Ashlee LeSueur was tired of seeing photogenic, perfect people selling everyday products on Instagram.
It was 2016, and LeSueur, her sister Taylor Cannon, and her cousin Linley Hutchinson were shopping online for the family. Through adulthood and motherhood, the three had become a gift-buying trio, throwing ideas around in a group chat for babies, husbands and relatives; they’d long been using Instagram to find household products and stylish clothing.
But posts were increasingly beginning to feel like ads, LeSueur says. Families appeared primped, their children’s hair “perfectly quaffed.” At some point, the social media platform had become less about the practical efficiency of a can opener and more about the manicured hand holding it.
“I’m never going to have a perfectly curated tablescape ever, let alone on a Tuesday,” LeSueur says. “We started to ask ourselves, ‘What if there was an account that was more about the product and less about the people?’ As a consumer, we agreed we’d love that.”
LeSueur, Cannon and Hutchinson were stay-at-home mothers in three different time zones. For a year, messages bounced between California, New York and Utah, rehashing the idea of an honest product guide and what it could mean for shoppers who understood the difficulty of finding a tank top that won’t shrink (or, for that matter, isn’t disguised as a crop top). Finally, in November 2017, Cannon called with a mafia-esque question: “Are you in, or are you out?”
Needless to say, they were all in. In the five years since LeSueur, Cannon and Hutchinson launched The Buy Guide, they’ve amassed more than 165,000 followers on Instagram. LeSueur says about 60,000 people a day head to their website to browse books, home necessities and categorized purchases for themselves and others.
Every recommendation on The Buy Guide has been worn, read or used in their own homes. What buyers see are the winners: the coats that kept them warm, the oven mitts that protected their hands and the oils that soothed Cannon and Hutchinson’s chapped lips in the winter. They don’t believe in sharing the “losers,” LeSueur says.
Their team has grown from three to five, with a part-time and full-time employee designing Instagram posts, narrating stories, testing products and more.
The purpose of The Buy Guide is simple, LeSueur says.
“We get excited about products that solve problems,” she adds. “Those are the products that we’re always on the hunt for. If we can save people the stress, time and money from going through 200 choices and having a great option the first time, we’ve made people’s lives easier.”
Given its popularity, accounts similar to The Buy Guide have sprouted up in the years since its creation. LeSueur believes her family was one of the first to do it, but she says it’s not a competition. After all, what you get from The Buy Guide is still unique (just look at the legend of the Stanley 40oz Adventure Quencher).
Also, unlike a lot of influencer accounts, she estimates they turn down 99% of sponsorships. If a brand tries to pay them to do an ad with a script or share an item they’ve never actually used, they reject it. Sometimes “it’s hard to say no to the money,” LeSueur admits. But their authenticity — and being able to keep each other in check — comes first.
“It’s important for us — and we think it’s the reason we’ve been successful — to share things we genuinely love while staying organic in our process,” she adds. “As we figure out purchases for our own lives, we share them on Instagram.”