Dave Munson from Saddleback Leather

It can be tricky to write copy that’s both funny and effective. I thought I’d ask Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather, who’s a pro at striking this particular balance, for his tips.

Dave and I talk about how he’s built his brand with a very conversational, funny tone. Dave also talks about how he uses video to promote his products and brand, and why it’s important to build trust with your audience. He shares what makes a good promo video, how he balances travel, work, and family, and overcoming tough times in business.

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(With your host Andrew Youderian of eCommerceFuel.com and Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather)

Andrew: Welcome to the eCommerceFuel podcast. The show dedicated to helping high six and seven figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow eCommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hey, you guys, Andrew here and welcome to the eCommerceFuel podcast. Thanks so much for joining me and tuning into the show. And on today’s episode, I get to connect with a founder and entrepreneur that I followed, have watched for quite awhile, but never had the chance to talk to until this episode. And that founder is Dave Munson from Saddleback Leather.

I’m sure a lot of you listening are familiar with his company but if not they make insanely high quality and very durable and beefy leather products. Specifically, and most notably bags. And I think their tagline says it all. Their tagline is, “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.” Which I think is one of the best taglines I’ve ever heard of. It encapsulates, you know, kinda the ethos of what they do really well.

And you know, there’s a lot we could have talked with Dave about today. But what I love about what he’s done really well is just the personality of the brand. It’s humorous, it’s fun, it’s cheeky. They do a lot of video work. That’s some of their bread and butter for getting the name out and so we talk a lot about how do you write good copy? What’s his process like for that? And a lot of times people can be funny but that doesn’t necessarily translate into great copy, great entertaining copy.

We talk about video, we talk about traveling, talk about a lot of different things. We’re all over the place. So yeah, I’m just gonna go ahead and let us get into it. I hope you enjoy my little chat I had with Dave from Saddleback.

Managing a Business While Adventuring

Dave, so you built a really cool company and we’re gonna get into the eCommerce aspects and the business aspects in a few minutes. But I’m gonna be completely selfish right out of the gates and ask you a few questions that just I wanna ask. I know that you have, based on reading your bio, seeing some of your videos, what I’m guessing is probably a pretty big case of wanderlust. You know, you started, really the company started out of it sounds like a trip to Mexico and you’ve been on the road a lot and still love doing that.

How do you manage your travel bug with a warehouse with a large team with so many more commitments that are, you know, are just part of being a mature company today? How does that work? Are you able to still get on the road and travel like you used to? Do you have to give that up? How does that look like for you?

Dave: Well, I have some really good people who work for me and I just trust them to get it done. So actually, it’s kinda cool when we do travel. We just did a trip, it was like a little over a month I think. We were in Rwanda and then we get to Kenya and did this family getaway kinda thing after the Rwanda trip. And no one was asking me questions. They were like…and I knew they were competent enough to do it so they were just taking care of things. And I was getting these emails about special things we were doing and then I was like, “Yes, this is what it’s all about. These guys are handling it without me.” So, it worked out great.

Andrew: Has it always been that way? Like has it been a really gradual process where you just matured or was there any particular moment kinda as you’ve grown as an entrepreneur and with the company where maybe an adjustment of your mindset or paradigm shifted? Where you really were able to….either maybe it was hiring, maybe it was delegating better that allowed you to be able to leave and have a team function fluidly without you being there?

Dave: Yeah, you know they say that, well, if you can find somebody who can do it 70% as well as you can then you need to let ’em do it. And so, man, you know, and then they end up doing it 120% better than you. So, because they just have to learn it and then they take it over. And then there’s certain things about the personality of the brand and stuff that I’m involved in I stay in there.

But I, in 2008 I think it was, or 07. In 2007, I went to a business coach and I was like, “Man, it’s all jacked up. I need some help.” And so, he taught me. He laid out everything. All the different stuff on the whiteboard. All the different areas of the business. You know, design, fulfillment, you know, marketing, finances. And it all boiled down to me. And he’s like, “Do you see a problem here?” And he had people underneath those but they all were depending on me. And yeah, that helped a ton.

Maintaining the Voice of Your Company

Andrew: So, what do you focus on? Like the ability to leave and still maintain a great organization is pretty coveted and attractive to so many people. But you’ve got to be able to focus on the right things as the leader. What are the two…maybe there’s only one but the top one to three things that you focus all of your time on and try to delegate everything else? What are those priorities for you?

Dave: Maintaining the voice of the company. So, we’re not pink bubblegum letters. We’re not Hello Kitty, you know, about marketing and stuff. So, we are a little edgy. Like we talked about incinerating greyhounds the other day and we had a big…it wasn’t…I mean it was a…

Andrew: Incinerating like Greyhound buses hopefully? Not the actual dogs?

Dave: What? Oh yeah, we were like you know, we’re discontinuing, we’re retiring some designs. You know how when they retire greyhounds they either adopt ’em out or euthanize them.

Andrew: Oh yeah, okay.

Dave: I mentioned incinerate and it was kinda like, “Oh,” it was kinda harsh. But then, you know, I apologized to the people I had offended. But I like to be a little edgy. Use “incinerate,” instead of, “Those poor animals are euthanized.” And if I were to go back again I would reword that. It wasn’t thoughtful of me. But yeah, so the voice of the company, the design, and you know, designing of the bags and that sorta thing, I do all of that. And then, yeah, those are the two big ones.

And the marketing concepts like we don’t do, we have done, but we’re not a sale company. Like, “Hey, the lowest price of the year sale.” No, that’s like death to a brand, to a good brand. Where we give added value to things. “Hey, if you buy this, we’ll give you extra this.” So, I’ve kinda maintained that. I’m still working to make sure that we refine our marketing. You know, how often we do things. And we don’t wanna pester people. We don’t want our emails to turn into spam.

You know, a lot of the feel of the company, some people say they…one gal told me, “Oh my dad, he looks forward to your emails because he feels like he got an email from you to him personally.” So, we wanna maintain that. Maintain a relationship and everything so we’re not like, “Hey, you wanna buy something?” We are, “Hey, how’s it going? Hey, let me tell you a little story about the past that digs into this. And you know, and so speaking of that, we’re having this cool deal where if you do this, we do this.” Very casual and relational.

Andrew: One thing that’s I mean just tying into this is maintaining that none of the relationality…is that a word? I’ll use it. Of what you’re doing but your humor you’ve got tied into the brand is humor. I’m guessing that comes from you. Like a couple lines that made me laugh out loud when I was researching for this article was you wrote, “But the biggest adventure of all was when my hot wife, Suzette, on Myspace, when I saw that picture of her skinning a deer, ah, my heart just stopped.” And then another one I really liked was, “Nine months and 15 minutes after the wedding we had our gorgeous little baby girl, Sela.”

And you know, just your copywriting is really entertaining. Like, does that flow naturally? Like for me, I feel like I’m a pretty jovial, lighthearted guy and I joke around a lot. But when I try to make that transition that to writing and that humor into writing, it does not flow through as easily for me. And I was wondering if you do that so well, or either someone on your team, I’m guessing it’s you though, does it so well.

Does that just come off the paper in interesting little drafts? Or do you, like a lot of good comedians, rework something over and over and over? Like how does that work? Can you give me a sense of your process for that and if it takes more work than someone would guess?

The Creative Copywriting Process

Dave: Yeah, so here’s how I do my writing. I’ll start a Google doc, okay? And then I’ll put down just ideas like one sentence or three-word ideas, just bullet points. And I’ll put it all together and then I’ll start writing sentences around them and then I move them around into where they mix with each other. Where they’re like, “Oh, these three groups kinda work together.” And then I kinda have my framework then but it takes me a little while of adjusting on a Google doc.

And then I’ll share it with someone. And they’ll say, “Dave, dude, you can’t say that. You’ll like have a firestorm.” And I’ll go, “Okay. Well, that’s the concept though. What do we say?” And then I’ll have other people work through it and then I’ll leave it, okay? And then I come back when I get my head away from it. I come back like a week later not thinking about it. I come back a week later and I’ll go, “Oh man, I can’t believe I said that.” But you have to leave it and then come back to it. And I try to….

One of my teachers in high school, Mr. Geiger, he said in English class, he said, “Okay, do like write a whole paragraph.” Okay, then we did that. Then he goes, “Okay, boil it down to three sentences.” Okay, so we did that. And he’s like, “Okay, boil it down to one sentence.” And so, I did and so little things like that. I’ll write this big, old fat paragraph or a few paragraphs and then I’ll go, “That’s too much,” and then I’ll narrow it down.

But I also put in there that what I feel like other people…what I would want to hear if someone else wrote. And like, you take a stand for stuff. You value things. I throw in value all the time. Or I’ll slip in there some sort of organization that I really believe in like Africa New Life Ministries like I just did on this podcast right there. Or hit NOE International.

Andrew: Pretty sneaky.

Dave: Yeah, get us right in there. But I also kinda slip those in there, a little bit of sales in there. Like a little bit of exclusivity. Like, you know, if you want one of these, you know, you might want to get one now so you don’t have to hunt one down on eBay later. You know, it’s limited. You know, and I throw in though some of the marketing pieces in there.

But yeah, the humor I think if you’re…here’s the deal with humor. Like it’s nice if you have that but if you’re pretty much not a funny guy or you’re not a funny person then just be yourself. Like if people like you, then write like you would like for people to…well, like you would like to read. Just kinda the factual stuff and if you would like to read someone else’s newsletter or copy like yours then do that. But don’t try to be someone you’re not in your writing.

Andrew: Do you do this too? I do want to get a little bit into your film because one of the things that you guys do exceptionally well is film. And you’ve written, yourself I think, you know, “We primarily engage people through film.” And you’ve got an entire social team that helps with that process. Do you use the same process for script writing?

Dave: No. So, like the “How to Knock Off a Bag,” video we did, yeah, that one’s a winner. That one just keeps on giving. We just keep on getting interviews and stuff off that one. But that one we just sat there, me and Joe, he’s our filmmaker and we just sit there and we’re like, “Well, what can we say next?” Because then we laugh and, “No, that’d be too harsh,” or, “No, that doesn’t portray,” you know? And we just go through it. So, we don’t really write the script or anything.Andrew: So, it’s more natural, more ad hoc. Like a collaborative in real time process more or less?

Dave: Yeah, what I found is when I have a script to go off of then it sounds like I’m going off a script. That doesn’t sound real and authentic. So, the concept is here that you don’t want people using the cheap thread and they could substitute, you know, the cheap thread for the good thread. So, you gotta watch out for that. That’s the concept. Okay, ready, go. And that’s how we do our script for our videos usually.

Tips for Making an Engaging Product Video

Andrew: What do you…so maybe two different things because again, I envy you so well would love to get…obviously, you’re doing it kind of in real time but I’m guessing you have a framework or some rules or at least some concepts you keep in mind or as you’re putting ’em together. What goes into…like what are some of the elements, things that you focus on to make a great promotional video? Not a product video, per se. But let’s say either the video of like “How to Rip Off a Bag,” or some of your other ones where you wanna raise awareness about the brand in general but it’s not for this specific backpack. What do you really try to do?

Dave: So, what we’ll do is you want to keep it moving. If you give people a chance to breathe and we’ve learned since we looked at the “How to Knock Off a Bag,” video and we’re like, “Hey, there’s something there.” So, you want to keep people to where they don’t have a chance to X out. If there’s like a five or seven second period where they’re like, “This is getting kinda boring,” then they’re out. So, we do a lot of video.

The way you get really good at video…and it’s always just been Joe and I. I hired Joe. He was in customer service. I said, “Joe, what do you like doing?” He goes, “I wanna be a filmmaker.” Or he said, “I’m a filmmaker and I wanna get better.” I said, “All right, I’m hiring you as our official filmmaker.” And he goes, “Well, what am I gonna do?” And I go, “You’re gonna make films.” You know, like figure it out.

One of the things you can do with people if they’re creative and they like making films, let ’em go. If you give ’em, tell ’em what to do, it’s not as good. The end result usually isn’t as good as when you let them come up with stuff. It’s better and they’re more behind it and they pull more for its success.

Andrew: I was gonna ask you, you mentioned the “Not Dead Yet,” series. What is that? I just…the name is…I can’t help but ask about the name.

Dave: Yeah, yeah. So, it’s just a little three to five minute, six-minute little thing of what’s going on behind the scenes in design and what’s going on behind the scenes. And just, you know, we live in tents out in the country. Like they’re like super fancy tents. Like air conditioning, toilets, all that sorta thing.

And so, kinda life in the tents. And you know, the most recent one is a crab hunting trip in Kenya near the border of Somalia. I took my family on a little side trip and we’re hunting crabs while the tide was down. It’s just a fun little show we do every week. We’re trying to be consistent with it. And we don’t get a lot of views on it but we think it’s fun and it’s kinda….

So, here’s the deal. Here’s why video is so important because people need to trust you. If they trust you and like you then they’ll feel more comfortable buying from you. And so, or listening to what you have to say if they trust you. And it takes a lot of time to build up trust. And so, since we’re selling online we want people to trust us so they feel comfortable.

And video, there’s all these micro…what do you call it? Mannerisms and stuff that you have in your face and people can really tell if you’re kinda lying or not or if you’re kind of a jerk. And so, if you put yourself on video it’s kind of opening yourself up and exposing who you really are down deep and all that sorta thing.

So, it’s a great way of building trust and having influence so you can share with them to do business differently or you should get more money in a way. Or you know, all those things that we talk about. Have a daycare at your factory. They will listen to that more if they trust you.

The Lightning Round with Dave

Andrew: Yeah, interesting. Dave, so wrapping up here I wanna do a lightning round with you. And these are questions that we ask, all but except for one at the very end, ask everybody who comes on the show and feel free to just, if you can answer just short, punchy, fast, lightning-round style answers. And I’ll dive in.

So, the first one is how much money is enough for you? What would be your number? And the idea behind this is how much money if you, you know, where you never had to work again and you knew you couldn’t have any additional income, you’d be comfortable with that number? You’d probably still want to because I’m guessing that like most entrepreneurs you love business but you didn’t have to. What would that number be?

Dave: Yeah, I would say how much money is enough? I would say $70,000 a year.

Andrew: Seventy thousand a year. What about a lump sum in the bank?

Dave: Oh, in the bank. Well, so if I could get let’s say 5% off pretty safely, I would say that I would need what? A million and a half.

Andrew: Okay, got you. How many hours a week do you work usually?

Dave: I work about 40 hours a week.

Andrew: If there was one thing that was gonna bring upon the fall of civilization in the next 25 years, what would it be?

Dave: Let’s see. It would be the hate out there.

Andrew: And if you had to leave your current job or business to work for any company and you could pick any company in the world. You can’t start a business, can’t be an entrepreneur but you can work for any company you want, which company would you work for?

Dave: I would work for Africa New Life Ministries. It’s like a mini Compassion International. They’re highly financially accountable and it changes a ton of lives. So, I would be meeting with people spreading that company.

Andrew: What do you spend most of your discretionary money on?

Dave: I spend it on travel.

Andrew: Travel. If you could live anywhere in the world and cost, practicality, and your current community weren’t an issue, assume I’d pay for everything and we’d transplant all of your friends and family there, where would you live?

Dave: You know, I was thinking about that. I’d live in Fort Worth, Texas. Seriously, because you know, when you go to Colorado or something like that it’s super cool for a couple months, all the snow and then it gets really old after six months of it. And then you have six months of nice weather but then it’s really cold again. Oregon is beautiful. It’s the most beautiful state I think in the country. But it rains so much. Yeah, I would say Fort Worth. It’s very traditional, family oriented. You have hills, you have water, a lot of water around. And everyone’s really nice.

Andrew: Nice, nice. And finally, last question for you. I don’t ask this of everybody but knowing your background I had to slide this in here because I geek out about this kinda stuff. What’s your ultimate adventure or overlanding vehicle?

Dave: Oh, the Toyota Land Cruiser.

Andrew: Any particular make or model?

Dave: You know, I’ve got a 1978 FJ55. And it is just absolutely wonderful. My wife wasn’t too excited about me getting it but it’ll get you there and back. It has air conditioning and the Toyota Land Cruiser is the highest quality vehicle in the entire world. So, if you Google “long-term quality index,” I think it’s .org, you’ll look at about a million cars in there and the Toyota Land Cruiser ranks as the highest quality car in the entire world. The windshields are like two millimeters thicker than other windshields. Double-walled exhaust, higher carbon steel for the shafts and gears and it’s just over engineered for if your life depends on it. So, super reliable.

Andrew: Well Dave, hey, I appreciate you coming on and talking travel and brand building and video and copywriting, all this stuff. And if you haven’t checked out his website it’s just enjoyable to go just cruise around, read the copy, watch the videos, saddlebackleather.com. And also, Dave there was a couple different charities, organizations you’re involved with and are important to you. Would you mind mentioning those two again just at the end here?

Dave: Yeah, Africa New Life Ministries. And we personally donate there. Saddleback is very much behind that organization. And we have our own sponsored kids. You can go over and meet your kids, it’s pretty cool. Highly financially accountable. And then the other one is NOE International, N-O-E International. And that’s where I first taught English way back in the day. Oh, and I had my first bag made. And I was volunteering there as an English teacher and it has huge impact for change in breaking the cycle of poverty. So now that we have…they came into our factories and the kids of our employees are going through the Centro Noe International programs. It’s really cool.

Andrew: Very cool. Well Dave, thanks so much for coming on and yeah, best of luck this next year. I really appreciate your time, sir.

Dave: Hey, thanks a bunch. I had a good time.

Andrew: Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight-knit, vetted group for store owners with at least a quarter million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at eCommerceFuel.com. Thanks so much for listening and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next time.

What Was Mentioned

Photo:Flickr/Scott Lewis

Andrew Youderian
Post by Andrew Youderian
Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000+ vetted 7- and 8-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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