Danny Smyth was on a quest - for the perfect medium with which to paint surfboards. When nothing on the market satisfied him, he designed the paint pens now known as Surfpaints.
What were the challenges Danny faced in creating and selling his product? And where is his business at now? Tune in and gain inspiration for your own ecommerce endeavor.
It was the dad of a fan who led James to this episode’s guest and his great product. [02:02]
When the solution you’re looking for doesn’t exist, create it! [02:55]
If your business can’t support you just yet, it’s ok to hold down a job. [07:24]
What is contest marketing, and how did it boost exposure for Surfpaints? [08:54]
There’s nothing like a good demo to interest people in what you have. [12:15]
Danny sells both online and wholesale – how does one compare to the other? [14:27]
Having an influencer endorsement or two can do wonders. [19:02]
What does Surfpaints’ R&D look like? [21:51]
Getting a team could be the next big milestone in Danny’s business journey. [25:34]
Need an ads guy? James knows someone good. [29:50]
Today, James and his guest talk about paint. Surfpaints, that is, and how a set of acrylic paint pens became a hugely promising small business.
James became aware of Danny Smyth through a friend whose kid surfed, and used Danny’s product. Kids – and quite a few adults – love to draw on their surfboards. And it was this love that sent Danny on a quest – to find, and then failing that, to create, the perfect medium with which to paint surfboards.
Now when James first talked with Danny, he told him upfront that e-commerce wasn’t really his thing. But they discussed email marketing, and the product’s website, and how Surfpaints was being sold and to whom.
And the reason for this episode is James knows a lot of listeners have good products, but they’re not exactly sure how to market them.
The best product for what people want to do
What Danny found, looking for the perfect surfboard paint, was various products and a lot of conflicting advice. And many surf stores didn’t even carry painting material.
The blogs on the topic were a decade old, and only professional artists dominated the scene. Danny realized there was an opportunity there. He was going to make it easier to paint a surfboard, and create a solution for the would-be artists who didn’t know where to start.
Danny identified the best paint as a high-quality acrylic. He set about naming it, marketing it, getting it into surf stores and onto surfers’ feeds, and enticing moms looking to gift their surfer kids.
He didn’t expect it to go as well as it has, but he took a page out of a friend’s book and went heavy on the online marketing early, which he says was lucky. E-commerce is incredible, he says, when you have the right product. His efforts got Surfpaints onto Facebook feeds and Google, where surf stores would see it and get in touch, saying they wanted it in their inventory.
When to jump
Danny was a high school teacher when it all started. And he would say now to people, if you have enough confidence in your product, and you’re getting enough interest, you’re getting enough feedback…there’s just so much passion and you’re getting emails, you’re getting Instagram messages, you’ve got to go for it.
“It’s not easy, it doesn’t happen overnight. There has to be some risk. – James Schramko”
Saying that, he knew his acrylic pens weren’t turning over a 90-grand wage a year, so it was a risk. But there was something there. He’d heard James say on a podcast episode, it’s not easy, it doesn’t happen overnight. There has to be some risk. And that’s not to say, get in massive debt for the sake of the product. But you might have to do some part-time work to launch it – some lifeguarding, some bar work, something on the side.
Surfpaints now has gone from side-hustle to a real company, and Danny says it’s because he spends every day on it. Hopefully, he says, with James’s help, he can get some of his time back.
“It’s okay to have a job or generate an income and not have to survive off your business. – James Schramko”
It’s healthy advice, says James – it’s okay to have a job or generate an income and not have to survive off your business.
The common mistake he sees people commit is jumping without a parachute, something he doesn’t recommend till you at least have a working prototype.
What James also sees in Danny is a thirst for knowledge and the ability to implement. They stay in touch via email, and every time they speak, James sees a measurable progress from their last chat. If he send Danny away to do or check or try something, Danny does it.
That’s a big differentiator, James says, between people who do and don’t make it to the goal. Danny may be crawling over broken glass, and testing things, but he’s making strides. When you walk into surf stores, at least in Australia, you’ll see his product on the shelf. And he’s busy developing other markets.
Something other business owners could learn from
There’s a couple of things Danny does that James thinks other business owners could learn from. One is contest marketing. How did Danny introduce that into his socials?
There’s two things, actually, says Danny. There’s his social media competitions, and there’s his ebook, on how to paint a surfboard. He knew, putting out the book, that the number one hurdle for many was, Oh, that’s a cool idea. But I can’t draw to save my life.
He says he, himself, is not an artist. He just loves putting color on his board, scribbling, just to make it unique. Hence his motto, Make it your own.
A surfboard is the perfect canvas, he says, and it doesn’t have to be perfect, because it’s going to get thrashed. Just put something on it.
“Just get it going. – Danny Smyth”
His marketing would be putting board designs up. He’d put up his boards, friends’ boards, other boards that were painted, not necessarily with his product, just to get it going. That’s what he’d say to listeners: just get it going. And all of a sudden, he had enough content.
People started buying Surfpaints, and painting, and tagging Danny in their work. Danny thought, let’s give an incentive, like a design of the month competition judged by you guys. People wanted to be on his Instagram page, and it was all done for the passion.
Now Danny’s Instagram following is quite big. And it’s like a multiplier effect. He gets up to 15 tags a day in board art and #surfpaints.
Showing people what you can do
One of the problems people bring to Danny is they just don’t know what to do. Then let’s show you what you can do, he says.
The power of demonstration, says James.
Danny’s product is very visual, and what sets it apart is a lot of the board art out there is done by professionals – Surfpaints is largely for the everyday surfer/artist, amateurs who just want to paint and personalize their board.
Danny will share amazing art, because people love it. But he’ll also share the smiley face scribbled by a six-year-old, because it inspires a large chunk of his audience. When they see the stuff that’s highly achievable, they’ll think, I could actually do that.
It’s the same reason James doesn’t highlight ballers worth $100 million a year. His case studies feature real people doing real, achievable things, because it’s inspiring to regular people.
Online versus wholesale
Now people will go into a store looking for Surfpaints, says James, and the ones that don’t carry it will have to come to Danny to stock up.
Exactly, says Danny. It’s his kind of strategy at the moment, the online and the wholesale. Sometimes his online return is two to one, or three to one, but he’ll sell 20 grand worth of wholesale that month. If you can get the wholesale ticking over, and your online is still pretty strong for the ones that don’t want to go in, then you can kind of find a happy medium, he says.
He used to go heavy on online. Surf stores were getting his product, but he wouldn’t provide a display stand, or give them resources to post about Surfpaints. He wasn’t talking to them as much about the product as he should have. He’s learning how important all of that is, now.
It’s critical, says James. And for his clients who have physical products and retail channels, who sell online and to resellers, one of the questions is, how to be in the market without competing with the stores? How do they support the reseller but have their direct sales as well?
Getting the influencers to endorse you
Can Danny speak to influencer endorser marketing?
Danny has a few surfers, professionals, or of high social following, that he send pens to, usually for free. Basically, you want them to use your product and then post it. And right now, he’s getting a lot of this kind of exposure organically.
He considers himself lucky, because he doesn’t pick athletes on sponsorship deals with big brands. He chooses ones that are up and coming, who aren’t chasing contracts. That’s where he feels he’s at.
He’s done well, says James. One of Danny’s partners who he’s met has taken out the Australian championships and the world, and is off to the junior worlds.
He got lucky with that one, says Danny. The dad, an entrepreneur himself, reached out to him, and probably saw the authenticity of Danny and his product. Danny’s hung out with him since at his house. And that’s how that awesome relationship started.
As far as influencers, however, for 2022 Danny aims to focus on the affiliate marketing program. Part of his business strategy, will be creating a system where products get sent out to X, and they’re required to produce content for his brand, with some instructions. In return, they can make 10 percent on the sales.
Sign me up for that one, says James. He has a surf website that actually gets more views than SuperFastBusiness. He’d be happy to run affiliate banners and some write-ups.
Let’s do it, says Danny.
A look at the product development
James wants to talk about R&D.
Two things, says Danny. For him, paint, there’s so many colors and sizes out there. When does he start implementing the biggest colors, the biggest sizes? He’s got so much, a plan for the future, but it involves money, and it involves money upfront with manufacturers overseas.
Stock inventory or inventory purchase is easily the most difficult thing when you have a product that you sell, especially overseas. It takes three or four months to make, and they require, usually, an upfront deposit.
And then where do you send it to? And how do you distribute it from there, says James. The on-costs and holding costs and all the rest of it can be a nightmare.
So start with what you can afford at the start, says Danny, and see if it’s selling. And then you’ll probably make a few mistakes with reorders, maybe reorder too little and then sell out. And then you might reorder too much, and have a bit of a cash flow problem.
The first year, unfortunately, is a bit of trial and error, and doing what you can afford, and maybe a bit more than you can afford and back yourself in. And worst case is you’ll need to get that part-time job and pay it off.
Danny is at a stage where he needs to go big, and in advance, which may involve a bank loan, or some financial support, or a negotiation with the manufacturer. That’s what he’s working through.
When it comes to product development, at least digitally, James has found it’s sometimes simpler to have less offerings and know there’s things you could sell, but it’s going to extra time and effort and challenge. And there’s probably something that sells the most and will be easiest to double down on before considering the fringe stuff.
That’s important, says Danny. Know your biggest seller and double down on it.
The question of team
At what point, if at all, has Danny started to assemble team, asks James? This is along the line of support, or people handling admin or other sort of marketing activities or warehousing.
That’s the hardest thing easily for growing a business, says Danny. His team at the moment is a paid marketing subcontractor, and a fulfillment center in Western Australia. But he’s at the point where he’s probably getting enough customer support emails to warrant hiring.
He’s looked into virtual assistants from the Philippines, something he’d like to get into more with James.
Danny currently does the graphic design, the customer support, the research and development, calls to search stores, making deals happen, Facebook posts and Instagram posts, conversations and the like with James.
His biggest question is whether he can trust someone in the Philippines to do a surf market ad content?
A hundred percent, says James. They’ve built his entire surf website. They’ve done all his reviews, all the research, the posts, the traffic, the backlinks, the emails, everything. None of them surfed before they met James. Totally, they can learn a market.
Text-based customer support is the easiest thing to hire for. And then they can learn other functions. They can expand into marketing and emails, they can follow up stores, they can do invoices, they can do bookkeeping, they can do website development, they can do socials. There’s no way James could have the life he has without his team.
Wages in Australia are 100 grand, says Danny, and it’s time to find them, and then it’s trust to let them have a go at it. If James is saying you can get that overseas for a quarter of the price, it’s a no-brainer. And it’s something he probably needs to start.
They’ll talk about it, says James. He and his wife have an agency that will find him a general VA he can plug into his business and add to over time.
Wrapping things up
Danny’s story is really helpful, says James, who’s inspired by what Danny does, having tracked his story from almost the start. And it’s a story with plenty of chapters left.
“Keep your model range slimmer until you’re really confident about where you need to go next. – James Schramko”
He thinks there’ll be opportunities from a discussion like this for others. They’ll get an idea, maybe help people, show them how to use a product, create a little competition. They might think up deals to get better supply. And another takeaway: keep your model range slimmer until you’re really confident about where you need to go next. And start building team when you find you’re doing too many tasks.
You can discover more about Danny’s product at Surfpaints.com.au.
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