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An Ecommerce Underdog Story: How Russ Izzo Turned TruMedic into an Oprah Favorite

We all know the difference between tenacity and being downright obnoxious, right?

Tenacity is consistent and never quits. Obnoxious is that slicked back salesman asking for the 70th time, “Do you have a minute to…?”

No, David! I don’t! Now on to my next point….

THE TENACIOUS ALWAYS WIN! And that’s why I want to introduce you to TruMedic’s Russ Izzo.

He’s a stand-up guy, one of the most consistent and TENACIOUS businessmen I know, and (like many of us) he started out as an underdog.

He didn’t build his business on the back of big bucks; he built it from the ground up on risks, hope, and dreams.

That’s where most of us start, isn’t it?

Whether you’re lighting the fire for the first time or need a refresher on the skillsets you learned along the way, stay tuned. Here are a few hard-learned lessons that Russ and I have picked up over the years.

Plus, see how Russ’ journey took him from “Ordinary Guy” to “Oprah’s Guy!”

FIND THE PROBLEM AND USE NEARBY RESOURCES

Russ’ business idea began with the loss of his first business.

In a way, your business can become your voodoo doll. Whatever you do to IT, you do to YOU; we try to stay far away from pins and needles, but sometimes… (POKE!)…

It pierces you.

And that’s what Russ was trying to avoid. But ironically, that loss and physical manifestation of pain is what led him to the right business – one that aided his, his wife’s, and many others’ physical ailments.

TruMedic.

But as he was ideating, he realized his wife was carrying the team all while suffering from migraines. She tried everything – medicine, dark lights, eye shades – until she discovered an electric therapy device that halted them.

She said, “Honey, we need to create and offer a product like this,” and like a good husband, HE LISTENED!

He began by creating an effective migraine device, then a neck massager, and multiple other medical devices.

The moral of it all?

“LOOK AROUND and see what resources are available!”

If you need your next idea, there are problems everywhere that need to be solved – ideas looming.

Find the one that is close to you, inspires you, and look at what resources are available to solve that problem. “Take what is around you and use it,” because you can’t build homes without wood and bricks.

OFFER A PREMIUM PRODUCT

So, I asked Russ – how did you create a premium product, and did you find a great production company because you looked hard or got lucky?

The answer was BOTH!

But what really stands out and what I hope to stress to others (over and over and OVER again) is that premium products reign supreme. It is the business gospel that I cannot stop spreading.

Allow Russ and me to explain why.

When searching for a fulfillment center, it’s scary when every marble counts; Russ chiseled it down to 5 viable, researched options until finally, he just leapt!

But the main thing to note here is that Russ sold the EXACT same product that cured his wife’s migraines for 2x the price because he added value.

His product:

  • Looked more luxurious
  • Had better photos and 3D models for ecommerce
  • And offered quality customer suppor

In this, TruMedic became the #1 product retailer in the industry space BECAUSE they offered a premium customer experience.

In addition, their price margin allowed them to truly deliver in every arena – copy, product, photography, video, and service.

BUILD A HOUSE ON YOUR LAND

Once the product and the margins were in place, then came the challenges of retail and ecommerce. And where do most people go when they need multiple eyeballs?

Amazon.

And Amazon was working well… until they shut them down. Amazon has every right to cut you off while they ensure you’re legit and abiding by guidelines.

In Russ’ case, they needed paperwork… the same paperwork that they had shown them time and time again. Each time they essentially replied, “Oh, you’re right. Sorry about that!” and put them back on the search map.

Sure, that’s great and all… minus the loss of $400k in sales and having no one to speak to directly.

Russ thought back to a talk I gave years back, and the words “Don’t build your house on someone else’s land” rang a bell.

He knew to scale he was going to have to diversify his channels.

More than that, he needed to have control over his business and what happened to it. While Amazon was a great resource, he built his business’ home on their territory and that has consequences.

The value of Amazon is that they provide the platform and the traffic. But while that’s very helpful (especially to new businesses), this arrangement holds less value than having your own little house on your land… even if it’s a smaller house.

Ultimately, you have to question the value of complete control, and Russ learned that value the hard way. When you lose control of your platform and lose thousands in sales revenue, the tradeoff becomes apparent.

Money and sales are massive pieces of your puzzle. But remember, so is control and so is size. Weigh the value of these when building your business’ home. Just know that from our experience, it pays to build smaller on your OWN land.

3% IS NICE… BUT WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER 97%?

Now, back to my point of needing to diversify your channels. This is key, and something Russ has conquered more than me.

At this time, 3% of all transactions were happening from ecommerce, but the other 97% were happening offline.

Most online marketers don’t know how to approach that other vast 97%, which means they’re missing out on another 97% of sales!

When I asked Russ how he tapped into the offline market, he simply said, “Sometimes you just need the key to unlock a vast space.”

Often, you need people to help make that key. So, this takes us back to our house analogy – you know what fraternity and sorority houses offer most – networking.

And that leads us to Russ’ next move…

BE TENACIOUS AND RELENTLESS

Sometimes sales are just a click away… until they’re not.

Until your platform changes its algorithm, until your ads lose traction, etc. Sometimes, you just have to get out there, shake hands, and build relationships!

Russ started making calls and bought every online course he could on retail. He went to trade shows, looked at name tags and found people in the spaces he wanted to be – big retailers such as Walmart, Target, etc.

If the people they needed to meet were presenting, he and his wife were there to hand them their card. And then? They’d follow up. And follow up. And WOULDN’T STOP FOLLOWING UP.

He’d call and call and call until he got an email back from a big retailer saying, “You’re one of the most persistent people I’ve met in my life.”

Russ said, “I’ll take that as a compliment. When can we meet?”

The retailer named a time and place, but the place was on the West Coast while he was on the East Coast and the time was during the opening night of his son’s play… and we all have priorities. So, take a guess at who had to wait.

Mr. Big Bucks Retailer!

Russ kept offering different times and options to meet. Mr. Big Bucks got back to him 3 MONTHS LATER!! That was his first taste of ‘my way or the highway’ with corporate.

But life is a comedy, and funny enough, in that span of 3 months Russ took a trip to China and discovered a producer to make their neck massagers and best-selling products.

But the reality STILL was, without Mr. Big Bucks, they were bootstrapped without any venture money and the retailers he found didn’t have any buy-back clauses.

To make it, they had to be realistic and sell their own products, because it was all on them.

But that’s what we little guys do! We risk it all! We back ourselves because we put in the work and we built everything with our own two hands.

Blood. Sweat. Tears. It’s in the product and the marketing… so let’s rumble.

And then…

STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS … IN THIS CASE… OPRAHS!!!

When you’re the underdog ready to risk it all for what you believe in, that extends to marketing too. So, stand on the shoulders of giants!

To do that, Russ threw the baton to some of the best PR people he’d come across.

You can’t make a cake without the ingredients, so he found the highest quality ingredients for the best results.

“Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” he said. The people who have built the right connections don’t come cheap and he knew that you get what you pay for. So, he paid high dollars for PR that would get him somewhere.

Then, he left it to the professionals.

And guess what? Russ got what he paid for. His PR team got back with him to inform him that Oprah (!) had tried his foot massager and had said that she just might put it on her favorite things list!

And they did!

Oprah’s influence put them on the map, showcasing them as one of her favorite products. Once it hit Oprah’s Favorites List on Good Morning America, they blew up! But Russ attributes it all to the steppingstones that took him from ‘little guy’ to ‘Oprah’s guy’.

His advice? Be in the game.

Find the factory that will be able to mass produce when the time comes. Make the incredible product, solve the problem, and advertise it as premium.

Find the marketing and PR team that will put you on the map. All these pieces are foundational bricks that will build your business on your own land on your terms. But you have to build with the belief that opportunity will arise, so you can seize it when it does!

Business and marketing are a beast and some agencies have dedicated their lives to learning how to succeed in its wake.

If you need shoulders to stand on, we’re here for you.

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