David Zelken

CEO of Packer's Pine

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.

David is extremely excited to take over at the helm of a business that was founded in 1869 by a fellow adventurer and outdoorsman, Daniel F Packer. David spent his childhood summers in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and his love of the great outdoors combined with his entrepreneurial spirit matches up perfectly with the ethos of Mr. Packer. David is keenly aware of the great responsibility to honor the brand and loyal following of amazing customers it has enjoyed over the years.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

Packer’s Pine was founded by Daniel F Packer in 1869 so I certainly can’t take credit for the business idea. I came on board in 2019 to oversee the relaunch of the Packer’s Pine based on my background in e-commerce and my close connection with the spirit of the brand and everything it represents.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I have a very simple approach to my workday. First and foremost, I check on customer orders, reviews, and issues to make sure every single customer is satisfied. Outside of that, I oversee order fulfillment and ensure all orders are packed accurately and go out to customers in a timely fashion. I also meet with the Packer’s team daily to keep tabs on current projects, promotions, new product launches, and marketing. I stay productive by taking frequent short breaks to work out, grab a bite, or just take the dogs on a walk around the block. This helps me stay focused on the more important tasks at hand and not get bogged down by the nitty gritty distractions that can drag down my day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Based on experience at the previous company I worked at (ShareASale), I realize it’s not too difficult to come up with a great idea as far as a new product or marketing idea. Talk is cheap (as I always tell my kids) and the idea is the easy part. Taking ownership of the idea and the work involved in the implementation of the idea is the roadblock that usually prevents a great idea from coming to life. When a great idea presents itself that I have vetted and know we want to pursue, I like to make a list outlining all the steps needed to get the idea from the “ignition state” to full completion. The list needs to include every single detail so everyone knows upfront the actual work that will go into it with realistic timelines and so forth. Then we get to work and make our way down the list!

What’s one trend that excites you?

Men’s personal care and grooming is really booming. Our products are geared more towards men and I love the fact that men are now very passionate about and taking ownership of their personal care routine. Instead of letting their significant other buy personal care products for them or just using their partner’s grooming products, men are getting more involved in the process and seeking out products that match up with their lifestyle and personal care preferences, their unique skin/hair types, etc.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I used to be a procrastinator when I was younger. It drove me crazy and was very stressful for me as I’m not the type of person that does well pushing things off until the last minute and I don’t thrive under the pressure of a looming deadline (some people perform well under the added pressure). That fear and uneasy feeling associated with procrastinating have definitely made me more efficient and productive because I always want to jump right on things and try to get them done early whenever possible. On top of that, I prefer to tackle the most difficult part of the project or problem first and get that out of the way. Do the hard stuff first!

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell myself that if I stay the course and put the work in, everything else will take care of itself and it will all be worth it in the end. Also, have fun and cherish the friends and connections you make along the way. Those connections you make and experiences tied to those connections are extremely important, and you’ll appreciate them more than you know as you navigate down your career path.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Olives and sardines are amazing and pair well with just about anything.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Exercise! It’s true, the body feeds the mind. Find at least one team sport or activity you can participate in at least a couple times a week. You’ll get the social and physical benefits without it feeling like “working out”.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I prefer employees and partners that specialize in one area vs being a jack of all trades. “Comfortable” doesn’t have to be a bad word! Put people in a position where they are comfortable in their area of passion and expertise and watch them thrive. I understand there are benefits in getting outside of one’s comfort zone and learning new skills, and there’s also the need to wear several hats. However, in most cases, great people will always find ways to thrive and grow within their specialized roll. Not everyone wants or needs to be a personal growth machine at work! Let them be at the top of their game in their specialized role at the office and they can always find ways to grow personally outside of work if they so desire.

Did Michael Jordan need to switch around and try different positions in order to thrive and grow on the Bulls? Of course not. He was with the Bulls for 13 years in the same exact role and brought his very best every single day! I’m pretty sure it worked out for him and his team.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I didn’t do my due diligence on a company I chose for storage and fulfillment. I was bamboozled by their glitzy website and impressive sales pitch. I rushed the decision because I was in a tough spot and needed a solution for fulfillment. Looking back, I should have found a way to handle fulfillment in-house for the time being instead of rushing into it and making a poor decision that cost us a lot of time, money, and resources trying to make up for all of their mistakes and overcharging, etc. Never again.

We recently cut ties with this vendor and we’re moving fulfillment in-house after finding a new warehouse space for storage. Time to roll up the sleeves and get it done. We’re looking forward to the challenge and the rewards that come with DIY!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Well, I’m not willing to give away a couple of my ideas that I might still try to do one day down the road.

I did have an idea to create a one-stop shop (brick and mortar) where people could come in and test out all of the online mattresses in a box brands that you can only purchase online. So basically, it would be a showroom where people could compare the mattresses side by side in person before they buy. Yes, most of these online mattress companies offer free trial periods which makes this seem unnecessary. But it’s a pain in the butt to buy, try and then return if you don’t like it and go through that process all over again.

A company that has an online review platform for all of these mattresses recently launched a similar business model, so that’s why I’m willing to give this idea away.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently purchased a Packer’s Pine soap tin (with the soap) from the early 1900s which was used by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film The Aviator. The story goes, my “friend” Leo was given several old-timey soaps to choose from to use in the movie. He chose Packer’s! I came across the listing on a movie prop website and I just had to have it. Money well spent.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Shopify. Shopify might not be productivity software per se but it’s been instrumental to my business and productivity in so many ways. I love pretty much everything about it and the support is top-notch. They are always recommending ways to grow my business and every part of their system has a purpose and is well thought out. They are always improving and trying new things to help their merchants grow, compete, and thrive. They’re a great partner and going with them is so far one of the best decisions I’ve made in business.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’ll go with “Traction” by Gino Wickman. It’s a very straightforward book on running a business and it does a great job of it without incorporating any of the trendy jargon and fluff that you sometimes find in other business-focused books. Every point is backed up with real-life, practical examples. It lays out the foundation for running a successful business, while stressing the importance of finding the right people and putting them in the right position so they can thrive. The goal is to learn to run and grow your business efficiently so that your business doesn’t end up running you.

What is your favorite quote?

“When the going gets tough the tough get going” – said by my Mom to me and my siblings about 1000 times during my childhood.

Key Learnings:

  • Always try to put people in a position where they can be happy and thrive. Nothing wrong with kicking butt in your comfort zone!
  • The customer comes first at all costs. Take care of them and they will take care of you back one way or another
  • Complaining and getting upset never got anyone anywhere. Be tough and resilient…and get going!
  • Have fun and keep everything in perspective