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Jim Estill: “Linked in is a great research tool”

Having the connection though is not enough. You need to keep in touch with them and try to add value to their lives. I do this by sending daily updates. Linkedin is a respectful way to stay top of mind with your network without spamming them. Those updates that I do are rarely advertorial in nature — rather […]

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Having the connection though is not enough. You need to keep in touch with them and try to add value to their lives. I do this by sending daily updates.

Linkedin is a respectful way to stay top of mind with your network without spamming them. Those updates that I do are rarely advertorial in nature — rather they are interesting things of value to the reader. So I am trying to add value to their lives — not just sell. But by them seeing updates they remember who we are.

These often start a dialogue with people. Recently, there has been a shortage of freezers. I sent an update unrelated to this — a quote from Mother Teresa. One of the people in my network commented on it. I replied to it and casually mentioned “is the freezer shortage impacting you?”. Sure enough it was and Danby happened to have product so we sold him some freezers — solving his problem and closing a sale for Danby.


As part of my series of interviews about “How to Use LinkedIn To Dramatically Improve Your Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Estill.

Jim Estill Is CEO of Danby Appliances and ShipperBee.

Danby Appliances makes over 2,000,000 appliances per year. These include freezers, wine coolers, fridges, microwaves, ranges as well as dehumidifiers and window and portable air conditioners (the connection of those to appliances is they have compressors).

ShipperBee is a courier that reduces the greenhouse gas by 73.1% per parcel shipped.

He began is career by starting a computer distribution business from the trunk of his car. He grew that business to 2 Billion dollars in sales. During that time, he saw many new technology companies and invested in, mentored and advised over 150 of them. One of the more notable ones was Blackberry where he served on their board for 13 years — since before they went public until 2010.

He was awarded EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Ontario Region in 2019.

Estill has been recognized as a leading entrepreneur and humanitarian by receiving the Order of Canada (2018), Order of Ontario (2018) and an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Guelph.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was studying engineering at the University of Waterloo and wanted to design circuit boards. To do that, I needed a computer. But I got a better deal if I bought 2 of them. So I bought 2 and sold one then someone else wanted one so I bought 2 more, then a printer, then some memory and soon I was buying and selling computers, peripherals and software. We grew that business to over 2 Billion dollars in sales.

I then retired but kept active doing some angel investing, consulting and board work. One of the boards I sat on was Danby Appliances. The CEO resigned so I said “I could run that for a while”. At that time, I realized I liked running a business and Danby was about the right size for me (We sell about 400,000,000 dollars/year). So I decided that would be my next decade gig. Then the ownership group said they wanted me to sell Danby. I said “for how much”. They told me and I said “I will take it” and I bought the company.

While running Danby, I was looking at growth industries Danby could supply. We identified parcel shipping (and unfortunately parcel theft) as a huge growth industry and since Danby made “big boxes”, we designed a smart parcel mailbox — Danby Parcel Guard that would notify the home owner when a parcel arrived. It has an IP camera, 2 way voice and a tamper alarm.

While researching parcels, we dug into the courier industry and saw how inefficient and energy intensive it was. So we invented a new way to move parcels that reduced greenhouse gas by 73.1%. That business spun out of Danby and became ShipperBee.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

There are so many stories (I am old and have been at this a long time).

As we grew our business, I hired my brothers to help — Glen, Mark and Lyle. And my father retired so he also came to help. So I was home for Thanksgiving dinner with the family and we were in expansion mode. We needed more good people to help us grow. And I had had great luck with brothers so I said to my mother (who was in her fifties) “Mom, how can we grow if you don’t give me more siblings”. She never did come through for me. I guess she just was not a team player.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the early years, we shipped a lot of fragile product using styrofoam packing peanuts which were often called popcorn. So we decided to try using real popcorn thinking it was biodegradable and economical. Well that turned out to not protect product well but worse, mice loved it and invaded the warehouse.

The lesson: Sometimes there is a reason why people do the things they do and use the products they use.

And although, not part of the lesson, part of our current philosophy. Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Cheap. And this popcorn experiment would have fit that philosophy so I do not regret making that mistake. Having a failure does not make you a failure.

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

I use most social media platforms but the one I have found most effective is Linkedin. I like it because it is business focused and specifically designed for business networking.

Let’s talk about LinkedIn specifically, now. Can you share 5 ways to leverage LinkedIn to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

I use Linkedin to gain new customers. The customers I sell to most are large retail chains like Best Buy, Home Depot and Costco.

My Linkedin network is like owning my own media and better, with people I choose to be in the network. For example, Best Buy is one of my customers and I would have over 700 Linkedin connections to people who work there.

1 — I use Linkedin to break into new accounts. I simply reach out to connect to anyone who is second level connection to me saying something like “we sell a bit to TSC Stores and would like to sell more. Thought I would connect here” or sometimes “I sell we have 23 shared connections, could we connect here”.

When people accept the connection, I then am second level to all their connections and usually they are connected to people in their company. So gradually over a couple of months, I will end up connected with many people in the target company. As time goes by, I become more selective in who I connect to — limiting my reach outs to VP, Manager etc.

Often when I reach out saying “I would like to sell more to TSC”, the person I reach out to will reply telling me who I need to connect with.

2 — Having the connection though is not enough. You need to keep in touch with them and try to add value to their lives. I do this by sending daily updates.

Linkedin is a respectful way to stay top of mind with your network without spamming them. Those updates that I do are rarely advertorial in nature — rather they are interesting things of value to the reader. So I am trying to add value to their lives — not just sell. But by them seeing updates they remember who we are.

These often start a dialogue with people. Recently, there has been a shortage of freezers. I sent an update unrelated to this — a quote from Mother Teresa. One of the people in my network commented on it. I replied to it and casually mentioned “is the freezer shortage impacting you?”. Sure enough it was and Danby happened to have product so we sold him some freezers — solving his problem and closing a sale for Danby.

3 — Linked in is a great research tool. Good research is often the key to closing business.

In preparing to sell to a prospect, it is good to understand their business. In its simplest form, I simply check to see how many people in the company are on Linkedin. This will give me an idea of how many people they have.

I can also look through those people to see if there are any that I might know.

4 — Linkedin is a great way to find common ground. People like or are more open to people who share common ground.

For example, I reached out recently to a prospect and said “I noticed you went to University of Waterloo like I did”. That simple line was enough that the prospect took the time to reply and that started a conversation.

5 — Linkedin, like all social media is a good way to amplify the impact of other media. For example, when this article is published, I will send a link to the article out on my Linkedin. This increases the reach of the original article.

Recently, Danby donated 500 air purifiers to Toronto District School board. Those purifiers not only have a HEPA filter, they have UV which kills germs, bacteria and viruses. We did this to try to help reduce the spread of Covid.

This donation was highlighted in many local news stories. I shared links to those on Linkedin. One response I got from that was “next time I buy an appliance, I will buy Danby because you are community mined”.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Richard Branson. His humanitarian work — specifically around refugees overlaps with some of the things we have done. I respect that he has used his name for good.

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!

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