Welcome back to Products Worth Talking About — the show about disruptive physical products and the people who built them. In today’s episode, we explore the unusual world of floor chair mats and why you should be rolling on glass! We sat down with the owner of Vitrazza, George Pardo, to get the details.
We talked to George about a ton of things that many entrepreneurs think about — how he came to purchase the company, the early years, and how radio advertising saved the business. It was fascinating to talk with George about such a unique product, we’re sure you will get as much value as we did!
Let’s jump in.
Vitrazza sells a premium alternative to cheap plastic floor mats made out of tempered glass panels with beautifully rounded corners and polished edges which never dent and have a lifetime warranty. In a word: premium.
They now operate nationally in commerce retailers and are the brand leader in glass mats. Started in Boulder by two founders, Rob Livingston and Bill Fitzgerald, Rob had been in the glass business for years. They were both retired from other businesses, and looking for something else to do, they had this idea for Vitrazza, and they were off and running before no time.
A Vitrazza tempered glass panel is truly a unique product. They won’t break in normal use. Dropping a stapler, coffee mug, or computer won’t crack the surface. In fact, it’s the coffee mug that will break!
George originally heard one of Vitrazza’s radio adverts on a popular KOA Radio afternoon talk show. George immediately thought to himself, “I got to get one of those.”
“I called these guys up [and] got one. I’m talking to the guy in the driveway, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I could do a lot with this. I think I could sell a lot of these.’ I’m asking them, ‘Do you need a sales management partner? What could we do here?’ They weren’t interested.” – George Pardo
It wasn’t until two years later when George began actively searching for a small business to buy when things finally changed.
“I had a list of criteria of what I was looking for, and I kept coming back to [Vitrazza]. I really felt it fit those criteria. I had spent 16 years in wholesale distribution and the countertop business. [I] was used to physical products [and] had been involved quite a bit in selling a premium branded product. I had a vision around how that could work, and I sent them an email. Two years later, they were interested in talking.” – George Pardo
It’s incredible that his original gut feeling brought him back to Vitrazza, and he successfully negotiated the purchase of the business. It goes to show you that if you want something bad enough, all it takes is the will and the patience to get there.
George was aware that he needed some help understanding the business before taking it over, so he immediately began training with the original owners and employees to develop an understanding of Vitrazza.
“Almost everything they did was custom. I had to learn how to design because there is a little bit of art, a little bit of science, and making sure that these fit. I spent a lot of time in the field training with them, believe it or not, going out to home offices, customers, corporate customers measuring, designing the size, doing quotes, [and] learning how [the] whole process worked.” George Pardo
Not only that, but Vitrazza had a great relationship with a local multiunit premium furniture dealer, and George spent hours learning with them, too.
We love how George left no corner of running the business untouched. Additionally, we think this is an interesting and beneficial process for new staff in our own companies to go through so that they understand the full value chain of what they are a part of.
The assets George purchased for his new business endeavor included a pickup truck with a rack on it, a rolling cart, a customer list, some miscellaneous tools, and access to their vendors. Vitrazza doesn’t manufacture the products — that’s done independently.
“I felt [that] they’re already working with some dealers — ‘I know how to do this. I’m going to go set up new dealers. I know what that looks like, [and how] to put a plan together for that.’ Without belaboring it, it didn’t work. Those dealers were not that interested. They were wonderful, but we didn’t move any product. It wasn’t something they prioritized. We were scrambling soon after that to figure out what to do.” – George Pardo
George turned to direct sales to consumers as the next step. He thought about what had worked for them, and how he heard about them initially through local radio advertising. They tested ads with mild success, but the ROI was terrible. Vitrazza had moved the needle and had learned something valuable; the question now though was, “How do they make this profitable?”
“We really floundered on that for a couple of years, and then almost out of desperation, I called an agency that does national radio advertising, and that changed the whole trajectory?” – George Pardo
What a great lesson: they weren’t afraid to test and learn, and when Vitrazza saw something that worked but wasn’t profitable, they decided to change their strategy instead of just giving up.
That’s when they discovered the power of national radio.
RT actually met George through the national radio business! RT was considering doing national radio ads with Vortic Watches and asked the agency if they could deliver a significant ROI. They referred RT to George to give his success from a customer’s point of view.
“When I called this agency, they were out of Philadelphia, [a] really experienced [and] knowledgeable team. I was lucky enough to get on the phone with the CEO. He asked a couple of great questions and basically determined, ‘Listen, you’re telling me you ship nationally now, you got to advertise nationally — it’s way less expensive.’ It’s buying in bulk essentially. He said, ‘Give me $20,000, and I’ll test it for you.’ I had nothing to lose at that point, except for another $20,000. We signed off on it, and we knew right away it was working” – George Pardo
Their phones started ringing off the hook and their website was inundated with requests — all being handled by George!
Offline sales are mostly two different types of orders or quote requests. One is for custom designs when someone sees their top sellers or Vitrazza’s stock sizes won’t fit their specific needs. The other is multiunit orders, where a customer needs 10, 15, 20, 30, or more glass mats. Vitrazza encourages them to make contact to receive a special discounted quote.
That’s great customer service right there!
We have to admit — the whole concept of radio advertising fascinates us. It feels like the antithesis of what most entrepreneurs think about when it comes to advertising. As an example, everything that we talk about on Products Worth Talking About is how Facebook ads are usually the best return on investments. We were curious to hear about the process of creating the advertising copy used on the radio slots.
“We’ve written some copy. I had some experience, even though I’m certainly not a professional copywriter, but when we went to that first agency, they … wrote and produced the first ad, and it killed for a year.” – Geroge Pardo
Originally, the ads had a voice-over artist; however, now George records all of them.
“There’s just something to be said for the authenticity of the founders speaking for his product.” – George Pardo
Their ads are on stations such as ESPN, Fox News, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, and predominantly news talk radio stations and Sirius XM. These platforms provide the best access to the target demographic who are generally 45 years or older and mostly male.
Vitrazza has tried music radio before, but George explained why he thinks talk radio works much better for them:
“What I think I’ve noticed is that on the news [and] talk shows, folks are tuned in to listen. [If] they’re listening to KBC, BCO, [they’re] listening to music. I think there’s a different connection for advertisements. We’ve tested music, [and it] didn’t do well for us.” – George Pardo
George demonstrated a key component of being successful in advertising — understanding who your customer is and where to find them. The advertising platform you primarily use should depend on your product and the people who use it.
Vitrazza has come a long way since George was handling everything himself. With a marketing manager, a sales manager, sales and customer service manager, and warehouse operations manager all with teams under them, their staff includes 17 people now. They also have an accounting department that is run by George’s wife. As a CPA, she handles all the back office requirements and numbers.
“When we bought this business, that was really the first time [we worked together]. It was easy in the first few years, but as the last couple of years have gone on, there’s been a bigger burden on her. Of course, your relationship with your wife is not a typical employee relationship. She’s much more important to me than just being our CFO. The biggest issue I would recommend avoiding is it’s easy at home to have ad hoc conversations when that’s not the best place. It interrupts your family life and other conversations you want to have. If we could be better at anything, maybe having timeouts on ad hoc business conversations.” – George Pardo
Having a patient and supportive partner is crucial — it seems we all lucked out on that one as all three of us work with our significant others!
It wouldn’t be a complete episode of Products Worth Talking About without asking about some of the traits that George thinks helped him create a successful business.
“I think most entrepreneurs know, certainly once they get into it, that it takes a lot of hard work. There’s no magic to it. It doesn’t just happen because you got a logo or started a business. I like to work, I enjoy work, and I spend a lot of time working. If there’s one trait I’m proud of, [it’s] being very persistent. I’m not usually one to let obstacles stop [me]. I’m going to find a solution somehow.” – George Pardo
Those are two great traits to cultivate as an entrepreneur: persistence and a solution-focused mindset.
Most of our interviews are with people who have created a product; however, this episode was a bit different as George stepped in and bought a product-based business. We’re interested to see if he has a different perspective to offer to aspiring entrepreneurs.
“I had this conversation recently with a friend who’s interested in being an entrepreneur. It’s important to realize there are sacrifices that come with that. I don’t know that you can have it all. There are some things you’re going to sacrifice along the way, to be able to get to [your destination]. If you’re prepared for that, if you know that’s part of the deal, I think you’ll be better off.” – George Pardo
This is so true. We once heard that people seek freedom as an entrepreneur, so they swap a 40-hour workweek for an 80-hour entrepreneur one! Understanding the trade-offs before you begin will make your journey that much better.
It’s not all roses though — George shared the most difficult part of his journey so far with us:
“I’d say anytime you have to let somebody go, it’s never fun. Even when it has to be done, we’ve had a couple of those issues, and that’s never fun.” – George Pardo
Getting the hiring process right isn’t an exact science but it’s necessary to think about what kind of person you want working for your business. As a small business owner, it’s important that your hires align with your company values, are driven and motivated, and don’t back down from a challenge!
It’s been a wonderful opportunity to sit and talk with George to get a different perspective on being an entrepreneur. We loved his final thought and couldn’t think of a better way to end off the episode:
“Success is being able to go from failure to failure with no lack or loss of enthusiasm. You have to really want to be an entrepreneur. If you have that sense of enthusiasm that even along the way, you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna make mistakes, but if you can push through that and still feel like I’ve got a vision for where we’re going, it’ll all be worth it in the end].” – George Pardo
What great advice to wrap up this episode of Products Worth Talking About!
We truly appreciated George joining us for this episode, and we hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you learned something today, we would love to hear from you. Take a screenshot of the episode and share your most significant takeaways with us on Instagram, @productsworthtalkingabout.
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Lastly, if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to build a product-based business, check out our business plan that literally writes itself! Within no time, you’ll be ready to pitch to investors and start the company of your dreams.
Thanks for reading! Until next time —
RT and Tyler