Kaidyn McClure
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Only a few things in life are completely in your control. How you start your eCommerce business is one of them. You can drop ship your products or you can build custom product. The latter takes more time and money to get started. But it also gives you the opportunity to generate larger, long-term profit as well as manage a sustainable business. By creating a private label, you create a unique brand, and consumers today are heavily swayed toward branded products.

One eCommerce brand that is both profitable and sustainable is Slyde Handboards. The company launched 8 years ago in 2010 and still delivers the most innovative product in its niche category. Steve and his wife, Angela, created a business around selling handboards for bodysurfing and other watersports. The sustained growth of the business stems from the time and effort that Steve and Angela put into the engineering of their product.

Growing up near the coast in South Africa, Steve spent many hours in the ocean and especially loved to body surf. When the surf was good, he’d grab food trays, frisbees, flip flops, and other improvised handboards to enhance his body surfing experience. After surf traveling around the world when he was 18 years old, he encountered countless people doing the same thing. When he realized a market existed for a handboard made specifically for body surfing, he never let the idea rest.

In order to design the most effective handboard, Steve decided to go to product design school in London. The four year program was fundamental to the development of the array of handboards the company has sold over the years. This doesn’t mean that you, a future or current eCommerce seller, have to go to design school to build a functional, innovative product that customers can’t live without. You just need some knowledge about what it takes to create a product.

Building custom product involves engineering, product research, testing, and prototyping. Complex products will require more designing time and possibly more time searching for a manufacturer. Some manufacturers may not be capable of producing your custom product if they don’t have the skilled labor or proper equipment. It can also be challenging to find a skilled factory that will produce your product at a lower MOQ.

One of the greatest obstacles that Slyde faced was finding a manufacturer willing to produce a small quantity. When you’re first starting out, it’s risky to produce a large production order, especially if the product is costly per unit. Custom products can be more expensive to produce if they are difficult to make per unit. Certain categories like clothing, accessories, or home goods are a little easier to customize at a low cost. But for something unique like a handboard, it was difficult to find a factory that could produce their smaller production order for both low cost and high quality.

Especially when they looked to manufacture in the United States, the high cost to produce was a major commonality among the factories. This is one reason why manufacturing overseas is so great for businesses selling custom product. It’s not so expensive to manufacture in other countries due to lower wages and greater access to raw materials. International factories may also have less clients so they can devote time to your products to ensure high quality.

Once Steve and Angela finally found the right fit for a manufacturer, they were finally able to focus on the thing they loved the most: selling their handboards and spreading the stoke.

While they engage in both influencer marketing and ambassador programs, they can quantify the ambassador program’s success at generating sales. Through the program, ambassadors share their unique purchase code with friends, family, and media followers as a way to both spread brand awareness and offer a discounted purchase. Steve and Angela can track the customer purchases that are made with ambassador codes in order to calculate a conversion rate. Thus, they know they kind of ROI they’re receiving from their ambassador program.

However, Slyde’s influencer marketing helps increase their brand exposure. They’ve found that micro-influencers, the individuals with about a 10 thousand followership, receive the most engagement.  

Slyde also connects with professional athletes in body surfing and other water sports to help spread the brand name and communicate the premium functionality of their unique product.

8 years since launch and the brand is still growing and generating large revenue because the founders created custom product that solved a problem for an existing global market. The key to a profitable custom product business on eCommerce is having an audience for your product from the get go and knowing how to innovate your product design. If you understand the creation side of your product, you can understand how to make it better and diversify your product line to maintain a sustainable business. Adding more products to your business is also a great way to strengthen your brand’s reputation as customers start to collect more products with your brand name.

Steve and his wife haven’t just grown a largely profitable eCommerce brand, but they’re having fun doing it. You, as an eCommerce seller, can be successful if you continue to innovate, add new products to the product line, and constantly be on the lookout for different manufacturers.  

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