When Chris Gronkowski wrapped up his career with the NFL as a professional football player, it was important for him to continue to keep a healthy and active lifestyle. He was going to the gym daily — sometimes twice a day — and always took an ice-cold shaker bottle with him to offset the swelteringly hot Texas weather. But without fail, the bottle would eventually end up warm, smelly, and the taste of the beverage was less than refreshing.
Chris’s desire to ditch those old plastic shakers was what led him to create Ice Shaker, an odorless insulated protein shaker that could hold ice for over 30 hours.
It’s All Part of the (Game) Plan
"I first had the idea for Ice Shaker the summer of 2016. And with that, I gave myself a 6-month window to get a product made," says Chris. "I had a game plan — I had this lady’s email who worked at Shark Tank in 2012. She gave it to me when I was playing with the Broncos, and I saved it. I thought I could email her and get on the show right away."
Before emailing his contact, Chris wanted to get some sales first to strengthen his pitch. Through Amazon, a lot of SEO work, and many showcases at local bodybuilding shows, Chris and his team secured $25,000.
"At the 3-month mark, I finally emailed back the contact, and the lady wasn’t at Shark Tank anymore! I thought — 'My game plan, there it goes,'" laughs Chris. "Luckily, she did find the right contact who worked there and connected us. I reached out and got a response right away. I submitted a video and they liked it, so we got on the show. It was at the 6-month mark when I got on Shark Tank, and we had $80,000 in sales at that point.”
When Chris finally went on Shark Tank, he got offers from all five sharks. Ultimately, he cut a deal with Mark Cuban and guest shark Alex Rodriguez for $150,000 in exchange for 15% equity.
Keeping Up With Demand
Shark Tank was a rocket launcher. After the episode aired, Ice Shaker went from $80,000 in sales to over 3 million. And it didn't stop there — although the episode aired in October, it pushed Ice Shaker sales through the holiday season. "People record Shark Tank episodes, and all of the episodes are currently on Hulu," explains Chris. "Luckily for me, when we blew up, there was only one bottle design and color, so it was easy to ship, and the supply chain was easy to deal with. My wife also has a business, so she had a bunch of employees help us get the initial rush out the door."
Once the holiday season came to an end, Chris knew he had to find new ways to keep the momentum going. "In February, we started paying for ads to get in front of more people to continue the wave. So at that point, we were testing ads on Facebook, Instagram — we spent a lot of money over the next couple of months, throwing things out there to see what would work. And you know what ended up working the best? Just telling our story. At first, we were trying to throw the product in everyone’s faces. But at the end of the day, it’s our story that allows people to bond with the brand.”
But it wasn't just storytelling that worked for Ice Shaker brand; their business's customization aspect was also a key differentiator from competitors.
"My wife has a customization company," says Chris, "So we work hand in hand. It's great because we can turn around bottles within 1-2 days — sometimes on the same day. Other companies take weeks or months."
Chris also adds that their customization service has gotten them in the door with many large accounts. "Everyone wants their logo or name on a bottle. And when people get it, they don't just use it — they post about it, too."
Looking Towards the Future
Like most D2C businesses, Ice Shaker wasn't immune to the effects of COVID-19. "The first couple of weeks, Ice Shaker shut down — a lot of our small business accounts pulled out. We weren't sure what was going to happen to the company. But, we realized pretty quickly that there's a demand for our product during quarantine because you can no longer use water fountains at public places, and people want to bring their own bottles wherever they go."
Chris and his team also put together a game plan for consumers who are hesitant to make a purchase. "We asked ourselves: What can we do to help bring value to people during this time? We started building a lot of health and fitness content — we offered blogs, emails, and even a podcast around workouts tips, recipes, etc., so that when things bounce back, the customers will come back, too. “
As for the future of his industry, Chris remains optimistic. "The future looks very strong. Peoples' desire for sustainable, eco-friendly products will continue to grow."
Advice for D2C Marketers
When asked what advice he’d give to D2C marketers, Chris didn’t hesitate to list his top three:
Be a good storyteller. "If you're good at telling your brand story, people will remember it. People also love to tell stories as well, so if you tell one that sticks, they'll also tell other people."
Social proof is everything. "When a CNBC article about Shark Tank came out after the episode aired, our team noticed that it was driving clicks to our website. So we decided to take that article and put some ad spend into it, and it was one of the best campaigns that we ran. It was a good bit of awareness play and an interesting tactic that I haven't seen anyone else do."
Be passionateabout whatever doing. “If you don't like what you're doing, you're going to give up before you're successful. You're going to get hit by a lot of lows and highs, but if you love what you do, you'll push through."