Paul Chittenden, founder of Bad Ass Work Gear, also helps out other business owners and entrepreneurs like himself to gain traction in the marketplace, regardless of industry. With his help, other business founders would gain a louder voice in their industry thanks to increased media coverage.
Prior to Bad Ass Work Gear, Paul Chittenden has worked for two Fortune 500 companies. While working there, he realized that he wanted to help small businesses leave a stronger impact on the market. Since then, he has exerted a lot of effort for small businesses. He has founded some startups, and failed at some of them. He has also launched two successful e-commerce brands, one of them being Bad Ass Work Gear.
In 2013, Paul Chittenden started Bad Ass Work Bags as a simple work bag company “deep in the heart of cajun country.” The company sold tough and durable duffel bags for workers working in oilfields in the Gulf of Mexico. The quality of the products soon helped spread the word to the rest of the oilfield community. As word spread, oilfield workers across the United States made Bad Ass Work Gear become the top work bag in the country.
In 2015, Paul Chittenden relaunched the company as Bad Ass Work Gear. That same year, the company also launched a new product line, their “first impact resistant work glove.” The company also has new products coming down the pipeline.
Paul Chittenden has also been featured in major business publications such as Entrepreneur, Mashable, Nerdwallet, and the Houston Chronicle.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Paul Chittenden: Definitely branding. I chose Bad Ass Work Bags, which we later rebranded to Bad Ass Work Gear, because I wanted a name that was very tough, manly, and hopefully, would resonate with our customer base. And boy, did it!
We grew almost exclusively by word of mouth in the first two years. I had friends texting me photos of our stickers from remote oilfield sites across the US.
My dad was out on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico when a guy asked him for one of our stickers. My dad jokingly told him he could only have one if he was going to buy one of our bags. They guy lifted up his duffel bag, and said he already had one.
Living in Houston, many oilfield workers travel through the airport here. It has been ten years since I’ve worked in the field. Yet, when I go to the airport, I love seeing guys walking around with one of our bags!
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Paul Chittenden: Find your passion. Work on something that fuels you. If you’re not really interested in what you are working on, a minor setback turns into a major setback. A few minor setbacks might make you quit.
On the other hand, if you are passionate about the niche, you keep going. It’s not about the money or the amount of work anymore. It is about doing something you love. You’ll eventually figure it out.
The other thing is to engineer and celebrate early wins.
There are so many overnight success stories that people get impatient. The problem is that these people put in tons of work to become a success. It is just not sexy to report on this, so we only hear the good part.
There is no overnight success. Set a list of goals that you need to achieve:
- The launch of your website
- Your first customer
- Your first $5,000 month
- And so on.
Mapping your progress will remind you that you are on the right path!
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Paul Chittenden: I originally built this company strictly as a side hustle while working for GE. I was very strict about my hours, only answering emails at lunch and after hours. It was all very hush hush.
In subsequent jobs, I was actually able to utilize the bag company contacts to help me in my full-time sales role. I had contacts at companies that could help me out. It was really a neat situation.
Long story short, there weren’t a ton of people that helped out in the beginning because I was so secretive about it.
However, I had tons of mentors. Not in the usual sense, but online.
There is so much information published online, and I dove in to educating myself.
Problem with the website? Someone had written about how to fix the issue. It was just a Google search away.
The biggest influences were in the marketing space. There are a ton of good marketing gurus out there. Two that really helped me make an impact on my business were Ezra Firestone and Austin Brawner. Ezra is a e-com marketing genius, and Austin is an expert in email marketing.
Implementing some of their tips has shown remarkable results.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
Paul Chittenden: I’m involved in a number of e-commerce business owner and e-commerce acquisition groups. Across the board, the majority of e-commerce businesses have seen a “Covid bump.” Revenues have increased due to more people making purchases online.
However, some businesses (like mine) have taken a hit.
Many stores saw a marked increase in sales and were also hit with supply shortages at the same time.
A lot of e-commerce inventory is sourced from China. Demand is up, but the factories are shut down due to the pandemic. The ports are also backlogged. These owners either had to wait for inventory or be proactive and look for alternative suppliers.
Shipping delays were further exacerbated by their own warehouses having to shut down due to the pandemic. They then had to wait for the state to open small businesses again and put safety measures in place for their employees.
We also saw a lot of brick and mortar stores going online as their physical locations were shutting down.
Jerome Knyszewski: Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
Paul Chittenden: Gucci, Lamborghini, Yeti. What do all these brands have in common?
Each of these brands thrive even though there are low cost competitors. They have built a relationship with their customer base. I know, I had a Lamborghini poster on my wall as a kid.
To be successful competing against Amazon, Walmart, and DTC companies in China, you have to build up brand equity and build a relationship with your client.
Too many eCommerce websites have a generic About Us page. Tell your story. Bond with your customers. Build relational equity with every step of your buyer’s journey.
- You should have a great About Us page that tells your brand story.
- You should have a great welcome email sequence that tells the brand story and provides info about the products.
- Your order notices and follow emails should all be on brand.
- Follow up email sequences should be in place to bring customers back to your brand.
You should really think about why someone would come back to your shop instead of going somewhere else. If you can’t think of anything, work to fix it.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Paul Chittenden: Niche and product selection.
Niching down is important. It helps you target your perfect client and really build out a brand. But go too narrow, and you may find it hard to expand later down the road.
We ran into this at Bad Ass Work Bags. I wanted to expand to other Personal Protection Equipment. Our name limited us to bags. So, we had to rebrand to Bad Ass Work Gear.
Second is product selection. 5 years after we started, I received an email from my very first customer. In it, he praised us and said he was still using the same bag he bought five years ago.
In that moment, I realized two things. First, we had built a great product. Second, the reason repeat sales were so hard to come by was because our product lasted a long time.
If you really wanted to build a scalable brand, find a product that is consumable that lends itself to repeat sales. It is far easier to resell to a past client than to find new customers.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Paul Chittenden: Platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce make it so easy to start an eCommerce company these days.
I think most brands tend to be a one-trick pony. They learn how to drive traffic through one channel:
- Email Marketing
I believe that once you figure out one channel, you need to start developing a second, then a third. This has a layering affect which can help you scale.
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?
Paul Chittenden: I’ve never experienced a competitor intentionally giving us negative reviews. That would certainly be a different story.
I have gotten a few bad reviews. I love these. In fact, we specifically ask for an “honest” review. A bad review helps us improve our product. It helps us wow our customer, and it shows we are real.
I mean 10,000 5-star reviews. Something doesn’t seem right there. A few bad reviews can be a good thing as long as you have many more good reviews.
If you do get a bad review, reach out to the customer. See if you can fix the error or bad experience. Give them a replacement or refund. If you change their mind, ask them to respond or edit their bad review to show what you’ve done to correct the situation.
Jerome Knyszewski: You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Paul Chittenden: I think about this all the time. I have three areas that I am really interested in:
- Health & Fitness — I’ve always been into fitness. I joined my first gym the day I met the age limit. Fitness has helped me with my self-esteem and confidence as well as kept me healthy. I believe a focus on better eating and physical fitness is imperative for your health and should be a priority in everyone’s life.
- Empathy — As a marketer and salesman, empathy is a great trait to really understand your customer. Today, I think everyone could use a bit more empathy to really understand what others are going through. Empathy can really change the dynamic in this country.
- Childhood education and Confidence Building — This is one I’ve been thinking about only recently. It is only an idea, but hopefully something I can work on at some point. I believe that the building blocks of education start early in childhood. I also believe that confidence plays a large role in this. I’d like to find a way to combine the two or at least show kids what they can accomplish if they set their mind to it.
Jerome Knyzsewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!