What would you do if you could do anything?
For Vitrazza CEO and first-generation American George Pardo, the answer is tackling the ultimate challenge of the American Dream: entrepreneurship.
While today Vitrazza is a thriving brand best known for the direct-to-consumer Glass Chair Mat category, that wasn’t always the case.
In 2012, when George purchased the small, local, glass chair mat business, he was looking for a challenge. After selling his shares of an employee-owned business, George spent a few years being a dad to his two sons. He was active in their soccer leagues and their school. “It was a great time for our family,” said George.
“I jumped back into business with both feet, and maybe with that enthusiasm, I could have done a bit more due diligence,” he admits.
Three years into the business, George realized his original assumptions about how he would distribute his Glass Chair Mats through dealers were fundamentally misguided. And George needed to pivot – fast.
“At the time, our annual sales online were less than our weekly sales now.” As George considered his options, he looked to the website. Vitrazza.com proved that people would buy Glass Chair Mats online, so the only option left, in George’s eyes, was a pure direct-to-consumer model.
While most brands launching a DTC model turned to Facebook or Instagram ads, with no previous experience running an e-commerce site or selling directly to consumers, George committed to buying local radio ads in the Denver metro area. “It was a complete leap of faith, if that hadn’t worked, we would have shuttered the business,” said George.
Finally, something clicked. There was immediate movement of Glass Chair Mats on Vitrazza.com, but it wasn’t until he started buying national radio ads on SiriusXM that the business really started to scale. What’s more, what George learned from the SiriusXM ads would become the backbone for the future of the business, George, “The Glass Chair Mat guy,” starred in the radio ads and told listeners, “I liked the product so much, I bought the company.”
But it was George himself who Vitrazza customers really responded to. After the radio ads started airing, sales improved 50% year over year. Next, Vitrazza started advertising on TV. And sure enough, people liked hearing George’s story. In fact, according to George, they’re still running a version of that first ad which launched in June 2020.
Across the board, the pandemic was a boon for e-commerce stores, but George bristles a bit when the pandemic gets credit for the company’s 3X sales growth since 2018.
“The pandemic was a really interesting time for us,” said George. “Everyone thinks the pandemic was good for our business because everyone was at home shopping, and while there is some truth to that, the real truth is we had huge pent-up demand because of years of radio ads.”
People who knew about Vitrazza finally decided to purchase now that they were at home. “If we hadn’t been doing those ads for years prior, I don’t think our growth during the pandemic would have been so huge,” he continued. In fact, George says that’s still the case with their customers. They often take years to buy, which is one reason why the growth in recent years has been so considerable: awareness builds on itself.
Over the years, Vitrazza Glass Chair Mats have expanded to include NCAA- licensed Glass Chair Mats, and the Sola Collection, a one-of-a-kind Glass Chair Mat line that comes with its own NFT to prove authenticity and ownership. Vitrazza.com also has smaller office accessories like an artisan- crafted Leather Footrest, handmade in Ukraine.
“We were already working with a creative partner in Ukraine when the war started,” said George. A scheduled meeting was postponed on the very day of the invasion.
“We felt really connected to our partners there and wanted to do something to support them, and we eventually found a leather supplier for a new ergonomic leather footrest.” Hence, a portion of the proceeds of those sales supports the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. Citing the resilience of their partners, George says they are sourcing two products from Ukraine.
The next frontier for Vitrazza and George’s own personal goals? Admittedly, George is more of a people person than a numbers or a product guy, and building a strong team is George’s next frontier. Part of that, says George, is being together in-office to create a stronger, more productive, and creative team.
“I know the trend is working from home, but we see the team benefits of working in the same space, at least a few days a week.” He says as he sits up straighter with pride when he talks about a past employee coming back to the team. George sees real value in the people on team Vitrazza, but admits that he’s still evolving as a leader himself.
Citing a mentor of his, “You can’t teach someone to care,” and that’s why all things being equal, he hires based on attitude and ownership.
“I’m looking for smart people who will bring their own ideas and their own experiences here and execute on them,” he continued. But he also cautions, it’s important to give people the latitude to have ideas and implement them, to effect real change.
“Having a quality leadership team here gives me a tremendous source of pride,” says George.
Of all the lessons learned, CEO George Pardo says the future of Vitrazza isn’t product, it’s people.