In season 6 of Shark Tank, Captain Ashley Drake, the CEO and founder of The Natural Grip scored a partnership with Robert Herjavec. In an effort to sell her product Ashley and her group were attending various trade shows, but after seeing little or no profit they decided to give up the trade show angle and look for an alternative way to market their product. That’s when Robert stepped in- here’s what happened:
Jay: You mentioned in your BTT episode that before Robert encouraged you to attend many of the trade shows you were actually opposed to going to these shows. Why did you feel that the shows were not a match for you?
Ashley: Trade shows are a double edged sword, you can make money but it is a lot of work operational for the company. While the trade shows certainly can get us in front of a large audience, it simply wasn’t worth it- at least we thought so. And it was not just about the high prices we had to pay to attend the shows. There is a tremendous amount of preparation and organization that go into these shows, as well as tight deadlines which created so much stress for our team. So when we saw that we weren’t making any money and we’d spent so much time preparing and organizing, we figured that our time and energy were better spent elsewhere.
Jay: Sounds fair enough to me. Why was Robert so adamant about attending these shows, and how have the results changed?
Ashley: You know what Jay, this is exactly what is so valuable about having Robert on our team. From a dollar and cents perspective we were clearly right, it just wasn’t adding up. But because of Robert’s experience he advised that we make every effort to attend the right shows. There’s nothing like being able to speak to a potential customer face to face, have them try your product and show them exactly how to use it. We literally built a gym at our booths and showed every single person who passed by our booth exactly how the Natural Grip worked. We’d have them try out the product in our booth with one hand using the Natural Grip and keeping the other hand bare. Immediately they were able to see the difference. The impact that actual user experience has on a potential customer is worth a whole lot more than a thousand ads.
Jay: I certainly understand the value of a face to face presentation, but it sounds like a tremendous amount of time that goes into these shows. How are you able to constantly attend shows and at the same time run your business?
Ashley: It’s a true point Jay, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that the most valuable asset you own is your time. There’s no way we could attend every show, or even half the amount of shows. I get calls every week for us to attend a show, but we go to every show with the intention of selling out 100%. At the same time we know that we’re not going to sell to every single person, so we look for shows that have at least 5,000+ people attending. In addition we look for shows with a lot of energy that carries a message that we’re comfortable with as well.
Jay: What type of message are you looking for when participating with a show? Is their message important when you’re creating your brand?
Ashley: Absolutely! When you’re branding your product or company it is so important to make careful decisions before you associate with anyone or participate in any type of function. Especially when you’re a young and emerging company. Aligning yourself with a brand that doesn’t share your values can literally ruin your brand forever. If we are contacted by a show that does not treat athletes properly, or even if they don’t run their operation the way we would run our business it’s an absolute no. The truth is Jay, it runs a lot deeper than that as well. For example, we have a partnership with Reebok which we are extremely grateful for and we take very seriously. If we’re at an event, we make sure every single person on the floor selling our product is wearing as much Reebok gear as possible. Reebok is selling our product and we will do everything we can to promote their brand. I’m always open to opportunities to present the Natural Grip at large shows or functions but I’m guarded at the same time. I’ve always believed you say a lot by the things you do, so we make deliberate decisions when selecting events.
Jay: Having served in the army and being deployed in Iraq for 15 months you’ve got unique experience most of us don’t have. How has your experience in the service helped you grow and run your business?
Ashley: I think one of the greatest lessons I learned came when I was training as a cadet. We were always told “A decision is better than no decision”. So many people both in army training and as an entrepreneur stress so much about making the wrong decision. There’s no question that you’ve got to be smart and connect with the right people, but at the end of the day you’ve got to make that jump, and decisions have to be made. As an entrepreneur you’re a leader of your company and sometimes you’ll need to rally the people on your team and come up with a solution in a tight spot, but never let time run out. Make the decision and modify from there.
Jay: It’s certainly not easy and it’s a constant struggle to keep it moving and keep producing. What keeps you going that makes it all worth it?
Ashley: It’s funny you ask because so many people see us on TV, they see that we’ve partnered with Robert Herjavec and they think that success flows along by itself. While the struggles are still very true, what fires me up is seeing first time users have that lightbulb moment, they try The Natural Grip on and say with a smile “problem solved!” Every late night that my daughter has to sleep in the shop because we’re rushing to finish a production run is all worth it when my team and I see so many people succeed because of The Natural Grip. That makes it all well worth it!
Army Capt. Ashley Drake spent 15 months deployed in Iraq overseeing the transport of construction equipment throughout the country and is now the CEO and founder of The Natural Grip, a grip to protect ones hands during various exercises like weight training, pull-ups and gymnastics. The Natural Grip was created out of the need to prevent your hands from ripping and tearing while working out. While Ashley had a hard time finding things that fit her hands she decided to do something about it. Building the Natural Grip from her bedroom to now partnered with Robert Herjavec is amazing journey with much more success to come.