My name is Eric Moore and I founded BullhideBelts in 2010 after not being able to find quality leather belts in local stores. I’m a web designer by trade and partnered with a friend that made full-grain quality leather belts.
We started our website with only three products in 2010 and have expanded to hundreds of different products today. Our flagship product is our ¼” max thickness bullhide leather belt. This is a heavy duty belt like you would buy back in the 1800s before everything went to being made in China. This product helped us grow our custom base and expand into making wallets, exotics, rifle slings, holsters, cell holsters, fly swatters, and more.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was raised in the business and have always had a mind for it. When I was a kid I helped my grandfather at local sport card shows selling sports memorabilia. That grew into selling beanie babies in the 1990s. I watched my grandfather make deals with local suppliers on bulk wholesale deals and turn around and sell them for profit. With this in mind, I started my own mini business in middle school.
In middle school kids just wanted to make the time go by faster in class. I went to my local wholesale store and bought candy in bulk to sell to my friends before class. I purchased packs of gum for 25 cents and flipped them for $1 each. This gave me my first taste of making money and I ended up making over a thousand dollars in profit by the end of the school year. Not bad for a kid.
I started working at Wendy’s fast food restaurant in 1999 and that gave me more education on how a large company ran and dealt with customers in person. I worked there for six years through high school and into college. In senior year I met someone that would change my life. My high school history teacher Steve Neid owned an e-commerce fat free pizza company(http://www.pizzafree.com) and had asked me to help make pizzas since I had experience in fast food. By agreeing I was thrown into a startup company that would give me the education I used to run my own company.
After a few years of making pizzas, I was running the company as vice president. I also took over running the customer service, accounting, and most importantly running the website. I had never designed or made a website before so this was something I was excited to learn. I educated myself in web design and soon was creating my own graphics and website to sell the pizzas nationwide. This passion for web design allowed me the skills needed to start building websites for others including starting bullhidebelts.com to sell leather belts. Without these skills, I would have never met my partner now and a successful company.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first step we took in starting the business was to make sure we were selling something everyone used and needed. More than this, it should be quality to make it stand out from competitors. I partnered with a leather maker who had been making leather harnesses for horses for many years. He was doing belts on the side for his customers who were looking for “old school” quality that you couldn’t buy in stores. I got my hands on one of his masterpieces and knew immediately it was a winning product that I could market.
We started small with three leather belts in black, brown, and tan. They included a stainless buckle so those with nickel allergies could still wear it. With the product created we did not have much startup money invested since we were making them custom to order. Not having to deal with inventory costs helped me invest my savings into Google pay-per-click marketing. I started slowly with a $20 a day budget, every time I received a new order I would put the profits back into Google ads and flip it. By year's end, we were paying upwards of $200 a day in advertising and had over $1000 in daily orders. To date we have spend well over one million dollars for Google marketing.
Although not making profits in the short term, the main purpose was to invest in the company and put every waking hour into it. I would work 15-17 hour days sometimes and made sure the site was running well and customers received their questions answered quickly. I was lucky to have my wife Mary to watch the kids and run the household while I put so many hours into the business.
By year three our sales exploded and we had to hire employees to help produce them. I still answer every email myself to ensure the customers are happy and most importantly it helps me fix issues we may not have know existed. I listen to customers on what products they would like to see and use this expand our product line to sell exotics such as shark and python as well as wallets and other style belts.
Describe the process of launching the business.
My first website was very rough but served its purpose. I was not a great web designer at the time and still learning how to code and create graphics. I had used 3dcart as my hosting company at launch which also gives you templates and a backend to upload your products. It was very user-friendly so you didn’t need a lot of coding experience to create your site. I remember designing a rough site in one weekend and we launched it on Monday. Little did I know that was the easy part, the hard part is to get people to go to your site. Many people think I will just create a site and become rich. Getting people to go to the site is the hard and expensive part.
It was a couple of weeks before we received our first customer. We received most of our customers at that time through Google Adwords where you pay a fee for every click. We would advertise for the search terms “USA-made belts” and “quality handcrafted belts” and every time someone clicked
the ad, we would pay 20 cents or so to Google. Back in 2010 things were a lot cheaper to advertise online. Now the same clicks run $0.50 - $1.00 on average.
I never took out any loans to start the company. Having the know-how to create the website myself saved a ton of money. If you sell online this is a major skill you should learn. Being able to make edits yourself on the fly without relying on someone is extremely helpful. My partner already had leather in stock so the only upfront costs to me were website hosting and advertising which I covered with my savings.
The biggest lesson I learned was to legally cover your assets and trademarks. We had some issues with our logo. We did not copyright the design so had others coping us. If a product is popular you will always have copycats. Make sure you invest in trademarking your logo, copyright any website graphics, and product images. If you can patent your product, do it. The “clap on” light inventor didn’t and people ripped him off. Set yourself apart… If you make something everyone else has, you will likely fail. It has to be unique and better than others. For us, making a belt that would last decades set us apart and people would talk about it. Word of mouth advertising is very important in business. If you take care of your customers, answer emails quickly, and deliver a great product you can not fail.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
At launch, we mainly focused on Google marketing. Since then we have expanded and tried TV, radio, social media, and print.
For us as an eCommerce company, it's all about clicking on an ad and getting traffic to the site. TV, print, and radio were a major waste of money for us. The percentage of people who would stop what they were doing to visit our website was low. I would recommend putting your advertising dollars into search engines and online ads that can be clicked. If you owned a brick-and-mortar business then local TV and radio would help but for eCommerce, it's not very effective.
Recently we have been advertising more on Facebook. They have a great platform that will let you remarket to your customers. Using pixels, if someone visits your site you can remarket to them on their Facebook news feed. This has helped try to acquire new customers as well as past customers or those who may be on the fence about ordering. A major drawback to social media is its more expensive per click, as well as the customer, is not in the mindset of ordering a product. They go on social media for fun and to see what their friends are up to. Compare this to Google where someone was actively searching for a product to purchase. Your costs per acquisition will be better through search engines. We try to keep our CPA (post paid per purchase) around $20-25. If you only have a $20 margin on your product and you spend this or more to acquire the customer, you are losing in the short run. You hope to get repeat business from them or have them tell a friend if you have a low margin on your items.
In 2019 we hired an Amazon team to put most of our products on Amazon. This was a huge undertaking but has helped us grow our business. Not only does this help sell more products, but it also helps us promote our brand to new customers who may not have noticed us before. There are downsides to selling on Amazon including lots of fees, inventory costs, and marketing but if done right, can be profitable. We find it takes over a year to start gaining traction on their site. You have to have a ton of positive reviews for customers to start ordering from you. Without our expert Amazon team knowing the ins and outs of selling on Amazon, it would have been a much slower process.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
This year we were named one of INC magazine's fastest-growing privately held companies of 2020. We have continued to grow year over year and invest in new machines and processes to make and ship our products to customers as quickly as possible. We have gone from a “custom made to order” model of making and shipping within 1-2 weeks to an in-stock and ready to ship within a day or two model. This has helped us grow and triple sales the last few years. The goal is to compete in a world of “I want it now”. We found our customers were not willing to wait two weeks for their order to ship so we invested millions in inventory to be able to compete with Amazon and others offering quicker shipping options. We have also partnered with FedEx Express to be able to offer 2-3 day shipping on most items so customers receive their orders very quick.
We plan to expand our product line to include other leather products as well as expand our reach into stores and internationally.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I wish I would have started selling on Amazon sooner. Make sure you buy all the domain names (.com’s) that are close to your name or brand identity from the start. Trademark and invest in your brand identity to protect yourself.
Don’t pay yourself a salary and invest in your own company. Do it as a side project and maybe one day it will be your job and career.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
A few years ago we switched our website hosting to Shopify which is one of the largest providers for online storefronts. They have a lot of tools and apps that were not available to us before including a more user-friendly website system of ordering. The site has to be very user-friendly and well organized so customers can find what they are looking for quickly. Since we have a large collection of products, we sort them by width, size, color, finish, and more so customers can easily sort and order.
Shopify tools we love to use are rewind to backup our site, taxjar to keep track of sales taxes to pay out to states (this is a nightmare by the way), codisto which takes your products and exports them into eBay to sell, constant contact which helps us with our email marketing.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice is to find out what you are good at and make it a business. If you are good at making pies, make a bunch and sell them at trade shows to see customer feedback. Before you invest your life savings into a product or idea, test it out. Do a sample test and give your product away free or cheap at a craft show or tradeshow to get user feedback and suggestions. Try to make your product the best it can be. You will quickly find out if it will sell or not. Know the costs of making the product and what it would sell for in the market. You will likely need to double your money to cover the cost of overhead and advertising. Talk to people who have done it and see what they recommend.
Don’t pay yourself a salary and invest in your own company. Do it as a side project and maybe one day it will be your job and career.
Where can we go to learn more?
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