At Gutter Sense, we get excited about things like inventions and entrepreneurship. We say things like “Necessity is the mother of invention,” (attributed to Plato) and “Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain” (credited to Nikola Tesla). One of our favorites, though, is from Alexander Graham Bell: “Every great invention is the sum of many small efforts, brought together by an inspired mind.”
We like it so much because it applies both to Robert Segal, the inventor who created the tool Gutter Sense, and company owner and head of operations Mike Schiestel, who has taken the business into a new chapter over the last three years. We recently caught up with Mike to talk about the company’s recent growth, family-run operations, and the power of embracing customer feedback.
ENTERING THE DIGITAL MARKET, NAVIGATING FULFILLMENT CHALLENGES
First, a bit of backstory. In 2002, inventor Robert Segal imagined a better, safer way to clean gutters from the ground. Passionate about creating solutions to everyday problems, he devised the model for what would become Gutter Sense. He established a company and sold a few thousand tools. In late 2020, Mike Schiestel acquired the company. Where Robert was passionate about invention and product development, Mike is passionate about entrepreneurship and brought the vision and skills to bring Gutter Sense into the digital age.
Mike focused early in 2021 on rebranding Gutter Sense and preparing to drive sales with a revamped approach to ecommerce. He also imagined that Gutter Sense would be a family-owned and operated company, embarking on the business journey with his daughter Paige, then a senior in high school. “Soon after we took over the business, Paige went to college,” Mike recalls. “At about the same time, sales started to take off. Before long, Gutter Sense faced a fulfillment challenge.”
Yet Mike found a way to keep the business and its operations a family affair: he recruited his retired parents to take over. He set up a fulfillment center in their home office, complete with printer, envelopes, and inventory. “They were excited about this as a side gig.” Soon, though, fulfillment increased tenfold, from five to as many as fifty orders per day. “As entrepreneurs, they have leaned into the growth, and they’re doing great,” Mike said.
BALANCING PRODUCTION AND INVENTORY MANAGEMENT
Before long, Mike faced a new challenge: balancing production with inventory management. “As sales grow, we have to be able to produce and manufacture in sufficient quantities to ensure we have inventory. It’s always a terrific thing to meet with your manufacturer to talk about how to scale up, whether that is hiring more employees, expanding the production area, or taking advantage of downtime to make more product.” Next up on Mike’s schedule the day we spoke: picking up an order for 10,000 springs for future product. In a small business, you really do wear many hats.
INCORPORATING CUSTOMER FEEDBACK INTO CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT
Passion for the Gutter Sense product runs high—and customers tend to be very vocal. “Either people totally love this product and think it’s revolutionary,” Mike explained, “or they find it completely frustrating.”
Mike shared that he has been able to channel some of that passion into a test bed for new ideas. Without revealing too much about what he is working on, he says, “Our customers have been amazing beta testers. We are slowly working through some refinements and new ideas for down the road. Once you really lean into your customer base, you learn so much about what’s working and what could use a tweak.” (Interested in being part of our beta testing team? Send us an email at [email protected])
Fueling a marketing campaign
For many small business owners, marketing investment can trigger worries. Mike drew a parallel between the marketing budget and a coal-fired furnace. “You’re putting coal in, and it can take a while to heat up. I had to be patient, because it took a few months after we launched the rebrand to see measurable results, like increased web traffic and a bigger bottom line. But once it did, things got hot: sales nearly doubled, and that’s huge for a company of this size.”
When asked about what’s next for Gutter Sense, Mike laughed. “The ambitious part of me wants to say that we’re incubating all sorts of new products, but the reality is that we’re really in the zone now with Gutter Sense, and that feels great.”
He paused for a moment. Bob Segal passed away shortly after Mike took over Gutter Sense. “When Bob sold my family the company, he was exhausted. He was an amazing inventor but building the company was burning him out. If he could see where we are today, he’d be thrilled.”
Mike went on. “In business, a new leader can bring new life to a role, changing the energy of the company.” Ultimately, Gutter Sense needed both Bob’s passion and gift for invention, and Mike’s entrepreneurship and business management skills—with them, the future for clean gutters around the world is very bright.