#12: Travis Rudolph – Owner of Trek Strategy
Travis Rudolph Podcast Transcript
Neil Dudley: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Pederson Natural Farms podcast. We’re so excited you’re here. We look forward to sharing all about this beautiful industry of better-for-you food, meat, protein. We call the podcast the Pederson Natural Farms Podcast Powered by Protein because we’re going to talk all things bacon, sausage, ham, consumers, customers, vendors that support our business, employees that make us what we are, and peers, people that are in the industry competing for your attention and your dollar. And we think that’s healthy and we’re proud of them, so we want to share about them as well. Thank you so much for joining us. Be sure you tune in, don’t tune out, and remember, grab life by the bacon.
Welcome to another episode of the Pederson Natural Farms podcast. I’m really excited about having this conversation with this guy, particularly because I think you’re going to find a lot of value in what he knows, what he does each and every day, just helping us, Pederson’s specifically, and other people navigate a very valuable environment or valuable to us anyways, if you’re interested in selling e-commerce or direct to consumer, you need to know a little bit about Amazon. What do you think about that statement, Travis?
Travis Rudolph: I think it definitely helps to know something about Amazon. For all of Amazon’s faults, and they have a lot of them, but they’ve done so many things well, and they’ve set the bar. When you think about reviews, when you think about the shopping experience, when you think about so many different things they do, they do those things really well. And so, even as a brand, you could have the strategy to say, well, I’m just going to kind of copy the shopping experience that Amazon has created, and that’s a great starter kit for starting your own direct to consumer site.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’ll paint the picture for everybody a little bit – Travis has come on board as, I don’t know, consultant is kind of the word I use, but is really a partner, a friend, somebody that helps us each and every day navigate the intricacies of Amazon. And for us, we had no clue. I mean, I don’t even know what A-plus content meant or a lot of things that Travis will talk about just like second nature. Why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about where you get that expertise and how you came to be so astute in the Amazon ecosystem. And then we’ll explore a little bit about how that has played for Pederson’s and who knows where we might go.
Travis Rudolph: Sure, sure. So, I actually started my career at Nestle and I was there for five years doing different things. I was in a- they called it a leadership development program. There’s 13 of us spread out all over the country. And so, I started there and then they offered me a position at headquarters in Glendale, California, so I spent two years doing analyst work. And honestly that’s where my love of numbers and my love of analysis came from because I’d never analyzed data at that level before, and then draw the insights out of it and then help sales teams understand it. So, when I look back on my career, that was two years that was really valuable that helped hone a skill that I didn’t even know that I had and a passion that I didn’t know I had. So, but I was still in the sales organization. So, then I went to Minneapolis, and I sold candy to Target. And then I left, and I went to the consumer electronics world, and I worked for Netgear for thirteen years. And for the first eight years, all I did was call on Costco, Walmart, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Comp USA, all these different retailers. And then I got asked to do Dell during that time as well. And now Dell for us, you think of- I mean, first of all, if you know a lot about Dell it probably says something about how old you are. I mean, Dell today wasn’t the Dell of the nineties. It’s a very different business model, but still, they’re e-commerce in a way. So that was my first real experience with e-commerce. But then I was asked to run Amazon. Netgear realized that there was a lot they didn’t know, but they knew they were losing share, market share, and they knew they had to figure this thing out fast because they did the forward-looking projections and figured out that, hey, in five years, if we don’t figure this out, we’re going to be dead. So, they asked me to do it and they gave me a blank check to go create the organization and the processes, I mean, everything you need to do to not just stand up an Amazon business, but to change the organization, to change the culture of the organization, to teach people how to do things differently, everybody from channel marketing to IT to legal to finance. I mean, I was touching every organization within the company because while the concepts are still the same as they are in physical retail, the processes are a little bit different. So, you got to do things a little differently. I’ll give you an example. New item launch process, every company goes through this, and there was kind of a B2B or a small business product division at Netgear. And they were used to launching products with about two weeks’ notice to the sales team. I mean, it was like put it on the distributor price list, tell the sales team with about two weeks before the thing hits the market. Well, what have they not done in that scenario? They haven’t collected a forecast from anybody. They haven’t educated the sales team on what the product is. And so, when you- now let’s take that same example and let’s say, well, how do we do this in e-commerce? Well, in e-commerce you needed to tell us six months ago. Because we need to develop a forecast. We need to get that product here. The exact right amount of product that we need needs to be here on day one, because in e-commerce the first 30 days of a product’s infancy on Amazon is the most critical. It’s when the algorithms are tuned to look at that product and say, okay, this is a new product, is it a hot mover? Because Amazon doesn’t do new products very well. So, they’ve retuned some of those algorithms. When you have a new product, it wants to catch that trend and it will help boost you up in the organic ranking. It’ll help you with keyword attribution and SEO. Well, if I don’t know about the product until two weeks before the thing launches, well, I don’t have enough stock. I don’t know enough about the product to put in the right keywords on the backend. I don’t know enough to build my campaign. So, we had to really teach parts of the organization you got to do this different. And so, by the time we were done, the B2B guys were saying, okay, we’re going to give you three months heads up on a product as opposed to two weeks. So that’s a microcosm of the examples of how you have to do things different. And I got that experience at Netgear. They really gave me free run of the place to figure this stuff out. And so, after doing that for five years, we grew it into a $400 million business just on Amazon. So not even just the rest of e-com, just on Amazon. And it was then that I realized that the experiences that I had were pretty unique. As I started asking around, talking to people at Amazon, talking to other companies, it was a unique experience, and I knew that I could take that unique experience, and what I really wanted to do is I really wanted to help other brands figure that out because I could see where this whole e-commerce business was going. And if some of these beloved brands didn’t figure this stuff out quick, they’re going to get left in the dust. And that’s happening in a lot of- unfortunately, it’s happening in the industry today.
Neil Dudley: Well, it paints that picture, it points towards the mindset, brands, Pederson’s, anybody out there that’s listening and has a brand or wants to launch a brand, you’ve got to be willing to own that mindset of, hey, we may have to change. We may have to get– we may have to find somebody that understands this. Certainly, now we’re a little bit lucky in this regard, you and Cody went to school together, so y’all were friends kind of prior to us embarking on this journey within our e-commerce landscape at Pederson’s and that kind of thing. So, I guess, how do you say it? Gig ‘em Aggies, for all you people out there that- you could hear the real excitement in my voice when I said that.
Travis Rudolph: Neil went to Texas Tech.
Neil Dudley: But the A&M culture is pretty cool. And for all you Aggies, you certainly know what I’m talking about. Okay so we’ve started building Pederson’s into an e-commerce- Well, we need that e-commerce touch. We need that ability to go direct to consumer. And it’s complicated. The supply chain has all kinds of issues. Amazon hadn’t even figured those out for refrigerated and frozen fulfillment, last mile, all these kinds of buzz words you hear. Do you think- what do you think is coming? I know we’re out here at Grocery Shop right now in Vegas trying to learn some of these things and hear from the other experts in the world, which right now, I think there aren’t any real experts at this because it’s evolving daily. What is the next step? How are we going to solve some of these fulfillment problems?
Travis Rudolph: Yeah, one of the themes that I see over and over again just in the past few years, but then COVID has really sped this up, you look back to March of 2020, and if you were anywhere near the Amazon solar system, then probably this happened to you or you know somebody it happened to, which is Amazon just up and said, all right, if you’re not an essential good, you can’t ship your product into our fulfillment centers. And if you’re a retail, if you’re on the vendor side, if you’re a retail partner, we’re just not going to order from you. And that could be six weeks, could be twelve. Oh, by the way, you can file for an exemption if you’d like, and unless you just knew somebody, they just said no. I think that really woke a lot of brands up to a couple of things. One, everybody had been talking about Omni e-commerce for several years, but very few brands were doing anything about it. When I say Omni e-commerce, what I’m saying is Amazon is really just part of the e-commerce strategy. But prior to 2020, I would argue most brands probably had an Amazon strategy, maybe a little bit of a direct-to-consumer strategy from their website, and that’s probably about it. And so, I think March of 2020 woke up a lot of brands that said, okay, we need to actually do something about Omni e-commerce. We can’t just rely on Amazon. They could shut us off at any minute. Oh, and by the way, our budget for paid search keeps going up and up and up because the competition is getting stiffer. And so, e-com is getting expensive, and sure, Amazon’s the 800 pound gorilla and they probably will be for a while, but we need to expand beyond that. So, we need to look at maybe – it depends on what industry you’re in – but maybe we need to look at partnering up with service providers if our product has a service element to it and start selling off of their website. I’ll give you a good example. Castrol Motor Oil, they partnered up with a company that’s doing like mobile service So, they can come to you, they can change your oil, whatever. So Castrol was smart enough and they could see around the corner. They said we need to not only be selling online, but we need to be selling through our partners. That’s one thing. Look at some of these other e-commerce platforms, eBay, Etsy, depending on your product.
Neil Dudley: What do you think about Alibaba?
Travis Rudolph: Well, I think Alibaba, I mean, Alibaba has been here a lot longer than most people probably remember. I remember being at the Consumer Electronics Show five, six years ago and they had a huge booth, so they’ve been trying to penetrate this market for a long time. But I think in terms of the United States versus, say, China, I think the battle lines have kind of been drawn and won. Amazon’s tried and tried and tried to get into China and they can’t. Alibaba’s still dumping money to try to figure out the US and they haven’t. And then you start looking at other battleground countries or continents like Europe, and there’s still some warring going on, but I’d say Amazon is pretty much kind of won over the Western world, and Alibaba’s won over certainly China and then going a little bit beyond that too. But so, Omni e-commerce, so you got to do more with the eBays and the Etsy’s, bestbuy.com, walmart.com. These retail .com sites are now picking up market share. They’re figuring it out, target.com. They’re starting to figure this stuff out and they’re starting to gain some share and get some actual customers.
Neil Dudley: Well, we’ve lived that every- Okay so, when the pandemic hit, the amount of people, brands, retailers that went to immediately stand up all their e-commerce platforms, say Target, Walmart, I mean, those are all good ones, too. As a brand, you’ve got to be paying attention to those because if you’re in those stores, they’re putting up pictures from their people. Like you’re not in charge of that. Instacart’s a really tough one for us because Pederson’s specifically, we have a lot of old pictures of our products that are what represents our brand on those platforms. So, it takes quite a bit of work and really diligence to catch all that kind of stuff. And I don’t know if you even can, you just have to be trying to, I think. What do you think about that?
Travis Rudolph: I think whoever can own the customer is going to win in the end. And so, you can have a great platform. You can have a lot of traffic, there’s a lot of things you can do. You can pay for a lot of traffic. But it’s Pederson’s for example, as you guys- if you’ve got a hundred thousand eyeballs and credit card numbers and ears that are listening to your message that fall in love with your brand, that fall in love with your product, that you’re shipping to them in two days in a frozen cooler that looks really nice and they appreciate the quality of not just the product itself but the experience of how you got them the product as well, they’re going to fall in love with you, and they’re going to come back time and time again in order. Now, of course, they’d love to see your product, too, on Amazon just so they can read some of the reviews and maybe see your product over on Costco, which it is, and go see your product in other places. Customers are looking for that. Customers are getting really savvy about the difference between somebody who’s got their act together in e-commerce versus somebody that doesn’t. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference. And for example, think about your own shopping habits. What did I buy? I bought something recently and I thought I got to go check out this brand’s website because I’ve never seen the brand before it. Okay, it had 2000 reviews on Amazon, so clearly somebody’s buying it. But do I even trust that anymore? I mean, think about how much trust has eroded in our country in so many different areas over the last year and a half too. So you’ve got to- so I went and checked out the brand’s website and I thought, oh no, this is a huge red flag, I’m not going to buy it from them. I mean, he couldn’t find a phone number, couldn’t find any warranty information. And I was like, all right, I’m out, I’m going to go find another product. And that’s what customers are doing. I mean, they’re shopping around, they’re looking, and it it’s so easy to do. And so, your strategy and your brand can’t be just a house of cards. It’s got to be well thought through, you’re talking about content, so video content.
Neil Dudley: That’s why we’re doing this on YouTube. We’re doing it on the podcast platforms. Part of the goal, the reason for doing the podcast is to give people that trust in our brand that’s- it’s the reason we’re doing this. I’m hoping you can see Pederson’s is real. We have people behind the scenes like Travis that are helping us get better and making sure we know the things that we know we don’t know, and there’s a million – a million is probably a big number, there aren’t a million vendors that work with Pederson’s, but there are a lot of them and they’re all very important, and just from small little things to really big decisions, you pretty much infiltrate our whole team with perspective. I’m not sure we always do it just like you’d want it. But I think that’s impressive to me too. How do you kind of take that mindset? See, I’m tough- I have a hard time with that mindset that I’m giving everybody the tools and if they use them, cool; if they don’t, cool. To me, that’s the scary part about consultant work. Do you own that consultant title, or do you feel like that’s not so good or-?
Travis Rudolph: Oh, I guess I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or another.
Neil Dudley: Would you call yourself a consultant?
Travis Rudolph: Sure, yeah. I mean, what I do is consulting work for sure. I’ve learned a lot in the last three years about what am I getting hired to do versus what am I really doing, that’s been a fascinating thing. Well, I’ll give you some examples if you want to hear them.
Neil Dudley: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think the people listening, I just want them to hear your story, get a glimpse behind the scenes of what goes on at Pederson’s and how we’re trying to stay in front of them. Listen, if you’re a consumer, we want to be in front of you. We want you to have an opportunity to get to know us and feel comfortable with us. This might be one way. Anyways, tell some stories about just being a consultant, what that gig is like.
Travis Rudolph: Yeah, because I did a lot of research on consulting firms before I started and talked to people – PricewaterhouseCoopers, or Bain, just wanted to kind of get a feel for what do people think about consultants? What do they really do? Like what really, what value do they really add? And so that I could form my own opinions about what does consulting mean to me. And come to find out, my definition of consulting and their definition consulting doesn’t line up a hundred percent. Like I don’t really want to be on somebody’s payroll for a decade. That’s not my goal. A lot of these consulting companies, they want to get in, they want to stick around. They want to keep- of course they’re adding value, but they want to keep finding ways to add value and stay on the payroll. And that was never my goal. Like I want to help as many people as I can. And if I’m stuck on somebody’s payroll for a decade, that’s a ton of brands that I’m not helping. And so that’s why I want to- usually I want to get in- Now, Pederson’s has been different because your industry is so, so much more challenging because of the supply chain, that refrigerated and frozen component in terms of storage and transportation and delivery. Doing that is really tough. And as I’m walking, John and I were talking, as I’m walking- there’s a guy over here named John.
Neil Dudley: You can’t see him. He’s not on camera. He doesn’t say anything, but he’s in the room.
Travis Rudolph: I was commenting to him today, I was like nobody’s figured this out. I mean, I’ve talked to enough people at the show and I’m like nobody’s figured this out. So it’s tough.
Neil Dudley: They’ve been talking about figuring it out for at least 10 years. I mean, I remember conversations not at this show but other shows where like the last mile delivery is going to be the thing that is the conundrum that nobody has got figured out. I mean, I believe it will be figured out. People like Door Dash are coming up with pretty good solutions. So, it’s going to get there. I’ll even, I hope somebody at FedEx, I just would pray the CEO of FedEx will hear this because it’s so frustrating to have no leg to stand on as a brand that’s trying to take care of consumers. And I mean, I understand they have tough challenges too, like limited labor, just the pandemic boom to their business in a way I wouldn’t have a solution for. But I so wish you would figure that out because we need you to take responsibility for getting things delivered in two days when we buy two-day air, or ground, and it’s in a zone we’re supposed to deliver in two or three days.
Travis Rudolph: And about a little bit less than 10% of our orders right now are delivering on day 3, 4, 5, and 6. That’s not a good customer experience. Those are all one-star reviews, that’s the way to think of it.
Neil Dudley: I don’t know. I’m calling FedEx out a little bit, but the truth is I’m worried, I care about the consumer and they’re the one actually getting screwed here because they’ve planned a meal or a family gathering around these products that we’re trying to get to them and then they show up hot. They don’t have them. It’s just a big spiral of bad experience.
Travis Rudolph: Yeah. Well, you’re asking about the consulting stuff earlier. I didn’t- so a couple of funny stories. What I get hired to do on paper and what I ended up doing is usually two different things. So, and I’m not going to name any names, but one example was I got hired to come in because this company who had been on Amazon for 15 years, knew what they were doing, had a good team, but their yearend comps were all of a sudden in the negative and they couldn’t figure it out. So, there was one technical thing that I figured out for them, and they made that change, and it was almost an immediate spike in their business. But the real issue was the owner of the company was meddling around and thought he knew everything about the Amazon business, but nobody wanted to go tell the owner of the company.
Neil Dudley: So, you got hired to just tell him- really your job was to tell the owner of the company that he didn’t know what he was doing.
Travis Rudolph: Yep. So, that’s a great example of- And honestly, I love those challenges. I don’t want to do simple things. Like I love hard problems. And so, give me a super hard problem that nobody else can solve, and that’s what I want to do because I want to help these brands kind of unlock this capability and really unlock that culture within their company too. And that’s another big one that’s really hard to do, especially as a consultant, is how do you start to change culture? Because I don’t know what percentage, but when you think about US companies, and somebody said it today in one of the keynotes, he said what are manufacturers really good at? Okay, well, they’re good at coming up with a product, they’ve got the supply chain, and then they sell it to the retailer and their job is done. They kind of wipe their hands and see you later, pay them the MDF and the slotting fees and all that, okay, I’ll cut you a check for all this different stuff. And then I’ve got my- then I go home and got my brand marketing team, and they’re trying to build a brand. But e-commerce is you have to go all the rest of the way. Where that retailer stood in the gap for you for the last 20 or 30 years, they’re not there anymore. Amazon’s not there to hold your hand. I mean the opposite.
Neil Dudley: Listen, if like just if you go to Amazon and you stump your toe, turn you off, just cancel your whole account, or put it on hold. You didn’t deliver. You had two orders undelivered or something and they don’t care. And there’s no human you can call and talk to. And that’s where you guys, John as well, have been so valuable to us in walking us through that, like, okay, write this letter, put this information in it, send it to this person. Oh, I know another person I might could get to look at it. We would just be dead without that. And typically, consultant to me sounds like unnecessary, I mean-
Travis Rudolph: No offense taken, no worries.
Neil Dudley: Okay, good. No offense meant, but it’s truly how it comes into my mind is like- but in this case
Travis Rudolph: Do you think I should change the title, the name?
Neil Dudley: No, you should totally not. It’s like the word, it is sometimes just weird how we all interpret different words or just have this feeling tied to a word. Like I think some people don’t want to be called an influencer. I think influencers are awesome. So, it’s just interesting. I don’t have this great affinity for brokers, but there’s a huge place in the market. There’s a lot of successful ones. There’s a lot of great ones. So, I forget really where I was going with that outside of probably just highlighting if you have that same feeling as me, you need to release it because this is a scenario in which our consultant is super valuable to us. And we’re doing business that we are getting things done and our hands held through processes that we wouldn’t know how to navigate otherwise.
Travis Rudolph: Yeah, humility is big. And that’s something that you guys are – you guys, I mean Pederson’s – everybody that I’ve interacted with there has a huge helping of humble, which helps you in a lot of ways, helps me. I got to stay humble as a consultant because guess what? There’s so much to learn and know in this industry. And sometimes people will ask me questions that I don’t know the answer to. And it’s the humility that says, all right, I got to tell this guy, I don’t, he’s looking at me like I’m the expert, and the reality is like nobody knows everything. Nobody does. And so, and you guys figured that out.
Neil Dudley: By the time, it it’s wrong again. That’s the truth of it.
Travis Rudolph: But you guys have figured that out, which I think is really important. And so as long as you can stay humble and know that you don’t know everything and go find somebody that can help you figure out the stuff you don’t know. And I work with a lot of partners in my business, people that are really good at understanding things that I don’t fully understand. And so, I lean on them. So, I take the approach of just, in the same way, it takes a family to raise a child, I look at it like, hey, I’m going to have to bring in lots of different resources to get the exact right answer that this company needs in order to be successful. And I’ll do whatever it takes to help them figure that out.
Neil Dudley: Yeah. Well, Travis, thanks for the time. We’re trying to keep these- I mean, I got about 10 questions still percolating in my head, but we’re trying to do these in kind of a 30-minute conversation so it’s not a real long listen. Maybe we’ll have to have you back and explore some of these other thoughts in my mind. Have you got maybe some just thought you think could be valuable that’s been rolling around in your head lately that’s like I wish brands would just understand this, that maybe the listeners could get some value from? I feel like we’re going to have people- we’ll have people that eat Pederson’s products, people, customers of ours, retailers listening to this, vendors, people like yourself that are just in the ecosystem of better for you brands and such, and they might want to think how do I provide value to people? I mean, it’s a wild, big, broad question. If you don’t have something, that’s fine. I always like to throw it out there.
Travis Rudolph: And what I’m about to say came to me in a flight from Bentonville, I think Bentonville to San Jose. And I was sitting next to this guy from Diamond Foods. He was some big VP, he’d been there 30 years, and to his credit, he had a lot of wisdom, and he shared with me one thing that made it all click in my mind, which is that when you’re doing e-commerce, you are selling directly to the customer. And let me clarify. A lot of people say customer, they think distributor or they think the retailer – no, I’m talking about the consumer, the person who’s consuming your product. That is your new customer. You’ve got to start thinking in that way. So great that Walmart’s your retailer and great that so-and-so is your distributor, etc., or whatever, you’ve got to start thinking how do I make the consumer happy? And when you do that, all of a sudden, everything in your mind changes in terms of how you start thinking about the way you’re building your business, the processes that you have built into your business, everything changes almost overnight because you’re like wait a minute, okay, it’s not about my buyer at Walmart anymore. It’s about the consumer. It goes back to what I said earlier, like who can own the consumer. And so, if you are Pederson’s, I want to talk to as many consumers as I can, because guess what, whatever they decide they’re going to buy and eat is exactly what the buyer at Walmart is going to buy to put in her store. And so, the more of those customers that you can have a direct relationship with, no matter where they’re buying, if they’re buying off of your site, great. If they’re buying at a Wegmans, great. If they’re buying an HEB, great. But building that rapport and building a network of consumers will teach you so much more about your brand than you’re ever going to learn from anybody else. They’re going to tell you about packaging. They’re going to tell you about the taste. They’re going to tell you about, well, my three-year-old can’t eat this and my seven-year-old can, but I got to stop buying it because my three-year-old can’t. But if you made this one little change in the ingredients, then I could feed this to my three-year-old and now I’m a diehard customer. I mean, it’s those insights. And then what will happen, what should happen is you fall in love with that, with that relationship with your consumer, you fall in love with it. That’s what you- now what you’re seeking out is you want that relationship, you want that feedback. And when you do that, you’re going to be really successful in e-commerce because that’s what it’s really all about.
Neil Dudley: Absolutely. I’ve been saying that word absolutely in like every show. I’ve been trying to get away from it, but it’s just my natural response, like that’s so absolutely right. I would say, along that thread, go read the book They Ask You Answer by a guy named Marcus Sheridan; it catalogs his framework for customer service and digital marketing. And it’s just brilliant because basically he says if your customer asks it, answer quickly and most transparently and fully as you possibly can.
Travis Rudolph: As if they were standing in front of you at a kiosk that you were in the mall somewhere.
Neil Dudley: And put it in a blog, put it on a video, and let them come find it because if they can’t, they’ll go to the competitor that is telling them and answering those questions. Great insight there. Hey everybody, thanks for listening. Come back, check us out next time. We’re going to keep doing this, giving you insight into all the great people that Pederson’s gets to just do business with.
Travis Rudolph: Thanks, Neil.
Neil Dudley: Hey everybody, thanks for listening to this episode of the Pederson Natural Farms podcast. If you don’t mind, go hit that subscribe button and check us out at petersonsfarms.com. Thanks for listening.
(0:57) – Introducing Travis and his thoughts on e-commerce & Amazon
(2:30) – Travis’ career background
(5:17) – The New Item launch process and its application to e-commerce
(8:58) – Pederson’s journey into e-commerce and Travis’ thoughts on solving fulfillment problems
(12:17) – Alibabba and Amazon competitors
(15:45) – Brand’s need to build trust with customers
(17:06) – Travis’ thoughts on being a consultant and Pederson’s unique challenges
(27:22) – Wrap Up & How to think about your customer
See Pedersons on Amazon HERE
Learn more about Travis’s business Trek Strategy HERE
The Pederson’s Natural Farms Podcast is produced by Straight Up Podcasts & Root and Roam.