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Gonz: My business partner and I, we were salespeople. We were fulfillment. We were delivery. We were customer service. We were garbage man taking out the trash.

Announcer: The biggest names in eCommerce share tricks of the trade, from tools and software to strategies and growth hacks. Learn from the best, and take your business to the next level.

JD: What are the actual tactical things that you’re doing to attract people?

Announcer: Now your host, JD Crouse.

JD: Hello, and welcome to eCommerce In The Trenches. It’s JD Crouse. With me, I have Gonz Medina. We’re sitting in Los Angeles, California at the Content and Commerce event put on by Digital Marketer. Gonz, I’ve gotten to visit with you a little bit. I’m excited to tell your story and talk about how you go about doing eCommerce, so welcome to the podcast.

Gonz: Well, thanks for having me, JD.

JD: Yeah, absolutely. Talk to me about Blue Chip Wrestling. How did it come about?

Gonz: Well, it’s an interesting story. I actually wrote a business plan in college in 1993. I knew that I wanted to have this type of business. After college, I got sidetracked a little bit and went to work for corporate America. It was a blessing because it actually helped me raise the funds to get this business off the ground. I worked for a consulting firm, Andersen Consulting, which is now Accenture. I left them in April of 2000 and consulted back for a year, which gave me the funds to get this business off the ground. Spent that year traveling back and forth working on CRM systems for pharmaceutical companies and then, at night, working on the phone getting this business up and off the ground.

JD: On your website, I read a little bit about your story. I’d like to press in just a little but more because there was actually kind of some hard moments or some dark moments where you felt like … I don’t know if I could take the liberty of using some of my own language or language that I’ve stolen from other people, but did you have a moment where, maybe, you had a ladder leaning against a building, and when you were climbing that ladder, you realized maybe it was on the wrong building? I mean, is that an analogy that resonates with you?

Gonz: That’s a good analogy. When I left college, I wanted to start my own business. I had two entrepreneurial management professors at University of Pennsylvania that … One of them, his philosophy was go work for somebody else, get your experience, and then go out on your own. Another one, I remember his name to this day, Herbert Bass. He was a University of Pennsylvania grad, went to Wharton graduate, went to law school, and then started a pizza chain. He said his parents about killed him, that [inaudible 00:02:47] that education, but he was happy and he was successful. His philosophy was get out and do it right away. I guess nerves, or fear, or whatever, I thought I needed … By society, I thought I needed to go out and get a good job. Then I started working for Andersen and was making good money, and it was really hard, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

JD: Right. Well, Andersen Consulting, I mean, that’s the crème de la crème. When I think about cool gigs, if you’re going to work for somebody, that is a pretty cool gig.

Gonz: Yeah.

JD: I mean, you’ve got an expense account. You’re getting paid well. You get to consult with, I mean, Fortune 500 companies, sometimes Fortune 50 companies. The pull of being an entrepreneur must have been pretty hard.

Gonz: It was hard. I remember sitting down in, I think it was February of 2000, with my manager. I had been trying to get a meeting with him for weeks. Finally, I got the time to sit down with him and talk to him and let him know that, “Hey, I’ve gotta leave the company, leave the firm, to start this business.” He thought I was nuts, like, “You’re gonna start a custom tee-shirt printing company selling to wrestling teams all around the country?” It was a calling that I knew I needed to follow. I left on great terms, which allowed me to come back and work and raise the capital to get this business off the ground, so it was a blessing.

JD: Nice, nice. Why wrestling? Why Blue Chip Wrestling?

Gonz: I wrestled my entire life. I started wrestling at eight and wrestled all the way through college, met some great people, had some great mentors in the wrestling community. It’s a very sticky community. Just have a passion for the sport, have a passion for what it teaches young men and women, Now there’s a lot of women that wrestle now. Teaches some values, hard work, dedication, and sacrifice, and it’s something that we really need.

JD: Absolutely, absolutely. How long have you had bluechipwrestling.com? How long has your eCommerce store been going?

Gonz: Our eCommerce store has been going since about 2003. Started with a … the technology was CandyPress back in the day. It was an older technology. I think it was a PHP technology. Started with just a few products. When we first got started with the wrestling company, it was very difficult to get open with certain vendors. We had a vendor in our area that knew that, if we got off the ground, it was going to be a lot of competition for him. We had the battle to get open with certain vendors, and it took us a few years to get open with those companies. So we started with a small subset of vendors and then expanded. In about 2005, 2006, we got open with some other vendors, and it really started to explode.

JD: Okay. What do you think has differentiated you the most in the marketplace, both online and … You attend some events. I’d like to talk about that. If there’s one thing that you could point to that’s been the big differentiator for you, what would you say that is?

Gonz: Well, actually, I would say two things. The first thing is hustle, getting out there and busting your butt and not thinking you’re too good. When you first start out, it’s not easy. You have to do everything. When we first started this company, my business partner and I, we were salespeople. We were fulfillment. We were delivery. We were customer service. We were garbageman taking out the trash. I mean everything.

JD: Cleaning the toilets?

Gonz: Cleaning the toilets, so the two of us. Then also just doing what you say you’re going to do. There’s too many companies in this day that make promises that they can’t deliver on just to get a sale, and that just … It doesn’t work for longevity.

JD: When you say that, it makes me immediately think of being a Midwestern company. Of course, we’re on the West Coast right now, and there’s, no doubt, great companies and great people everywhere. I grew up in Nebraska, went to college in Oklahoma, and now I live in Texas, but the last 20 years, we’ve been in Colorado. The Midwestern work ethic and doing what you say you’re going to do is something that I have always taken pride in. I’ve heard, being on both coasts, talking to a lot of different businesses … I used to call on bankers in one of my professions, sales careers, one of my sales careers, so that’s plural … that you can just tell if you’re doing business with a Midwesterner. You’re based in Kansas City, Missouri, right outside of there.

Gonz: Correct.

JD: That’s a value that we’re proud of, right?

Gonz: Correct.

JD: Yeah, very cool. How do you go about attracting customers today? I mean, I look at your site, and you and I have talked about your products. You’re innovative. You bring products and fabrics to the market with singlets and things that are specific to the wrestling community that you’ve very, very proud of. How do you go about using those products or even content? We’re out here at this convention. How do you tell your story, and how do you connect with your target audience?

Gonz: A lot of it goes back to the last question you asked. It’s hustle. When we first started out, we would call all the connections that we had, all the wrestling coaches that we knew. We would go visit these people. Right now, we do between 120 to 150 events around the country each year.

JD: Wow.

Gonz: We have crew that goes out to the event, and we have a very rigid standard about how we want them to represent our company and how we want them to treat our customers. We are coast to coast when we do our events. It’s a lot of grassroots effort, which then feeds onto the online effort of … You have your customers. You follow with your customers. You try to retain those customers. You ask those customers to refer you to other customers. Then we also do PPC, paid media, and organic on Facebook, so both paid and organic.

JD: Do you manage those efforts inside, your paid media efforts and the SEO, inside your company or do you have some agencies that are outside?

Gonz: We work together with an outside agency to help us, but it’s our verbiage and it’s our language.

JD: Yeah, yeah. It’s your face. One of the things that I think about when I think about your company is that you have invested a lot of time and energy in developing relationships. Wrestling community is a very tight-knit community. Knowing what you know today, and if you hadn’t been in this business for as long as you have, and you had to start today, do you think that you would build it today the same way? Or do you think, with the ability to go direct to consumer much more easily with great sites like Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, where you can transact business, Facebook, getting in front of people, would you invest heavily in paid advertising and do less events? Or knowing what you know today, if you had to start all over and do your business, how would you go about doing it?

Gonz: Hindsight is a beautiful thing, and it can change the way you do things, but I think we’ve gone about doing things the right way. You have to do the sales door to door. You have to hustle. You have to get on the phone. You have to talk to people you know to understand your customer, to understand what they want.
As far as the eCommerce side, there are other routes that we could have gone. We could have raised capital. I mean, we started with … I think we had five [inaudible 00:11:01] licensed products we bought from a local company in Kansas City that has gear for sports that has the license for collegiate product. We started small, and then we had some wrestling shoes. Then we added, and we added, and we added. We started with, maybe, a few thousand dollars worth of product, and now we have 800,000. That couldn’t have happened overnight without an outside investor.

JD: Right, right. Which add a whole nother can of worms, right?

Gonz: Yes. Yeah.

JD: Right. Yeah.

Gonz: I don’t know if that’s really the route that I would have liked to take, is to take an outside money, because there is that loss of control.

JD: So if you had to start it all over again, what you’re saying is you’d pretty much go about it the same way. Understand the customer and then build slowly, and then get online, start driving paid traffic, et cetera. What is, in your mind, the importance of being congruent and customer support and really … When you were with Andersen, obviously, you were driven. You’re a competitor. You want to win, but there was a piece missing. You weren’t doing what you were called to do. You weren’t living your calling. Now that you’re in this business, there’s a way of doing things. I like to call it being in alignment or having congruency where you’re fully in. What does that translate with Blue Chip Wrestling and Blue Chip Athletics, your companies, and how you teach your people, teach your employees how you want to be represented in the marketplace?

Gonz: Right. Well, I think you have to have at your baseline of your core values what you are and who you are. That’s very important. You have to act on those daily because there’s one thing to put your values down on paper and just talk about them. There’s another thing to live them.

JD: Right. Especially when it gets hard.

Gonz: And when it gets hard. Going back to your last question, we talked about would I do it any differently? I don’t know. I think going through the struggles at the beginning, going through, maybe, five years of not giving ourselves a very big salary and just funding it ourselves, if it was easy, we might not be where we are today.

JD: Right. Yeah. That’s so true. Yeah. In there, in the first seven years of your business, you experienced a pretty good recession.

Gonz: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

JD: Talk to me a little bit about that.

Gonz: Well, we had some vendors that actually had some problems during that time.

JD: They got overextended and couldn’t fill orders?

Gonz: Yeah, yeah. And the ownership changed in some of their companies. But I think we were able to live through it because we lived our values. We did what we said we were going to do. We delivered when other people couldn’t deliver. We didn’t make excuses. That’s another one of values is don’t make excuses. If there’s a mistake that we made, which … I can think back to we were doing a college team, and our artist misspelled the word wrestling that went down a sleeve. We were small, and it was a very expensive order on Champion very heavy sweats for a college team, 50 sets, probably a four- or five-thousand-dollar order.

JD: You had to eat it.

Gonz: We had to redo it, yeah, but we knew it was right. The customer saw the artwork. They approved the artwork. Didn’t matter.

JD: Yeah, that’s right.

Gonz: It was our mistake.

JD: Yeah, yeah. Wrestling, that word, that was just like salt in the wound, right?

Gonz: Yeah.

JD: Of all words-

Gonz: Man, yeah.

JD: … don’t misspell wrestling. Once somebody gets into your world, once they attend an event and have an interaction with you or visit your website, and you haven’t converted them yet, how many touchpoints do you think that you have to have with a customer, virtual and/or in person before you convert them? Talk to me about how you feel about … if you have a gauge for that.

Gonz: Sometimes it might take a while. We try to warm them up. We have what’s called The Takedown Club. Think of it as a discount club. We try to get them into that first, which gives them a 10% discount if they buy the wrestling gear from us, and then educating them a little bit about who we are and what we do. There’s an indoctrination campaign that we run.

JD: The Takedown Club is email-driven.

Gonz: Email-driven, yeah.

JD: You opt in. They get the discount code, and then you indoctrinate them.

Gonz: Yeah.

JD: Do you have videos as part of that sequence or is it mostly-

Gonz: We don’t.

JD: You don’t. It’s text.

Gonz: It’s text. It’s content. It’s telling them a little bit about who we are, how we do business, and what we’re about.

JD: Have you used testimonials?

Gonz: We do use testimonials. We solicit testimonials from our existing customer base. A lot of times, we don’t even have to ask for it. They just give it to us.

JD: Yeah, nice.

Gonz: I think we are a little bit different in the market place. I think I mentioned earlier that, a lot of times, people in our space … There’s a lot of mom and pops in our space that don’t deliver on time. They don’t ship on time. They get overwhelmed. We try to live to what we put on our website, that we’re going to ship with … If you order by 2:00 that afternoon, it’s shipping that day, and you’re going to get it in a timely fashion.

JD: That’s awesome. What is your warehouse like? How big is your warehouse?

Gonz: Well, our whole space is about 22,000 square feet. That’s a big change from when we first started. We were at 200 square feet. We have about 6,000 square feet of warehouse space that’s racked out. Then we have our production facility that’s right nextdoor in the same space, but where we have our printing presses and our embroidering machines. Then we have office space.

JD: And a big dryer, I’m sure.

Gonz: A big dryer, yeah.

JD: How many head screen printing machine do you have?

Gonz: We have three screen printing machines, two automatic presses and a manual press, and then we have 13 heads of embroidery.

JD: Has it ever been tempting … Have the Royals or anybody come to you guys when they’re going to win the division or going to win the championship, things like that, the Chiefs, although the Broncos always seem to kind of … Had to just throw that in there.
Gonz, what have coaches meant to you in your life, coaches that you’ve played for, wrestled for, and just coaches that you’ve known over the years?

Gonz: They’ve been a big influence in my life and probably helped me down this path of my values doing my own business and also my values of doing what we say we’re going to do and making no excuses. My kiddie wrestling coach, I actually used him as an example for my college essays to get into the University of Pennsylvania. It was titled The Man You Want To Hate But Have To Love. He was pretty hard on us, but he drove us.

JD: Right. And you respected him.

Gonz: I respected him. My college wrestling coach, I have a great relationship to this day. He has been a mentor to a lot of people in the Penn wrestling community and in the worldwide wrestling community. He actually coached one of our college teammates to an Olympic gold medal in 2000 in Sydney, Australia.

JD: Wow.

Gonz: He is a businessman himself, and he’s driven. He’s a big mentor.

JD: Yeah. He’s a competitor.

Gonz: Yes.

JD: Gotta love that. Entrepreneurs and athletics, I think, go hand in hand.

Gonz: Yeah.

JD: I mean, you got to be willing to eat what you kill. You got to have that mentality and also blend that in with … Dan Kennedy talks about having a lot of fishing poles in the water. It’s hunting, and fishing, and all these kind of weird … but at the end of the day, you got to get the order. You got to get the money. Not just the order, you got to get the money, right?

Gonz: Yeah. I remember back to some conversations with Roger Reina, who was my college coach. We had a situation where I was having some troubles dealing with some vendors. I just wasn’t getting the result I wanted out of the negotiations. I called him, and I talked to him, and he looked at … I could see him looking at me through the phone. He said, “What are you gonna do about it? You gonna whine about it or you gonna do something about this? You can make it right.”

JD: Kicked you in the pants.

Gonz: Yeah, kicked me in the pants and got me going to where I needed to be. It actually ended up being one of the best business decisions that we’ve made.

JD: Did you move vendors? Did you find new vendors?

Gonz: Yeah, because it was situation where vendors weren’t willing to move a price point even though the market was moving to that point, but we kept buying from the vendor. Another vendor was willing to step in at quite a bit less and probably better quality. These vendors wouldn’t move. He said, “What are you gonna do, keep buying from them? They’re not gonna change their behavior if you keep buying, keep spending money with them. You have to change your behavior for them to change.” It was just a good … It was like a father-son deal.

JD: I’ve had a few relationships, and maybe you can empathize with this, but as you’re telling the story, I’m thinking about, “But we’re all about relationships,” and relationships with vendors. Oftentimes, we espouse, as the retailer, as the brand, “Look, it’s not all about price. Well, what is it worth that you can call me? And matter of fact, if we’ve been doing business for a while, you can call me on my cell phone. You have it. What is it worth to you that I’ll stay and go the extra mile and make sure that your order gets out? What is it worth to you that the kid that got added to the team or the jersey that got lost or the whatever, that I’ll make it right? And I’ll jump through all kinds of hoops because that was a custom color, a custom whatever.” Oftentimes, we’re always espousing those things, but when we get into sticky situations with vendors that have actually delivered for us as well, we don’t want to squeeze on them so that … Were you feeling that tension a little bit and kind of respecting that relationship?

Gonz: Yeah. I think I was always raised with the values of honor people, and take care of people, and build that relationship. It’s hard to make a change. That’s probably one of my downfalls is I will stick with something-

JD: Through thick and thin.

Gonz: … through thick and thin, whether it’s … It could be a vendor relationship. It could be an employee relationship. Because you don’t want to change. You want to give it time. You want to make it right. You want to give them the tools. I was giving them every opportunity to come to the table, but it wasn’t happening, and it was time to make a shift and-

JD: Break ties.

Gonz: Yeah. Well, we still buy. It’s just shifting a little bit of the way that we do business because things weren’t going to change. It took a little bit of outside perspective to help me see that.

JD: Right. Sometimes you’ve got to be willing to walk away, right?

Gonz: Right.

JD: You got to be willing to walk away and say, “Look, it might be worse over here, but I’m gonna go try.” Oftentimes, we find that it’s not. I know there’s been a couple times that we had employees that I’ve just thought there’s no way that we can do business without them, and they’re gone, and you go, “What was I so worried about?” And you just figure it out, right?

Gonz: Right.

JD: It can be the same thing with vendors.

Gonz: Right.

JD: Yeah. It can be the same thing with customers.

Gonz: It can be the same thing with customers.

JD: Right? You’ve got great accounts. You’ve been doing business with them for years, but they’re horribly slow to pay. They’re a pain in the butt. They’re always asking for the extras. Sometimes you have to fire customers.

Gonz: Yeah. Sometimes they can turn around, those customers can bounce right back because they don’t realize how good they have it-

JD: How good they have it. Exactly.

Gonz: … until they leave and go somewhere else. To that point, you need to make sure that, if a relationship is cut, that you’re still … Sometimes there’s still a need to nurture that relationship, to make sure it’s still there. Maybe we can’t do this deal, but maybe we can work together down the road.

JD: Yeah. My dad always said, “Don’t burn a bridge, because you just never know,” keeping the door open, keeping the relationship good even though you might not have a business relationship or it might not be what it once was. I know, in our business, and I shared this with you earlier, that I lost my mom a year ago and it’s … I think I shared it with you. It’s interesting how … and everybody’s going through things. When you’re a small business owner, even … You have a team of about 25 people, is that correct?

Gonz: Correct. Yeah.

JD: I mean, that’s a legitimate business. You’ve got a lot of people. You’ve delegated a lot of things, obviously. If something was pretty intense going on in your personal life, it is going to affect your business. We have those vendors that are going through their rough times and patches in life, and having the patience or the grace to kind of work through all of … We’re all doing life together, and it’s not just cookie-cutter, black-and-white, even though I would love for it to be, right?

Gonz: Yeah, yeah.

JD: Having employees and all of that is just really messy stuff. Vendor relationships, some of your better vendors, talk to me about how that relationship is and how often you see them. It’s important, right?

Gonz: It’s extremely important. Our main vendors, we see repeatedly throughout the year. It’s not just on an annual basis or I’m going to make … “Here’s the spring catalog. Here’s the fall catalog.”

JD: Their salesman comes by to your-

Gonz: Yeah, the salesmen come by. I mean, with our larger vendors, that’s not the relationship. We have a, “Let’s go to a ballgame. Hey, come up to Chicago, and we’re gonna have this boondoggle, and we’re gonna talk shop. How can we help you drive your sales to the next level?” One of our largest vendors has invited us to a event in Tampa next month where we get to see all these other promotional products companies and get exposed, but you have to be invited to go there, so it’s that relationship that you … You would never get invited unless you had a relationship with somebody that could invite you into that group.

JD: That’s cool. That’s really cool. Blue Chip Wrestling, you guys are humming right along. You have a great presence inside of the wrestling community. What does the future look like for Blue Chip Wrestling, and then do you have any plans outside of the wrestling community to grow in other verticals, in other sports categories?

Gonz: Sure. For wrestling, we want to continue to innovate. That’s a big thing for us. The landscape is changing. Being able to get product manufactured is getting easier for people. There’s a lot of people popping into the marketplace, which is disruptive at times. Sometimes customers are swayed by the shiny object, the better price. They can get something half as much for half the price that you could sell it for, but then that doesn’t turn out to be a great thing for them because the vendor doesn’t deliver, or they do, and it can turn out to be a good thing for them in the short term. Eventually, usually the companies that pop in that do a lot of that that aren’t doing the business full time, a lot of times that they can come in and swoop up some business short term, but then it usually comes back in the long term. That’s where staying in front of that customer is very important.
As far as other businesses for Blue Chip, we do do a lot of business with other entities outside of wrestling. What we always like to say is that wrestling is our key that gets us in the door. We deal with the wrestling coach. We take care of the wrestling coach and do a good job with him, typically, that leads into a referral for staff polos, for class-of shirts, for … The coach is the assistant coach on the football team, so let’s do some workout gear for him. Then we start working our way through a school that way.

JD: Do you have sales guys on your team or salespeople on your team that will drive that penetration inside of each school or school district?

Gonz: Yes, we do. We have customer service and inside sales. Well, we have them with the language to ask for a referral, but then we also automate some of that process. When we ship an order, we ask for a testimonial, and then we also automate and ask for how did we do? A lot of times, we try to get feedback from the customer, and then we try to get a referral through the customer.

JD: Okay. Then if you don’t get a good review, what happens then?

Gonz: We have a process in place that if we get a three or below … We have a five-star rating, and if we get a three or below, that that customer gets a phone call.

JD: Gets a phone call.

Gonz: So we can figure out what happened and why it happened, if we can fix the situation. Sometimes we hit the response that, “You delivered, and the three is … three is … that’s it.”

JD: “Nobody’s getting a four, and nobody’s getting a five,” right?

Gonz: Yeah.

JD: “I’ve never given one in my life.”

Gonz: Yeah, “You did what you said you were gonna do, so you get a three.”

JD: That’s funny.

Gonz: That’s a good response, but if it’s, “I gave you a three because the communication wasn’t there or the product was delivered late …” There are situations where the product is delivered late because a vendor doesn’t get you something on time, but we have to own that. We have to own the situation. It’s our issue.

JD: Right. And know that you’ve got to hold their hand a little bit more in the front end and all that. Great. Is there anything for businesses owners that have been in business for a little while that have not been through their first big challenge? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom that you could share? Financial challenge, a slowdown in the business, employee challenges, cost of acquisition, I mean, there’s a plethora of things, but somebody that just really hasn’t their first big hiccup yet.

Gonz: Just to know that there’s going to be hiccups, and it’s how you deal with it that’s important. Persevere through it. Challenges are going to come no matter how successful you are. There’s going to be things that are going to go wrong. Something’s going to happen to an employee. You’re going to make a mistake. They’re going to make a mistake. It’s just how you deal with it, with integrity, honesty, and just being genuine.

JD: Right. Very good. Well, again, Gonz Medina, thank you for our time together on eCommerce In The Trenches. Where’s the best place for people to learn more about Blue Chip and all that you do?

Gonz: At bluechipwrestling.com.

JD: Okay. You’re on Facebook. You got a great following there.

Gonz: We have a great following on Facebook. We’re on Instagram and Twitter.

JD: Very cool. Awesome. We were talking earlier that the singlet of old, like when I was in high school, years ago, in the mid-1980s, the singlet has changed a lot. For those of you who haven’t seen a singlet, a modern-day singlet, go check out Blue Chip Wrestling and Gonz and his team. Thanks again.

Gonz: Well, thanks for having me, JD.

JD: You bet.

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