The Real Sacrifices of Growing a Seven-Figure Business

The Real Sacrifices of Growing a Seven-Figure Business

A selection of SmartPits deodorants.

Stacia Guzzo's mother's breast cancer diagnoses got her into researching the possible causes. The discovery of aluminum's possible link to cancer motivated Stacia to make her own natural beauty products. 

Stacia found her niche with aluminum-free deodorant and started SmartyPits. From a hobby beekeeper who made lip balms, Stacia honed in on her specialty and scaled her business to seven-figures.  

In this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Stacia Guzzo of SmartPits on how she found her niche and the decisions she had to make to scale her business.

If I were to do it over again, I would try to look from the very beginning about what would it take to scale this business? How much do I want to scale it?

Tune in to learn

  • What is story-based marketing and why it’s so effective
  • How to identify whether an idea is great or awful
  • How do you know if you’ve gone niche enough
Don't miss an episode! Subscribe to Shopify Masters.
  

Show Notes

Transcript 

Felix: Today, I'm joined by Stacia Guzzo from SmartyPits. SmartyPits makes aluminum-free deodorant that gives back to support breast cancer research and survivor support. It was started in 2014 and based out of Tehachapi, California and is well on their way to break your seven figures this year. Welcome.

Stacia: Thanks so much for having me.

Felix: Yes. So you told me that you came up with this product idea during a pretty scary time of your life. Tell us more about that.

Stacia: Sure. Yeah. SmartyPits is a natural deodorant inspired by my mom. She is a breast cancer survivor and when she discovered the lump, it was right underneath her armpit, unfortunately. We had no family history of breast cancer, no genetic predisposition. And the doctors who were caring for her told her it was most likely influenced by something in her environment, but they couldn't tell her what. So I started to do some research and it was at that time that I learned that aluminum in antiperspirants could be a risk factor to breast cancer as well as Alzheimer's disease.

Stacia: So I wanted to go aluminum-free myself, but I couldn't find anything that felt good and smell good and worked on my body. I was a clinical strength antiperspirant user at the time. So that was the seed that eventually would sprout into SmartyPits. It started on my own kitchen stovetop, trying to find a formula that would work with my body and now it's become something much bigger.

Felix: Amazing. So you found a formula for your own use. When did the wheels start turning where you realize that this could become a business?

Stacia: The funny thing is that I didn't start out thinking that I was going to sell deodorant. I started out selling lots of different skincare. I began my skincare journey just making lip balms. We were hobby beekeepers. And so we had one hive and it was our first year ever getting our own honey and caring for own bees. And with the honey harvest comes a lot of extra beeswax. So we had this beeswax and I wasn't sure what to do with it. And I talked to my husband, I said, "Well, what do you think? Should I make candles or should I make lip balm?" And he said, "Do what interests you the most." And I thought, "Lip balm sounds like it would be kind of fun."

Stacia: So I made my first batch of lip balm. I got a formula off of the Internet and I'd never made any skincare like that before. I had no idea what I was doing and the formula turned out to be awful. It was a terrible lip balm. And I just started thinking, "Well, I could figure out how to do this better." So I started just researching what goes into formulating skincare. I took some classes. I ordered a bunch of different products and I played with it and I gave them out to my friends and I asked for feedback and I started making and selling lip balm and that turned into soap and lotion bars and lots of other things.

Stacia: So the deodorant part didn't come until a few into me making skincare because it's a little bit more advanced in terms of how you would formulate the product and make sure that it was stable in different types of environments and that it would be effective and it would be it a product that would feel good going on. And in fact, my first few iterations of it didn't feel good going on. I think that just like with any business, skincare especially, you try a bunch of different things and you figure out what is the thing that I can do better? That was a lot of my journey. It's starting out with a certain way of doing things and getting customer feedback and trying again. And so we were selling through...

Stacia: In 2014, I was selling everything. I was selling all the types of skincare you can think of in local farmer's markets and a few stores locally. And I think it was in 2016, I was selling deodorant as well in very small quantities. I think my batch size at the time was six at a time. And I started selling more and more deodorant as time went on. And I would notice that at these fairs that I would go to and these craft shows, people would start coming back and they'd say, "Oh, you're the deodorant lady." And they were coming only for the deodorant. And little by little deodorant became more and more and more of our sales until in 2018, just last year it was 98% of our sales before I just closed all of the other types of products we did down.

Stacia: I was still doing a few other things in the background and eventually it was just like, "No, we got to drill down and do more of what's doing really well."

Felix: I think it's important to do more of what's doing well because I think a lot of entrepreneurs, especially early on, if someone comes up to them and they're selling a bunch of different things and they have a pretty wide identity with their business and they came up, someone came up to me and said, "You're the deodorant lady," and they might be thinking, "I have all these other things that I want to sell too." They might kind of doubled down on trying to get the other things to work just as well. But you decided to hone in on just one product line that seemed to be taking up more and more of a percentage of the sales.

Felix: What made you make that realization to focus on what was working rather than trying to fix what was not?

Stacia: There were different points where I really wanted to do some of my other passion projects and then I wanted to make some of the other projects work. And I even said at one point to one of my friends, "I don't want to just sell deodorant." But I think that there was a sort of a switch inside of me at some point that turned and realized that on one side, the deodorant that we were making was really making a difference. I started having people email me and talk to me at these shows and say, "This is the only natural deodorant that's ever worked for me." And I even had some customers that have said, "I've been embarrassed going out for years because I refuse to put on an aluminum-based antiperspirant. And I just knew that I would probably smell a little bit every time I would go in public and because of your product, I don't have to worry about that anymore." And I was seeing it really make a difference.

Stacia: That was on the sort of on the heart level side, I began to become more and more passionate about the product myself. On the other side, the business side of it, it was just looking at the numbers, seeing that at some point I have to know that as a businesswoman, if I want to have a viable, sustainable business, if I want to do something that I can scale really easily, that has a higher profit margin than some of these other things that I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole, this was the thing that I needed to really focus on.

Stacia: And so I think that when growing any business if I were to do it over again, I would try to look from the very beginning about what would it take to scale this business? How much do I want to scale it? And then if I want to scale it pretty big, how viable is it to be able to change my processes and go bigger with every single thing that I'm doing. And so the deodorant was the thing that made that a little bit easier. So it was a little bit head and a little bit heart in making that decision.

Felix: That makes sense. So this question of how much do I want to scale? Do I want to scale? I think especially if you haven't been in this decision point that you were in, a lot of people might say like, "Why wouldn't you just scale it forever and keep on growing and grow and grow and grow and don't stop?" What is your answer today? Like is there a reason why you would say, "No, this is the max of where we want to go."?

Stacia: Yeah, I think that it really is, it becomes something different with each level that you scale up. And it depends on what you want as a personal entrepreneur. Do you want to be in charge of a company that you're talking with really large retailers and have a lot of employees and have to deal with all of the things that come with that? Because scaling doesn't just mean making a lot more money and being in charge of a lot more things, scaling also means that you have bigger bills to pay and you have more employees that you're responsible for and that you need to make sure that you're creating a stable and good work environment for them; that you have more insurance, that you have to be in charge of more accounts that you need more reps or brokers or whatever you're doing and with that can come the stress of handling all of that.

Stacia: So, there are a lot of sacrifices that as we've scaled that as a family, we've had to discuss are we willing to be able to give up this time, give up our weekends or put ourselves in the position where we have to say no to certain family obligations that we might have otherwise done or travel to a lot of places for different trade shows. I think that you have to give a hard look at what you are willing to do to be able to scale to that level. And I think that there are a lot of people that are comfortable with much smaller businesses.

Stacia: If it's comfortable to go to farmer's markets every weekend and sell yourself and talk to people and just make the product by your own hands most of the time and maybe have one or two employees... I know lots of people that are very, very content with that lifestyle and it's a really nice place to be as an entrepreneur. So I think that all of those factors have to be weighed as you're thinking about whether or not you want to go really big or stay smaller or somewhere in the middle.

 

Stacia: I think that you get a little glimpse as you're going into it, whether or not you want to take that next leap. We've always had to know a little bit in advance before we were going to level up, before we signed a lease for our warehouse for example, or decided to employ several more people, put out the job offer for several more people. We had to have a conversation ahead of time to make sure that we knew what would be involved in taking those leaps in what would be necessary. Sometimes you're going to take the leap on the side of, well, we're going to have these new expenses, like managing a property or managing new employees or whatever that might be. And we're going to have to create the business to be able to support that because that's our trajectory anyway.

Stacia: And then sometimes you have opportunities that are presented to you unexpectedly and you have to decide, "Is this the direction I want to go?" If you have a big retailer that approaches you and says, "I want 50,000 units by next month," you have to decide is this the kind of business that I want to be? And if so, what is that going to mean? For me and my family and my employees and my finances and all of that? And you can decide at that point to say no. Or you can say, "Let's see where it goes." And I think that it probably has a lot to do, the answer probably has a lot to do with how comfortable you are with risk.

Felix: When you are in a situation where you are deciding that you want to temper growth, it almost seems harder than to just continue saying yes and growing. I think the biggest challenge for a lot of people is just saying no and being very selective with the opportunities. Have you had this experience where it was really hard for you to say no to anything? Do you have examples of this?

Stacia: Well, I think that it's like you said, being selective is important there because there are lots of different opportunities that can present themselves at any given time, and they could be wonderful, but is it at the right time? Do you have the right resources? There is an example as far as us saying no to something. We got presented with the possibility of going on a national network morning show at the end of last year. They've contacted us several times. They wanted us to be on the program and as we got more and more into those talks, we were going to have to discount the product pretty significantly, but in exchange for the marketing opportunity and then we were going to have to give them an additional percentage of the sales that we made and they asked us to, before we went on the program, they asked us to have a certain amount of product in stock. They couldn't guarantee that it would be sold, but they wanted us to be able to have it in stock just to be there in case it did sell.

Stacia: And I talked with my team about it and we talked about what we would need to do to be able to hit that number. It was a pretty significant number that they wanted us to have in stock with no guarantee of any sale. And that on top of the discounts and giving them a percentage, we were going to have to basically make the product at cost. And we would break even at the end. And my team and I sat down and we had a really long and hard conversation about all of the pros and cons because there was a pretty big marketing opportunity and we would be able to reach a lot of eyes and get in the hands of a lot of people.

Stacia: But there were a lot of other things that were also going on at that time with other retailers that we were working with and trying to build up our relationship with the retailers we have. We have about 1,100 retailers that we work with nationwide right now. And so in order to be able to go on this national program, we were going to have to put everything essentially on hold and we would have had to put all of the work we were doing with these other retailers on hold in order to meet this demand. At the end of the day, we decided that it just wasn't the right time for us.

Stacia: We didn't say no, that we never wanted to do it because at some point it might make sense for us, but it would put at risk all of the other relationships that we were trying to develop with these retailers and nourish those relationships, make sure that they're having the product that they've already invested in and already purchased from us, that everything was going okay, that we would have everything in stock when they needed it going into the Christmas season. We wanted to make sure that we would have the bandwidth and the energy to be able to do our own internal marketing, for Black Friday and all of the things that were coming up at the time.

Stacia: So we made the decision to say no at that point. I don't regret it at all. I think that it was absolutely the right decision for us at the time, but it was a difficult decision because it's never just a simple, "Yes, this is a great decision," or, "No, this isn't a great decision." There's always nuance to it.

Felix: Yeah. I think it's easier to feel like you have to say yes if you feel like there's an opportunity, like this will never come again and it's like once in a lifetime. What are your thoughts on this kind of make or break situation? Do they exist?

Stacia: I think that, at least on our side, one of the things that I've really tried to live by in business and I've found has worked for us is never to make a decision out of fear. If I'm making a decision because I feel like I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't say yes to this, then it usually doesn't actually turn out as well as I would have liked it to. If I can make a decision knowing that whether or not I say yes or no, I'm going to be okay. We're going to be all right in this business. It may go one way or the other or maybe sometimes where we have to buckle down and make some sacrifices on this end or it may get kind of crazy and we may have to figure out how we're going to meet this demand, but if I know that I'm making the decision because the yes or the no isn't going to make or break me, then it's much easier to have freedom in that decision rather than basing it on this one thing is going to be the thing that changes everything.

Stacia: Because at least on our end, the things that have been monumental and have changed us and changed the trajectory of the business were things that I would have never guessed until they were in motion.

Felix: Any examples of those?

Stacia: Working with Grove Collaborative was one of those moments. We love working with Grove. They're one of our biggest clients that we work with. And we met them at Natural Products Expo West in March of 2018 and at the time, the conversation we were having, I knew about Grove, but I didn't know how much they were going to change our business. They were somebody that I was just having some great conversations with about the types of business that we like to do business with and the kinds of relationships that we'd like to have with the buyers that we work with. I could have never anticipated what an incredible partnership that would have ended up being.

Stacia: I'm glad that I didn't know ahead of time because I think I probably would have put undue pressure on myself thinking, "Oh, this is going to be one of those monumental moments." Instead, it just all unfolded organically. And certainly, there were some moments where it was like, "Wow! Well, this was unexpected. How are we going to figure this out?" But it was one of those things that again, they were decisions that were just made in freedom rather than with so much pressure to make it work.

Felix: And Grove is like a retailer?

Stacia: Yeah. Grove Collaborative is a pretty large retailer online.

Felix: Got it. So not only did you have to kind of battle these temptations in your head when it came to making decisions, but you also mentioned that lots of people will come up to you and things happen a lot to anyone that owns a business or is starting anything and they'll come along and they say, "You should do this, you should try that." It always has a kind of opinion on how you should run your business. And you mentioned that a lot of people have these ideas. Some of them are great, some of them are pretty awful. Any examples of ideas... Well, actually not even there yet but like how do you nowadays identify the difference between a great idea versus something that's awful?

Stacia: Well, I will say that I've gotten much better as time has gone on. When I first started in business, I felt like, "Well, I don't know any more than the next guy, so sure, I'll give this a try," and you waste a lot of money and a lot of time on that. And the thing that I would say that I wish I could go back and tell my former self is just because somebody tells you something is a great idea, doesn't even mean that that person themselves would spend money on it. That's where market research and talking to more people and doing small runs and that sort of thing really can come in handy.

Stacia: But yeah, I think that you have to have a little bit of just you have to use your intuition, go with your gut and you have to be able to figure out who knows a little bit more and who should I be listening to and who is just sharing something that popped into their head. I always try to listen to people. I never try to shoot people down. But some people you have to say, "You know what, that's a really great idea. That's something that I'll give some thought to." But you might give some thought to it, but it's probably not something that from a business perspective would be the wisest to pursue.

Felix: So if you look back on a bad idea that maybe you end up taking on, can you see in retrospect the reason or the almost like red flags of why it was a bad idea? Like is that possible to identify?

Stacia: I think there were... I don't want to say that any of the things that we did were necessarily terrible ideas, but they were money pits. It's hard to know when you're looking back, hindsight that was this part of my formation as an entrepreneur, did I have to go through this in order to get to the place where I am now? Because if I hadn't tried all of those things, would I have the wisdom to be able to discern that on a greater stage? I'm not sure.

Felix: It was a lesson that you had to learn.

Stacia: Yeah, exactly.

Felix: Sometimes these ideas are sounding like you were getting... was that some something that came straight from customers that would say that they still wanted that, and you mentioned that what you do to try to kind of do this small scale tests. So let's talk about that. How do you test ideas these days? Especially if it's around like new products or product features?

Stacia: Yeah, so I mean, if we're wanting to test something small scale, we're pretty lucky at this point that we have a pretty robust wholesale side. At this point about 85% of our business is wholesale. So we can try something out on our retail channel and see if that would work well and how that resonates with the customers before we move it over to the wholesale side. Another way that we can test things out as sometimes we'll work with very select stores that are some of our best customers and we can just put a few prototypes out and see how the customers respond and if the response is good, then we bring it on in larger scale.

Felix: And that's usually a pretty good like comparison or it gives a proxy if it works on the B to C side where I'm assuming you're selling on your website and you moved over to the wholesale side. It's pretty transferable like that works in one place and will most likely work when it's being sold through the retailers?

Stacia: Oftentimes it will. Yeah.

Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative) When you are setting up all these different products, you're testing all these new different things out. You also mentioned that the issue you can run into by doing so many different things that you're trying to serve everyone and try to make everyone happy and trying to answer this question about who is your customer. And a lot of people would say, "Well, everyone needs my product so everyone is my customer," and it's a really bad place to be. And you mentioned that it could end up making it very confusing for the market when they were looking at you.

Felix: So talk to us more about this. Like why is it that you end up looking confused or look confusing by trying to serve everybody?

Stacia: Yeah. I think that if you try to serve everybody then you're always trying to talk to a very, very wide market and nobody really feels like you're talking to them. And that can be one of the biggest, I think killers in terms of a marketing push. We ran into that issue early on and the more I found that I was trying to speak to everyone, the more muddled the message would get. Once I finally started drilling down and realizing that I had a very specific customer that I wanted to speak to, the more the customers felt like I was creating a product that was tailored toward them.

Stacia: When you help a customer to feel special, they're using your product, that they're valued, that you care about their experience, then it just lands better. You create a customer that wants to be in a relationship with you, that values you more than just the transaction, which is something that we try to value as a company. We want to value relationships over transactions. And so if we're trying to speak to everybody, it becomes very transactional because you're not really speaking to anybody's individual needs. You're trying to put a blanket over everything.

Felix: I think this goes back to your point about this fear-based decision making where people sit down and decide who is your customer. They don't want to have too small of a market. They don't want to leave any money on the table. They don't want to leave any part of the market on a table. So you're saying don't think about that way, you want to go deep. So how do you know when you've gone essentially deep and narrow enough in terms of the customer that you're targeting and the kind of messaging that you want to direct at them?

Stacia: Well, I think that when your customer first begin having more conversations with you, when it's more than just asking questions or "Do you have this?" Or "Do you have that?" When they begin to talk to you more about the experience that they've had with your product, the difference that it's made, you know that you're speaking to the right people. When it becomes a conversation.

Felix: I see. So if you're maybe too broad today, would you recommend people to look at who is talking to them and see if people are engaging and actually reaching out to you and telling you about their experience, their story, that is your true customer?

Stacia: I think that that's a really good place to start. That's how we found out that deodorant was really the thing that people wanted. Before the money caught up to that before our market presented itself, people were talking to us about, this is really making a difference for us. And so that was an early indication for us that we needed to double down on those efforts and the money did follow that. The sales did follow that. Find out what people want to talk to you about and what's making a difference with them and that's how you're going to find your most loyal customers.

Stacia: I also think that that is a good place to start in terms of figuring out your specific avatar for your customer.

Felix: If you were to start over, would you have started more narrow or did you have to go through this exercise of being too broad and then narrowing down?

Stacia: I think for me personally, it was something that I had to go through because I had so many things that I loved to make. I had to figure out where could I marry the love of making and what is going to sell and actually create a business beyond a hobby, but I do think that there is something to be said for either starting narrower or not being so tied to a particular product that you're not open to pivoting at some point. And I think that that really is where I wish that I had made a decision earlier that I sold so many products for a long time because I was really committed to selling a certain set of products because I just wanted to make it so badly and that would have been fine except it was at odds with my other goal of really scaling a business and having employees and making a difference and making an impact.

Stacia: So I think that if I had solely wanted to make the other products and I would have been satisfied with not having the type of revenue that this business is having and not being at the scale that this business is having, that would've been perfectly fine too. But I think this goes back to our conversation early on is that you have to know your goals from the beginning because if you're very content making everything yourself and selling on the weekends at farmer's markets, and that is a great path for some people, then you might not have to narrow down because if scaling is not what your focus is, then you can sell a lot of stuff. It's just could be in lower volume.

Felix: Right. That makes sense. So I think you also mentioned that you have to really learn your customer inside and out to be able to recognize where to begin or maybe you're too broad, how to narrow down. You mentioned that these conversations you are having back and forth with the customer is one way. Are there other ways that you've been able to really understand your customer and maybe understand who is your customer?

Stacia: Well, I think it's always good to have your finger on the pulse of the general market. To learn more about your competitors and who they're speaking to. They might not be the same customer as yours, but just to learn who they're speaking to and how they're speaking to that customer. So you can take a page from their playbook as well and see what they're doing and see what conversations they're having. Sometimes I think learning from other people and that goes for complimentary brands as well, not just competitors, but I think learning from other businesses can really help to focus our own business because even if we're not working with the same customer base, it helps us to ask clarifying questions internally about who we're selling to and why we're selling the product and why we want to make it and what we want to do with it.

Felix: Can you give an example of what you've learned in actually impacting your business or impacting the product line or impacting specific products when you are trying to make sure that you're catering specifically to a specific customer?

Stacia: Well, one of the things that I learned as I was creating more and more deodorant, I think a great lesson and example of that would be that people kept asking me if there was a travel size that they could purchase or that they could try out because people were trying different natural deodorants and saying the same thing that I said when I first started. Like, "Why can't I find something that works with my body? I've tried all these other things, they don't work." And so getting a travel size was a result of having those conversations, and they would actually see the little minis that I would have as scent testers and they'd say, "Well, can't I buy one of these?"

Stacia: And I'd say, "Well, I don't have any of that size. Those are just the scent testers." But that eventually evolved into creating a mini size that we have in it. That's one of our bestselling lines, is the travel size. People use them to travel. And they also use them to try out the deodorant for the first time.

Felix: Got it. So I'll talk a little bit more about your marketing and you mentioned one of the key elements in the evolution of your brand is this focus around cause marketing. So to start off, like how do you define like what is cause marketing?

Stacia: Cause marketing is aligning your marketing and your purpose for your business with a particular cause. And oftentimes it's much more specific than I think a lot of people make it or it should be. So, in our particular case, we have a cause marketing agreement with City of Hope, which is one of the world leaders in cancer research. And we made a very specific agreement with them that we would donate 30 cents from every large stick sold directly to their breast cancer research program. This became very important to me because early on we didn't have the revenue to be able to do a give-back program.

Stacia: And I started it small. I did in October of 2017, I dipped my toe into cause marketing in the beginning. So I took breast cancer awareness month and I said, "I want all of the revenue that we get from this one particular scent, I want all of the profits to go toward City of Hope's women's cancer program." And so we tried that at that point. And we were able to I think get $1,000 from that month's sales of that one scent. And I really liked that, but I wanted it to be beyond the breast cancer awareness month. It was a cause that was so close to my heart. It was the reason why I really wanted to do deodorant in the first place and to get it right and I wanted to be able to give back to the place that saved my mom's life.

Stacia: So I reached out to the City of Hope and to be honest, we went back and forth a few times because I didn't know anything about cause marketing in the beginning. So I told them, "Well, could we say 10% of our profits will be donated to City of Hope?" And they said, "Well, we don't really like that because what does that mean to the consumer? The consumer's not going to know what that means or how much that money is." On our end, I wasn't saying that to try to trick the consumer or anything. I just had always heard phrases like that, this much of profit or that much of profit. I never really thought about the fact like, Oh yeah, what if you're not profitable? If you're not profitable, then you're actually not donating any money. And that's really dishonest.

Stacia: So, that was a learning experience for me. I thought, "That makes a lot of sense. We need to be much more specific." And so that's why we came up with a specific amount from each deodorant stick to be donated to their program.

Felix: Like a dollar amount.

Stacia: Yeah, exactly. So they said it either needed to be of the percentage of the retail price or a specific dollar amount. And I liked a specific dollar amount because I felt that that was much more tangible, especially because different retailers will retail it for different amounts depending on if they're small, if they're big, what their profit margins are. So we came up with that 30 cents per large sticks sold.

Felix: I'm not sure how many other causes you've or how many other organizations you've worked with. But is it something that's pretty easy to engage or in an organization or a charity to do something like this? Like, do they have channels or a person that is in charge of taking these kinds of partnerships?

Stacia: Usually there is somebody that's in charge of working with partnerships like this. And a lot of times they'll have you sign a specific agreement. It will be for a certain amount of time with the amount that you are going to donate. And then typically, we've only done this a few times, but from people that I've spoken to, I hear that this is pretty typical that you will have some sort of floor dollar amount that you commit to giving them no matter what. So for example, you could say, "I'm going to donate a dollar from every bottle we sell to this organization over the course of one year with a minimum dollar amount of $10,000." And so that would be no matter what you're hitting that ground amount for them.

Stacia: In our case, our original agreement with the City of Hope was that we agreed to donate at least $7,500 to them over the course of a year. We ended up donating over $30,000 to them. So they were very flexible about what that low dollar amount was with us. But we were really happy to exceed that.

Felix: So when you are working with these organizations, I think a lot of people would think, "Okay, you are essentially donating money to them. So they should just kind of take whatever you can send them." But they actually, it sounds like they actually have like standards essentially that you're talking about where they want specific things, they want specific rules. Were there any other things that surprised you, not surprised you necessarily, but things that that maybe will catch other people off guard when they are trying to work out these kinds of partnerships?

Stacia: Yeah. Well, I mean if you think about it, it makes sense because if you're working with an organization that is relatively large whether that's a hospital or some sort of nonprofit or anything like that, it's not just you're giving them stuff, whether it's money or product or anything like that and they should be grateful for it, the flip side of that is if you're able to use their name in your marketing, there is value to that. There's tangible value to that. So I think that that was something that I hadn't given as much thought to before working with some of these organizations and cause marketing agreements. But it makes sense to respect the value of using their name and their logo and all of that, the intellectual property that they're able to give you in order to market your products because it makes your products more valuable to the consumer. You're adding value to your product through their value.

Stacia: So yeah, that was something that I just hadn't thought of in that way before. But once I did it made a lot of sense to me.

Felix: So what are some ways that you've been able to use the partnership in your marketing? Like what are some effective ways to make sure that people are aware of the impact that are making by purchasing the products?

Stacia: So for our particular product, we put messaging on the product itself. We have a call out on the front of our deodorant that says, "Your purchase is helping to save lives," and it directs the consumer to look on the back of the product. And then on the back of our deodorant, we include the clause about that we donate 30 cents from every large stick sold to life-saving breast cancer research and survivors' support. So we're able to do that on the product itself. We also have it on one of our pages on our website that talks all about the give-back program, in general, that has pictures from my team's visit to City of Hope. Every year we take my entire team down to the City of Hope campus. They give us an incredible tour.

Stacia: We get to talk to the doctors that are doing the research and some of the postdocs as well. And it's just a really neat experience. So we have a picture posted on about that on our website, on our give back page. And then we also list the different smaller places that we've donated just deodorants to free deodorants. And for that sort of thing, if it's a smaller organization, if it's a nonprofit that reaches out and says, "We have these gift bags and we'd love to include 50 deodorants in these chemo bags or something like that," typically you don't need a cause marketing agreement for a smaller organization like that. It's just a straight-up donation. And I always ask permission to make sure, "Is it okay that I put on our website that we donated these deodorants to you?"

Stacia: And so that can be a much less formal agreement. Well, oftentimes they'll give us a letter so that we have a tax-deductible letter from them and that's that. But if you're working with these larger organizations where you're going to be doing major donations and you're going to be using their name in your marketing again and again, that's something that you always want to make sure that you're on the up and up and that you don't just do it without asking them first because it may not end up turning out as well as your intentions are.

Felix: So you also talk about story-based marketing as a way for you to grow the brand. What is story-based marketing?

Stacia: Story-based marketing is where we connect our story with the story of the consumer. I think that some of the best story-based marketing is the type where you're able to weave those two stories together, where we acknowledge that we're more than just a business that is focused on the transactions and making money, that there is a story behind the product and why we make the product and why we continue to want to have so much passion behind this product. And then we acknowledge that there is a story that every consumer has, they come to the table with a story.

Stacia: Many of our customers, like I've mentioned, have stories of either having deodorant not work for them and feeling embarrassed or having cancer and needing something that's gentle enough for them to use while undergoing chemo and wanting an aluminum-free option or somebody whose parents had cancer or that it's not always like a sad story sometimes it's just, "I really love this scent because it reminds me of my honeymoon." But no matter what the story is, finding a way to interweave our story with their story so that we're humans that are connected by a product but still that are connected by the intertwining of these two stories.

Stacia: To me that's some of the most effective marketing, and it's also from a place of authenticity where it's not just, "Let me make as much money as I can," but there's an intent to connect with another human being behind the selling of the products.

Felix: Basically you're trying to make sure that they recognize that you are also another person, another human that's trying to connect with them. And I think to some degree you have to be vulnerable here or maybe even the more vulnerable you are, the more you're able to connect. Was this ever a difficult process for you to be open like this in the public?

Stacia: I think that I worried a little bit in the beginning that sharing the story of my mom's cancer that people would think that I was trying to take advantage of that situation to sell a product. It was something that I had a lot of fear about and I had to really think... and I knew my intentions and I had to think about, "Well, if I just talk about it authentically, if I work to connect with as many people as I can and just speak from my heart, then I hope that people will be able to see why this means so much to me and that I'm trying to take this experience in my family's history. And turn it into something that maybe is doing a little bit of good out of something that was so awful."

Stacia: And so from that perspective, it did require me to be a little bit vulnerable. I've been really happy that the majority of people, 99.9% of people have connected with me on that authentic level about it. That's all I could hope for because the whole reason why I do this is something that is coming from deep inside my heart.

Felix: That makes sense. So I'll talk a little about the actual running operations of the business. How large is the team that works at SmartyPits?

Stacia: Currently our team is 13.

Felix: Awesome. Is it a lot of your family that's also working on this business? It's sounded like that's what you were saying earlier?

Stacia: No, just my husband and myself actually. My husband works part-time with me. My mom isn't involved in the business at all other than watching my kids when we go to trade shows, which is a blessing. She gets to be in some pictures so that people can see the face behind the inspiration. The majority of the people that work for me, they're just people in our community that were looking for employment. And we've really turned into a much closer working family here. But yeah, we have people that are... Lots of high school students and graduates that I work with them just out of high school or just before they graduate, take them on as interns. And then we have all the way up to working moms coming back for the first time after raising their kids. It's a great group of people.

Felix: What about the apps and services that you rely on to run the business? What are some of your favorites?

Stacia: Let's see. So we use ReCharge for our subscription service and I really enjoy working with that app. It makes the subscription side much easier. We also use ShipStation to help us with keeping our shipping straight. Right now we're shipping probably between 800 and a thousand packages a month. So as we grow in our retail side, that will pick up, but it really helps to be able to keep all of those straight as well.

Felix: Awesome. So thank you so much for coming on. I think smartypits.com and Stacia, thank you so much for coming on. I think that you have an amazing story. I'll leave with this kind of the last question, which is what is like the biggest lesson that you learned last year that you want to make sure that you guys apply and put in action for this year?

Stacia: I think that if I could say the biggest lesson that I had, it's something that we talked about earlier. It's just not to make decisions out of fear. It's to think about what is aligned with our core values. And our mission and make decisions based on what will help to strengthen our mission and move our mission forward rather than what do we think is the thing that will make us or break us at any given moment. That we're going to be okay no matter what. We just need to keep leading with our heart and business is going to grow.

Felix: Awesome. Again, thank you so much for your time.

Stacia: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure being here.

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About the Author

Felix Thea is the host of the Shopify Masters podcast, the ecommerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. Got something to share with Shopify Masters listeners? You can submit your story for consideration.

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