Behind Every Good Product Is a Story; The Daily Grommet Brings You One a Day

7/16/09Follow @wroush

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‘Wow, this is the next thing in e-commerce! You cracked it, Jules. Are you still looking for investors?’ With somebody with his experience, I had to execute. He even submitted some grommets, and we did some of them. So he’s gotten engaged on a number of levels.”

One element that seems to attract investors and customers alike is the company’s commitment to finding products and makers with a countercultural or humanitarian bent. The solar-powered flashlight, for example, is from a company called SunNight that sends one flashlight to a community in Africa for every unit bought by a consumer. (This “Buy One, Give One” approach may sound familiar to followers of the One Laptop Per Child Foundation, which had great success using a similar formula to sell laptops around the 2007 holidays.) The grommet for June 16 was “Arghand Soap Pebbles,” remarkably stone-like soaps hand-crafted by members of a cooperative in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Former NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes started the cooperative in 2005 to help provide a livelihood for former opium farmers in the war-torn country.

Pieri relates, “One investor said to me, ‘Jules, when I invest in this company, I invest in more than a business. If you do it right, it’s a movement. You’re giving people an opportunity to really support the little guy, the innovators.’”

But does becoming a movement mean growth and profits? I told Pieri that if I were a prospective investor, I’d ask the classic “scalability” question: how can a business premised on selling just one item every day build up to multimillion-dollar revenues?

Daily Grommet chief discovery officer Joanne Domeniconi confers with chief operating officer Patti Purcell.

Daily Grommet chief discovery officer Joanne Domeniconi confers with chief operating officer Patti Purcell.

“We have a clear vision to be meaningfully big,” she answers. She declined to share investment or revenue figures, but already, she says, the Daily Grommet formula seems to be attracting fervent shoppers: Grommet customers make four times as many purchases on an annual basis as Amazon customers. She points to the upward trajectory of similar companies like Gilt Groupe, a members-only e-tailer that conducts 36-hour online sales of overstocked designer clothing and recently raised $40 million in venture cash; Woot, which sells one discounted gadget or videogame every day and won a $4 million investment from Amazon in January; and Etsy, a hippie-chic marketplace connecting sellers and buyers of handmade goods.

The trendspotter site Springwise has a name for such sites: “curated marketplaces.” But in its review of the Daily Grommet last month, it singled the site out for its thoughtfulness.

The plan for Grommet’s growth, Pieri says, is to build on the success of the original site by creating “verticals,” business-speak for topic-specific offerings, such as “Grommet Gear,” “Grommet Food,” “Grommet Garden,” and the like (the company has 12 product categories in mind altogether, Pieri says). By introducing 250 new products per year and selling just $100,000 worth of each product, each vertical could bring in $25 million per year in gross revenues, she projects. Which sounds meaningfully big to me.

Also see the complete Xconomy interview with Jules Pieri.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.jennifersmells.com Jennifer

    I’ve said it before and I will happily say it again! The products and the stories of folks that created them that the Daily Grommet feature are fun, useful & innovative! I enjoy my Daily Grommet Greatly!
    Bravo!

  • http://danweinreb.org/blog Daniel Weinreb

    I have been watching Daily Grommet carefully since it was just a gleam in Jules’s eye. Now I buy products from Daily Grommet very frequently. A lot of them are going into a hidden stash in my house, which I will use to have great presents for my wife’s next birthday. Others are for me (cool scrubbing brushes for cleaning the dishes after dinner) or both of us (a device for making your own carbonated water). I would never have found these things without Daily Grommet.

    More important, if I buy them via Daily Grommet, I know that Jules’s team has tested them and determined that they’re actually excellent.

    I once got to be a tester for Daily Grommet. One lazy Sunday afternoon, Jules called up and invited me and my wife to come over to test a new product: Little Pearl Caviar. I said to Cheryl: “Look, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.” We drove over there, and Jules had set up crystal flutes of champagne, and the package from Little Pearl. Cheryl knows a lot about caviar, and I know some, and indeed the stuff is fantastic. It appeared on Daily Grommet last December, and you can still watch the video and click through to order it from Richard Brauman’s little company in Somerville (shipped with dry ice), or you can buy it at Whole Foods. It’s a lot milder than beluga caviar; try it!

    Daily Grommet isn’t just a good place to find good things to buy. It’s a fun experience, featuring short, enjoyable videos, and a place to post comments where you can share impressions and information with not only other customers, but the producers of the product themselves!

  • Miramon

    I can’t even imagine being a person who would want any of these objects.

    A $10 garlic chopping tool is perhaps not overpriced if it’s a really efficient and durable tool and you chop a lot of garlic. A LOT of garlic. But really, how much garlic do you chop, and how long will a $10 plastic gizmo really last?

    Seriously. You have only so much space in your house. You have only so much money. Would it make you happier to buy a $10 single-purpose kitchen tool you will probably use only a couple of times, or to donate the $10 to charity? For that matter, why not put the $10 towards buying a food processor you can use on a million kinds of food, including garlic, and which is less likely to find its way to the trash in a month or two?

    I have nothing against hedonism, but a focus on useless doodads that will rarely if ever be used, either for profit or for pleasure, really seems to me to be a net negative, both for individual consumers as well as for commercial sites and services.

  • http:www.jules.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    Thanks for doing such a great job learning and telling the Daily Grommet story Wade.

    @Miramon. I am so happy you chimed in. I/we think about this issue…of thoughtful consumption all the time. The bottom line is most of us are going to buy something, sometime. Few of us have totally sustainable households with vegetable gardens, woodshops, and machine shops. We are going to buy clothes, and gardening gear, and tools, and electronic gadgets, and books. So if we are going to make the important decision to bring a product home, how do we find “the good guys?” By that I mean the true innovators who produce products with real technological breakthroughs, or wonderful craft, or problem solvers, or meaningful social or environmental benefits. You won’t find those so easily at your big box store.

    But unless you want to research all day, you probably don’t have time to find them by yourself, either. We do that. Together with a wonderful number of people who give us terrific ideas, we find the “good guys.” Those products and services that are truly excellent, that will merit that space in your house because they really do deliver and come from a company that cares.

    A garlic chopper is not going to revolutionize the world…you are right. But for someone who cooks a lot for a family, it does its job so well that it really does merit the space. I am with you on single-purpose devices. They have to be amazing before I will acquire one.

    Anyway, I write about this “thoughtful consumption” topic frequently on my blog. http://tinyurl.com/l9bf7a I’d be glad you hear more of your thoughts there too.

  • http://JuliaKemp.com Julia Kemp

    Recently I got the opportunity to experience Daily Grommet behind the scenes with an MBA internship. I observed the dedicated team scour the globe for products and services with significance. They have an acute sensitivity to contrasting needs of people everywhere. If you don’t like the grommet today – check out the previous grommets. There is something for everyone. With Daily Grommet, I now look forward to thoughtfully selecting gifts for my loved ones.

  • http://runmyerrand.com Leah Busque

    Great write up, Wade! You really captured how exciting and unique the Daily Grommet story is, and the thoughtfulness behind its founder – Jules Pieri. I’m a huge fan of Daily Grommet and so glad you were able to spotlight their fantastic story.

  • http://danweinreb.org/blog Daniel Weinreb

    @Miramon, my wife cooks with garlic at least every other day. $10 is not that much money these days; compare it to the cost of going to a movie. if you do not have enough room in your house for a tiny thing like this, then perhaps $10 really is too much, but no product can appeal to every single market segment.

    Finally, it’s a great gift! It’s fun, original, actually useful, and quite inexpensive compared to other gifts that give the same pleasure to a friend who cooks.

  • Miramon

    @Daniel and Jules:

    Fair enough. I admit that I would expect to see that garlic chopper and some other similar items on the site going for more like $40 at some other Hammacher-Schlemmer-like site. I also see that some of these items couldn’t otherwise be found in most stores as they are from relatively obscure sources.

    But I am also a veteran of a gizmophilic stage of my life, and in my experience of gift-giving and gift-receiving, the vast majority of such items are either discarded quickly, go on the regifting circuit, or are left mostly unused.

    This kind of consumer-focused waste is distressing in itself. I don’t pretend to be an activist in any area at all, and my own life involves a certain amount of waste — driving to work, buying random things for my own pleasure, eating pre-made or processed food, etc. etc. etc.

    It seemed at a glance that the Daily Grommet was a concentrated center of consumer frivolity. I’ve always despised the Sharper Image and similar shops — selling superficially interesting items with a 200% markup. The DG seems to have left out the 200% markup, which is a nice touch, but I’m still not convinced most of these items are really worthwhile, even as gifts.

    Looking down the list on the website, I think today’s saucepan is fine, and sharing info about that “wishing” website is a nice gesture. But most of the other stuff I wouldn’t consider giving as a gift, and I certainly wouldn’t want myself.

  • http://dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    @miramon Thanks for expanding on your thoughts. Sounds like you are on your way to a post/reduced-consumer existence, which is interesting and laudable. I support this general trend myself, for the US, which has gone so far on the other side, of consumer excess.

    But one thing that is getting lost in this discussion is that Grommet producers are also creating jobs and meaningful livelihoods, both in the US, but also in some impoverished communities all over the world. Coming from an ailing city that was once a manufacturing boom town (Detroit) I am particularly sensitive to creating responsible, sustainable enterprises that employ people to make and create things. The auto industry lost its way, but we can learn a lot from that, and also certainly expect more from younger companies with fresh slates.

    I’d be terrified of an economy in which everyone is a knowledge worker who produces bits and bytes. So much innovation and creativity would be lost, as well as economic opportunity for people who don’t want to do desk jobs.

  • Claudia

    Miramon,
    Iagree we all need to reign in our insatiable consumerism. You might be interested in some featured Grommets such as a mail-order shoe repair service, an on-line technological gadget recycling program, or a planting medium made of recycled materials.
    I find Daily Grommet to be a refreshing mix of beautiful form and function and outside-the-box thinking!
    Great article!

  • Paula

    I love the thinking behind Daily Grommet. Unlike so many web-based businesses, there is a uniquely personal touch to DG. The videos are not flashy infomercials – they’re made by real people sharing great products that they believe in. And these are products that we might otherwise never hear about or see. Plus, what a neat way to give “the good guys” a chance to succeed in this tough economic environment. Bravo DG!!

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    For all you Daily Grommet fans: I’ve just published a sequel to this story — the full text of my interview with Jules Pieri. See http://www.xconomy.com/boston/2009/08/12/jules-pieri-of-the-daily-grommet-wants-to-make-you-think-outside-the-retail-big-box/

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