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How John Ruhlin Created a Movement and Became “The Gifting Guy”

by Zach Obront

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John Ruhlin needed a way to pay for med school. So, like many college students, he got a job selling knives for Cutco.

However, unlike other college students, John saw an opportunity. Instead of selling the knives one-at-a-time, door-to-door, like the rest of the team, he met with business leaders and worked with them to send hundreds of knives out as a way of showing gratitude to their employees, their vendors, and their customers.

This worked, and he flourished. What started out as John’s clever idea quickly became Cutco’s largest distributor in the history of the company.

The more he worked in corporate gifting, the more he realized how poorly people were doing it

John intuitively understood that the best gifts were the ones that made the recipient happiest, not the ones that shamelessly promoted the giver’s brand or felt like an obligation.

“Gifting matters because relationships matter. There’s something about tangible and personal gifts that really makes the recipient feel how important they are to you. And, if it’s something that lasts, they’re reminded of that caring over and over. Everyone wants to be cared about.”

Looking at the companies who buy employees a pen set after 50 years of dedicated service, and knew he had to do something to help.

His clients thrived giving gift after gift that blew the recipient away, but when people asked John for advice on giving gifts like he did, he didn’t know where to point them. Their mindset was fundamentally wrong.

He took it upon himself to help business people give better gifts

Over the years, John gave 1-on-1 advice to hundreds of business people. He saw the impact that his advice had on the way the businesses thought about their partners, but it was exhausting.

More importantly, it still didn’t allow his ideas to reach the scale he wanted. Across the country, business people were still giving gifts with the total wrong mindset, and John knew he could never change that one person at a time.

He saw that writing a book was the way to spread his message. It would allow anyone with $10 to spend to learn directly from John.

Even after he was retired, the ideas that he was sharing one person at a time would be able to live on and help people. Finally, he’d be able to scale his wisdom.

After failed attempts to write the book, John decided to hire Book In A Box to help make it a reality

At first, John wanted to write a book the traditional way. But without structure or guidance, he struggled to get his ideas represented on the page.

“I would write one paragraph or get one story down, or worse, just stare at a blank screen. It was beyond frustrating.”

John is not a bad writer. In fact, his writing is very good. But the daunting task of organizing 60,000 words was overwhelming. He had no confidence in his ability to organize a book, and he had no sounding board that he trusted to discuss ideas with, and so he floundered.

“Truthfully, I didn’t even know if I had enough good stuff to put together a book. It seems crazy now, but without someone to work with, I wasn’t sure.”

Finally, after an introduction from Cameron Herold, John decided to hire Book In A Box to help him. He was surrounded by a professional publishing team to work on his ideas with, and six months later, Giftology was born.

The book elevated John’s status as “the gifting guy” and helped him reach new audiences

Everyone who knew John before the book knew him as the guy to turn to for all things gifting, but no one else knew that about him. He was known in his circle, but not beyond it.

After the book came out, all that changed. He was able to land major podcasts (like Lewis Howes), major media (like Yahoo! Finance) and major speaking gigs (like Vistage Global).

His book led to huge opportunities to spread his message, and he was able to share the ideas in the book not just with his immediate network, but with the wider world.

The book generated an immediate ROI from speaking and book sales

John did not write the book primarily for business reasons, but it definitely helped his business. He doubled his speaking fees from $7,500 to $15,000, and was able to secure over 15 paid gigs to discuss the ideas in the book within the first year.

Because the Book In A Box model takes no royalties on book sales, the copies that were quickly selling from all this attention also netted John substantial revenue.

“Within three months, we’d recouped the cost of the Book In A Box process, plus all the costs of PR and marketing we did, just in book sales and speaking fees. That doesn’t even include the boost to our business from new clients who came through the book.”

More importantly, the increased attention led to new clients for Ruhlin Group

With all this attention, Ruhlin Group also prospered. Clients are finding John and approaching him for help with gifting with no intentional marketing effort.

“People who we are distantly connected to on LinkedIn or Facebook, or those who have read the book, come to us and become clients. It’s amazing to have this flow of interest happening passively because of the work we did last year.”

Not only are more prospects emerging, but they are higher quality too.

“Clients are taking us more seriously. They know we are the experts in the space.”

The book has become the ultimate tool for word of mouth. Previously, John would speak to business owners and their minds would be blown by his ideas. But, after the conversation, his name would rarely come up. Now that he has a book, readers have a way to talk about him and put him in front of other people who could benefit from his ideas.

“My favorite thing about having a book is that it gives readers who are excited about the ideas a tool to continue spreading the word.”

Giftology has become the movement that John always hoped it would be

Bigger than the immediate ROI and the business growth, though, is the impact the book is having.

“I’ve had people reach out from Vietnam, telling me about how their marriage has improved because of the book. It’s incredible to see the impact something like this can have.”

Organizations who resonate with John’s message are taking it upon themselves to reach out and help promote the ideas.

Recently, Scott Harrison from Charity:Water was given the book and ended up reaching out to John. He wants to buy copies for his whole team to help them build the right mindset around generosity, and wants to partner based on the book.

Hundreds of other organizations have reached out to John to let him know how the book impacted them. From paying for weekly apartment cleans for employees, to sending custom surfboards to customers who love surfing, John is watching the world become a kinder, more giving place thanks to his influence.

“You start doing the ripple effect of this… I kind of shudder to think about what the impact is.”



Zach Obront

by Zach Obront

Co-Founder and Director of Marketing