1. Jeff, tell us about the slanket
The Slanket was an idea that my brother had back in college in 1999. In 2004 around the holidays we decided to give it a try and manufacture a small number and sell them and see what happened. It took us until January 2006 to launch the website and within 6 weeks we had sold out of what we had made. Next step was to head to China to actually get this product manufactured and brought into the states for sale. From here one trade show in 2007 we made a lot of connections with retailers, QVC, catalogs etc and the next couple years were quite busy. Once our success was seen around the globe a number of knock-off / copycats began showing up in the market. Here we are 7 years later still selling our products around the globe.
2. Searching for your product made me think the slanket was everywhere! I found you at Amazon, QVC, your website, retailers websites, ebay, the list goes on. How do you choose what marketplaces to sell in?
As far as what marketplaces to sell in, over the years we have used a couple difference shopping cart solutions and it really wasn't until setting up with Ultracart that selling on other marketplaces became easy and didn't take a lot of time after initial setup. If we were getting orders from Amazon, ebay, QVC other retails sites and we had to take files of orders from all these sources, then get them into our fulfillment software for shipping it would take a lot of work and time.
There are some companies that we still drop ship for that doesn't come into Ultracart and we have our own small system supporting those efforts but at the end of the day if Ultracart has the integration setup to easily manage and sell on a marketplace like Amazon then we will try it out and see how sales are. For example we did set up to sell on Buy.com this past holiday season and spent about 6 months in that market. In that time we didn't sell many products and in the end felt their commission scheme was a bit much so we just shut if off. Had Ultracart not been integrated with Buy.com we would never have tried it out.
3. I've seen you guys on tv, I don't know that a lot of online retailers engage in that space, can you tell us how that went?
Well we are an online retailer however our product line is a bit small.
When I think online retailer I think of a website selling a lot of different type of products. However as a manufacturer of a product we still feel we need a web presence and be able to allow customers to purchase directly at our website. That being said we have had a great relationship with QVC since around Sept 2007 and we have sold a lot of product on all the QVCs around the world. The USA, UK, Germany, Italy (they started just 2 years ago and our product was the number 1 selling product when they launch QVC italy), and Japan. Between all of these TV appearances we have sold more product than we have sold via our website so you can see that TV and the right product can be very successful.
4. You are now selling slankets for kids, how has the experience of going into that market been?
We started out with the Original Slanket which is large for a kid so it just made sense to make a smaller version. We continue to call it the Slanket Kids however in all reality we have sold a lot of this version to adults that maybe be on the smaller height end of the spectrum. So it is really a good product for anyone under 5 feet tall. We also expanded to make a Travel version that comes with a fleece bag to carry it with and then the Siamese Slanket which is gigantic and has sleeves for 2 people. We just go to keep trying different versions for different people and see what works and what may not work too well.
5. You've got some great competition in the slanket industry, of course they all have their own names... how do you differentiate your product?
Our product is "The Original Blanket with Sleeves" and quality has always been number one for us. There are a lot of other names for it out on the market but in the end they are made from lighter material are smaller in size and just won't last long once you begin to wash them. Also there are a number of others out there whose material just doesn't feel good on your skin. So the main differences are the quality and softness of the material we use and the size which are the key features that all our customers tell us they like and appreciate.
RJ - As an aside here, I spent some time researching the slanket and its competitors for this article. My findings in researching the slanket in comparisons to its competitors from the customer feedback on blogs, comparison sites, etc shows that they highly (read HIGHLY!) favor the slanket in terms of quality and satisfaction after the sale. Well done Jeff!
6. What's on the strategic plan for this year for slanket?
We have made a couple versions for the QVCs that has foot and hand pockets and also is a much softer material, so for the future we are going to keep selling what we currently have in inventory but will expand our website to sell this version that we have been selling to QVC. Everyone in the other countries love them and when we originally sold them on QVC USA a number of years ago they sold out very quickly. Also just looking at what other products we may be able to add to the website, whether we manufacture them or find someone elses leisure / laying around the house type products for relaxing.
7. What would you say is the part of UltraCart that you find most useful?
Some of the most useful features and why I got on board with Ultracart is the integration with fulfillment companies. Before Ultracart with other shopping carts we had to export orders out and reformat the data to then have in entered into a fulfillment system for shipping. It was a lot of work. So all the integrations Ultracart has for fulfillment and the marketplaces like Amazon, Skymall etc are what we find the most useful for getting our products out there and saving the time to manage all that order processing.
8. If you were mentoring a new UltraCart Merchant, what would you focus them on to replicate the kind of success you've enjoyed?
Using as many of the integrations as they can to free up their time to work on online marketing and other areas of the business. Once your inventory is set up and tracking and integrations set up it sort of just runs itself.