How I Turned A DIY Project Into A Million Dollar Business

$135,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
product
Battic Door
from Foxboro, MA
started March 2013
$135,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
2
Employees
3.84M
alexa rank
42
followers
104
followers
46
subs

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Mark Tyrol and I am the founder of Battic Door Energy Conservation Products. Battic Door is an ecommerce business founded in 2003 with a single product, a pull down attic stair insulating cover that we call the Battic Door.

Many homes have a pull down ladder in the ceiling to access their attic space. These ladders, while providing a handy access to the attic, can cause energy loss and drafts.

We sell direct to consumers, as well as to resellers and contractors. We started in our home with 1 product and now have over 100 products shipping from our 7,500 square foot distribution center.

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

When I purchased my first house in 2000, I had a pull-down ladder in one of the bedrooms.

When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

I have a colleague who told me “Businesses do not fail, people quit.” I decided to not quit.

Because your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors, the attic space can be very cold in the winter, and in the summer it can be very hot. And only that thin sheet of plywood is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic.

You might be able to see the gaps around a ladder by turning on the attic light and shutting the attic stairway door. If you can see light coming through, it means that expensive heated and air-conditioned air is leaking out of these gaps 24-hours a day.

I realized the heating and cooling energy loss leaking through the pull-down and up into the vented attic. So I built an insulated cover out of plywood and insulation boards. It was very big and heavy but it worked, increasing the comfort of the room and reducing energy loss.

As an engineer, I began to wonder if other homes may have a similar issue. Soon, I took a part-time job to earn some extra money performing pre-purchase home inspections. Sure enough, many of the homes I inspected had energy leaking pull-down ladders.

Attics are normally well vented and get very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. The attic access should be well sealed and insulated, just like the front door.

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

In fact, in 2009, Building Codes for new home construction were revised to require the attic access to be insulated and sealed. However, in nearly every case during my inspections, I was encountering a drafty leaky pull-down ladder without any seal or insulation. Even when new the ladders did not seal. In some cases, the ladder was hanging down due to weak springs, etc. and a large gap was observed.

I realized that many others could benefit from installing an insulating cover over their pull down ladders, and decided to design, manufacture and distribute one. But I had no money and no idea how to do that!

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The insulated stair cover idea stuck with me and I kept thinking about it.

The issue with my prototype was it was very large and too costly to ship. I needed a rigid box that could be folded flat for shipping. Heavy corrugated board (cardboard) could be used and I took this idea to a local cardboard box company and they designed a rigid box that folded flat for shipping.

I did market research to determine the required dimensions and placed an initial order for 100 pieces. I had to purchase a rotary cutting die that is used to cut the part. This investment was about $5,000. I did not have that in savings, so I had to charge this to a credit card.

The order was delivered and I folded a box and it fit perfect on my ladder. I added some weather strip gasketing and insulation and made up several kits. I installed these in several of my neighbor’s homes and the kits all fit perfectly.

Now I had a product to sell and no idea how to sell it.

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

Describe the process of launching the business.

It was early 2003 and I had a product to sell and no idea how to market the product. In addition, I was working full time and had young kids as well.

At that time the internet was fairly new and e-commerce was in its infancy. I decided to sell direct to customers via ecommerce.

I purchased a domain name (www.batticdoor.com) and used a site builder tool to create a website. I used a free shopping cart from Mal’s ecommerce and opened a merchant bank account so that I could accept credit cards.

As a novice, it took me over a month to create the website. As I was building the site I submitted it to search engines and began exchanging links and blogging. On the day that I published the website I received my first sale! I was so excited. I packed up the order and dropped it off at the UPS store for shipment.

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

I began selling a few kits a week then a few kits a day and sales picked up from there. Within a few months, I had recouped my initial investment and sales began growing exponentially. We eventually moved to a self-storage facility to a rented commercial condo to a commercial building with loading docks and fork truck.

I repeated this process several times with new products including an attic access door and several other products: designing, sourcing, Patent, Trademark, product launch, marketing, trade shows, advertising, sales, customer service, etc.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I grew my ecommerce business for direct to consumer retail sales by adding additional online sales channels. Starting initially with the Battic Door website, I began adding online sales channels and grew sales dramatically. I added eBay, Amazon, Rakuten, Sears, HomeDepot.com, Walmart.com, Facebook, Shopify, and dozens more.

I continue to work as an engineer full time, working at Battic nights and weekends. Finding time to get things done has always been challenging. But because I was earning a living working elsewhere, Battic could grow organically at its own pace.

There are providers that enable retailers and manufacturers to integrate, manage and optimize their merchandise sales across hundreds of online channels. While it does take more set-up time, due to the cost I preferred to set up our online sales channels individually by myself.

For our wholesale bulk sales, we have established numerous accounts that resell our products to their customers. In many cases, we reached out to distributors, although many contacted us to become a distributor.

For our contractor customers, we exhibited at trade shows for several years. What I found was that these shows are terrific for new product launches, however, they are very expensive and time-consuming, and reach a limited audience. We transitioned to monthly advertising in a contractor magazine.

Influence the Influencer

My most effective and profitable marketing method is an “Influence the Influencer” marketing program to drive awareness and traction for the business. I have done just that.

For several of our products, our customers are Home Builders, General Contractors, and Insulation Contractors. I targeted Building Code Officials and Architects for our influencer marketing program to drive awareness and gain traction for these products.

In order to comply with Building Codes, the attic access (pull down ladder or access hatch door) must be insulated and sealed. Our Battic Door attic stair cover and E-Z Hatch access door products provide a Code compliant solution, are low cost and easy to install. We reached out to Building Code officials and Architects to introduce our products. They in turn recommend and specify our products to Home Builders, General Contractors, and Insulation Contractors.

I understood that an influencer campaign is a long-term investment. I studied the market and determined there are 600k-800k new single family homes constructed annually. Even capturing a small market share % of those projects could grow our business exponentially. Therefore the potential ROI (return on investment) was determined to be very high and I decided to proceed.

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

I executed our influencer marketing program by exhibiting at several trade shows and by direct mail. I exhibited at a Building Code Officials trade show and expo, and at an AIA (American Institute of Architects) trade show and expo. I did this for 2 consecutive years. In addition I contacted Architects by direct mail with product literature and requested them to specify my products.

As a direct result of our influencer marketing program, my sales have increased +50% in each of the last 2 years. I picked up dozens of new accounts that continually purchase products. Many customers tell me they were referred to us by their Architect or Code official, confirming the success of our influencer marketing program. By gaining awareness and traction for our products I expect similar increases in the next several years.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Battic Door has been profitable since we started in 2003. Gross margins are 100% before expenses.

Our largest expense after cost of goods is shipping. We have negotiated very good rates with UPS, FedEx and USPS, and all come daily to the warehouse to pick up orders.

Our top 3 sales channels are HomeDepot.com, Amazon, and our own website followed closely by sales to our distributor accounts.

We spend about $35k a year on advertising, although we do not purchase any pay per click or other online ads.

Most of our retail customers are 1 time customers that purchase an item that lasts for years. We do get a lot of referrals from satisfied customers, however we do not send email marketing to any customers.

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I continue to work as an engineer full time, working at Battic nights and weekends. Finding time to get things done has always been challenging. But because I was earning a living working elsewhere, Battic could grow organically at its own pace.

I always listen to the customer. I can think of several times when a customer asked about a product and I eventually designed and manufactured a product for that need or I sourced and became a distributor for an existing product.

how-i-turned-a-diy-project-into-a-million-dollar-business

Getting into the ecommerce game early (2003) definitely helped as we have had over 16 years to grow our reputation. And having an engineering background helped with product design and quality control.

I did have to learn numerous skills including sales and marketing, website design, customer service, networking, patent and trademark filing, accounting, and many more. I can’t say that I am excellent at any of these skills but I have learned a lot from past experience and continue to learn from several very talented people that have joined the company and are now responsible for these positions.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use the portals from our distribution partners such as HomeDepot.com, Walmart.com, Amazon, ebay, Shopify, Menards, etc. You log in, process the orders and invoice.

We use UPS, FedEx and USPS portals to purchase shipping and print labels.

We use GoToMyPC to access our office remotely.

We use Paypal for a form of payment, as well as accepting credit cards though our merchant account, Trustcommerce.

We use Mal’s ecommerce for our shopping cart, and Dotster and GoDaddy for our domain registrations.

We use QuickBooks for our accounting software.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I have a colleague who told me “Businesses do not fail, people quit.” I decided to not quit.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Create and source a unique product and sell it on Amazon, eBay, etc. We get contacted weekly by dropshippers that want to sell our products on eBay, Amazon, etc. We already do that and have no interest in adding dropshippers.

Or, create a high traffic blog or website and become an influencer. Manufacturers would love the chance for you to mention their products on your site, and would pay commissions for sales generated.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are seeking to sell Battic Door and interested in speaking to interested parties at this time. This could be interesting to an investor, an owner operator, and a company with a similar ecommerce business model looking to grow.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Mark Tyrol,   Founder of Battic Door

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