Ep 58 | My Dad and Business Part II: Innovation

The one challenge you have with trying to protect the planet, not use plastic, all of those things, is that at the end of the day, the consumer has to decide if that's important. And, whether it adds cost or it adds inconvenience or whatever change it makes, in consumer behavior, you have to decide that that's more important than devastating the ecosystem of our planet. – Tom Bedell

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Businesses need to innovate in order to continue to drive new business and rise above the competition. And now, more than ever, innovation is something that can help us keep our businesses going and generating income when we can't meet face-to-face.


In this episode you'll learn:

→ Participating in the new normal – not avoiding it.
→ Innovating in a traditional industry.
→ Being innovative isn't easy – sometimes you have to convince your team.
→ Putting your trust in the consumer.
→ Challenge the way it's been done in an effort to do what's right
→ Take time to sit with your core values.

Want to skip ahead?  Here are some key takeaways:

[3:45] Throughout history people have had to innovate in order to stay relevant. And now is no different. When change happens it forces people to do things differently, and that's what we're being forced to do now. Understanding the “new normal” and not fighting against it is key.
[7:38] Change doesn't always come easy. But innovation is about providing something that people didn't know they needed. Create the want- something that's different.
[10:02] Innovation isn't always the easy path. At times you have to convince your team that this is the right path before you even bring your product to market. It's about taking risks and trusting your knowledge of the industry and how to step outside the box the generate new sales and audiences. 
[16:11] It's not always easy to do things according to your moral compass. But if you keep pushing you'll be able to make the difference that you always wanted to with your business. And make money while doing it.
[21:49] Sit with your core. Understand what it is that makes you excited about life. what things have you been ignoring about yourself that would make a bigger impact on your business and the goals you have for your personal/professional life?


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Tom Bedell

Tom Bedell

CEO, TOH Guitars

Tom Bedell has founded several companies but currently has thrown his passion into the guitar industry with Breedlove Guitars, Bedell Guitars and Weber Mandolins. His dedication to the environment has led him down a path of legally and sustainably harvested wood, never using clear-cut trees.  

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Full Transcript

[INTRO] Hey there, Sami, your host of the Digital Marketing Therapy podcast. So excited to be here for another episode. And we are here for part two of my series with my dad, Tom Bedell.

Last week, go back and check it out, we talked about what it's like to be an entrepreneur and how he paved the way in his career, what worked, what didn't, what he enjoyed about different parts of his jobs, what he didn't and how he just followed his true calling. And so today, in part two, we're going to talk about innovation. And it was important for me to have a conversation specifically about this, because while this is something that he just naturally does in his life and in his business, I do feel like in the times that we're in now, innovating our businesses, thinking outside the box, doing things differently is going to be really important at keeping us moving through this period, and I'm just excited to see what's going to happen and come out of it.

On the other side, so I was very inspired and energized by this conversation that we had. And I hope that you will be too. And he talks a little bit more about his career kind of where he's come from. And you know, what he's done to serve the community and change things up a little bit. So I hope that you enjoy this episode.

And since we're talking about innovation, this episode is brought to you by our Digital Marketing Therapy Sessions. So while we've typically charged for these sessions in the past they are 30-minute online coaching session, we are offering them now for free through the end of April. And you don't need to code or coupon or anything. Just head on over to https://www.thefirstclick.net/officehours and get some time booked on your schedule with me so that we can make this happen.

And the reason why this is so important to me right now is because innovation is amazing. And you're going to get some great tips from Tom In this episode, and I think you'll really, hopefully take the time to listen to what it is he's suggesting that you do to really kind of take your business to the next level. But sometimes it's hard to do it in a bubble, in a vacuum and you need somebody to help you kind of figure out ways in the short term, you can pivot quickly. So that's what we want to do with you in these office hours. However, if you just want to talk to us about your digital marketing or your website, or if we can help you with anything, we are giving away 30-minute sessions, we won't pitch you on any other things. It's just literally to help keep you moving in this period and get you pivoting and figuring out ways to generate income and support your community and support your family. Okay, so thefirstclick.net/officehours, I can't wait to see you and meet you and learn more about your business. Let's get into it.

[CANNED INTRODUCTION] You're listening to the digital Marketing Therapy Podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Hey, Tom, welcome back for part two of our two-part kind of business series.


[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So if you missed the first episode, head on, or last week's episode head back where we talked more about entrepreneurship in general. But today, I really want to talk about innovation and taking a look at things a little bit differently. And before we get into that, I just kind of wanted to say like for me, in these uncertain times where people are afraid of losing their businesses, and we don't know what we're going to do, or how are we going to make our money? or How long are we going to last? I'm kind of excited to see three months, six months from now, the innovations that people are going to come up with, and kind of the new way that people are going to be making money and supporting their families and kind of living their best business life. What do you think?

[TOM BEDELL] I am, every bit as curious as you are. There are so many times that well throughout history that written actually centuries, where paradigms really lay out and predict how people are going to live, how they're going to associate with each other what society structures like,  et cetera. When we go through a time, like we're going through right now, everything is up in the air.

So when things come back down together, it's going to be a completely different world. In terms of the concepts of social distancing, I've never heard it before a couple of months ago. Right. The whole interest in how we all stay connected during a period of social distance, and realizing the strong need that we have to be connected to one another. That's part of our mental health right?

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] It's really interesting because since my kids are home, it's kind of a sidebar, but since my kids are home, you know, they do talk to their friends on the phone once in a while, but like they're begging me every day like, is there somebody I can FaceTime with like they don't just want to email or text like they want to still see them, like see their faces and engage with them with yeah, face to face.

[TOM BEDELL] So there's gonna be all kinds of inventive ways that are going to expand. And how do we combine social distancing, communication, social fulfillment, safety? I don't know what they all but it seems like they're evolving daily right now anyway. But it's gonna be a different world.

Like the example I can give you is we're developing a new product line of guitars that we're going to introduce in January 2021. And according to our schedule, we really had to be over in China no later than late February to get all the R&D and all these things in the works so that we'd be ready. Well, I don't know what it's gonna be. yet. Right? Obviously we didn't go in February.

So we're still determined, we're going to figure out how to have those guitars done in time. But we're having to go about it in a completely different way. And we may find out, you know, what, this way works better than the way we were doing it before.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Right. I mean, for me, being in the industry that I'm in I'm used to like most of my meetings, I do remote via zoom, like most of my life is done online. So I feel like it's easier for me to adapt. But I agree with you. I think there's lots of things. Like why can't you just do a video walkthrough of the factory live and have them show you the stuff while you're working on it? I mean, see, touch, feel is always ideal when it comes to physical product, but I think yeah, you're right. There might be ways that you can streamline

And because I think I want to touch on just, you know, being in the fishing industry and being in the guitar industry, they are two very I would consider traditional markets. And markets where people tend to hold tight to. Like I use this fishing lure because I always catch the fish I use this fishing pole, I use this guitar like, it's not an easy place for people to change. But I do feel like in your world, you have innovated a lot in both sides of those. So I guess I'm curious how in a world in general people say all the time well, this is how it's always been done. You've been able to push through and kind of what those challenges have been like.

[TOM BEDELL] Well, there's something very common in the business strategy support of being in the sport fishing tackle business and being in the acoustic guitar business. And that is the simple thing. No fisherman needs another fishy rod or a fishing lure. They've got a garage full of them, right. And very few musicians that we sell our instruments to don't already have a guitar.

So we have to create a want, not a need, we have to come up with something that is different than what they have in the garage if its fishing or in their music room if it's music. Because if we don't come up with something that they want, that's different than what they have, there's no reason for them to buy it. So every time somebody's going on a fishing trip, and they're going on an outing and they planed a week with their family or their buddies. To make that experience, the best possible adventure, we have to convince them, they're going to want these new tools to make it a very special trip.

And likewise, if you're sitting there recording music or performing on stage or just enjoying being creative by yourself, we need the present an instrument that will give you a different feel or a different sound. Or you'll have a different kind of a emotional connection with your music through that instrument. So for me, innovation is the only chance. Because if I don't come up with something different and better nobody needs my products.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Okay, so I want to make this more specific and talk about kind of the work that you're doing with sustainability in the guitar business because I feel like the standards that you're setting as far as the woods being sustainably harvested, and, you know, legally harvested all of that. You had to convince your employees first before you even had a product that you could go out and share with the public. So can you talk a little bit about how like you had to bring your team along to understand like, this isn't something that people are doing in the market right now. But it will be something that will set us apart.

[TOM BEDELL] Right? So just a real quick reference to where I'd come from. Being in this sport fishing tackle business, our number one mission besides treating others, the way we wanted to be treated was protecting the outdoor environment because if there isn't clean water and plentiful water and fish passage and places outside that people want to go and feel enriched by, people aren't gonna buy fishing tackle. So my connection to the earth and the planet and the resources and a stewardship of those resources was a core business strategy right.

In music, guitars are mostly made from exotic woods and in many cases from our tropical rain forest. For some reason, those forests grow the wood that seems to produce the most beautiful, at least for acoustic guitars, sound. So in Brazil, we have the Amazon rainforest, and we get Brazilian, rosewood grenadillo and some other words. In the second-largest rain forest, we have the Congo where African mahogany and African ebony and Sapele and ovangkol and many other trees grow.

Well, if those trees, if those forests are decimated by clear-cutting by not having good forestry practices. If the animal life that lives among those forests are not protected by having large habitat zones that humans don't go into. If the local indigenous people don't have the opportunities to continue and maintain their lives that have been some cases like in the Congo, have been very similar for 3,000 years, then we're destroying the very planet that we're relying on to build our guitars. Am I making sense?

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah, you're trying to protect the longevity of your industry.

[TOM BEDELL] And the earth.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Well, right but I mean, I think the point is that you can have it both ways as opposed to just thinking about it from your own like, I need this wood in order for me to produce this guitar in order for me to make money. It's how can we make this a win-win for everybody?

[TOM BEDELL] When I entered the industry, the current owner that I bought it from, he didn't care where the wood came from. He would buy from brokers he'd buy from anybody it was just, you know, let me see how pretty it is. How's it going to sound what's my price, and I immediately put in a set of values that said, we will not clear cut any, use any clear cut wood in any instrument that we build, we're going to protect the forest, neighborhood and community. It's not just about the one tree, it's about the whole habitat. Which meant that we would individually cut a tree. If we needed to cut it an alive tree, then we do it in a way that would try to protect the forest community. We would only work with mills that had safety protection zones. And actually were encouraging the expansion of wildlife and complex ecosystems rather than degrading them. So we have what we call the Tonewood Certification Project. And we literally, if you come in and design a guitar in our shop, we can tell you either this is the exact tree or certainly, this is the five square miles where that tree was harvested in every guitar we built.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Yeah, which is incredible. And I think the lesson here though, is it's not doing things differently. being innovative and thinking outside the box isn't always the easy path. But somebody has to go first. And now I mean, to be fair, there are other guitar companies that do some of their instruments in the same fashion. But you're the only company that does all of your instruments in that fashion. And I think the challenge is, and kind of going back to the last week's episode when you're talking about how everybody has a good idea. So just because it's not being done that way, doesn't mean you shouldn't still push forward and do it a different way.

[TOM BEDELL] Well, the interesting thing of this example, Sami is this, the success of what we're doing is totally up to the consumer. If, if the consumer if the American public decides before I go buy anything made out of wood, I'm actually going to ask, “Where did this wood grow how and harvested? Was it clear cut? Is it protecting the wildlife, in the forest?” and so forth. If consumers would start to ask those questions, and then only five products that meet their value system, then companies would have to follow.

The one challenge you have with trying to protect the planet, not use plastic, recycle, all of those kinds of things, is at the end of the day, the consumer has to decide that that's important. And whether it adds costs are an inconvenience or whatever change it makes in consumer behavior, you have to decide that that's more important, then devastating the ecosystem of our planet.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Mm hmm. Well, it took you time and a lot of effort, like you said, extra costs and energy. You know, you've visited all these locations, you ensure that things were being done up to the standards of your company. But then the next thing that you really pushed in challenged instead of status quo of was the import guitar market.

[TOM BEDELL] Right. And that's been a real challenge because we get, when we order. Well, let me start again. All of the guitars that we build in Bend, Oregon, we 100% follow our Tonewood Certification Project and meet all these standards. But the lowest cost guitar we could make in Bend retails at $2,000. And so, whereas we're really standing for what I think most people would say, is the right thing. We're not in a price point that they necessarily can afford. And so we then have 80% of our guitars built in two factories, we call them partnership factories, but we don't own them, they're separate factories in China. And we didn't have that same transparency, so they would tell us where the woods came from. But we didn't really know were they clear cut or not. We didn't really know how they were harvested. And so 80% of our sales weren't really following our own value system.

So my team and I spent three years working with a factory down near Shaman, and in southern China. They agreed to only use the woods through the forest that we designated, and in fact that I have personally visited and ensured that the harvest of those who have 100% met the same standards that we do in Bend, Oregon. We took that series of guitars to the trade show in January of this year. They're called the Breedlove Oregon collection, excuse me the Breedlove Organic collection. They were the hit of the show. They were competitively priced. They were sustaining the planet. They are all solid wood. They sound great. But most importantly, the market had moved to where it was important to people that their guitar was saving or helping protect wildlife. And the viability of the forest. It was important to them. And if they could buy a guitar for $500 and know that they were doing that they were willing to make those changes in their buying patterns.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So that goes back to what you said earlier. Where in the fishing industry and here. It was about creating a want.

Yeah, you know, you're giving them something different because it's sustainably created.

[TOM BEDELL] Right. And they're great guitars, which, of course, is you have to have that. But, but we get your feedback like wow, I can play a guitar like this and know that I'm helping save the planet.


And I think it'll be interesting too to see just sticking with kind of the environmental piece. And talking about innovation, it's going to be really interesting to see what science and research is now going to be able to learn about our ability to heal as a planet. Now that we're seeing stories emerging from Italy about you know, now that there's not as much traffic in the water, like dolphins are coming back in like, you can see complete changes in the way that the planet looks from earth because there's less smog and less factories. So it's gonna be really interesting to see how some of that research that they're probably I assume people are collecting now is going to change the way we look at our impact and how we can work through it.

[TOM BEDELL] You know, that's a really powerful thing you're saying. Molly and I were in Spain in September, and there were a lot of student protests going on about the environment, the climate changes, so forth. And one of the signs, I wish I could repeat it to you in Spanish, but one of the signs that had been posted up tall on a building was that saving our planet is way more important than economic growth. And that if we would reverse our value system. And it's not all about how much money we make, it's how much good we do to leave a planet for future generations. That's a whole different way to look at our current culture in life because now success is judged on how much money you make or how big my job is, or what kind of car do I own! What if, what if we were all judged inside ourselves as well as outside about our contribution for future generations to have a planet to live in?


And I think that you can have both. I think you can have strong economics and live the life you want while still being conscious of the impact you're leaving. But like you're saying reframing it the other way first, will help you make different decisions.

So I guess kind of one of the last questions I had is if I'm somebody listening to this, and I'm like, Okay, well, yeah, he's got all these great ideas. He has this passion, but I have no idea how to like you know, I'm so in the weeds with my business right now. I have no idea how-to about how to think about things differently. Would you recommend people just take a minute and just really sit with themselves for a minute and just kind of allow themselves to get back to their core, which maybe they haven't thought about for a while?

[TOM BEDELL] Yes, because there's things pulling on all of us all the time, right.

I mean, if you turn the television on today, you're going to end up feeling uneasiness or fear or concern about the coronavirus and its impact on other people and people you care about and, or, or about people's ability to have a paycheck or you know what it's going to mean in your life, your family's life, your friend's lives, your community, etc. If you don't turn that TV on, you might think about different things. And in our minds, we get to where we're absorbed with stuff and we get stuck. I think that's what you're saying. If you say, you know, I'm stuck. How do I take differently and you just have to turn the TV off. You have to sit back and you have to say, you know, what, what's me?

And what different patterns could I have in how I express my day and myself and my relationships and my efforts, and what I really care about what I'm working on, etc.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] And just to kind of take that next step further, I'm just curious in your evolution of your businesses, as you were kind of trying to think outside the box and do things differently. Who did you enlist to help you? Like once you kind of had a little bit of an idea here or like an inkling of something like who did you brainstorm with to kind of decide which ideas were ones that were worth running with? And which ones maybe were on the back burner for a little while or which ones were just complete? trash?

[TOM BEDELL] None of the above. I, I started off, to me, the way to differentiate, well, anything starts with curiosity. And so I spent my first couple years of being back in the guitar business I wanted to understand what made an acoustic guitar work. What was wood like? How was one piece of wood different from another? Why did they sound different? How when you put them together does it change why this one sounds more bass and this one sounds treble?.

I traveled to people that made electronic pickups to people that had really studied wood. I went to universities that had forestry departments. And just curious, I want to learn, I want to learn, I want to learn.

And the first breakthrough for me really was I remember being up in Alaska in the Tongass National Forest in the town of Craig. And these Sitka trees grow well up to 300 feet tall. Typically, they'll die or blow over or something that happens sometime between when they're four to 600 years. They're just magnificent.

But I'm sitting there looking at the community that each of these trees are growing in. And each section of the forest is a little bit different. And I go, you know, the life of every tree is completely unique. It's just like you have Hudson and Elinor and you and Kelly are the same parents, but those kids are completely different, right? Yeah, the same thing in a forest. You've got a Sitka tree growing here and 100 meters away, you have a Sitka tree growing over there. Their life experience is not the same, even though their core genetics are similar.

And so as we started to, accept that every piece of wood was unique and different. And then how we would combine pieces of wood to build guitars. All of those variables would be different. So instead of trying to look for commonality, our breakthrough is when we started to say variability is the secret to our success. And the more we can understand and appreciate the uniqueness of every piece of wood, every species of wood, every forest, every neighborhood community, and honor that, the more we would learn about what makes guitars work.

And then that lead us in a fun place. Because this hadn't really occurred to me, every musician is different. And every musician plays differently. And they have their own way of approaching your guitar. They have their own sound, they have their own style. And so we have variability in how we build a guitar and we have variability in how our customer plays and wants to feel and handle the guitar.

And that opened up the whole world, to possibilities that we're still is so excited about pursuing.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] So what you're saying is if you really start to sit with your core set with who you are, really figure out what really lights you up, then when you follow your passion, you just completely geek out on it. But that just then fuels more creativity and more engagement. And, and then just kind of you follow your gut and you follow the path and trust that it's going to take you where it needs to go.

Which is very, not comfortable for a lot of people I would think.

Yeah, that's how you come up with unique ideas as opposed to doing things the way they've always been done.

[TOM BEDELL] What's the first thing that happens in most people have a discussion somebody expresses an idea and immediately somebody puts it down or says no, or whatever. That most new ideas we all have a reason why it's not a good one.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] Too expensive, takes too long people won't like it. Yeah.

[TOM BEDELL] Yeah, impossible that technology does exist, nobody'll pay for it. So it's yea, breaking through all that.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN] I mean, I think that's great feedback. And I would challenge people now as we're sitting at home more as we have a little bit more space and breath. And we're looking at the world with different glasses, it's a great opportunity to take a look at what you do on a daily basis a little bit differently as well. And see, you know, how you can streamline how you can do things differently, how you can provide a different product or service and have fun with it.

Anything else you want to add about like innovation or how it's impacted your businesses? Or you?

[TOM BEDELL] Well, it's, to me, it's the it's really it. In many ways, it's the excitement of the entrepreneur. A lot of times we go to sports analogies, but it's somebody comes up with a different play that totally surprises and changes the game.

Or somebody comes up with a unique shoe that makes running completely different or, for me, it's when you do breakthroughs, and you're successful at something that's new and different and, and love that. That's the reward more than the money of being an entrepreneur.

[SAMI BEDELL-MULHERN]  Yeah, I agree. And that's a great place to end it, I think. And I want to say we will link up a bunch of resources in the show notes for this episode, including if you want to know more about kind of the woods sourcing and the sustainability that Tom's doing. We can link up the TED Talk video in the show notes as well so you guys can watch that if you're interested. But thank you so much for joining me on this two-part series.

[TOM BEDELL] Thanks, Sami, have a great day.

[CLOSING] So I hope you enjoyed these last two episodes featuring my dad, Tom Bedell, as much as I had fun recording them with him. I am always so inspired by the things that he's doing on the environmental side of things to support his employees and all of that stuff. So I hope that you were inspired to think about your business a little bit differently.

If you liked what you heard here, make sure you subscribe. And if you missed the episode that we did in part one, all about entrepreneurship and his journey there. Please make sure you check that out as well. And you can head on over to thefirstclick.net/podcast for all of our episodes, and all of our show notes with lots of fun resources, including the video for Tom's TED talk that we'll have posted in this episode. So subscribe wherever you listen so you don't miss out on a single episode and we'll see you in the next one.

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