How a Broke Fitness Trainer Accidentally Created a Multimillion-Dollar Business Without Advertising

How a Broke Fitness Trainer Accidentally Created a Multimillion-Dollar Business Without Advertising

His body ached and, worse, was cannibalizing itself. Dale Buchanan had just begun a raw-food detoxification, but the fruits and vegetables he was limiting himself to simply weren’t providing the protein his body needed to recover from the extreme workouts.

“I just wasn’t healing up after my workouts,” Dale recalls. “It was like I had chronic fatigue syndrome and couldn’t recover no matter what I did.”

Dale had been using milk-based protein, such as whey and casein, most of his life. Like many, he experienced digestive issues that impeded absorption along with allergies. It’s why Dale, who was working as a personal fitness trainer in Florida at the time, began experimenting in his kitchen with other plant-based protein sources like rice, peas, and hemp.

“I discovered the solution by accident,” Dale says. “I was simply doing some research on the best plant-based proteins and tried them all.” Dale then began making his own plant-based protein bars that provided the nutrients his body needed to recover from those grueling workouts.

In fact, the bars worked so well he began offering them to his personal training clients to try: “They told me these were the best protein bars they’d ever eaten and that I should start selling them.”

It was an idea Dale initially brushed aside … after all, he had no experience in the food manufacturing business or selling food products. Even worse, he was dead broke.

Sleepless Suffering in Your Own Kitchen

“I had just a few dollars to my name,” Dale explains.

It didn’t matter because Dale couldn’t help but scratch the itch his protein bar loving clients had instilled in him. With a friend’s help, Dale threw up a Wordpress site with nothing more than a few images and a PayPal checkout: “I was barely even able to afford wrappers and labels.”

How A Broke Fitness Trainer Accidentally Discovered Success In His Kitchen & Launched A Multimillion Dollar Business Without Ever

Not having any money would turn out to be the least of Dale’s problems. His initial stab at business was rotten — literally. The bars from the commercial kitchen he’d contracted fermented, spoiled, and were returned by customers.

So went the launch of Dale’s Raw Foods, a one-stop shop for plant-based protein bars and powders. It certainly wasn’t the beginning Dale envisioned. After firing the partner kitchen, Dale wound up right back where he started ... in his own kitchen.

“I told myself I was going to succeed at this business and begin making money one day,” says Dale. “But I knew no one was going to knock on my door and give me a million dollars — I knew I was going to have to suffer for it.”

And suffer Dale certainly did. He worked ten hour days all week training clients and spent entire weekends — all 48 hours — making protein bars in his own kitchen that’d be ready to ship on Mondays.

“It was a test from the universe. I had to suffer, feel the pain, and go without sleep if I was going to be a success. You’re never going to be successful unless you’re willing to suffer.”

Dale began seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

So he used the balances on his credit cards, borrowed some money from his parents, and decided to move out of his own kitchen and into a bigger place where he’d have a shot at keeping up with demand.

“I bought a 20 qt dough mixer to make the bars with and thought I was in heaven,” he says with a laugh. “Until then, everything was done in very small batches of 18 bars at a time using a Kitchen Aide 5 qt mixer, and I was burning out the motors on a weekly basis.”

How A Broke Fitness Trainer Accidentally Discovered Success In His Kitchen & Launched A Multimillion Dollar Business Without Ever

The laughs would soon come more frequently.

Dale’s Raw Foods, which launched in 2011, would grow exponentially and become a multimillion-dollar business in just a few years. Dale proudly says he has never taken a dime of investor money and has never spent a penny on advertising.

Is this possible today? Even better, might you be able to replicate Dale’s achievement?

“It’s easy. Very easy.” That is if you know Dale’s simple five-step process. And his secret weapon for fixing a disastrous mobile checkout experience.

Here’s a Napkin, You’re in Charge of Quality Control

Loyal customers and eye-popping conversion rates. Those are two of the benefits Dale says he enjoys now that he’s solely in charge of quality control. “I test every batch,” he reveals. “We make everything in-house and I personally do two quality tests a day to be sure I love what we’re sending customers.”

But there must be more to it. Especially for a guy who repeatedly boasts of never purchasing an advertisement on Google or Facebook, right?

We did some checking and verified Dale’s claims:

  • BOGO offers that result in conversion rates of 30% over 90-days.
  • Discount codes that result in conversion rates of 22%.

While some of what Dale is about to reveal may sound simple, much of it is grounded in the fundamentals of business and the patience necessary to achieve the aforementioned results six years after launching and a myriad copycats.

Dale outlines a five-step process he says ecommerce merchants almost anywhere can replicate and use to turbocharge growth:

Step 1: Create a Best of Breed Product

While easier said than done, Dale argues an industry-best product that sells itself will not require as many marketing dollars.

Step 2: Choose a Product That Must Be Replenished

Best of breed products that are regularly consumed and must be replenished often ensure recurring revenue.

Step 3: Create an Awesome Ecommerce Store

Dale recently upgraded to Shopify Plus, an enterprise ecommerce solution for high volume merchants and credits Paul Vomberg from the merchant success team with being the sixth member of Dale’s Raw Foods’ own five-member team:

“I’m constantly bouncing ideas off of Paul. He knows which apps to recommend and really helps us improve the customer experience.”

Step 4: Create An Irresistible Offer

Dale relies on the discounts and BOGO’s mentioned earlier to convert the new customer traffic he gets from social media and word of mouth: “I had a big problem with mobile users not being able to use discount codes at the checkout. Paul understood the problem and immediately connected me with a developer who had the problem fixed overnight.”

How A Broke Fitness Trainer Accidentally Discovered Success In His Kitchen & Launched A Multimillion Dollar Business Without Ever

Step 5: Grow Your Email List

Dale avoids advertising by acquiring opt-ins via discounts so he can communicate with customers directly and for free rather than spending money on ads

Importantly, Dale isn’t greedy. Specifically, he’s not trying to make a lot of money when acquiring new customers or offering margin-crimping discounts.

“That’s what a lot of ecommerce merchants don’t understand,” explains Dale. “I’m not all that concerned with a customer’s initial purchase, which is relatively small. My goal is to offer such a great product and experience they turn into repeat customers.”

In fact, Dale says 80% of sales are from repeat customers who spend on average $110 per order and reorder every few weeks.

Our conversion rates are so high because we’re selling to repeat customers. It’s how we’ve become a multimillion-dollar business in just a few years.

It’s the type of success that deserves a vacation. But not for Dale.

Don’t Expect a Pat on the Back Here

Also, don’t confuse Facebook likes or Instagram followers with success. That’s the advice Dale has for ecommerce merchants obsessed with social media. Dale’s Raw Foods uses social media to drive traffic, but the company’s followers are of the highest quality and are almost all customers.

“There’s no boss here to pat me on the back and tell me I’m doing a good job,” Dale says. “Don’t get caught up too deeply in vanity social media metrics — success is black and white. What counts is whether sales are going up and if you’re making money.”

The later is something Dale has done plenty of.

It’s why Dale’s Raw Foods will soon move into a brand new production facility five times the size of its current location. Expect the company to grow into the new $500,000 facility, become more efficient, and create new plant-based protein products.

How A Broke Fitness Trainer Accidentally Discovered Success In His Kitchen & Launched A Multimillion Dollar Business Without Ever

“I haven’t been on a vacation in eleven years but you don’t need one when you love what you do, and this is what I love.” It’s a love that was born in Dale’s personal kitchen thanks to a protein depleted body ravaged by extreme workouts and perfected with sleepless weekends that are now badges of honor if not relics of the past.

There are still sleepless nights but they’re much easier to deal with when you’re making money. The success we’ve had has been hard earned.

Not bad for an accident, no advertising, and just wanting to recover.

About the Author

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog and founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best-known brands, businesses, and marketers. Get more from Nick here.

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