In this episode, host Ryan Alford talks with Co-founder and CMO of Truman's, Alex Reed.
Happy Tuesday! Welcome to another episode on The Radcast.
In this episode, host Ryan Alford talks with Co-founder and CMO of Truman's, Alex Reed.
This episode highlights Truman's cleaning products, and talks about their marketing and branding strategy. The Radcast breaks down this company's purpose, and what makes their products radical.
NOTE: During the recording of this episode, we experienced an audio technical difficulty. Around 14 minutes in, you will hear a change in audio. We used a back-up audio recording for the remainder of the episode.
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Reiley Clark [00:00:00] Hey guys, this is Reiley, your producer. Before we get to the episode I wanted to share, we had an audio glitch while streaming our guest. It's about 14 minutes in. Our backup source got the remainder of the episode. So it will sound a little different about 14 minutes in. But don't worry, it's not your speakers. Okay, now let's get to the episode.
Ryan Alford [00:00:41] Hey guys, what's up? It's Ryan Alford. Welcome to the latest edition of the Radcast. It is the first week of December. Ho Ho Ho. We're getting close. As my wife told me last night, we've got to get the kids gifts. But excited to have Alex Reed with me as a guest today. He is the CMO of Truman's Soaps. So good to have you, Alex.
Alex Reed [00:01:02] Incredibly excited to be here. Thanks, Ryan.
Ryan Alford [00:01:05] Excited about it. Seeing you guys, seeing what you were doing. And I know Riley, our producer, reached out. So stoked to get you on. And just really cool stuff you guys are doing. Who knew soap could be cool, man.
Alex Reed [00:01:21] What's funny is that a lot of times people want to talk to me about a past role because the company name is so funny. But we'll talk about that later.
Ryan Alford [00:01:33] Well, I do want to get into, for anyone listening to this that doesn't know about the brand, we will go there. But, to start with let's talk about Alex. Maybe building into Truman’s and all that, of course. But let's just start right there with who you are and what you've been up to.
Alex Reed [00:01:54] That sounds great. I don't love talking about myself, so I'll keep this pretty brief.
Ryan Alford [00:02:00] We're going to force you to I'm going to push my zapper. Like I told you.
Alex Reed [00:02:05] I need my own hype man or something like that. But yeah, I guess I'm a classically trained marketer. When you look back at my career, I started as an intern at a company that nobody knew of at the time, a sleepy manufacturer in Lexington, Kentucky, called Big Ass Fans. You fast forward a decade and we can talk about things I did there. But the company was a huge success. I was part of a deal team that helped sell the company for half a billion dollars and was running marketing at the time. So what happened obviously between intern and exit, but that was a really wild ride. And towards the end, I got to know one of the other executives and operators of the company really well who have been brought on to shepherd the sale process. And he and I started talking about doing something different, being a little more entrepreneurial ourselves. And that was where the idea for Truman’s was born, which is the company I co-founded a couple of years ago and now run. And so, when you kind of sum up who I am on the professional side, I'd say I'm a marketer, I'm an opportunist. I’m somebody that, the term is cliched at this point, but disruptor, I like to do things that are different and fun and exciting and I'm just a perpetual learner. I'm always intrigued to figure out how things can be done better and ways things can be improved. And that's just sort of the mentality I take with everything on a personal side. I'm an extremely boring personal life kind of guy. I have a wife, kids. So that's my social life. My hobbies are pretty muted outside of work.
Ryan Alford [00:03:54] Well, most entrepreneurs or executives are these days. If you're especially growing a company like this. I mean, so D2C is all the rage these days, and for good reason. Getting that direct relationship with customers, changing the way stuff's done, I know that's definitely Truman's DNA. Let’s transition right into it. It's such a cool business. I love all the branding and the marketing. So they must have some good marketing going on. So let's talk a little bit about Truman’s. Like, what's inspired the business model?
Alex Reed [00:04:32] That’s a great question. And truly, Big Ass Fans is what inspired our business model. A lot of people don't realize that it was a D2C company dating back to the 90s and early 2000s. And it's interesting because that was business to business, but direct to business. If you're an industrial, durable manufacturer, you're almost certainly selling through layers of distribution. You don't talk to your end customer. That's not how it works. And so from the onset, it was a disruptive company in the way it went to market. I launched our first consumer business there in 2012 that was also direct-to-consumer. And it was this virtuous cycle of getting to know the customer, learning their wants and needs, being able to build more products off of that, and also having more opportunities to sell the business. The reason that company was so successful in the end was that it not only had a really large customer base, it had relatively low penetration within that customer base, so it was just continuing to mind its customer base and build a favorable relationship with those customers. So fast forward, when we first started the conversation about Truman’s, before we even knew what it was, we knew that we wanted to have a business that was customer-centric and not in the way that sort of lip service that everybody says they're focused on the customer, but truly led with that sort of customer-centricity. And one of our pillars from day one was customer service. My co-founder and I were on the customer service team, as I'm sure is the case with a lot of early-stage startups. But what we loved in one of our favorite stories to tell was that as we turned on live chat one day, when we were working out of a Starbucks, just to see what would happen. Other than that, it had been an email, contact form, and it just started buzzing. We started getting questions and comments from customers. And it really I think it really reinforced why we wanted to start the business as direct-to-consumer because there's so much value in interacting with customers, whether it's solving a problem, answering a question, taking feedback, there's a lot you leave on the table if you're not interacting with those customers, especially in those early days. And so I should probably back up and tell you that Trumans is a direct consumer cleaning products company to get more context to this. So, we're selling surface cleaners and refillable concentrate cartridges and dish pods, laundry pods, products like that. And so you would probably think, which is what we thought, it's a low-interest category or maybe not low interest, but not very emotional. And so why would you need customer service? People know how to buy a glass cleaner. They don't need to interact with somebody. And we were wrong. I mean, I think people more and more are demanding to connect with real people, especially now in the Covid era where these virtual connections are really a lot of what we have. But, I think people realize they can buy a laundry detergent from virtually anybody. And so what are you doing to differentiate? What value are you offering beyond the physical good? And so I think that's true in a lot of categories. And again, I think we saw it from a case study and we were part of it in the success stands. But we knew that there's a lot of effort to actually be customer-centric. And so that was one of our kind of founding core beliefs when we started Truman’s a couple of years ago.
Ryan Alford [00:08:12] I love it, man. There's a lot to unpack there. But I'm going to step back to where you first started, which I think is huge, especially adding value to our listeners and stuff like that. It costs at least four times as much to gain a customer as it does to save one or keep one. And you talked about the notion of penetration. I think that is such a huge play with people. A lot of people just think acquisition, acquisition, acquisition, when penetration within markets you're already in and seeing that is always such a huge opportunity. So I love that notion. What you guys saw at Big Ass Fans. I was blown away by that notion. Tell me you had to have used that headline at some point. Right.
Alex Reed [00:08:59] And we love puns at Trumans, too. And look, it shows up in the numbers. I mean, when you look at Big Ass Fans when it transacted, a few years after I moved from the company, but over half the business was repeat, the consumer line that I launched grew to nearly 70 million in four years. And by that year, it was about 70 percent repeat. And that's because people were buying one fan and updating one room in their home and then coming back the next year and doing another room. And what's crazy is about 60 to 70 percent of those transactions were done over the phone, which seems old school. But when you talk about actually developing a personal relationship, these customers wanted to talk to the person they had talked to previously and wanted to figure out what product, what finish, what size. All this stuff is going to be right for their space. And so, again, that may be on the more complicated scale of products versus the dish detergent, but there's always value in bringing humanity and personality into something that could otherwise just be transactional. And I think that's a big part of brand building. A lot of times people talk about customer service and marketing and branding and selling like there are all different things, but it's all tied. And I would say you are costing yourself big time in the long run if you shortchange the customer service side of it.
Ryan Alford [00:10:22] Absolutely, and I think what's interesting about D2C is there's always the C and you guys started there. So talk about, I mean, the innovation cycle for you guys. Like, what's so interesting is you've taken such an everyday item, soaps, pods, cleaners, all those things, and with the packaging and everything else, which seems simple, but yet feels well thought out. I mean, what is kind of that innovation cycle? Was that part of the initial concept or does that just come with each product release and different things like that?
Alex Reed [00:11:05] Yeah, I think differentiation is core for us. Like, it's tough to get our heads around selling a product that's 100 percent need-to. Now to contrast that just a little bit, I think a lot of times people think about innovation and Elon Musk type sense, where we're going to dig giant holes underground in Los Angeles and radicalize transportation. But I think there's a lot of in-between areas for innovation, where you can incrementally improve things that we use and interact with on an everyday basis. And that has a huge impact when you're at scale. And to put a finer point on it, when you look at the core line that we launched with, which was a series of four spray cleaners, reusable bottles, and then we just send you the refills, we didn't invent concentrates. I mean, concentrate has been around for four decades. And, that's not a new concept. But what was lacking was really the elegance of the packaging, like you pointed out, where customers were having to buy big jugs of this or bags. They're mixing it themselves. They're pouring it. They're not confident that they're getting the right results. And so all we did was take a concept and improve the user experience where it's pretty measured, automatically dispenses when you twist your sprayer into the bottle. And so you're not having to worry about any of those issues. It's just a better customer experience. And if we can get five percent of people that are using a ready-to-use bottle today to switch to this product, you're talking about hundreds of millions of gallons of water not being shipped around the country, bottles not being tossed in the landfills.
Ryan Alford [00:12:49] Yes, I totally agree. And I think a lot of brands can learn a lot from you guys and a lot of what you just said in the ways they think about innovation because that was the first thing they kind of set out is like, and it's so funny when you talk about the jugs of soap, I re-lived like four stories in my own mind of pouring, getting those jugs and having them under the sink, and I'm refilling my soap things and like, how many times I've either turned the bottle over, spilled it all over the place. I think most consumers like you said wouldn't think soap would be emotional, but like everything in life, there's an emotional aspect to it, especially the things that you use every day. And I think that's what's so brilliant about the concept. Talk about where you draw inspiration or are you just a marketing junkie, a digital junkie, like read every trade magazine you can get your hands on or like what's informed, what is your marketing point of view?
Alex Reed: I think it's a marketing point of view. I mean your number one objective is to stand out. And I mean, if you're not doing that, everything else doesn't really matter. And so figure out what it is. For consumer brands, it is based on the functionality and design, and quality of the material. But it was a story, right? Hey, you've got the million-dollar house, why are you putting out one $150 ceiling fan in your living room? I think it was more about craftsmanship. So, marketing is differentiation, and being able to cut through the immense amount of noise and I mean, how many brands we get exposed to every single day is mind-boggling. So that's really informed my philosophy. But I think as far as it goes, I'll credit my co-founder once we got on this roll, this was going to be this plainspoken, kind of sarcastic tone of voice. He really helped me to account for all the different points I referenced earlier. Though we were working on something, some communication, some time with the customer. He always challenged me to make it interesting, make it different. And I think that's another thing. You have to be open to being back. Marketing is never a one-man or one-woman job, it is collaborative in nature, and I think if you're not able to have a team, then I guess it's helpful to have outside parties or mentors, advisors, partners of some kind.
Ryan Alford: How big is the company and the team now? I mean, talk about maybe some of the scale. Not trying to put you on the spot necessarily for financials, but like just the scale and scope of facility and team and all that stuff.
Alex Reed: Yeah, I can share a lot of info because we are private, and we have sold hundreds and thousands of products. We are a dream team that really relies on outside parties. When you think about how we set up our business, it’s really to make sure much capital and much investment that we can, where we are able to go with the product and the customer. And so we want a call from a headcount perspective at one thing, and that's philanthropical, I think, the approach that I share with my co-founder. We've both been on the other side of it that time, frankly, where it's one thing to have the expense of many, but another thing to have the distraction, to have a lot of red tapes that come with a large organization. And we've seen what happened over the last couple of years in terms of unpacking and divesting a lot of their business. It is very difficult to maintain innovation the larger and larger you get. And so I just don't feel like we will again be a headcount perspective as a competitive advantage. Now, that being said, or function like customer service, we do not like customer experience, marketing, like other things that we are uniquely positioned to run, whereas things like manufacturing, we work with manufacturing partners because frankly, we're not a manufacturer. We can provide the specifications, we can have a conversation with them. But for us to own and operate our own manufacturing is difficult.
Ryan Alford: I bet you guys both have to be customer-centric, I imagine, to be as agile and as cohesive it appears and sounds like, I think what you just talked about there is it's so interesting working with a large team and small brands. I've worked with Toyota and the NFL and Apple. And even when they think they're being innovative, like the red tape you speak of, it's just so obvious, like just some of the most core basic things. And now with the mediums of social media, I mean, I'm talking to marketing channels now, distribution, all those things, but the nimbleness that you need to have to really to move quickly, to react quickly to the customer's expectations are just so important. And it’s so funny when I hear the notion of digital transformation, I'm like, what are we talking about? Is this what you are?
Alex Reed: You're spot on there. I mean I think there's no hiding behind a call center anymore. Social media has completely democratized customer service and big corporations, and the most important of them are all like telcos and cable companies, I mean that culture and model just don’t work anymore. And if you're a startup, it'll kill you. And you can't weather that sort of bad press. I’ll share a quick story. My co-founder is very active on Twitter, and we ran a lot of Twitter ads from his personal account at the beginning instead of our brand. And we actually ended up being in the top five percent of people on Twitter. So that was really cool. But because he was responding to everybody's comments and you probably know that you got to do that on Twitter. But anyway, we had a customer who had our subscription service who got the charge, didn't expect it, and was really upset. I go over to my bank account. I don't know what to do. I was reading all this stuff at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday. My co-founder immediately messaged them. He needed the money right away, and the refund takes 5 to 10 days with the bank account. So we've been loading the money on the account, we sent a Starbucks gift card in the mail. Appreciate you all. And this guy has been a huge fan ever since the beginning of the company and stuff like that. And it was kind of that experience where you have a choice to make. We could have refunded him the money on Monday. We didn't have to write him a note. I think when you set the tone for your business early, that's where you are going to operate freely, which means going above and beyond what the expectations are, and I’m here to live it as a founder. You have to live in the down and over and we've got to come down in the beginning.
Ryan Alford: Love that. Living the brand like it's one thing to write a tagline on the wall or to have it on your website and all those things. But when you live it, you breathe it, you are it. That is the perfect manifestation of what a true brand is supposed to be. So from one marketer to the other, I love that man.
Alex Reed: Yeah, I think people get hung up on documenting a lot of the stuff, which at a certain point is important. But people and culture in an organization, are going to pick up all these cues from other people. Culture at Big Ass Fans was so easy, they never had any written rules, it was just here's how we operate. There was an understanding that you get trained as you observe others. And I just think that's so much more to do with culture, we went into a podcast on that topic and my personal opinion is that people spend way too much time trying to define it versus trying to operate the company that brings people that are trying to define.
Ryan Alford: Yeah. And coming from big agencies and having some of that red tape and then starting my own. We have one rule and it's unless expressly forbidden, it is allowed.
Alex Reed: Hey, you could be in trouble.
Ryan Alford: Hey, we're Radical. We're an ad agency, but if you hire the right people. And like you said, you have the values and the culture. We've been fortunate that the three-year-old agency, but with a lot of experience on the team. The bad eggs take care of themselves and everything else. The cream rises to the top. And it's funny, when you kind of sit, there's definitely more rules than that one. But that's kind of the one we joke about the most. But this is true because I do tell them, you can't have the name Radical and not live up to the word. But I do love it. As we kind of close out here, Alex, where is it all headed for Truman’s?
Alex Reed: I mean, part of the beauty of collecting them is that you've got to be open-minded. There are a lot of things about our company today that I would have never been able to predict in a million years when we were just dreaming about it, throwing punches, I think is a big part of it. I think that’s our North Star, we want to have an impact because we know there are ways to reduce waste and improve customer experience and improve the quality of the product. And we're going to continue marching on that attack now. And the different ways that we're going to achieve that? Well, we're not cutting out a three-year plan. It's just not practical for us. We're more opportunist, I would say and we're continuing to develop products. We're having an opportunity to partner about how they or we can get involved and accelerate the timeline. And to me, that's what's exciting. And that's why I chose this path versus maybe a safer, more relaxed 9-5. Those that are out there, there's nothing wrong with that. I think. But with the entrepreneurial path, you have to be comfortable with a little bit of discomfort and uncertainty. And so where we're going and we're going to find a way as to how to break this industry or I should say clean up the industry.
Ryan Alford: Yeah, I love it, man. Keeping it clean and I love social media. You guys do a great job with all the content and look forward to following along and placing an order I share with my wife. And we're definitely going to get on the customer train as early as this weekend. If I do nothing else, it's going to be the soap dispenser thing. Think that is employed in the family. I learned that lesson. I'm on my second marriage. I'm getting this one much better than the first. The notions of cleaning, cleaning kitchen appliances, none of that is Christmas. Well, Alex Man, I really appreciate it and appreciate the time. Wanna follow along. Where can everybody keep up? Let's drop everyone who is listening. Where can we keep up with all things Trumans and yourself?
Alex Reed: truman.com is the mothership. I’m most active on LinkedIn, they can just find me, and outreach. Engage with me. I love listening to other people, hearing their stories, sharing what they want. So, yeah, I appreciate the opportunity to go on today, Ryan.
Ryan Alford: My pleasure. And I'm going to plug OutKast and tag them on some of our social to see if we can get So Fresh, So Clean, somewhere along in the influencer realm for Trumans. Cool man, have a great rest of the holiday season. And we appreciate it. We really appreciate Alex Reed coming on today. You can follow along with everything Radcast and theradcast.com or at radical.company. And we'll see you next time. See you, Alex.
Ryan Alford “Yo guys, what's up? Ryan Alford here. Thanks so much for listening. Really appreciate it. But do us a favor. If you've been enjoying the Radcast, you need to share the word with a friend or anyone else. We'd really appreciate it and give us a review at Apple or Spotify. It was solid. Tell more people, leave us some reviews. And hey, here's the best news of all. If you want to work with me to check with you, to get your business kicking ass and you want radical or myself involved, you can text me directly at 8647293680. Don't wait another minute. Let's get your business going.”