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E2A 025: A Cabin in the Woods – Bunkie Life founder David Fraser on promotional contests, coffee table books and reeling in a 5-dragon deal on Dragon’s Den 

 March 15, 2022

By  Scott A. MacMillan

Most service-based business owners get the importance of building credibility and how a book can really help. But what if you sell a physical product? Should you even consider writing a book?

He’s got physical product to manufacture, and he needs to then ship it, on a truck to his customers.

In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan talks with David Fraser, founder of Bunkie Life, about publishing a book when your product is an actual building that is delivered on a flatbed truck and how he earned a spot on Dragon’s Den and landed a deal most entrepreneurs could only dream of.

GUEST BIO: David Fraser

DAVID FRASER is the founder of Bunkie Life, author of Bunkie Life, Extra Space: Create a Beautiful Space for More Time and Connection with Your Family, and the host of The Meaningful Connection Podcast. Recently David and his wife Karrie were featured on CBC's Dragon's Den. David is the father of three girls with one more baby arriving soon in 2022.

CONNECT WITH DAVID:

See the Dragon's Den episode: https://www.cbc.ca/dragonsden/pitches/bunkie-life

Find out if the bunkie life is right for you: https://www.bunkielife.com/quiz

Instagram (@bunkielife): https://www.instagram.com/bunkielife/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bunkielife/

Website: https://www.bunkielife.com


CONNECT WITH SCOTT
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scott@grammarfactory.com

Scott on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/scottmacmillan/
Scott on Instagram: @scottamacmillan
Scott on Twitter: @scottamacmillan
Scott on Medium: @scottamacmillan


Episode Transcript

Please note: The transcript is produced by a third party company from an audio recording and may include transcription errors.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

You're listening to the Entrepreneur to Author podcast, episode number 25. (music playing)

Mike Manz: 

Welcome to the Entrepreneur to Author podcast, the podcast that brings you practical strategies for building authority and growing your business. And now, here's your host, Scott MacMillan.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Demand generation, it's the lifeblood of any business. Regardless of size, if you've got more demand than you can serve, you're in good shape. If not, I bet your business struggles. It's what drives so much of what we do as entrepreneurs. It's why we market ourselves. It's why we try to get featured in media. It's why we seek product market fit and problem solution fit. It's why we write books.

For many entrepreneurs, the supply side of the equation is all about capacity. Your time, your team's time. But for today's guest, he's got more to worry about when balancing supply and demand. He's got physical product to manufacture, and he needs to ship it on a truck to his customers. This doesn't sound like the kind of business we've been talking about on this show, does it? It doesn't sound like the sort of business that would include a book as part of its demand generation strategy, but it is. We're going to learn about the role his book plays in his business. We'll learn about the national primetime media he's been featured on, and a whole lot more, in this packed edition of Entrepreneur to Author.

My guest today is David Fraser. David's the founder of Bunkie Life and the author of Bunkie Life, Extra Space. Bunkie Life sells small, inexpensive log cabins that you can put together over a weekend without needing a permit which can provide much needed extra space on your property or at the cottage for meaningful connection with your family and friends. And do you know what? They make a great quiet spot to get away and write a manuscript too. David, welcome to the pod. Thanks for being here.

David Fraser:                

Thanks, Scott. Thanks for having me.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

To start, can you tell our listeners a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur and why you started Bunkie Life?

David Fraser:   

Sure. It depends on how far back you want to zoom but I've been an entrepreneur since, really, my early twenties. I graduated from university, realized pretty quickly that teaching physics and math was not going to be my life's trajectory. At the same time, I was performing, traveling around, playing music in pubs. That was kind my full-time living for about 10 years. That spun off into a wedding entertainment company when I had my first kid. Then, for us, we live in the country and we had our first child and it was like, "Where are we going to put my in-laws?" We ran out of bedrooms.

My mom started sending me these angry texts about not wanting to sleep on the couch, accompanied with, "Here's a yurt. Here's a link to buying a tiny home." All these little, creative solutions that she could still come and get a comfortable night's sleep and see the grandkids.

2015 we built our very first Bunkie up on, the kind of backyard of, our property. It was instantly rented on Airbnb. I'm kind of entrepreneurial, so I had it rented on Airbnb while I was finishing it up. Just the response was huge. We started to kind of... we bought a bunch more, built a bunch more, and scaled it up renting-wise, and then, the next progression was, "Hey, Dave, get me a Bunkie. I want you to build me one."

It kind of spiraled from there, and that's more or less how we got into the Bunkie game.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah, amazing. Well, let's talk a little bit about the Bunkies themselves. We've got a Bunkie up at our cottage, and so I totally get how great they are, but for those who are maybe new to the whole concept, what are some of the reasons why somebody might consider getting one?

David Fraser:   

Yeah. Okay, [inaudible]. First of all, we should... what is a Bunkie? I think that's probably a good question to get into. What it is, is basically, the etymology originates here in Ontario. It's the short form for a bunk house, which is kind of like this glorified shed that you put in your backyard that might have a bedroom, a couple beds, maybe a bunk bed, that sort of thing, and it's basically overflow for your house or your cottage. In most cases, it's the cottage.

Different use cases are, obviously, like just throw a couple kids, or parents, or whoever you're trying to separate, back there for the night. Sometimes it's more just like a sitting area that you'll go and hang out and maybe no one even sleeps in there. Maybe it's a shed. I mean, there are kind of like shed use cases as well, but there's a pretty... our Bunkies especially are kind of fancier versions of a shed.

It's a glamour shed, to say the least. Some people are using it for home offices now. If you're been forced to work from home or just you need an extra little gap between you and the day-to-day family life, you can get that with a Bunkie very easily. Then, there's other kind of more niche use cases, like some people are using their Bunkies for art studios, silversmithing, yoga studios, different aspects of that. There's a whole wide range. A lot of people, just like me, bought a Bunkie and they started renting it out an Airbnb.

All the above are options. But basically, if you think of it as like a kind of a medium-ish, small bedroom in your backyard, that's a good idea of what a Bunkie framework can look like in your mind

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah, I really like that idea of the office use space because, in my mind, I always think of a bunkhouse as a Bunkie, as something in a rural area, right? Whether it's the cottage or a space with a huge property, but I know some of your clients actually have a Bunkie in the city, don't they?

David Fraser:   

Oh yeah, yeah. We've installed them in Scarborough. You know, [inaudible] Waterloo. I mean, they work... the ones that fit best in the rural, kind of Muskoka, kind of like cottage properties, they tend to be a little bit larger, but you can squeeze a smaller Bunkie into most backyards.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

What's the footprint?

David Fraser:   

We've niched really specifically 10 square meters or less. Here in Ontario, BC, a bunch of other provinces as well, if you're under 10 square meters, you're technically not a building yet. So you don't need a permit and you'd be shocked to see how excited people are they don't have to interact with the building department. You can just put it up and go, yeah.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah. Yeah, I bet. That's a huge benefit. Okay, let's talk about the book. Bunkie Life, Extra Space. Published in late 2020, it's a gorgeous coffee table style book with beautiful pictures of bunkies, stories from proud owners, and a narrative that runs through it telling your family story and the origin of Bunkie Life. It's quite unique, I think, compared to traditional paperbacks that most entrepreneurs would publish. Can you talk a little bit about what you wanted to accomplish with the book and how you approached it?

David Fraser:   

Yeah, so a big part of it was I knew we needed to get something up there to kind of differentiate ourselves from the rest of the kind of generic shed space. I thought that a book would have a really nice just explanation of what we're all about, first and foremost, our vision and our values. Then, I thought it'd also be a really great thing that you could... I can see getting passed around.

I was inspired by another book that a lot of our clients were already buying. I was actually looking into purchasing bulk copies of this book and then selling it with the Bunkies or giving away with the Bunkies because it's just like... it's just basically this gorgeous coffee table book of cool cabins. I thought, well, I mean, there's nothing... there's no reason that we couldn't create our own with Bunkies. Bunkies have the same aesthetic appeal, the same homey kindness.

Then, I thought, if I'm going to go to the trouble of creating this coffee table book, why not weave in some how-to and our story and our values. It's kind of those two things kind of coming from either ends that I thought would make a lot of sense. Because of our nature of our business, we are always looking for ways to surprise and delight our clients. It's one of our three mottos.

The book, I thought would be, at the very least, a cool thing to surprise somebody with. Unlike an entrepreneurial, kind of lead generation... well, we do generate leads with it, but some of it's like a loss leader. We said, "Let's just break the bank. Let's just make it full-color." You know, let's make it a tangible thing that you can kind of pass around. Let's spend a little bit of money and then, the book will kind of stand alone as opposed to just being just something you kind of give away within the business. We went with full-color and a bunch of other kind of more costly decisions on the actual printing of the book. But, the upside of that is the book kind of is worth the stamp. I guess, if that makes sense.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah, yeah. That makes total sense. Let's fast forward for a little bit. A big reason that entrepreneurs write a book is, of course, to build their presence and hopefully get some media attention and opportunities from it. But of course, media attention feeds on itself as well. In 2021, you got some pretty incredible media in the form of an appearance on Dragons' Den. Can you talk about how did you manage to get on the show and what was the experience like?

David Fraser:   

Yeah, so as part of our big promotions we do every year, we give a Bunkie away. We found out that one of the producers of the show was a fan. She had been entering our contest for a few years, trying to win a Bunkie. She reached out and said, "Hey, have you ever considered trying out for the show?" I thought, "Ah, you know it's on the back burner." But it was kind of thing 21 on a 20 to-do list. I kind of moved it up. We auditioned, this is the year of COVID, right? Or second year of COVID, I should say. Most of the audition process was online and so we were able to do that. Then, we got invited to film the show, which we did last May. Yeah, it was quite the experience. It was something we had to keep under wraps for about seven months because the episode didn't air until the final episode of 2021, so it was December 2021 it actually got out there. We had to kind of keep it hush-hush until then which was kind of fun.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah, we'll try to put a link to the episode, if it's available, in the show notes, but maybe for those who haven't seen it, can you share what the result was now that it's aired?

David Fraser:   

Yeah, sure. We went on the show, I think they did a really good job editing the stupid things I said out and only leaving in things that made me look good. I think it was a pretty good showing overall for us. We got... most of our pitch, the key points of our pitch didn't get edited out. We got the dragons down to help build... a couple of the dragons to kind of build a little makeshift kit that we had there. We had a full, I think it was the biggest thing that ever built in the CBC studio there, we built this 16 foot thing. We wheeled it in this ginormous door and it was literally, it was just this... it fit by just this much, and there's a smoke detector, we're like, "Is it going to take out the smoke detector while it goes through this big door?"

We wheeled it in, filmed, and then wheeled it out and tore it back down, which was all in a day. Basically, we did our pitch. Everyone seemed pretty keen. The dragons kind of talked amongst themselves, they said, "Hey, can you guys leave the room?" We had to go into this little soundproof booth, which is normally where you go when you like want to phone a friend, but it was kind of the opposite. I was like, "Why don't you guys talk about this? I'll go back and..." Right? We knew our numbers pretty well going into it and we knew what we were willing to kind of to do. I think before I even went in the soundproof room, I'd said, "This is basically the best we can do in terms of pricing and stuff." What ended up conspiring is we settled on a $1 million investment for 20% of the company, it was kind of the deal that we made. I think it was a win for everyone. Yeah.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah and it was a five dragon deal, wasn't it?

David Fraser:   

It was. Everybody ended up coming in on it so that was nice.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah, that's fantastic. Yeah, I've been watching that show pretty much since it started airing, I don't even know how long ago. It was really, really cool to see you on there. Congratulations on that. From our conversations, and you alluded to it a little bit, social media has played an important role, I think, in growing the business. Particularly, around the Bunkie contest. It's a bit of a perennial hit with your audience and seems to drive a lot of interest and engagement. Can you talk a little bit about maybe your social media strategy broadly and about how the contest fits into that for driving demand?

David Fraser:   

Yeah, sure. The contest is like a big... it's like our kind of a Super Bowl. We call it the Super Bowl within our company, our team members. It's just this very big hype, hypey kind of fun thing. Every year we iterate a little bit more and we try to add more of ourselves and our personality into it. For the example this year, you enter this contest to win a Bunkie, basically. Maybe you're watching... scrolling your Instagram feed and you enter it, but then we want to really grab people and get them kind of doing things. There's things like watching live streams. I'll put on a bunch of live streams. It's very interactive. We'll do things like go and do a 3D tour of the Bunkie and find the secret word that we hid under the pillow, little things like that, that just make it a little bit more of an experience.

We really have gone, really above and beyond or not above and beyond, but we've basically really tried to create an experience where you enter this contest, and if you want to, there's a lot you can do to participate. You're incentivized to participate by if you do do certain actions, it'll give you more chances to win the Bunkie. Every year, it's kind of gotten bigger and bigger. We kind of supplement that with just a really steady, every Saturday we post for the rest of the year. We'll do other little sales and other things as the year ebbs and flows. But, we're able to kind of get enough of a momentum from that contest, enough of an email list that if I send an email, I can reach a hundred thousand people right in our target market. It's really good to really kind of gather the hens for the year. Then, you see who ends up coming to roost throughout the season, essentially.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah, fantastic. So great that there's such a direct connection between what you're offering in the market and that contest because what I've often seen when people are doing contest is the pricing is fantastic, but it attracts all the wrong people. What you're doing is amazing, right? It's the perfect fit.

David Fraser:   

Yeah, it's always weird. Like, say I'm a lawyer. I'm giving away an iPad. It's like what? You know, I don't get how that works. Right? It's trickier for certain businesses. I think that because we're a B2C primarily, about 85% of our business is selling directly to the end user. Our clients are our people. It works really well. The giveaway strategy is just give away what you're trying to sell everybody, right? You hype them up on this giveaway and then they go, "Oh, I didn't win, but maybe I'll buy it instead." It's just tricky if you're selling, I don't know, certain services are more kind of really niche services, it's trickier because not everyone's going to need that Brazilian wax or whatever it is. But, you're trying to reach... for us it's a really good match. It's just like, we know our market, we know who they are. They want a Bunkie, let's give a Bunkie away and let's start chatting.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah, amazing. Much of what we talked about has been on the demand side, right? How to get people interested in Bunkies, get the word out. But, there's always the supply side of the equation, right? In our business, capacity is all... capacity is what that's about, right? The time for editors and designers, but especially in businesses with physical products like yours, it's a whole different dynamic. How do you balance it?

David Fraser:   

As well as we can, Scott. I mean, that's our struggle every year. It's like everybody wants their Bunkies right before May long weekend and yet, you need to find a way to make Bunkies all winter and not go broke, and then not have a ton of Bunkies in October. Because no one wants a Bunkie in November, December, January, February, at least in Canada. Couple ways we're trying to mitigate that whole supply wave is we're... I'm just actually wrapping up a Trade Advisory Program Exporting course I just took. How do we export to maybe a more Southern climate where their season is our off-season and vice versa? Just to smooth that out, I think, will be hopefully successful. But yeah, in general, it's just a lot of kind of really thinking through the numbers, forecasting, and really knowing your numbers.

 We know if we get about, let's just say, a thousand people in the contest, we'll sell about one Bunkie. That's a good kind of math formula that's been true ever since we started. We can work backwards now. We also know, we're going to sell about 50% of the Bunkies we'll sell all year, we're going to sell them around March 1st. We know, "Okay, if we're here, then we're going to be there." Things like that. We just purchased a factory and we've started manufacturing ourselves so we can get everything under one roof, and there's challenges with that. There's a lot of unknowns with manufacturing and building a physical product, but the good thing is that I really think that we're a little more recession-proof in the sense that we do make a physical thing that people do need. Whereas, if you're kind of selling something a little more intangible, it might get a little trickier when things get tight. We're optimistic that we get the factory really humming by the end of this year and then, it'll be hopefully a smoother supply chain and smoother on the supply side.


Scott A. MacMillan: 

Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. I'd like to come back for a moment to the book. There may be other listeners out there who have a physical product business like you do, and perhaps are struggling to find out if or how to think about a book related to their business. How would you suggest that they approach it if it's something that they're keen to pursue?

David Fraser:   

Yeah. Well, two points. To your question, at my scale, whatever our scale is, some people look at us as a small business, some people might think we're a big business, but when we... when I started writing the book, we were very a small business. I built the book for the bigger business, right? If in your mind you have a bigger business in mind, I would say that write the book for that business, rather than the one that you feel is a small business now. That was my first thought. Yeah, I think that... okay, if you look at coaches and you know, the kind of less-tangible, more intangible type services and products like digital products, there's probably more proclivity to write the book.

If you're a coach and you don't have a book, you're kind of the weird one now, right? If you're a guru and you don't have at least 18 books, ideally a whole library of books behind you that you've written in your garage with your sports car, if you don't have that, you're the outsider. Whereas, if you're selling Bunkies, you're going to be the only guy that has a book. If you're selling... if you're a plumber, for example, right? You know? Everything I Learned, I Needed to Know, I Learned from Fixing Toilets, just an example title. You're going to be the only plumber in probably your entire region that has a book, probably the entire country, in some senses, right? I just think it's a great way to just instantly stick your hand up and stand out amongst your peers.

Especially, if you're in a more physical, quote-unquote boring physical thing. I just think it's a great way to just be like, "Yeah, like I've put the effort into writing the book. I've written the definitive book of the pallet manufacturing industry." You might think that you don't have a story to tell, but I guarantee some of those stories that you share while you're shooting the crap with your local pallet manufacturing guys, people would read those stories and they would enjoy those stories, especially if you can tie in why do people buy you? Why do they buy your service or your product? And tie the emotional reasons of that into your story, that's where it really, really hums.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

Fantastic. Lastly, where should listeners go if they'd like to learn more about Bunkie Life and see if putting a Bunkie on their property or at their cottage might make sense for them?

David Fraser:   

Yeah. I mean, bunkielife.com is our website. If you want to go right into like, does it make sense for me? There's bunkielife.com/quiz. We've got a really easy, three minute quiz that can kind of suss out what's your understanding? What's your skillset? What's your lifestyle? Kind of situations that may or may not make sense to a Bunkie, if you want to kind of look in that way. But, we've got other things like the book and a few other kind of more entry-level things that you can benefit from whether or not the Bunkie is actually in your future or not.

Scott A. MacMillan: 

It's a bit counterintuitive to think that a publishing strategy can work in a product-based business, but is it really? Competitive strategy is about standing out. About being different. And what better way to do that than by literally writing the book on your product category. As we wrap up this episode of Entrepreneur to Author, remember this: The right book for your business may be very different than the right book for another business. That's why it's so important to go into it knowing your goals and how you'll use your book. While authorship is most common in service-based businesses. Entrepreneurs who publish a book in the less obvious fields may stand out even more as the only one in their market who's a published author. And wherever you are with your business today, write your book for the business you envision in the future. Now is the time, time to write, time to publish, and time to grow. I'm Scott McMillan, until next time.

Scott A. MacMillan


Scott A. MacMillan is a speaker, international best-selling author, entrepreneur, and the President and Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing. He and his team help expert entrepreneurs write and publish books that build their authority and grow their business.

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