CEO Connect: The Dugout Mugs duo share lessons learned (PHOTOS)

Randall Thompson, president and founder of Dugout Mugs and the mastermind behind the wildly successful product of the same name, came up with the idea while coaching at Florida Institute of Technology. Kris Dehnert is CEO and partner of Dugout Mugs

Dugout Mugs made about $60,000 in its first six months. After Thompson brought Dehnert on board in 2017, revenue skyrocketed. The company made $1.1 million that year and $2.2 million the next year. This year, it has a goal of $22 million, but Dehnert is confident it will hit $25 million.

The company has collaborated with Budweiser, Fox Sports, DraftKings and Bodyarmour Sports Drinks, to name a few.

TBBW publisher and CEO Bridgette Bello interviewed Thompson and Dehnert in front of a live audience at the Lakeland Linder International Airport. This transcript has been edited for length and brevity. (Photo gallery at the bottom story)

What’s been the best thing that has happened to you since you were on the cover of TBBW?

Thompson: Probably one of the best moments is from a family perspective, my brother-in-law, we were in a group text with the family, and my sister sent a text message, “Hey, check this out, I just found this in my mailbox,” it feels cool to get a little bit of validation.

Dehnert: Seeing people come out of the woodwork is nice. M&A firms are coming out of everywhere, as you can imagine. That’s to be expected, but it’s also nice because that’s validation, too.

One of the things we didn’t really get into in the story is your corporate gift offerings. Can you talk about that?

Dehnert: I think in the last 30 days, there’s been a huge wave of corporate gifting, because it’s tough to find a product for our price point that you can give that someone actually cares about.

Not that you guys can tell, but Kris is a born hustler, he has a lot of funny stories. He had us laughing and crying, we kind of ran the gamut of emotions the day we met. Some of your stories as a kid in your previous adventures were hilarious, so I’d like to hear a little bit more about your path to success.

Dehnert: That’s been a wild one. I don’t think you’re really an entrepreneur until you’re at least a decade into it. And you look back at all the crazy things you were hustling and doing over those years.

Buying candy and selling, one-to-one … anything to make money. If I wanted something I had to go get it. I think that’s a part of our success.

My story was an interesting one. I started in the gym business, with a dear friend who is here tonight, and one day we just looked at each other and knew I didn’t really belong there. I moved on to real estate, restaurants and cannabis.

I was good enough to win, but I was too distracted to be a success. It caught up to me in 2015 when I got really sick and I had a really big perspective shift. I had to make some changes.

Then, like destiny, Randall called me and that was it. That was five years ago.

It’s been wild, but it doesn’t seem like that long. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

I want Randall to tell the story on how he found you on Facebook. We ask ourselves, with all the time we spend on Facebook, are we really monetizing it?

Thompson: It was 2016, I was just scrolling through Facebook. I was a part of a Facebook group that’s all minor-league baseball players. It’s about 14,000 guys. I was scrolling through and I saw he was going to an event I was going to, so I clicked his profile and saw he was in business. I Googled him to find out what kind of business he’s been in. I was about five months into business at this point, and I was trying to figure out how to sell more Dugout Mugs online.

I sent him a message and asked him if he had time to connect. For whatever reason, he was in that group. I think what I’ve learned is about Kris over the years is that he just somehow, someway, finagles his way into all sorts of things.

It just makes so much sense that that is how our relationship started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been with Kris, and things just escalate, and we’re backstage someplace and I’m like, how did this even happen?

Dehnert: Then we met at a bar on St. Pete Beach. It was Hotel Zamora. He brought a mug and I was like, “That’s stupid.” I was in the middle of shooting down everything. My life was hell, because I was saying yes to everything.

He asked me to carry it around for a few days. I was like, “OK, I’ll do that.” We call it now the Dugout Mugs effect. It’s a really cool product.

You bought and sold a lot of businesses and lost some businesses. So, talk about that.

Dehnert: I think you learn more from the losses than you do the wins. The wins are seamless. You do it your own way and it flows. I was good at online marketing, and I kept trying to do things that were away from that. Do what you do best and outsource the rest.

I constantly kept thinking I was good enough to get something done but it doesn’t work that way.

You’ve gotten the attention of some well-known people, like Tim Tebow and the folks with Duck Dynasty. Talk about what you do to keep people like that engaged.

Dehnert: If you create something and people gravitate toward it, you don’t have to do anything but make yourself known. That’s all we’ve really done. Don’t be scared to ask [for their attention].

One of my other favorite takeaways from our meeting was when you said, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you.” Talk a little about that.

Dehnert: The point is being recognizable, and memorable. I think that’s a big deal and people try to leverage that. We know a lot of people and a lot of people, know us, and we take that very seriously. It’s all about nurturing relationships.

Customer experience is something you guys are really focused on and do a really great job of. Tell us what makes you better, and different, than most other companies.

Thompson: First and foremost, if you take a look at the product, we’re not competing against anyone. When you look at something like a USB plug, you might ask, “what’s your unique selling point?” Ours is we have a unique product.

And we legitimately care about our customers. Everything else gets shaped up from there. If you have a legitimate interest in making the customer happy, no matter what the cost is to the company in the short term. We eat the cost in the short term but make them happy in the long term.

ABOUT ‘CEO CONNECT’

TBBW’s CEO Connect series is an exclusive, invitation-only, event that brings together Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. Axiom Bank, Board of Advisors and Jaguar Land Rover of Lakeland were presenting sponsors. The host sponsor was Lakeland Linder International Airport. Diamond View Studios is TBBW’s production partner.

A typical evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by an interview with that month’s cover CEO.

Partnering with TBBW on future editions provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected]

 

Photos by Ryan Gautier

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