The Shed Defender: $70K Per Month Selling Onesies For Dogs

$70,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Shed Defeder
from Irvine, CA
started October 2016
$70,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
1.27M
alexa rank
13.6K
followers
388
followers
platform
reviews
shipping

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

I’m Tyson Walters, the founder and CEO of Shed Defender. The company officially launched in October 2016, but I came up with the idea about 6 years ago and spent a few years testing out fabrics and designs so it’s been a long road to get to where we are today.

The only product we sell right now is the flagship product - the Shed Defender, which is a versatile onesie that contains pet hair and dander, reduces anxiety and can replace the medical cone for dogs with hotspots, skin conditions, allergies, surgical sites and more. We have nine different sizes so we are able to fit dogs from about 5 lbs. up to 200 lbs.

To date, we’ve sold over 30,000 units and generated over $1.7 million in sales. In 2019 were expected to continue growing and have some exciting new products in the works!

the-shed-defender-70k-per-month-selling-dog-onesies

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

I came up with the idea in 2011 because I had a big hairy St. Bernard who was shedding like crazy.

My car and house were full of tumbleweeds of her hair and whenever I brought Harley other places such as a family member’s or a friend’s house they would complain about her hair getting everywhere.

If you can’t figure out the answer to a problem or don’t know where to start, find someone who is smarter than you to help you out.

I tried dozens of anti-shedding products, but nothing was effective, so I took it upon myself to create something entirely new. There were car seat covers and couch covers, but Harley was always getting tangled up in them so I came up with the idea to put a suit on the dog that would contain the hair and dander. I had my mom sew the first prototype and after several versions I hired a seamstress who created one that seemed to fit Harley pretty well.

Harley wore the early prototype everywhere and people were constantly asking me how they could get one for their own dog. After getting positive feedback for several months I realized that there was a demand for a product like this so I decided to turn this project into a business.

I spent countless hours at shelters and dog parks testing the samples out on dogs of all sizes. After I felt confident with the fabric, design and sizing of the onesie, I borrowed some money from my family and launched a website.

It was slow at first, but one day The Dodo, an animal-focused news site, saw one of my Facebook ads and published a video of the product. The video went viral and overnight I started getting inquiries from media outlets across the country and even internationally.

I was doing interviews with sites like Mashable, had a phone interview with a radio station in New Zealand and appeared on Good Day Sacramento...to name just a few!

It was a whirlwind and while the exposure and attention was validating and fun, the overnight success also meant I had a ton of work to do and thousands of customers to deliver a product to. I didn’t have a manufacturer for yet so it was a bit daunting.

Here’s the article and video from The Dodo.

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

Developing the perfect prototype was a long and tedious process.

I started with finding the right fabric because I needed something stretchy, comfortable, breathable and durable. I started asking everyone I could and researching fabric suppliers online. I had samples sent to my house and I eventually found an athletic mesh fabric that’s made from recycled plastic water bottles.

It’s lightweight and breathable enough for dogs, but also durable enough to endure the wear and tear an active dog will put it through on a daily basis.

Once I felt confident in the fabric, I worked on perfecting the design and tried all different versions of the product. People often ask if I thought about using velcro or snaps or using a different fabric and my answer is always YES!

I tried everything and found that the design we landed on makes the product more durable, versatile, comfortable and effective than anything else on the market.

When I first launched, I had a seamstress on standby who was ready to sew 1-2 Shed Defenders per day that would be made to order. When the product went viral though, I quickly realized I needed a manufacturer on board so I could fulfill all the orders coming in. I started asking everyone I knew including my fabric supplier for recommendations and eventually found a contact in San Francisco who agreed to work with me.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I created my first website using Squarespace and put it up with the goal of selling a few Shed Defenders as a hobby. I didn’t have a manufacturer but was using a seamstress in my hometown that could produce a couple a day and they would be made to order.

I spent a very small amount on Facebook ads and that’s when I got lucky and The Dodo created a video that went viral. Overnight more media coverage came in and I started getting hundreds of orders and I quickly realized that it would be impossible to fulfill the orders using my seamstress.

We’ve made all sorts of mistakes along the way, but have worked hard to keep pushing forward. My biggest advice would be doing your due diligence and if it sounds too good to be true it likely is too good to be true!

It was so exciting to see the demand for the product, but it was also scary because I really had no idea what I was doing. I immediately began looking for a local manufacturer and was lucky enough to find one in San Francisco which was a two-hour drive from my house. He started production, but it, of course, took several months to get the first batch of Shed Defenders produced so my very first customers waited months to get their product!

To keep them happy, I sent the customers honest emails about the situation I was in and kept them updated on a regular basis. Most people are pretty reasonable if you take the time to apologize and explain why there’s a delay. I can’t thank those early customers enough though for being patient with us!

Once I shipped out the first couple of thousand Shed Defenders, which my parents and I packaged and shipped ourselves from their kitchen table, I realized that it was time to go all in on the business. I borrowed some money from family and started working on building up inventory and investing some money into marketing.

The first two years have been full of lessons learns and ups and downs, but it’s been fun and challenging and I’ve never looked back!

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

Facebook

Facebook ads have been the best platform for us to date and was a crucial part of how we started generating buzz and customers. It’s great for startups because you can start with a budget of $20 or $50 dollars and the ad management platform is very easy to use.

When I first started with Facebook I was doing a $1-2 a day so that I could experiment. Once I started to see the ROI and our sales increased we were spending $50 to $100 a day. We’ve found that a combination of an awareness ad followed by a retargeting ad have worked well for us but we’re constantly changing our approach including the audiences, copy and design.

Amazon

Amazon has also been a great sales channel for us and it offers an ad platform that can be used with budgets of all sizes. Getting started on Amazon can be daunting and it takes some expertise so we hired an agency to help us get our store up and running.

There are certain aspects of Amazon that can be cumbersome and time-consuming so after about a year of running the store internally, we decided to outsource it to a third party who now runs it for us.

They are the exclusive seller of the product so we still have complete control over our pricing and quality. Outsourcing the store has taken a huge burden off of us and they are bringing expertise to the table that we don’t have and would be too expensive to hire right now.

Amazon has such an enormous built-in customer base that it seems like a big mistake not to at least experiment with the platform.

Shark Tank

Shark Tank was an amazing, difficult and terrifying experience all at the same time. People were always saying that we should go on Shark Tank because our product is so eye-catching and even though I’ve been a huge fan of the show for years, I didn’t take the suggestion seriously because I didn’t think we were ready. Last year though it felt like the right time and we decided to start the process.

From the application process to the filming, there’s a lot more to it than what you see on television. We spent countless hours preparing and I think it paid off because we were confident when we walked in that we would have the answers to the questions thrown at us. Once we started the filming portion though it really sank in… I am finally going on the show of my dreams with the company I started. My time in the tank was a whirlwind and the Sharks started firing off questions at us right from the start. In the end though, once they heard some of our sales numbers they started to take us seriously and we got three offers. Ultimately we decided to take a deal with Lori who agreed to $250,000 in exchange for a 25% stake.

Preparing for Shark Tank was a great exercise for us as a company. It forced us to do a deep dive into our numbers and look at the business through an investor’s lens which is something we hadn’t done before.

It also forced me to work on my presentation skills and learn how to be more clear and concise when talking about my business.

On a different note, I learned that there’s so much more that goes into filming a TV show than I would have ever thought which makes it even more nerve-wracking when you finally walk into the tank.

The behind the scenes look at the magic that goes into filming a show like Shark Tank is something I’d never seen first-hand before and was a fun to be a part of.

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

We are currently profitable and ended last year with a 65% YOY growth in revenue. Our gross profit nearly doubled because we started manufacturing in bulk giving us better margins.

In 2019 we plan to expand our product line, strengthen our brand name and expand our sales channels. We sell our product online through our store, Amazon and Chewy.com, but are hoping to test the waters in the brick and mortar retail world this year.

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

We’ve made all sorts of mistakes along the way, but have worked hard to keep pushing forward. My biggest advice would be doing your due diligence and if it sounds too good to be true it likely is too good to be true!

We had a bad batch of product come in that was unsellable from a new manufacturer last year. We had 5,000 defective units and it almost sunk us as a business, but we were able to work through it. Looking back, I think we rushed into the relationship too quickly and should have been more thorough when checking references.

We also got talked into doing an infomercial early on and it was a huge mistake. The marketing company made all sorts of promises and convinced us to stock up on inventory. They were six months late in delivering the ad and then once it did air, it was a huge flop.

I would tell first-time entrepreneurs to avoid stocking up on inventory unless you’re certain you know how and when it will sell because otherwise your cash will be tied up and you won’t have a marketing budget to acquire new customers.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use Shopify, Shipstation and DearSystems as our ecommerce website, shipping and inventory platforms. Not only is Shopify very user-friendly, but it also integrates with so many different apps and third-party software systems that’s a great choice when starting out.

We use Yotpo as our customer reviews system and have been really happy with that. For us, getting feedback and insight from our customers has been invaluable.

We use customer feedback to make product modifications, understand more about the different ways the onesie can be used and discover new non-profits that we should donate to!

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

The 4-Hour Work Week is a must read!

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

If you can’t figure out the answer to a problem or don’t know where to start, find someone who is smarter than you to help you out.

And again, if it is too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true! For example, we got talked into using a cheaper zipper in the early days and it backfired because they were defective so we ended up having to replace a ton of units.

Another example was when we signed a contract with an As Seen on TV infomercial company. They promised to get our TV ad up and running in a few months and convinced us to bulk up on inventory because it would lead to thousands and thousands of orders.

It was a total flop - they over promised and under delivered and we felt scammed.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Right now we’re a small family business still - my sister-in-law works for the company full time and my mom is our customer service manager.

We are outsourcing several parts of the business such as our Amazon store and our shipping, but as we expand we expect to hire some additional full time employees.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Tyson Walters,   Founder of Shed Defeder

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