Episode 7: How He Built a Brand from the Garage Up with Luke Peters of NewAir

October 30, 2019
Jon Gaul
Luke Peters

Episode Summary

On this installment of the Brand InnerActions podcast, Jon sits down with Luke Peters, Founder and CEO of NewAir, a compact appliances brand in North America. NewAir has humble beginnings running a side hustle out of his garage over 15 years ago to building a multi-million dollar brand with over 50 employees. Today we’re going to hear from Luke about where he draws inspiration, how he uses inspiration, how he rallies his internal teams around the brand and product and some of his greatest achievements along the way.

Guest Bio

Luke Peters is the Founder and CEO of NewAir, one of the most trusted compact appliances brands in North America. He started the company as a side hustle out of his garage and has grown it to over 50 employees and multi 8 figure sales.  NewAir’s product categories have something for nearly every part of the home, from heating and cooling, to wine and beverage coolers.

A serial entrepreneur, Luke is the Founder of five companies and host of his own podcast, Page 1. He is skilled at taking a product from concept to high-volume sales at Home Depot, Lowes, Wayfair, Walmart, and Amazon.  Luke is extremely proud of the team he has built at NewAir and attributes much of the success of the company to the dedicated people that represent the brand each and every day.

Transcript

Jon Gaul:  Welcome to the Brand InnerActions Podcast. I’m Jon Gaul and I’m excited to be your guide as we go behind the scenes with some of the brands you know and love. This podcast will explore the moment of truth for these brands, the customer conversation. We journey inside the minds of the brand architects to learn how companies are rethinking human to human interactions and mobilizing their employees to be brand ambassadors. I’ve had my boots on the ground with frontline employees and have seen firsthand how company communication impacts the ability of teams to deliver a strong, consistent message to their customers.

I’m excited to share my recent conversation with Luke Peters, the Founder and CEO of NewAir, one of the most trusted compact appliances brands in North America. NewAir has humble beginnings. It started as a side hustle out of Luke’s garage over 15 years ago and it’s now grown to a multimillion dollar brand with over 50 employees. Today we’re going to hear from Luke about where he draws inspiration, how he uses that inspiration, how he rallies his internal teams around the brand and product, and also some of his greatest achievements along the way. And now my conversation with Luke.

Luke, thanks so much for spending time with us today.

Luke Peters:  Thrilled to be here. Thanks Jon. Looking forward to a great conversation.

Jon Gaul:  Absolutely, me too. So we’d like to get a look behind the curtains and understand what makes you tick. What’s something that inspired you to think differently?

Luke Peters:  I mean, there’s so many things along the way. I read so many books and have learned so much through different books, but, to narrow it down, I would say why don’t we just go back to the very beginning and what inspired me was just growing up in a family where it was very entrepreneurial. I mean you were delivering newspapers and my parents had a donut shop, so we were working the graveyard shift – child labor, 25 cents an hour – and you pretty much had to just get it done. And it was just all kind of on the results. We learned how to work hard and kind of be scrappy, so when I started the business, that was the inspiration. You know, seeing my parents work hard and getting that work ethic from my mom and it just always being fun, friends over at the house, folding newspapers and then delivering newspapers and you just got things done. There wasn’t any kind of complaining about it. So that was inspiration in the sense that after school I got a job as a hazardous waste scientist and it was great, but it was with a government agency and it was kind of boring. It wasn’t dynamic.

The other bit of inspiration, which is not that inspiring, but if you think about it from marketing standpoint, on the Yahoo homepage back then at the bottom they ranked the top keyword searches. This is 2001, let’s say, and portable air conditioners were the number three search at that time. That just got me thinking, well there’s a huge audience that wants these things, but I’ve never seen them anywhere. So it was an online buy at that time and that inspired me, along with my little brother, who started his own business and without a college education, he was doing great in his online business.

Those three things I guess would really inspire me at the beginning to start my own. So I started the company with my wife in 2002, so about 17 years ago. If you think of wine coolers, beer coolers, those are the categories were really strong in. We make fun appliances. We make those categories, we also do portable ice makers, portable air conditioners, evaporative coolers, and a bunch of other misting fans and just these fun, very important product categories that you’re going to find in the home, maybe outside a little bit, and in your kitchen

Jon Gaul:  It makes complete sense, right? You have that entrepreneurship in your blood and also inspiration can hit in many different ways. So, that perfect storm of inspiration caused you to create or found NewAir, which is pretty incredible. Something I want to share, too. It happened recently. I was in Yellowstone a few weeks ago for the first time and it completely impressed and lived up to the billing, but it also indirectly inspired me. And how it did was Theodore Roosevelt’s hand-prints are all over the park and a friend recommended that I read Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena. The focus of the Man in the Arena is the importance of putting yourself out there, challenging yourself and you know, I feel like it’s applicable to all walks of life, not only personal, but also what we’re doing at InnerView and then hearing what you said about what you’re doing at NewAir. Making that leap forward to actually taking that leap. It does take courage, but in the end it combats complacency and allows for progress. So just reading that, I don’t know, 250 words, it’s a little longer than a tweet, but reading that speech was definitely a great reminder to embrace the challenge of stepping foot in the arena, whether that’s professionally or personally.

Luke Peters:  Yeah, and I love that quote. I mean, maybe one of my favorite quotes by the way. And you’re right, it’s a little bit longer, but I think most people will know it once they read it and if they haven’t, hopefully your listeners will jump on that right now. I actually had that posted in my house, I remember at one time. I wanted the kids to see it because it’s just about, you’ve got to put yourself out there and you’ve got to do your best and it’s not always going to go your way. But you know, the critics on the sidelines are always making a lot of noise, but they’re not doing anything. And I think it really resonates in today’s kind of social media world where everybody has a comment, but are you actually getting something done and contributing? So it’s great. It’s a good example.

Jon Gaul:  Yeah, very well said. The easiest job in the world is to be a Monday morning quarterback, but to actually be on the field, to be in the arena, that takes a different bread.

So, a challenge that we rally behind at InnerView is ensuring that front-line employees have belief and confidence in their brand. So a question that I have for you is, how do you harness the skills and abilities of your employees to drive your brand forward?

Luke Peters:  Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean there is a lot to it. You have to do product training to support the brand and we operate a warehouse. So, just to give you a quick idea, we’re about 50 employees in 115,000 square feet in Orange County, California. So, big distribution facility and we’re doing everything in there and all the marketing. There’s so many areas that we could dive into. First off, what we do company wide is we’re having a monthly lunch. Everybody gets together and all the great things are happening, their birthdays, anniversaries and highlighting folks that have made a big difference. The marketing department will show off the newest products coming out and there’s always new products coming out. So that’s a great way because it ties everybody in.

And then a second way we do that is that we have a company newsletter. It focuses on great things that people are doing, highlights those activities, profiles people. So it’s really about the team. And in there our products again are being highlighted so people get to see them again. We did both of these because communication can always be better and that was one of the areas we had to improve on. Those are two direct areas that we kind of created those systems to improve the communication, make sure everybody’s understanding the products, why we’re bringing a certain product to market, what’s cool about it, what’s fun about it, people can test it, eat out of it or drink out of it. So all of these things are being used, so that’s company-wide.

And then from marketing to operations to sourcing, there’s a voice and they’re either connecting with the factory directly or they’re testing the product over here and we’re going back to the factories and making improvements. And then when people are invested along the road, then you know that investment is going to show up in the collateral that they’re creating because they may be changed how a door opens and closes or little tiny features on shelving or lighting or control panel and that’s led by the marketing team. They’re autonomous, they’re making these decisions and bringing these things to life. And then from there, the product are here, we actually do bring it in, we create it and then we’re going into creating great content, collateral, images, videos, and we spend a lot of time on that. And again, they’re doing it so they’re creating how do we need to speak to this product and what story you want to tell the customers. I think this happens at a lot of companies, but I think the difference here is that when people are creating this themselves and it’s not all automated, there’s a lot of creativity involved in it, then there’s going to be more buy-in because they had a kind of say in how a product went to market.

Jon Gaul:  That’s a great point and there are a few things that I heard that stood out to me. One, I think the ability to demo the products, that has a huge impact, when you see it, it’s not just a figment of your imagination, it’s there. It sounds like you have multiple touch points to keep the products at the top of mind. And the last point is, it’s the passion, right? The passion of this is what we created, this is ours and translating that passion from those that create to now those that sell-in service. That’s going to have more staying power than something that was manufactured elsewhere or wasn’t created and is really just distributed.

Luke Peters:  Absolutely and I’m not going to lie, it helps when you’re coming out with really cool, fun products. We have a beer froster coming out later this year and it’s going to get beer down to 25 degrees and it’s just fun to be able to talk about products like that. I’m sure it’ll be great on Instagram and with influencer marketing. So, the category can definitely help the passion of how people feel about a product.

Jon Gaul:  So, you’ve transitioned from B to C to selling through distribution channels. How has that impacted the way that you navigate the brand story with your employees?

Luke Peters:  Yes, so we were direct to consumer all the way from the beginning through 2012-2013 and now we’re selling through Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon, all the big box guys and we’re still doing some direct to consumer, but it’s a smaller part of the business and it’s a much different challenge. Much different on the marketing when you’re consumer facing. And then I guess your question for internal, how it’s different is you actually kind of have to build a different team. So the team is less focused around advertising, it’s less focused around customer acquisition, it’s less focused around all of those things that a direct to consumer company will do. I mean we deal with those things, but more of the focus is around branding. So, you’re working and building a team that’s focused on longer term, more sustainable strategies and objectives. I think that’s one way to think about it. It’s not so transnational as trying to find a customer all the time, as it is working with influencers and creating content that’s going to be around a long time. So what that does is, your team has to think differently and then you teach and mentor the team that way and or they often will come in with their own ideas.

Jon Gaul:  So Luke, you’re an accomplished entrepreneur. You have a knack for identifying opportunities. What’s one thing that you’re most proud of?

Luke Peters:  Well, probably the team. I would say that the team that we’ve built, the more years you put in the business, the more you realize, you’re as good as the team that you build. And a better team is let’s call it logarithmically better than an average team. It’s not just 10% better, it’s like 10 times better. We just have an amazing team. I mean all our departments, what we’re doing to only have 50 staff here in our Cypress office, we get a lot done and we do that by just hiring the best team and then just outsourcing things that are non-core competencies. So building that team and just enjoying the people that we’re working with. It’s probably true for everybody’s company, but I’m not actually down in the weeds doing everything day to day and at the end of the day, you still have to have really good execution, no matter what company or what you’re doing. It can’t just be high level and you have to have experts in different categories and if you don’t, you’re just going to be losing a portion of whatever result you could have had, always. So for most entrepreneurs, that’ll be like a sense of concern. How much more juice could we have squeezed out of that lemon? And having a great team that cares and will kind of push the boundaries and test new things and has fun doing it. Yeah, it’s worth its weight in gold.

Jon Gaul:  Absolutely and the fact that you have that trust to take a step back, let the experts do their job, is definitely going to benefit the business long term.

Luke Peters:  Again, for a lot of companies, it may take a while so that you can afford bringing in really the best people because through every companies, kind of a road-map at the beginning, you might not be able to. And then later when you can, the first thing you realize is you’re going to find people that are a lot better than you, at most of the things that you’re doing. So, when you have a really strong leadership team and they challenge you and you challenge them and it’s an open environment like that, then hopefully the best idea wins at the end of the day.

Jon Gaul:  Luke, thanks so much for your time. I’m really excited to see how the future shakes out for you and the NewAir team.

Luke Peters:  Thanks Jon. I really enjoyed being on the podcast and hopefully listeners enjoy it as well.

Jon Gaul:  I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Luke as much as I did. It was truly inspiring to hear about his journey from working as a hazardous waste scientist after college to running and operating a bonafide brand that continues to grow and innovate. You can connect with Luke on LinkedIn, at Luke Peters. To learn more about NewAir, please visit www.newair.com. Their product categories have something for nearly every part of the home, from heating and cooling, to wine and beverage coolers. You can listen to Luke’s podcast, Page 1, on Apple podcasts. To learn more about Luke’s other ventures, Luma Comfort and Retail Band, please visit lumacomfort.com and retailband.com. The Brand InnerActions podcast is brought to you by InnerView Group and hosted by me, Jon Gaul. To learn more about InnerView or to obtain a transcript, please go to innerviewgroup.com. Make sure you subscribe to get the latest episodes.