Episode #15

Ernest Capbert from TOG Knives

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In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Sam catches up with Ernest Capbert, Commercial Director at TOG Knives. The company specializes in high-quality, Japanese-style kitchen knives that are sold directly to consumers through their website.

Ernest shares the story behind TOG Knives, which began with Bert, the company's founder, and his passion for creating the best kitchen knife in the world. The company has since grown, with a focus on customer education and product quality.

Ernest discusses TOG Knives' customer lifecycle and how the company is targeting potential customers through various channels, including paid media, newsletters, and automated flows. The website is product-led, with a focus on educating potential customers on the features and benefits of each knife.

The company's most significant challenge, according to Ernest, is weaning its dependency on paid media and growing its database of loyal customers. They are working on ways to engage customers more deeply, including offering exclusive content and creating a community around the brand.

Ernest also touches on the company's product line extension, which is focused on creating products that complement their knives. One example is a range of foldable knives, which have been successful in attracting new customers. The company is also exploring ways to offer lower-priced items to engage customers at a lower price point.

While TOG Knives has experienced challenges due to the pandemic, the company has been successful in adapting to the changing market conditions. They have found ways to engage customers through virtual events and have continued to focus on product quality and education.

In summary, TOG Knives is a company that is focused on creating high-quality kitchen knives and educating customers on the benefits of using them. They are working on growing their database of loyal customers and engaging them more deeply through exclusive content and community-building initiatives. The company is also exploring product line extensions to complement its knives and offer lower-priced items. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, TOG Knives has demonstrated resilience and adaptability, positioning them for continued success in the future.

Show Notes

  • (08:38) Sam asks about the brand's customer lifecycle
  • (09:01) Ernest explains the product-led approach to the customer journey, which includes paid media, newsletters, automated flows, and website visitors
  • (10:00) Ernest discusses the importance of getting visitors to buy a Japanese kitchen knife and how they use testimonials and reviews to encourage them
  • (11:21) Ernest talks about their review of their current flows and automations and how they are doing market research to strengthen their value proposition
  • (11:36) Sam inquires about the welcome flow and other flows
  • (12:26) Ernest explains how they're focusing on the sign-up journey and abandoned cart flows and how they're working on the lapsed and dormant flows
  • (13:14) Ernest discusses the importance of their database, which they use to send promos and value-adds to customers who are engaged
  • (14:26) Sam asks for examples of typical email campaigns they send out to promote their products
  • (14:37) Ernest explains the knife buying guide, which educates customers on the different types of knives and their uses, and mentions that they have videos of Bert and other chefs talking about the knives
  • (16:50) Sam asks if there are certain holidays where people are more likely to splurge on expensive items, and Ernest explains that they haven't had much luck with holidays but see a lift in sales during Q4
  • (18:01) Sam asks about the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the company, and Ernest discusses the challenge of weaning off their dependency on Facebook and Instagram ads and focusing on growing their database of loyal customers
  • (20:26) Sam asks about the Law of Line Extension and how TOG Knives is expanding its product line without diluting its brand, and Ernest explains that they're focusing on kitchen knives and products that complement their use
  • (23:01) Ernest talks about their new strategy of offering a massive discount on their Santo knife to customers who buy a foldable knife, which they're promoting with a real-time QR code
  • (24:38) Ernest discusses the challenge of weaning off their dependency on Facebook and Instagram ads and growing their database of loyal customers who engage with their story and continue to buy products

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:04): Ennest, welcome to Beyond the Inbox. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

Ernest (00:10): Yeah, thanks for having me, Sam. It's great to be on.

Sam (00:14): Can you tell us a little bit about TOG Knives, its history and how you became involved with the company?

Ernest (00:22): Mm-hmm. <affirmative>? Yeah. so TOG, TOG was started by founder Bert Robert Beakley Brown. He's, he's a designer by trade so super smart guy. And and he, he wanted to make the best life in the world. that was, that was basically the challenge. but, but more specifically, he, he wanted to create a knife that was, that was going to, to work perfect for Western cultures. So, but, but was using the best steel and, and manufacturing the best place, the, the best place in the world. So he, so he blended basically Japanese steel with a Western handle. And, and that's, that's, so it's a bit of a hybrid. It's not quite a Japanese kitchen knife, and it's not quite a Western kitchen knife. And so he designed, designed San Toku and started selling it from his home as founders typically do.

(01:14): And and then I met, I met him through a business that I was a, a business that I had a customer research business, and he wanted to understand his his, his lead persona. But the, the customer was driving his, his business, and he got in touch with me. so from there, we, we, we did a, a bit of work and and then I started to consult and, and, and then joined full-time about two years ago. so yeah, I guess, I guess in a nutshell, when, when we, when I met him, the business was turning over about 30, 40 grand and, and now we're they're well beyond half a million. So so yeah, I've been very excited. It's been very exciting. Very exciting.

Sam (01:59): That leads me to my next question. When you and I spoke previously, you mentioned that TOG Knives has experienced significant growth year over year, especially over the past year. What do you think has been the key to that success?

Ernest (02:16): well, I, I, I, I, I think it, it's, you know, it sounds pretty generic saying it, but the, the product is unbelievable. It's, I don't, I, I, and I, I didn't, I didn't know shit about knives. I've gotta be honest with you. My, my background is more, more, more fashion in clothing. But since I've come to kind of understand the industry and who used the knives you know, the, the, the iron eyes are used by over 10 Michelin star chefs and the reviews and what people are saying about them. So I think the product is very, very good so that the returns are very, very low. so that, that, that was obviously very, very exciting. I, I think the origin story is, is a genuine one. Burkett wanted to take the best life in the world. He's a designer.

(02:56): He went to the Samurai Capital of the world and found a way at getting these knives made. and if he was on the podcast he would stop TOG about design and he starts to nerd out. And so it's, it's, it's, you know, the, the everything is, is very authentic in terms of where or who the person is and, and where they meet the products. and then I, I, I, I guess I, I guess there's been some, some you know, it's, it's, it's quite luck because we, we, we, we designed that, but there were, there were some, there were some aspects of, I think the vertical that we were in at the time that, that we, we started to, to market and try to grow the business. A lot of them were quite traditional in terms of where they were. It was, it was retailers first, and then they, they bolt on direct to consumer, whereas we were straight direct to consumer. So there were some vintages from a cost per point of view. And so we were, we were able to kind of grow very quickly online. but I, I think, I think first and foremost, it's, it's the founders story, and then the pro the product is, is, is very, very good.

Sam (04:08): You mentioned how popular the knife is with Mitchell Star Chefs. Were you actively going after that demographic, or is that more of a byproduct of the marketing that you're doing for the brand?

Ernest (04:24): Yeah, we, I, I, I think we, you know, we need to validate this. We need to validate the products that we make. and, and, and so, and so if, if we could get Michelin Star chefs to approve these products, both, both in terms of the handle and the, and the feel and, and, and also the blade and, and its ability to, to hold its edge over a long period of time. If, if they could, if they could withstand the pressures of, I guess, a commercial kitchen, then we were onto a good one. We were onto a good one. And so that was definitely the first, that was definitely the first thing that Burke did. and, and, and then, and then, and then from there, you know, you, not, not everybody's mission Star Chef, and not everybody can relate to a Mission Star Chef, but there are in aspiring home cooks and so, and so, and, and that's a much larger market. And so, so we've, we've found validation with, with the chefs and, and we've, and we've managed to, to bolt on some very good third party publicity, some coverage, just the right titles, saying the right things about our products. And and now we're starting to kind of cast the net a bit, a bit further. but that, yeah, that was, that, that's, that was, that was how we did it to begin with. Yeah.

Sam (05:38): I wanna talk about storytelling. You mentioned the founder's story briefly at the start of this interview, and I was also reading about his story, and it's a really fascinating story. I encourage everyone to go and read about it, but I wanna ask how the founder's story impacted the brand success? You have it in the welcome email, you have it in the copy on the website. How important is storytelling to token knives?

Ernest (06:13): Yeah, I mean, I, I, I think a lot of your listeners, and, and, and you'd know it just as well as myself, I, the, the, the storytelling, we've been doing it for thousand, thousands of years. So ability to convey something in with, with, with emotion and, and, and fairly simply is, is a very, is, is, is a, is a very powerful thing. I I, if, if, if it's coming from an authentic place, I think it's, it, it, it's even stronger. And, and, and so, you know, there, there's, there's nothing disingenuous about what Bert's passion for knives and the fact that he is a designer. and, and you can see it when he speaks y you, it's, it's interesting. The business is only small, and we try to keep it very, very lean, but he's so passionate about not only the design, but just how people respond and use the kni.

(07:05): But he still has order fulfillment phone calls that come through. If no one can pick up the phone and there's two people in order fulfillment, it then gets laced over to his mobile phone. So we can be in meetings, and Bert is there fielding a call from a customer, like he's, they don't even know he's, they're speaking Bert. And then, you know, you might say his name and, and then, and then they find out. So I, I, so I think he's very, you know, that the, the story and, and what he's decided to do with Todd Knives and, and his, his involvement from design all the way to, you know, customers inquiring about certain knives and which ones they need, the passion is there. you know, we're not gonna be able to scale that, but, but it's incredibly, it's incredibly important. And, and I, I, I guess, I guess from a storytelling point of view, there, there's, there's loads of different, there's loads of different angles that, that we, that we tend to use at the business through TOGs. A lot of them are, are, are, are founder, founder-led stories, but then also the use of our products within the range. and, and, and again, it always goes back to Bert and his design, and then how each product is used with one, with one with, with one in the, with, with, with the rest of the range, whether, whether it be a chopping board or shopping products. So yeah, I, I, I, I think, I think storytelling is, is, is, is fundamental in the business, and it starts with, with Bert the founder.

Sam (08:38): I want to dig into the brand's customer lifecycle. So imagine I am landing on the website for the first time. Maybe I saw a mention on Daily Mail or somewhere like that. What is my journey as a potential customer?

Ernest (09:01): Yeah, that's a good question. I, we, we've, we've, we've got a we've got a few going on. we've got a few going on obviously. So we, we've got paid media we've got people signing up to our newsletter and automated flows, and then we've got people just coming onto the website. but people coming onto the website, it, it is it is very much the, it's product led with that question. So you can see it, we, we give the, the products on site quite a lot of space. and, and, and so the, you know, gi giving us the ability to TOG about features and then the benefits of the knives, but we, we, we, we, we, we also have the, the origin story that we've been talking about, you know, to Todd's we're, we're Todd came from, and, and Bert's passion for, you know, finding a way of making the best life in the world in the Sam ray capital of the world.

(10:00): So that, that so, so from a journey point of view, it's very much product led. and, and we're doing everything we possibly can to get you to buy a Japanese kitchen knife and to understand what it's like. And if you're not gonna do that, we're, we're, we're doing, like a lot of businesses are doing, we've got a popup and we're, we're, we're seeing if we can collect your, your email address. And from there we then have organized flows and, and automation, talking a little bit about the business, talking a little bit about Burr, talking about the, the the, the, the knives that you might need or the best knife to buy. And then we back those up with testimonials. We back those up with reviews. So we, we try to move those who signed up to buy, if not those who land on, on our website to get as close to cart as possible. But we do it in a, in a really soft touch kind of way. it, it's, it's, it's telling the benefits of using the knife and the benefit of using our product. And, and then there is an element of community, of course but that, that is, that, that is yeah, I, I, to put it simply, it's either, it's either moving people to cart or, or, or getting people to sign up and growing our database because the database has proven to be incredibly valuable just as a business. but yeah,

Sam (11:21): We love automations here at Drip. So I want to dig into that a little bit more. You have a, you have a welcome flow. Can you talk about whether you have overflows, like card abandonment and or post-purchase and so on?

Ernest (11:36): Yeah, yeah, yeah. We, we've got, we've got all of those flows, but we're, we're actually reviewing all of them, just, just making sure that the, the messaging is is right. It, it's interesting as you're, as you're scaling a business, then you start introducing more product. Cate, you're the, you can sometimes not lose sight of your value proposition, but why are people, why are people buying these knives? What's the real reason? And, and so you, you, you know, you, you, you create one or two or three flows or automation, and you have a, a certain message on those, and they can run for six months, sometimes a year. And so we're actually reviewing ours at the moment. And, and, and we're at the same time, at the same time, we're reviewing our, our flows and we're also doing some work with regards to our customer base.

(12:26): So we're doing a little bit of market research at the moment, and we're finding, we're, we're trying to understand more about the people who have bought from us and who have not bought from us, why, why have you bought and why have you not bought? And we're trying to strengthen our value proposition, and in doing that, we'll then start to kind of strengthen the messaging in our flows and our auto, our automation. But the ones that we're, we, we really focus on is is, is obviously the sign signup journey is, is massive. Abandon cart is, is massive. and, and there's, there's nuances around what we say so that it's not too invasive. you'd know it better, better than ourselves, but, but and, and then from a customer life cycle point of view, you know, we've got lapsed in dormant that are going out.

(13:14): and, and, and that, that really is, I, I think that's probably really the focus right now is, is getting people to buy their first kitchen knife. And once they buy their first kitchen knife, we then have other flows organized to buy a chopping board and then a storage device, and then get them into sharpening. there's an educational element and, and, and it's all proving, you know, like I, I, I guess I alluded to it a bit earlier that the database has been incredibly powerful for us. The beauty of the database and these flows is we can send promos and we can send value add to these people who are engaged without making the the site look as if we're on discount. Now there's, it still looks premium, there's, there's no 25% off anywhere on our website. But if you sign up and you've been engaging within our emails and our flows, then we will at times share promos at no one's. but sometimes, you know, it it, it's easy to, for, it's easy to forget that that, that you, you can still run promos and remain premium without looking as if you're doing it. And we're, we're, we're, we're really utilizing that with our database as well.

Sam (14:26): Can you share some examples of some of the typical email campaigns you send out when you're promoting your products?

Ernest (14:37): yeah. Yeah. We, we so, so we, there, there, there's, there's a knife buying guide, there's a knife buying guide. So we're, you know, we, each knife is, has been designed and built for a reason. There, there, there, you know, you could buy the Santo music for the rest of your life, but there's a real charm in, in having three or four different knives to allow you to do different things when, when doing your food prep at home. And so there, that, that's, that's something that Bert has actually created and we, we, we walk a customer through what each individual life is best used for. And, and it's, it's in Bert's tone of voice. we, we, we've actually then created videos of him talking about some of these knives. And then we've also, we've also got fairly well renowned chefs talking about the knives.

(15:32): So it is very kind of, it is kind of edu it's, it's educational. and, and, and then it's, you know, eventually we've, we, we hope that we move people, someone onto a santo and from there if they bought one knife, all, all the products that we design are, are, are, are designed to be used with one another. So you've got one of our knives, you've gotta be storing it. if you've got one of our knives, you'll be chopping stuff, so on and so forth. And so again, the, that's where the flows and the automation really start to play it a part in, in the marketing. But I'm not too sure if I answered your question specifically, but yeah, I I would, I, I mean there's a lot more to it than, than that, but from an educational point of the newsletters that we do send out, the knife buying guide is, is one that really educates in a touch kind of way.

Sam (16:24): It's fascinating to hear. And I'm wondering if there are certain holidays where people are more likely to splurge on something expensive, for instance, father's Day, are you seeing more people buying knives for their father's? Are there any other holidays where people are more likely to activate themselves and become customers?

Ernest (16:50): Yeah, I, I mean interestingly enough, we've never had much luck on, on, on, on the, the Mother's Day and the, the the Father's Day and the even Valentine's Day. But, but where we, it's, it's, it's quite a seasonal thing. I really do see massive lift. Sometimes half of our revenue is, is done in, in, in our, in our third quarter financial year. So October, November, December. but in terms of the, the, the other moments within the calendar we, we, we've actually not had much luck. and, and, and we don't necessarily do too much around those. We, we, we really have focused on the premium nature of, of, of the knives, but it doesn't say there isn't the, the, the potential isn't there to do it. And, and there, there could be different angles. We've played with ideas before, but none that we've really executed very well. but definitely worth you know, definitely worth a convers conversation. I mean, we, we had some silly, we had some silly ideas getting banded around the office around Valentine's Day, but again, never really executed it. We, we focused more on October and December.

Sam (18:01): Why do you think that particular time of year is so profitable for the company? Is it due to Black Friday and Christmas, or is it something else?

Ernest (18:10): Yeah, it, it is something as simple as that. It, it, it really is. I, I, I think I, I think, you know, when, when we look at our customer base as well, there are young families. they're, they're young families. They're, they're the, the predominantly male. they're quite technical. I, I think you know, once, once the school year's out, they're, they're kind of busy running around and but, but then once the school year settles in September tends to be a bit slow for us, but then October people are kind of holding onto their walls whether people are gonna start an early black, black Friday promotion. and then towards the tail end of October, it really starts to kick in. And then, and then, and then November, our black Friday year just gone was, was phenomenal. and then o obviously the gifting average quarter value starts to drop for sure in, in December. But it, it, yeah, I, I think it's, it, it's partly to do with the fact that it's when people spend in the, in the run up to Christmas, and then also I can start customer base and where they are in their lives. We, we do see a little bit of a pickup not so much in January February, March are our two slowest months, but, but we start to see a bit of a pickup in the spring as as, as well. yeah,

Sam (19:25): I just wanted to circle back to the customer life cycle because it's interesting that if I understood correctly, you are bringing potential buyers into the funnel and hoping that they will buy a knife first and then buy the add-ons like storage and so on. I spoke to another founder recently, and they talked about starting with low-cost items and then moving all the way up to the expensive one, one question that comes to mind, and this was something I was dying to ask you. I know I'll RISE's co-author of the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. One of my all-time favorite marketing books was a mentor of yours. And the first thing that comes to mind when I hear about something like this is the Law of Line extension. How is to Knives expanding its product line without falling victim to oversimplifying and potentially squandering sales?

Ernest (20:26): Yeah, yeah. It's, it's a great question. I, I, I, and yeah, something else that, that, that he'd always talk about was the, the power of a branded scope a little bit to what you're, what you're saying there, you know, ne narrow your focus and, and strengthen the brand. And so it's difficult. You, we, we definitely, it's a discussion that we're having within the, at the moment, you know, line extensions extending into new product categories. Yeah. You've, you've gotta watch out that you don't dilute what it is that you're, you are creating, right? Right now we really focus on creating products that are connected to the knife. but we've also got a scale. I think there's a lot of work to do in the, in the UK without question 9 million people in London. and, and, and a lot of them are using blunt knives.

(21:12): so, so there's a lot, a lot there, there, there's still a lot more people that can buy our knives. But from a, from a, from a, from a product extension point of view, and also being able to engage with the brand at a, at a lower price point, as you were just referencing, one of the founders that you were just speaking to, it's, it's, it's it, it's, it, it's, it's a really good, it's quite timely in terms of what's going on with us, because we have found and, and I'm probably gonna get a little detailed here, but it's, but, but I'm just trying to think of value to those who are listening. We, we found that on meta, our foldable knives, our small foldable knives are doing incredibly well. Meta just likes them. It's a small foldable knife. We've got three different ones and the range in price now, and when I say little knife trust, kind of, it's, it's, it's it's about 35 pounds.

(22:09): about it's, they're, they're, they're not, they're not very big at all. I, I'd probably say about 5, 6, 7 centimeters and, but, but Meta is doing very well. So, so we're getting these knives out, we're getting these knives out. But what we found with the ads or that people that are clicking on the ads and buying our full blown knives, only 10% of them are going to other pages. So a lot of the people that are buying our full blown knives probably aren't realizing about Birch's Origin story, probably not realizing about our San Toku, they're just buying this fold knife. So what we're doing is working with a company that does real-time printing QR codes. So everybody who buys a fold knife, a a real-time QR code will get printed that will go into every order that's fulfilled, and it will have a, a massive discount on our Santo.

(23:01): It'll tell a little bit of the origin story, what the San Toku is, and the massive dis a massive discount. When I say massive discounts discount, we've never run before, but it's for all those people who buy a whole of life, hopefully getting them purchased their first life, we don't know how it's gonna go. We're, we're, we're, we are, we're, we're literally launching it about two, three weeks. But I, I'm actually quite hopeful and, and that, that, so, you know, a, a way we've got, we're getting a lot of new customers off meta buying full knives. How can we get them to buy our kitchen nuggets? and so, so that, that, if that does work, it's gonna be a great way of, of getting in front of a lot of new customers and, and getting them to engage with our, our archetypes. And, and, and I think yeah, to your, to, to your, the question around product categories and product sentient right now, there's still a lot of work to do in terms of getting our story out, and, and I think, I think we've got enough product categories and enough kitchen knives.

(23:54): We're always, we're always launching two or three new ones every year, but we've got enough there, I feel, to grow this, this is to two 3 million for sure, without diluting ourselves too much. you know, ev yeah, we talk about products that we know definitely dilute things. We know we'd probably be able to sell quite a few of them, but for right now, I think the focus is really kitchen knives and the, the knives that compliment the use of those, of those, those products.

Sam (24:19): That's a fascinating story about the folding knife. I hope that goes well for you. It's a good segue into one of the questions I had in my notes here was what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing to knives in the coming years?

Ernest (24:38): Yeah, I mean, we, we've been, we've been through a big challenge over the last 12 to 24 months for sure. They're, they're, you know, the winners and losers with Covid, and we were, we just happened to have a product that people could use and buy in their homes. it was, it, it went very well. but, but we, we've been very narrow in terms of our business model and direct to consumer and, and then everybody going back onto the High Street once, once kind of code restrictions dropped, that's left us a little bit exposed. but we're finding our way for sure, direct consumers still the way forward. I think, I think the challenges in, in the future are, are gonna be, and I don't know if there are I guess, challenges or opportunities. I, I, I, but I, I would probably say right now is the growing of our database, that that really is, that we're spending a lot of, a lot of money on meta, a lot of money on that when you look at it and then you start looking at cash flow.

(25:36): And, and I'm sure there's so many business out there that are probably seeing that as well. There's a lot of money going Facebook and Instagram and, and meta and, and, and you wanna watch out that, you know, you start those things with a three x row ass and you're happy with it, all of a sudden it goes down to two. But because you've created such a dependency on it, what else is out there? How else can you get in front of new customers, drive that kind of traffic, get signups, and get people to buy at that cost? And so we're, we are really talking about it internally about how we, and I'm sure there's so many other business talking about this as well, no doubt about it, but how can we wean ourselves off this dependency meta, the database is so strong and being able to engage with our customers loyalty you know, not, not loyalty schemes, but, and I'm not even talking about points, but just like clubs, you know, after your third purchase, why can't we send one of these QR codes and show a hidden site where Bert is talking about things that he loves, or food that he loves to prep, like really valuable information to our customers to engage with them on a much deeper level.

(26:40): So I, I think, you know, finding ways to getting people to sign up and, and, and you know, 10% off your first order, it's crap. That's just not, that's not strong enough. we're finding that, you know, sign up to our database to, to be part of our monthly life jaw. We're finding that that is actually working quite well. But, but we, we need to evolve that. So, so it really is about growing database and then telling our story and automation and flows. Cleo's been working really, really well for us, but then going deeper and, and offering, you know, some type of an internal club where people, if you, if you actually engage with it, you can get you know, valuable content that you can't necessarily access anywhere else. and then, and then this, this loyalty or this community really, really starts to thrive. So I think that that really is, I think that really is challenging. The, the, the, the, the, the challenge for us is, is weaning our dependency, weaning ourselves off our dependency o on meta and, and focusing on growing this database of very, very, very loyal customers that just love TOG our story and continue to you know, buy 1, 2, 3, or four products.

Sam (27:55): I think that's a great place to end. Ernie, where can our listeners learn more about tog knives?

Ernest (28:03): yeah, they can go to togknives.com. and yeah, that's, that's, that's, that's the best place, that's the best place to go. And, and, and I don't, I don't suggest in terms of automation of flows or if they're interested in, in, in, in, in what it is that we're doing. sign up, sign up to our, sign up to our, our, our email database. And hopefully they can become a part of Tong down, down the road with their first purchase. Yeah.

Sam (28:28): Perfect. Well, I've found a new appreciation for Kni after speaking to you today, and it's been a pleasure speaking to you and all the best in the future with Token Knives.

Ernest (28:41): Yeah, thanks for having me, Sam. It was, it was absolute pleasure as well. Thank you.