Sramana Mitra: What you’re talking about is often technically not so easy to do. There are lots of opportunities to push the envelope on really good visualization. Where do you see opportunities for new entrepreneurs to do interesting work bringing together new technologies in the space?
Brenda Boehler: I do believe that it comes down to balancing new technology with a genuine uniqueness and a genuine uniqueness around the product. I’d say this to my team. To compete on price isn’t really a great model, because there will always be someone that can beat you on price.
Where you should really compete is in unique products and the experience that you have with that customer. Look at everything that is going on in the mattress space now. Look at someone like Casper. They have a very good product. It is the experience that they have delivered to their customer along with a pretty good quality product that really differentiates thems. That’s exactly what we are doing in our own brand development. How you deliver it to that customer online needs to continually evolve.
If I could give any consult to entrepreneurs that are starting out, there’s no one silver bullet. There’s a whole bunch of core basic things and then every single day, ask yourself, “Are we being innovative?” The moment you pause, there’s going to be 10 other highly entrepreneurial people that will figure it out.
Sramana Mitra: We’ve been covering e-commerce for a long time. Given what Amazon is doing and how aggressive they are, how do you compete as a retailer with Amazon? One of the ways to compete is with unique products. These are products that people cannot get on Amazon. Especially for the audience that we cater to very largely, this is vital. You can’t really come up with a sustainable concept today unless you have some sort of a product advantage.
Brenda Boehler: We are seeing some additional technologies that we have not adopted yet and that we find interesting. A real good one is when you’re living in the non-digital world and you have the capability of taking a picture of a product that you’re inspired by. That visual search in the real world has real application to our business. It’s not a brand new technology but there are ways that we believe we can build upon what’s out there. We see that as an opportunity as well.
Sramana Mitra: Visual sales is going to be very big. Vendors like you would have to adopt. No question.
Brenda Boehler: Exactly.
Sramana Mitra: How far along are you? When did you start this company?
Brenda Boehler: Bellacor was founded 17 years ago. We’re celebrating our 17th year. I’m an outside CEO. I joined the company a little over three years ago. Bellacor came out of the lighting showroom space. 17 years ago, lighting was strictly done through brick-and-mortar dealers. There was no online business at all. They had deep roots in the lighting space. We were one of the first to go online with lighting. It was a proof of concept with lighting manufacturers.
I tend to call that our first chapter of our company’s history. We had rapid growth until the recession in 2008. The company paused at that time and regrouped. We really had to focus on staying profitable and getting back to growth. That’s the second chapter of this company’s history. It was one of not investing a lot in new technology and not investing in building a competitive advantage.
The CFO ran the business until 2014 where we’ve always had a strong Board of Directors. They reached out to me to join the company with a focus on building back a competitive advantage in the space. We’re at a point where we have more people in our finance department than we do in our digital marketing. You just look at it through a different lens. What we’ve done over the last three years is invest in a number of various brands and site refresh. We have had strong results. We’re about a $40 million e-commerce company.
In the last three years, we’ve had double-digit growth. We’re a profitable business. We are not VC-backed. We are self-funded. That’s the unique path. Many times, you could have the VC path and you scale to profitability. Our path is where we continue to invest in all the right things. We’re this scrappy Minnesota company that’s keeping up with the big dogs.
Sramana Mitra: We do a tremendous amount of bootstrapped stories. We’re thrilled to hear your story. Thank you for your time.