Behind Every Good Product Is a Story; The Daily Grommet Brings You One a Day

What the Sam Hill (as my grandpa used to say) is a Daily Grommet? The answer comes in two parts. “Grommet” is the word industrial designer and entrepreneur Jules Pieri has appropriated for the kind of bewitching product that you might discover in an upscale shop in Puerto Vallarta or Tuscany or Vermont—something that’s so unique or beautiful or inventive that you just have to buy one and tell all your friends about it.

And the Daily Grommet is an e-commerce startup in Lexington, MA, that features one new grommet on its website every weekday. Through videos and short articles, Daily Grommet staffers—often Pieri herself—explain what’s so cool about the products they’ve chosen and the companies that make them. They also sell the products, on consignment from their makers. This week’s finds, for example, include an energy bar with ingredients picked by customers, a solar-powered flashlight (no, that’s not a contradiction in terms), and a garlic shredder that looks a little like a little two-wheeled Popemobile.

If you’re thinking that the Daily Grommet sounds like Hammacher Schlemmer meets RocketBoom meets VeryShortList, maybe with a dash of Martha Stewart, you’re not completely wrong. But there’s something stylish, original, and earnest about Pieri’s business that isn’t captured by any of these comparisons.

For one thing, as I can relate after visiting the startup’s office/studio in a quaint clapboard house just off Lexington’s main drag last week, the women who run the company (and they’re all women) are, like Pieri herself, genuinely nice people. They have a visible passion for uncovering little-known new products, testing and investigating them, and telling their stories to the world.

Left to right: Joanne Domeniconi, Jules Pieri, Jen Lockwood, Barbara Gordon, Patti Purcell, Wendy Chandor.

Left to right: Joanne Domeniconi, Jules Pieri, Jen Lockwood, Barbara Gordon, Patti Purcell, Wendy Chandor.

For another, the Daily Grommet has a common-sense business model that blends old-fashioned retailing with the best of Web 2.0-style interactivity. In addition to the daily videos, which are an easily digested two to three minutes in length, the startup is utilizing the full complement of social media channels, including a Twitter stream, an RSS feed, an e-mail newsletter, a Facebook page, and badges and widgets that fans can embed in their own websites. And every grommet gets its own permanent page on the site where readers can leave comments and even interact with the people who make the products. (The company often singles out companies that are so small or new that a feature on the Daily Grommet can be their first big break.)

It all amounts to a human-centered, high-touch approach that might just help to redefine what consumers expect from e-commerce sites. Whether such a business can be scaled up efficiently is an open question. But clearly, if you had the courage in this age of cloud-based software startups to start from scratch with a business that sells actual stuff, you’d want to take advantage of the media that people are using today for word-of-mouth exchanges, namely Twitter, blogs, online video, and the like.

And ideally, you wouldn’t just dilute these media with empty marketing messages, but you’d tell real stories about the people who make the stuff and what motivated them.

This is the kind of stuff Pieri thinks about. “Social media is not commerce media,” she says. “What travels in social media is news—whether it’s personal or national or just funny videos. I know that the stories around products have that same power, and the potential that people would want to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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15 responses to “Behind Every Good Product Is a Story; The Daily Grommet Brings You One a Day”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I’ve said it before and I will happily say it again! The products and the stories of folks that created them that the Daily Grommet feature are fun, useful & innovative! I enjoy my Daily Grommet Greatly!

  2. I have been watching Daily Grommet carefully since it was just a gleam in Jules’s eye. Now I buy products from Daily Grommet very frequently. A lot of them are going into a hidden stash in my house, which I will use to have great presents for my wife’s next birthday. Others are for me (cool scrubbing brushes for cleaning the dishes after dinner) or both of us (a device for making your own carbonated water). I would never have found these things without Daily Grommet.

    More important, if I buy them via Daily Grommet, I know that Jules’s team has tested them and determined that they’re actually excellent.

    I once got to be a tester for Daily Grommet. One lazy Sunday afternoon, Jules called up and invited me and my wife to come over to test a new product: Little Pearl Caviar. I said to Cheryl: “Look, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.” We drove over there, and Jules had set up crystal flutes of champagne, and the package from Little Pearl. Cheryl knows a lot about caviar, and I know some, and indeed the stuff is fantastic. It appeared on Daily Grommet last December, and you can still watch the video and click through to order it from Richard Brauman’s little company in Somerville (shipped with dry ice), or you can buy it at Whole Foods. It’s a lot milder than beluga caviar; try it!

    Daily Grommet isn’t just a good place to find good things to buy. It’s a fun experience, featuring short, enjoyable videos, and a place to post comments where you can share impressions and information with not only other customers, but the producers of the product themselves!

  3. Miramon says:

    I can’t even imagine being a person who would want any of these objects.

    A $10 garlic chopping tool is perhaps not overpriced if it’s a really efficient and durable tool and you chop a lot of garlic. A LOT of garlic. But really, how much garlic do you chop, and how long will a $10 plastic gizmo really last?

    Seriously. You have only so much space in your house. You have only so much money. Would it make you happier to buy a $10 single-purpose kitchen tool you will probably use only a couple of times, or to donate the $10 to charity? For that matter, why not put the $10 towards buying a food processor you can use on a million kinds of food, including garlic, and which is less likely to find its way to the trash in a month or two?

    I have nothing against hedonism, but a focus on useless doodads that will rarely if ever be used, either for profit or for pleasure, really seems to me to be a net negative, both for individual consumers as well as for commercial sites and services.

  4. Thanks for doing such a great job learning and telling the Daily Grommet story Wade.

    @Miramon. I am so happy you chimed in. I/we think about this issue…of thoughtful consumption all the time. The bottom line is most of us are going to buy something, sometime. Few of us have totally sustainable households with vegetable gardens, woodshops, and machine shops. We are going to buy clothes, and gardening gear, and tools, and electronic gadgets, and books. So if we are going to make the important decision to bring a product home, how do we find “the good guys?” By that I mean the true innovators who produce products with real technological breakthroughs, or wonderful craft, or problem solvers, or meaningful social or environmental benefits. You won’t find those so easily at your big box store.

    But unless you want to research all day, you probably don’t have time to find them by yourself, either. We do that. Together with a wonderful number of people who give us terrific ideas, we find the “good guys.” Those products and services that are truly excellent, that will merit that space in your house because they really do deliver and come from a company that cares.

    A garlic chopper is not going to revolutionize the world…you are right. But for someone who cooks a lot for a family, it does its job so well that it really does merit the space. I am with you on single-purpose devices. They have to be amazing before I will acquire one.

    Anyway, I write about this “thoughtful consumption” topic frequently on my blog. I’d be glad you hear more of your thoughts there too.

  5. Julia Kemp says:

    Recently I got the opportunity to experience Daily Grommet behind the scenes with an MBA internship. I observed the dedicated team scour the globe for products and services with significance. They have an acute sensitivity to contrasting needs of people everywhere. If you don’t like the grommet today – check out the previous grommets. There is something for everyone. With Daily Grommet, I now look forward to thoughtfully selecting gifts for my loved ones.

  6. Great write up, Wade! You really captured how exciting and unique the Daily Grommet story is, and the thoughtfulness behind its founder – Jules Pieri. I’m a huge fan of Daily Grommet and so glad you were able to spotlight their fantastic story.

  7. @Miramon, my wife cooks with garlic at least every other day. $10 is not that much money these days; compare it to the cost of going to a movie. if you do not have enough room in your house for a tiny thing like this, then perhaps $10 really is too much, but no product can appeal to every single market segment.

    Finally, it’s a great gift! It’s fun, original, actually useful, and quite inexpensive compared to other gifts that give the same pleasure to a friend who cooks.

  8. Miramon says:

    @Daniel and Jules:

    Fair enough. I admit that I would expect to see that garlic chopper and some other similar items on the site going for more like $40 at some other Hammacher-Schlemmer-like site. I also see that some of these items couldn’t otherwise be found in most stores as they are from relatively obscure sources.

    But I am also a veteran of a gizmophilic stage of my life, and in my experience of gift-giving and gift-receiving, the vast majority of such items are either discarded quickly, go on the regifting circuit, or are left mostly unused.

    This kind of consumer-focused waste is distressing in itself. I don’t pretend to be an activist in any area at all, and my own life involves a certain amount of waste — driving to work, buying random things for my own pleasure, eating pre-made or processed food, etc. etc. etc.

    It seemed at a glance that the Daily Grommet was a concentrated center of consumer frivolity. I’ve always despised the Sharper Image and similar shops — selling superficially interesting items with a 200% markup. The DG seems to have left out the 200% markup, which is a nice touch, but I’m still not convinced most of these items are really worthwhile, even as gifts.

    Looking down the list on the website, I think today’s saucepan is fine, and sharing info about that “wishing” website is a nice gesture. But most of the other stuff I wouldn’t consider giving as a gift, and I certainly wouldn’t want myself.

  9. @miramon Thanks for expanding on your thoughts. Sounds like you are on your way to a post/reduced-consumer existence, which is interesting and laudable. I support this general trend myself, for the US, which has gone so far on the other side, of consumer excess.

    But one thing that is getting lost in this discussion is that Grommet producers are also creating jobs and meaningful livelihoods, both in the US, but also in some impoverished communities all over the world. Coming from an ailing city that was once a manufacturing boom town (Detroit) I am particularly sensitive to creating responsible, sustainable enterprises that employ people to make and create things. The auto industry lost its way, but we can learn a lot from that, and also certainly expect more from younger companies with fresh slates.

    I’d be terrified of an economy in which everyone is a knowledge worker who produces bits and bytes. So much innovation and creativity would be lost, as well as economic opportunity for people who don’t want to do desk jobs.

  10. Claudia says:

    Iagree we all need to reign in our insatiable consumerism. You might be interested in some featured Grommets such as a mail-order shoe repair service, an on-line technological gadget recycling program, or a planting medium made of recycled materials.
    I find Daily Grommet to be a refreshing mix of beautiful form and function and outside-the-box thinking!
    Great article!

  11. Paula says:

    I love the thinking behind Daily Grommet. Unlike so many web-based businesses, there is a uniquely personal touch to DG. The videos are not flashy infomercials – they’re made by real people sharing great products that they believe in. And these are products that we might otherwise never hear about or see. Plus, what a neat way to give “the good guys” a chance to succeed in this tough economic environment. Bravo DG!!

  12. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    For all you Daily Grommet fans: I’ve just published a sequel to this story — the full text of my interview with Jules Pieri. See