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Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Brand: Big Barker CEO Eric Shannon (Part 6)

Posted on Tuesday, Jun 20th 2017

Sramana Mitra: From a consumer’s point of view, it’s confusing. How do you convey that there’s something that is worth paying a premium for?

Eric Shannon: We just have a standard reply. We’re not going to reference any competitor directly here. All we can say is do your research, check their warranty, do they have any background in the pet industry? It’s the whole private-label thing, which I think is a scummy business to be in because you’re not really adding any value to the world whatsoever. This is going to be one of Amazon’s biggest problems going forward. You have 45 people all selling the same rubber spatula just with different brand names. We just ignore it. I don’t think there’s any of them that has a significant amount of traction.

Sramana Mitra: What scale of a company is this?

Eric Shannon: Closer to $5 million than $15 million.

Sramana Mitra: What else have you done in building this company that is strategically interesting and worth discussing?

Eric Shannon: Heading towards the end of 2015, we were still a 3 person internal team, and our emphasis was entirely on digital marketing. That’s because my personal experience is all online, I’ve got no offline experience, and I’m not much of a sales guy or a networker.

At the end of 2015, we made a conscious decision to become an active member of the greater dog loving community. We hired two new team members who would focus on building relationships, both online and offline, with “pillars” of the community.

Our first focus was on serving the police K9 dogs around the country. No dogs work harder than police dogs. They’re extremely active, and they’re usually breeds that are especially prone to joint conditions. Police dogs NEED our beds. So we decided to give away as many beds as we could afford to K9 units in our area.

To date, we’ve donated beds to the entire K9 units of Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Harrisburg, and Allentown. We’ve also donated a sizable number of beds to individual police dogs around the country. These donation events have all generated media coverage, but more importantly, they help us build roots in the community. It’s just good karma.

Our second focus was helping rescues. We’ve always donated beds to rescues who approached us, looking for beds to use at their fundraisers. But we decided to do something more substantial in 2016. We partnered with over 100 rescues around the country (the most famous one being Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary) to create a week long event called #bedweek, in which we donated $63.17 for every Big Barker bed sold on our website that week.

The total amount raised for rescues and shelters was a bit over $34,000. This was a significant expense for us, we pretty much donated all profits made on our website sales that week. However, the brand exposure was valuable, and the hectic nature and positive outcome of the event was a very positive influence on our team. Serving the police K9 units and rescues will continue to be a focus in 2017 and beyond.

Sramana Mitra: Great! Thank you for your time.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Brand: Big Barker CEO Eric Shannon
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