This is a follow up story for The Christmas Tree Hugger. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi, my name is Ryan Kenny and I’m the founder of a product called The Christmas Tree Hugger. It’s a patented item I invented several years ago to cover up the ugly green fuzzy base pole at the bottom of most artificial Christmas trees. Essentially it’s a faux brown bark wrap that makes the bottom of artificial trees look like real tree bark.
Our “Tree Huggers” is a pretty simple way to make any fake Christmas tree look better, and because more and more people are switching to artificial trees each year, it’s managed to bring in a few hundred thousand dollars of the last few seasons.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Ever sInce being on Shark Tank, we’ve managed to grow our sales around 50% each holiday season. Last year was no exception and we had a wonderful run. It was our best season yet, and we had all sales fulfilled by Amazon.com. We’ve finally managed to get this business in a place that allows us to focus less on fulfilling orders and focus more on increasing profits while making sure our customers are as happy. Could we be pushing higher volumes? Yes, but we decided to focus more on our profitability, customer satisfaction, and logistical ease.
If you can set up an easy way to give your audience a reason to share their email address with you, your options to pivot and grow your business will increase greatly in the future.
It’s been all about focus recently. We closed any channels or sales methods that we're eating too much profit and spent more time perfecting the sales channels that work best for us. At first, it was scary to walk away from some partners we’d been using to sell our item over the last few years, but it’s really allowed us to be more involved with customers which have been huge for us as a brand.
Aside from streamlining our channels and focusing more on customer relations, we’ve been working on our intellectual property. We’ve had a few patents for our product pending, but now they have all been officially issued. One Design Patent and one Utility Patent. Essentially, we now own the approach of making the ugly fuzzy pole at the bottom of artificial Christmas trees look like real tree bark.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
In the years past, we’ve experimented with selling on many different platforms in various ways. Things like online marketplaces, big box stores, small businesses, trade shows, public relations marketing, etc. But last year we decided to focus 100% on what was working best. For us that was Amazon.com. All existing online channels last year led to Amazon FBA, and boy was it worth it. Not only did we increase our sales by 50%, but the operation requires much less effort and man-hours since Amazon did all the fulfillment.
There was one big lesson to be learned though. Having all your eggs in one basket does come with risks. After experiencing a technical error, Amazon was unable to fulfill our orders for almost a week during our main selling season. We had to scramble to gather up spare inventory and fulfill all orders manually until the issue was resolved. That was not fun, so this year we’ll have a better plan in place in case something like that happens again.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
This year we’ll once again be focusing all our sales to Amazon.com. But we’ll also be selling in other countries too. In Christmas 2020, we plan to open our sales in Canada, Europe, and Australia. We’ve also decided to revamp our website to make it a sales lead generator. Basically, it will be positioned as a harder-hitting email collector, so we can leverage email campaigns to push more offers and info to potential buyers.
Additionally, our Amazon store and packaging will be getting a refresh too. New images, helpful video content, updated product packaging, etc. We’ve done more than enough testing of different markets over the years. Now it’s time to stick to our most profitable sales channel and improve it in as many ways as possible.
In the next five years, I’d like to have this product performing as well in other countries as it does in the USA market. I'm assuming it will take a few years to get there, but that would be great since some much of the world celebrates Christmas. We have one other plan for the future too, but that’s top-secret for now lol. Sorry.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Yes! Donald Miller’s Building A Story Brand. This book will give you the tools to grow any business no matter how big or small with tactics that are so simple and easy to overlook, it will blow your mind. Honestly, it’s one of the top 3 most helpful and easy to implement business growth books I’ve ever read.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Make sure you have a sales funnel on your website that allows you to capture email addresses! Basically, if you can set up an easy way to give your audience a reason to share their email address with you, your options to pivot and grow your business will increase greatly in the future. We’ve not done the best job of this in past years, but moving forward after attending a few seminars, we’ll be implementing a more strategic sales funnel approach.
This will be especially important during a time of recession so we’ll be practicing what we preach this year now that COVID-19 has turned the world on its head. Most people won’t be able to afford mistakes this year, so do your research, make a good simple plan, and nail it. Oh and maybe have an emergency backup plan too, just in case something goes sideways.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I suppose if we keep growing we may need to hire some help for marketing or social media management. But last season we were very successful in putting this item on autopilot using Amazon FBA. It’s really made this niche little holiday product a breeze to sell. Now all our channels (5 at the moment) all funnel through Amazon where we store most of our stock now. If we keep expanding the growth of a virtual assistant or marketing manager on a seasonal basis may be appealing.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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