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Where did I leave off? 

Oh yes, we were wandering Bourbon Street, trying to find some decent souvenirs to take home.  My companion for this trip, my friend Kim, was looking for a voodoo doll for her husband.  Not a voodoo doll that she would use on her husband, but one for him as a gift.

The next day was show day, so we got a good night’s sleep (after climbing into the ridiculously tall beds.  Seriously, there was a stepstool so you could reach the top of the mattress) and were ready to head over to the convention center the next day.

You should know that I’m writing this two months after the show ended, so my exact memories might be a little hazy.  Okay, a lot hazy.  But hopefully I can give you the general idea of what happened and the big benefits we gained and the things we learned.

Our first day on the floor was made eventful by way of an unexpected surprise:  during one of the morning workshops, when asked what advances individuals had made in their business, a funeral director stood up and told the audience that the single best purchase he’d made in recent years was buying cot covers from Final Embrace and that the company was at the show this year.

During the first two hours of the show, we fielded questions and orders from at least twenty funeral directors who had attended the workshop and were open to our sales pitch. 

So we send a big “thank you!” to the funeral director who spoke so highly of us and our product.

The rest of our day went well, boosted by the immediate interest generated by the workshop.  As the day winded down, I noted that we were already a third of the way toward our goal.  I usually set a goal before each show, based upon dollars spent to exhibit and previous year totals.  The three NFDA Expos prior looked like this:

2007 Las Vegas:  40 cover goal, 42 covers sold
2008 Orlando :  100 covers goal, 153 covers sold
2009 Boston:  100 covers goal, 103 covers sold

So I set another 100 cover goal.  My trip to New Orleans was not as expensive as Boston, so setting a similar goal was less about cost and more about expectations.  On day one, we sold more than 33 covers, so we were well on the way.

One of my biggest concerns about going to our 4th NFDA show in a row was that we would eventually run out of funeral directors who had never seen us and would have to rely on reorders and sales of new products to keep up with our goals for the show.

We finally began a full-on push to sell our dressing table skirts at this show, so it was good to see that many people were interested in what new items we had and were willing to order.

I am convinced that, had we not offered dressing table skirts this year, we would have been far off our goal and probably not sold more than 50 covers.

The second day was even more successful, so that we only need five orders on the last day to reach the goal.

15 items sold on the last day helped us break our goal and allowed us to finish with 110 items for the three day event.  Of those, more than 30 were dressing table skirts.  A number of those skirt systems went to funeral directors who had ordered from us before and who would not have visited our booth if we hadn’t let them know that we had something new to offer.

Here’s a final breakdown of our costs:

ITEM COST
Booth  $   2,500
Lodging  $     900
Food  $     300
Fuel  $     200
Misc.  $     100
 TOTAL:  $   4,000

Normally, I would budget $50 per cover/skirt system for this kind of marketing, meaning we needed to sell 80 covers/skirt systems to pay for the show.  Fortunately, selling 30 more items meant that our per item cost to exhibit was less than $37.

When I look back over this show, I think I will remember it as the show that re-emphasized our need to develop other products.  It will also be the show when people started to see that we are “here to stay,” and it’s the show where I finally started to feel like we know what we’re doing at conventions.

Course, next year I’ll probably change it all up.  Who knows.  Chicago 2011 is a long way off!

In early March, we loaded up the convention Prius (I traded the convention wagon for one with better gas mileage after I figured out that everything would fit in the new car) and headed to Atlanta for a chance to sell our quilted cot covers and a new item, our dressing table skirts, to the gathered funeral directors.

We left around 11:00 am on Sunday, February 28th, with a plan to hit I-75 by noon.  As my traveling companions know, my favorite fast food places are Chipotle and Zaxby’s.  As luck would have it, there’s a new Zaxby’s at I-75 near Ocala, Florida, so we pulled in and split a chicken finger plate (they make awesome chicken).

On the road again by 12:30, we spun up the Prius (0-60 in less than 15 seconds!) and headed toward the bright lights of Atlanta.

We dropped our bags in the hotel room by 6:00 pm – the Prius takes a while to get to cruising speed but it doesn’t mind keeping up with traffic once it gets there – and decided on dinner.  If you remember my last few trips through Atlanta, you’ll know that my favorite restaurant in the state of Georgia is Pappasito’s Cantina (2009 Georgia Expo Day 2 and Results).

My fellow roadtripper, Robin Richter, who went with me to the 2007 NFDA Convention in Vegas (Robin Richter Shares “My Experience at the NFDA Convention”), had never been to Pappasito’s, which made it all the more enjoyable for me to share the great place with her.  She called her husband afterward to tell him that if they got close to Atlanta again, they had better stop at Pappasito’s!

The expo wasn’t scheduled to start until Monday at Noon, so I was happy to get into town a day early and rest before the big two-day event.  I prefer to have everything set up the day before, but the Georgia Railway Depot is easy to access and I new that setup would only take about 1.5 hours.  We got finished early and had a delicious breakfast at the Waffle House at Underground Atlanta.

I’ll share more info soon about how many covers we sold and what our expenses looked like.  In the meantime, here’s a picture of our booth:

We’ve shown this cover off at conventions, but haven’t gotten much response.  Still, I like to look of it and plan to have it available at the next conventions we attend.  What do you think of it?  Too specific?

The quilted cot cover business that started in my one-car garage in 2003 has seen some pretty impressive growth in the past.  During the first few years of our business, sales tripled annually.  Then, as the business began to mature and we gained a foothold in the industry, our growth “mellowed” to a still-impressive 50% more each year.

2008 looked like a plateau, with the year ending with 10% more sales than the previous year.  And while it was a good omen, I was still sad to see the days of 50% increases end.

After a rocky start to 2009, where year-to-date sales in the first six months were off by as much as 30% from the previous year, we began rebounding in August.  Steady gains in September and October – helped along by the 2009 NFDA Convention & Expo – prepared us for an absolutely crazy November and December.

How good was the upswing in business?  We ended 2009 with more than 10% greater sales than 2008! 

That’s right, in a down year, when most businesses are struggling to keep the doors open, we added 10% more sales.

So how did we do it?

First, we are fastidious (I love that word) about tracking our sales numbers and comparing our current figures with previous results.  On any given day, I check how we are doing compared with the same month in past years as well as how we are doing compared to the past month. 

While January and February were off the 2008 numbers, March saw an increase, which might have bolstered my spirits, if a healthy portion of that hadn’t been due to the Georgia Expo we attended.  I am careful to track how much of our business comes from conventions, wholesale customers and the website, so I knew that while our convention business was bringing in new sales, our other avenues were falling off.

April and May were not any better, but by that time we’d already begun a recovery plan.

First, I reached out to our wholesale customers, the ones who resell our product on their websites, through their sales reps and in their catalogs.  We offered an even-better wholesale discount during the summer, hoping to jumpstart our wholesale customers’ sales machinery.  I also began seeking out new resellers to add to our list.

In June, we signed up three new regional supply companies to resell our product.  Their exuberance about the product helped spark sales and the rebound began in earnest in August.

We also worked harder on the website, fixing some bugs in the search engine optimization and adding new designs to our offerings.  The new covers, while not huge sellers so far, have bolstered our line, filling in a few gaps left by discontinued fabrics that we can no longer get from our suppliers.

In September, we added “morgue cart covers” to our website, in hopes of capturing more of the hospital market.  Many hospitals use a cart with a metal-tubed framework to cover the body.  This has a fitted fabric cover over the top, giving the cart the appearance of an empty draped table.  Interestingly, the companies that sell the carts do a lot of advertising on the Internet about their great tables, but they never tell you how to buy a replacement when the one you have starts to look like crap.

We’re using our FluidBlocker nylon fabric to create lightweight covers that meet both OSHA and infection control requirements.  So far, we’ve sold several dozen of them are we’re looking for ways to get the word out to hospitals around the country.

The 2009 NFDA Expo exposed us to a number of new customers, with 113 covers sold during the convention.  Since then, we’ve been riding a wave that the convention created, with many new customers calling months later to buy “that great cover we saw at the convention.”

Like most companies, we spent a lot of 2009 cutting costs, re-evaluating our core expenses and rethinking strategy.  Because of intelligent decisions, a reluctance to shout “the sky is falling!” and an industry that believes in our product, we came out of 2009 better than we started.

How about you?  Did you take time during 2009 to differentiate yourself from your competitor?  Did you rethink your basic plan and search for new markets for your compassionate brand of funeral care?  Did you buckle down and cut some unnecessary spending?

If you’re still looking for something to improve your firm’s appearance and set you apart from your competition, why not consider one of our beautiful quilted cot covers?  They’re affordable, amazingly versatile (and protective, thanks to our great lining) and guaranteed to add comfort to any removal.

Visit our product site at www.cotcovers.com.

Starting with covers sold at the 2009 NFDA Convention in Boston, all of our product will be made with a recycled quilt batting.  Until now, we’ve been using a batting made from polyester that had not been recyled.  To be fair, that was the only batting we had available.

But now, we can get our hands on Wellspring batting, which is spun out of the plastic that makes up 2-liter soda bottles.

Basically, they get a shipment of these from a recycler:

They melt it down, spin the plastic on a batting machine and produce this:

And it’s a recycled product!  Which means that instead of those soda bottles going into a landfill, they’re going into the cot covers we make.

The batting costs about 25% more than the old version, but we think it’s worth it to bring you a better product that respects our resources and reduces waste that would otherwise go to the dump.  But you won’t see your prices go up, since the batting is a small portion of the overall materials costs for our covers.

You know what’s even better?  This batting is actually softer than the old stuff and washes better too!

Sometimes, the picture says it all.  Check out the 3-D cremation urns offered by Cremation Solutions.

By the way, I found this on my favorite blog, BoingBoing.net.

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Thomas:

For my initial reaction, please see the post, Eternal Space: a Debacle?, on my blog.

 
I’m having trouble getting more details from folks at Eternal Space.  To be fair, my advisory role with them was limited to phone conversations by teleconference and a few in-person discussions at trade shows.
 
Still, I thought I was reasonably well-connected with them and I wish I could get one of them to call me back.  That’s not to say that I haven’t had some correspondence with my contacts.  It just means none of it has revealed more than “we closed the company.”
 
I am still a fan of the concept, as I think that the push toward online environments means that people are looking for a place to memorialize loved ones in a virtual environment. 
 
Unfortunately, concept without skillful execution is the real problem here.
 
Remember, Thomas, that I signed a non-disclosure agreement with EternalSpace, so I won’t share with you the detailed private conversations we had, but I do want to share, in a generic way, the public actions which EternalSpace took that contributed to their current situation.
 
1.  They spent big $$$ to launch a product that didn’t exist yet.  The worst way to introduce yourself to this industry is to tell everyone how great your product is and then not have an actual product to show them.  If our company attended the NFDA show and told everyone how great our covers were and then told them we hadn’t actually finished making any of them yet, I’d return with zero sales and a dimished reputation.  ES would have been better served by plastering huge “Coming Soon” signs on a half-constructed NFDA booth.  As it is, they showed a snazzy video of their concept in a 20×40 booth with expensive white carpeting.  When convinced funeral directors said “let me start selling Eternal Space!” the ES guys had to tell them that the launch wasn’t going to be for several months.
 
2.  They created ads that didn’t reflect their unique selling point.  Don’t get me started on how much full-page ads cost (yes, I know you publish for a living, so I’ll tread lightly), but how effective are dollars spent on generic ads?  The last ad I saw showed an old man in a beekeepers outfit with a quote saying something like “I want my kids to know how interesting their grandfather was.”  Take off the ES logo at the lower right and it could be the ad for any number of other funeral industry companies.  Batesville’s logo might sugggest the ad sells customizable caskets, Messenger’s might signal the release of a new register book theme.  Respectance.com’s logo would look at home also.
 
3.  They overestimated the interest of the industry.  They thought they were “revolutionary.”  Truth is, funeral directors appreciated the pretty booth presentation, but couldn’t figure out how to make good money from the product.  They expected the industry to embrace their offering and built a business plan to bolster this misconception.  Had they realized they were selling a niche product, at best, they would have been better prepared, mentally and financially, for the difficulties they faced.
 
4.  They didn’t respect their audience.  This one’s the reason that everyone who works a trade show for me always dresses conservatively, like a funeral director.  Selling to an audience means first understanding the audience and trying to fit in with them.  A funeral director spends every day in a suit and showing respect to them means sharing that experience.  In my workshop, I wear tennis shoes or sandals (if I wear shoes – if I’m sewing I wear socks so I have more foot pedal control).  But on a trade show floor I want my customers to imagine our product, a removal cot cover, being used by a professional, which means I need to be dressed as one.  The Euro look that my friends at EternalSpace tried to use at the 2008 NFDA show – long, scraggly hair, stubble, shirt unbuttoned halfway – may have looked ready for a swanky nightclub, but didn’t fit in at a decidedly conservative venue like a funeral trade show.
 
5.   They quit too soon.  If they were truly committed to this idea and felt they were onto something, they needed to give their product more than a year to gain acceptance.  Our best sales (at trade shows) always come the second year, as funeral directors who enjoyed seeing the “new product” the first year become purchasers of the new product the second year.  In effect, many directors want to see if the company has legs and can last.  No one wants to buy a car from a company that won’t be around next year and no one wants to sell their families a product that won’t be around for a while.  Even worse, they claimed to offer Eternal memorial space; then they shuttered their site.  Ironic much?
 
Sincerely,
TIM

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