Hi! Tell me about you and your business.
My name is Keegan Pafford and I am a co-founder of w.o.d.welder, LLC - a 4-year-old business operating in the health and wellness space with a specific regard to skin care. I’m 27 years old and live with my lovely wife, slobbery dog, and two cuddly cats in the seacoast of New Hampshire.
I like to describe w.o.d.welder as an “athletic essential” company. Since inception, we have concentrated on making the best natural skin care for athletes and active lifestyles, but we’ve grown to cater to more than just an athlete’s skin.
We spend months honing in on what our customer base needs and wants in regards to their own personal care. Then, we do our best to act on it and bring a product to market that outperforms, outlasts, and outshines our competition.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Like many entrepreneurs, my backstory has little to do with business.
Although I believe I’ve always had a business mind, I never took any business courses in college and quite frankly, never planned on attending college in the first place.
I was in and out of trouble during high school and ended up spending some time in jail/rehab after graduation. When I was released, I started to put the pieces of my life back together and decided to go to a two-year community college to study Phys. Ed. and play baseball.
I can’t stress enough, if you’re going to do anything, make sure it is of the highest quality and value to your customers - the dividends will come back to you.
Things went well at the two-year school in both academics and athletics, and I ended up transferring to a D1 school to continue my education and baseball career. To my own surprise, the academic aspect of my life was going great, but the athletic program wasn’t a good fit, so I decided to move back home to start my life with my girlfriend (now my wife). I ended up with an Associates Degree in Phys. Ed./Exercise Science and a lot of free time.
We joined a Crossfit gym, and that’s where w.o.d.welder started.
The year is 2013, and my wife and I have been doing Crossfit for about a month or so before the inevitable happens - I rip my calluses open trying to push for more reps on the pull-up bar. It was horrible. I'd like to think of myself as a decently tough guy, but man, having the deep tear of a callus that has been ripped off was super painful and something I never wanted to experience again.
I was immediately given care recommendations but couldn’t find a product or system that was effective and natural enough to my liking. We have some skin care professionals in our family who suggested we make a product of our own to fix the callus tear problem within functional fitness- so we did!
Describe the process of creating the product and starting the business.
Once we decided to create a product to care for ripped calluses, we spent months analyzing the needs of Crossfitters when it came to caring for their hands.
We researched the competition to see what we thought they were doing right and wrong. We analyzed the market to make sure there was room for our product line to not only grow but to thrive. We asked members from our gym and other gyms around us what they would want in a hand care line for a functional fitness enthusiast.
Then we got to work.
We had some great contacts within the natural body care space who we utilized to help establish the base formula for our products.
From there we took the fragrance, design, and labeling into our own hands. My mother-in-law runs a skincare/natural lifestyle company of her own, so utilizing her knowledge of the industry and contacts gave us a quick boost. I would recommend any entrepreneur looking to dive into starting a business to try to speak with professionals in the same space before you move forward. Not only will you establish relationships in the market, but it can help cut down on the initial mistakes or failures that will inevitably happen.
Things were going along great. To fragrance our products, we ordered multiple samples of natural essential oils from various suppliers. I happen not to have a very good sense of smell, so choosing the fragrance was up to my wife and other family members. We wanted a fragrance that was therapeutic in many different aspects and wound up with our famous peppermint/eucalyptus scent.
We chose this combination for its fragrant reminder of a “spa” type atmosphere as well as its natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties - it was perfect. We’ve since seen some other companies in our space try to copy our fragrances, but I’m confident our customer base recognizes us as the originals.
The design aspect of our initial hand care kit and its components was both fun and a little tricky. In the beginning, we just put all the components in a plastic blueberry box with a business card explaining the products. We’ve since been able to upgrade our hand care kit box to a professional, self-locking foldable box.
We hired a professional designer (Elissa Von Letkemann Art & Design) to help us render the artwork and had meeting after meeting nailing down the aesthetics of our brand. The goal for the w.o.d.welder brand image was to create a product line that was appealing to both men and women. Since skin care can be thought of as a market that caters primarily to women, our goal for the brand was to create products that looked tough and durable while still displaying eye-catching colors. Luckily for the market we were about to enter, hand care is a necessity no matter your gender.
We sourced our packaging by doing many Google searches for containers relevant to our line. If you search "salve container” on Google, you’ll be swimming in a million results. We filtered through those, looking at seemingly every design possible before choosing what we thought would be the best option. From there we made a list of where to source the packaging and the pros and cons of each supplier. Being a bootstrapped business, we went with a supplier that could give us the most bang for our buck. We shipped our initial packaging to our manufacturer, and they filled the units with the formulas we had collaborated on and then shipped them back to us to label and sell.
Once we were happy with a product line, we had to figure out how to sell it. It was suggested that we use Wix as an online platform because it is free and would get us off the ground for nothing but sweat equity in the design and build of the site.
Keep in mind w.o.d.welder was and still is totally bootstrapped, I was working at a grocery store full time while we were in the product development stage and stayed at the grocery store for I believe six months after our launch in January 2014. Anyways, we built out our Wix site and began selling.
The way we launch a product now is totally different from our initial launch in January 2014. When we launched the site back then, I had an “If you build it, they will come” mindset. Aside from friends and family, I didn’t tell anybody within the industry about the launch of the product. We didn’t create a newsletter or list of people who were interested, didn’t pay anybody to help announce the launch, nothing.
I pushed the “go live” button on our Wix account, and started posting on Instagram. I’ll never forget the first order for one of our salves, the man's name was Steven and I thought it might have been a robot haha. I was in shock.
Within 12 hours of publishing our site, we had our first order from somebody halfway across the country from us. I think that is still the single most powerful thing that continues to motivate me, I’ve never wavered in my belief that when you put out excellent products/service people will find you. This sounds crazy, but to have just one order within 24 hours exceeded my expectations - I was happy. We went on to do $86,000 in sales in our first year of business.
How have you grown the business to where it is today?
We literally built our business on the Instagram platform.
For hours on end, we would stay involved with everything our market was doing on social media. We are blessed to have a very active market on social media. Anytime our products were mentioned or posted about on Instagram, we would make sure to immediately interact with that customer by reposting their photo, proving our worth.
Connecting with our customers certainly went a long way, but it is the overall quality of the product we produce that has gotten us to where we are today. I can’t stress enough, if you’re going to do anything, make sure it is of the highest quality and value to your customers - the dividends will come back to you.
As we built a buzz on social media we started getting mentions from big names within the Crossfit space. This was before influencer marketing was a legitimate aspect of a marketing strategy, but we were able to recognize the long-lasting effects of a post from one of these people.
We established relationships with other Instagram influencers and continued to nurse that strategy. Similarly, we reached out to bloggers, magazines, product reviewers, anybody who had an audience about reviewing our revolutionary product line. Some were excited to work with us, some had no interest, but overall every little bit matters.
From such a humble customer acquisition strategy we were able to build a consistent following and eventually get mentions from large media companies. We have since been featured in Paleo Magazine and Men’s Fitness to name a couple.
If you could go back, would you do anything differently?
Sure! I think all entrepreneurs would go back if they could and start a successful business with the knowledge they currently have. Problem is, we obtain that knowledge through trial and error, and wouldn’t have been able to get to our current positions without mistakes and failures. I actually value all the failures we’ve had because they didn’t kill us and have made us who we are today.
What would I do differently from the start? I would have read more books. In the early stages of the business, I was so immersed in every aspect within the company that I was never able to look at it from 30,000 feet. I wouldn’t take time to read about marketing efficiency; I would just hop on Instagram to like relevant content, comment, and engage with customers. Once I started reading business related books consistently, our company benefited tremendously.
How have you dealt with competition?
I think it’s important to keep an eye on the competition, but only one eye! Getting too involved in what other companies are doing within your niche can be debilitating.
We keep our fingers on the pulse of our customers, and in turn, I believe that is what propels our growth as a company. With that said, we vehemently protect our brand from other potential infringement on our property within the marketplace and I suggest doing the same.
We have sent C&D letters when deemed appropriate, and have also stopped doing business with customers of ours who developed lines we believed to be too similar to our own. We value the representation of our brand over all else and always try to distinguish ourselves.
While we do keep up with what our competitors are doing, it is our goal to be innovative, unique, and first to market. In the past, we have tried to “go with the flow” and add products that are trending in the marketplace, but this never seems to work for us. Our best sellers are always the products we develop from scratch through observation and anticipation.
Where you are at now and what are your plans for the future?
2017 was a tremendous growth year for the w.o.d.welder product line and the w.o.d.welder brand. Right now we are focused on expanding not only the w.o.d.welder product line, but we will be adding a new brand under the w.o.d.welder name to target a different niche. We are very excited about the opportunity to interact with a new customer base, and share our products with more people. This new brand will be launching in Feb. 2018.
Furthermore, we acquired and manage a separate company within the skin care field in Q4 2017. We’ve already seen growth and opportunity for that business as well and can’t wait to continue to grow w.o.d.welder and its subsidiaries.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our tools are always changing, that is the beauty of small business. We sell on Shopify, which I don’t see us ever changing.
Customer reviews are at the forefront of our company, and we value them tremendously. By using Yotpo from the beginning, we were able to generate reviews quickly, which in turn led us to more sales. When we were first beginning to establish our products and brand, we would offer huge discounts for reviews and shares. This was simple using Yotpo’s automated review generator and really worked well. Not only did we gain valuable reviews that led to more new customers, but at the same time, we were incentivizing the customers who already liked our products to come back and give us more of their business.
Similar to Yotpo, in the beginning we used Instagram exclusively as a platform for social proof. If a customer posted a picture of our product, we would immediately let our followers know how happy that customer was and create a feeling of “missing out” from people who hadn’t tried our stuff. FOMO if you will. :)
What have been the most influential books you've read for your business?
Get Smart by Brian Tracy.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
This is so overused but so true - just do it. I think learning as you go is the single most powerful way to gain knowledge. Use the internet as a resource if you can’t solve a problem and approach every day with passion. You’re bound to succeed if you have a fire in your belly, and if your first try gets rained on, don’t let the fire go out.
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