10 episodes

Each week Stephen reverse engineers the keys to success that took little companies and built empires. We believe in building empires and learning from those that have already done it.

The Empire Builders Podcast Stephen Semple and David Young

    • Business
    • 5.0 • 5 Ratings

Each week Stephen reverse engineers the keys to success that took little companies and built empires. We believe in building empires and learning from those that have already done it.

    #025: Supercuts – Find out what Big Macs and haircuts have in common.

    #025: Supercuts – Find out what Big Macs and haircuts have in common.

    How 2 hair stylist make over $20,000,000.00, five bucks at a time. Now that's supersizing!!!



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, teaching business owners the not so secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen sidekick and business partner, Dave Young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is well it's us, but we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients. So here's one of those.



    [Home Heating and Air Ad]







    Dave Young:                      



    So, Stephen, we're going to talk about cheap haircuts today. Is that what I understand?



    Stephen Semple:            



    We talked about dry bar doing no haircuts, and now it's time to talk about haircuts.



    Dave Young:                      



    That was episode one.



    Stephen Semple:            



    That was episode one. For a guy with no hair, we're talking a lot about haircuts. Yeah. Supercuts is a really interesting story. They now have 2,400 locations across.



    Dave Young:                      



    That's a lot of locations.



    Stephen Semple:            



    That's a lot of locations. They were founded in 1975 by Geoffrey Rappaport and Frank Emmett. And their first location was in Albany, California, which is just north of Berkeley, if I have my geography. I'm Canadian. So I'm making up my US geography here. And the thing that's really interesting is they were not business people. They were a pair of hair stylist who were working in the industry. They looked at the industry and they said, there's a big problem with consistency.



    There's no consistency in terms of how a haircut is done. Every stylist has got their own idea and their own feel. And they looked at it and said, McDonald's does not make the best burger. But what McDonald's does is make it inexpensive and consistent and predictable. And they looked at the hairstyle business and they went, there's no consistency. And so what they wanted to do is they wanted to create a system to cut hair that was consistent and fast. So they actually developed an operational way of cutting hair that was consistent and fast. And they turned it into a system that could be taught. And we go back to the 1970s. There were basically barbershops for men.



    Dave Young:                      



    Yeah.



    Stephen Semple:            



    And beauty salons for women. They saw a big gap in the market because of this because younger guys didn't want to go to the barbershops, we're rough, gruff, smokey. You'd be showing old faded pictures of haircuts. You want hair coat like this or haircut like that? Right. If you remember back in the days.



    Dave Young:                      



    Well, I remember in the 70s, my mom would take me to a beautician rather than let my dad drag me into the barber shop where I'm going to be a little kid subject to all the things you just mentioned plus a stack of Playboys in the corner.



    Stephen Semple:            



    Well, there you go. Right. So for the younger guys, it was not enough style and it was rough and gruff. And it was a place that they frankly didn't want to go to. And for the women, it was the other end. It was all through, through, lots of service, but also no idea what things would cost and all these add-ons. So they pioneered the idea of unisex. They were the first place to come up with the whole idea of unisex and it also being okay for kids, very, very kid friendly. It was cleaner and nicer than the barber shop and simpler and easier than a salon. They identified a gap.



    Dave Young:                      



    Yeah.



    Stephen Semple:            



    They also identified some service issues on

    • 13 min
    #024: Spiderman – Saved by a real Super Hero

    #024: Spiderman – Saved by a real Super Hero

    When Stan Lee was asked to create a new super hero he needed to get creative to avoid the cutting room floor. A new kind of hero and a tricky way to get his idea past the editor.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders Podcast, teaching business owners the not so secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner, Dave young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well it's us, but we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients, so here's one of those.



    [No Bull Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Spider-Man, Spider-Man. I don't know the words, Steve.



    Stephen Semple:



    My neighborhood Spider-Man, can he swing all on a string? Right?



    Dave Young:



    I didn't know that. For some reason, I know the words to 2,000 pop songs that I never intended to remember, but I don't remember that one. I just remember da, da, da, Spider-Man. So, all right, how are you going to relate Spider-Man to a business lesson?



    Stephen Semple:



    There's a great business lesson in Spider-Man. We got to go back to the start of Spider-Man. So we have to go back to early 1962. And Stan Lee is the editor at Marvel Comics in New York City. And at this time, Marvel is owned by Martin Goodman and his company is Goodman Publications. Goodman Publications owns Marvel, Stan Lee is working there as an editor. And at this point, Marvel is way smaller than DC. DC Comics is the monster and Marvel is this little tiny comic book manufacturer at that point. And Stan Lee just got off of working with Jack Kirby and Jack Kirby, for anybody who's into comics, Jack Kirby's one of the amazing illustrators in comic books. And they had just come off this big success creating the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four was a brand new idea inside comics and was really innovative and they just had this big success.



    Stephen Semple:



    Stan Lee had an idea for a new superhero and the idea was Spider-Man. But what was going to make it unusual is, at the time all superheroes were big and strong and muscular and all this other stuff, and what he was going to do was make Spider-Man a teenager, including all the usual teenager, pimply face, angst, scared of girls problems. And there were-



    Dave Young:



    98 pound weakling, normal guy.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah. He was going to make him a real teenager with all the teenager angst and all the teenager problems, and there were no teenager superheroes at the time, none. They were all these big, muscular, adults. And so he took it to the publisher, Martin Goodman, and here's what Martin Goodman had to say to him, "Worst idea I've ever heard. First of all, people hate spiders. So you can't aunt call a superhero Spider-Man. Second, teenagers can only be sidekicks and you want them to have personal problems?" According to Stan Lee, this is what Martin Goodman said to Stan Lee, "Stan, don't you know what a superhero is? They don't have personal problems."



    Dave Young:



    Oh man, what a wet mop that guy was.



    Stephen Semple:



    But Lee couldn't get the idea out of his mind, so he decided to get Kirby to draw it. So he laid out the idea to Kirby and he asked him to draw it. And then when Kirby brought it to him, what Kirby drew was basically what looked like a young Superman and Stan Lee was like, "No. I want a scrawny, pimple-faced teenager." He wanted the person to look like a teenager, like how he felt when he was growing up, all the anxieties in the feeling of being an outsider and what Kirby drew was something that looked like all the other superheroes. Basically, even Kirby resisted Stan Lee, and he said, "Stan, that's not a superhero. That's how you draw a sidekick, not a superhero."



    Stephen Semple:



    But Stan Lee still really believed it could work. But the other problem is Kirby said, "Look,

    • 12 min
    #023: Dr. Brinkley – Way ahead of his time or complete quack?

    #023: Dr. Brinkley – Way ahead of his time or complete quack?

    Dr. Brinkley went to amazing lengths to market his business. It made him a multimillionaire in the 1920s. Today empire builders are doing the same thing. Only now they call it content marketing with lead magnets, tripwires and a funnel. 



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, teaching business owners the not so secret techniques that took famous business from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner, Dave Young.



    Dave Young:



    Before we get into today's episode a word from our sponsor, which is... Well, it's us, but we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients, so here's one of those.



    [Summers & Zims Ad]







    Dave Young:



    So, Stephen, when you said that we were going to be talking about Dr. Brinkley and you asked if I had heard of Brinkley, the only Brinkley that sprang to mind was Christie Brinkley, the Uptown Girl that Billy Joel sang about years ago. Any relation?



    Stephen Semple:



    Well, maybe distant. He was born in 1885.



    Dave Young:



    Oh, so... Yeah, not so much.



    Stephen Semple:



    Not so much. I want to say I purposely didn't share anything with you ahead of time because there's a couple of fun twists and turns in this story and I really wanted your unedited reaction, so what I'm assuming here is you've actually never heard of Dr. John R. Brinkley?



    Dave Young:



    I have not. No.



    Stephen Semple:



    You have not? Okay. Well, he was born, like I mentioned, in 1885, and most of what we're going to talk about happened between 1914 and 1940, so from the end of World War I, through the great depression, and into the start of World War II. First of all, he was doctor back in 1920s and 1930s, and during that time he built a business where he made a million dollars a year, in 1920.



    Dave Young:



    Not to shabby.



    Stephen Semple:



    Here's the other interesting thing with this guy. He ran for governor of Kansas as an Independent and he was so popular that he almost won on a write-in ballot. So that's a ballot where your name is not on the ballot. People have to write your name in. He got 29-1/2% of the vote on a write-in ballot. He was also a major driving force in the creation of the American Medical Association. So there's a lot that we can learn about him.



    Dave Young:



    I've heard about the American Medical Association.



    Stephen Semple:



    Heard of the American Medical Association? Of course. Now the Empire Builders podcast is about reverse engineering business success, so what we're going to talk about today is how he promoted himself.



    Stephen Semple:



    The thing that's really interesting about it is we're going to look back, and a lot of people will say, "Oh, well that worked in the 1920s and it won't work today," or, "That was on radio and we're doing online advertising," and what we know is that one of the most popular marketing areas today is the internet and one of the most sophisticated techniques is content marketing.



    Stephen Semple:



    Guys like Ryan Deiss have made a fortune on content marketing. Ryan runs DigitalMarketer, the info summits, one of the biggest people in the internet. Ryan is also a chair at the Wizard Academy. Dave, what's your new role at the Wizard Academy?



    Dave Young:



    Vice-chancellor at the Wizard Academy.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah, and Dave's vice-chancellor. But back to content marketing, so content marketing is this idea of offering a piece of content to attract people. The consumer reads or watches the content that brings them into your world, and then if you're smart like Ryan you'd have a process, today's it's email, et cetera, to continue to communicate.



    Dave Young:



    I would add they listen to it too. I mean a podcast is definitely content marketing.



    Stephen Semple:



    It's content marketing, and the idea is then you've got an ascension program, there's a next step that they take.

    • 16 min
    #022: Listerine – How to get the girl, by Listerine. Oh, and Axe.

    #022: Listerine – How to get the girl, by Listerine. Oh, and Axe.

    It was first sold as a surgical antiseptic.  Then a floor cleaner.  Then a cure for STDs.  The real success came when they help us get the girl.  Learn how Listerine created the problem of bad breath so they could solve it.  And help you get the girl.  And grew by over 6,000% in 7 years.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders podcast, teaching business owners the not so secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen sidekick and business partner, Dave young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is well, it's us. But we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients. So here's one of those.



    [Home Heating & Air Conditioning Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Stephen, we're recording these podcast episodes over Zoom. And one of the things that Zoom hasn't figured out yet is how to, you can share your screen, you can share files, you can chat, but thank goodness nobody's figured out how to share your breath.



    Stephen Semple:



    I don't know whether anyone listening is fans of Futurama but if you remember one of the inventions they had on Futurama, the professor in it had the Smell-O-Scope, which was the telescope that looked out at the universe and you could get the scent of the universe.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah. In the chat feature, there would be a share of breath mint function. So you wanted to talk about Listerine today.



    Stephen Semple:



    See it all ties together.



    Dave Young:



    It all ties together. Right. You see where I was going there? It took me a while.



    Stephen Semple:



    Listerine's kind of an interesting story. The idea of Listerine dream was inspired by Louis Pasteur's idea on microbial infections. There was an English doctor, Joseph Lister who demonstrated in 1865, so we're going way back here, that the use of carbolic acid on surgical dressings would reduce infection. So Listerine started off as a way of reducing post-surgery infections. Now Lister's work inspired a St. Louis based doctor, Joseph Lawrence to develop an alcohol based formula that was again, a surgical antiseptic, but it also included a couple of other things, had some menthol in it and a bunch of thymol and it is a trade secret in terms of the extra ingredients in it. And Lawrence named this antiseptic Listerine in honor of Lister. Lister was not involved in the creation of this. It was in honor of him.



    Dave Young:



    Okay. Okay.



    Stephen Semple:



    I was inspired by this guy from it. So I'm going to call it Listerine.



    Dave Young:



    Name it after a famous guy.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah. I'm going to name it after a famous guy. And he hoped to promote the product as a general germicide as well as a surgical antiseptic. Joseph Lawrence licensed the manufacturing of this formula to a local pharmacist named Jordan Wheat Lambert. You know Lambert pharmaceuticals? That Lambert.



    Dave Young:



    Okay.



    Stephen Semple:



    Listerine was promoted and then in 1895, one of the markets that they started promote to was dentists for oral care. And it was the first over the counter mouthwash sold in the United States in 1914. When 1914 came along, that's when they decided to sell it as a over the counter mouthwash. Here's where things get really interesting. So if you think about it, they had this antiseptic that they were using for surgical. There was even a period of time where they tried marketing it as a floor cleaner and a cure for gonorrhea.



    Dave Young:



    Okay.



    Stephen Semple:



    So they had all of these different things that they were trying to fix it on. And then, then they came across this idea that it could be used for bad breath. There's this obscure medical term called halitosis. And they decided to tie it to the whole thing of this solves halitosis, not bad breath, chronic halitosis. So it sounds like-



    Dave Young:

    • 10 min
    #021: VW Beetle – Hippies Endorse THE German MAN

    #021: VW Beetle – Hippies Endorse THE German MAN

    How many people can you fit in a Volkswagen Beetle, the people's car? The current world record is 20. Designed by Porsche, commissioned by Hitler, marketed by a Jewish agency, and adopted by the Hippies. The crazy story of the success of the Beetle and marketing used in the US market.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to the Empire Builders Podcast, teaching business owners the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from mom and pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector, and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner Dave Young. Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor, which is, well it's us, but we're highlighting ads we've written and produced for our clients, so here's one of those.



    [Royal Plumbing Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Stephen, when I was a kid there were all kinds of people, they were doing contests like see how many people you can cram into a phone booth, and another one was how many people can you cram into a Volkswagen Beetle? This is back in the sixties and seventies.



    Stephen Semple:



    It was like the clown car.



    Dave Young:



    Exactly, it was like, how many high school kids can we cram into this tiny little car? And then there were people that would disassemble them and put them back together inside the high school, or upon the roof.



    Stephen Semple:



    That's right.



    Dave Young:



    So when you said what you said today you wanted to talk about the story of Volkswagen I'm like cool, that little car has so many stories.



    Stephen Semple:



    And here's the crazy thing about Volkswagen, about the Beetle, This was a car that was dreamt up by Adolf Hitler.



    Dave Young:



    Oh God, yeah.



    Stephen Semple:



    That was promoted by a Jewish advertising agency and adapted by hippies.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah.



    Stephen Semple:



    How was that even possible? It's a crazy story. And the other thing that's amazing about the Beetle, the Beetle did something that had never been done before, and hasn't been repeated again since, is that it beat the Model T Ford as the most produced car ever. And we think about Volkswagen as this big multinational business, but we're going to go right back to the early days, because the story of the Beetle, I mean a movie should be made.



    Dave Young:



    In German, it's people's car, people's wagon, right? That's volks is-



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah, it's the people's car.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah.



    Stephen Semple:



    Exactly right, exactly right. But the whole idea started before World War II, and we're going to go really back into those days, even before it was a car. When you think about this being an icon of the counter culture, it's almost unbelievable. So Hitler was a big car buff, he was a really big car buff, and the idea of that Volkswagen was created by Adolf Hitler. And what he saw in Germany at the time, so this is pre-World War II, this is between World War I and World War II, that cars were only for rich people in Germany, and he wanted to make material things available to the everyday person, this was one of his goals.



    Stephen Semple:



    And so before the war, what Hitler saw when he looked to the US is he saw a higher standard of living when he looked at the US, he saw inexpensive consumer items, radios, TVs, refrigerators, cars were owned by regular everyday folks. And he was a big admirer of Henry Ford.



    Dave Young:



    That was a mutual relationship, wasn't it?



    Stephen Semple:



    That was a mutual relationship, a lot of people forget that it was a mutual relationship. And in 1927, 80% of all cars owned were owned by Americans.



    Dave Young:



    Oh wow, okay.



    Stephen Semple:



    80% of all cars were owned by Americans in 1927. So Hitler wanted a car for the people, that's what he wanted to do. He hired Ferdinand Porsche, yes, that Porsche.



    Dave Young:



    That guy.



    Stephen Semple:



    To design a car, but he wanted something that was affordable and reliable.

    • 19 min
    #020: Burt’s Bees – The accountant was only?!?

    #020: Burt’s Bees – The accountant was only?!?

    They needed to become more professional.  So, what does a hippie do?  They hired a 14-year-old to manage the books.  This was before Clorox bought them for $925 million dollars.  Today, there is a Burt’s Bees Lip balm sold every second.  This is a story that starts off the grid in Maine.



    Dave Young:



    Welcome to The Empire Builders Podcast, teaching business owners the not-so-secret techniques that took famous businesses from Mom-and-Pop to major brands. Stephen Semple is a marketing consultant, story collector and storyteller. I'm Stephen's sidekick and business partner, Dave Young.



    Dave Young:



    Before we get into today's episode, a word from our sponsor which is, well it's us. But, we're highlight ads we've written and produced for our clients, so here's one of those.



    [Aurora Pro Services Ad]







    Dave Young:



    Stephen, I'm driving across West Texas a couple weeks ago, as one does. You're driving, the air is dry, my lips are getting chapped. So the next time I pull over to get gas, I'm wandering around looking at all the different ... There's Carmex, and there's Blistex. I don't know, I'm just bored of all of that stuff, it tastes like medicine. So I grabbed one called Burt's Bees. It worked, I liked it. I think it's the only thing I've ever bought that was Burt's Bees.



    Stephen Semple:



    Yeah, they have a lot of products today and that's who we're going to talk about. But, I want to give you an idea of how popular Burt's Bees lip balm is.



    Stephen Semple:



    There's a Burt's Bees lip balm sold every second. I'm not kidding. So by the time we're done this podcast, 500 Burt's Bees lip balms would have been sold. Crazy, eh?



    Dave Young:



    That's crazy. Yeah. My office that I'm recording this in would fill up with lip balm, by the time we were done.



    Stephen Semple:



    By the time we were done, right. Even though they're all little, it would still fill up.



    Dave Young:



    Wow, that's amazing.



    Stephen Semple:



    It is and it has a crazy history behind it. It was started by Burt Shavitz, Burt's, and Roxanne Quimby in Bangor, Maine in the mid-80s. But, she's been the main driving force behind the business, a real counter-culture, arts student, hippy homesteader.



    Stephen Semple:



    I'll give you an idea of how much they were hippies, because they were basically the poster children for being hippies.



    Dave Young:



    Yeah.



    Stephen Semple:



    They started this business in the mid-80s, they incorporated in 1991. In 2004, 80% of the business was sold for $173 million. And then in late 2007, Clorox bought the company for $925 million, so just shy of $1 billion. She still had 20% of the business, so that was another 200 million in her pocket.



    Dave Young:



    She's doing okay.



    Stephen Semple:



    She's doing okay. But again, this is a crazy story about two hippies, who frankly had no interest in business, or money or things.



    Stephen Semple:



    So in the 1970s, Roxanne moves from New England to the West coast to attend art school, and she discovers the counter-culture. She meets a boyfriend, George Sinclair, at that time. They buy a van, and they fix it up and they head back East. They've got $3000 and they're going to buy some land. They go to Vermont, and they meet with a real estate out of Vermont who says, "This is Vermont, $3000 will get you nothing. Try Maine."



    Stephen Semple:



    So they go to Maine, for $3000 in Maine, they buy 30 acres of land in the fricking middle of nowhere and they build this simple house. No running water, no electricity, heated by a wood stove in fricking Maine.



    Dave Young:



    They're living the dream.



    Stephen Semple:



    Living the dream. They wanted to be part of this back to the land movement. They wanted to leave civilization. They wanted to have this idea where they needed very little money to live, they just needed money on food. At that point, they were living on $4000 a year.



    Dave Young:



    Okay.



    Stephen Semple:

    • 15 min

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Wes Kronberg ,

Empire Builders

They tell inspiring stories about successfully people and companies. Then they break down the stories to principals that you cam apply.

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