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Hey Sendler, Ep 5: Three dads and a sustainable side hustle

For our fifth episode of Hey Sendler, Jenn convened a gathering of the dads from Jill & Joey to talk about their sustainable reusable bag side hustle. They are our first beta users in the US and we were so happy chat with them.

They dive into how they started working on this business together, what they each bring to the table, and how they’ve managed during the struggles of COVID (beyond the curative properties of dad jokes).

Learn all about their business by watching the whole episode or reading the transcript below.

Hey Sendler: A Webinar Series (Three dads and a sustainable side hustle) from Sendle on Vimeo.

 

Important links

 

Three dads and a sustainable side hustle, a chat with Thaison Ta, Geoff Doody, and Todd Kominiak of Jill & Joey (full transcript)

Jenn Magofña: Hi everyone, welcome to Hey Sendler. I'm Jenn, the Community Manager for Sendle and I'm so excited to be chatting with Jill and Joey today. 

They are a sustainable line of reusable bags based out of Seattle and on the East Coast and they were, fun fact, one of our very first beta testers for our product here in the US. 

So we're gonna be chatting about what Jill and Joey means for them, how they got started, what the business looks like pre and hopefully post-COVID and talking about how they're maintaining side hustle life with regular jobs in 2020, which is so delightful so far. 

Yeah, how's everybody feeling? [chuckle]

So before we get started, I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we're on the traditional land of the First People. Here in Seattle, we recognize the Duwamish people and their continuing connection to land, waters, and culture. We pay our respects to elders, past, present and emerging.

With that, hello Jill and Joey. Welcome. Thanks for joining today. 

I'd love it if you guys can do a quick round-robin, just introduce yourselves. To folks who are joining, feel free to keep your video off and yourself muted and if you'd like, you can change your grid so that you can see everybody or speaker-view. 

Whatever makes you happy, feel free. We'll save some time at the end for questions but if anything comes up, feel free to use the chat function. We'll kinda go from there. 

So yeah, please say hello. Tell us a little bit about yourselves, all that good stuff.

hey sendler with thaison, geoff, and todd of jill & joey

Thaison Ta: Awesome Jenn, thank you so much for having us on today. 

We're always excited talking to the community that you guys have built. I didn't realize that we were the first beta testers so kudos to us for that and just seeing the journey that Sendle has gone through over the year, it's been really enjoyable, seeing you guys grow and the community that you've built through even this program. 

So a little bit about myself. I am Thaison Ta. I'm the CEO of Jill and Joey. I am based here in Seattle, Washington and then I'll just let my team introduce themselves.

Todd Kominiak: Sure, I'm Todd Kominiak. I work on the marketing front for Jill and Joey. 

I'm based in Northern Virginia. An old colleague of Thaison's and we kinda came together with Geoff to start this reusable company and we're really excited about the journey that we're on.

Geoff Doody: Yeah Geoff Doody here. I handle a lot of our operations and sourcing. 

I'm based in Maryland but DC, DMV area and eager to partner with Sendle, really great mission and excited to be here. Thanks for having us.

Jenn: Of course, thank you. 

Okay, so we talked about how you guys are kind of side hustling Jill and Joey so I'd love for you guys to just tell us a little bit about what your day job looks like too before we start with Jill and Joey. 

I think it's like a running joke that Thaison has 15 jobs, but I know that both of you are also doing your own things. 

You guys are dads so tell us a little bit about what your day-to-day life looks like without Jill and Joey. Just like what do you do for your regular 8:00-5:00? And what does life look like for you? 

TT: Yeah so let's see. First job, I'm a father of two. That's the 24/7 gig so I'm more the errand boy, right? 

To make sure that they're all fed, do everything I can for the wife but my real 9:00 to 5:00, I work for a technology company and as part of my role, I manage the territory for the Pacific Northwest, selling technology and security products into some Fortune 500 companies, I would say. 

So I've been in tech sales for now over a decade. I've been in sales in general for close to probably over 15 years. I feel like I've always been selling something. That's how I...

Jenn: I'm not surprised.

[laughter]

TT: That's how I evolved my relationship with Todd, from a previous company where I was there as the Director of Sales and we built a really good relationship where I saw tremendous value in the things that Todd was doing, building out our marketing, our content for that company and said one day "Hey, Todd. You trying to do a side hustle, help some other folks out, some small business out?" 

And we built a consulting arm out of that and with that consulting arm, more and more opportunities came up and, we came up with the idea of Jill and Joey and brought in Geoff because he has a lot of skill sets that offset a lot of things that I'm lacking.

So I think what you'll learn through this conversation and hopefully, the things that you learn about us here at Jill and Joey is that we all have a skill set that complements each other and I think that's why we work so well as a team but yeah 9:00-5:00, tech company [chuckle] running a territory, trying to run the side hustle business and trying to keep everything afloat and juggling multiple balls in the air at the same time.

Jenn: Casual.

TT: Yeah very casual. [chuckle] Just another day.

TK: Yeah and on my end, I work for a large government services company here in Northern Virginia that does research, health research, and development for government agencies. 

I actually just started about three months ago. Before that, I was at the organization that Thaison mentioned where we first had worked together so yeah, the last couple of months have been pretty crazy. 

I also have a nine-month-old and he just started crawling so anyone with kids knows, it's like a whole new world. So lot's going on but it's an exciting time for sure.

GD: Awesome and I work for an automotive company. 

I do pricing and forecasting and volume planning. It's a... Operational job so hard deadlines and so oftentimes, Jill and Joey is at night, which is great because we can do hand-offs with Thaison being based on the West Coast, me on the East Coast and it's just... It's late nights but it's fun. 

Love working with these guys and it's great. Our group chat is just a constant flow of conversation, ideas, and dad stories.

[chuckle]

jill & joey reusable bags

Jenn: I love that so much. Okay, so where did you guys get the inspiration to start Jill and Joey? 

TT: So it started when I moved to Seattle. So I'm a transplant, right? 

So originally from the East Coast, moving out here because my wife is also in tech and she works for a pretty large company now. 

I'm pretty sure a lot of people will understand who she works for, it's a huge employer but we were down the beach and just moseying around and Riley, my daughter at that time just loved jumping in and out of water and playing, picking up seashells and all, all these things that are floating up on the shore and of course, she picks up plastic bottles, plastic bottle caps. 

We see a lot of trash floating around and myself and my wife, we wanted make a change ourselves to be a little bit more conscious of reusable products and the waste that we're putting out there.

So we went out and we tried to find a product and solution and the product that we found was great, except that it was really expensive for a true lifestyle change and completing that change in our kitchen and replacing Ziploc bags. 

So we came up with the idea, did some of the research, and said "You know what? There's a really good market for this. 

Why don't we try to do something that's very similar to this one silicone product that we truly love but make it a little bit more consumer-friendly for folks who are trying to make a change but they're not ready to throw a lot of money into it and let's see if small changes can eventually lead to larger impact later down."

And so I sat down with Geoff and I would say the one thing that Geoff and I have had over the last couple of years, well since we've known each other really, is we have a lot of brainstorming sessions. 

This idea that comes up, whether it's from him, his wife, his friends, whatever is like "How can I one day go into business myself and have something of my own?" 

And I said to Geoff "Let's just do this. Let's just try it." We did some research on Amazon, did some keyword search and it was just that... We thought it was the perfect time to jump in and so that's how we started searching into reusable alternative single-use plastic... Limiting single-use plastic bags.

So that's where Jill and Joey came about. 

The name itself, that's a whole another story on how we came to Jill and Joey but let me let the guys go through and kinda let them talk about what their thoughts were and why they wanted to jump on and we can dive into the overall how we came up with Jill and Joey, the name and things like that.

Jenn: Yes. I love that.

GD: You wanna go ahead, Todd? 

TK: Sure, sure. Yeah so I was just thinking that if anyone knows Thaison, you know that he has a lot more than just one good idea so sometimes you have to rein them in and make sure we're focusing on one thing. 

So when he posed the idea of a reusable product company, I think the thing that really struck me was... I do a lot of writing and marketing. 

I don't make a lot of things in my everyday life and I think to establish a company that's actually making physical things that can help the Earth be a little bit more reusable and help people solve the problem of reducing single-use plastics was a really appealing thing for me. 

So it's just been a really, really interesting journey to kinda take it from concept to production to marketing and we're learning as we go but I think we're on a really great path and it's been great working with these guys as we kinda learn it all together.

GD: Yeah. I'd say the company, I just think it's a really interesting blend of yes, it's a product but at the same time, it's also a platform for education and just... 

That was one of the things... A light bulb that went off in my head is it... I sit in an office and I have my cup and I throw the cup, get a new coffee cup and one day I just looked at my desk and was like "I've got four cups on my desk that I'm just gonna throw out. This is insanely wasteful."

And so it's just kind of like having those aha moments that we try to share with our audience, with our teams, and even if people don't purchase our products, it's just getting people to think about their habits and what they can do to reduce or reuse and small lifestyle changes that Thaison was talking about, as well as it's a social responsibility. 

So I think it's a really interesting blend of those three themes as well as something that we enjoy doing, we're passionate about and we can kinda take ownership and be proud of so...

TT: Yeah. I think the biggest thing for us as a team also is us being three dads, right? And at that time, Todd was expecting, right? And Geoff has a little bit of head start.

TK: Not me. Not me specifically. My wife.

[laughter]

TT: Oh yeah, yeah. Not Todd specifically.

[laughter]

Jenn: I did the physical labor too.

[laughter]

TT: Yeah but we really wanted to make sure that we are looking to our next generations and just growing up myself, I remember the funnest memories that we've had going down to the outer banks to Ocean City, hanging out at the beach and it'd be devastating if the memories that my daughter is gonna have of going to the beach is "Oh cool, I'm swimming around trash." Right? 

And so it really started this whole journey of us digging into even further of learning about the pollution problem, understanding what that large garbage patch is doing out in the Pacific Ocean, how it's growing, how it's getting bigger and bigger and it's amazing to see how many people are so focused on it but there's still a massive problem. 

We can't find a way to fix it and I'm not saying that our product is gonna be that magic pill, magic ball that's gonna solve everything but for us, at least we're making that little impact and hoping to change and have people think differently where if they start eliminating the single-use plastic at home, they start using at their sponges, they start looking at how they're sourcing some of their material and making sure that we partner with folks like Sendle where your mission is aligned.

And it's all a big ecosystem and I think small steps like this just builds a bigger community and just seeing what the trends and the news and everything that's happening over the last two years, it's something that I felt like we definitely got ahead of and then now it's starting to swell a little bit and we're not even at the peak yet. 

People are starting to just start looking at this stuff and going through our analytics and our marketing exercise every single week, we just see so many new keywords that are trending that wasn't trending six months ago, that people are really looking into. 

So yeah, it's foremost, a mission to create a better environment and a better landscape for our future generations, not really about us now, right? It's just examples that we can set forward in the future.

Jenn: Okay, tell me about the name because I loved it. Some of my Australian colleagues were like "Wait, is this an Australian company?" And I was like "No, no, no, no, no." [laughter] Serendipitous.

TT: And I'm sure a lot of people that are attending the webinar will appreciate this as business owners, is that when we went through and started our business, the biggest thing is we wanted to be legitimate. 

We wanted to be a brand, right? 

We're not an overnight type of company that next day we're just gonna pivot and just change to something completely different and so trademarking our brand was very important and when we went through the trademark process, man did we learn a lot. 

So originally, our company was called RU Products, R-U Products, just short for Reusable Products and as we were talking to our legal team and saying "Hey, can we go through and trademark this?" 

"No, can't. [laughter] There are just too many marks on it. You're not gonna get the protection that you need." 

And so we went through, got our sample bags, got our design, everything was just RU Products and we paused and this is why Geoff came in and complemented 'cause him working for a larger company, he understands that the importance of branding and he's just like "Pause, guys. If you wanna really build something out, let's really think about this."

And so we scrapped it and for three weeks, I felt like we went to the drawing board, coming with so many different names of what's gonna make sense and the biggest thing for me is I wanted to keep the kangaroo logo for multiple reasons. 

One, it tied into our reusable bags because of the kangaroo pouch. It was also very symbolic that the mother kangaroo was carrying the baby kangaroo, which was symbolic for the next generation. 

Believe it or not, I was in Bellevue. I was just walking around downtown. I was going back and said "Oh, the Joey restaurant." I was like "Okay. Joey, I think Joey is a name for a baby kangaroo." 

And I went back and did a little bit of research. I was like "Oh, cool. Jill is the name for a mom kangaroo. Perfect." 

Jill and Joey is the best combination that we can get and also, you can see a lot of companies out there now. They're starting to do that two-name type of thing, like... What's that Target brand? Cat & Jack? 

Jenn: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The kid brand.

TT: And then there's a couple of other different ones. Yeah and so we went with it. We loved the flow. We were able to trademark it and that's how we sealed the deal on that.

jill & joey hey sendler webinar

Jenn: I love it.

TK: Yeah and I think in the end, that actually ended up being a better brand for us anyway. 

So it's funny how things sort of weirdly, organically work out in the end. So it was serendipitous and it was good that we ended up there, I think.

Jenn: What other iterations of the name did you come to before Jill and Joey? 

TT: Oh man, I should bring up the... If I could find my notepad. It was like KangaRU, with a R-U on it and there was just... When you go to trademark, they're like "Oh, you can't trademark that even though it's spelled R-O-O, it sounds very familiar to R-U, because of that, it could be confusion." 

I'm like "Dude, you guys in legal, you're making life hard for everybody." 

But I'm glad we went through it because now when other businesses reach out to us and ask us "Hey, I'm trying to set something up. What should we consider?" 

We can give this insight to folks where they don't have to spend six months [chuckle] kinda going through the process and thousands of dollars of going back through multiple iteration and research, discovery. 

So I think that's the biggest thing that we're taking away from this, is over the last two years starting, even though this August was the one-year anniversary for Jill and Joey, I felt like two years of just education, learning and evolving our knowledge on understanding how an e-comm business or how a brand really works and so it's been really, really fun.

Jenn: That's awesome. 

Tell me a little bit about this mentorship piece. Like if small businesses are reaching out to you guys, what does that look like for you, sharing that knowledge or kind of being a resource? 

I think that traditionally, there's this idea of you wanna hold everything close 'cause you don't want other people to know 'cause you wanna be able to and I love hearing other small businesses say "No, I'm gonna share my knowledge. I'm gonna share what I know, I'm gonna share what I learned 'cause when you succeed, I succeed." 

And I think that that's amazing.

TT: Yeah, I don't think we have any free proprietary secret. 

And so what I love is seeing other people who wanna go on the same journey, create a side hustle where eventually it can become something full-time for them, give them the financial freedom and the flexibility of doing what they love and spend the time they want with their family and so one thing I think we do really well is we're very transparent. 

We join a lot of mastermind groups, a lot of groups on Facebook and I'll let the guys kinda chime in on this but we go on there and we're like "Hey, look. Let's just ask the question. Let's not be afraid of sounding dumb." because other people are probably seeing the same way of "Hey, why is Amazon being a pain in the butt right now with our distribution in a way?" 

And a lot of people respond back...

Jenn: I didn't say that. [laughter]

TT: I know, I said it. I'm gonna say it. [laughter] 

But a lot of people are going through and especially with everything with COVID, there's a lot of unknowns, a lot of changes that people aren't aware of and so when we start a couple of questions, it just starts the whole chain reaction. 

Same thing with Facebook Ads, same thing with... I was just telling the team this morning, is that I just put our website as part of one of the mastermind groups that we're part of and they were doing a new segment, which was just a candid website review. 

Let us break it down and see where you guys are strong and where you guys can have improvement and I'm okay with getting that candid feedback 'cause that's the only way we can improve and so in regards to the mentorship, when people reach out, I feel like myself in a way, what we do as one of the other side hustles with the marketing and sales operation kind of consulting, is people are more than willing to reach out and ask "Hey, what else are you guys doing?" 

And we're just like "Here's what we're trying." and we're very upfront with them. "We're trying it. It's worked for us and so we'll show you. It could be a very different outcome but we'll walk you through the process." 

So the guys can kinda give additional insight there.

GD: Yeah. I think it's important to be vulnerable, just share where you're at, what hardships you're facing and I know for us, especially when we first started selling on Amazon, we had a mentor that we worked with that got us up to speed and were so grateful for taking that personalized approach with us to share some of the best practices that he's learned through trial and error and all of us are doing this, as you mentioned, on the side so if we can pass it forward to someone else and make it a little easier, then it's just about forming those connections and it's just good talking to people.

Jenn: I love that as dads kind of embracing that vulnerability as well because I think that that's something you also then pass on to your kids. 

In an era where we are inundated with toxic masculinity, being able to be vulnerable in life and business is inspiring. 

That's really awesome so I appreciate... Even using that word, I think, is really cool.

TK: Yeah, I think if you go into this thinking you know everything, there's no way you're gonna do it well.

Jenn: Well and you're gonna be humbled real quick, right? 

TK: Yes, exactly.

Jenn: 'Cause you're going to hear "No." Like "Oh, yeah. Cool. No, for sure."

TT: There's also a lot of noise out there too and when you start searching for things "How do I improve my e-comm visits?" or whatever it is, you start being inundated with all these ads and these ads come in and you don't know what's real and what's not and for us, the only way to really find and kind of navigate through all that noise is, once again, go through these forums, go through these mastermind groups that we are part of or other e-comm groups that we're part of and just ask the question and then they give us candid feedback and it really helps. 

'Cause you can go on YouTube, you can Google all this and there are just so many people out there and they're like "Hey, I have the perfect course for you. For $100, here's what you're gonna get from me."

And good for them but for us, we don't know if it's legitimate or not and so I'd rather hear from a real person that started a business just like us, that's going through the same headaches, where we can kind of commiserate together, talk about successes and really just try new things but the one thing that I always say is "Let's just try it and let's fail at it quick." 

And the way I say fail at it quick is "Just pivot. Just pivot and if it does stick, great. We'll stick that on and we'll continue moving that and we'll try something different and continue to pivot."

Jenn: Yeah, that's amazing. 

Tell me a little bit about how COVID has impacted Jill & Joey. 

I know you guys had some struggles in the beginning with supply chain and all that stuff and I think that that's not uncommon with lots of small businesses right now. 

So I'd love for you to be able to kinda give us a little bit of color for what that's looked like for you.

TT: Yeah, for sure. 

So when we first started, everything that we did was going through Amazon, like what Geoff mentioned a little earlier. 

I think one of the biggest things is we wanted to put out a quality product that we can 100% stand behind. 

Geoff did an amazing job of vetting and communicating with the supplier that we had overseas and built a really good relationship, got our first batch of product out and when we did, what we realized is during the manufacturing process, the manufacturer itself, probably two-thirds of the way, is that right, Geoff? 

Two-thirds of the way into manufacturing, they ran out of our zip-top that we needed to put on to our bags and they utilized a third party that we didn't vet out or did a quality testing with and so with that, our customers who were receiving batches of product that were not completely defective but wasn't the longevity, up to our standards.

And so we made a big decision of saying "We can't do that. We can't put a product out that we can't stand behind and we can't put a product out where it defeats the purpose of our mission, where if after a certain amount of uses, you guys are throwing away anyway." 

So we ended up pulling almost all of our first inventory that we put on Amazon and went back to the drawing board, went through our testing...

Jenn: So heartbreaking.

TT: Financially it was a very, very tough decision but I think for us... 

Once again and we didn't wanna be an overnight company, we wanted a long-term. So we pulled all that, went back to the drawing board, talked to our manufacturer and we fixed the problem and then we went through and ordered our new set.

Jenn: New batch. Yeah.

TT: And then, of course, COVID happened and this is where a lot of things changed for us. 

From delays, from I don't know obviously, Amazon pivoting what they were taking in from mission-critical or essential products and so on and so forth and so we pivoted our business from complete fulfillment through Amazon to starting fulfilling it ourselves through Shopify and building our platform there and that's where we are today and that's where we are continuing to grow but some of the pitfalls and stuff, I'll pass the mic over to Geoff and he can kinda talk to you about where we wish things were moving faster, where communication was better but it's a learning process for us.

GD: Absolutely. To Thaison's point, we were really starting to hit our stride in Q4 of 2019. 

Then we started pulling the product, we had made the investment, tested the new product 30, 40 uses, felt confident and then COVID hit. So it was manufactured but stuck at the manufacturing facility 'cause COVID and the whole country shut down. 

So it's just interesting in communicating to the supplier, the manufacturer, of what they were experiencing first-hand. So that was kinda pause number one. 

We can't really take new action until that stuff gets on the boat and makes its way to us and on the Amazon side, we made a significant investment too with pay-per-clicks and the different Amazon strategy we had to rank well and we ended up getting on to page two, page three, which is significant for us but with this delay in terms of our category was non-essential so the shipping time was two to three weeks and that just really... 

It shot all of our momentum and we're still trying to recover from that. So that was a pretty significant setback from that element.

But at the same time, it's an opportunity for us to learn and I thought Thaison and Todd did an excellent job moving to the Shopify platform, learning about all the beneficial tools that they have, and creating the ability for us to fulfill our own orders and leverage Sendle, for example, to really pivot and have a strong story where it's ship the products, carbon-neutral shipping and at the same time, at the end of the life cycle, we partnered with TerraCycle to recycle those with you guys.

Jenn: I love that.

GD: So it's really full-scope for what we're trying to do in fulfilling our mission to be more sustainable.

TK: Yeah and I think one other challenge and I think a lot of reusable companies are finding this now, is just with the virus, there's a little bit of hesitancy around getting reusable products and using them. 

Sadly, we've seen some states and some countries pull back on their mandates for using reusable bags and not that we are a company that makes reusable shopping bags, these are really alternatives to the baggies that you put sandwiches in and things like that but it's still something that that's in the back of people's mind. 

So I think that's another challenge that we're starting to see ourselves shake from but it's still something that I think is there.

Jenn: Yeah, I felt like it was a big bummer not being able to take my coffee cup to the coffee shop anymore. It was hard to not be able to go to the coffee shop in general and then when you went back, they were like "And by the way, we're not using reusable cups." And it's like...

TK: Exactly.

Jenn: "I get it." But it's also heartbreaking to have to bring that cup back every time. 

Also, doesn't it feel like years ago that Amazon was taking two to three weeks to ship everything? Time is so weird right now.

GD: 2020.

TK: Yeah.

Jenn: It's so so interesting.

TT: You bring up a good point there though Jenn, about the reusable cups and one thing that I've started noticing... Well, at least what we're doing is the coffee shops that we go to, I tend to go back to the ones that even though you can't bring your reusable... They have compostable cups.

Jenn: Oh, yeah.

TT: And I focus on those and so it still makes me feel better about it. 

No, I would prefer to bring my reusable canister for them to fill up but at least they understand, at least here in Seattle. 

I think that the people here are amazing at trying to find alternates to better the environment and I love finding these other shops and other stops are hearing about it and they're adopting to it too. 

Like "Oh okay, cool. We're building this loyal fan base in a way and customers and they want this." And we're making a small change for them to go from single-use plastic cups to compostable cups. Like very, very simple.

Jenn: Especially with everything being takeout right now. 

It's like the amount of trash that we're creating as a city is unbelievable 'cause you wanna be supporting these small businesses but everything you're taking home. 

So it's just another layer to kind of add to everything. I'd love to know how you guys found your supplier. 

Talk to me about what that process looked like, how you vetted folks or found them, and how you're feeling about that relationship going into post-2020, COVID, whatever that life looks like when we get there.

TT: Yeah, I'll let Geoff take this one 'cause he definitely headed up the vetting and the sourcing of our supplier.

GD: Absolutely. So we looked for... Ideally, we wanted it to be based out of the United States and as we were expanding for other products, we were talking to manufacturers and even the US-based manufacturers to compete at the price point. 

We needed to leverage oversea manufacturing so that's ultimately for our first product where we needed to end up for our business to work essentially but it was a matter of just vetting suppliers through different platforms and what it came down to was responsiveness, the type of response, how informative were they, and the relationship that was built over the testing of the prototypes, etcetera. 

And we connected with one and felt pretty good initially and then the relationship just continued to build and as far as getting to know someone based out of another country and another time zone with different life experiences, it's just been interesting and kind of a cool experience to form that bond and at some points you're talking to them so often, your phone defaults to say "Hey, do you wanna text this to the supplier?" as opposed to your wife or your friend group chat of air buds. 

So Thaison, anything you wanna add? 

TT: No, I think another big thing for us was scalability, future scalability of the supplier too and so we could have found a supplier that was very responsive, had the product that we were looking for but more importantly, where, if Jill & Joey were to really grow and we were able to get into...

Jenn: Which is gonna happen.

TT: Yeah, which is gonna happen, where we get into the wholesale side of things, we get into retail. We wanted to make sure that the manufacturer that we were dealing with had the capacity to scale with us and so that's where we chose this one, specific one and to piggyback off of what Geoff was saying, when we communicate back and forth, everything's through WhatsApp. 

Fortunately, with this one supplier, she actually did a face-to-face meeting with us and she started telling...

Jenn: Oh amazing! 

TT: Yeah she... Well, I'm sorry, not face-to-face, a virtual meeting and so we were able to see who she was. 

We know a lot about her too, like where her family is from and we were asked... Every time we were paying her, it wasn't just business. 

It was like "Hey, how are you doing?" Or "Hey, we've heard that this is happening over there. Are you okay?"

So for us, that's really important and I feel like that kind of bleeds into our everyday life too and it's just we are relationship builders and we truly do care about our partnerships and our ecosystem and the people that surround us and so every single time we talk to her, I don't want it just to be straight about business. 

Let's build a rapport above and beyond that because with this supplier, she reaches out to us and says "Hey, by the way, we got this new product coming. Would you be interested in it?" Or "Hey, we're thinking about doing this also. Can you help us source out who would be a good resource?" 

And so she becomes almost a trusted advisor for us overseas in a way. So that was a really good journey that we went through with them.

Jenn: That's so smart and so interesting because I think that what we realized is that COVID was impacting different parts of the world at different times and so obviously they kind of got the worst of it first and then Seattle was a hotspot pretty quickly. 

So can you guys tell us about what the experience was like for Seattle to be in lockdown, things to not be as crazy on the East Coast yet, and how you guys have managed that communication channel between the three of you and then your supplier as well? 

TT: Yeah, I think with the... Obviously, with the things that are happening over in China, it happened first for them so we were reaching out to her and we heard about the lockdown and we were like "Hey, is your family okay?" 

Just always checking up and making sure everything was good.

jill and joey hey sendler

Jenn: People first.

TT: People first and when it came here and it started happening with Seattle, I would say impact-wise on how we ran the online business, besides the supply chain, we still continued our conversation the way it was, because everything that we did online, we just communicated "Hey, look, the biggest issue that we have right now is getting things delivered on time." 

And at the beginning of the year, just to let anybody know, is that if you're gonna order from overseas, you have to take a lot of things into consideration, not only New Years but also the Chinese New Year, the Lunar New Year that they're celebrating and so we almost had three unfortunate events back-to-back where it was New Year and then... 

Oh well, it was them shutting down, New Year and then COVID, and that was almost like three-and-a-half months of just straight delay and then on top of that, the ports, the shipping, and the new levies that are coming in tax-wise. 

There are just so many things that happened at the beginning of this year that I feel like honestly we didn't get our stuff and got into our stride till probably April of this year, again, which is crazy to think about when we finalized everything back last October, November.

Jenn: Right.

TT: Right? But communication-wise, we kept them very open. 

We were checking up on each other, making sure that "Hey, move Jill & Joey aside, how's everything else going? How's that first?" 

And then we started talking about the business and then how we would pivot and continue to better ourselves during the downtime. 

When I say downtime, it's just waiting for transit and so we went through, did a lot of online courses about SEO marketing, really drove into Facebook marketing, cleaned up our Shopify page, cleaned up all the images back there, making sure that everything was optimized so that way when it did land, we were ready to go.

Jenn: You were ready. Yeah.

TT: And I think that's helped us a lot and all of us have taken our skill set when we first came and started this company to a whole another level and I'm very proud of the team that we have.

Jenn: I love that. You guys are a small, obviously, the three of you, kind of scrappy business. 

Talk to me about some of the ways that you're looking at growth and getting your name out there. You mentioned wholesale and retail. Talk to me a little bit about what that process has looked like. 

Thaison, I know you've literally gone door-to-door to stores to be like "Hey, I have these bags. Are you interested?" which is the definition of scrappy. [chuckle] 

So tell me a little bit more about that process and what it's been like and how you're trying to forge those connections with people in the community to be like "I'm a trusted person and you can buy my product."

TT: Yeah, I always have a Jill & Joey bag, bags in my bookbag and when I go down to the beach, I see beach clean up "Great. Thank you so much for cleaning up. Here's a bag." 

This is what my mission is type of thing and I love what you guys are... I see people picking up seashells with Ziploc bags "Hey, have you thought about an alternative?" 

I'm always doing that. I'm not afraid of going and just not knocking on a retail door and "Hey, by the way, I wanna learn a little bit more about your boutique and how we get our stuff in." but I think that's the one thing that Geoff has been doing really good at, is finding different technologies and different roads to reach out to more and more people. 

Geoff, do you wanna talk a little bit about what we have put on the road map and what you've been doing? 

GD: Sure. The old saying, when I first started, I'd say "Get as many shots on goal as you can and the more shots, the better for conversion." 

So it's just... From our perspective and it's something that we've talked about as a group, we've gotta diversify as much as we can. 

So it's about being available on different platforms so whether it's WalMart, Shopzilla. Google's got a new competitor to Amazon. Their online shopping experience is getting up to speed, we were recently approved to the sell on there. 

So it's just a matter of diversification and not being so reliant on one channel such as Amazon, which really gave us a tough time as well. So those are just a few examples. 

There's another that we've been trying to communicate with some through wholesale for some of the bigger suppliers such as grocery stores, etcetera and we're finding that a little more challenging based on our company size but yeah, it's just a matter of getting your product out there in as many ways you can.

TK: Yeah and I think the other part too is just reaching out to people who would be interested in it. 

So online influencers, friends and family, anyone and everyone, just to get the word out and to get it in front of people so that they can share out about it and grow a grassroots network around what we're doing. 

Sometimes that's a challenge, is really getting people to get their attention on what you're selling but that's something that we're working on every day, is just reaching out to more and more people to share out about what we're doing.

Jenn: Thank you. I got a question from someone who registered and so I'm gonna shoot that off and then if anybody who's here would like to answer questions or ask questions, sorry, feel free to pop it in the chat and we'll get to that as well. 

“Have you found more people have been moving to reusable or sustainable alternatives during the pandemic? And how do we get more people to care or keep caring about the bigger picture of our planet's health or waste crisis and climate change when it seems like the whole conversation is crowded?” 

TT: Yeah, there's definitely a lot of noise out there. 

It's nice that the conversation in a way is crowded because people are talking about it and I think people are trying to find, similar to our stories, the little things that we can do today to make small lifestyle changes to be a little bit more reusable. 

Just looking at just trends and just data and just seeing, once again, the keywords and things that we are looking at, the trend is definitely going up. 

The keyword search terms are going up and I'm not just talking about "Okay, cool, metal straws and eliminating just produce bags or whatever."

TT: It's just people in general are very interested in how to change their household around where they're putting less waste into their trash cans but also long-term, it's actually more economical for them. 

When you look at some of these sustainable subscription services where things are coming in, you're using the same kind of cleaner bottle but you're just changing out the water, putting a new tab in, whatever it is, people are thinking about all these things long-term. Because with us, when we would go through and, let's say, finish up a Clorox bottle or a Windex bottle, you're tossing that and you go out and buy a new one.

But in reality, that bottle is still good. 

You can still do a lot of different things with it and so there are a lot of alternatives out there where you can use that same bottle, fill it with water once again and just put a different tab as a cleaner and that's the same thing that we're trying to do with our product line, is think of what's the next thing that we can do that's not hugely cost... It's not gonna cost a lot but it is gonna make a bigger impact and we keep on searching things. 

I think the community and the people around and at least what we see is families and our generation, we're definitely looking into it. We have to and four years ago, climate change kinda got put on the back burner of politics, right? 

And now it's a big, big piece and we all have to think about it 'cause we see the impact.

I mean, just this summer alone, take away COVID, think about all the natural disasters that happened and think about the forest fires, just everything in general. 

This is something that we have to really consider and clean water, not just for us here in the States but just globally, what does that look like? 

And if we keep on polluting our water, we're gonna get to a state where it's gonna be like The Book of Eli, where water is gonna be a huge, huge commodity and there are places around the world right now where that's already being taxed very heavily.

Jenn: Right.

TT: Right? And so to answer the question, I think I'm glad that people are thinking about it. I know it is crowded. 

There's a lot of noise out there but I think it's just taking a step back and seeing here as a family or as a household or as an individual, it's like "What is it that I see that I can make a small change today?" 

And let's just test it out for the next 30 days or so and then keep on adding more things on top of it. Don't rip the Band-Aid off and do it all at once. 

It's kind of like going to the gym and working out. If you do too much, you're gonna exhaust yourself and that's why gyms love people at the beginning of the year, right? Everybody jumps in like "Okay, I've got this mission." they go 30 days hard and then 90 days later they're out. 

Let's find something a little bit more sustainable.

Jenn: It's not sustainable to just go all out and buy everything completely brand new, right? 

TT: Correct.

Jenn: Shout out to immigrant families because they're the OGs of reusing things because my grandma reused coffee tins and butter containers and everything for everything and so it's like looking at what you have and what you need and then sort of blending those together to kind of figure out "What is gonna be the most sustainable path moving forward?" 

Which I think is really the way of the future, really working with or supporting brands who have good missions, who are doing the right things but then also looking at what you have already and trying to figure that out.

TK: Yeah, I think the challenge really and it was different probably three or four years ago, is not getting people to understand that there's a problem. 

It's just getting them to understand what are the practical steps they can take to help overcome that problem and so...

Jenn: That's true.

TK: And the other piece is letting them know that it's not an expensive prospect to do some of these things. 

So that's kind of the education piece that I think is still something we try and do in our marketing and the talks we have with folks is like "This is an alternative. Maybe plastic baggies are easier to buy but they're in the end not cheaper and they're much more harmful for the Earth. So you really have to give these a look."

Jenn: Totally. What are some of your favorite eco-friendly products, aside from Jill & Joey? 

What was one of the first things you switched to when you were looking at starting a reusable, sustainable journey in your house? 

TK: Well, I'll just say on my end, my wife is way more advanced than I am in terms of some of these things. 

So we have the wool dryer balls. We have the beeswax wraps. We have a lot of those things and we've found them to be great and actually, as we start to think about Jill & Joey, we don't want it to just be a bag company. 

So one of the next steps we're hoping to take is look for a network of other products that we can kind of partner with and start to help sell with them and also look for products that we wanna create beyond just the bag. 

So the reusable bags are the big piece right now but obviously, we're looking for expanding our network and expanding what we offer.

GD: Yeah, to add to that, I would say, before we discovered our Jill & Joey reusable water bottles, I was a big fan of YETI water bottles and to me, it's not necessarily a product. 

It's more of a mindset. For example, we talked about all the takeout that's going on right now and we've tried and then actually in credit to my in-laws who've done a great job of taking all those black and clear plastic take-home containers and just washing them and reusing them. 

So that's kind of where we've tried to... If we get it, we try to reuse it and be as responsible as we can with it.

TT: Yeah. Very similar to what... I think it started off with just the reusable water bottle for us and then it evolved into the silicone bags and then because of that, that then evolved into the beeswax wraps and then it evolved into us making our own bags and so these are, I feel, very simple things and just talking about reusability and sustainability, it's also looking into, for example, Riley's toothbrush. 

It's made of reusable plastic that actually have gone through TerraCycles and I started looking into backup packages and saying "Okay, cool, this is a reusable product, definitely use that." 

And even some of the kids' bowls and plates, they're made from reusable milk jugs. I'm like "What a great idea. The amount of milk that we go through, that's awesome. What a great idea to recycle all that." 

So it's just these simple things where to me now it's very simple for me to go to the store and say "Okay, cool. This is what I wanna invest into." 

And also, it's about the longevity of the product too and making sure that it's not gonna be something I gonna buy today that's gonna be used only like four or five times and then I'm gonna toss it, 'cause that defeats the purpose.

Jenn: And if we're manifesting, who is your guys's dream wholesale client? Who are you like "Yes, please. This is our dream partnership, collaborator"? 

TT: Yeah. I'm gonna put the big name out there and the guys can fill in but the big name out there, I would love to get into Whole Foods.

Jenn: Yes.

TT: And then locally around here, I think we're a great fit for Metropolitan Mart, and not only that, it gives me a reason to go there and get their big cookie every single time.

[laughter]

Jenn: What about for you guys? Anybody else on your dream list? 

TK: I mean, everyone.

Jenn: Yes.

TK: I don't think I have a specific one. I want it everywhere. Maybe Geoff has a better idea of... He's been doing a lot more of the research for us on that end.

GD: I would love to get into Trader Joe's. To me, that's a very personal brand similar to ourselves and a loyal customer base. 

I think it would be really cool to get into that location and I apologize if you can hear my kids screaming in the background, that's what's going on.

Jenn: Don't apologize at all, that is totally fine. 

I wanna open it up for anybody who's here, if anyone has questions, feel free to pop it in the chat or if you are not shy and would like to hop on video, please feel free and then if you guys have anything you'd like to share, if people are marinating on questions, tell us where people can find you, what's coming next, all that good stuff.

TT: Yeah, great. People can always communicate with us through jillandjoey.com. You can find us on social @jillandjoeyru. Somebody else has the Jill and...

TK: R-U.

TT: Yeah R-U and we also have a Facebook page that you guys can find us through and we'll share all that information with you, Jenn but above and beyond that, anybody that's on this call, as you guys are going through and looking at your business, if you guys wanna have a brainstorming session or just to bounce ideas off of us, we would love to have that conversation 'cause I'm sure we can learn a lot from you guys and I hope that you guys can pull some valuable nuggets from us also and so this is the type of community that we love, is just people trying to do different things to make the world better but also growing a side hustle to potentially maybe do it full-time later down the road.

Jenn: Yeah, I love that. Anybody, questions? 

Also, shoutout to SENDLE15 at jillandjoey.com 'cause that'll get you 15% off of your next order. Please go. I totally meant to bring a bag up here. 

I will confirm that the first time I met Thaison, he was like "And here are my bags." And I was like "Oh, thank you so much. This is amazing." 

And we use them for everything, for putting waffles in the freezer, for Cheerios, for sandwiches, all of the above.

TT: That's the one thing we do love to hear back, is the different use cases above and beyond outside of the kitchen and so maybe what we can do is like with the Sendle folks, if you guys do go through, obviously use the discount to get a little bit of savings on there but would love to get some unique ways that you guys think the Jill and Joey bags can be implemented to your life above and beyond food. 

For us, we've heard people use it for their office supplies, arts and crafts. 

People have made... What is it, slime? Whatever the kids love, the little slime in the bag. So anything almost that you could use in the past a Ziploc bag for, that's what you would utilize Jill and Joey for but I love to see the uniqueness, the different use cases.

Jenn: Cool. Well, alright, I think that's everything. Thank you guys for joining today. I appreciate your time and your energy and your answers and all of that jazz.

TT: Yeah, thank you for having us, we appreciate it.

Jenn: Of course.

GD: Thank you very much.

Jenn: It was so good seeing you guys. Everybody have a good day. Bye! 

TK: Thank you, bye bye.

TT: Bye.


Ship sustainably with Sendle

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