StickerGiant Chats the Annual Cookbook and Getting Employees Involved with Marketing
In this Stickers on the Mic episode Jesse sits down with John Fischer, the CEO and Founder of StickerGiant to chat about the annual employee cookbook, how this got started, and how employees are actively involved in this tradition and marketing for the company.
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Announcer: Welcome to the Stickers on the Mic podcast, brought to you by StickerGiant.com. If you're joining us for the first time, welcome. If you're a regular listener, thanks for tuning in as we talk about business, marketing, and growth with our customers.
Jesse Freitas: Hi everyone, Jesse Freitas, marketing director at StickerGiant, here to bring you this month's episode of the Stickers on the Mic podcast with John Fischer, the owner and founder of StickerGiant. We will be talking about employee involvement in marketing and, specifically, the annual tradition of our StickerGiant employee cookbooks.
Welcome back, John. It's a pleasure to have you on the Stickers on the Mic podcast, again. We are going to be talking today about our annual tradition of an employee cookbook that we do here at StickerGiant, and also, a little bit about just how we involve employees in our marketing efforts at StickerGiant.
To kick it off, I'd love to hear from you just about how-- Tell us about when you started hiring your first employees at StickerGiant. What was it like when you were first getting your first employee in the doors and how you approached them and how this started in the very early stages of using employees in the StickerGiant marketing?
John Fischer: In the very beginning, Jesse, I was in my basement and I was literally sharing the basement with my kids' toys. I had three little kids at the time, and I had file cabinets with stickers on it. It's back when StickerGiant was the pick-and-pack sticker store. I had maybe 600 designs. I worked on the website during the day, and after the kids went to bed, we had bath time with three toddlers and you put them down and you bring the baby monitor down, that's when you pick and pack the orders. We also had a tradition as a family, it's going to Wisconsin for the summer. We had to find somebody who could do the picking and packing and somebody that I could teach to print the orders out.
That was the need to get an employee in the beginning because I wanted to go somewhere. The other thing was my wife was really busy with three little kids, and when we got to about 20 or 30 orders a day, she said, "Okay, John, if there's going to be 30 orders a day, you got to get somebody else to do this because I can't do this." Xan's been on the business since the very beginning, since we got the 20, 30 sticker orders a day. Now, we have 55 employees. The first employee was because Xan couldn't do it anymore.
Jesse: How did you hire your first employee? As you went along with those first few hires, when did you start bringing them to the forefront of your business?
John: Well, the general conception around StickerGiant is that Maureen was the first employee in the basement. In a way, she's the first employee that actually stuck around, but the very first person to help was before the website was even launched. I had a co-founder, Mike Brooks. He was working on the website and I was helping do the internet marketing set up ahead of time. Then, we had an assistant early on who did all the scanning and data entry for the stickers that were going to be on the site when I first launched. There were 600 designs this girl had to scan and do data entry and come up with a name and categorize 600 stickers.
That was a lot, we didn't know how to do it, we didn't have a system, we had a spreadsheet. That was the beginning, but once the business started running and I needed somebody to help pick and pack orders, I had a few people that streamed through the basement before I settled on Maureen. I think the first one for a short time was Lisa Schmidt, my neighbor up on Beech Circle. We had a woman named Kim who was a bartender at the American Legion where I was a member. She came in for a while. She made the basement smell a little bit like cigarettes, I remember.
John: Then, we had- it was a student from Naropa who was a friend of the co-founder, Mike Brooks, for just a little bit. Then, Maureen, and Maureen is still with the company 15 years later. I found Maureen by putting an ad up at the Hygiene Elementary School where my kids were going to school now, at that point. She answered the ad, and it turned out that even before she started her job, we were volunteering for clean-up at the parent-teacher organization spaghetti dinner fundraiser on a Wednesday night, and we both had brooms and we're cleaning spaghetti off the floor before we even started working together.
Jesse: For our listeners out there, this is early day recruiting for a small business in the early 2000s prior to LinkedIn and other known websites that help.
John: Yes. I'm like, "You're pretty good at cleaning up, too."
Jesse: It sounds like you had a lot of personalities, to say the least, coming through your doors to start the business. I'm sure, as you went along, more personalities came in. I'm sure there is a moment of reflection on all these people and their character that were working for you. When was the moment that you were like, "I need to get these people featured on a blog," or some other form of marketing?
John: A way of telling the story, the business grew, and we had done some early videos with an outside actress named Katie Brevard. She's done a bunch of great stuff in the area and some films that have won some awards in film festivals. Katie Brevard, and then my daughter, Izzy, and they worked together for a while, did videos. Izzy was the first real person who is part of the company to be featured in the marketing. She did the Sticker podcast, she was probably 10 years old, and she had-- You can probably find the videos somewhere in our archives. They might have been removed but--
Jesse: They're still on YouTube.
John: They're still on YouTube, my goodness. There's a whole couple different versions of them with Izzy. We moved on from there. There was a company in Boulder called RegOnline. RegOnline was a small software-as-a-service company growing in Boulder, run by a guy named Bill Flagg who's now a part shareholder of StickerGiant. They did a cookbook, and Bill showed it to me. It was pretty good, and they got great customer feedback on it. So I did a cookbook, and I said, "Let's produce this ourselves," and we did a really, really good job.
The thing about the cookbook that really got me excited was it was a reflection on my childhood. I grew up in suburban Chicago, and my father worked in Franklin Park for a little regional dairy at the time called Dean Foods. He had a few different roles in the company, but one of his roles later on was he was in charge of the annual report. From beginning to end, he had to write it, he had to compose it, he had to have a budget, he had to get photographers, and he had to hire a design firm and get it printed. This is back in the days where it wasn't digital, everything was completely analog.
He loved to write it. Back then, he wrote it on a yellow legal pad with a felt tip pen in his sort of "Bill Fischer cursive." He did this every year, it's his favorite project, and one of the things that he liked the most was going out to all the plants because at the time, Dean Foods was growing, we were buying small-- I still refer to Dean Foods as "we." They were buying small food companies all over the country, and so, he got to go visit the plants and meet the people on the plants that were working.
Often, he had worked on the acquisition of the company and feature these employees in the annual report as actual workers from the Green Bay Vegetable Factory or the dairy in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands or the Vita Herring plant on the East Coast somewhere. I don't know where Vita Herring was, but those are all examples of incorporating people. He loved it because he could get really good pictures and show that they were a company and they were about their people.
Jesse: Tell us about the first StickerGiant cookbook. It's now an annual tradition, but there was all this inspiration that led up to it. How did you go through that first process?
John: I'm trying to remember what the first one looks like. I think, by then, we had Alan Peters from Jupiter design- had done some work for us. In fact, I think at the time, he was an employee in the art department, but I'm not sure, I'd have to see. Do we have any of those around here? I'd love to see the first one and figure out which one it was and look at it, and then I would remember a little bit better. I believe Alan Peters helped us, and we laid it out, and it featured all of the employees at the time, I believe. In the early ones, we did some fun photo shoots, we went out to lacrosse in the open space nearby and had featured people's hobbies or featured people's favorite holiday recipe. One year, we tried the pair liqueur and a recipe in the same book.
Jesse: We did that, the "can't beat" one.
John: Yes, that one. It was just fun from the beginning, and we got great feedback, and I wanted to keep doing it year after year.
Jesse: What was the reaction from the employees the first time you did it?
John: "We're going to do what?" "We're going to do an employee cookbook." The rationale behind it, for me, at the time, was not only do I want to feature our people, but I really want to demonstrate to our customers. Our customers are small to medium businesses, and these businesses are just small just like us. They're just like us, they're somewhere likely in the United States and founded by somebody who cares passionately about their business, and they have employees that work for them that care about it too.
StickerGiant, even to this day, we're not this giant importer, multinational corporate thing. We're a company of people that care, and I wanted to show that because when you order your stickers from StickerGiant, we're not just phoning it in to an overseas printer somewhere.
Jesse: Yes, so talk more about that. How do we distribute the cookbook? How did we, especially in those early days?
John: Well, the cookbook didn't come about, I don't think, until we were manufacturing our own product, and so, we would put it in every box that went out, every custom sticker order. At that time, we were still probably just winding down the old retail business and starting off with the custom printing business. We would put one in every box, and we continued to do that as we had printed versions. The end result was a lot of our customers have stacks and stacks of the cookbooks because they would order multiple times a year.
We never had a good system for removing the duplicates, and so, that's a good reason that we are moving to digital recipes online now.
Jesse: As John just alluded to, this year will be our first cookbook that we are launching online. It's available now. You can go to stickergiant.com/cookbook, and there's a whole page of our employees and their photos and their recipe names and now you can digitally go see that and reference it. It's a change in what we do, but we felt it was important to go digital which is where most of our customers find us and order from us. It's the next step in our evolution as a business and changing our approach to that.
John: One thing I really like about this idea is the way you have set it up is that each recipe is going to have its own page, and that'll allow the employees to share it with their friends and families. We've taken the concept of putting a cookbook in the box and put it on the social media trajectory of geometric sharing. Honestly, I have a whole collection of cookbooks in my house on a shelf and they get dusted, but every time I need something, I rarely go to cookbooks, I just look it up on the computer that's in the kitchen. That way, it's going to be easy for the recipes that the employees have shared to get out to all of our fans, customers, and anybody looking for breakfast pizza, for example.
Jesse: For other business owners out there that might be wondering, "Well, why should I invest time or money into some big project like this?" it's also a piece of content that now, digitally, we're going to have something to share for weeks on end this next year. It's just a fun feature on an employee and their recipe and the story behind it and why they're passionate about that food or drink or whatever it is.
John: What's your recipe, Jesse?
Jesse: Mine is mac and cheese.
John: Is it out of a box?
Jesse: No, it is a homemade recipe of my mom's. She started using it several years ago, and it's just delicious. I can't eat any other mac and cheese now, so I've been making it for years. It's one of my go-to dinners of choice, so I thought I'd share that with everyone because you can't go wrong with a good mac and cheese.
John: Is it like a salmon mac and cheese or a bacon mac and cheese?
Jesse: No, I keep it pretty simple.
John: He's a purist in the mac-and-cheese world.
Jesse: A little more flavor than your typical boxed macaroni and cheese, but, yes, I don't mix it up with random meats and things like that, but you could.
John: Well, mine is a breakfast pizza which I probably, honestly, Jesse, have had it in more than one cookbook because it's a go-to recipe from my childhood that I loved. My mom would just like crescent rolls with the scrambled eggs, pour it in there, and the sausage and a bunch of cheese on top, and you bake it and it comes out as a breakfast pizza. It's great for freezing too.
Jesse: Well, and it's fun to see because every year that we do this, now that we're 55 employees and not- I can't remember the exact number when you first did a cookbook, but let's say 12 or whatever.
John: Yes, it was like a small spread.
Jesse: We get a lot of variety, and it's fun to hear employees talking about it because they are trying to think of, "Did I feature that recipe before because I've been in seven of these now?" It's kind of funny to see the employees' reactions, and then new employees come in and they get really excited about it, about sharing something and being featured. It's a very interesting process, and it's really neat to see employee involvement, engagement in this.
John: Okay, so I have a question. How many employees participated in it? How many recipes do we have?
Jesse: We had, I believe, 22, if I'm not mistaken.
John: That's pretty cool. Do we get to find out what the employee's name and position is and what they do in the company?
Jesse: Yes, every employee's name is in there and where they work. Then, this year, we themed it with emojis. We did favorite emojis of our employees, so-
John: That's fun.
Jesse: -we redesigned the most popular emojis from our employees that they wanted. Some of the recipes are actually more about their emoji story than the recipe. Some of the employees were a little bit more excited about a unicorn emoji or whatever it was they chose, and so, our theme--
John: We don't have any unicorn recipes in there, Jesse, do we?
Jesse: I don't know, maybe. You'll have to check it out to see it. The theme is around "express yourself," and it's really around self-expression. With the digital rollout, we thought it would be fun to tie in emojis which are a new form of digital communication. We also just launched our StickerGiant GIF library which has over 130 gifts created by our employees, and most of them thought up by our employees. Now, people can go on giphy.com/stickergiant and see the whole library of gifts we created. It's all our employees involved in it, and they're being shared all over the internet now. That was a really fun project that we tied in to this.
Jesse: Again, it's all about self-expression of our employees. We find that important because, like we say here, every sticker has a story, and stickers are really just, "What are you passionate about?” Is it your business? Is it something you want to say? People print that with their designs and their words, and that's what we do all day is print these expressions that people have.
John: Will people be able to shout out at different employees if they liked the recipe? If somebody makes your mac and cheese and thinks it's great, are they going to be able to shout you out on Instagram and take a picture of the mac and cheese and say, "Way to go. Best mac and cheese I ever had," Jesse?
Jesse: They can, if they want to. [chuckles]
John: That's awesome.
Jesse: They can definitely go share those pages and stuff online too.
John: That's kind of cool when you think about it. The customer could be at home and be like, "The place I get my stickers," or "By the way, our labels where I buy--" or if they have their own product, "The place I get my labels, like the press operator who printed these labels right here on this product, this is his recipe for," whatever, "short ribs." I think there's a short ribs, I might have seen it in there.
Jesse: Yes, there might be.
John: That's pretty neat.
Jesse: It's a pretty cool project. John, just to bring it back to our listeners for a second, small business owners out there that might still be wondering, "How could I do something?" Maybe it's not a cookbook that they want to do, but what advice would you give another small business owner that's hearing us talk about this and hearing about employee involvement, and they really want to do something, but they're not really sure how or what to do to start it off?
John: Employee involvement on a meaningful level, getting employees to engage in marketing, in a cookbook, that's pretty neat. But I like the story, and there'll be other podcasts about this, but getting employees involved with the business and the open book concepts that we've employed over the years here at StickerGiant, especially for small business owners who are just starting out and don't have experience managing groups of people or even one person, the ways that we have run our business over the years with the open book philosophy and the EOS format that we've recently adopted actually makes employee engagement, employee involvement much more real and brings it home to them everyday, every week, every paycheck.
The more you can get employees to participate and take ownership of the company like it is theirs and take their jobs with that attitude, you're going to have more success and be able to create more success for your employees.
Jesse: Great advice, John, and thank you for being here today. It was a pleasure to chat with you about this. Again, for everyone out there, I hope you go check out the cookbook, it's at stickergiant.com/cookbook, you can go check out the recipes from this year. If you put in an order, you'll also get a little "express yourself" sticker sheet with some of our favorite emojis from employees which is going in the orders now. Thank you for listening and we hope to have you back next time.
John: Take care. Thank you.
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