Turning History into Profit: The E-Commerce Success of Packers Pine

ExpertCPG Commerce Podcast
ExpertCPG Commerce Podcast
Turning History into Profit: The E-Commerce Success of Packers Pine

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ExpertCPG Commerce Podcast: Episode 7

Discover how David Zelken brought the historic Packers Pine brand back to life, leveraging e-commerce and strategic marketing to transform a forgotten soap company into a thriving business. Learn about the challenges faced, the pivotal moments of success, and the innovative strategies used to grow the brand.

Looking to optimize your brand’s Amazon presence? For a Free ExpertCPG Amazon Audit, to get valuable insights, strategy tips, actionable ways to boost your Amazon sales, and ways to increase your brand’s visibility and growth, visit https://go.expertcpg.com/amazon-audit to sign up and begin your journey to success.


Podcast Video

About our Guest


Packer’s Pine – President



David Zelken, President of Gideon Products Inc. and Packer’s Pine, previously worked as the Vice-President and General Manager of ShareASale.com, a leading retail-based Affiliate Marketing Network. David helped build ShareASale from the ground up to a successful acquisition in 2017.

During his 14+ year tenure at ShareASale, David took on several leadership roles in Operations, Strategic Planning, Business Development, Sales Training, and HR. His extensive experience in retail-based online marketing provides Packer’s Pine with a knowledgeable steward to help navigate the complexities that come with growing a brand in today’s marketplace.

David holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas and completed the Webmaster/Internet Technology certificate program at the Illinois Institute of Technology.


Contact Information:





Podcast Video Transcript

Ryan Flynn: [00:00:00] All right. On today’s episode, I am super excited to welcome David Zilken who I’ve known for a number of years, consider a friend. We worked together at helping his brand with Amazon. And David is. The CEO, I guess that founder was up at the founding story of the Packers Pine brand.

David, how you doing?

David Zelken: Great. How you doing today, Ryan?

Ryan Flynn: Awesome. Awesome. I really appreciate you coming to the show, being, one of our founder stories. We’d love to hear obviously the background story behind brands. And you’ve got actually a really interesting story with Packers Pine. You didn’t, as I alluded to there, the intro, you didn’t quite, , establish the brand yourself, but obviously the brand has a rich history that you’re reviving in a great way.

So talk to us a little bit about yourself and Packers Pine.

David Zelken: Yeah. And like you said, definitely not the founder. Cause that happened back in 1869. So I can’t claim that. But it was founded in 1869 by Daniel F Packer. He was an adventurer and back before he founded Packers, he [00:01:00] was interested in the gold rush. So he went out to California and. Like everyone else, a lot of other people that went out there he tried to pan for gold and apparently it didn’t work out so well, but he did find an interest in soap making when he was out there.

So then he came back and returned to Mystic, Connecticut, where he was brought from and born and raised. And he started to kind of experiment with soap making and one of the main ingredients that he incorporated. Into the soaps was pine tar, which people had used it for shipmaking and putting on the decks of their ships to kind of waterproof them and protect them from the elements.

But no one had really done what he was doing with was incorporating it into soaps. And it was a pretty big deal. And I don’t really know the, all the details, but I think things took off for him pretty quickly. 

After that you know, it exchanged hands many times. He built up the business.

It went international. He moved to like two different locations in and around [00:02:00] Mystic, Connecticut. Then someone came along and I think it was New York manufacturing company. Came along and bought the company from Daniel Packer. And then it exchanged hands many times, maybe like five times after that.

And I thought under the umbrella of my father in law, one of his companies that he bought Packers came along with it. 

Ryan Flynn: It’s a fascinating story. It sounds like one of those stories someone made it up about a brand, right? It’s so like, even like the mystic Connecticut the town mystic sounds like it’s just like a, it adds a certain intrigue, frankly, to the story.

I think it’s great. So yeah, the brand was essentially like On the shelf. It was still being produced and there were some small kind of maybe wholesale accounts, but nobody is really shepherding the brand or trying to grow the brand.


David Zelken: true. Yeah. It was left for dead. So a couple of people did come in and try to resurrect it. When my father in law had it, he brought someone in back in, it was around 2000, right? During the internet boom, [00:03:00] but their kind of approach to it wasn’t really internet.

They, it was all like, go knock on doors. And it was more of like, a medical soap. It’s like, go talk to doctors about all the skincare benefits and how it can remedy psoriasis, eczema and stuff like that. So that approach didn’t really go so well. So then it was left for dead again until I came on board in 2000, middle end of 2018.

So my background was in e commerce. I was with a company called sheer a sale. com and that was an affiliate marketing network. So, I had a background in e commerce and I saw a lot of things from the merchant side of things. I was always intrigued about like, that sounds like a kind of like a good life and a good business for me, to get into e commerce and be a merchant.

So I always wanted to do that. And so once SureSell was acquired and I had to find something else to do, this was like the perfect match. So my father in law wanted someone to come on board and [00:04:00] take it and run with it and basically resurrect it again. And I needed something to do myself.

And so it was like really a perfect fit. So timing was good. So I took it and relaunched it.

Ryan Flynn: That’s awesome. And you’ve been doing an amazing job of growing the brand ever since then, which we’ll obviously delve into here, but. Good for you and having that visionary, thought, or, I could see that vision, I guess, of what the brand could be.

Because I had a lot of good things going. I know when we, first met talk about Amazon a number of years ago when you were relaunching the brand. One of the things that had, it was all these people buying it on Amazon. There were a third party sellers actually selling it and it had great reviews.

 And the page was, I’ll say because it was before we came on was garbage, right? The initial page, there was like hardly any copy on it, no good images or any consistent images. So my point is it was a great product before even you started marketing it. And we’ve talked about on episodes before here that’s like the number one thing you got to have.

And I know that’s the thing you’re big with is having great products. So, Packers Pine today, like what does Packers Pine look like today? As far [00:05:00] as the brand and the product assortment.

David Zelken: It’s a personal care company with personal care products for men. Basically that’s our target audience. Always has been just the nature of the beast because it does include pine tar, which it can be offensive to some, it’s a little overpowering and it’s.

Kind of outdoorsy, like a manly, rustic scent. So, because of that, it’s just appeals more to men. But we definitely have more women that are jumping in and finding out the benefits of it. Especially like the hair care products. Because, believe it or not, women really care about their hair.

And how it looks. It has to be smooth and soft and all that stuff. I don’t really know much about that, but Women do really like it. And I’ve had a lot of women, even my neighbor next door, she’s like, this is. The best shampoo I’ve ever used for my hair. She has like curly hair. So, apparently it works really well for that.

So we are getting more women, but long story short, yes, it’s a personal care. Soap shampoo and stuff for men.

Ryan Flynn: Yeah. And body wash too. [00:06:00] I’m, a user of the body wash, and how does Packers Pine connect with customers and kind of increase that loyalty?

David Zelken: We did have a lot of brand loyalty built in when I came on board and I was very fortunate to have that. So, it’s almost like I had a bit of a headstart, even though Amazon look terrible and, the listings were garbage and images and everything was off.

 You’ll hear stories of people, you know, my grandfather passed this down to me and I’m going to pass it down to my kids. So there’s a lot of like, there’s some brand awareness out there. Especially I would say East coast people cause that’s where I found it.

And people knew about it back then on the East coast more than anywhere else. But yeah my goal is really to take it over where it was left off. When Daniel F. Packer, after he founded it, he had a great product that was unique and no one did it like he did it. So I feel like that’s my job as a steward of the brand to take over, do the same thing.

I really focus on quality of the product. You have to have that, and you have to have [00:07:00] great customer service. So you take care of those two things and, you should be able to compete in your area. So, like you said, there’s a lot of competition out there and Pine Tar is having a bit of a resurgence with some bigger name brands that have found out, there’s a market for this and there are a lot of benefits using it.

So we’re just trying to capitalize on the brand loyalty and say, Hey, no one does it better than us. We were the first ones. We’re the originals. And we’re going to continue to just make sure that we focus on the quality and customer service. And we get a lot of compliments on both. So that always makes me feel good.

Ryan Flynn: Yeah. I think that’s a great segue is, you talked about the product, talk about customer service. Tell us this typical day in your life, David, like, running this brand. What does it look like for you? What’s a typical day look like in your world?

David Zelken: Yeah. Typical day. It’s a small team here. So I really have to do a lot of the nitty gritty stuff and I have to do a lot of the big picture stuff too, and that all happens in the same day. So in the morning I start out with the nitty gritty. So I’ll check [00:08:00] email and make sure there are no like major fires to put out and then I’ll check out, what kind of orders we have the day, whether it’s a wholesale. Customer with a larger order, or it’s just, website order through Shopify. And we fulfill both of those. So I take care of those usually in the morning. I take care of the orders, get those out first thing if I can. And then I move on to like the bigger picture stuff and marketing and advertising and working with people like you and my team for SEO, if they need something approved and.

And then I have also, we just launched into affiliate marketing. So there’s always stuff to do with that, whether you have to take a look at affiliates that applied to your program and stuff like that. So it starts out nitty gritty and more like the small picture tasks, so to speak, and billing orders.

And then I move on to the bigger picture stuff and try to tackle those and, get caught up on the big projects and stuff.

Ryan Flynn: The other role would be the lean team, right? you can keep a lot of control that way as well. And you’re staying really close to the [00:09:00] product and the customers. So that’s great. Tell us about a time, like a, It could be a, pivotal moment of success for the brand.

Like when you really felt like, man, this is happening and you’re watching it happen before your eyes. Is there a time you can think of where, you almost stepped back out of the situation yourself and you saw it happening?

David Zelken: Yeah. It definitely involves you and in your team. And when I first sat down with you, we both know I was pretty new. I was, I had just really relaunched it and I was taking care of all the stuff that had been broken and I had to fix everything and then I was ready to start getting some sales going and building revenue.

So I came to you guys and we met and we both really had no idea. It’s pine tar soap and I only had two products at the time. So I didn’t really know, like, is this going to sell? I knew we had some brand loyalty, but it was a lot of older folks. So I was like, I don’t know.

We’ll see how it’s going to, go with this new generation. Maybe other people aren’t going to like it. So long story short, I launched with you, on Amazon through you [00:10:00] guys. And. You remember, things took off actually pretty quickly and as soon as it happened, we just launched, the bar soap first and we were both like, wow, this is going a little better than expected.

And then we were like, okay, let’s launch the shampoo. So we did that and that really went crazy pretty quickly. So now like, that’s when I knew like, this really does have some good potential here. So. Let’s keep at this and more and more time and energy to it. Cause at the time, I still had like another side business going and I wasn’t like 100 percent focused on it because I just, it was a risky thing.

So then I was like, okay, I think I might have to dedicate all of my time and resources to this company. 

Ryan Flynn: That’s what you want, right? You feel that early on, especially, you see that validation, right? And all that proof of you’ve poured a lot of already like sweat equity into it. You spent money, you’ve done all this stuff and you’ve got of betting a lot of this on, Hey, what can this brand be?

And to see those early successes can be really rewarding, obviously.

Let’s take the inverse side of that, Dave, [00:11:00] let’s take the the other side of the coin, thinking about, the history the brand, since you’ve been rebirthing it here, what’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced or a couple of different challenges, maybe.

David Zelken: Yeah, there were two really big challenges early on. And in no particular order one of them was going with a 3PL because we had the inventory sitting in a different 3PL. When I came on board and they were basically doing it as a favor for us. So I had to find a new 3PL.

There are a lot of choices out there and a lot of horror stories around these 3PLs and how they handle e commerce and everything. So I tried to do my research, but I didn’t have a lot of time to really vet each of the potential vendors. So I ended up going with one and I’m not gonna name any names, but it turned out to be a disaster.

And we’ve talked about it. You were dealing with it with me along the way too, because they were helping us with Amazon shipments as [00:12:00] well. So they were really just, screwing up orders and shipments more than they were handling them well, really. It was just a total nightmare for me and looking back, I really just should have, taken my time and, because it was a pretty big decision to do that I really should have taken more time and not felt rushed into it.

So we overcame it by, we basically had no choice. They were going to run us out of business. The fees were super high and it was just mistake after mistake and customers complaining. So we ended up bringing everything in house and I found a space and I found a warehouse where I could do everything just in house and take care of fulfillment and everything. So, I guess looking back, it probably was a good thing because we found out that, hey, we can do this in house. At least for the time being until things grow too big for us, but it was good to be more hands on and just have everything right in front of you and take care of orders as you see fit.

Ryan Flynn: When you do that right, you get a little more control again, closer, we said earlier, closer to the customer, and you can see other [00:13:00] opportunities of, things you can, additional products or ways to serve the customer a little better. And I think there was another I know you mentioned one of the challenges during the pandemic, which a lot of people had challenges during the pandemic with this whole supply chain, right? So you guys had a problem with kind of the shampoo bottles you were using. Is that correct?

David Zelken: We did. Yeah. That was a big problem. So we had the shampoo, like I said, when we launched it on Amazon, it was going quite well, but it actually went too well, too quickly, though we ran out, and we, manufacture some more shampoo. But it turns out, due to the pandemic and raw materials and everything we couldn’t get those same bottles.

So we were just, looking all over the place and we, had to find something that was the right size and that looked good. And we also had to get new labels too. So. The labels weren’t really a problem. It was more finding the bottle because you have to find the bottle first and then you have to, match the label to the bottle.

So we ended up finding this great bottle that it turned out to [00:14:00] be actually way better than the previous bottle we had. So the old bottle looks really like medicinal. This new one really, it just had a cool color to it. It’s an amber color and it just had a really cool shape. fit the brand really well. So, we did run out for a while. We couldn’t get the bottles right away, but we placed the order. The bottles finally came in and then we were back up to speed

Ryan Flynn: Yes.

David Zelken: But it was a scary time for sure. But we also knew, Hey, we’re in the same boat. Like our customers are going to understand.

Everyone’s having problems with supply chain and raw material stuff. So.

Ryan Flynn: Yeah.

David Zelken: all worked out in the end,

Ryan Flynn: Yeah. Better because of it. And that’s the other big thing with challenges in any business, it’s learning from it and growing from it and coming up better on the other side. Yeah, hopefully we don’t have another pandemic up our sleeve here anytime soon, but I guess let’s talk like, what are some trends, over the last couple of years you’ve noticed in the industry, and maybe your market or just the greater, CPG industry as a whole.

David Zelken: [00:15:00] Yeah, well, one trend that’s definitely helped us is men’s personal care has really taken off because and this is not like super recent, but I would say, over the last five years, it really has grown a lot and instead of like using their girlfriend’s soap or shampoo in the shower and maybe it smells like flowers or something, They’re really looking for something that appeals more to them and a more masculine leaning products.

And, men have different skin tone and skin issues than women do. And their hair is different and everything about, men is just different. So we’re using, these feminine products on ourselves and why not find something that really works best for us? So I think that has really helped the industry.

 In general, and obviously us too. So that’s one trend. And then the other trend social media has been a huge thing, whether it’s, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok I don’t like social media, like for business. [00:16:00] I’m not a big fan of it. I just really see like the fit.

I do get how it works for a lot of brands do well with it and I just. I’m still having, a hard time wrapping my head around what’s our play with that. Like, how do we go about this and really optimizing it and using it well. Without being too like self promoting, I’m always hesitant to like, be too self promotional and like, look at me and there I am. I don’t know. It’s just not in my nature. I’m just not like the spotlight guy.

Ryan Flynn: Yeah.

David Zelken: So I hired a team to help me with it. And. Instagram just really didn’t go well, in my opinion. My kids were saying like, Dad, it’s so cringe. These posts are so cringey and okay, well tell me what’s cringey about it.

And I like, I can’t even, I don’t know where to start. So we basically just pulled Instagram. We’re like, okay, shut it down for now. And we still do okay on Facebook and Tik Tok. We just, I don’t think that’s the place for us either. So it’s more about like Facebook [00:17:00] and maybe we’ll revisit Instagram down the road once we figure out how we fit in better. there.

Ryan Flynn: Yeah. There’s nothing like being humbled by a younger generation. And the better their way to use a platform or a channel. And here, as I get older, same thing. It’s like these kids these days. Right. So, looking back, go back to that time when you were like, okay, I’m going to take the brand. I’m going to make a go of this. This is going to be, my full time thing. I’m going to do this. What’s something you wish you knew at that time?

Like looking back on it now, what’s something you wish you knew back then? 

David Zelken: I thought coming in that the brand was in a much better place, even though it had been left for dead, there were still some things that really caught me off guard.

Like the trademark had expired. That’s pretty big or it’s no, our business insurance had expired. Cause you know, the previous people that were overseeing this and my father in law, get other businesses to run. Like he had at least two other businesses that he had going at the time.

So, he didn’t, it’s not his fault, like, but there’s stuff that just left by the wayside. And [00:18:00] so I had to spend basically the whole first year was almost like fixing all these problems and getting things back in place and getting the trademark renewed. It sounds easy, but it’s not that easy.

Like there’s a lot of back and forth that goes on behind the scenes to get all these things fixed and get things back in place. So I would say, yeah. I didn’t really see that coming in. So I learned a lot from that. 

Ryan Flynn: That’s good. So David, looking forward, what’s something you’re excited about for Packers Pion? Like, what are some. Maybe things in the horizon you have planned or rolling out now. the future look like for the brand? 

David Zelken: I would say three things. There’s the retail side. I’m excited about, I’m excited about affiliate marketing and I’m excited about expanding our Amazon site. As far as going into the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. So that’s through you guys. It’s not easy.

I know we’ve been working on it for a little while with all the tax stuff and the VAT and shipping costs and all that stuff. So it’s going to be complicated, [00:19:00] but I think we’re going to keep at it. So I’m excited about that. As far as affiliate marketing That’s my background.

That’s what ShiraCell was. It was an affiliate marketing company. So I’m pretty familiar with it. so I’m excited about affiliate marketing for the website. And also there’s a new company out there that’s helping us do affiliate marketing through Amazon. So very excited for the potential of that.

We’ve already had one creator or influencer, they call them creators. Who’s done a couple really good videos talking about our products. So it looks promising. 

Ryan Flynn: Brands love the user-generated kinda content or, when they can see somebody else using it. That can be huge. 

David Zelken: We do have some retailers and wholesale companies that we work with now, like, we have Vermont country store and they’ve done well with it.

 And because of the success they’ve had and I really want to get more involved with the companies like that and larger companies to some of the bigger box stores that already carry our competitors products. So I want to get more back on that [00:20:00] space and I do have someone helping me with that who’s a very familiar with it. So I’m excited about that. It’s a long process though, working with these buyers and trying to get them to understand the brand and, why it’s a good fit for their store and everything, but I’m having fun with it. It’s a good challenge.

David Zelken: So I’m excited to tackle that.

Ryan Flynn: Yeah, no. Excited to see what’s next for ERs spine as well. For sure.

What advice would you give to somebody who’s looking to start a brand or maybe like you acquire a brand that’s been I don’t say left for dead, but just like sitting there and has a bunch of opportunity behind it.

What advice would you give to somebody who’s looking at that

David Zelken: Yeah. Make sure you really believe in the brand yourself, like before coming in. Cause I didn’t see the potential with this and I use the product myself and I really, grew to love it. Maybe at first I was a little put off, but by the scent and everything, but I just kept using it.

I’m like, this is really great stuff. Like, you have to really, Believe in the products you’re going to sell, or if it’s a service, you have to really believe in it and say, this is [00:21:00] beneficial. For a lot of people are going to benefit from this if they use it and you can’t just think about yourself, like just cause I like it doesn’t mean everyone else is going to like it.

So, I gave it to my friends and my friends tried it out and they’re like, this is great. This is good stuff. I’m like, okay, maybe this has some potential, so make sure you really love the product coming in. And it’s a good fit for you and your kind of your persona. Like I’m an outdoorsy guy our products are really geared towards outdoorsy people. And I would say be ready to work because chances are you’re not going to have a whole team starting out. So, I came from ShuraCell where I had a team of people around me and helping me. This is, I was on my own and it’s a little scary, like you have to be willing to take risks and work hard and be on your own a lot of the time. You don’t have, a whole team of people to bounce ideas off of. So I would say, yeah, that’s a good way to approach it. Know that you have to work really hard. And then I would also say, we talked [00:22:00] about that before, employees are great if you find the right employees, but good employees are hard to find.

So my goal when I started out was I’m going to find. Agencies that can help me with these different, marketing calls and marketplaces. And so that’s why I started with, a company like yours and I found another agency for SEO. And so I think you don’t have to worry about like managing employees that way.

And you’re hired that do that specific task best. They know more than you do and they specialize in it. Like you guys specialize in Amazon. So I really liked that. So I would, if you can do that, I would recommend doing that starting out rather than hiring, individual employees right off the bat.

Ryan Flynn: Yeah. But a lot of times we see brands make maybe an inverse mistake, right? Where they try to hire a full-time person to either run one channel, maybe run multiple channels, right? And, what happens then you have a channel like Amazon, which can be, as pretty sophisticated when you get really down into it, because it’s a [00:23:00] marketplace, it’s a logistics platform with FBA, and it’s an ad platform.

So that was all the other stuff that goes along with it you get pretty in depth. And so you do require not just an Amazon, a lot of these channels, a deep knowledge base, right? So if you can Tap into that with the expertise of the right agencies. Yeah. It’s a great win. And you can, like you said, you can keep it lean and not have to worry about all the other headaches that can come along with having employees.


David Zelken: Yeah, helping shipments and payroll and also another thing I would say, I was definitely tempted to like, I’m going to bring in a bunch of my friends and work with my friends. Like, that sounds fun. Or maybe like a relative, just be careful and, be cautious because, the relationship can go south quickly if you’re the wrong person and things aren’t working out how you planned.

So just be very careful, I would say. Hold off on hiring employees until things are really built up and growing through the agencies you work. That’s just me That’s personally how I feel, other people might work out going the other way around [00:24:00] better for them But that’s just me personally.

Ryan Flynn: Yep. There’s multiple ways to do it. So, the way you’ve done it is it would work for you and it works for a lot of people. Final question here, David. What’s maybe a piece of wisdom or a kind of a mantra that maybe you use in your life and business, maybe just to share with our viewers and listeners.


David Zelken: I was a kid my mom would always if I had a problem at the playground or I had you know issue with a friend or I broke a toy, whatever it was, however, how old I was, whether it’s a teenager or I was just a little kid. My mom would always say to me and my siblings, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, there’s a lot of different ways to say that, different expressions.

I say the same thing, but that was the way she said it and it just resonated with me. Don’t complain. Something happens. You have an obstacle in your way. Something goes wrong. Don’t complain and place blame on something else, [00:25:00] take ownership of it and get going, fix it, overcome it. And so that’s just something that’s always in the back of my head. And, obviously everyone has problems every day, whether it’s business or personal life, just you have to get over it. The, complaining is not going to take care of anything. It’s not, it never did. It never will. So tackle it, get tough and get over it.

Ryan Flynn: And they call that grit, right? Like that’s your mother teaching you grit and how to get through the tough times. And man, entrepreneurship, as and I know for sure, too you definitely need some grit, right? You’re going to get knocked down and it’s how you get back up and how you overcome those obstacles that’s how you last in the game, frankly.

 Last but certainly not least David, where can we find Packers Pine? Where can people go out and get it?

David Zelken: Yeah, you can find it directly on our website at packerspine. com and we also sell on Amazon. If you’re familiar with that, then walmart. [00:26:00] com marketplace, and we’re on some select stores and retailers around the country. But. We’re, growing that, retail side as we talked about.

So you might see us in some bigger box stores down the road. Hopefully it all goes well.

Ryan Flynn: Awesome. Well, David, thanks so much for sharing. Your experience, your wisdom the journey that you’ve continue to take Packers Pine on, it’s a great little story of a brand. That’s been around for a long time. And it’s amazing. It’s great to see people start things from scratch, but also, to take a brand that’s just been left on the shelf and has some already some good attributes to it, but does require a lot of work.

Like you said, get going. It’s great to hear how those, So, thanks for being on really appreciate it.

David Zelken: Thanks Ryan. Yeah, it’s been a fun journey and you’ve been a big part of it. So thank you. And yeah, this was fun. Thanks Ryan.