In 2014 Eric Steckling launched Brio, a Michigan-based direct-to-consumer seller of beard trimmers. In 2022 the company acquired Ollie, a subscription-based provider of teeth whiteners.
The brands are seemingly complementary. Both sell grooming products, but merging them was challenging.
In our recent conversation, Steckling addressed launching Brio, acquiring Ollie, and lessons learned along the way. The entire audio of our discussion is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us what you do.
Eric Steckling: I run two direct-to-consumer businesses. Our core brand is called Brio. We make grooming tools for men, namely a beard trimmer. Ollie is an oral care company that started as a subscription-based teeth whitening strip. We acquired that brand in 2022 and then rolled all of our toothbrush stuff into it. Since then, we’ve developed our own toothpaste and related products.
Initially after the acquisition we ran both brands from Brio’s site. But we realized it made sense to separate them, with the oral-care content on one site and the trimming and grooming items on another.
Ollie was on its own when we bought it. I made some missteps in integrating it with our business. We switched subscription platforms twice and lost many subscribers. We merged it with Brio, but now it’s on its own.
On the Brio side, we can acquire customers profitably from the first sale, but beard trimmers last for years. We have to acquire new customers constantly.
Ollie is the opposite. Getting folks to buy an electric toothbrush is tough. But they come back and purchase brush heads for years.
Bandholz: You’re in a competitive space. How do you stand out?
Steckling: My perspective has changed after 10 years. We can stand out because the big brands have made terrible products in the last 15 years, not necessarily on the high-end, but the $30 versions. The $20 to $50 trimmers from major brands are not very good. That leaves the door open for us. Plus, our customer service is superior. If a customer has a problem with his trimmer, I will help immediately. He would never get that with a major company.
I did a deep dive into Andis, a legacy U.S. trimmer brand. It’s a fascinating story. The company started in Racine, Wisconsin, about 100 years ago as an electric motor supplier. They were good at making motors. But they eventually shifted into a big-box retail business, making $20 items.
It’s an example of big companies leaving gaps in the market that ecommerce brands like us can fill.
Bandholz: You sell on your own sites and on Amazon.
Steckling: All of our Amazon sales are from our own marketing, more or less. In 2014 our revenue was 100% on Amazon. It’s shifted over the years. It’s now mostly on our websites.
We’re not getting any free sales on Amazon. Everyone that buys there looks for us. Our listings are not showing up when folks search for beard products. Still, if we’re not there, we’ll lose the sale for branded searches.
So we’re leaving money on the table if we’re not on Amazon. But it’s a huge pain. There’s a ton I hate about Amazon. We’ve had so much trouble. They lose inventory, deactivate listings, hackers take over our listings, change the photos. You name it, and it’s gone wrong. String and tape hold the system together. It was built 20 years ago and has so many unfixable legacy problems. Although this year, Amazon has been much better.
Bandholz: You have a good system for finding influencers.
Steckling: It helps to have relationship managers coordinating affiliates, influencers, and content.
The most important thing when finding the right influencers is the niche. What is their expertise relative to your products? That, to me, has been the most significant differentiator for conversions. We almost ignore the number of followers because expertise and persuasiveness are much more critical. We’ve had videos with millions of views that didn’t sell anything and others with thousands of views that sold a lot.
With Brio, the best influencers focus on men’s grooming. We’ve tried fitness, automotive, and other male audiences. They don’t work as well. For Ollie we’ve had dentists address niche topics and include our product. The video might get just a few thousand views, but conversion is massive.
Bandholz: Where can people buy your trimmers and teeth whiteners?