The Finding That Next Gear Podcast
Finding That Next Gear with Leroy Hite
Interview with Leroy Hite
Host: Beau Billington
Guest: Leroy Hite
Hello, everyone. Beau Billington with finding that next gear. The sole purpose of this podcast is to talk to high growth entrepreneurs, folks who have taken a concept from ideation, Inception to growth, launch and scale. And, you know, really a big pleasure to have Leroy Hite on the call on the podcast today, man, thanks for joining.
Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me Beau.
Yeah. And so I’m in particular, I’m very interested in this podcast in particular, because like, you know, your local LAN, and our homes are probably 15 to 20 minutes from each other, although we were just meeting each other today.
But I’ve used your service for two years, and a lot of folks within my neighborhood use your service. And it’s been super cool, kind of watching your growth, watching the evolution of your marketing and just the way you position the company, and so pumped to have you on man really appreciate you joining.
Absolutely, it’s my pleasure.
Yeah. Well, to hop in, like, let’s kind of talk a little about, you know, who are you? What do you do? And you know, what is cutting edge?
All right, yeah. So, what I’ll start off with, to kind of get the point across what cutting edge firewood is, a fire is like a beautiful sunset, there is no one on earth that dislikes that, you can take a 95 year old from Ethiopia, or a little girl from the States and they will both sit in front of a fire and enjoy it.
It’s universal, it’s primal, and it’s unifying. After a stressful day, I can take a whiskey and sit in front of a fire stress level goes down. I think deep thoughts about my wife and come out and all of a sudden the mood changes and it’s romantic.
My three daughters can come out and make s’mores and literally memories they’ll have for a lifetime. Teenagers put their phones down and talk to their parents around a fire and it can be at the center of a wedding party and I make incredible food over our cooking wood from pizzas to steaks to burgers to barbecue.
And all that is the experience, I love the experience on one side and then on the other side. Before we got into the industry, the industry standard was what would sit outside for 12 months rot literally have mushrooms growing out of it and the business strategy, the branding, the customer service and the overall experience match that product quality of rotting wood.
So basically the industry was completely undisrupted, I mean because you try and think of a well known firewood brand before cutting edge firewood. And there’s I have a hard time thinking of another industry that was so ripe for disruption.
Then there’s other really cool brands out there like Yeti but before them Coleman a glue and other brands and then you know what does it depth water.
Liquid death, that’s the name people are like, really, really cool brand, but before them, everybody knows Aquafina.
It’s funny, you said that and I totally agree. I have two daughters as well by the way, and I’ve got like an outdoor fireplace, but then a fire pit too. And historically, I was scrounging around the neighborhood looking for wood but then you got to dry it, let it dry rather for six to nine months.
Otherwise, I was going to the grocery store and just buying the bags of wood and nine out of 10 times you get it you’re ready to burn it but it’s smoky it’s super smoky, which then my wife and my kids don’t even want to join me so it ends up being me and the dog.
So I came across you know cutting edge and you guys are not the cheapest right? I mean it’s really kind of a concierge service product and the quality at least in my experience has been top notch and the wood burns and burns clean and burns bright, of course there’s smoke but it’s not very smoky because it was not saturated.
And so I totally agree that I never would have thought of that industry because you know, I like firewood. I’m not asking you obviously, but it has been prime for disruption. And I think you guys have done just that. And I love again, not cheap but like the product. The value is there and it justifies the price point. Well, maybe just kidding.
Congratulations for that and you know your passion really shot and really shines through.
I appreciate it.
Yeah. So how did you get into this? I mean it looks like a LinkedIn profile you’ve done a few different things but you’ve been at this more or less seven plus years. But is it really just kind of a passion project or you know, did you see an opportunity and kind of words into the opportunity but also to your love for fires in general?
Yeah, the really quick version because really it’s a very long it’s a pretty cool story but, grew up on incorporated Ringgold Georgia big family of pretty poor so had fires growing up and all that good stuff but then in college,
They had an entrepreneurial program they were starting it Barry and I started a different firewood company and actually did it for two years had no idea what I was doing but towards the end just had an epiphany that nobody’s come into this space and been creative and thought outside the box ever and so I kind of got obsessed about it.
I worked at a few different companies and then funny enough in 2013, Got a nice corporate job that probably could have turned into something cushy and but two months in they fired me and I was like okay, apparently I’m going to be doing like this is my chance to the firewood and so.
Spent the summer setting everything up and start doing deliveries and in fall of 2013 and very small scale and had my first daughter that winter that was snowpocalypse took me eight and a half hours to get home if you remember that and then,
When I had some money set aside to get me through the summer because of course firewood company didn’t make a lot and then the hot water heater went out in our house and the truck broke down and that was about combined was about $18,000 to fix.
We just this last year I believe
Interesting and I’m sure resonated with a lot of people so sorry, I just I wanted to interject
Absolutely, and then long story short, I was able to get to this summer and actually bought out a competitor that was going out of business and with that it gave us a lot more juice but next year grew a whole lot, exploded couldn’t keep up with the demand. But then.
We were you wouldn’t do to the truck at this point. Or did you have one?
Yes, one dude in the truck and I would actually like it was a truck and a trailer. I had the firewood in these baskets that was palletized and I had what’s called a mini skid steer looks like a bobcat had a baby with a road behind the lawnmower. And it would basically take me two hours per delivery.
I would go out and do eight deliveries and with driving and everything I’d be gone for 18 hours. So I was working 100 plus hour weeks instead.
Second year my wife Floyd’s at home with our oldest pregnant with our second and working 50 plus hours with the business and I was out I mean, woke up before anybody else and would get back sometimes after my girls would go to sleep and just collapse and that was basically like the first few years and then a lot of scary ups and downs. I mean running out of money that I’ll skip over.
But, in 2017. I saw an opportunity to take things to kind of like the next level and I came to my wife and said Hey babe, I know we have two little girls at home and you’re eight months pregnant with our third son to the LinkedIn post on this and let’s sell our house and invest in the business.
Absolutely. And I was able to take that money and redo the branding, hire my first real employees on the customer facing side of the business and redid how we do deliveries and fast forward. All that we’ve done. We took deliveries from taking two hours per delivery which was already innovative in the firewood world, up to now it’s about 15 minutes per delivery.
We deliver in Atlanta and now up to Chattanooga, Nashville in Greenville and Charlotte and then we also ship firewood and cooking wood all over the country.
And, 2019 we start putting out the yard signs which you’ve seen and made our first dollar outside of Georgia and started our same day service here in Atlanta and then COVID happened and we appreciate that. Yeah, and then in 2020 happened COVID happened and we really exploded.
I guess everyone knew. Right? And what else are you gonna do?
Everybody was home and contactless deliveries and? Yeah, exactly. Everybody was putting in a fire pit. Everybody was getting a new grill smoker, pizza oven, because they wanted to enjoy their homes. So everybody was on the internet? Absolutely.
Yeah, you know, I’ve seen I’ve had a lot of wood delivered from you guys. And you’ve got the electronic and mechanic dollies, you know.
Saying to watch them, I got a big back deck and saw those things kind of come up. And it was one person that literally unloaded you know, an entire kit, the name of the?
The rack. Yeah. And it was just kind of blew my mind, honestly. So that’s awesome. So I’ll ask a couple of questions. So branding, I mean, so I would say your brand is obviously very strong. And what do you think that’s a big differentiator and kind of your success and really was.
Without a doubt. Yeah, in branding, we wouldn’t be in business without the superior branding for sure. There’s really, I say there’s three things that make up the customer experience. And it is product quality. Of course, it is customer service, of course. And then it is branding. And some people kind of look at that. And they’re like, really branding affects the customer service.
But you know, if you own a Mercedes, you like that logo on the front. That’s why you bought that and not the Hyundai Genesis.
It’s the ultimate value machine. I agree.
Yeah. And it’s like Louis Vuitton, how many times do they need to put their logo on that bag? For them? The answer is yes. I mean, the entire thing is covered with it. And people like that. And the Nike swoosh, anything that’s a Lifestyle Luxury brand.
Branding is as important as the quality or service. But, so and then the other thing is, people’s first reaction, a lot of times when they see our products, they look at the pricing, and they’re like, can you pay what for firewood?
Yes. And so really, there has to be satin that makes them go, okay, there has to be something different about this. And I’m going to try it out. And then they tell their friends, if that makes sense. So, the first thing.
That was how I heard about you, I mean, literally, I had guys in the neighborhood, they came over at a smoky fire, I was complaining I got my, you know, my torch out, could not get a good base for the fire about gave up and somebody was like, Hey man, check out this brand. Not the cheapest on the planet. But you know, the wood burns long and burns bright. And it’s as little smoke as you can get.
Yep, absolutely. Exactly.
Well, that’s awesome. Yeah. And I will try to put some pictures of your actual branding and boxes on this podcast because I do love kind of charcoal kind of color. And it’s very just, it’s slick. So kudos to you. And I totally agree.
The house that your companies that aren’t spending enough money on branding, it’s a missed opportunity. It’s not cheap. And the ROI is not always as visible or as quick as you’d like. But it’s part and parcel of the overall kind of company and the overall experience. So, how has your role changed within the organization from, you know, working hours plus weeks being the delivery man, and you know, to fast forward in the eight years later?
Yeah. I say owning a business is like having a child. There’s so many parallels, it’s not even funny ironically, I did both at the same time. But when you first start a business or when you have a child, it changes your life in ways that you can never anticipate. And your life is never the same afterwards no matter what.
Yeah, good and bad.
What’s everything in life that we want or need is on the other side of hardship you can think about it anything from as shallow as if you want six pack abs. You got to work out and diet which sucks too. If you want to help the marriage you have to sacrifice a lot but in business and anything you think about that you want your sacrifice to come forward.
But so for our business in the beginning, you’re changing the dirty diapers, you’re losing all the sleep, you’re doing everything. But as the business grows up, as the child grows up, things change, and you can start taking your hands off of things a little bit. And you kind of have to start to trust it.
Because if you’re a helicopter parent, you can start the development of your child. And if you’re a micromanager of your business, you can start to control it. But it’s definitely either a balance, or even really like a tension where sometimes, you know, you don’t want to let your three year old child walk home from school.
And so you can do it too early. And same thing with your business. If you let somebody come in, they will run with their own vision, and take your business in the wrong way. So it’s this weird balance. And then now my business is kind of like at that teenage level where it’s a different kind of stress.
And it is very much trying to guide the business but not being a micromanager. And
Sorry, go ahead.
Oh, I was pretty much finishing up. Yeah, go ahead.
No, I completely, I can completely relate to kind of what you just shared. I’m in the same situation as well, it’s like, you know, entrepreneurship is difficult. It’s not for the faint of heart, like, The sleepless nights have never gone away. For me at least, like I still wake up at 3am. But what I think about now is different than it was last year, the year before.
And when I first started, you know, on this journey, and I agree, you know, for the first couple of years, I was interested in kind of a lifestyle business, it was nice. But in the last few years, I’ve been more interested in scaling. And that’s, you know, really introduced what you mentioned about kind of having to let your hands off the wheel a little bit, you know, provide guidance, but also trust in the people that are doing some of the work on the ground.
That’s really kind of a bit difficult for most people. And then also juggling all that while being married, and also having kids myself. And it’s funny. When I first started my company, I always thought everybody was like, what’s the barometer for success?
And I was like, well, after five years, I’m still married, you know, and I feel like I did the entrepreneurial thing, right. And I feel like that’s also a balancing act too. Because I’ve seen far too many entrepreneurs that are 100% in and their families and everything is kind of secondary, that’s their baby.
And I’ve got myself in clips to where it’s like, I’ve got to get this work stuff done. And then you forget about what’s important. And so, I feel like we’re always have, you know, a bunch of spinning plates. And at any moment when problems come crashing down, and you just got to stay. Stay frosty.
Yeah, and comparing it to like a balanced, it’s helpful, but really, I see it more of like a tension, if that makes sense. Because it’s not something like it’s not like I can completely ignore the business, because that’s not good for my family not cared for.
So you have to be able to do both. But at the same time, yes, you have to be very intentional with your wife and be very intentional with the kids.
Agreed. So on that day, and you know, what do you think the number one trade is for entrepreneurs that actually find success versus those that don’t?
Obviously, success is different. One of the ways you’re talking about success is having a healthy family at the same time, which is definitely how I would define success as well. But as far as being successful with the money aspect and scaling and becoming well known.
It’s a combination of having both the vision, being able to think outside the box, and being creative while having that grit. Where giving up is not an option, something that.
Now I don’t even think about it. But it was very helpful in the beginning as an analogy of comparing to apparently an ancient history. Generals would burn the ships after they would sell their army.
You’re a good man. 100%
Yeah, and then you have all the different sayings like in the military, they say embrace the sock, and they’re just a bunch of that where, you can’t just think if I can only get there, I’ll be happy. You have to enjoy the challenge and the sucky parts.
So it’s funny you mentioned that I totally agree. You use the word grit. I use the word perseverance, but I’ve kind of found the difference. It’s like waking up, realizing that it’s going to be horrible and figuring out a way to enjoy the journey while you’re having it and that’s hard for a lot of people.
It’s hard for me sometimes, you know, oftentimes I’ll find myself having to look back over the last six years and think about the good to put myself in a better name. But embracing the suck is kind of part of my mantra, but also burning the boat, I’ve got a son that I wrote about burning the boat.
And I feel for Entrepreneur that don’t have one foot in corporate America and one foot out, you’re just going to be in this in-between world. And unless you kind of get rid of that safety net and go all in. And I mean, you have a phenomenal story. Like, let’s sell the house and invest in the business. I mean, those people spouse.
You know, their heads would explode. And that would be the end of it. But am.
Yeah, before I got my wife a new house, I would always joke Yeah, a lot of entrepreneurs lose their house. So I just went ahead and got that distraction out of my way.
But a couple of requests for you and then I’ll let you run. But if you go back again. Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Oh, yeah. Along the lines, what you’re saying, are writing a book by Angela Duckworth that I like. That passion is common. Perseverance is rare.
It’s funny, you talked about that, too. Before I started my company. I always thought about all the people, everybody has good ideas. And they’re passionate about it. But not many people actually take the steps to put that passion into motion.
And I think that’s kind of what sets those that do. And those that don’t just a quick, a quick sidebar, but a couple of requests for you, Leroy, and let you get out of here. I appreciate your time. So if you go back and give yourself one piece of advice, prior to starting cutting edge, just one piece I’m sure you’ve got after you could probably write a book.
Who one piece that is hard to nail it down to one thing, I think I would do ironic. For me, I actually would have, and this is probably, this isn’t inspiring. This is the opposite of what people write on LinkedIn. For me, it actually would have been stick to your gut more.
Because, I’ve had over the past few years, marketing people that I’ve let go both internal and external, that I brought on, and I thought of them as experts. And they came in thinking they were experts, and they were going to improve or replace my branding, or how we did marketing, if that makes sense.
And it was a costly education. And really it was I should have been more stubborn, basically, and stuck to what I knew our customers like and want and how the basics of what has made cutting edge fire wood what it is.
Well, so I think it’s interesting. And I realized what you said, you know, to your point may go counter to what you see on LinkedIn. But you also know you are the brand, it is your company, it is your vision. And I do believe that to a certain extent.
I mean, if you’re not stubborn about the brand, the brand could take on a multitude of different things. And you could very easily lose your purpose, your values, all these things. And so, you know, I struggle with that as well. It’s like, I know this is right, but sometimes you listen to too much outside influence and outside advice. And it’s hard to find the answer.
But I agree. I mean, I’m doing things now that I thought were right in your one by abandoning them, you know, your two, your three because somebody thought it was the right direction. And now I’m kind of going back to my roots. So I get that.
Well, let’s do a quick lightning round, man. We’ll get you out of here. So, What is your favorite thing about being your own boss?
Favorite thing about being my own boss is being able to think outside the box.
Yes, I get creative energy from that as well. And that’s when I’m most happy so I can relate.
So many. Yeah, sorry. There’s so many rules that people have written and unwritten and I like being able to just ignore this. But yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
That’s why you are where you are, you’re not grocery store with you know.
What is your least favorite part of being your own boss?
Least favorite part of being my own boss would be the stress.
Yeah, when you work for other people, you feel more secure. You’re not real, you’re not in reality more secure, but when you work for yourself, you see all the risks and you know everything that can go wrong.
100%. It’s funny, my buddies think that all I do is play golf and like, not stressed and they don’t know that I wake up super early, work late. And I always get the job done because I have to. And it is stressful. And prior to the end of this past year, I was super stressed because I wanted to take time off, but I had a lot of work that had to pull in so I can completely relate.
The biggest success?
Oh, ahm ,I’ve had a lot of what people would call huge successes, like I mean, we’ve been in on Fox and Friends. We’ve been on The Today Show. Garden gun. We’ve been on a Netflix show on a Hulu show. I cooked parsley for a country music star Walker Hayes for his birthday, which was pretty fun. Just a small group of people. I was there cooking steaks warm.
But I think genuinely what drives me is the customer experience. I love it every single time. Somebody writes in, I did a LinkedIn Post this morning, because we got some by it said you guys wrote? What was the quote? It was exactly as I think cutting edge firewood wrote the book on customer service you guys have about every base covered. And believe me, I appreciate it. And we get those comments almost every day.
And that’s what I love is giving that experience to people.
No, that’s great. That’s an awesome, awesome answer. And I totally agree. I take pride in my work. And obviously you do as well.
Yeah, the biggest failure would be we tried to launch a website in 2021. And, I let other people manage it, and it was completely nosedive and crashed. And we had to go back to her old website and actually call like a ripple effect. Other issues. So that would definitely be.
Few more questions and we’re out of here, what’s the hardest part about having your own business outside of the stress?
Outside the stress man, um, you know, it is that tension of time management. I’m proud of what I’ve done, because for instance, I actually took the entire last year to march off, and then every Sunday,
I ignore my phone completely. Spend time with my family, spend time worshiping and so that kind of really renews me every week, but the other six days. I just can’t stop thinking about work. And so that tension of being intentional with my family.
Love it. Lastly, where can people find you?
I’m on LinkedIn, Leroy Hite. You can find me there. Obviously, our website is cuttingedgefirewood.com.
Excellent. We’ll be sure to add the links to the post and hey, man, I really appreciate the conversation. Appreciate you taking the time. Sincerely, that was a lot of fun. I wish you tons of success.
And you guys seem like you’re on a rocket ship trajectory right now. So keep it up.
Leroy 28:47 .
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
You got it man. Cool.
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FOUNDER, THE FREE AGENT
Beau spent over 14 years in enterprise-level software sales and was exposed to high-level talent by working alongside companies such as Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and more.
In this podcast, Beau aims to interview high performing business leaders in the hope that their insights will bring about real change positive change the businesses of his listeners.