Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, our names are Ethan and Jacob Sweet and we started Panther RV Products. Today we sell a variety of campervan parts to outdoor enthusiasts and small businesses outfitting cargo vans. We started the business ten years ago, our father Richard Sweet was already running his own business at the time and provided the financing and guidance necessary for us to start Panther RV Products as a sister company to his business.
We currently generate an average monthly revenue of $400K. After 10 years of business, our company direction has changed from parts for motorhomes, to the harder to find parts for campervans. The choices that led to where we are have provided less competition and made it easier for us to grow.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The idea for Panther RV Products came from Richard Sweet. He was running a small RV repair shop and decided to start selling some RV parts on eBay. After we both graduated from High School, we joined his business and took over online sales. We had a small background in web design and together we made a website to sell our products. With Richard's knowledge of the parts and our knowledge of eCommerce, we slowly built our online presence.
We eventually started importing hard-to-find RV products from Europe due to customer demand. This set us apart from the pack and allowed us to have enough revenue from our website to discontinue business on eBay.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Over the past 10 years, we have made adjustments to our website to create an experience that will keep our customers coming back. We took customers’ feedback about the products we sell and the design of our website to make the changes necessary.
After reading 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall, we shifted our advertising direction to customers who know what they want, and this allowed us to spend less time trying to convert customers who weren’t sure what they wanted.
Originally we primarily sold complete RV appliances, over time we have slowly moved into selling repair parts. We saw that we had a harder time competing against the larger companies when selling the whole unit over the smaller parts.
Continuing to separate ourselves from the competition with different products and available technical information has been our key to success.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since we were already operating an RV repair shop that paid the bills. We did not have a lot of overhead besides purchasing the parts and waiting for them to sell. We got a small loan from Chase Bank for $80,000 to boost our inventory and give us buying power.
It took us roughly six years of running Panther RV Products as a side business to our father’s company before it started to generate more revenue than his repair shop. This is when he decided to shut down the repair shop and become fully invested in Panther RV Products.
After the three of us started working full-time on the online parts store, we were able to grow at a faster rate than expected and move into a larger building and bring on more employees.
Even with our growth, we were denied loans from a handful of banks, since they said our company was too young and not reliable. Luckily, we were able to get a loan from PayPal, to bring on more products. We now re-up our PayPal loan every six months after it’s paid off, and we are offered more each time.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, we have been able to grow by adapting every couple of years to our customers’ needs and our competition. We’ve had to make difficult decisions to cut brands that helped grow our business since they weren’t performing as well as the newer products.
We have brought customers back to us by offering technical knowledge that our competitors don’t offer and creating bundles that make it easier on our customers while purchasing.
The best option we’ve seen for gaining new customers is working on our search engine optimization and putting $7,000 a month into Google Adwords. One year we ended up putting up to $30,000 a month into Google Adwords, but we found out spending more money on ads does not result in more sales, causing us to reduce our ads to the sweet spot of $7,000.
We tried Amazon temporarily but we ended up discontinuing business on Amazon after a couple of instances where Amazon did not assist us in difficulties that we felt were a result of their platform. We decided after paying the fees, competing with low prices, and dealing with their policies, there was no value in continuing on their platform.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, we are running a profitable business. We operate at roughly 29% gross margins, with the cost of goods being roughly $315k/mo. Our total advertising cost is rough $7k/mo. We received an average revenue return of $87k/mo from Google Ads. We have an average of 86k customers visiting our website every month with a 2.2% conversion rate. We have 26k email subscribers.
All of our sales are through our website now. We used to use eBay and temporarily used Amazon, but we have generated enough traffic to our website to not use other platforms to sell our products. This has saved us in referral fees for those websites.
We currently have plans to start manufacturing our own products for campervan customers. This is due to the lack of other manufactures making campervan-specific parts.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Over the past 10 years, we have learned that putting more money into Google Ads, does not equal more revenue.
Use a reputable merchant services company for credit card processing. We had to deal with one company threatening to sue us since we stepped away from the contract when they started charging more than what was on the contract. We now use Chase Bank, since they have provided consistent fees.
Your website should be mobile-friendly. We made a major change on the website to make it mobile friendly 4 years ago, and it almost doubled our sales in one year.
Market to people who know what they want. After reading 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall, we shifted our advertising direction to customers who know what they want, and this allowed us to spend less time trying to convert customers who weren’t sure what they wanted.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The Everything Store by Brad Stone, influenced us to rethink the value of the parts we sell. Convincing us to move into smaller parts for ease of shipping and warehousing.
80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall, influenced us to look for the market that nobody is catering to, which led us to European products and Campervan parts.
Youtube: Valuetainment - this is a great channel to watch for business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
You want a partner that will be just as devoted as you from start to finish. You also want a partner that balances you out. Our company would not exist without my brothers and my innovation and Richards experience.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.