Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey everyone! I’m Jim Rowland and I am the founder of Umbrellas And Beyond. I started the company in 2006 trying to take advantage of this new internet marketing approach to making money from the comfort of our home. My goal from the start was to find a product we could sell online that would bless the lives of those buying it and make it a fast and simple process to purchase.
We began by offering quality blank or custom printed umbrellas drop-shipped from 4 manufacturers. Today we offer a full line of custom printed branded products from over 1,000 manufacturers from coffee mugs to hats and pens to coolers. JDK helps guide our clients to the best product that will drive new business and increase loyalty with customers and employees.
Our favorite products are still umbrellas, but we also specialize in apparel, drinkware, and writing instruments. We started the company as a part-time business and are honored to have served thousands of clients and stayed profitable for over 14 years now!
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In the spring of 2006, my 16-year-old son Michael and I learned about “eCommerce” (called online marketing at the time) at a half-day seminar in a local hotel where they served us a free breakfast. Pretty sure Michael came for breakfast, but that seminar (and breakfast) opened our eyes to the potential of being in business for ourselves and provided a path to accomplish it.
On July 31 of that same year, JDK & Associates, LLC was formed.
“J” = Jim (me!)
“D” = Diann (my wife)
“K” = Kids (Michael, Lena, Shelly, Brandon)
“Associates” = Our partners and clients (you!!)
Though “D” and “K” aren’t actively involved with the business at this time, everything “J” does is meant to provide peace and comfort to these 5 special souls (plus 3 more now)!! The whole purpose of this venture was to find an avenue I would enjoy to take care of my family.
I was a professional golfer for several years and wanted to play on the PGA Tour. Unfortunately, my talent was not good enough to compete and earn a living, but it was what introduced me to our niche to start the company.
Because of my love for golf and focused on finding a new product to market, I headed out to the PGA Trade Show in Orlando. With NO concept of what that new niche product would be. As I walked across the walkway from the parking lot into the convention center, I instantly knew I had found what I was looking for! On this walkway, I could look over the massive floor of vendors and get an aerial view of the show and some products.
Almost immediately, as I gazed out into the vast arena, my eyes caught sight of this huge booth with beautiful, colorful rain umbrellas!. I had found our new niche and 5 months later UmbrellasAndBeyond.com was born! I knew everyone needed an umbrella and found out that this was a 17 billion dollar a year industry! Meeting some great partners who would drop ship the umbrellas, I was off and running.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My mission was not to create the products but to create a compelling website to market the products being manufactured and drop-shipped by other people. I spent hundreds of hours listening to talks, watching videos, and reading material on how to create an eCommerce store. Our initial cost to launch our site was $2,700, but we then purchased other programs to help us that probably totaled $15,000 out of our pockets. We have paid back the initial debt, but have consistently poured money from our profits back into software and learning how to do things better and more efficiently.
We took course after course and paid numerous people way too much money to help us drive traffic. Our organic searches have been the most successful tool through the years and we continue to learn better ways to invest in other traffic sources.
Even though my son and I had little to no experience creating a website, this was actually the easiest part of the business. The more complicated area and the part that eats up most of my time today is marketing our company and websites. Now that we offer a total package of branded products and not just umbrellas, our client base has opened up to almost any business looking to get recognized. The majority of our day is finding and influencing some of those businesses to allow us the opportunity to serve them. Servicing our client’s needs is still our number one focus and is followed closely by Implementing a consistent marketing plan
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our initial investments were all made with a credit card and we finagled credit card offers with 0% interest rates many times so the cost of money was pretty cheap. We have since established a line of credit and dip into that when needed. Most all transactions from the beginning, both income and expense, have been made with credit cards. We are generally paid at the time of the sale so our cash flow has always been pretty good.
Launching our business was a slow drawn-out process because we were doing it as a part-time adventure. There were so many things to learn in building the website and wanting it to be perfect before launching. To get us started, we lived with the philosophy that “Good is good enough!”, otherwise we would have never launched. We finally launched about 5 months after we met the umbrella manufacturers.
The tougher part of getting started was getting customers to buy something without it costing us more money to find them than what we made on the actual purchase. We were pretty fortunate to have had customers buying on our site from that very first week and consistently buying products every week and now daily.
3 important lessons I learned early in my business are:
- The importance of cash flow! Without it, you DIE! - Just a fact of business and much easier said than done!
- He who owns the list owns the money. - Matt Bacak was one of my first online mentors.
- As noted above, “good is good enough”. You can’t make everything perfect and you must launch things even when you are not 100% ready. For perfectionists, this is very difficult, but I strongly recommend you implement that philosophy quickly!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since we were strictly an online business, driving traffic meant everything! We took course after course and paid numerous people way too much money to help us drive traffic. Our organic searches have been the most successful tool through the years and we continue to learn better ways to invest in other traffic sources.
I do not recommend going at it alone. If you want to succeed in business, you need partners, associates, employees, and friends to bounce ideas off of and share the workload. There are just too many details needed to follow up on to succeed on your own.
We were very diligent in writing our content on the site per Google requirements to build our organic search results and continue to use this strategy with each new page and product we add. Content is king, but how to implement it the best way is still a mystery! Thousands of companies will tell you they know the secret, but it generally costs more to hire most of them than the ROI, so be careful.
We currently use organic SEO, PPC, email marketing, Facebook, and Instagram along with cold calls and referrals to create a business. There are many companies we compete with selling branded products, so we try to set ourselves apart with our knowledge and experience. This is not always easy to portray in marketing materials as everyone claims this advantage, but when selling commodities, it is what truly sets us apart.
Our commitment to serving each client as if they are family is what makes us successful. We try to treat everyone with respect and look out for their needs above ours, even when it costs us money out of our pockets to do so. In our line of work, mistakes happen and things don’t get printed or shipped correctly every time. When we treat each other like humans instead of business transactions, we can sleep comfortably each night and be excited to serve again tomorrow.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We just moved our business from FL to UT and are treating it as if we are starting over. Our online sales are still strong, but we are focused now on building up our promotional business and finding ways to get new business in UT while maintaining our clients in FL and throughout the country. Our profits are up, but with the pandemic, our volume is way down. We will continue our marketing efforts as noted above and build a family of clients we can serve for many years to come.
We have partnered with a powerful company, HALO Branded Solutions and now run all our promotional orders through them. They are financially strong and help us vet each supplier so the mistakes are fewer and the quality guaranteed. They will also help us market our business and support any financial risks. Once we establish a few major accounts here in UT, we will look at hiring other sales reps to grow our company even more.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Probably the biggest mistake I made was hiring suppliers to do things I should have done myself. It always cost me money and I rarely saw a return on my investment. It was extremely difficult to learn and implement all that was needed to succeed and I often chose the easier path in hiring others to do what I should have learned myself. I am still paying the price for this and believe the solution is to learn the things that produce the revenue and write down procedures so you will always remember them.
The biggest challenge I had was running this business part-time. I would work diligently for a month or two, then get caught up with my full-time job, family, and church responsibilities and the business would get placed on the back burner. When I got back to it, I would need many hours, weeks, and sometimes months to re-learn what I had forgotten and get the momentum back to where I was before getting distracted. This pattern has repeated itself for the life of my business. 2020 is the first time I have been working this business full-time and things have gotten way easier to implement now.
I do not recommend going at it alone. If you want to succeed in business, you need partners, associates, employees, and friends to bounce ideas off of and share the workload. There are just too many details needed to follow up on to succeed on your own. Passion and desire are not enough, though needed attributes, you need people around you who you can trust and work together with if you want to really grow big.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I love Shopifyfor our eCommerce store! I used 3 or 4 other platforms and it was always a struggle. Shopify just works! Support has been great to learn things and is rarely needed for issues because there just aren’t any! The Shopify apps from their app store are great resources to help with different needs as they come up. Some of my favorites are SEO Manager, Privy, Order Limits (MinMaxify), Infinite Options by ShopPad and how you can link directly to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google.
Google Analytics, Adwords, and search tools are the most beneficial tools needed to build an online presence and it is a must to link them properly to your site.
I mentioned the importance of partners and one of my best partners has been a sourcing company called Upwork. They provide people to accomplish tasks too difficult or time-consuming for you and I have found a few great resources to get many tasks completed. I also found great support from a website called HireMyMom.com. This is where I hired my first customer service rep who had more qualifications to run my company than I did!
There is no other success that compensates for failure in the home. A successful business and a failing marriage is no success in my eyes!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have read many books and listened to many podcasts and youtube videos to get me where I am today. I do not remember all of them, but here are a few I would strongly recommend:
- How To Win Friends And Influence People Dale Carnegie
- Positively Outrageous Service T. Scott Gross
- Start With Why Simon Sinek
- New Sales Simplified Mike Weinberg
- Measure What Matters John Doer
- The 5 Lessons A Millionaire Taught Me, Richard Paul Evans
- The Bible God
- The Book of Mormon God
- The Success Intersection Pat Williams
- Sell Like Crazy Sabri Suby
Matt Bacak was my first online marketing mentor and taught me the value of giving in business. He provided so much free content I felt obligated to give him money! haha
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Start with the why! Why are you going to build this business? For you, your family, or for others? In Pat Williams’ book mentioned above, he talks about that intersection where your talent meets your passion. This is where work disappears and you just love what you do. If you can find your why, and have the passion, then if you don’t have enough talent, you should be able to develop any talents needed to succeed.
Building a business is not easy, so buckle up and get ready for a bumpy road. Make sure what you are offering is wanted by enough buyers before you invest all your time and money. Just because you like something does not mean it will sell.
Watch your cash flow and make sure you have enough cash to get through many hard times. If you don’t have cash, you will likely fail. Build good habits and do the hard things to get to the promised land. Never give up on your dreams and don’t make things more important than people. There is no other success that compensates for failure in the home. A successful business and a failing marriage is no success in my eyes!
Where can we go to learn more?
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