How We Navigated The Pandemic & Had Our Best Year Ever
This is a follow up story for Shed Defeder . If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
I’m Tyson Walters, the founder and CEO of Shed Defender. The company officially launched in October 2016, but it was a passion project for many years before that.
Our flagship product is the Shed Defender Original Onesie which was featured on Season 10 of ABC’s Shark Tank and we focused on building our brand around that for a few years.
But over the past two years, we’ve expanded our product line immensely to include two new versions of the onesie, shampoos, leashes and we have soft chews coming out this year as well.
Here’s a picture of our newest product the Recovery Onesie which is designed to replace the medical cone or e-collar.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Despite manufacturing delays and other hiccups due to Covid during 2020, we actually had our best year yet.
We were not only able to stay stocked and continue the momentum with our flagship product, but we were able to build our product line. Instead of focusing on expanding into retail which was our original goal in 2020, we quickly pivoted when we saw the state of the brick and mortar landscape and hired a new social media and advertising agency so that we could focus on building up our ecommerce presence.
By pivoting so quickly, we were able to keep up with the curve balls that 2020 threw at us. We launched our SMS marketing channel, changed the way we do social ads and are just starting to experiment with other platforms such as Tik Tok.
We also spent time updating the checkout process on our website and updating the product pages which has in turn increased our conversion rate by about 30% on the website. As part of our ecommerce focus, we launched a Vine reviews program on Amazon for our new products the Bungee Leash and the Sport Onesie and spent time with our ads on that platform given the re-focus on ecommerce and B2C sales.
We are also launching our new soft chew supplements in a couple weeks which is a natural extension of our product line.
Overall, in 2020, we managed to grow our sales by about 20 percent compared to 2019.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
This past year was filled with curve balls, but despite the ups and downs and surprises, I can happily say that we were able to grow sales during the pandemic.
You have to spend money to make money! Get good content, photos, video, graphics and make sure your website (especially mobile version) is looking good. Your website is key to explaining your product and making that purchase.
On a macro level, it’s no secret that the pet industry is rapidly growing – it reached over $102 billion in sales this last year – so we and thankful to be part the industry. But over the past few years and especially as a result of 2020, I have learned to expect the unexpected and be prepared to pivot as needed which is what has helped us stay on track.
We thought that in 2020, we would be diving into brick and mortar, but instead as we saw stores shut down and the retail market take a huge hit, we shifted and grounded our feet in the e-commerce sector and it has paid off.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Our main goal is to keep expanding our product line, create repeat customers and continue to build out our ecommerce footprint. We spent years creating a high-quality onesie and leash – making sure we are offering our customers top materials that are durable and create the best experience for both the dog and the owner. Now we are bringing that same care and attention to detail to our new product lines including the Shampoos and Soft Chews. It’s important to us that we focus our energy on ensuring that every ingredient is high-quality and beneficial for the dog. Additionally, would like to expand in the veterinary space with our Recovery Onesie as we’ve seen so many customers use the onesie for medical reasons over the years. We’ve donated hundreds of onesie to shelters and animal rescue charities and they use it for all sorts of reasons with their dogs – from mange, to surgical recovery to hotspots. The Recovery Onesie is a new design and easy to use, so we see a big use case for it in the veterinary world.
As part of building out our ecommerce footprint we are expanding our Amazon presence into Canada and the EU and Australia this year. This is something we’ve been ideating around for several years, but now that our US presence on Amazon is built up, it’s time to test the waters in new markets.
Our main goal is to develop products that are innovative, high in quality and offer unique benefits for dogs AND their owners. At some point, we would potentially sell to become part of a larger company, but for now we are enjoying being entrepreneurs and making products that our dogs love!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that mistakes will be made! But you can minimize the damage of the mistakes by making sure you prep for the worst (while hoping for the best) and are learning from other people’s mistakes. Talking to as many entrepreneurs as possible is the best resource. Whether they’re in the same industry or do something entirely different, you can always learn from their experiences. Surround yourself with people who are smarter or more experienced than you is the best way to start.
The other thing is to make sure you know your finances like the back of your hand. That means knowing the exact cost of your product and every expense that goes into running the business, and yes that includes paying yourself. Get quickbooks, get an inventory system and nail down your expenses and make sure your reporting the right numbers from day one. Always plan for mistakes and have a cash reserve on hand so that you don’t get into any serious trouble.
The other key feature is branding/marketing/advertising. Without getting your product in front of people then its not going to sell. Do some research, ask around and get teamed up with an agency that knows what its doing and can help you with paid search (google ads), social media ads (insta, facebook, etc) and amazon ads. You have to spend money to make money! Get good content, photos, video, graphics and make sure your website (especially mobile version) is looking good. Your website is key to explaining your product and making that purchase. It needs to be professional, easy to use, and allows them to make a purchase with as little effort as possible. Lastly, don’t expect to see huge returns right away, it takes time to get a good marketing plan rolling and the landscape is always changing. Keep adapting and evolving and find a good partner to help you navigate your way.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, most fellow entrepreneurs are happy and eager to help people who are just starting out or struggling. Sharing our experiences helps us remember how difficult it was and the progress we have made. There is always room to learn more and grow; every year I look back and think how inexperienced and naïve I was, and I can how far I have come. You will struggle constantly, it will get harder and harder but get into the mindset of failure is not an option. Put in the work, do the research, ask the questions and be strive for success.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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.
- 4,818 founder case studies
- Access to our founder directory
- Live events, courses and recordings
- 8,628 business ideas
- $1M in software savings