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Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Brand: Big Barker CEO Eric Shannon (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, Jun 16th 2017

Sramana Mitra: What kind of trajectory was that company on? You were doing e-commerce?

Eric Shannon: Yes, exactly. It was strictly dog supplies and things that you couldn’t find at the pet store.

Sramana Mitra: For example, what were you selling?

Eric Shannon: The same categories that you would find at a pet store. We were sourcing products from very small mom-and-pop boutique manufacturers. It was at the higher-end of the price spectrum. It was primarily search engine driven. We didn’t know what we were doing. We had never run companies before. We accidentally had this hit on our hands.

At its peak, eight of us were working at the company. In the highest revenue year, revenue was over $2 million. The problem was we put all of our eggs in the search engine basket. Starting in 2011, there was the Google Panda update. That had a pretty significant impact on our sales in the wrong direction.

Then in 2012, there was the Google Penguin update, which hit us again. At that point, our revenue took a huge hit. We had to lay off most people. I just saw the writing on the wall that a small SEO-driven e-commerce type of operation didn’t have a lot of life left. That wasn’t sustainable anymore.

I realized that to really build a business, building a product and a brand is the better way to go. You have more control over your distribution. You have entire control over the story you can tell. You’re not just reselling somebody else’s stuff. That’s when I decided to shift into manufacturing and start Big Barker in 2012.

Sramana Mitra: When you decided to build your own product, what did you decide to build and why?

Eric Shannon: One of our biggest categories was dog beds. We ranked number on Google for the phrase “dog beds” for five years. We sold beds from almost all of the higher ends manufacturers out there as a reseller. I knew what was the problem. These beds, even the ones that were for $200 or more, were not built to properly serve the needs of a big dog or their owner. The major problem was that customers would buy these beds at least once a year.

After a dog lays on this bed for a certain amount of time, it would get a crater in the middle or the bed would fall apart. It does that because dog beds are typically made with very cheap Chinese materials and they’re not designed to hold the weight of a 100-pound Great Dane. That was what was missing in the market.

Sramana Mitra: Did you get this made in China? What was the strategy for building the product?

Eric Shannon: No, not made in China. One thing I want to point out is that I didn’t expect Big Barker to become as big as it did. Originally, Big Barker was going to be a line of product catered towards large dogs. I started with beds because I thought that was the most immediate problem that I thought we could solve.

I was going to start with the bed and then get that up to a certain level. Then expand to another category and then another category. After five years, I would have expected to have 6 to 10 products lines but the beds just took off. We realized how much potential there was. I didn’t realize how deep the need was when I first started.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Brand: Big Barker CEO Eric Shannon
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