The Unofficial Shopify Podcast

Sprinkler Nerd Says, "Dropshipping's Not Dead"

Episode Summary

Turning a Niche Obsession into a $1 Million Store

Episode Notes

In 2004, Andy Humphrey took the $108 he'd saved and turned it into $10,000 profit in 6 months selling Christmas lights on while working full-time as a distributor account manager.

Fast forward >> today he sell millions online tactfully optimizing and blazing trails with wholesale distributors.

Along the way, you may have seen him on ABC's, Shark Tank (ECOMOWER, 2011), or working with irrigation technology, helping hundreds of contractors & distributors embrace the digital transformation and improve their business.

With almost two decades of experience, Andy has a tremendous understanding of what it takes to succeed as an online entreprenuers.

Show Links


Never miss an episode

Help the show

What's Kurt up to?

Episode Transcription

The Unofficial Shopify Podcast

Kurt Elster: Hello, and welcome back to The Unofficial Shopify Podcast. I’m your host, Kurt Elster.

Ezra Firestone Sound Board Clip: Tech Nasty!

Kurt Elster: And today, I have quite the guest with a lot of experience, and he told me that he believes the entrepreneurial game happens one play at a time. Persistence beats resistance. It’s a journey of learning followed by action. That is a lot of platitudes, here. If you do this enough and you never give up, you’ll make it happen. Okay, I actually agree with that. I do. There is few things that you can’t accomplish just by plugging away at it, because think about this, where you spend your time and energy is where you are going to become proficient, and business and the associated skills is just a skill set, a tool set. And so, you can… I thoroughly believe that you can just brute force your way to success, but certainly you could take shortcuts, and hindsight being 20-20, it’s fairly easy once you’ve been through it, and our guest today has been in the game since 2004, and so he’s got a lot of experience, more than myself, and he’s going to talk us through like, okay, here are the things that I really think make the difference.

And so, today we are talking to Andy Humphrey, who sells sprinkler parts. Okay, that doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing, but listen to this: In 2004, he turned $108 into $10,000 profit in six months selling Christmas lights, then later appeared on Shark Tank, and now, selling millions through Andy Humphrey, thank you for joining us.

Andy Humphrey: Hey. Thank you, Kurt. Happy to be here. I kind of feel like… I was thinking about this morning, you know that feeling when you finally landed on page one, or ranked one on Google? That’s how I feel right now. It’s like I have made it. The big time. Unofficial Shopify Podcast.

Sound Board:

Kurt Elster: I hope so. You know, it’s funny. People say that. Lately, I’ve been hearing that, like the gentleman, Chris Meade from CROSSNET had mentioned it, and Braxley Bands, Braxton Manley had said a similar thing, and I am utterly embarrassed every single time.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: Truly, like, “What?” I don’t believe anybody. I think they’re just blowing smoke. I’m shocked that anyone… We’re on almost episode 400. I’m like, “People listen to this? I can’t believe it.” I keep doing it.

Andy Humphrey: Well, that’s what happens when you never give up and you keep doing it.

Kurt Elster: I just keep going.

Andy Humphrey: Over and over.

Kurt Elster: Because yeah, the first episodes of course nobody listened to, and when I go back and listen to them I’m like, “Oh my God. How did I make it this far?”

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Persistence beats resistance.

Kurt Elster: And plus, when you start, you don’t know what you’re doing and then you figure it out. But the only way to figure it out is to try it and screw up repeatedly.

Andy Humphrey: Right. Isn’t that the benefit? When you don’t know what you’re doing? Because you have no preconceived notions. You just get in there, get into the sandbox and start playing around. See what happens.

Kurt Elster: There is freedom in that ignorance and embracing it. Certainly, experience is the best teacher, but sometimes I wonder like if I knew then what I know now, and knowing how much work was about to begin, would I have been able to get into it, right? And certainly, I hope I would, but I don’t know. I really don’t know the answer to that.

Andy Humphrey: I think sometimes if you think there’s gonna be too much work, you might not. It’s the entrepreneur’s optimistic mindset that they think they can do it overnight and they keep thinking they can do it overnight, and you just have to keep thinking that forever.

Kurt Elster: Yes. And then you look back and you go, “Oh.” You know, when I look back, I think about it like all right, it took me five years to figure out what I was supposed to do, and then five years to do it, and now, like okay, now I always feel like… Every six months I feel like, “I just figured out what I’m doing.” For over 10 years now, this has been happening.

Andy Humphrey: Right. Over and over and over. Gotta love it.

Kurt Elster: You know, I said like, “Oh, the early episodes embarrass me.” That’s a good thing. If you’re not embarrassed by you and your work from years prior, that means you didn’t get better. Oooh, that’s not a good look either. So, I guess I suppose your goal should be to embarrass your future self.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: Interesting.

Andy Humphrey: Stop thinking about it. Start doing it. Get out of your head and get into the world.

Kurt Elster: So, speaking of doing the work, you started doing the work it sounds like in 2004, right?

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, because I didn’t know any better, you know? Really. And I just wanted to be challenged mentally. You know, when you work a day job sometimes you just do the thing, but you’re thinking about the future.

Kurt Elster: The side hustle.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. And I’m thinking about the future and there’s this internet thing happening, and I just started, like I said, playing in the sandbox. Experimenting. Then came across some, from a product perspective, something that was innovative, that the manufacturer said was not available in brick-and-mortar hardware stores, like big box, blue, orange, red hardware stores, so then in my mind-

Kurt Elster: The blue and white one is my favorite.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Yeah. And at that time, I’m like, “Well, if it’s not available in these box stores and it’s supposed to be “better,” maybe there’s an opportunity online for this.”

Kurt Elster: And so, what was it? What was this thing?

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. These were Christmas lights that were supposed to be and actually were like twice as bright. This is pre-LED. They had little magnifying glasses on the end of them and they were sold direct to contractors, right? Lighting professionals installing holiday lights for their business. So, that was an advantage that the manufacturer wanted to give to the installer so they could sell a product that was better than the consumer could then, at that time, buy in a brick-and-mortar store.

Kurt Elster: You know what’s funny? I actually, to this day, or even… This was 2004. By 2019, I think, I was buying commercial Christmas lights online, direct from the manufacturer. Cost the same as regular Christmas lights. And they had Weather Pack connectors. I don’t know if they’re brighter. They look good. My house looks nice.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. All that kind of stuff. Yeah. That was right when manufacturers started to go direct to consumer.

Kurt Elster: Man. 2004. The phrase direct to consumer really didn’t exist yet.

Andy Humphrey: No, it didn’t.

Kurt Elster: We just called it like B2C and that was just all encompassing.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. And you know what’s kind of crazy about 2004? And I think people could relate to this today is that I thought I had missed eCommerce, because I was just starting. I’m like, “Oh my God. Imagine if I had started in 2001 or 2000.” I thought I’d missed it.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. The best time to start is always… is today.

Andy Humphrey: Exactly.

Kurt Elster: Like you can’t go back and start yesterday. Start now. And that’s true of all kinds. Anything that you’re like, “Wow, I wish I’d started sooner.” If you’re having that feeling, it means like you should probably get in now because it’s still got momentum. If you didn’t feel like you hadn’t got in early, like you’re like, “Oh, I should have gotten in early.” If you don’t have that feeling, eh, maybe there’s nothing there yet. It’s like that FOMO tells you there’s something there sometimes.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Totally.

Kurt Elster: I like that idea. Man, 2004.

Andy Humphrey: The game, it changes, too.

Kurt Elster: That’s pre-Shopify.

Andy Humphrey: So, the game is not the same in 2004 as it was in 2008, as it was in 2012, and in 2021. There are definitely similarities but the game’s changing. The ball’s always moving. The puck is going somewhere else. So, there’s always an opportunity to enter a market.

Kurt Elster: Certainly. And so, what was the thing that was it, that made you say like, “All right, I’m gonna get into eCommerce.” How did you know? What was the thing that made you say, “I should do this?” It’s 2004, but I’m-

Andy Humphrey: Well, it was mostly because I didn’t need any capital. So, I started, you could call it drop shipping, but it was the fact that I was an account manager at a wholesale irrigation distributor, so this was the fall. We were gearing up for the holiday season when we sell Christmas lights to contractors.

Kurt Elster: Oh, I was gonna say, like landscapers, that’s… Yeah, I live in the Midwest, and so in the Midwest, what do landscapers do in the winter? Well, they’ll do your driveway, and I guess they put up Christmas lights.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Absolutely. So, I had access to these lights, and so I just knew I needed to figure out how to sell them online, and I did, and I sold them, and then I would wake up in the morning, I’d have orders. I would already have the money, too. That was magical. I wake up and there’s money. It’s not quite in my account, but it’s been paid for. And then I would go to work, buy the lights wholesale, stop at Staples on the way home and ship them out. And I immediately had a cashflow-positive hustle. So, it was drop shipping, but I was the drop shipper.

Kurt Elster: Interesting.

Andy Humphrey: Because I was buying the product, sourcing it, and then stopping on the way home to ship it out, but I didn’t need any inventory. I didn’t need any capital, any funding. It was literally as long as I can sell this online, I’ll get the money, buy the product, ship it out.

Kurt Elster: And what, that business was immediately successful as a side hustle, certainly like the earlier version was not gonna make you financially independent, but you’re like, “This is some non-trivial cash here.” In six months, you did 10 grand in profit. All right.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and this is like-

Kurt Elster: Who wouldn’t take that?

Andy Humphrey: And the amount that I was learning at that time was… I couldn’t learn this anywhere else. Even to this day, I don’t think you could go to a university or college and learn all the eCommerce skills, right? It’s still something that you learn really by doing, or on the job, or you’re learning from somebody else, so the skill set, like the craft… You know, I kind of think of eCommerce as a craft, so this was enabling me, powering me to learn the craft. Then it was just gonna be up to me to figure out what to do with that skill set.

Kurt Elster: And so, what happened to this Christmas light business? Actually, 2004, what the heck platform? How did you run such a software?

Andy Humphrey: It was a two-platform story. First one, because I had no money, was osCommerce, right? So, the downside of osCommerce is I had to read in forums, and copy code, and really get a little bit code dirty, get in there and figure stuff out. The good news is I found a… sort of the what you might call Shopify before Shopify, which was Volusion.

Kurt Elster: Oh, Volusion.

Andy Humphrey: So, I was an early Volusion customer, and I still remember they were using GotVMail for their phone system.

Kurt Elster: Which I think is still around.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Absolutely. I think it became Grasshopper. I used it. You know, so I was an early Volusion customer, because they offered an interface that required no code. It was truly sort of a plug and play, out of the box, eCommerce solution.

Kurt Elster: And what happened to this Christmas light story?

Andy Humphrey: Let’s just call it what it is. I’m embarrassed, but you said it’s okay to be embarrassed.

Kurt Elster: Yes. That means we’re learning.

Andy Humphrey: That means we’re learning. And it was called

Kurt Elster: Super Twinkle.

Andy Humphrey: Super Twinkle. So, what happened with Super Twinkle is the manufacturer of those lights invented a Christmas tree storage bag that was called the Treekeeper Bag, and I was successfully selling their Christmas lights online, and they said, “Hey, Andy. Why don’t you try to sell this Christmas tree bag that we just created?” So, sure enough, I was able to sell their Christmas tree storage bag, and then I realized that their… If you pay attention to numbers, financial numbers, you’ll quickly realize that you’d rather sell a $100 average cart at a 50% profit than a $30 average cart at a 35% margin. So, I immediately just made the pivot, the shift that I’m not selling Christmas lights anymore. I’m gonna go all into these Christmas tree storage bags.

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Andy Humphrey: So, that was kind of the phase two of the journey. The pivot over to Christmas tree storage bags. I still run that company. It’s called

Kurt Elster: Oh, so it’s… You mentioned the Treekeeper Bag, and this is like this is the spinoff of the, which I looked, the domain is available but doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not registered. That became, which I see that site now, and this is for people who have… This looks like it’s now on Shopify.

Andy Humphrey: Yep.

Kurt Elster: I see located in Traverse City, Michigan. Lovely place. We spent last Christmas there. And this is for people with fake Christmas trees. Faux trees. To store them in the basement. Which, this actually seems like a great product, because we have a-

Andy Humphrey: Garlands, lights, ornaments, really everything Christmas storage.

Kurt Elster: One of my Christmas tree bags was lovingly dismantled by our house rabbit, Mary Hoppins.

Andy Humphrey: Oh, very nice.

Kurt Elster: It had some rubber. Rubber is delicious, and so she carefully chewed apart the rubber, and so the Christmas tree bag when we went to pick it up was like the bottom was just carefully… It’s like someone did it with scissors. She’s very precise. That’s great. Thank you for that, rabbit.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Thank you for that story.

Kurt Elster: The Christmas tree was unharmed. But if you have a fake tree, the Christmas tree bag they come with, eventually it rips, and so having a Treekeeper Bag, I get it. This is a good product. It solves a real pain.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and what’s really interesting about the timing of this, and the times are different now, but if you go back to say 2005 through 2011, before brick-and-mortar companies had really centralized distribution and where that centralized distribution was then also fulfilling direct-to-consumer orders, what would happen is the box stores would presell these items. So, Christmas tree storage bags might be available from let’s say Halloween until Christmas. But if you go into a box store the day after Christmas, you don’t really see Christmas items anymore. You see spring and winter-type items, because the Christmas season is over. However, the Christmas storage season starts the day after Christmas, so there was a market misalignment, so the box stores didn’t have the storage items on the physical shelf when buyers wanted the storage items, because they were selling it as a Christmas item, pre-Christmas, but when people need it is actually after Christmas.

So, the online sales opportunity was really large, because you couldn’t go into many physical locations and try to buy a Christmas tree storage bag.

Kurt Elster: So, even the big box retailers had mismerchandised it.

Andy Humphrey: Correct. It was like the season was off. They considered it a Christmas item, which it is, but they didn’t realize when the demand for that item was occurring, which was after Christmas.

Kurt Elster: And so, how did they find you?

Andy Humphrey: They went to the Google machine.

Kurt Elster: Oh my gosh. And so, this is still in the… This is what, 15 years ago at this point?

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. I mean, this is really when pay-per-click advertising was very, very profitable. I mean, we’re talking $1.50 to sell a $100 cart.

Kurt Elster: Oh, say it again.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. $1.50 to sell a $100 cart.

Kurt Elster: Oh. Oh. I’m gonna pass out. An absolute… Oh my God. I can’t believe it. You tell lies. Oh, yeah. I remember those days. Even then, you could still… It wasn’t like shooting fish in a barrell, but man, it was a lot easier to experiment.

Andy Humphrey: And you still had to know what you were doing, and I learned a lot then, so the way that I developed eCommerce business was really mastering pay-per-click advertising.

Kurt Elster: What do you think has changed between now and then?

Andy Humphrey: I think that Google is just one place where people start their purchasing process. It used to be the only place, or let’s say 90% of the market. Now, people start their purchasing journey, if you will, some on Google, some on YouTube, some on Amazon, some on social. The market is split up to where people start their search process, their research, their purchasing journey. So, all eyes used to be on Google.

Kurt Elster: And so, it was easy. You had a bigger pool. A bigger supply of eyeballs with Google. And so, you could start there and have faith that as long as you kept advertising and you had the right keywords, it became inevitable that your buyers would find it.

Andy Humphrey: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Whereas now, even if I have the most dialed in PPC strategy on Google, I’m not necessarily gonna cast that same net.

Andy Humphrey: Right. That’s correct. And the competition is a lot steeper, and prices are a lot higher.

Kurt Elster: Significantly.

Andy Humphrey: Very.

Kurt Elster: Like several fold.

Andy Humphrey: Yes. And so, unless you have… I don’t want to get too far in the weeds. Even to this day, we do a significant amount of pay-per-click advertising, but today we do all bottom of the funnel, where it’s the intent is to buy, so I don’t want to capture someone looking how to do anything. I need essentially brand, make, and model, and now I know their intent is to buy something. No researching. I am not paying to be in front of someone who’s researching. They literally need to be searching, clicking, buying.

Kurt Elster: So, we just… We skip the first part. But part of this, what helps, is this is a lower… These are lower AOV products. The Treekeeper Bag, 40 bucks. And Christmas lights would have been a lot… unless you’re buying-

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Treekeeper is actually a $100 item and up, so-

Kurt Elster: Oh, my mistake.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. There are some that are more generic tree storage bag that’s $30 to $40, but the flagship models are $100 to $200.

Kurt Elster: Okay, so when you’re really serious about this tree. Is it rabbit resistant? I think that’s critical for me. So, we go, at some point, you end up on Shark Tank.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. You know, it’s just the natural progression of anyone in eCommerce hustling, right?

Kurt Elster: That’s where everyone… they all go. At some point, you get sent. The sensor in your hand goes off and you’re rounded up and sent to Shark Tank. That’s the eCommerce entrepreneurial journey.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Everyone thinks if you get on Shark Tank, you’re gonna be rich. You’re gonna make it. You’re just gonna be handed this pile of money.

Kurt Elster: I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve been on Shark Tank that I’ve talked to, and so I know it doesn’t work that way, but I also know that your sales spike every time your rerun goes.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Now, gosh… I think I was at a disadvantage because 2011 was a long time ago.

Kurt Elster: And you had… So, what were you on Shark Tank with? Certainly not Christmas lights.

Andy Humphrey: I had a product called the EcoMower.

Kurt Elster: I like the name.

Andy Humphrey: I kind of reinvented the push, manual push lawn mower.

Kurt Elster: And called it an EcoMower?

Andy Humphrey: The EcoMower. The idea, not to get too much into the weeds, but the idea was to create-

Kurt Elster: No pun intended.

Andy Humphrey: Earth friendly… Yeah. An Earth-friendly lawn mower brand, because I thought that the EcoMower brand could kind of stand for the whole category of eco-friendly lawn mowers, and I did trademark it, but I didn’t want to make an expensive, complicated piece of machinery, so I started with the push lawn mower in order to get the physical product, get the trademarks, and at the same time they were pretty popular. You know, there was a sort of a trend.

Kurt Elster: I was gonna say, I remember seeing these in people’s front lawns mowing their lawn with a push mower, and this was before really… Electric mowers, you had to plug them in, and inevitably you would end up running over the cord, and then the battery ones now have reached a point where, all right-

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. It’s almost just now. Battery mowers are just now decent.

Kurt Elster: But this was 10 years ago.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. More. 15 years ago. Yeah. 2006 was when I really launched EcoMowers.

Kurt Elster: Oh, wow. So, think about this. 2004, you just get into what is essentially drop shipping. Maybe not. I don’t know. You were reselling, but you were the one fulfilling.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. You were a reseller, but still. Okay, so you did the work there as a side hustle. Two years later, not only are you like, “All right, I got my own product.” Trademarked it and now we’re going on Shark Tank with it. That is quite the jump forward.

Andy Humphrey: That’s what happens when you keep playing in the sandbox, and you don’t give up, and you keep experimenting.

Kurt Elster: Yeah, you keep going at the same thing.

Andy Humphrey: And learning, and you know, the mower was great, because it was a small box. Let’s just say it was about four shoebox sizes, right? So, picture a cube, four shoeboxes-ish.

Kurt Elster: Once you take the handle off, you get it fairly…

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, it all packs down, and these were not the run-of-the-mill push mower. They were $200 to $300 push mowers, so at a 50% margin-ish, 40% to 50% margin, again, I’d rather sell a $250 item that’s fairly small package with a good margin than the other items that are out there, so it was a very profitable business.

Kurt Elster: So, really our business progression here, we’re moving up in AOV.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: Christmas lights, 15 bucks. Treekeeper Bag, 100 bucks. Now we’re lawn mower, 200.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Andy Humphrey: And it was nichey, right? It was nichey. So, that’s another thing that became part of the journey, was being nichey.

Kurt Elster: I like it. So, yeah, you’re right, they are all… They are quite niche. I’d say the Christmas tree bag feels like the most niche, but like how many people have faux trees? A lot, right? And those bags that they come with, eh, they don’t last too long. And so, what happened with this? We’re talking about this mower in the past tense.

Andy Humphrey: Right. Well, what happened is the trend for these mowers kind of tapered off, so there was sort of perfect storm timing, and for about four to five years, the trend for these mowers was they were popular, and then the trend faded out and there was a lot more sort of less quality imports coming in, and the market just kind of fizzled away.

Kurt Elster: Right. It was what we discussed, was like, okay, everyone saw this trend happening. Because a gas mower, unless you’ve got a really big property, they’re loud, they smell, you gotta maintain the thing. What average person wants to change spark plugs, right?

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: I’m excited about that, but most people are not. The electric is just convenient and quiet, and so the market went there as battery technology evolved. And so, you knew to-

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and some of these businesses-

Kurt Elster: You were smart enough to know to walk as opposed to like, “I’m really gonna force this.”

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: Because that’s another tough thing, is like knowing to be like, “All right, this ran its course. I learned what I did. We’re moving on.” Talk me through that.

Andy Humphrey: So, I would say that you need to be juggling a few balls at the same time, so it’s not like I just stopped and then there was a resting period, and then you start another one. When I sort of turned off EcoMowers, it was also because I had already started

Kurt Elster: So, there’s a diversification of risk here.

Andy Humphrey: Yes.

Kurt Elster: We overlap our business properties. But you can only take it so far because you have limited time, resources, and attention.

Andy Humphrey: Exactly.

Kurt Elster: Okay, so you’re like, “All right, that’s still selling but the writing is on the wall, so we’re gonna start spinning up the next thing while that’s still going.”

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and I think I… You know, I started the next thing without… the other one hadn’t started to fizzle yet, you know?

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Andy Humphrey: You’re just diversifying because you’re seeing opportunities and you want to capitalize on it. And the opportunity I saw was that I was in the wholesale irrigation industry. I knew suppliers.

Kurt Elster: And this was where like in 2004, that’s where you had started working.

Andy Humphrey: Yep.

Kurt Elster: Okay, so this whole time you’ve been in that industry.

Andy Humphrey: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Okay. So, yeah, whatever industry you’re currently in, whatever you’re passionate about, who your network is, that becomes your advantage.

Andy Humphrey: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Andy Humphrey: Yep. And I’ve heard it described and I describe it as a passion mashup. So, I would claim, I would say, boldly say there are few people that know irrigation and eCommerce, those two things, as well as I do.

Kurt Elster: I would also say content creation. There’s a whole series of skills in your toolbox and on that Venn diagram, you’re right. It’s like you take all those skills, the network, the industry you’re in, and then suddenly, like when you step back and look at it, it becomes so obvious. This man should run a sprinkler supply store.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: But when I first saw it on Twitter as this tremendous example of copywriting is how I was introduced to Sprinkler Supply Store.

Andy Humphrey: Oh, okay.

Kurt Elster: I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “This is shockingly good for something that you would think of as mundane.”

Andy Humphrey: Gotta be different, right? That’s where traditional business sometimes fall behind because they all look like each other. You can’t tell the difference between the top five wholesale distributors out there. They’re all the same. Same message, same story, same product, same everything.

Kurt Elster: Isn’t that strange? If you’re starting a store, people will go, they’ll say like, “This is what we want.” And then they’re like, “Here’s the top people in the space.” And so, you end up… They become homogenized.

Andy Humphrey: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Versus if I’m approaching a design from a creative standpoint, give me the sites that look the best that are not in my category, and if I borrow individual elements from a series of sites, so great artists… Good artists copy, great artists steal. But if I do this from enough sites, enough brands in unrelated categories, the end result will be something entirely unique.

Andy Humphrey: Absolutely. You have now crafted a… One way to think of it is a different recipe. Lots of same ingredients, completely different recipe. Your store being the recipe.

Kurt Elster: So, Sprinkler Supply Store, this one also on Shopify, currently up, looks good. What’s going on here? Tell me about this business.

Andy Humphrey: So, we’ve got two parts of Sprinkler Supply Store. One is the obvious, the website, the dot com, and one thing to think about with your dot com is I tend to think of it as a channel. Yes, it is what people see. It is where the purchase happens. But what we’ve really also built is under the hood what I call the sprinkler fulfillment network.

Kurt Elster: I love it. The SFN.

Andy Humphrey: Yep. The real SFN, you know? There’s another one I’ve heard of.

Kurt Elster: Right, because there’s Shopify Fulfillment Network. This is Sprinkler FN.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. And really, there’s no reason to replicate a business that already exists, i.e., why would I take sprinklers and put them under in my warehouse when all this inventory is already sitting in someone else’s warehouse?

Kurt Elster: And so, the plan is… So, rather than you stock the inventory, which really, that is flat out what I feel is one of the most difficult parts about eCommerce, is inventory forecasting, because it equates to cashflow forecasting, and so if you can have that inventory sit with the distributors, and with wholesale distributors, with manufacturers, and you can automate that process where you could sync the inventory, number one. That’s the critical thing. And not every industry and every distributor is gonna support this, but if you can figure out how to sync the inventory from them to your store with something like Duoplane, shoutout to Duoplane, then really, what’s the difference between that and stocking the stuff yourself, other than you’re not taking on the risk with carrying all this inventory?

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and if they need to make a little margin to do it for you, then let them. They should. Because the carrying cost of inventory is a lot higher than most people want to think that it is.

Kurt Elster: But Andy, I thought drop shipping was dead.

Andy Humphrey: Right. That’s what we all want you to believe.

Kurt Elster: Oh. Oh, so this is a conspiracy by the successful drop shippers, are out there like, “Hey, drop shipping is dead.” Unless they’re trying to sell me a course, in which case I’m suspicious of the whole thing.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: Okay.

Andy Humphrey: So, you kind of nailed a couple points, so I would say that old school drop shipping is dead, and what I mean by that is truly old school drop shipping, which is you send an email from your eCommerce platform or your order management system to a distributor, that distributor either fulfills the product or four days later, they email you back and they say, “We’re out.” And you’re like, “Wait, why didn’t you tell me this four days ago?” Old drop shipping wasn’t truly connected inventory, like real time, connected inventory, and that is… I really feel like with the space that we’re moving into, if the inventory is real time connected, and your orders are as real time connected to the fulfillment source as possible, then you have a good drop shipping model because customers want to know what is the price, is it available, when am I gonna get it? If you can deliver them that, then they’ll make a purchase.

And then you have to actually fulfill on that promise, and old school drop shipping was never very good at fulfilling on that promise.

Kurt Elster: No. No. I worked… When I got started in eCommerce, I worked for a large, successful drop shipper, and we would like on the product form, it would say in stock. We had no idea. We just knew which brands were likely to be in stock and then if it didn’t work out, “Oh, here’s your money back plus a store credit.” We really had no way to connect it because it was quite some time ago. So, this idea that drop shipping is dead isn’t the case.

Drop shipping in the soggiest, lamest way possible is dead. Sophisticated drop shipping totally works, because it’s transparent, and so one of my predictions for 2022, like at the end of a year I’ll get a few emails from people like, “Hey, Kurt. Give us a quote for your 2022 prediction.” My 2022 prediction is not technological. My 2022 prediction is that we’re gonna have to try harder than ever and it’s because of the pandemic, because so many people had to shop online, all consumers… I hate that word, consumers. All people who bought online have become more sophisticated. They are more aware. They are familiar, like the average person understands what drop shipping is.

And at the same time, so many brands had to get online so quickly that there’s more people online, it turns into an arms race. Everybody’s gotta get more sophisticated. And so, what you’re telling me is, “Hey, this isn’t dead. Very much the opposite. It totally works, but the bar has been raised.” Table stakes are now more evolved.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and I think we’re gonna have new entrants into the eCommerce space, and what I mean by that is the wholesale distributors that currently may feel like they’re caught in the middle, they may not know where their value add is because their value add is shifting, right? What they thought was value, taking someone’s order and either delivering it with a truck or shipping it, has changed because that’s all digital now. But what distributors don’t realize is they still have significant importance because of the things we just talked about, right? Distributed inventory across lots of locations all over the country. They just have to start diversifying their business by either number one, partnering with eCommerce companies, or number two, creating their own, right?

Distributors need to partner with direct to consumer, whether that’s B2C or B2B. Under their own brand or under new brands.

Kurt Elster: In the auto parts space, one of the largest distributors is Turn 14 Distribution, and like everybody buys from these guys, and everybody who manufactures tries to get them to carry their stuff within that space, and they also have their own direct-to-consumer brands, and then on top of that, they niche them down to specific categories, like AmericanMuscle.Com only sells parts for Ford Mustangs, and that’s it, and it’s like everything you could possibly want, but it is a wholesale distributor’s direct-to-consumer brand.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: And so, very much describes your situation and what you were telling me. But all right, one of the things I want to inquire to you about, because you have so much experience here, is in the pre-interview you brought up the three-legged stool. You said, “Really, like any successful company today is a stool.” What are the legs of the stool?

Andy Humphrey: So, from my lens, and I don’t know where either I heard this, so I may not be able to take credit for this. I just don’t remember where it came from, but I think there’s three legs to the stool. Number one, the commerce. Number two, the content. And number three, the community. And if you go back in time, in our DeLorean, to 2004, 2005, it was really just commerce, and maybe some content. There was no community happening at all, and the content and the commerce were completely unique to their own. There really wasn’t much affiliate even crossover between those two verticals.

There was commerce, and there was content, and they were separate. And today, we’re just seeing this complete mashup of all three of those, and what I mean by mashup is we’re seeing content creators get into eCommerce. We’re seeing eCommerce become content creators. We’re seeing eCommerce build communities and we’re seeing communities get into commerce. We’re seeing all of those three things really come together.

Kurt Elster: And how does it make you feel?

Andy Humphrey: I guess a little bit nervous, because-

Kurt Elster: I love it.

Andy Humphrey: I know the commerce. Content’s never been my thing because personally, I don’t have the patience to write and wait. I want a sale now.

Kurt Elster: But you don’t have… You’re right. SEO, content marketing, you have to think… Especially when you’re trying to get results in terms of eCommerce sales, it’s planting a garden. It’s like the fastest you’re gonna be harvesting anything is 60 to 90 days. And really, it’s more like six months.

But I think if you can find the thing, the kind of creative, the kind of content that you’re good at… I don’t love doing face-to-camera videos, so I’m not gonna be the best at TikTok. But I’m good at extemporaneous speaking and I like talking to people, right? I get lonely. So, a podcast works pretty well for me. I can write, but I don’t enjoy writing all of the time. All right, so I’m not necessarily gonna be doing blog posts, so maybe I outsource that, and I did. I think it’s about finding… If you’re scared of it, it’s about trying different things and finding the one that you like, like what got me into… Some of it is just like I just wanted… I like gadgets. I wanted to buy a microphone. I wanted to buy a camera. That can help get you over the hump and get started with it.

Where do you find your success with content creation?

Andy Humphrey: The things that roll through someone’s mind when they make a purchasing decision, I think that they have to know, like, and trust something, someone, some company. So, unless a product is the only one in the world that meets a specific need that the consumer has, they’ll buy it. Otherwise, given three similar choices, someone will pick something that makes them feel like the know, like, and trust either the person selling it to them, the company, et cetera, that they can believe in. And so, what I’ve started to do really just this year was to try to come out behind the corporate veil, if you will, of Sprinkler Supply Store, and create a face. Create brand persona. I.e., which has to just be me, and so I’ve kind of created this sprinkler nerd persona, and-

Kurt Elster: No, because there’s coded language in there, like sprinkler supply nerd immediately implies like it’s okay to be into sprinklers, which as a child I legitimately was into sprinklers. It’s kind of an engineering thing. And it implies you’re an authority here without maybe some of the negative connotation around just yelling, “I’m an authority.”

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Making fun. We want to make fun of ourselves. We’re nerds that know lots of stuff about stuff that doesn’t matter. Really, it’s just a sprinkler.

Kurt Elster: Yeah. But I mean, you know, if you’re in the industry it matters to somebody.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: But you can’t take it too seriously. It’s sprinklers, after all.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and so really, I started to think about what gives me a great experience when I’m buying something. I like to watch video. My wife and I debate this because I will now go to YouTube almost first when I’m looking for something, because I want someone to tell me about it, I want to see it. I’m visual. Show me, tell me, let me see it. And I think that that’s really what we need to do in commerce more, and have it be kind of real, and believable, so I think the days of taking a product on a white background and spinning it 360, it’s like, “No, I want to see it in some dude’s hand. I want someone to show it to me.”

Kurt Elster: Walk me through it.

Andy Humphrey: Walk me through it.

Kurt Elster: Give me the guy who built it and have me walk me through why it matters.

Andy Humphrey: Right. Exactly. And so, I’ve just started to do that, and it’s been fun, embarrassing, and I would say just getting started, so really content creation this year has been building this setup, and then I will take… Returns come here to my warehouse, so I am in a room in my warehouse, but I have a distributed fulfillment network that fulfills product to the customer, but we take all the returns here, so we get to see everything that comes back, and what I’ve been doing is every time we get a product back, I make a video of it, because I have it in my hands. It’s a good way to get it in the sandbox.

Kurt Elster: So, part of your returns process is you’re like, “Okay, here’s an opportunity. I need to go do an unboxing video, a walkthrough video,” whatever it is.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. I’ll just take the item, and I’ll hold it up to the camera here, give you a close-up of it, talk about it, what I like about it, what I don’t like about it, just not in crazy detail, just enough to give someone a quick show and tell.

Kurt Elster: And you’ve got nice videos, and you’ve got a nice setup. How did you get familiar and comfortable with that kind of content creation?

Andy Humphrey: You just have to start. We were talking about that earlier. There is no-

Kurt Elster: Yeah, you just gotta get into it.

Andy Humphrey: There’s no getting comfortable.

Kurt Elster: You’re right. There’s a book I recommend, How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck. It’s a great title, but it’s a really great crash course in getting comfortable with everything involved in video. It’s very quick. That was the one where I’m like, “Okay, I could do this.” That helped me a lot. But otherwise, it’s really just like just start. Everyone’s got an iPhone, or a smartphone, and they all have really good cameras, and you could edit on them, so it’s hard to have an excuse not to.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. And what I would tell people that want to do video and are nervous, uncomfortable, afraid, is what you just said. Start. But if you change your perspective, instead of aiming for perfection, you aim for unperfection, because unperfection to me is actually more believable than perfection.

Kurt Elster: It’s authentic.

Andy Humphrey: Authentic. So, what you really want to do is just be your true, authentic self, and if you screw up what you’re saying, that’s okay. Just say it on the camera. Oh, I guess I said that wrong. Whoops. And just keep going, right? Try to go for really the one take. Don’t edit it. Just the one take.

Kurt Elster: You’re right. It adds authenticity to it, believability. Like even when I look for videos, especially like I watch a lot of tutorial videos, and maybe it’s like, “Here’s a tutorial.” I just watched… The last one I watched was like, “Here’s a tutorial on changing out a brake caliper on a 1984 Ford Bronco.” Very exciting stuff. If you’re me, it is exciting. But I always… I joke with my wife. I said, “I look for the guy who’s obviously in his driveway, has a big, crazy beard, and no sleeves.” Because that’s the guy who’s going to be most like me, in my setup, in my garage, like that’s what I want. That’s the one I’m gonna believe. I want to see this dude struggle a little bit.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: And then I’m like okay, that’s the video. I’ll just follow along. So, you’ve been doing this, Sprinkler Supply Store was already successful, and then you really focused on content starting about a year ago, right?

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, and what I wanted to do is make sure Sprinkler Supply Store is always… I want to make it future successful, so what I see happening today is there’s going to be the traditional distributors, right? The wholesale market will start to sell online. They’re really just getting started today, but if there’s more competition online, then what will separate someone, right? Someone who’s building more of a brand, focusing on content, focusing on community, doing what’s coming next now and differently.

Kurt Elster: And when you say doing what’s coming next, I like that you’re like, “You gotta do what’s coming next.” And it’s content and community, not NFTs and crypto.

Andy Humphrey: Right.

Kurt Elster: So, after a year of this, how has… Have you seen an impact from this level of content creation?

Andy Humphrey: So, I think there’s a couple ways to measure impact. What I try to do, what I want to do is hear from customers, so I’m always checking in with our customer service manager, and that is sort of my radar. Has anyone mentioned these videos? And they do, right? So, they’ll say, “Hey, I watched this video,” and they’ll call in or they email, so that’s really the best way for me to take the temperature, is that direct feedback.

A lot of our videos we’ve made past our season, so the irrigation and landscape industry has a season. It’s essentially April through the end of August, right? Where people go looking for this, especially in the spring when they turn on the irrigation systems and the market kicks off. So, that’s really the indicator, and I can say that today we’ve been doing very, very niche items, where it is product specific, model number specific, not top of funnel, how to replace your sprinkler. Haven’t done those yet. Those are the high traffic, high volume, but they’re not necessarily-

Kurt Elster: Yeah, the tutorial video.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, tutorial, where they’re not necessarily looking to buy, either. That’s where we have to pixel them, stay in front of them, maybe have them opt into a guide that we haven’t created yet, right? That’s coming next. A guide to XYZ to just get them into our ecosystem so that when they’re ready to buy, we’re still in front of them. Where today, we only get in front of people that their intent is to buy today or tomorrow.

Kurt Elster: Content wise, it really… It seems like you’re leaving a lot on the table here. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. I wouldn’t… Certainly, I would not undervalue that top of funnel stuff. Your TOFU efforts.

Andy Humphrey: Yep. No, that’s exactly right. That’s what’s coming next. So, we’re moving up the funnel, if you will.

Kurt Elster: But starting at the bottom, I think there was also wisdom there. And so, the third leg of the stool is community. How does one build a community around sprinkler supplies?

Andy Humphrey: Very slowly.

Kurt Elster: I think you’re right. There’s a few episodes recently where you hear that discussion of community and its importance, certainly with the ONE BONE, the big and tall t-shirt brand that I loved, community was a big part of that. User-generated content. And I 100% agree, it’s just it’s a hard thing to do to build a community. Talk me through it.

Andy Humphrey: The way I look at community and the content right now is I’m not looking to monetize it, right? So, because I’m not looking to monetize it, I want to do it because I enjoy it, really that’s why. Because I enjoy it. And people, we like to do things that we enjoy, that are fun to do. If I can monetize it later, absolutely. So, with the community, what I’m doing is using my podcast and then using the connections that I’ve built over the last 20 years in the industry, the people that I know, the companies that I know, the manufacturers, to create content and then ask for people to join in the community, and then just facilitate, really. Really, the point of the community is to get people talking, to get them sharing, to get them adding value to the community. Not really consuming from me. I have been in communities where it is sort of just like the person who started the community, they just dump ideas, and strategies, and you’re just consuming, consuming, and really what I want to do is build a place where the members of the community build and run the community. Not me. I’m just the one facilitating it.

Kurt Elster: Yeah, I think the trick to make community work is… Well, to your point, number one, you have to enjoy it. You authentically are into this and so you enjoy the community. And I think that’s critical. You probably… I’m sure some people could fake it. It’s gonna make life a lot harder. And then you’re not actively trying to sell to them and you’re not… It’s not like one to many. It’s more just a genuine collaborative effort. It’s not just like you only post and then people could comment on that.

Andy Humphrey: Correct. Yeah. And really, the community is a longer-term opportunity, because the community that I’m building is really for professionals. Not just sprinkler professionals. Lawn care professionals, maintenance professionals, landscape installers. Anyone that has a business in the landscape industry is welcome to join the community, but that is not really my target market today, because we sell more direct to consumer looking to replace sprinklers, add-ons and such, so really I’m building the community for the future of the business.

Kurt Elster: And how does one get into this community? Like I’m on, and you link to podcast, learn, so you do have some good SEO tutorial content, like how to turn on a sprinkler system, but I don’t see where the community lives.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. Because the community is for the future. The community is for the business professional. It is sort of the next stage of the business that doesn’t exist right now, so we currently… I currently invite them in through the podcast, and from knowing another professional.

Kurt Elster: And where does the community live?

Andy Humphrey: It lives on Facebook, so I call it a community-

Kurt Elster: Oh, those darn Facebook groups.

Andy Humphrey: … because I don’t want to call it a group, because it’s not a group. I really want it to be a community.

Kurt Elster: Yeah, and I’m in a lot of Facebook groups, and the quality varies wildly, and I think that’s a matter of setting tone, setting expectations, and being really ruthless about the rules, like if you’re spamming, you gotta go. And I think the other part of it is tone.

Andy Humphrey: Tone is huge. Huge.

Kurt Elster: And I don’t know how you control that, like I’m very proud of the tone we have in our Facebook group. I’m in other Facebook groups and that’s… For me, that’s what makes or breaks it. Obviously, if there’s a bunch of spam and garbage, you just leave, but if the tone in the comments, people are nasty, then I’m out, as well. And I don’t know how you control that.

Andy Humphrey: No. I 100% agree and the same thing exists in the… There’s a large irrigation group and I would say it’s not what you might call the helping, friendly group, and really, I want to create the helping, friendly group. And so, you’ll see people post a picture, let’s say of their own install, and you know what they’ll put in the comments? They’ll say, “Okay, who wants to roast me?” Because they know it’s coming for them.

So, that’s all part of building a community. A community is there to help one another and that’s all about the tone, and so you just have to set the tone, go in there with the tone, create the tone, and if there’s no moderators or good administrators of a group, the tone will probably go to the lowest common tone denominator naturally. If no one is raising it, it’ll just go down.

Kurt Elster: That’s been my experience, is yeah, you set the tone, and then people follow suit. But yeah, you can’t… You have to be pretty… have to have low tolerance for negativity and shenanigans.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: And certainly, if it’s like harassment or spam, it’s just automatic. You’re out.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: So, audience versus product. Tell me, because that’s what… If someone’s listening to this and they’re still at the beginning of their journey, where do they spend their time? Do they go like, “All right, let’s go start a podcast about this. Let’s start a community.” They have an audience then. They have authority. They don’t necessarily have a thing they’re selling. Versus okay, do I focus my efforts on, “Okay, I’ve got this store. People could purchase from it. I wake up and I’ve got money.” That experience. But you have to have someone to sell to. All right, so which comes first? It’s like a chicken and egg problem, so where would you… How do you think about it?

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. It’s an interesting question because I do think that there are… Let’s see. Going back to the beginning of my journey, it was eCommerce was let’s say potentially less expensive to get into than it is now. To get eyeballs, right? To get visitors. So, if you want traffic and conversions, buying traffic years ago was easier. You could get in for less money. Today, traffic costs more money, so if you have money, great. You can buy traffic. If you don’t have money, you need to what you said earlier, plant some seeds, grow the garden of traffic. But if you have a warehouse full of products, you may not be able to sustain waiting for those seeds to grow.

And so, if you can get started with content and an audience, then you could potentially put something in front of that audience that they might want to buy.

Kurt Elster: The audience is the valuable thing, like the audience is the value of the business, especially in those first stages. If you have that, I really think your life becomes much easier, especially since you could talk to your audience and get a better sense of… It’ll make you a better marketer, right? Like my big advice for people who want to improve customer experience on a website, pick up the phone and talk to the people buying from you.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: And this is the logical extension of that idea.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah.

Kurt Elster: So, audience trumps product. Community really, community and content, very important.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah. I think-

Kurt Elster: Very important legs of the stool.

Andy Humphrey: I think so. Absolutely. And you know, you can have a side hustle with content. There are plenty of people that make lots and lots of money with content sites that sell courses, that drive affiliates to Amazon and other, and I actually think that is a really good place to start. So, oftentimes someone will ask me, “Man, I really want to get into eCommerce. I need to think of a product.” And I’m thinking to myself, “This guy doesn’t even really know how to buy a domain name, let alone throw up a store, let alone…” He knows nothing. You know, the best place to get started is to just go build a WordPress site and learn how the web works, create some content, write about something, just get in the sandbox and start playing around. It’s not gonna cost you really anything, right? You can have a WordPress site basically for free.

Kurt Elster: I agree wholeheartedly with that except obviously it should be a Shopify store.

Andy Humphrey: Yes.

Kurt Elster: Geez. I think you mispronounced Shopify. It was strange. It sounded like WordPress.

Andy Humphrey: Well, that would actually be interesting. I wonder if there’s any content-only Shopify sites, right? Before they’re ready to have a product, is there anyone that just has a blog on Shopify?

Kurt Elster: My wife’s website. Double Your WDW is primarily content driven.

Andy Humphrey: Yeah, so the next… Keeping on this theme, what we might see are those content sites today that direct their visitor over to Amazon to purchase said product that they recommended. They could be poised to be their own product brands, or their own eCommerce sites, and that might be one place that we potentially see Shopify invest in, is how do we get content creators to open their own store, and or do larger eCommerce companies start buying content sites and directing the traffic to their own store?

Kurt Elster: I started to see this in 2021. I can think of a client brand that is content focused that got purchased by a larger eCommerce store, eCommerce brand, really for the purpose of like, “This is now our content production.” But I think we’ll see more of that, certainly, because you’re right, it’s like you need those three pieces to really… It really makes life much easier, especially with just… with PPC traffic costs becoming more and more expensive.

Andy, where can we find more about you? Where can we learn more about Andy Humphrey?

Andy Humphrey: You can learn more about me on Of course, and the Sprinkler Nerd Podcast. LinkedIn is good for those of you in the corporate world. If you have any wholesale distributors listening to this, I would love to talk wholesale distribution and eCommerce, and all those opportunities that are right here in front of us that just have to be taken advantage of.

Kurt Elster: It sounds like the best way to get ahold of this gentleman, check out, and I have included those links in the show notes. Andy, thank you so much. This has been absolutely fantastic.

Andy Humphrey: My pleasure. Happy to be here with you, Tech Nasty!

Ezra Firestone Sound Board Clip: Tech Nasty!

Sound Board: