But it’s also really rewarding and our customers see how much care and attention and time goes into each one of their pieces.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s great. When I think about, it feels very exclusive, like you have direct access to the person doing this who know the recipe. How do you put a moat around that so maybe other brands can’t just come in and be like, “Oh, we know this one style of copper cookware,” which is beautiful. I was looking at that like, “Ooh, that would match my one Moscow mule I have.” But how do you put a moat around it to make sure that other brands don’t just come in and steal your one single person who has the recipe?

Chip:

Yeah, yeah. It just goes back to Jake’s family history and being so authentic in the space. He was working with a lot of people who were friends of friends who connected us to the right people and really, the only reason why we got a foot in the door was because of being in the space for 100 years. Most of our, or all of our competitors do not have any family history or any reason to be in it, other than seeing a white space and a market to go attack kind of thing.

Chip:

We don’t talk too much about moats. To be honest, we have a very familiar relationship with all of our manufacturers, craftsmanship partners, and everything. Go out, spend multiple weeks. Our knife manufacturer told us she loved us and felt like we were her children and kids and sons at the end of it. So, these are real relationships and it’s less about, hey, can we sign and exclusive for 10 years to lock out competitors and more how can we treat them like family, how can they treat us like family, and so they wouldn’t want to do exactly what you’re talking about.

Stephanie:

Yeah. How do you go about doing that? How do you instill that trust and relationship, and other than just being a nice, friendly person, which obviously you are, what else do you do so they really feel that relationship and you’re like, “Yep, I’m not even worried about it because we got that”?

Chip:

Yeah. Some of them have invested in us. Internally, we have a mantra of hospitality first, and that goes towards everything from treating every customer who walks through our door or walks through our website door, whether they’re spent $19 or $900, like we are a three Michelin star restaurant. So, what can we do to make you feel better, to enjoy the experience better, to, if you’re having a problem, fix it, to do service recovery if you’ve had an issue? If UPS failed to deliver, how can we help you get to the answer that you need? All that stuff.

Chip:

That extends from customers as well as buyers, vendors, and manufacturing partners as well. So, what does that mean? It’s treating them fairly on terms. It’s treating them fairly on our business growth and practices and being an open book for them and sharing information and in negotiations, dealing with them in a friendly manner, and getting to a result that [inaudible] zero sum game, but it’s beneficial for both sides. For us, that is the name of the game because it gets out of a let’s solve for the six month term, and this is going to be a business that’ll be around for two decades, three decades, forever, we need to make sure that we’re treating people correctly.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love that. So, when thinking about your customer, like you said, they can come in and buy a $1,200 cookware set and it’s going to last a long time. It’s not something where it’s like you’ll be back in a month. I’ll see you when you need a replacement. How do you think about garnering that passionate customer base where it’s like you have a good LTV on them? You’re like, “They’re going to be around for 10 years,” because I’ve seen that you also are able to get wait lists of 10,000+ people who sign up for new products that you’re launching. So, I want to hear how you think about that and keep your customer engaged, even if they … life cycle of when they need a new product might be a long time from when they buy their first one.

Chip:

Yeah. So, we’ve been fortunate enough to have really strong cohort and repeat customer behavior. We’re only three years old at this point. Our earliest cohorts have repeated over, on blended average, over 100%. So, industry average is 20%. [inaudible] 5x industry average. It’s, again, in a product category that, as you mentioned, our product should last you your entire life. So, that’s something we had to solve for and think about. Our first belief is that product quality is the biggest driver of longevity and happiness in cohort behavior.

Chip:

So, if your product stinks and you’re the best marketer in the world, that’s a short term gain. [inaudible] you can have actually a subpar experience with an amazing product and that’s actually the better trade. Again, we try to solve for a great experience with a great product. But if we have only one chip to put it in, we would always put it into the product category because we believe that is what drives behavior. So, when we’re going out, and one of our early investors and main investors had a really great point, which was you don’t know how someone’s going to find you. It could be a blog article about some tail skew that you just launched or cutting board.

Chip:

It’s not, of course, you, but if that is their first experience with Made In, they are going to believe that everything else is like that cutting board. Right? So, everything you launch needs to be okay in a great experience. Or sorry. No. Everything you launch needs to be a great experience if that is their first product they’ve ever bought. So, don’t launch tail skews that aren’t up to the quality standards that you want, that don’t have the manufacturer and craftsmanship story that you want, that don’t have a good unboxing experience.

Chip:

So, we’ve taken that to heart because I think you see a lot of ecommerce companies just launch a whole bunch of stuff really quickly without that thought and attention behind it. Again, you don’t know how people are going to find you. You’re going to Parachute Home and you need a candle. If that candle doesn’t come in an amazing box that represents the Parachute Home brand well, then you’re probably not going to come back and buy their sheets. So, when we think about a product line and our offerings and cohort behavior and [inaudible] to answer your question, it all starts with product experience and product quality, and then again, that hospitality first mantra, treating our customers correctly, giving them customer service if they need it, and that will drive longterm behavior.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Oh, that’s great because I think, like you said, a lot of brands do think about what are the loss leaders that you can put out there and just get people in the door, the quick hits? Like you said, I’ve bought many things for the first time, starting off with smaller price points, just to see, dabble in it a bit, see what it’s like, and then be like, “Nope. I’m so glad I didn’t buy that expensive $100 item because I just bought a bracelet for $10 and it was horrible. And yes, it was $10, but I’m still mad about it.”

Chip:

Yeah. When I was at the apparel company and I was running analytics for them, we did a lot of basket cart analysis on which product … taking everyone’s first cart and basing out the SKUs that made up that first cart and then which of those SKUs led to [inaudible] second carts. Then we found an interesting mantra, which we’ve taken to heart, which was the lowest price point product of the most premium category was included in the most baskets that drove the highest repeat. To your point exactly on that, it was people who were trying to figure out, hey, is this material worth this extra amount of money I’m about to spend on it? I’m going to test that out, buy the cheapest one in that category.

Chip:

So, it was that product that we hadn’t spent a lot of time and attention on, and all of a sudden, you’re like, “Wow. This actually is the most important product of our entire company,” because it’s everyone’s gateway and it’s showing the material, but it’s not a tough price point to hit on a first basket, and if we can show well on this first basket with this product, then they’ll be great customers over the longterm. So, I think exactly what you mentioned is interesting.

Stephanie:

That’s a good one. It makes you think about maybe adjusting margins on that first lower priced item, give it higher quality, lower your margins if you need to to keep that price lower, get them in the door, and then they’ll probably go up from there when they have a really good experience with that cheaper item. I don’t know if all brands do that, though. We will find out. Interesting. So, when developing new product lines, you’re talking about the quality piece of it. But how quickly can you guys develop products, or are you more slow paced, like we just want to make sure it’s perfect and it could take us a year to come up with a new product line because we’re working with these artisans in France or knife makers or whatever you’re doing?

Chip:

Yeah. It’s been a mixture of both. We’ve had products that came together very quickly and was a match made in heaven with the craftsman who we reached out to and it just got to market in the way we wanted very quickly. We had a product, cast iron product that we were trying to launch in 2019 that got to the one yard line and we had spent a year and a half on it. We invested $50,000 of tooling and a ton of research and time and effort and all this stuff. It just wasn’t up to the quality that we felt represented the brand and we scrapped that project at the one yard line, and now it’s been a three year project.

Chip:

So, I’d say it’s very variable. We are very aware that once we put that product out, it reflects on the rest of the products. So, if we put out a bad line and it doesn’t carry the same quality and care and attention that the rest of our line does, it could reflect on … Are they doing everything else half-assed as well? So, I would it’s been a mixture.

Stephanie:

Yeah. How do you ensure that you’re going to have enough inventory, especially when it’s being handcrafted? We’ve had quite a few people on this show who have similar stories around … We had Yellow Leaf Hammocks on in the early days and the women in the villages there were the ones making the hammocks, and of course, that can cause maybe sometimes supply issues. How do you even plan for that when it’s like, well, this is one person’s recipe and there’s 50 people who are touching this product to get it out there, and maybe Joe got sick, so there goes his recipe for a week, we don’t know how to create it anymore? Even plan when it’s so, yeah, custom, I guess?

Chip:

Yeah. To be honest, that’s been one of the biggest challenges of this business is our unique moat and value prop and everything is also the biggest challenge in the business. I think those naturally go hand in hand together. But you hit the nail on the head. It’s about finding these craftsmen that make these amazing products, and they’ve never seen a company scale 5x year over year. They’ve never seen a company go this fast and just attack the market in this way.

Chip:

So, it’s about, again, going back to being good partners with them, sharing multiyear forecasts, helping them invest in new tooling and new lines and things like that and working with them directly. It’s a huge, huge challenge. But we’ve seen companies who get to this point and then take it and move everything to an automation facility and hurt everything that they built in the first place. So, we’re not doing that. It’s more about being great partners and figuring out the challenges with those partners.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Cool. So, when it comes to an ecommerce perspective, I like your example earlier about how to think about certain metrics and what you use to analyze. What are some other things maybe you pulled in from your past marketing experience into this business where you’re like, “We’ve always relied on these principles, or I always look at these metrics every day to make sure everything’s going okay”?

Chip:

Yeah. We look at star ratings by product line. Those are obviously very important for us. It’s what is the benefit of ecommerce? In the early days, it was the cut out the middle man story. That’s gone away now. It’s, okay, direct relationship with our customer, one to one management of that relationship, and we believe more of that mantra, right? So, it’s, at the end of the day, we always say at the end of the day when you buy something from Williams-Sonoma and you walk out of that store, you’re never going to hear from that salesperson ever again. Your relationship with Williams-Sonoma and that salesperson who just spent a half hour with you is over.

Chip:

For us, it always begins at the time of purchase. They’ve bought from us. We now have a direct line to them, we can provide them content, we can provide them customer service. Our relationship is just beginning, and a lot of that goes into product reviews, a lot of that goes into monitoring return rates and how many customers exchange or return products. For us, that’s a proxy for product quality. Then cohort behavior is a huge one as well and those three together give us an idea of how the product into customers viewing the company full circle is behaving and is trending. Those are probably the three we focused on most.

Stephanie:

Yeah. What are some of the behaviors that you’re looking for when you say the cohort behavior is one of the biggest ones? What are you guys looking for and how would you adjust it if it’s not going the way that you want?

Chip:

Yeah. So, cohort behavior, you’re looking for trends up and to the right, and home space. When we launched in the home space, what we tend to see in this space is a diminishing marginal curve on cohort behavior. So, after they’ve bought all the things from you, then they don’t ever come back again. So, you see cohort behavior one to six months kicking up to the right and then six to 12, a little bit less, and then flat from 12 on, or whatever it is. Right?

Chip:

So, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t follow that trend because that meant, all right, we no longer have a relationship after 12 months, just out of an example, with that customer. So, what can we do to maintain that customer within our relationship and what can we do to provide value to them, whether that’s content and recipes and how to use things better, whether that’s new products? So, again, we started with just stainless clad cookware, we’ve launched carbon steel cookware, knives, wine glasses, plates, silverware, copper bakeware, all from these amazing facilities and stories. If we can treat them right in the beginning, then obviously they’ll continue to support us throughout that journey.

Stephanie:

Yeah. What’s some of the most engaging content? Is it the educational stuff? Is it the stories around the artisans making the product? What really pulls people in and then keeps them coming, not just a one off hit of, “Oh, that was heartwarming. I like that,” and then you don’t see them anymore? What keeps them there longterm?

Chip:

Definitely the manufacturing and craftsmanship stories. Those get the highest feedback and results from us. To your point on inventory being an issue for companies like ours, have that be a portion of it and then have that portion go through a pandemic where demand is increasing and manufacturers are closed in Europe for months because of COVID outbreaks. It creates a tough dynamic, and with and around those stories, we’ve generally heard the refrain of, “I don’t care when this stuff comes to me. Just make it in the right way,” and I think what these videos and this content does is show you that were making it in the right way.

Chip:

It’s not like we’re delivering medication that needs to be … If you don’t have your oval baker on Monday, you’re not going to be too upset about it. Obviously, we’re striving for best in class delivery and fulfillment and have a great team who does so. But we’re not delivering life needed items. We are delivering craft products that are going to last you a lifetime, and if that takes an extra week, by showing people that, the care and attention that goes into it, they generally have that refrain of, “Do it the right way and get it to me when you can.”

Stephanie:

Yep. Yep. I definitely feel that. How do you feel about being shown up in marketplaces or Amazon? I know there’s a couple artisan marketplaces where they highlight some of the best products. To me, letting someone else tell your story, or even on Amazon, you can only tell it in a certain way. How are you guys approaching that?

Chip:

Yeah. Amazon’s interesting because I think the mentality on Amazon has shifted a bunch over the last five years. The ecommerce space in general five years ago, I think, would have said, “No way. Amazon dilutes my brand. Amazon doesn’t let me tell my story. It’s going to cannibalize all the marketing efforts I’m doing over here.” [inaudible] we’re seeing a shift away from that mentality and people and brands racing towards displaying on Amazon. I don’t think it means Amazon is still doing a great job of letting brands tell their story. To me, it’s still a search engine and people tend to not get to the brand page ever.

Chip:

So, I don’t think it’s necessarily an Amazon win and that they’re helping perpetuate all this effort and craft that we’re going towards. It’s more, I think it’s becoming just such a necessary evil in terms of [inaudible] and people are growing these brands to get scale and need to find the incremental sales, and where else to go but wholesale and Amazon? So, Amazon’s been interesting. We’re not on Amazon. Almost 100% of our sales come through our own dotcom. So, we’re not really on marketplaces either.

Chip:

In general, we have a kind of anti view on all of those. I’m not saying that will be forever. Again, each channel has diminishing returns at some sort of scale. Fortunately, we’re not at that point. But yeah. We tend to like to tell our own stories and craft a message and own the relationship and provide the value to the customer.

Stephanie:

So, what’s on the radar for you guys for the next couple years? Where are you headed? What are you hoping to do in maybe one to two years?

Chip:

Yeah. So, we’re at the point, and when we launched this, we wanted to “own the kitchen”. I realize that’s an overused, cheesy phrase and hopefully, all the listeners didn’t just roll their eyeballs. I swear-

Stephanie:

I didn’t. [crosstalk] Own it, Chip. They’re going to own it, everyone. Come on.

Chip:

Exactly. But for us, everything comes down to the why and it’s not just to sell more things. It’s, okay, a kitchen is part of the home and people like aesthetic congruency within their home. So, it doesn’t make sense to have a different bakeware company vs. different knives vs. different cookware and pull those all out and now you’re serving them all on a table to a dinner party and they all look different and it’s not a reflection of what you’re trying to do for your home, which again, is very personal to you.

Chip:

So, with the launch of bakeware, we’re actually at the point right now where if you’re moving into a new home you can buy almost every main vertical you need off of madeincookware.com. It can all show up in one box and it can look the same and it can feel like part of the same system and you know that everything comes from an amazing backstory with amazing craftsmen.

Chip:

You don’t have to go research do I want [inaudible] vs. Henko vs. Made In knives, then All-Clad vs. Made In Cookware. You don’t have to do 500 different pieces of research. It’s a seamless process for you to do so. So, that was our main brand goal, and we got there a little bit quicker than we thought we would with the launch of bakeware now. So, we’re super excited about this being the first year where you can literally pull out a butcher block and cut a knife and prep your food and then cook it on Made In and then serve it on a Made In dish and serve it with wine and all that stuff and never touch anything but Made In, which is pretty cool.

Stephanie:

That’s cool.

Stephanie:

Cool. Well, let’s move over to the lightning round. The lightning round’s brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I ask a question and you have [inaudible] or less to answer. Are you ready, Chip?

Chip:

Yes.

Stephanie:

All right. So, I’d say you’re probably an adventurous guy, from what I’ve read about you. What’s one thing that you would never do?

Chip:

One thing I would never do. Good question. As of interest, I am, I’m not a huge water lover in terms of … I do scuba dive, but I would never kite surf [inaudible].

Stephanie:

No kite surfing?

Chip:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Wow. Okay. But don’t you fly planes?

Chip:

Yes. [crosstalk] I’d rather go up than down, and climb mountains ever.

Stephanie:

Okay. Okay. What’s a crazy story from flying a plane where you’re like, “I almost died this one time, but here I am”?

Chip:

Yeah. My 14th hour, so about a third of the way through the private pilot’s license, we had an engine out failure. It was right outside DC and we were descending beneath the DCA airspace, the Reagan airspace to sail out of it. It was with my instructor. It’s the first time in the training process that you go and land at a separate airport and come back. The first 10 to 12 hours are just all at your local home base airport doing takeoffs and landings. So, we had just crossed the Potomac. He asked me to descend below the airspace, pulled back the throttle, and the engine just quit.

Chip:

He said, “Give it more gas. Don’t throttle back that much,” and I [inaudible] and it didn’t kick back in. We declared an emergency, to make a long story short. When you declare an emergency, this is the Reagan now, they give you a dedicated person to help monitor your situation and he told us, “Okay, there’s an airport two miles to your left. Can you make it?” “No.” We declared a mayday situation. It had just had snowed two feet in the DC area at that time, which was pretty rare and lucky for us, and ended up crashing in a snowbank in someone’s backyard.

Stephanie:

Oh, my gosh. I heard about this. I lived in DC.

Chip:

Did you?

Stephanie:

I heard about this. Yeah.

Chip:

It was probably 9:00 AM maybe. This lady came out in her robe with a coffee cup and just was so confused that there was a plane in her backyard, and we were sitting there kind of dancing-

Stephanie:

[inaudible].

Chip:

… because [crosstalk] yeah, we did this. We were safe.

Stephanie:

Oh, my gosh.

Chip:

She took us in and gave us hot cocoa. I was in school. I was at Georgetown at the time and I was missing, I had an 11:00 AM exam and emailed the instructor and said, “Hey. I know you said no excuses for missing exams, but here’s the story.” I ended up making it back around 12:30, three hour exam, walked in the classroom, and he stood up, stopped everyone, and said, “I will never accept any other excuses ever again for missing a thing,” except for I was in a plane crash and landed in someone’s backyard two hours away from the city.

Stephanie:

Oh, god.

Chip:

Which was pretty crazy. He ended up being a former Navy pilot. So, kind of, I think-

Stephanie:

Felt that.

Chip:

… touched a good nerve with it. But it was definitely one of the crazier experiences in my life.

Stephanie:

Wow. What year was that?

Chip:

2009 or ’10.

Stephanie:

Okay. Yeah. I remember when I lived in Potomac area and I remember hearing about this. I don’t know if it was you or not, but I remember a plane landing in someone’s backyard and it was in the newspaper for a week.

Chip:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

[crosstalk] was you. That’s cool. So, you’ve done four or the seven summits. Which one’s been your favorite and why?

Chip:

Denali in Alaska was by far the most wild experience. That’s the only one that’s totally unassisted, no porters, no mules, not anything. You take a plane that lands on a glacier with your backpack and a sled and they say, “See you in 14 to 21 days.” It was also the toughest. That is 120 pound packs over 14 to 20 days. We got stuck. So, we actually were making amazing time. We got up to the 14,000 foot camp. The mountain’s about 21,000. So, it’s the last major camp before doing your ascent, and about 10 days of -40 degree weather came in. So, we were stuck there.

Chip:

It was kind of a weird experience because the days were sunny and nice, but it was absolutely freezing and anyone who left the camp, 100% of them got frostbite and had to be evacuated. So, we sat there. We were running out of food. If we got through the last day of food and things opened back up, then we did a rapid ascent and summited on the last day we were able to. But you’re out there in the wilderness. It’s absolutely stunning and beautiful. You’re kind of with yourself for … It’s quite a different experience than some of the others, which are a lot of tour groups, a lot of assistants, a lot quicker. So, it was a wild experience.

Stephanie:

That’s cool. I mean, below 40. Wow. No, thanks.

Chip:

Funny story is the kid who actually had a [inaudible] job, he was a friend from earlier, but he was working at Walmart ecommerce at the time. We actually received our first investment via satellite on that climb for Made In.

Stephanie:

Wow.

Chip:

He was like, “What is that?” Then two years later, he joined us as our head of logistics. So-

Stephanie:

Oh, that’s cool.

Chip:

… a lot of things came from that journey.

Stephanie:

That’s a fun story.

Chip:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

Man. So many things all coming together. Cool.

Chip:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

What’s one thing that you don’t understand that you wish you did?

Chip:

All this stuff that’s happening with physics right now and how molecules can go through walls and power all that stuff. I don’t know. It seems very cool and I wish I got it, and I’ve had a lot of conversations around it. Every time, I feel like I’m high or something and I don’t quite get it. But other people seem to get it and I wish I did.

Stephanie:

I haven’t even really heard about this, or maybe I just don’t know what this even is. So, I guess I’m in that same camp of I don’t understand and now I’m going to start looking into that.

Chip:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

The last thing, what one thing will have the biggest impact on ecommerce in the next year?

Chip:

Probably the mass move to 5G. Everyone is, I would say, still in the camp of mobile as the first touchpoint and then convert on desktop or desktop conversion rates and AOV are still [inaudible] out of mobile, development still is mobile, second in most cases, and even though [inaudible] about mobile first development for the last decade. I think obviously as the more widespread 5G world gets out there, the focus on mobile maybe finally will get through to people. That’s the most important meeting of ecommerce.

Stephanie:

Yep. Cool. Well, thanks so much for joining the show. It’s been fun learning about the world of cookware and seeing where you guys are headed. That’s, yeah, amazing. Where can people find out more about you and Made In Cookware?

Chip:

Yeah. Everything is sold through madeincookware.com. That’s M-A-D-E-I-N cookware.com. We have everything from full kits if you’re moving and need to outfit a full kitchen down to everything is also sold a la carte if you just need to fill around an existing group of cookware. So, we’re excited and we have a full team ready to help you out if you have any issues as well.

Stephanie:

How amazing. Thanks so much, Chip.

Chip:

Cool. Thank you for having me on.

Episode 110