Building a Successful Business From the Ground Up with Chantel Powell of Play Pits
Get to know Chantel
Emmanuel Eleyae: Welcome to Journey To An 8 Figure E-Commerce Business podcast. We're here getting the opportunity to talk with the marvelous, magnificent, fantastic prolific Chantel Powell, CEO of Play Pits. How are you today, Chantel?
Chantel Powell: I love that intro, man. You make me feel so amazing.
Emmanuel: Good. Actually, I'd love to continue. Do you mind if I brag on you a little?
Chantel: Yes, sure. Look, let's do this. What you gotta say, it's only been a few years you've known me.
Emmanuel: We've known each other for a while and it has been a journey that I've appreciated. And for those of you that don't know why I gave such a magnificent, glowing intro, Chantel is one of the most impressive people I've ever met, and you guys are gonna hear her story. And it is magnificent. It is magnanimous, it is wonderful. She's the CEO and founder of Play Pits where she makes deodorant for kids. And she literally just got back from being flown out to Bogota, Columbia to hang out with Pharrell, won a grant down there. She's got celebrities like Alicia Keys wearing her product. She's been interviewed by Gail King on CBS. She was on the Breakfast Club. She's got Mr. Wonderful on speed dial from Shark Tank. She hangs out with him. She wins pitch competitions left and right. She's on Target shelves and is the category killer. She's winning in target, beating out the likes of big brands like Dove and Secret. She's competing with them. They're trying to figure out what she's doing. And on top of all of that business success, she's raising a beautiful family, supporting her community at the same time through her business, is strong in her faith and is building a multimillion dollar e-commerce brand that she started from her kitchen sink. Chantel Powell, ladies and gentlemen.
Chantel: You know what's so crazy, Emmanuel? The timing is so perfect. I don't know if you saw my post, but today is the day we launched five years ago.
Emmanuel: Happy anniversary. Wow.
Chantel: Thank you. Thank you.
Emmanuel: And what's amazing about that, even the way you said it, it's five years. That seems like a long time. That's dog years in e-commerce. You know, it ages you, but actually five years is not that long. Not that long.
Chantel: Yeah. You know, it's so crazy cuz when I look back at all we've kind of been through and I posted about all we've survived. It's been a time. And it does feel short, but then it feels long because you go through one year, like you said, it's like dog years, like one year is like seven years. You know, you go through the ups and the downs and the aging of it all. I just got my hair blown out and I seen I have new gray hair. Cause it really takes a toll. Um, so no, it's been, it's been quite.
Emmanuel: I can definitely relate. It is something that's very different than going to school or having a job, being an entrepreneur. It is all the time, all encompassing, consistent. Like, it's a journey and yeah, it definitely ages you. So tell us what has the journey been like?
Chantel: The journey has been a beautiful journey to be in. So often I share the journey with other people because I know people are inspired by it, because I'm inspired by it. It's one of those things that, you know, the ups and the downs and the victories and the successes really just kind of motivate me to keep going on the days that it seems impossible. And so its been a beautiful journey. When I go back and look at the years and years of videos and pictures, it's just been a quite incredible thing to just be a part of and to say that I have the honor that God has given me this, this assignment to lead the charge on becoming a CEO of a natural deodorant company. If you would've told me seven years ago I would've been where I'm at now, I would've been like, “What? I'm doing what?” And so now to be doing that I never claim to know exactly what I'm doing. I never claim to know how to be perfect and to be experienced in it, but I just trust the process and I learn and I keep moving forward day by day and so it’s been a beautiful journey.
Emmanuel: And that's what I really appreciate about you that I don't think people get to see often enough. But you have learned a ton. You have figured this thing out. My big question that I'm building to is, are you a business person? Did you go to business school, get a MBA? Did you have a family of entrepreneurs? Like, because when you look at your business, you're doing all the right things, right? Like you've got the marketing dialed in, you've got the product dialed in, you're meeting with all these executives and business leaders. You are a professional, successful businesswoman and you know all the things. How did that happen? How'd you do it?
Chantel: Yeah, you know I went to school for fashion merchandising. So I grew up and just wanted to dress the mannequins at Macy's. And at the times it was hex, I grew up, my mother and my grandmother would go to the store every weekend, shopping for hours, and I would talk to mannequins and I fell in love with their clothing and how they were dressed. And I called every mannequin Felola. So I would walk in and I'd be like, “oh, Felola, I love your outfit today.” And so I fell in love with fashion. And so I went to school for fashion merchandising and then ended up starting a career in fashion by way of film and production working at Tyler Perry Studios. And so if you ask, I did not come from a family of entrepreneurs, I'm actually a first generation entrepreneur and I'm also a first generation college educated person in my family. So, all of this, all of the things that I have figured out is just coming from a line of very, very, resourceful people. The women in my family are very strong, very resourceful, and just really know how to get things done. And I've just kind of taken that spirit and just taken it up a notch for my family. But it's everything that I have. It is so funny. The other day I said, you know, if I had another middle name, it would be Chantel Self-made Powell because literally, I've figured it all out along the way. I think that the true spirit of things, I'm really a hustler and I'm really someone who just has a really crazy work ethic and there's nothing that you put in front of me that I will back down from and say I can't do. I just would say, “gimme a moment, I'll figure it out.”
Wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs
Emmanuel: Love that, that hustle, right? So if someone's listening, they're like, “I want to be an expert like she is in business, but maybe I shouldn't start.” Right. Like the people who have those doubts, how would you help them alleviate those doubts about getting started and getting going and jumping in?
Chantel: I would say, how bad do you want it? I think it's just a matter of like, it's never what you have and what you know and what you can do. It's all about that deep down determination and that drive. And if you really have that hunger to go get it, and if you have that, there will be nothing that gets put in front of you to stop you from going to get it. Because, you know, for me, like I said, I went to school for fashion, but that didn't stop me from launching an e-commerce brand because I had the drive of staying up late at night after my 9 to 5 and researching on YouTube and Google how to start an e-commerce brand, how to set up a Shopify store. We live in a time where there's not much that we can't do because we have so many resources right in front of us on our phones, on our computers. Now it's so many resources as far as free programs and free outlets to get information that it's just a matter of how bad do you want it.
Emmanuel: I like the way you said that, because I feel like, and this is my opinion, I don't know if you share this opinion, but I'm gonna throw it out there cuz I feel like sometimes, saying that a different way is: this isn't for everybody. Like for some folks, if you don't want it bad enough, please don't do this. I try to tell people I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. It is that hard, right? It is a very hard thing. And if you're not ready for it, it's gonna hammer you. So I'm curious, like as you were growing the business, is there anything that frustrated you? I mean, we love our businesses, right? But is there anything that ever made you like, “you know what, that's enough, I hate this. I'm sick of it. I'm done.” like the dark days?
Chantel: Oh yeah, I have those all the time. I literally had a time yesterday where I was crying cause I was so frustrated with the process. And to your point, I do agree this isn't for everyone. Right? It's only for the people who are crazy enough. I really think entrepreneurship is for people who are like crazy and insane. I was talking to my neighbor, and she's an entrepreneur, and she was saying that you almost have to be addicted to the highs and the lows to really continue this journey. And so it's like getting a high, you love that rush of chasing that victory. But then when that crash happened, you crash hard, but then you still manage to pick yourself up to go chase that high again. So, no, it's not for everybody. Like you said, I wouldn't wish most of the stuff I go through on my worst enemy because it's not always an enjoyable journey, but it's always a rewarding journey. Do I have days where I just be like, “man F this.” Yeah. But I think that deep down inside I know why I'm doing it and it kind of just really stops me from ever really putting in the towel. I may say like, “I give up, I quit.” But I'm doing this for my kids. My kids are watching me, right? And so when I started this business, this was a way for me to teach all three of my children that when you have an idea, it's really about, If you're willing to put the work in to make that idea happen. Now, I didn't know what the work was going to be, and I done taught myself a lesson. Right. But at the same time, now my family, like I, even on this journey, I've even brought along my dad, who works for the government, never thought about being an entrepreneurship in his life, but now he is someone who is so invested in the vision that he's now being educated by TV shows and different people, and he's calling me, telling me advice, you know? And so it's too many people now on this journey with me that push me to keep going. So quitting is really, you know…I have days where I cry and I kind of have my moments, but quitting, like it's too many people on this journey with me that help me stay in the game.
Emmanuel: And that support system that's what I'm hearing. That support system is crucial to help you keep going.
Chantel: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. The support system is everything. Support system and the village of people who are willing to help you, and not only help you in your business, but literally be a shoulder for you to cry on. I'm grateful that I have an amazing husband. He's my person that I can vent to, I can cry to. He's gonna wipe my tears. He’s gonna pump me up. He’s gonna put on some good music to cheer me up on those days. So yeah, it's all about your support system.
Chantel before Play Pits
Emmanuel: And I'm interested cuz you were successful even before this, right? You mentioned working for Tyler Perry Studios, you were a stylist, you worked for Viacom, BET, you've done big things. You were in productions, right? And a lot of folks, especially in previous generations say that's a good job. What made you decide, like, you got this good job, you got a career, you're moving up, you got the family, but you gonna be an entrepreneur? You know, what attracted you to that?
Chantel: Yeah. You know, I think deep down inside, I always had an issue with authority. And so I did love my job. I loved the work that I did. I loved dressing people. To this day, like when I go somewhere, like I'm always like doing the most, and I always feel like people are like, “why she got all that on?” But that's the fashion girl in me, right? So I never shake that. I always love creating moments with clothing, right? And so that's just in my DNA. But I also think that on the journey of working for other people, working for somebody like Tyler Perry, I was able to see what this one man was able to create with his vision. And every day we would walk into the studio he had a quote on the building, um, door that said, “a place where even dreams believe.” And that was something that I would literally read it almost every day. And so that taught me work ethic. So I feel like everything on this journey headed to entrepreneurship, working for other people, gave me the tools and not the know-how, but the grit of what it took to get here. So like I learned my work ethic at Tyler Perry Studios and then when I left there and I worked at BET I learned the structure and the professionalism it took, because when I was an executive assistant. Never in my life have I ever been an executive assistant, but once again, I'm resourceful and I can figure things out. So literally the VP that I was supporting, she was traveling and I was able to learn how to use Outlook, how to schedule meetings, how to do all the things that I was really supposed to know how to do when I got the job. But that taught me like how to, you know, structure your day, how to answer emails, how to write an email, how to reach out to someone, and then when you have a disagreement, how to say it in an articulate way because honestly I'm very rough around the edges before those days, and even still, like, I'm still rough around the edges, but it's one of those things that I feel like my experience working for other people prepared me to be this CEO that I am now. And I'm still doing a lot of work to continue to be a better CEO. But I just think I always bucked the system and I always loved freedom. I loved the ability to do what I want and kind of, you know, dream and execute on those dreams. And so yeah, that's really how, you know, I think I got here. And I think also the ability. When I was at BET I was laid off, and the management that pushed for the layoff, one of the comments that was made was I had “too much power” in my position. And when that got back to me, it frustrated me and it kind of angered me to a place where I was like, there will never be a day that someone is able to dictate me getting a check. And so that, like, deep down inside, I think also just fused that fire and that drive within me. And so, you know, it's just a lot of things that were mixed together to kind of make this fiery CEO I am now.
Emmanuel: Wow. Talk about motivation. So then did it immediately work? Did you go straight from that and like, you know what, I'm gonna do this entrepreneurship thing and then bang, Play Pits was born and took off, or was there some, you know, trials and tribulations?
Chantel: You know what? Year one I was working at BET and it was during the time that I was able to work from home because BET had sold the DC building and it was a thing about relocating to New York. I knew I didn't wanna relocate to New York, so I was able to work from home for like a year. Then finally got laid off there and didn't have a job for a few months and then I got a call to work with my best friend as a costume designer on a TV show with Robin Gibbons on OWN Network and it was produced by Will Packer. And so that was an eight month show and I was super excited to do it. So then I went back into the entertainment on sets. And so that was one of those things that, that was my dream job and I did it all while still running Play Pits. So I was in Atlanta, my husband was in Maryland and we were still running Play Pits. And so after that job ended, I told my husband, I was like, okay, look, cuz things were like, Play Pits was just growing and continuing to grow. And we had like, at this point, hundreds of customers. And it just was one of those things that I was like, you know what? I know if I gave this business 100% of my time, then I could really make true traction. And so I made a deal with my husband and I was like, all right, look, so give me one year where I'm just 100% focused on Play Pits and I think I could supplement my income by the end of that year and make this a six figure business. And that's what I was able to do. And so that was 2019 and I've been working for myself since.
The creation of Play Pits
Emmanuel: And so what is the story of Play Pits? Can you take us through from 2019 kind of the story from there to now? Pharrell's flying you out talking about “come visit me in Bogota Chantel.” Five years.
Chantel: Yes. So Play Pits was started because my son at six years old smelled like a man one hot July 2017 and he got in my car and it literally changed my life. I knew I didn't wanna put antiperspirant on him, so I went looking for a natural deodorant only to discover that there was nothing on the shelf that I felt like Cameron would wear every day. It was super boring, super natural, super crunchy, and like a six year old wasn't checking for right. And I needed this child to wear this thing every day. So when I was a little girl, I remember that my grandmother would pat baking soda under my arms. And so every black mama. Or grandma got baking soda in the back of the refrigerator to absorb odor so I had some baking soda in the house and then I had some coconut oil and then I had some corn starch and I mixed that all together and I added a orange essential oil to that and mixed it up and it was a paste at first. So I put it in this little jar and I mixed it up and it was a paste. And so I introduced it to Cameron and I added orange essential oils because he loved the smell of orange. And I knew if I could convince him, like, you can smell like this all day versus what you smelled like yesterday, he would wear it. So that's what I did. He went to camp and football practice, came home and literally was like, “Okay, mommy I told all the kids at camp about this deodorant you made me, so can you make it for everyone at camp?” And it was like a hundred kids at the camp. And I was like, Cam, no. At the time I was working at BET and I'm like, No, I'm just gonna make this for you. This is this a me and you thing, like pipe down. And he looked at me and he was like, “but mom, you can make this for everyone.” And so in his mind, he was saying all the kids at camp, but when he said everyone, it was like that light bulb. I saw other parents who had the same problem as me. I saw other kids that were just like Cameron, that wanted to be able to play on a hot summer day unapologetically, not hold back from that fun, but be fearful of being funky. And so I was like, okay, Cam. So on that night I went down this deep dive really searching to see if there was any natural deodorants for kids and I really didn't find anything. And so then I also knew I had a certain, you know, flare to me that I was like, if I do it, I know I would do it so different than what these other companies can do. And so that's how Play Pits was born. And so we launched in my backyard at an Easter egg hunt on March 31st, 2018. So it took me nine months to birth play pits. And I often say that Play Pits was one of my other children because it literally was nine months to, you know, Like develop, test, brand and all the things. And then I birthed it on March 31st, 2018. And so from there, at first initially, you know, of course people that knew me and people that knew of this product within my network support it and then the information just kind of traveled with people saying like, “Hey, check out this natural deodorant” because it really was something that people loved and so that's kind of the start of Play Pits. And this journey to getting from that day all the way up to where we are now has just been a lot of waking up every day and just doing something, waking up every day, and, being bold enough and having the audacity enough to just, you know, really push forward even on the days that we made $0. I mean, I remember, you know, social media, I have a video when the boys and Kiana are talking about like we're trying to get to a hundred followers and now we have like 60 something thousand followers. And so, you know, it’s really just been an organic push of our supporters. And you know what I call my people, but I'll tell the people who don’t know, but my supporters are called the “Underarmie” because there isn't a conversation about natural deodorant that's going on that the army of Play Pits is not in the chat like, “Hey, you better check out Play Pits.” And that's really what has helped to catapult this business to where it is because our supporters are a force. They're not regular at all. They are true supporters. They love the product, they love the journey, they love the story. And I think also they connect because it's such a relatable story. But I've shared so much of the journey, they remember when I was packing orders on the living room floor to now being able to walk into a target and pick up my product and seeing my children experience that. So I think it's just something that I've taken hundreds and thousands of people on this ride with me, and so that’s Play Pit’s story in a nutshell.
Emmanuel: Magnificent, and so I'm curious that, not curious, like, I'm so impressed, right? Like that is one of the things that immediately drew me to you, to the brand, to the family. Like you have done an organic strategy that is the most incredible, right? Like as impressive as the product is, as impressive as the brand is, your community is 10 times as impressive, right? Because you have fostered that. Can you talk, and I've always wanted to just sit and chat with you about how you did that. Was it intentional? What are the systems you've put in place? Because it's not easy to manage an organic social media presence. Because I know you guys be getting on live and doing game shows every week. It's not just sell, sell, sell product. You're building a community where you guys play together and there's adults there, there's children there. You're going live, you guys have meetings all the time, you're doing events with people, you're meeting people one-on-one, right? It's a lot of effort. What are your systems for organic and community?
Chantel: Yeah. I think in the beginning before I was able to work with an amazing Emmanuel, I didn't have any money, so the only way that I could connect with people was through free social media, and kind of show, like really it was one of those things that like, I had this product and I wanted people to learn about the product, so I just would pop out my phone and take a video and show the product, show the process of making the product, show the process of us going to the post office, shipping the orders, letting people know like, “Hey, your orders are on the way” because I didn't have email marketing and all of the fancy things, you know? I had a Shopify store, but I was still learning as a CEO how to have proper marketing strategies. Right. And so I tell people all the time, I'm like super scrappy. I'm the scrappy CEO, I'm the one who, like I said, I didn't go to school for this. Everything that I've learned is like on the job experience. And so I've continued to evolve and elevate as I've grown. But this, in the beginning, the community was started because I didn't have no money to talk to people any other way, so I used free channels like social media and then also events. We did that as a way because we knew that our product smelled like something. We knew that we had to educate people. So in order to do that, we had to be with the people. So I would find local events that were affordable for us. Not super large events and I remember calling organizers and let's say the event was like $1000 and for me to make $1000 in deodorant. Yeah. My product is $11. That's a lot of deodorant I have to sell. So I would call you know, I was always the person that was willing to do something crazy. So I would be like, “Hey, um, I would love to be there, but is there any way we can waive some of the fees? Could I possibly come for $500?” I'll make sure I post about it, so I would leverage the audience that I had to promote events that I wanted to be at because I really couldn't afford to be there for the price that it was. So I would do very creative things that a lot of people would probably be like, “oh, I will never call and, you know, ask to get a discount.” Like, yeah, your girl was asking to get discounts even down to photographers. My first photographer, I didn't have the money to pay her. I would barter things. I would be like, okay, you do this, I'll post this, I'll do this. So like, I've always been super creative and I always had a way to manage and foster relationships with the people that I work with. And so they were willing to do things for free because it was like, listen, when I get it, you got it but right now, I can't pay you. And so looking back, you know, everybody that has done free work for Play Pits, I've been able to engage and work with them and pay them because I know that they believed in us before I was able to compensate them and that for me means everything.
Emmanuel: And it worked. And I love that idea of just ask. Right. Especially at the beginning. You're not gonna make enough of a profit, so just ask. But I am curious still - even with all that and the effort you put into social, you were able to get sales from it, not just community and post. Cause I was just talking to somebody yesterday, they were like, “I'm posting every day, twice a day, three times a day,” and they're not getting any traction. They're not getting any attention. How did you make social actually be commerce? Right? How did you transition it to being able to make sales?
Chantel: I think what I tell people is our biggest marketing is word of mouth. So our product just kind of speaks for itself. When people use Play Pits, they love it. They love how it smells, they love that it keeps them fresh all day, they love the fact that it's not toxic and that it doesn't have harsh chemicals. And so, you know, I think once someone uses it they then go spread the gospel to their friends and family. Social media was just a way for us to initially introduce people to the product. But once we got like 10 people introduced, then those 10 people would spread the news to 10 more people. And then that would just continue to multiply. And then we would use social media to share those reviews and the videos that people would make. And when I would see people and they would come up to me, to this day, people come up to me and they tell me about how much they not only love the product, but how it has changed their life. And for me, like that's so humbling. Like the product that I created and didn't expect to have this level of impact has now changed so many people's lives because they're suffering with body odor and all types of issues. And so when they say that to me, I'd be like, “can I record you?” And then I would take that video and then I would post that. Social media is not necessarily the way to get sales. Social media is just a way to verify that it's worth buying. And so really you have to have a product that people need and a product that actually works. And so I would really say our product is what has helped to be the multiplier. Social media is just the amplifier of that amazing product.
The importance of a valuable product
Emmanuel: I love hearing that because I feel like that's where people get into the trap of marketing. They think marketing will save the business. And it's almost like no, marketing is just a megaphone. It amplifies the message. But if nobody likes the message, or the product, like, marketing's not gonna help you. So people will be like, “oh, social's not working, let me run some ads.” That's just gonna make it worse, you know?
Chantel: I think for us, I was fortunate to understand that, one, you could have all the fancy bells and whistles, but if you don't have an amazing product, then it doesn't matter. And so that’s what we’ve been up to.
Emmanuel: And that's a big question I have for you next. So then now we're talking, somebody listens to us, fine I'm gonna understand marketing is not where I need to focus to make more sales. I need to focus on the product. How do you know when you have an amazing product? How do you validate that there's demand for this thing that you made and you should build a business around it?
Chantel: I think when you test it on people and they give you that feedback, I tell people all the time I tested my product on all of my family and friends, so I joke and I say like, Play Pits has never been tested on animals, but it's been tested on everybody I know personally, right? And so before it launched, I would send my friends and family to work with samples and, you know, places with these sample products and they would come back and tell me like, “girl, that did not work. I smelled horrible today.” And so I would use the negative feedback to tweak and to make adjustments. And so a lot of times people don't wanna hear the negative feedback to make changes, but I've always welcomed the negative feedback. Cuz if you tell me something is good, I could never make it great. I could never make it better. I could never improve it. But if you tell me like, yeah, I like this, but I don't like this or this is great, but I don't like this. Now I have something to work towards versus having people to just tell you like, oh, like you have to trust your product testing process with people who, yeah, they know you and they love you, but they’re willing to tell you like, “girl, this is some trash.” And so that's what I was able to do. I tested the product on people who told me the truth, and then even after launching the product, I made adjustments along the way with the formula because of customer feedback. When Play Pits first came out, the color was, it was like a yellow, like a really bright yellow, cuz I was using a different shea butter. And so now, you know, I'm still trying to make the product better. There's still things that I'm trying to adjust because of the customer feedback. And so you always gotta be open to that negativity. And I know a lot of times in business we take so much personal because it is our baby, but we have to be willing to make the adjustments and make changes because it will make us a better product
Emmanuel: And how would you coach someone who's listening? They're like, look, all right, I get it, I made a product and it's not really resonating in the marketplace with marketing. I'm gonna focus on improving the product, but I need to make money now. You want me to now start just refining, refining, testing, testing, you know that that's time and I gotta make money. How would you coach somebody in that scenario?
Chantel: Yeah, I would say what is the initial problem that you're solving, and how can you speak to that with what you have now and then, you know, if there's some adjustments that need to be made. One thing that Play Pits always did was it always eliminated odor. Like yeah, the color may not have been the color you wanted it to be, or yeah, it may not be the texture that you want it to be, but it's always gonna kill that funk. So when I market it, I'm always talking about that. Like I'm always talking about the fact it's gonna keep you fresh all day. I'm always speaking to the problem that my current product solves, and then on the back end, I'm always making changes to tweak and to adjust things to make sure that I can fix the problem.
Emmanuel: And this is why I'm grateful. So anybody listening here, Chantel has done so many things right, and this is what we teach this whole season two of the podcast. The goal is to be able to actually talk to people who are practitioners, who are doing the things that we all need to do that just work, that are tried and true. Whereas season one was all about teaching and showing everybody what those systems are. And so literally what we just described, if you want some specific systems and techniques to help validate, listen to what Chantel said, but also go through episodes one to three. I go in-depth about how to validate demand for your product and high value problem. You start with the pain point. What is the problem that you solve? And then work to find a solution for that market. Because if you just make a product, that whole idea of ‘if we build it, they will come,’ you'll crash and burn. It doesn't happen. I know you've seen that, right? You've seen people try that.
Chantel: Yeah. Because I think, like we just talked about a little earlier, this is not for everybody. I made a mistake one day and told someone that we made $20,000 a month selling Play Pits. And it was just in the conversation and I was trying to ask about something else, but I had to kind of share that information. And this was years ago where I was like, “oh, you know, our monthly sales are $20,000 a month” and blah, blah, blah. That one thing of money trickled down to whatever time later that person had a business too. And so what I would tell people every time, if you start a business because money is your motivator - that's not a successful business. Because if you don't have a problem, if you don't have a true passion, like I said, this is not an easy thing to do. So you chasing $20,000, but you really gonna go through a million dollars worth of heartache, it’s really 2 million worth of pain to get $20,000. It ain't worth it. And so what you will find is the people who are starting businesses for money and they chasing a buck, they gonna stop two years in, one year in, because that's not enough to keep you going. So that's really what I would say about that problem. Make sure you have a problem. Don't just come up with some product and say, “I'm buying it from China, and one day I had an epiphany that I need to sell makeup brushes, and so now I'm selling the best makeup brush on the market.” Why? What are you doing this for? What problem are you solving? There’s 50 other different makeup brushes so what makes your makeup brush special? And then why? And what problem are you solving? Is your makeup brush better for sensitive skin? Is your makeup brush, you know, for like, I don't know. You have to have a why, but if you just want a makeup brush to have a makeup brush to make $20,000 a month it ain't enough. Because you going to go through so much heartache and pain and stress and that $20,000, by the time it's all said and done, you gonna pay all that and everything else. You going to be sitting in the bed crying. So don't do it. Don't do it.
Emmanuel: Don't do it. Just don't. Save yourself now.
Chantel: Listen, save yourself now. If your why is ‘because I wanna make $20,000 a month.’ Listen, don't do it. Quit now. Find Something else to do. I don't even wanna be a Debbie Downer about it, but honestly, I think so many people are chasing money, starting businesses to chase money, but they really don't have a product or service like, you know, Emmanuel I respect you so much because as a CEO you've taught me so much. We get on the phone and we talk for hours because what you're great at is your systems and your processes. And that's one thing, my systems and my processes for so long lived in my head. Even when it comes to social media, I didn't even have a content calendar. It would be one of those things, I would wake up in the morning and be like, “oh, yesterday I did this. Let me post this. Let me say this caption, let me make this video.” And post it. I didn't have systems. And so you have people who have systems who are great, right? And then you have people who are visionaries and are just true go-getters that can make it happen. But you have to have both. When I got to the point where I was able to add people like you to the team to have those systems, it elevated me. But I also had to have a product and I had to have a why and I had to solve a problem. And I wasn't just doing it to make $20,000.
Emmanuel: I feel like that's the immediate, like most people never really passed that point. Those statistics of ‘95% of businesses fail in the first five years.’ that kind of stuff. That's cuz those businesses didn't do what you just said: have a why that's stronger than money and have a problem that they solve for a large population with an affordable solution. Like those are the prerequisites. People are just trying to make money. And so I'm curious, once you got that and you were able to validate that demand, what comes next? Because at some point, you know, you're doing $20,000, that's getting to the point where you can't do it yourself anymore. You can't just be doing all the things, the email, making it in your kitchen. You have to hire a team. How do you make that transition from ‘I am a product maker and I'm selling it, I'm hustling, I'm doing all the things’ to now ‘I'm a leader, I'm a manager, I have a team’?
Transitioning to a team
Chantel: You know, it's finding great people and allocating and making sure that you can, 1. afford those great people, but 2. that you onboard people who you know are excellent at what they do. So one of the things that I say now is I am the only person in my company that has never done this before. Everybody else better be an expert. Everybody else better be able to teach me something and better be able to empower me with information so I can be a stronger leader and so I can be a stronger founder and I can be a better CEO. So I would say start with what's important to you. I think for us, when we first started hiring people, it was to pay for themselves. Email marketing can pay for itself. You know, I had a list, but I just wasn't talking to them. And then I started talking to the list and now I wanna elevate it. Now I want it to be more refined, I want it to be something that is more frequent and consistent and looks more polished. And that was one of the things that I did. Then I hired an assistant so I had someone that can help support me in all the things because I wear a lot of hats. And still to this day, I wear a lot of hats and I'm still trying to unload hats off my head. I was on a call the other day and someone was like, “all right, well, you know, we think you don't have to join this call. You can hand us the keys.” And I was like, “here are the keys. Don't crash my ride. But you can take damn keys.” Cause listen I am ready to let it go to people that are experts and that can do things at a higher level than me because I recognize that I have the vision and I know how to create the product and I know how to develop and do all the things, but all the other stuff I need people to support now. Like I need people who are ready to take us to the next level. And I know it cannot be me. I can't still be the person that's editing videos and doing graphics and building the website. I can't do all this stuff.
Emmanuel: Right. And that is a learned skill too, right? The art of delegation. Being able to delegate and let go. Cause how did you get there? Because did you ever have that feeling of like, “this is my baby, I'm not gonna let it go,” and getting in the way of the team. How'd you get better at delegation?
Chantel: Absolutely. That is the hardest thing. I think it is hard because I'm controlling in a way. Right. I also think that a lot of the stuff I do better than anyone. I do it better, right. But I had to be okay with like, all right, so do you want it done? One of our conversations, Emmanuel, I think one day, this was a few years ago, it's like, do you want it done at %100 or do you want it done by somebody else at 75%? And can you be okay with that? And I just had to get okay with delegating and letting people report to me and not always knowing all the things. And I think when you start a business, the way that I started a business, and what I mean by that is when you created your product, when you make everything and you sell everything, and you do all the things, and then you get to the point where it's like, all right, now you're gonna have to let go. I literally was the person replying to all of my customer service emails, right? When I had to let that go, my assistant kicked me out the inbox because she would reply to the customers, and then I would go back and be like, “I didn't like the way that you replied. I would've said this.” And she was like, “lady.” And I was like, “well, I didn't, you know?” And so it would create this thing, but at the end of the day, yeah, I can't do everything, you know? So I can't reply to every customer, but what I can do as a leader is tell you, “I don't ever want you to say this to a customer. Don't ever do this. If this issue comes, do this.” What not to do. But I was micromanaging, like, “why did you say this instead of that,” you know what I'm saying? It was like little petty stuff. And so I just had to kind of become more comfortable with releasing things and not thinking that I was the only person that could do everything and that everything had to be done perfectly and to my standards. I had to kind of relinquish that. It's still something I’m working on.
The art of delegation
Emmanuel: It’s a tough one and I'll be honest with you, that was what one of my mentors told me. Like I communicated to you, it was like, do you want this done at 100% your way a month from now? Cuz your plate's so full with all the other things? Or would you like it to be done at 50% to 75% tomorrow? Because it's done and then they can improve it the next day, and improve it the next day. Let's just work faster. Smarter, not harder. And so once you kind of were able to let it go and started delegating, what was the impact of that on just you personally, on your time and on the business?
Chantel: Phew, my time is the most, my brain, you know, the freedom of my brain to be able to think through the next things because it is so many things you think about and you have to kind of think through and like me now, not having to think about a customer's email coming through, now I can think about larger issues like Targets PO’s coming through, if that makes sense. You know what I'm saying? So now I'm able to delegate and then move up, delegate, and then move up. And as I'm doing that, I'm not gonna say like, I'm out here stress free and unbothered, but my problems that I think through are larger and bigger and high level whereas the other stuff, I let my team kind of figure it out. Y'all don't know where that is? Okay, let me know when you figure it out. Cause I'm not gonna figure it out because that's what I have you all to do. And so now I'm grateful that I do have that ability to not get on operations calls and figure out where all the ingredients are in the order chain and why it's not delivered and what's the tracking number for that. I get on and I'll be like, “so when will it be delivered?” And they'll say a date and I'll say, “all right, well from this day until that day, y'all figure all the other stuff together. Let's just make sure production don't stop.” So that's really where I'm at now, I'm able to kind of just be a bird's eye view down versus in the weeds of everything. I'm still in the weeds a bit but I'm not in the weeds of everything.
Emmanuel: And I appreciate you explaining the benefits of delegation because I think as founders, like I am a self-proclaimed control freak. I'm definitely that way. I wanna do everything my way, this way. It has to be perfect every time as we do. I'm good at this. I started it. I made it, it's my thing. It has to be done my way. Right? But there's a benefit, especially to folks listening who are the creator/the designer type who have birthed this thing, and they're the only ones that saw this thing in your mind that no one else could see, and you created it. So of course you're gonna know it better than anyone else, but the benefit is being able to let it go is a prioritization thing, right? Because once you cross that step from, you're the only person making everything to, now you have a team helping you make stuff, you lose sight of the business. I always love to say, and we've talked about this, you're actually hurting your business if you're in the weeds doing customer service. If you're doing something that someone else could do, sending out an email, doing customer service, making the product, being on operations call, like you mentioned, you're hurting the business cuz who else is coming up with new ideas in the business? That's you, that's your job as a founder. Who else is interacting with customers? Finding out what their pain points are? That's your part of the business and if you're not doing it, you're hurting the company.
Chantel: No, that's absolutely true. You know, what I will say is it's a slower walk to get there. Right. Depending on your business and like your finances. You know, Play Pits, we don't have investors in the sense of like, I don't have no big chunk of change that I'm like, “oh, lemme go hire this massive team.” You know? So, like I said, in a lot of ways I still feel like sometimes I'm still in the weeds and so I kind of struggle. It's like I go down and then I go up to the bird's eye and then sometimes I gotta come back down but I do see the benefit of being able to not do all the things. Because it is hindering when you can't see past your ‘right now’ as a leader. It stifles the business. And when you're stuck with all the little things, you can't really dream new dreams and breathe new life into the vision that you had and kind of think of new ways to do things. And so that is something that, founder to founder, anyone listening that's a founder, it's not easy to get to because you may not have the finances to hire the people that can be those experts, but just know when you get there sometimes it's worth sacrificing your own pay. For me, I didn't pay myself for almost three years, but I paid my assistant. It was like one thing I am gonna do is pay somebody else to do all this other stuff and I may not pay myself at all. It's days where I feel like now I go to my husband, I'm like, “can I have money for groceries?” Because I make sure that my team gets paid because I know the vision cannot go forward if I'm the person that's doing all the little things. And so, definitely don't get stuck doing all the things I no longer do our graphics or all the little stuff that I used to do. I don't build our website anymore. I don't tweak our website. I give that to someone who gets paid to do that.
Emmanuel: That's what they do and they're just as good at it, even if it's 75%. Cuz you know what, you could do it. But there's so many other things you need to do.
Chantel: Yep. I could do it if I need to do it and then sometimes you have to flex and do those things. What I will say is like, not even a flex but like post fire my team went down to one. And so some of the stuff that happened during that time that had to get done, I had to do it, but I knew how to do it. I just didn't have the people to be able to do it for me anymore. So it doesn't take your ability to know how away when you let somebody else do it, it just frees up your mind and your time.
Play Pits warehouse fire & bouncing back
Emmanuel: Can we talk about that for a second? Is that okay? Talk about the fire? I know that was difficult. That was a tough time. And when we talk about how hard business is, you don't even know what's coming. We talk about how hard it is, but it's much harder because you have so little control when people try to make you think you have control and you had a very significant thing that just one day you get a call. Can you talk about what happened and how you handled it?
Chantel: Yeah. So what I say is in business you can dot every i, you can cross every t and something crazy will go down. So September 13th, 2022, at 3:00 AM in the morning, got a phone call and it was like one of those things that you never wanna get. And I used to think about this and it was like a worst nightmare. But I get this phone call and I'm half sleep, and I answer and it's a frantic person on the phone and they're like, “Chantel, this is your neighbor. The warehouse is on fire.” And I was like, “hello? What? What, what?” And she was like, “the warehouse is on fire. I just got the alarm and I'm headed there now.” And I say, “okay, well me and my husband are headed there now.” And so it was indeed on fire. So we pull up, we're on the highway, we could see the smoke. We pull up to the building. It's a blazing fire, something that I was not prepared to see. I don't know if I just thought it was a little camp site fire, but this thing was raging. And so I just sat outside and watched the building that I was so proud of, the space that I was so honored to call Play Pits HQ burn and everything in it get destroyed. And so I literally left that day, was told I thought I would be able to try to go in and get some things. I left that day with a photo, a painting of me and Cameron that a 16 year old girl did and a label printer. And I had to beg for that because they told me I couldn't go in any other way. I couldn't go in to get anything else. I had just had like 7,000 units of product delivered and I couldn't go in. And so I lost everything. And that night I just surrendered. I said, “okay god. I know you didn't bring me this far to just be like, I'm gonna leave you now.” So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna surrender and say, “I know you got it,” and I'm gonna wake up every day and I'm gonna do something. I don't know what I'm gonna do because I don't even know how to handle this, but I'm just gonna put one foot in front of the other. And so that was on a Tuesday. On a Wednesday I happened to already have a meeting on the schedule with a 3PL company that could do my fulfillment because we did fulfillment in-house so we had that meeting. On a Thursday I stayed in my bed and I cried all day. On a Friday, I did a Fox5 interview about the fire outside of the warehouse and I was like, this is torture. Like, why y'all want me to go? It's so dramatic, why y'all want me standing outside the burnt warehouse? Then every day thereafter, I just put one foot in front of the other. And so, the next week I did a pitch competition, I won $20,000. The next, I think it was two weeks later, I went to Black Ambition and the Mighty Dream Forum because I was a black ambition finalist and I was a top finalist, I think the top five finalist. I won $50,000. Before the $50,000, the night I flew into Norfolk, I had a call with the president and the CEO of Capitalist Fund because we were a finalist for a popular vote grant. And I won $100,000. So literally in 30 days I won over $170,000 and I just put one foot in front of the other every day after the fire. And you know, it was true proof that when you have that level of faith, like that crazy faith, I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm just going to do and things will happen. And so God, he did what he said he would do, and I knew he would do. And literally on the way to the warehouse, something dropped in my spirit as my heart was pounding, my body was calm, and I'm nervous about what I'm about to see and nervous about what was gonna happen and it was almost like God whispered, “this is just part of your story.” And I acknowledged it and I was like, “okay, God, this is part of the story.” Like, I always talk about one day I want a book and I jokingly was like, “all right, God, I guess my story wasn't exciting enough, so you just had to give another thing to put in this book.” So yeah, that's really how the fire thing has happened and I've just continued to put one foot in front of the other.
Emmanuel: I appreciate you saying that and sharing your story with us about that. Because it almost feeds into what you said at the beginning of the episode about entrepreneurs. We have to, in a way, be a little crazy, right? Because all the evidence pointed to ‘it’s done. It's over with. This isn't gonna work.’ Literally, the warehouse with all my product, everything burnt down. Cuz you even said, what'd you leave with? Wasn't it just like a picture?
Chantel: Yeah, a picture that was at the front entrance of me and Cameron and a label printer.
Emmanuel Eleyae: That’s it. A picture and a label printer is all that survived the fire. And you somehow had the faith and the confidence to be like, ‘this is not the end, we're not done. My story's gonna keep going.’
Chantel: Yeah. I walked in the meeting the next day with the owner of the 3PL and she had no clue what had happened. So I walk in and I'm like, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ And so we're having the meeting and she's like, “oh, so where is your warehouse?” And I said, “well, it was on fulton industrial, but it burnt down yesterday.” And I don't know if she thought I was joking, but she was like, “what?” And I said, “yeah, it burnt down yesterday.” Cuz I didn't open the meeting with saying like, ‘oh my God, I have this fire.’ Like it's business as usual. ‘How are you? This is what I need.’ And she was like, “oh my God, how are you standing in front of me?” And I was like, “girl, I didn't have nowhere else to go.” Like, I'm a little orphan Annie at this point. Play Pits is homeless I need to figure this out. And she was basically like “you're different. You're crazy. Like I would not be in this meeting.” And I'm like, I ain't had no choice. I had to, you know. I had to keep going because one thing that I learned, and I feel like you learned this too, Emmanuel. You remember when I put out that email about the warehouse? The kitchen was closing? Were you around when the kitchen closed? On accident when we was moving into the warehouse? So we was moving into the warehouse I caught myself telling people that the kitchen was closing, meaning my home kitchen was closing and that we were moving into this warehouse. But I had a video that I wanted to let people see on a Monday and said the kitchen was closing on a Friday. So stay tuned to Monday. Well everybody and their mama thought Play Pits was closing and they went and they purchased all the deodorant. 20, 30, 40 deodorants at a time, it was the craziest thing, and that time showed me and taught me there are too many people relying on my product. There were too many families that needed it and too many people that really depended on it. So I had no choice but to keep going. I had no choice but to wake up and go to this lady's office to say, “Hey, can you pack these orders? Because I can't pack 'em anymore.” I need a solution to get this product to my customers. So, that's the level I take it serious that I provide a product that people need.
Emmanuel: Love it. And so now we're getting into the third phase. Cause we talked about the first phase, validating the product and building that community, which came later. Like that never leaves you. That's why it's building block one. And for those listening, that's episodes 1-3 of this podcast. And then you got to where you learned delegation and building systems and a team. And if anyone struggles with that episodes 4-6 of this podcast are all about that. Now I wanna talk about the third phase as we start to wrap up here. Scaling: you've got a team, you're delegating, you're scaling, you're able to bounce back from adversity, you've proven out demand, now it's time to expand to other channels and start moving towards that 7 figure 8 figure business. And I would love to hear kind of how you think about things like paid advertising and going into retail. Actually, before we get into that, you were very deliberate. I was always impressed with you, Chantel, for one main reason, cuz I’d be like “Chantel, all your numbers are amazing. Let's just double revenue next month. Let's just scale the ads. Let's go. All these numbers are great. Grow. Grow.” And you'd be like “Emmanuel, no.” For like a year. No, no, no. We're gonna keep where we're at, I'm gonna refine the product. How did you have the discipline? Do you know? Where did that come from or the decision to grow slow?
Chantel: I think, cuz I've never chased the money, I've always chased excellence and I never wanted to put us in a position where we couldn't deliver excellence. And so that's really what it is for me. And I literally remember those conversation you’d be like “oh you’re doing great let's, let's-” and I'll be like, “no, Emmanuel. We're not gonna- No, no.”
Emmanuel: No, keep the ad spend where it’s at.
Chantel: I think for me, its always been providing excellent product. And so I also knew the back end of things. You know, I wanna push the product get it out, but I also knew that I had a team that could only pack with so many orders. We could only make so much product. It's always this give or take of what we can do versus what we wanna do and how to execute that in the proper time. And so one thing with launching in retail taught me- you think you ready then you get out there and you’re like, ‘oh shoot.’ With retail you can't control it like you can when you're just e-commerce. And so what happened with us is we launched in Target and literally our product sold out and we thought that we were going to be able to have the product that we ship,I think it was supposed to last us like 8 weeks, and we had a safety stock and we had all these things they taught us. Once again, you dot every i and you cross every t, I tell people all the time, launching in Target direct prepared me for that fire because all the things that could go wrong or that you just didn't prepare for happen. And so it just emotionally made me stronger and it made me a stronger leader to kind of problem solve. I pride myself on being a problem solver. I was solving different types of problems and the problems that we had to solve are like how to make product faster, how to make more product, how to order more and it just was one of those things that you can't do it once you get in retail, you can't control it as much. So being in e-commerce, you can say like, okay, dial those ads back or dial 'em up. Whereas it's like gangbusters once you get out there in that big retail where it's like the PO’s come in every week and you're like, “how much are y'all ordering? What? Wait, I thought you said you was doing it.” And so, you know, I think the beauty of that is having that community, that customer base that understands and that supports, and that though you may not be pumping more money into your ads, organically, they're still talking about your product and you're getting that free marketing. So, yeah I would say that's why, because I've always just been motivated by excellence not money.
Emmanuel: That’s wonderful. And because it's the right time, right? Because that's a real question, is like do it decently in an order, right? If you do it too soon, it could almost crush your business running ads. But you did it at the right time and when you were ready once you had gone through the stress test and your business was prepared. So how could somebody know when they're ready to really start scaling the ads?
Chantel: I think it's all about like, get some ads going if you can afford it, and then see how you maintain at that point. Like, does it feel stressful for you? And it all depends on your product, right? For us, because we were making everything, it just made it harder to keep up with it all. But you know, if you have inventory and it's like inventory off the wazoo, make sure you're making a return on that ad budget, and then scale it from there. Make sure that it makes sense. Because one thing I always would've hated is like you running these ads and you've got all these people coming to your website and they're shopping and then they're waiting 10 days for their orders or you've run out of product. I think we've had that conversation. I'm like, “I don't have enough product.” Like I don't wanna run outta product. And it was this whole thing of like, no, I can't run outta product because I just always wanted to keep my customers trust and I never wanna owe people anything. So like, if you give me your money, you gonna get your product. I'm not even playing the games of like, ‘oh, pre-order’. Like, no, I wanna be able to pump you your product. So keeping those sales channels as open as that marketing channel, like having a nice flow of things.
Selling in retail stores
Emmanuel: And how did you make it work at Target? Because you're competing against some really big brands that have been on the shelves for a while, right? How are you making it work and how are you competing against it?
Chantel: I think it's my customer base. I think the Underarmie is really supportive, cuz one of the things that we, even now, we don't have ads going right now, and it's something that, you know, I've been thinking about like maybe we should pop up with some more ads. But the ad world is just so different now. I think it is channels like Google that can make sense in some other channels. But I think just having that visibility and once again, that word of mouth and your community being able to share the product and tell people about the product, social media helps. But also having a great product is very important.
Emmanuel: And you are so humble. I'm gonna brag on you because you went into Target. It's a true David and Goliath story. You're not competing against other small mom and pop brands. You're competing against, well who was it? Was it Dove? Secret? Big brands and you're in the land of giants and winning.
Chantel: I'm really in the land of Giants. Unilever and P&G and Play Pits. You know, when you see who's at the top and who's at the bottom of Play Pits, it's like only the big brands. And so it is very intimidating too because they have bigger budgets and they have bigger brand loyalty. And you're in this space where you have customers in some areas, but you may not have customers in Idaho, right? You may not have customers in, you know, a certain part of Arizona. And so I think that's when the worldwide web helps for you to be able to have that conversation about your product. And when people Google it and when they see that you're new on the scene and they see your reviews, they are impressed by that so they take a chance on you. But yeah, it's one of those things I'm so proud to be able to have the opportunity to compete at the level that we're competing. We just actually entered year 2 at Target, and now we're in 390 stores. But it's one of those things that like, every day I'm just grateful for another day to fight again.
Emmanuel: I'm so amazed by you and we've been so blessed and privileged to be able to talk to you. I mean, you did all the things in the right way and dealt with the adversity. You validated demand, you built the organic audience, the Underarmie, and now you're on the shelves in targets competing with Goliaths and succeeding, right? That's the story that all of us could appreciate and applaud you for. Well done Miss Chantel. You did it and you're doing it.
Chantel: Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate that. I appreciate it. Like I said, it's been quite the journey. But if you don't have a true why and y'all just chasing money, don't do it. Cause let me be a testament that, you know, a pandemic survivor, a fire survivor, you know, all the other challenges that we went through, it's no amount of money that would make it worth it, but it's all types of accolades and that pride that you feel inside when you look at your child walk into a school. Like, we took my daughter to college and we went to the local Target and she was able to walk into the Target and find Play Pits and to see that smile on her face makes all of the other stuff worth it. And so you have to be that invested in the vision and the brand and the business that you're building to really go through the beating that you're gonna go through.
Emmanuel: That's what you're doing. Generational wealth. You're changing generations. Congrats. So how can we support you? What can we do to participate in helping you be successful? And just to contribute?
Chantel: Listen, shop Play Pits at Target. Still head to Target. That's one of the things that changes when you're e-commerce brand and then you get national distribution at a retailer. You gotta prove that you belong there, right? And so we tell our people go to Target, shop at Target. If you're interested in shopping on playpits.com, please shop there as well. And then tell at least 5-10 people that you know that have smelly kids or they have smelly arms themselves, which everybody does, and wanna test a natural deodorant that is amazing, that's natural and that makes you feel good and smell good. Go ahead and tell people about it. So I would say shop Target. Shop playpits.com and tell 10 people about it.
Emmanuel: That's wonderful. And you’re helping with the smelly kids too. You're helping parents teach with the kids. You got a new course coming out, don’t you?
Chantel: We got a new course coming out. I'm so excited about the course. It's basically teaching healthy hygiene to kids, keeping kids happy and creating healthy habits for the children. Because as parents, I'm a mom, I know that it's not easy to teach those habits. So this is just a supporting course to teach the same things that you've probably told your kid, you know, take a bath every day, wash your hands, but just fun and from someone different than yourself. So this is a supportive course that we're really excited to launch.
Emmanuel: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Chantel Powell, everybody, CEO of Play Pits.