Are there no limits to the areas in which Brad Wilson, the founder of the phenomenally successful deals website BradsDeals.com, knows how to save money? After an interviewer jokingly(?) asks if he has a cheaper alternative to stuffing quarters into a street parking meter outside his corporate office, Wilson ponders the matter and comes up with a certain debit card he uses for parking meters that rounds up to the next dollar. If he spends $1.25, he gets .75 cents back. “It’s like paying 50 cents for parking,” he says proudly.
Brad Wilson is all about saving money, and BradsDeals.com has been spreading the frugality gospel since before the economic collapse made it, for some, necessary, rather than a niche pursuit. His new book, Do More, Spend Less: The New Secrets of Living the Good Life for Less articulates his frugal philosophy and shares his innovative secrets to saving money.
The seeds for the site were planted in 2001 while Wilson was still in college. “The school gave you a shopping list for this kind of laptop and this kind of calculator, and they nudged you toward the school store,” he recalled. “I was a broke college kid at the time and the only laptop they offered was an $1,800 model by IBM, with which the school had a special contract. Everything else (in the store) was retail priced. The school store wasn’t trying to be Costco.”
This was Wilson’s nascent “ah-ha” moment, one that is at the heart of most entrepreneurial inspirations: “There has to be a better way to do this,” he thought.
He created a rudimentary web page on which he posted better deals on products offered at the school store and hyped it on flyers that, in what he calls “an act of civil disobedience,” he handed to students outside the school store. “Two, five, 10 people would log on to the page every day, and I thought, ‘This is super cool,’” Wilson said. “It was enough of an impetus to continue doing that. Whenever I found a good deal, I’d throw it up (on the page). At some point the light went on that everyone (could benefit from this), so why not build a proper website and take a go at that?’
Hence was born dealsdujour.com, a name that Wilson maintained for three years. “I thought it was clever, but no one could spell it or say it, much less tell people about it,” he said. “The service (I was providing) was Brad’s deals, which is more personal, so I thought I would be literal about it and changed the name.” The website became a full-time endeavor.
Starting with just two part-time employees, Wilson now employs 50, who seek out the best deals from thousands of stores and keep track on price changes, coupon code malfunctions, and product inventory shortages. From generating $1 million in revenue in 2005, the website earned $13 million last year.
In the beginning, one of Wilson’s challenges was changing people’s mindsets about pursuing the best deals and using coupons to save money. “You had this big boom,” he recalled. “Everything was easy, everything went up, and you didn’t need to worry about saving money, much less use coupons. Coupons weren’t cool in the age of conspicuous consumption,”
“We had a lot of dissuading to do to show people that couponing doesn’t have to be this big process of going through the newspaper, clipping coupons, keeping track of deals, and going to the store with a big booklet,” he continued. “It only takes a minute or two. One of the great stats at Brad Deals is that on average, if you spend 88 seconds (on the site), you save 24 dollars. You can’t argue with that.”
The economic collapse and subsequent recession changed all that, and suddenly people were visiting BradsDeals.com with a new frugal mindset. “The feedback from users—the questions and the things in which they were interested in buying changed pretty dramatically. It was more about needs than about wants. Then we started to see this much broader mainstream interest.
It was no longer just this niche of frugality. Everyone realized (that finding the best deals) was applicable to them and could make a material difference in their family budget. We saw so many more people start to be interested who really just weren’t paying attention before.”
Wilson describes BradsDeals as basically a news organization, an online newspaper that synthesizes and filters the best deals from the more than 3,000 stores it covers.” We break through the noise and clutter out there,” he said. “You can unsubscribe to the stores you shopped at and who are emailing you. We’ll tell you about the one day out of 20 they are offering something interesting. That’s our job. The other 19 days they are wasting your time to the extent that you are probably tuning them out so you will miss that one day they are doing something interesting.”
BradsDeals.com, he said, is about more than saving money. It’s about saving time as well. “It’s about how, in one three-minute visit, you can make (informed) consumer decisions and get on with the rest of your life.”
Social media has been a further boon to the site. BradsDeals.com is approaching one million “likes” on Facebook. A separate service for the Black Friday holiday shopping season has reached 800,000 likes. Wilson estimates that in six months, the site will get more visits from mobile devices than not.
As the economy slowly, sputteringly recovers, does Wilson expect people to revert to former bad spending habits? As a high profile consumer advocate, who has shared his smart shopping secrets in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and on the Today show, among other outlets, Wilson thinks frugality is the new normal.
His biggest pet peeve, he said, are those who don’t even bother with trying to save money, who are content to drive to the mall and pay full price.
But more, he said, are changing the way they make purchasing decisions. BradsDeals.com, he said, “is all about leveling the playing field to help us win as consumers.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.