Woodies Sunglasses: $3.5 Million Per Year With One Employee

$250,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
Woodies
from Venice, CA
started August 2012
$250,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
595K
alexa rank
12.4K
followers

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

I’m Cory Stout, Captain of Woodies. I started a wood sunglasses brand when I was 28 years old.

Our main product is walnut wood sunglasses that I sell for $25 on Amazon and Woodies.com I hired one employee (my dear mother) and she’s won Employee of the Year for 3 years in a row ;)

In 2018, I topped 3.5 million in revenue and somehow ended the year with less money than when I started! I bought a Bentley to celebrate…

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

I studied Economics at the University of Florida but the real education was scalping football tickets outside of the stadium. I really learned my lessons on those streets...

For example, there were a lot of characters I learned to deal with. The ticket street hustlers are really really sharp dudes. They would always ask to see my tickets, and make me offers on them.

Pick something that you’re going to enjoy selling/talking about nonstop.

They would always lie about what they were holding, or what they were selling for. I had people steal my tickets, I had people try to muscle me off popular corners. The best thing about this experience was all the times I was told no.

I would stand there for hours shouting ‘who needs tickets??’ and people would narrow their eyes at me and keep on walking. I learned that eventually, you’ll almost always find your customer. On the days when demand was high, I would return to my dorm room with 5 thousand in cash when I started the day with 500.

I would buy student tickets all week, buy the upgrade sticker so anybody could use them, and sell them for mega profit on gameday. I made tons of money, I lost tons of money too (when it rained unexpectedly), I made friends and that’s what led to my next step.

One of those tickets friends I made turned out to be my best friend. He went to China to study International Business and I went out to visit him a year later. I spent 6 weeks there and I go to see first hand how the world’s products are made.

Some photos from my trip to China:

1-million-in-revenue-with-zero-employees Watch bands

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I came up with the idea for an interchangeable watch brand, TIKKR, and I used my ticket money to get the ball rolling.

To validate this idea, Mike flew from China with a bag full of watches. I was living in Austin at the time and we went to a party brunch to try to sell some watches. I gave one watch to each of the bartenders for free, then we waited.

It wasn’t 15 minutes until we had a line of people offering to buy watches from us. We didn’t take their cash, but we drank free all afternoon long and had a hell of a time.

I ordered 1,500 watches for $3 each and I set the price at $65. I barely sold any at $65, but I convinced Groupon to pick them up and offer a deal.

A $65 watch for $32. I sold a couple hundred, I ordered more, I sold a couple hundred I ordered more. Then I sold a couple thousand in one day! Too bad the supplier was super late with the shipment and I had thousands of upset customers at Christmas time. TIKKR ended up folding leaving me back at square one with only about $15,000 to show for it all.

Then I was back to China and this time I came back with the idea for wood sunglasses. Wood sunglasses were just coming on to the scene, We always had the first look at products coming out of China because we were always watching the markets in Guangzhou.

We would see a cool looking belt show up at the markets, then a month later we’d see somebody on Kickstarter making 200k. Wood sunglasses seemed awesome so I tried to jump on them early. The same Groupon rep still wanted to work with me, and I was able to sell 8,000 glasses in a week with a launch on Groupon. On a side note, that Groupon rep worked out a deal for himself that he got to invest in Woodies before the deal ran. I took the deal (what choice did I have) and I was able to buy him out a couple years later)

By the way, I’ve written a couple posts on reddit about how I got started if you want to check them out...

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

I just went to China and found three suppliers on Alibaba. I toured each factory and chose the one I felt the best about.

Price wasn’t the most important consideration. It really came down to a comfort level with the supplier. The rep that I would work with closely spoke great English, they presented themselves well, they showed me their equipment and let me tour the factory while they were in production.

PRO TIP: If you visit a Chinese factory, ask politely to the use the bathroom. They will have to oblige, and if you find a really messy, disgusting bathroom, then it’s definitely a red flag.

Granted, there are a lot of disgusting bathrooms all over China. But these factories have millions of dollars worth of machinery, if they can’t put together a decent bathroom for their workers, then they are probably corner-cutters.

They had a whole wall of every sunglasses shape you could imagine, it didn’t take a lot of designing on my end.

Describe the process of launching the business.

From there, I noticed that a lot of people were getting rich on Kickstarter, so I decided to launch a project to add new styles to Woodies. They were actually all the same style, but I wanted to add 7 new colors to the collection. I really just needed an excuse to launch a Kickstarter campaign

I set my sights high and decided I wanted to hire Kendall Jenner for the video shoot. It started out as a joke really.

My friend was kind of daring me to find out what her rate was. I just called her management, and next thing you know I’m negotiating with her agent.

I got them down from 150k to 25k. 25k was just about all the money I had in the world, but I bet it on this idea. At this point, I’m basically the dude from Fyre Festival, walking around pretending like I had enough money to pull this off. I hired a really good photographer, videographer, hair, makeup, extra set hands, cool locations, classic cars, plane tickets, it was SO CRAZY, but somehow I pulled it off.

I organized the whole photo/video shoot, I picked Kendall up from her house that morning wearing my captains hat, and we had a full day of driving classic cars, taking pictures on the Malibu beaches, and doing our best to capture the essence of Woodies and the new sunglasses.

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The Kickstarter project wasn’t a huge success, but it kept me going long enough to start selling on Amazon. I found a new supplier and started making wood sunglasses with plastic frames. They were cheaper to make and sell and the bonus was they didn’t break as often.

Warranty issues were a huge headache with the full wood sunglasses (and still are).

Wood sunglasses have less tensile strength than plastic. They are better for the environment overall, but a little less durable for the user. I started out with full wood sunglasses, but the return rate was nearly 20%, impossible to really turn a profit without a bunch of 1-star reviews. So I switched to mostly wood temple glasses with a plastic frame. This brought my costs down and my return percentage to about 5%. And now I could enable my customer service to send new sunglasses no questions asked, which resulted in lots of 5-star reviews about our customer service team.

Well they took off on Amazon and I dedicated myself to becoming an Amazon expert. I listened to all the podcasts and read all the blog posts I could find. *Shoutout EcomCrew* I took the basic fundamentals that are out there and I added a couple of my own twists. That was about two years ago. Since then, I’ve just been really diligent about staying in stock *major key* and managing my PPC spending.

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

I have basic knowledge of Facebook ads, email marketing, SEO, etc but Amazon just really really works for me, so I didn’t have the big incentive to build a huge list.

Amazon brings me 100 brand new customers everyday for very little acquisition cost. If I tried that on my own, it would take a TON of work and it wouldn’t be nearly as effective as Amazon, so I took the easy road on this one.

I wrote this post about Amazon strategy not too long ago, I followed all of my own advice.

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

Business is doing great today, we almost reached 4 million in sales last year, even though my profit on that was a lot lower than you’d think.

You are your biggest marketing tool especially early on. Be prepared to be the face of your company.

Less than 10% of that number actually counts as profit on my books. Before the profit police come commenting all over this thread, I was able to pay myself a decent amount that’s not included in that number, and I also invested in 8 classic cars this year as I get a new venture off the ground, instagram.com/captainsclassics.

My ACOS on Amazon hovers around 30% with a monthly spend of about 50k. I have less than 5k email subscribers and I rarely email them, I think people are starting to get bothered by all the automated marketing out there, and that’s actually a big reason they choose to shop on Amazon, just to not subject their inbox to automated email cancer.

Side note, I’m getting sued by Luxxottica for a BS trademark infringement. So the entire business is being threatened by them.

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

Believe in yourself and just keep going no matter what. Of all the friends who started a business at the same time I did, almost all of them are still in business and doing really well. If you just stay in business, you almost can’t help but grow.

I read the 4-Hour Workweek many many years ago and it really set my thinking from day one. I just wanted to be really really good at one thing, and that’s what happened with my best selling product. I was able to ‘set’ the market.

Once I did that, no one would be able to:

  1. Beat my price
  2. Outnumber my reviews
  3. Outspend me on PPC.

The distance between me and 2nd place on Amazon got bigger and bigger.

I wanted a simple business, I wanted it to be automated, I wanted to be able to run it from anywhere. It took a lot of discipline to turn down ‘good’ deals sometimes.

But I decided simplicity was that important to me. It’s only really possible with an Amazon business with FBA. I remember the old days when I had to use a 3PL, 2/7 would not recommend.

I don’t sell on Etsy, Ebay, or Wal-Mart (even though they wrote me an unsolicited PO). I don’t sell to retail stores. The one time I broke this rule was trying to expand to Europe on Amazon. I wouldn’t call it a disaster, but it took way more time/energy than it has paid off. I’m closing down those operations currently.

I hired my mom as my customer service rep 3 years ago and the business absolutely flourished once she took over. 1. It let me focus on sales and growth 2. She’s so much better at being really really nice than me.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I’ve got a great reddit post which I wrote all about this.

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

I listen to the EcomCrew podcast pretty regularly.

It’s a really straightforward informational podcast, they actually give really good info. They’re both Amazon sellers, so they tend to focus most of their discussion on Amazon.

I’ve met Mike out in Hong Kong and he’s a really solid guy.

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

Pick something that you’re going to enjoy selling/talking about nonstop.

You are your biggest marketing tool especially early on. Be prepared to be the face of your company.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I hired my mom for customer service and that’s about all I need.

I probably want to sell Woodies in 2019, any buyers out there?

Where can we go to learn more?

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

-  
Cory Stout,   Founder of Woodies

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