The Cat Crib is a cat hammock that attaches to a chair or end table that provides a comfy place for your cat to sleep. We actually stumbled on the product idea but made a conscious decision to bring the product to market.
The idea came from our cat Vladimir. Vladimir scratched a hole in the lining of our mattress box spring and would often climb into the space to lounge. We figured that since he liked the protected and covered nature of this area that a similar style of bed would be attractive to him. We ended up making Vladimir the first "Cat Crib" just to provide a place for him to sleep other than under our bed.
Up to this point, the "Cat Crib" was just something to make our cat happy - it wasn't pursued as a product. After realizing that our cat was really enjoying the bed we decided to do some market research on the pet industry. Turns out there are 90+ million cats in the USA alone and the pet industry sells $50+ billion per year. After seeing those numbers it made sense to give bring the Cat Crib a shot.
Before we worried about sourcing product we wanted to make sure it would actually sell. After the initial market research we had to do some research with public feedback. We had a local sewing company make us 20 samples and had a web developer make a one page website that would capture interested visitors' e-mails. We also had a photo shoot with Vladimir (good photos go a long way in spreading your message across the internet). Then we reached out to established bloggers and asked if they would be interested in conducting product giveaways to their readers. Bloggers are generally open to these deals, and we were able to spread the word to an existing group of our target audience. After the bloggers ran their giveaways we received enough press and e-mail sign ups that allowed us take the plunge and source the product.
We ended up going overseas for our product. We did talk to local suppliers but the minimums and prices were too high for our first order (even with the initial positive feedback we still didn't want to risk too much money with the first order). So I cashed in some frequent flyer miles (all of my expenses are done on credit cards that earn frequent flyer miles) and flew over to China to attend the Canton Fair. Total trip cost ~$500 which was about 20% of what I had already spent on all the samples and website development. I took along a couple of the original samples and talked with a handful of manufacturers. After a bunch of back and forth e-mails and samples we placed our first order.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
We made our first sales from the e-mail list we generated while conducting the market research. These were people who voluntarily signed up saying they were interested in the Cat Crib once it launched. Once we opened up our site for sales we had a great opening month from all the pent up demand in the list.
Our sales channels are direct consumer sales on online, and wholesale sales to online and physical stores. Our main growth right now is rolling the product out to physical stores.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
The backend of the business is really based on Shopify. It integrates everything wonderfully. Payment processing, inventory management, customer management, and fulfillment - it rolls everything together.
We use Amazon for order fulfillment. We've been happy with the cost and service so far.
What are your top recommendations for new ecommerce entrepreneurs?
Test the product out on your target market before you purchase any inventory and focus on how you are going to get the product message to your target market. The product is one small part of the total project. The biggest problem to solve is how you are going to make people aware that your product exists.