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Terminal Value

Getting Ahead When Building Your Brand with Dave Dickert


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Janine Bacani


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We have Dave Dickert with us today with branded bills that’s brandedbills.com, and we’re going to be talking about getting ahead when building your brand. And that’s a little bit of a plan works because Dave business is involved with headwear. But I wanted to really just have this conversation about how it was that he built his business and how he’s really taken that brand that he’s created and is expanding it into a number of different areas and verticals. So, Dave, please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about branded bills. 

Yeah, definitely. Dave Dickert I’m one of the founders of branded bills. So myself I grew up in Arizona. Fortunately enough, I actually am in business with three of my childhood friends, so it’s kind of cool to see that come full circle. But I grew up in Arizona, spent about 15 years in Southern California in the restaurant business. And these guys were putting together this idea of branded bills, hats, and luckily I was able to jump in with them. And after about a year of us doing it, I moved out back to Arizona, where we’re based now here in Mesa, doing great from Phoenix. 

And at the time of this recording, it’s summertime, so that means in Arizona, it’s probably, what, about 120 degrees?

Well, we had 112 yesterday. My wife sent me a picture of her car. The car was reading 122. She’s from the Northwest. She was just up there for about five weeks, so she doesn’t love the 122. I grew up in it, so I’m used to it. I was up in the Northwest a couple of weeks ago. Man, Summer is up there. Absolutely gorgeous. But yeah, we’re at the tail end of it. But it is warm here in Arizona. 

Yeah, absolutely. All right, so you talked a little bit about kind of coming out of the restaurant industry, kind of what precipitated that turn and because a little bit of where I’m going or kind of why I’m probing here is because there’s a little something we can learn from anything. And I want to help extract those learnings because the purpose of this podcast is really about bringing the tools that people need to create the best life humanly possible for themselves, or as I call it, the world class life. But anyway, enough of my promos. Keep going. 

Yeah, it’s a restaurant industry. I encourage everybody to go into the restaurant industry for a certain amount of time. I don’t know if you want to make it a career. It’s difficult, long hours. We always used to laugh and say you make a lot of friends and a lot of money. But I do think when I’m looking to hire, I love athletes and I love people that worked in the restaurant industry because folks on the restaurant industry, they know how to work fast. You need to be able to multitask. You’re always looking, how can I be the most efficient way through my shift or through my task, whatever I’m doing? But working as a business owner in that industry, margins are thin, you’re having to manage people. And it’s really, how can I get these people there working for me? I mean, you’ve got people coming into your business that are putting stuff in their mouths. So you have to have the best quality and consistency. And I always talk to even now about Creatability. Right. You want to create a product that people crave and every time they come back, it’s the same product and it’s consistent. So I think applying some of those lessons learned over into our business now is like, OK, how do we present our products? How do we make things that people want more of? They’re not just going to buy one hat. They get that hat, they like it, I want another one. And the next time they buy it, it’s consistently the same. And so that’s always an evolution because within that, you’re always looking to improve. Right. But I think that was a big thing. Just the speed at which we work in the restaurant industry and the focus on consistency is something that’s going to create that Crave ability and have people coming back for whatever your product is. 

Yeah, actually, I want to get back to the athlete part as well because I think that’s an interesting piece to unpack. I remember I was a server at the old Spaghetti Factory in Portland for about six, eight months when I was in college. And that is one of the things that I will definitely say about the restaurant industry, is that you definitely need to really just kind of just be focused on what you’re doing in the moment. At least if you’re in a place where you turn tables fast now, there are some places where the tables turn slower, you have more slack time. But like, for example, when I was old Spaghetti Factory, those tables turned quick because the model back then was that they had really low plate prices and so you had to turn tables real fast in order to make money. That was the model changed a little bit. The prices have kind of come more up to market. But I think that skill of being able to kind of like, okay, block out everything else, focus on what I’m doing and then focus on what I’m doing while I’m here. Now, the beauty of the restaurant industry is that you get to leave it all there. When you’re done, you’re done. You don’t have to take it home with you. But if you don’t mind a little bit about what you’re talking about, where you’re saying recruiting athletes has worked out well for you as well. 

Yeah, especially for us on the sales side. I love it because they’re competitive, right. And you want go getters, they’re going out there and they’re not only putting that stress on themselves or have internal goals, but they don’t want the guy next to them beating them out or even production is the same thing. There’s a speed and expectation that I find comes with athletes that work really well for us in business. And you can have they’re used to coaching or hard conversations, and it’s not something that they’re going to go like, oh man, I did terrible today. It’s like, no, hey, this is what happened in the game today. We’re going to work on it and move on. It’s not something that we need to harp on. So I think for us it’s worked out well, and I like finding those people in whatever position it may be. I was an athlete, my partners were athletes. So it’s just kind of like, we drive well with that and it’s not a make or break, but it’s also something that’s like, okay, there could be something more that works out well in our company when somebody is able to plug in that way.

Got you. Okay, go ahead, keep going. 

Yeah, I was just going to say back to the restaurants, as you were talking about that, I was thinking that’s something else. Whether it’s a turn and burn scenario or you have a long sit down, the way you approach those situations are different. But the goal is always, what’s the best possible experience I can provide in X amount of time? So originally I came up through PF change, and so that was a little bit longer service. And then with the restaurants in La, it was a quick service. So it’s kind of thinking, okay, I have now, rather than an hour to provide service, I have eight minutes. So now on our side, it’s like, okay, somebody comes to the website, what’s that experience? They check out what’s that experience? Then the follow up, what’s that experience? What’s our customer service look like? Always providing the experience changes platform to platform, but the goal is always like, what is ideal and what makes people talk about how great it was. So that’s another complaint from the restaurants, is just focusing on that experience. Even though they’re not physically here, you’re still trying to make that as good as possible. 

Got it. Okay, well, let’s turn the conversation back toward building your brand because of course, that’s the topic of today. Although I found that a number of podcast interviews tend to meander a little bit, which as long as it’s a high value tangent, I’m perfectly fine with it. But the way that you really built your brand with branded bills has been about that intense localization or basically kind of to where people develop a personal connection, say, with a hat built around, say, their home state or their hometown. Or I would assume that you can also extend into, say, the place where they live, favorite teams. Although finding hats for your favorite teams is not tough. But like, for example, I live in Newberg, Oregon, which is in Chehalem Valley wine country. If I get a leather patched hat that has Chehalem Valley stuff in it, I think that will be cool. 

Yeah. And that’s essentially how we started out. So Sam, one of my partners, was working for a brewery, had a brewery in South Dakota and want to come up with a unique piece of marketing material for the brewery. So cut out the state of South Dakota, took a hot brand branded with its brewery, and everybody bought him, loved it, was like, oh, do you do Arizona? Do you do Colorado? And so we quickly realized that people tie there’s an experience or a value to states. And that’s kind of how everything started. We quickly expand across the US. And then it was maybe you went on a trip somewhere, maybe it was where you’re from. Maybe it’s a new colleague coming in to a different state, but you want to give them that little piece of home as a welcome package. And then people started going, hey, can you put my logo on your hats? And so that opened up a whole custom program for us. Now golf courses want to do the same thing. So it’s just been an expansion of that. But it always kind of comes back to connecting them to some experience. That’s why people buy souvenirs or anything else, because they want me when I was here, when I grew up here. This is what reminds me just as, like, excited as you got about that hometown hat. We see the same thing with people on the custom side or the state side, being like, oh, man, I love to represent my state, my company, my country. 

Got it? Okay, that sounds excellent. All right, well, let’s see. So let’s go and take the same idea back to somebody or over to somebody who’s building or expanding a business. Because what I think I really just heard is that when you’re really building out a brand, what’s really important is to make it something that the people who you’ve been called to serve, will really identify with, because it feels like that’s what’s going to drive that organic growth. What are some of the ways that you found the most effective to do that? Because I think it’s easy for you and I to say that, but the question is going to be right, how do you create that? There’s not necessarily a formula because if there is, we’d all be rich. But what are some of the things that you’ve seen are most effective in creating that?

I think it goes back to, number one, the consistency in the product. And I would say for us, when we launched, we didn’t know who our ideal customer would be. There are people that like this stuff. And so as we continue to grow and continue to put more hats out there. We were really intent on listening to that customer experience and looking at who are they, where do they work? What do they do? Why do they want to buy our hats? What is the purpose? And really looking at that, because I just think it’s very difficult. I mean, for us anyways, when we started out, we weren’t going, hey, we’re going after this segment of customers. It was hats. So, like, hats wide industry reach, men, women, kids, it’s kind of hard to say, like, we never had the intent to go after just one. But through that process, we’ve kind of found like, okay, our customers are in certain industries. And so with that, once you have that information, then I think it’s important to continue to build products and continue anytime marketing or anything else comes back to am I speaking to this customer? Because it’s very easy for us to see the shiny balls and go like, oh man, there’s an opportunity, there’s an opportunity. But you can kind of get lost doing that. And it’s a lot of time and effort when you have this group of core people that is passionate about your brand, wants to buy your products. And if you can continue to develop things around them, that’s how you grow the business and grow the brand. Because we’ve had headwear for five years, last year the headwear supply chain was a mess. We were really running short on stuff. So we’re like, okay, let’s start looking at apparel. Is this for that ideal customer? But since we had built that brand and they had expectations amongst branded bills, it made selling that hoodie much easier because they knew the brand. So it’s like, OK, I know what to expect with the headwear. And then for us, making sure anything we launch is on that same level of quality that the customers come to experience with our brand. 

Got it. Because one of the things that I was kind of thinking too, is that because I think there are some businesses or some solutions that are very, very niche. And so what I think in a lot of cases, what you end up doing is you end up saying, okay, how do I isolate my marketing for just people that match that niche? Right? I’m not going to say that’s the oldest trick in the book when it comes to marketing because hardly anybody does it. But I think that there’s a danger when if you have something that can apply to almost everybody, like hats, if you try to market to everybody at once, it will A, be expensive, and then B, you’ll probably have very low conversion rates. So I think probably the it would seem to me that one of the most tricky things will be if you have a kind of general availability or general appeal type of product, you still need to isolate certain niches that you are going to target and then basically and then really focus all of your marketing, branding and messaging on those niches. Even though you can serve a really broad market just because trying to serve a broad market, especially if you’re a small business, is ridiculously expensive. 

Definitely. And we’ve seen it from our outside sales team. We knew there was some traction in golf but weren’t having great success with it. So we brought on outside sales, had her focus on golf only. So primarily Arizona quickly saw success there. Then for our second rep he was in like the Colorado Territory and going into fall winter we weren’t seeing the success. We kind of opened it up to like we’ll just sell hats, same kind of sales coming through and when we narrow that back down, said like alright, only focus on golf. Like I really want you to hammer golf. We saw that success and that’s why I think it’s been both hard to pass up opportunities because it is headquartered, every industry is a possibility. I’m a big fan of getting something to 80% before we go on to something else. So that’s what we’ve done with golf. It’s like, man, we’re going to go deep into this industry, try to get as much of the market as we can and then we may look at another industry or something else. But I think there’s so much value to your point of focusing on that. But don’t have your blinders on where you don’t see opportunities. But it has to be a calculated change because you are going to pull resources, time, effort to explore that as well.

Yeah I know that like many people, I’m far better at talking about things than actually doing them because it’s hard because I’m sure you’re entrepreneurial person like myself, where it’s like you’re like, oh, there’s an opportunity there and there’s another one, there another one there, if I just got this one right here. And sometimes it seems to me that you almost need to kind of have a dualistic type of mode to your mind to where you never really shut off that opportunity thermometer but you figure out how to contain it or compartmentalize it and say okay, for this time I need to focus on what I’m doing in this area and then turn it back on. Because I don’t think anybody truly entrepreneurial can ever just focus on one thing and block everything else out. I can’t do that, I can’t turn it off. I’m sure you’re the same way.

I agree with you. And that’s the hardest part is you’re always seeing as a business owner, it’s hard to pass on opportunities or it’s hard to turn that off. But I think in general, if there is an opportunity, we’ll start to test it and give it a good testing period and then go OK, we’re not going to allocate 100%, we’re going to cut off 25, see what that can do. OK, now let’s give it 50. And that’s for us how we’ve kind of tested in general, whether it be advertising or a market for sales or anything else, it’s kind of like let’s put in our usual effort, maybe 25% of that. See if the return is the same, if it’s greater, okay, let’s go a little bit harder on that. But we’re not going to go all in until we know something’s there. 

Yeah, well, exactly. I think that’s another really important part too is testing and testing and by extension measure. Because for example, if you have a marketing promotion medium, for example, let’s say for golf, if you track your campaigns and if you have a marketing campaign that will say, will result in inbound calls or something like that and you end up getting, say like say you end up getting a two to one return on that marketing campaign. Okay, well, now we know we have enough data to where we can start spending some more money because you know you’re going to be getting it back in a pretty short amount of time. It’s when you don’t know that it gets tricky because you’re kind of hoping that it works. But if you burn out too many marketing campaigns at once and they don’t all pan out, you could end up bankrupt. So I think that the iterative process is really important to go through.

I would say that’s something in the last year and a half we’ve really worked hard on is having those KPIs across the whole business. Because it’s easy. We went through a workshop and was like, okay, what you’re talking about right now, is that fact or is that opinion? And if you don’t have the facts, well, it’s all opinions. And you’re trying to make decisions on four different people’s opinions. So once the numbers are there, expectations are there, it makes that so much easier. I mean, I’m a data driven guy, so it makes my life so much easier when you can go, well, here’s what we expected, here’s what it was. Why are we continuing to do this? Or here’s what the result was. Let’s try to tweak this a little bit and see what impact that has. But without those KPIs and without being able to track that stuff, you’re just writing blind. It’s impossible to figure out what’s going on. So it’s been huge. Whether it be in production, sales, customer service, HR, just what are the expectations and then we reevaluate that periodically to see where we’re at. 

Got it. That completely, totally makes sense. And one of the things you are saying with KPIs that I was just kind of thinking of is another trap to fall into with KPIs. And I saw this in my corporate career all the time, which is that people will obsess on things that they are able to track, but kind of irregardless of whether they actually matter. 

Exactly. 

And like for example In information technology, everybody loves to track what they call incidents. So how many times does somebody walk a ticket? They say, okay, well, what’s the ticket volume? Okay, but that’s something that’s easy to track. But the thing that you really need to understand is what’s the return on investment to the enterprise from its information technology expenditures? That’s what you really need to know, because if that’s a high multiple, then the answer to all of your capital requests are going to be yes, just do it because there’s a high value multiple. If it’s negative, then you’d say, okay, well, we need to figure out how we can try to rein this back in. But of course, that’s extremely hard to measure. 

And that’s what we run into, too, sometimes, especially on the customer service site, some will say, hey, there’s this issue. I keep getting this. My first question is, well, how many? Because I get it that you feel like it’s a lot, but for the amount of orders we’re sending out, is that really something? And you’re right. I mean, you can get absolutely paralyzed by all those data points and just not make a move. And we try to keep it pretty high level. Some stuff, we go deeper, but it’s just kind of a holistic view on how everything’s running. This will keep the shift going, and then if there’s a couple of layers deeper that we need to go into of course we do. But I’ve seen it. People come in and it’s hard because they build out this beautiful spreadsheet and it’s like, oh, look, this, this. And I go, okay, so what do you do off of this? And there’s no answer, but there’s just like I can see it. I was like, yeah, but we’re not taking action. It’s not driving your decision making. So I like it, I appreciate it, but let’s not focus on it because it’s just tying you up. 

Got it. All right, well, hey, Dave, we’re just about the time, but give us one or two last thoughts and then throw your website one more time and let everybody know where they can find you on social media.
Yeah, absolutely. So website is brandedbills.com go there for state headwear customers for your business. We’ve got a great golf program as well. You can find me on social media at Dave Dickert on Instagram. And then I think closing costs or thoughts would be something that somebody told me a couple weeks ago, is that you chose this, right? I think a lot of times as an entrepreneur, you can go like, man, this is hard. Nobody gets it, but you’re in control. You’re writing the story. So the ability to come back to that and go, hey, I chose this, and I wouldn’t choose anything else. It’s kind of grounding for me as an entrepreneur because I can’t imagine going back to work for somebody else, right? And so just that like, man.

You have the ability to kind of like create your own destiny and whatever’s going on, fix it, figure it out. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be difficult. But to me, this is the greatest job in the world.

I’m operating a hat business with four of my buddies. This is pretty cool. 

Yeah, because what you just said, I think it really resonates with me because it gets to what I call the one big decision. And that is if you decide that you want to engage in some sort of entrepreneurial endeavor. To me, the one big decision is, I am going to do this. And somehow, some way, I am going to fail, pivot, adjust as much as I need to, as many times as I need to. Every time I get knocked down, I’m going to get back up and figure out what I did wrong and go back and keep swinging the bat until I make it. To me, that’s the one big decision. Because once that big domino falls, once you get over that threshold, it is literally just a matter of time until you make it.

I agree it’s tough, but listening to why you’re failing is key. Don’t be just like, hey, I’m going to ram my head through a wall because I know this works. We’ll figure out why it’s not working. Maybe to your point, pivot a little bit and your original product may not be what your company in 15 years looks like, but you kind of navigate through that journey and eventually, to your point, you’ll get there. You just don’t know what it’s going to look like. I think when we started, we had no idea we would have a golf program, a custom program. Like, it was a side hustle. We just wanted to, hey, let’s throw some leather patches on hats and sell to some friends and stuff. And fortunately, it’s turned into much more than that. But we didn’t know and it was just trial and error and figuring things out. And now we’re here today. 

Yeah, absolutely. Alright, well, hey, Dave, I really appreciate your time. It’s a great conversation. 

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me, Doug. 

Alright.

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