Categorized | Shoestring Startup

The Grocery Game: Biz Built from the Bottom Up

The Grocery Game: Biz Built from the Bottom UpIn November of 1999, I had the idea to start a web business, which would share my weekly money saving list, “Teri’s List”, with those who wanted great savings without the time and hassle. I was the first to come up with this concept, launched on the web, just a few months later.

What is your product or service?

http://www.thegrocerygame.com/ provides nationwide advertised and unadvertised sales, comparison shopping, easy software tools for list building, instant rebate, coupon and deal organization, giving busy grocery shoppers maximum savings in minimum time. Average savings for a family of four is $514 a month. Most save enough to buy a deep freezer in the first four weeks.

Why did you start your company?

I’m here to say that sometimes the worst personal challenge can turn into good. And the worst situations can turn out to be the best thing that could have happened.In the 1990s, my husband and I both had been making a decent living in the film and entertainment business in Los Angeles for over a decade. But that film business began to take a turn that didn’t include us. Eventually, our luck turned bad when we had to begin emptying a huge Sparkletts water bottle for change that we had thrown in for years. We were rolling coins to pay our bills, and eventually, I was rolling $35 a week to feed our family of four. This financial pit lasted for eight challenging years, but I never would have learned what I needed to know without it… and that is how to save money on groceries, which brought me to where I am now.

How was it financed ?

We had no resources, except for that giant jar of coins and elbow grease. I didn’t have time to make a business plan, get a business loan or venture capital. So I did it all on a shoestring.

The Grocery Game: Biz Built from the Bottom Up

Teri Gault, CEO Grocery Game

This venture was extremely risky, if not insane, as I had never even seen the internet or even email. Desperate, in January of 2000, I jumped into a two year $39 a month contract for web hosting, because of the three free months. I also managed to get a computer with Internet with no money down and another deferred payment plan with a two year contract. I had sold my soul! My business plan was simple… I had 3 months to build my free website and business clientele, to create a cash flow to support my new monthly web hosting bill, and before my Internet and computer payments kicked in.

In the wee hours of the morning from midnight to about 4AM, I found the web host tech support guys were bored and eager to help me build my site. Within three weeks, my site was ready for the world! I rolled $65 in coins (almost half a month of grocery money), and marched into city hall to buy my business license on my 40th birthday in February of 2000.

Www.TerisList.com, later called www.TheGroceryGame.com was off to a running start, serving southern California. I worked over 80 hours a week building my business, servicing customers, and doing grass roots marketing, with only one $15 ad in a local classified that ran for 3 weeks, and later, fliers distributed on cars in parking lots for about $18 a month. I also managed to keep my three part time jobs. Sleep was optional, and rarely happened. The popularity of Teri’s List spread by word of mouth. By the summer of that same year, I had heard from nearly every state in the country. People wanted Teri’s List! I kept records of all the inquiries and promised to expand. I rolled everything i made back into franchising, In February of 2003, we expanded into offering money saving grocery lists in 26 states. Now we’re in all 50 states and 7 foreign countries.

What free online or offline tools do you use?

I started with a free website and lots of free things, but now the only free platforms that we use all the time are social media:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/TheGroceryGame

Pinterest - http://pinterest.com/terigault/

http://pinterest.com/thegrocerygame/

Twitter - https://twitter.com/terigault

Youtube – http://www.youtube.com/user/TheGroceryGame/featured

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

Between employees and independent contractors, The Grocery Game relies on over 60 amazing people. Additionally, we have franchisees, and they also have their employees.

What is the best advice you never got?

Bill Gates said to listen to your customers, and give them what they want. I took that to heart from the get-go. But the best advice I never got, is that building a business would require going full throttle before you get any return…. that I had to learn the hard way. Building a business is a “real” JOB, even before it makes money: Make no mistake… Your new business MUST consume most of your time and energy to get off the ground. You have to be willing to give it your all. I picture it like a giant multi ton cargo plane trying to lift off the runway. It takes untold designing and engineering to first get that thing built so that it’s even possible to get it off the ground. Plus, the pilot must be trained for years. Then, finally, it’s full throttle for a long runway to get that thing airborne! Your new business is the same. It WILL take full throttle. Don’t think it won’t. Because if you think you can dabble in it, you will be defeated before you even begin. So, building your own business, especially on a shoe string, must be a high priority on your schedule for at least a year. Be forewarned, friends and family may not understand, “You work for yourself. You should have time to stop for lunch.” Even though it’s not yet making money, it’s your most important job on your schedule. You cannot rob “work time” for play time. You must keep that nose to the grind stone. Sound imbalanced? It is. I’ve known many people over the years who don’t pursue their new business in this way, and their dreams all fizzled and died. So I’m a firm believer that until your new business is well off the ground, keeping your nose to the grindstone is the only road to success. I STILL run full throttle after twelve years!

What is the one thing that you did right?

Years ago, as an employee for a few bosses, I resolved to treat people well someday, like people should be treated, appreciated, and respected. So we’ve always done that. We’ve hired well, respected people as people, and kept open communication for fresh ideas. We’ve created an environment for vision and safe brain-storming. No idea is a bad idea. We ask questions often and listen. I think our relationships within the company are ideal, and the company benefits from that.

What was the biggest transition you had to make?

I’m a money miser by nature. Even before incorporating and then franchising, I always poured most of what I made back into the company, but always with a tight fist. As CEO, I needed to become a big spender, which is pretty much against my nature. I had to learn to spend big money on development, which we’ve done non-stop for the past ten years. It has to happen in order for any company to grow, and change, and we’ve done a lot of that! Our biggest and costliest transition was in the fall of 2010, when we built the only comparison shopping with UN-advertised sales on the web. That and more in that huge launch cost the company millions, and nearly cost me my life! But was so worth it! Now, within seconds, Gamers can search for the cheapest yogurt in their hometown from up to eleven of their own hometown stores. Our comparison shopping draws from our own data in 200 stores nationwide. That launch made us once again, the only website in the world offering this unique service.

What type of marketing or advertising do you do?

We do very little advertising, but a lot of PR. We’re always in the news, on TV, on the radio, in magazines, newspapers… This keeps it all exciting and fresh.

Would you want to be acquired by a bigger company, run it yourself or sell in a couple of years?

I have a heart for TheGroceryGame.com and the families who rely on us to eat well, and save much needed money. I would have a hard time letting go, but I’m not getting any younger, and someday, I guess I’ll have to retire. When that day comes, I hope I’ll at least transition with the company to make sure our focus remains true to our original mission of providing the fastest and easiest way to save on groceries.

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