I met Jules Pieri, founder and CEO of DailyGrommet.com and an innovator in social commerce, through my network of networks. (You can explore the Daily Grommet widget embedded in my site.) I followed links through some of my favorite design and business sites that led me to her website, DailyGrommet.com. Being an avid online shopper, and because I live in a city where designers mostly invent new things to do with fleece, I’m probably more inclined than most people to stop and window shop at new places I find on the web. I really enjoy discovering special gifts that way, buying something for a friend they’d never find themselves. But the problem with shopping online is that it is so impersonal, so hard to be sure you are buying from a great manufacturer who cares about quality. It’s awful when the pictures don’t reveal a “feature” of the product that makes it frustrating to use after you get it, or that the materials make it hard to handle. Admittedly, for commodity purchases, I might shop a local store and find a better price online, having investigated the substance of it on the store shelf at the mall. But with handcrafted merchandise and locally made products that don’t have bricks and mortar nationwide distribution, that method of evaluation doesn’t work.
Perhaps because I am an ex-filmmaker, I was delighted to find that The Daily Grommet creates little movies for each product, revealing stories about its creators and purpose, and conveying personal experiences the The Daily Grommet’s discovery team has had while using the product in their daily lives. The experience is one that immediately resonated with me, because the entire premise of The Daily Grommet is to help people really assess how well a product will meet the expectations they should have for enjoying a great experience from their purchase.
The Daily Grommet staff provides this service almost as a trusted advisor for the consumer. To thoroughly investigate a product, The Daily Grommet puts a lot of time, energy and expertise into telling each product story. Therefore, the team produces only one Grommet story per day, an unusual model for driving loyalty and revenue in online commerce. With Amazon and Walmart selling anything and everything online, and since any little mom and pop store in a small town can set up a digital catalog with a web address and a PayPal account, I was curious to understand what Jules was thinking when she started the company. Read my interview with her here to find out how she connects products and customers.
Q & A with Jules Pieri, Founder and CEO of DailyGrommet.com--a marketplace for inventive consumer products. In her own words: RT@julespieri I'm also an industrial designer, a mother, and an amateur cultural anthropologist.
Gearhead Gal wants to know... With so many places I can shop online today, what is the one true thing you believe that converts browsers who visit your site into shoppers?
The product stories. A casual browser on our site will find products they’ve never seen, and their stories are compelling.
But can I say a second true thing? I think it is unusual to see “real people” who know what they are talking about explain products. New visitors to our site say, “I don’t know what it is, but there is something so real and honest about what you do.”
How are you sure the product stories that resonate with your discovery team will be successful in the consumer marketplace?
We aren’t! We just take chances and have guts. And because social media tools and technologies are at the heart of our business, we do have the unique opportunity to watch and see if a story is submitted to us from a variety of people and sources. In fact, we want to amp that up and make all that interaction more visible. We’d like to give our community exposure to the submissions—we get a flood of ideas from people and these ideas are too much behind the scenes right now.
Beyond that, we purposely pick products that are also just plain fascinatig and perhaps not mainstream, and because they might surprise someone. Our job is to keep a person interested, not to make them buy something every day. It’s much harder to earn a person’s attention than to get a credit card payment.
And, at the end of the day, if the “fringe” products do happen to appeal to an individual, they create a pretty deep bond between that person and Daily Grommet. A good example of that was a hand-forged cribbage board we featured last year. I loved the artist and his craft…we had no idea that cribbage players are rabid about their game. It sold out in minutes.
As a businessperson, how can you forecast appeal for a product when meaning and experience are subjective to consumers?
We can’t. It’s even more complicated than that because we are dealing with a new product every day. But we can see patterns and we work with those as best we can. And we can solicit feedback from our community.
But here’s the thing, consumer products people have to have strong instincts and ability to read the general cultural zeitgeist. People who haven’t built careers doing that are intimidated by the subjectivity and confidence it takes. We aren’t. And we are delighted to have direct access to the opinions and ideas of a massive number of people via social media. We never had that earlier in our careers. It used to be called market research. It was slow and expensive. This is fast and almost free.
If your site was evaluated as a Grommet by your own discovery team, how would the service you provide to your customers measure up?
Cool question. Well, we would be hard on us. We’d give it an especially close look if it was submitted by someone who loved Daily Grommet and could tell us why. We would evaluate the “freshness” of the finds and the “truth” of the stories. In other words, the accuracy of the Daily Grommet promise. We would order a few products and test them. We would submit comments and customer service questions, and a few new Grommet ideas, to see if these “Grommet chicks” were the real deal. We would watch the quality of EVERYTHING. That process could take a couple months. And, after that, Daily Grommet would be a shoo-in.
We would “get through” because we ARE the real deal. You should see the emails my partner Joanne crafts when she REJECTS a Grommet. They are so human and concerned and often quite detailed. She gives advice and tips for improving the product or business. The same thing when our COO Patti gets a random customer service inquiry. And same thing when we talk about a possible Grommet. Our conversations are energized, respectful, and honest.
Sundance Catalog, Red Envelope and other merchants share their “product stories” and they promote more than a single product per day. Why only one per day?
People are busy. We just want Grommet to be a tiny daily adventure, not a huge time sink. And you can’t get more attention and mind share from someone just because you have more to say. There is a natural limit to a person’s attention span. And, at the end of the day, I just like the “Ahhhhhhh…..” relief of telling someone “Here. Just think about this one thing. Nothing more.”
Beyond that, we are maniacal about each story. Getting it right. We would need a lot more people to do more than one a day. You are killing me.
Some products you sell directly from your site but there are others which launch another website to complete the transaction. Doesn’t that add risk by introducing variability in your branded customer experience? Don’t you risk losing your customer’s loyalty in the hand off?
Absolutely. You caught us in the middle of a transition. We realized that people were getting confused and lost when we sent them off to other websites. It was a good way to start the business, but not great for building a reliable customer experience. We actually are simplifying our site and catalog to mainly take the orders from Daily Grommet.
But we do really like web services and custom configured products like Mix My Granola, and Tia’s Sandals, where you can build your own sandals from recycled saris. We will always have to send people off to those “configuration” sites directly. But they will be a minority of the Grommets.
I see a variety of Grommet categories on your site, but not all categories have the same number of Grommets. What categories seem to generate the most candidates for Grommets and why?
Categories which foster problem solving: gadgets, gear, health and beauty.
Innovation is becoming such an overused term by companies these days, just like business process re-engineering was in the 90’s. How do you keep from ensuring the products you curate aren’t just fads?
Fads are shallow. Grommets are not. They are truly inventive and borne of passion. I guess we could get caught in something that gets turned into a fad by a major marketing campaign, like the Sham-wow. But not likely. One test of that is if we find a Grommet for which no one on our team is willing to do the video. That’s a shallow idea. Like that kooky Snuggly blanket. We would have died of embarrassment if we had to do that video.
You’re an industrial designer with a fine arts degree and a Harvard MBA. What do you think is the piece of business advice you wish they’d given you in your training as a designer?
Don’t let the MBA’s bamboozle you and have all the fun. A design training is excellent preparation for starting a business.
As a product designer in today’s economic climate, what are the most important things to be thinking about if I want my product to be deemed “Grommet-worthy?”
People are very demanding of the end-to-end performance of a product. They look for green and social enterprise benefits, they look for domestic job creation and manufacture, they look for product creators with real personal commitment to their inventions, they expect solid design and manufacture and customer service, and they expect you to have a story that will make them care. It’s a tall order. That’s why it’s so hard to become a Grommet. If I had to isolate one quality, though, it would be offering a true and compelling story for your product. Don’t send it out in the world naked and defenseless with just a thin little price tag for armor.
Find more about Jules Pieri on or on her blog.