Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
In January, brothers Todd and Jeff Bishop crunched some numbers as they drove home to Dartmouth, N.S., from Florida.
The pair had attended the massive PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, and their two-year-old leather goods company Dormie Workshop had taken orders for nearly 2,000 customized head covers for golf clubs.
This exceeded their sales from the whole of 2015, and the conference was only three days long.
"All these orders came in, and they're all custom," Todd says. "We'd been preparing for this for a while, and hoped that it was going to go this way, and sure enough, the hype [of being at the PGA show] was true," Todd says.
The brothers are both teaching professionals in Nova Scotia and have been serial entrepreneurs since graduating with degrees in English (Todd) and business (Jeff) from Dalhousie University and Bishop's University in Quebec, respectively.
They had found success selling an alignment aid, a stick that helps golfers line up with their desired target while practicing. But they saw another niche – fine, handmade leather head covers.
"We went to local tailors and seamstresses. We were finding people off Kijjii and asking if they could sew a prototype together for us," Jeff says.
They attended a trade show in Halifax and constructed a makeshift display. "Sure enough, we got a couple of orders," Todd says.
Two years later, the Bishop brothers are having trouble keeping up with demand, and it's not because they're doing more marketing. Word-of-mouth and social media have played a big role in their success.
"We had these orders coming in from people all over the world," explains Todd. "We were wondering where these guys were finding us, and they said they saw us on Instagram."
Meanwhile, Dormie Workshop head covers are being used by Canada's top two male professional golfers, Graham DeLaet and David Hearn. The brothers are also attempting to provide the official head covers for Canada's Olympic golf team, of which Mr. DeLaet and Mr. Hearn will likely be on.
Yet the brothers are experiencing the growing pains of a small company that has come to the attention of a large market. The flood of orders has brought challenges in invoicing, accounting, quality control and production.
The brothers also don't want to lose their original vision of the business: "a cool company that does small-batch stuff," according to Todd.
"We've always been working on our own for the most part, and at a scale we can manage ourselves," explains Jeff. "This has a lot of moving parts and we're just learning on the fly."
The Challenge: How can Dormie Workshop cope with their new-found success and keep up with demand?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
David Soberman, professor of marketing and the Canadian National Chair of Strategic Marketing at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
Dormie Workshop may need to add an extra person to help manage or fulfill orders, but you always need to prioritize. Maintain the focus on what makes those headcovers special. I'm a golfer and I think they look really cool.
At some point they might have to open a factory, but they are still very much in boutique mode. Even if they add two or three more people to sew headcovers, they're still going to retain that small character.
Conversely, they could reach a point where they have to decide whether they are going to continue to make the product themselves or subcontract it to a factory that is likely in a larger city, versus the Maritimes, which obviously isn't as industrialized. Even then, they may start searching for Asian sources of supply because they might be in a position where costs are getting high.
Toby Maurice, co-founder of the reusable whiteboard notebook firm Wipebook, Ottawa
Wipebook started as a classroom project stemming from an entrepreneurial course at the University of Ottawa. After launching a crowdfunding campaign, Wipebook was subsequently hit with about 10,000 orders, and $500,000 in revenue, literally overnight.
Sounds like a godsend right? Well, maybe. Our company was anticipating and therefore ready to fulfill orders for only 100 potential customers. Getting bombarded with this many orders naturally had its pitfalls, the obvious ones being manufacturing, shipping, support and logistics.
But honestly, the biggest speed bump for us was finding succinct answers to the following: Who bought the Wipebook? Why did they make the initial purchase? The answers to these questions are essential to move forward with a business after the storm settles. The brothers need to employ strategies and processes early on to figure out who their real customers are.
Dan Keogh, managing director, Belding Golf Bag Co., Toronto
These guys are super-creative, which is their competitive advantage and their value-add. They are the perfect direct-to-consumer product right now.
I would spend all my money on building the absolute greatest product configurator – an online tool that customers can use to order a customized head cover. Give the consumer the opportunity to engage and develop his or her own product. Do as much online business as possible. They should prioritize the direct-to-consumer business as a first option and then wholesale as complementary to it.
They've got an unbelievable opportunity to do a whole bunch of business in Japan and [South] Korea, too. Once you go digital and direct-to-consumer, you've got a global opportunity. You don't need to invest in these small micro-regions.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Prioritize your uniqueness
Maintain the focus on what makes those headcovers special.
Research your customer
Learn more about their customer to best market to them and acquire repeat business
Go big online
Look into expanding business globally, online, to drive more direct-to-consumer business.
Facing a challenge? If your company could use expert help, please contact us at email@example.com.
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Interviews have been edited and condensed.