Jesse Rhew from Rude Tech and his triple Russian Muff

In the summer of 2021, Jesse Rhew from Rude Tech contacted me via email with an unusual message – at least coming from a pedal builder. He wanted to let me know that the pop-up through which Delicious Audio was inviting its readers to join its mailing list could have been optimized in ways that made it more effective.

As I found out, he was right. I have since learned that Jesse has a lot of experience in web marketing, having spent over seven years working for a company that helps eCommerce sites increase their conversion rates and online sales.

We thought it would be a good idea to create a document that could help emerging builders improve their marketing efforts – what better way to discuss ways to market stompboxes than through a conversation with a pedal builder who is also a web marketing pro?

Therefore, I asked him a few questions…

What are the main challenges a small pedal builder faces when trying to grow its company?

I think coming up with your own identity as a company is probably the toughest thing. You may admire Company X, so you try to replicate everything they are doing, but you’ll probably find out pretty quickly that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to run a company. Some people aspire to be as big as Boss, others want to stay as a one-person shop.

Spend time figuring out what your “unfair advantage” is. Maybe you’re a blues musician that knows a guy who can find rare transistors. Maybe you’re a digital electronics programmer that focuses on bass. Maybe you’re an artist and can hand paint or acid-etch weird textures on pedals in large batches. Figure out your niche, and your future customers will have an easier time finding you.

Roughly what percentage of the business’s earnings would you recommend an emerging pedal builder allocate into marketing?

If you are building pedals as a side-hustle, put every penny you earn back into marketing your next batch of pedals until you get to a monthly figure that you are ok with plateauing at. At that point, I’d spend 20% of revenue on marketing if you are trying to be aggressive about growth.

What are the marketing strategies you’ve learned as effective in growing your pedal business?

If you are just starting out, just focus on getting your first 10 sales. Where would they come from? Are your friends interested in buying something, or are they just being nice? Can you walk into a store and get feedback from their stockist? And don’t settle for a “maybe.” Put them in a position where they give you a direct “Hell yes!” or “No.” Getting shot down by a dream store is the only way you’ll figure out what they want you to sell them.

After you get to about $1k/mo, run a lot of experiments. Find something that works, then double down on it and perfect it until moving on to something else. For example, Instagram has been really good to me, so I focused on getting better at that before moving on to, say, Google ads.

Don’t forget to build your email list the whole time you are doing this! Facebook / Google / Pinterest / Snapchat / etc, that all own the rails from you to your followers and can change the rules any time they want. (Facebook did this a while ago by making a page’s posts less visible unless you “boosted” them for a fee. YouTube changed how videos got recommended, forcing your followers to now “ding the bell” to opt-in on notifications when you post.)

Email addresses, on the other hand, are direct permission from your fans to send them cool stuff. You can move your whole audience from an old platform to a new one as long as you have that direct line to them.

What impact do your email newsletter messages have on your sales?

Every company is different, but for me, it’s about 35% of my sales.  I think anywhere from 25-45% is a reasonable estimate.

How do you grow your mailing list?

You’ve just gotta get in the habit of asking for emails.  Anywhere your customers show up, remind them about your email list.  Offer it somewhere on your website, offer it in the linktree on your Instagram profile, offer it on your Facebook page, etc. 

If you personally ever give your email to a company online, make a mental note of it and try to reverse engineer why you were happy to do that.  They offered something of value to you for it.  I’m not a huge fan of giving discounts (since I don’t want to undercut any stores selling Rude Tech gear), but I’ll offer free shipping, do a couple of giveaways a year, or do mailing-list-only products.

Just remember to ask for the email every once in a while.  Your customers already like you!  They want to hear from you!

What kind of giveaways do you do and, if you pay for them, how do you calculate your return on investment?

You should be putting the giveaway in front of people that don’t know you well yet, so think about partnerships. You could contact a pedal demoer / a local shop (have them give flyers to their customers!) / other companies roughly your size / etc.

If I pay for access to an audience, it’s because the cost of acquiring the new email was lower than the value of the email. To find your number, let’s say you’ve been selling through email for a couple of months and can accurately calculate how much an email is worth to you. Assume you have 1000 people, 10 are likely to make a purchase within 6 months of signing up, and your average order is $100. That means 1 email to you is worth $1000 per 1000 emails, so an email is worth $1 to you. Now you know that if you can get a new email by paying less than $1, you’re golden.

Email Newsletter services (like Mailchimp, for example) get quite pricey when the mailing list outgrows the 2k mark. Which system do you use? 

I recommend Mailchimp just because they have a great free tier.  They let you have a list of 2,000 people before they start charging, and they have an integration with most e-commerce checkout systems.  The Rude Tech Lab Rats list is on Klaviyo since it’s been growing though.

For those with bigger mailing lists, I would also mention PhpList, which is what we use at Delicious Audio and it’s free but needs to be installed on your server and regularly updated maybe once a year. You can find programmers on Upwork who can do that for less than $50. We are running our 120k+ mailing list on it – it would cost us over $500 per month on Mailchimp!

Hope this was helpful!

If you want to see how Jesse invites Instagram followers to join his email list, check out his instagram profile.