We talk with Tavis, founder and CEO of Morrison Outdoors, about the challenges he faced growing his online business.
Carolina (00:15):Hi, everyone. Welcome back to our very first podcast of 2021. We're so excited to be back and talking with some awesome entrepreneurs and e-commerce sellers this year. And today I have with me, Jason Chan of RSL, and a very special guest Tavis for Morrison outdoors. Hey guys. And so that to have you thanks for joining. Okay. So before I hand it over to Jason to dive into our talk with Tavis, I'd like to give these guys a chance to introduce themselves to our listeners. Jason, why don't you start?Jason (00:50):Hi. Well, I'm Jason Chan. I'm the vice president of sales and marketing based here in Las Vegas with ShipNetwork. And, uh, I love talking to our clients and Tavis is one of ours here with, with Morrison outdoors. And I so excited to hear your story, hear about your entrepreneurial journey and about your business. So Tavis, I'll hand it over to you.Tavis (01:10):Yeah, thank you. My name is Tavis Malcolm. I'm the founder and CEO of Morrison outdoors. We make, uh, award-winning sleeping bags for kids and babies ages six months old, up to four years old. Now, uh, the business is just a little over two years old. You know, we just launched, we launched onKickstarter initially, uh, two years ago this week. So we're, you know, we're, we're celebrating. Thank you. Thank you. Um, and it's, it's been, uh, it's been quite a journey, you know, I mean, we, we started this business because I wanted to take my son camping and I could not find a sleeping bag that was safe for an infant to wear and warm enough to, to actually go camping with inColorado. And so, you know, I kind of broke out my sewing machine and I said, why isn't it? Why can't I just make something like he sleeps in at home, but that's actually thick and plush like a sleeping bag.Tavis (01:58):And, you know, it took about six months of prototyping before we launched the Kickstarter and we came up with our design and then launched two years ago. And it's just, it's been a whirlwind ever since. I mean, in two years, we've moved over 7,000 sleeping bags. Uh, RSL is our third warehouse that we've been through some really fun stories to tell you about our previous, uh, three PL partners, which we've learned about 60 REI stores, or we were before the pandemic struck, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Amazon now. Uh, and we're looking forward to a, another big year of growth.Jason (02:33):That's awesome. And your background, of course, you withREI and you knew how to distribute these and sew them. And it was just so easy for you to make all thisTavis (02:41):Just so easy. No, I mean, it was, it was really not, it was, it was a long process. And for me, I mean, I had no background in product design at all. You know, I started with what I thought it should look like, and it didn't even fit my, my son at all, you know, and that took a lot of, of prototyping and testing and getting volunteers. And then taking that to the actual pros and saying, Hey, like, here's my, here's my design. And here's my prototype. Can you guys make something? That's actually like the quality that we're looking for? And we found an amazing production partner. Who's making really top rate downfield year already. And they sort of took what I had and turned it into the products that we have. Now.Jason (03:24):Were you able to find a manufacturer in the States?Tavis (03:27):No. They're in China. There's no, um, down gear or sleeping bags made anywhere in the U S right now. There's very few and they'r every expensive and you speak Chinese then. Oh, Niihau.Jason (03:39):Yeah, you can say hello. Okay. That's a start. Okay. See, you don't have a manufacturing background yet. You, so at your son, you, so your prototype yourself, and then, you know, then obviously it does us. No good. If you have the best sleeping bag in the world, if nobody buys it. So wasKickstarter your first idea in which to try to bring it to market? Uh, actually, no.Tavis (04:01):We tried to launch it first on S and I thought there was a time when I thought this was going to be an answer business and that I was going to actually, so these myself, and maybe I would have a little shop and we put them on Etsy with some of my designs and it was like crickets. Like nobody was interested. We had no traffic, we had no sales. It was like, I've been working on this for months already. And I was about to have a breakdown. You know, we sort of, we sort of put it up there for a couple of weeks and we're banging our heads against the wall. And I talked to my wife and I said, you know, I think that we need to do something bigger than just sort of posting it and waiting for something to happen. I want to take sort of all our savings, which is like a couple of thousand dollars and really put it into thisKickstarter campaign.Tavis (04:46):And if it doesn't work, I'll go back to work. I'll get a job. I quit my job, you know, to work on this. Uh, I said, I'll go back to work. And, you know, we'll, we'll just call it a wash. And, you know, thankfully, uh, people were interested, you know, we didn't know if people wanted to actually take their kids camping. We thought maybe we were the only ones who would even want to do this, but it's, you know, the overwhelming feedback that we've heard is that this is something that people have been looking for that they've wondered why doesn't it exist. And that it really means a need that they have, because it'sJason (05:18):How beautiful. So out of your, you know, just to keep summarizing that you had a need, you solved it yourself, you took it to Etsy.You relatively fail crickets, no sales, most people at that point probably have given up on probably two fronts at that point. Then you keep going. So then you get on Kickstarter and Kickstarter's now, I mean, how many, how many listings are on Kickstarter thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, why do you think you were successful on Kickstarter? What, what helped you, or, you know, when you put your hands,Tavis (05:46):That was actually a little bit helpful because I had worked in digital marketing previously. So I knew like how Facebook ads work for instance. And so what I did was I took videos. I cut together my own video using our GoPro and, you know, our camping trips that we had taken, uh, with some friends and I cut together some promo videos. And I watched those with a giveaway on Facebook, about a month in advance of the Kickstarter campaign. SoI said, okay, Hey, click here. You'll be entered to win one of five new sleeping bags before they launch. And you'll also get on our email list to keep in touch about the Kickstarter program. And that I pulled in, I think 3,200emails in January of 2019. That was where like all of that budget that I was talking about with just to the FacebookJason (06:31):App, try to get, to tryTavis (06:34):To get emails. And so then when the day one came and, you know, the Kickstarter opened up, I sent an email to my list and we had our first few thousand in sales on the board, you know, and then we hadJason (06:43):Some exciting days, get it outTavis (06:45):There and everything just sort of just sort of rolled theKickstarter campaign was slow. At first, I was really worried. We weren't going to make it for the first two weeks or so. We got that initial burst. And then we kinda just plotted along, but where the clock starts ticking down and you get closer and it picks back up again through our goal was 10,000. We ended upraising 16,000 in pre-orders and I actually got on a flight to China during the campaign I had pre booked. I had pre booked myself a flight to China to go to visit our manufacturers, thinking, okay, if this thing flops and we're not going to make it, I'll cancel my flight and save that money. But when I figured out we were going to make it, I said, okay, I got it. We got to go. Now I got to get on a plane. I need to go and visit these manufacturers. I need to figure out who's going to make this so that we can get production immediately.Jason (07:39):So is it multiple cities? And was there a tour that you had set up or were you, I dunno. W what was your manufacturing journey? How do you, how do you trust a manufacturer? How do you choose a manufacturer? How do you ultimately sign a contract and pray product comes by?Tavis (07:55):Yeah, it's stressful.Jason (07:58):You still have your hair. That's a good side.Tavis (08:01):Yeah. I used to have more, you know, uh, it's stressful.What I did was I got on like Alibaba and mainland china.com and all these websites. And I started, I started months earlier. I started looking at who makes sleeping bags and who makes down year. That's actually good. You know? SoI narrowed it down to like a list of maybe 50 potential people that looked like they were making quality stuff. And then I would be interested in talking to you. Right. And then I sent out feelers to all of them. And I narrowed that down to a list of maybe 10 that seemed interested. So you don't understand the product had the right quote, as far as price went, and maybe we won't let together. Then I figured out three of them were in the same town. And I said, okay, well, we got to draw a line somewhere. I'm going to book a flight just to this one city. There's a direct flight out of LA. So it's not that bad. Uh, I'm going to set up these meetings all in a week. And I actually have a cousin who lives in Shanghai and speaks Chinese pretty well. And he came down to John Mann and was my personal translator for the week.Tavis (09:01):Oh, it was amazing. And so we went and did the, did the factory tours. And, um, you know, we got taken out to the ridiculous meals, you know, and, uh, spent a week there and then came away and said, okay, I think we, I think we found our partner. Great. Amazing ever since, like, they've been so flexible.Jason (09:20):Oh, you found the right one and you've stuck with them.We'reTavis (09:22):Stuck with them the whole way. I mean, they've been unbelievable. They've made over 13,000 sleeping bags for us now. Um, they're totally just onboard with our sort of, uh, inconsistency as a startup. Right.We've had some sort of bursts and then these, these off seasons, and then, you know, our, our financing is a really inconsistent, but they've hung through it all. I've been amazing.Jason (09:45):Got it. And so did you start with the, it sounds like when you quit your job, you bootstrapped it yourself. Then Kickstarter, obviously there was an infusion of funds. Um, at this point, has that been self-sustaining or have you got outside investment?Tavis (09:59):I think the most challenging part of this business honestly, has been getting the financing together because we've been growing so fast. You know, we got, so the Kickstarter ended, we got our 16,000 in sales and I email, I started putting out emails to REI and much to my surprise. I got a response back that said, Hey, we saw your Kickstarter and we're interested.Why didn't you come up to Seattle and meet with us? And, uh, you know, we'll see what she got and, and kind of go from there. And so by April of 2019, within two months of launching on Kickstarter, I now had an order for 1200sleeping bags that I wanted me to deliver on top of the 300 that I had to deliver for the Kickstarter on top of whatever. I want an order. I was only going to purchase 800 sleeping bags to start with.Tavis (10:43):And suddenly I needed 2300. So my, my costs in the first year, triple what I had even forecasted under the best scenario, but I thought it was good to do, but suddenly I needed way more cash, right? So I've been, it's been two years of taking on every merchant cash advance, every credit card, every invoice factoring, every opportunity that I can, um, to try to borrow money, to sort of keep things under control here and, and get us to that place where we can, where we can grow profitably. And we're right there. I mean, we, we just marked our first profit in November, um, with a company, a pathJason (11:22):To profitability, that's a huge milestone weTavis (11:24):Got there and, you know, looking forward, uh, 20, 21, it is now, um, I think that will be really self-sustaining by the end of the year.Jason (11:33):So you've got, I mean, REI sounds like a big client of yours. Are you? And then obviously you operate your own e-commerce site. Are there other marketplaces you're on? How else do people find you?Tavis (11:43):Yeah, we're also in back country.com, which is one of the biggest online on just online, only retailers of outdoor gear on amazon.com, um, and a, of sort of smaller, independent stores around the us.Jason (11:56):And I know you said where your third warehouse, but did you start trying to sell, fulfill at first? Oh, you're smart enough. That's something we see a lot of entrepreneurs, they try it. They're like I got a garage I could do.Tavis (12:09):I almost did that. I almost did that. And I was very, I got some very wise advice from someone who, who basically told me, look, man, you can do that. But as soon as you start hitting big sales, you're going to crush yourself. And whatever time that you spend on that, now you should be spending, going out and selling yourself, you know, like there's just, it's nota good use of your time. And I think that's been a really, just really good advice and really true.Jason (12:34):Absolutely. And then, so how did you, how did you start trying to choose a three peel,Tavis (12:39):Google, just Google, you know, and that's, that's sort of where I made my first mistake was I didn't necessarily reach out to anybody. I knew to get a recommendation. I just sort of went Googling and thought, well, if I can just find someone who does a lot of Shopify and, or has a good set up, like kind of what's the difference, you know? So I, this was a huge mistake, by the way. That's not true. We know that, uh, anyway, so I Googled it and I went with someone who's pretty well known in the industry. Like they've got a really good software suite and they had a really good sales team and they had a really great presentation and it could not have gone worse. I mean, like ourKickstarter fulfillment, you know, we had these, our very first customers, right? So fast forward a few months from April and it's now over the summer and we've got our first shipment of sleeping bags in from my manufacturer.Tavis (13:28):And we're like, ready to go. I've been working on this fora year. This is my moment. I'm going to ship out all of these sleeping bags and everyone's going to cheer and we're going to be rich. And you know, the parade will happen, right? No, what really happened was none of them went out at first. It took two weeks. They started sending them out in these tiny batches, like 20 a day. And I could see on my, on my dashboard that these, these 20 and entered fulfillment and I'm like, okay, where's the rest of them. Where's the rest of them. But I didn't have an account manager, red flag. Number two, there was no one I could reach out to, to say, you know, what's going where my package is moving faster or what's happening with them. None of the tracking emails were going out.Tavis (14:06):So our customers were getting their packages sent, but they weren't getting notified. So they're emailing me every day. Like where's my stuff. And their system holds some sort of glitch where they were charging us. I was leaving bags away at one pound at the most, right. They should, for five, $10, it was going across the country and you got the heaviest product, but we were getting charged 20, 30, 40, $60 at a time, totally inexplicably.They were waiting the minute, like five or six pounds and, and putting them in these giant boxes. And I didn't have an account manager to reach out to. So I check our account. And two days later we'd been billed $9,000 for shipping out like 150 orders. It made no sense we're brand new business. Our credit accounts got completely frozen. Our bank account was completely drained. They pre-paid authorized our card for all of this. So they would charge it in real time.Instead of invoicing us, it like, like my head was exploding. Like there was nothing I could do. It was just a total debacle. And every time I tried to call them, I'm gonna get a different customer service rep who would like send me a, you know, an FAQ about what should be happening. But, but in reality, it was just, we were just getting clobbered. So I got out of there as fast as I could.Jason (15:22):Okay. Then you go find another one and that's going to be your promised land. They're going to take care of you. I'm assuming.Tavis (15:28):And here we're the complete opposite of warehouse. Number one, it was like a mom and pop shop, you know, no technology, but they're so friendly. And you can like call them up anytime you need anything, they're right there for you. And for six months or so, like things went great, right?They sent out orders and you know, there wasn't always the fastest, but it was pretty inexpensive. And we thought this isn't a big deal. And then COVID hit.And their order volume went up to stand up. And our wait time on fulfillment got longer and longer until I got to be June of last year. And our sales are really picking up at this point. Uh, and it's three weeks out at our customers.Like we have some sales that are three weeks old that still haven't been shipped, you know, and people are freaking out, right?Tavis (16:16):Like it's, they want to go camping for the 4th of July.They just bought our thing. And if our website and theirs and I'm telling them,I'm sorry, I don't, I have no idea why, why you're happening. And at the same time, I guess they don't use barcode scanners because they sent, we had a pre-order of new products, a new size. So you go from two to four years old and you can size up from your baby bag. And they had, we had a hundred customers pre-order this at launch. And they sent them all the wrong size. They sent them the old style all at once. So we had a hundred people getting the wrong thing. We had a hundred more people not getting anything at all. And that was when I made the switch to RSL.Jason (16:54):Well, we're glad that you found us and you know, as much as we being in the business, we love to hear those stories because that's why we're in business. I'm sorry. You went through the pain and heartache.Tavis (17:04):Oh, it's been, it's been rough, but coming to RSL is honestly like, it's like, uh, getting a smartphone for the first time is how I think about it. It's like so effortless and so magical that it just works all the time. There's just so concise. The management is great. The communication is great and it's actually less expensive than either of the last two places I was at. Uh, so I could not be happier.Jason (17:29):Yay. Well, this is like the Goldie buck Goldie locks and the three bears. So, you know, this is, this is the final bed. This is, this is,Tavis (17:37):This is the one, this is the one.Jason (17:39):So, you know, in your entrepreneurial path, it's been incredible. And obviously you have a successful company. Congratulations on hitting that profitability point in November. Thank you. Uh, if you were to back on your path, there are any certain key points that you would have changed, or I don't know if it's a regret or a key learning. I wish I had known,Tavis (17:58):Ah, I wish I wish I had. I wish I had reached out and gotten someone's personal recommendation on this and a number of things. That's probably been a big learning is not to just, you know, you can, you can learn a lot from Google, but you learn a lot more. And just from, from talking to someone we trust and we'll get pointed in a direction, you might not have expected. I was referred to RSL from another one of your clients, by the way.Jason (18:20):Awesome. We love that. And if you would like to refer us to anyone else, please do, or we'll always take them happy to help. Um, what's the future for Morrison? You know, I know you have, I believe it's two sizes of the sleeping bags and a couple of colors. Is it just expanding the line or are there some, some new products in development?Tavis (18:41):We have a few things in the pipeline, Jason,Jason (18:44):Okay, let me, let me, uh, you know what tera line and I didn't share was that we're parents too. So w we were really excited to talk about this one, um, in that I need a bigger SleepSack, I've got a seven and nine-year-old, and, you know, as I'm going to bed, I always gotta go check on them to make sure they're covered up, which is different because when they're a little, they have those sleep sacks and, you know, it keeps them in them. And you always know that there'll be warm, but especially during wintertime, I mean, Vegas has been down to 30 degrees. And even with the heat on, you know, if they kick the blanket off, it gets cold. Um, so if you could help me with sleep sacks specifically, uh, JJs nine, I'm sure this is a problem. Parents have elsewhere, You know, the age out, you know, those sleep sacks. I don't even remember the brands anymore. Uh, I think halo and something else, uh, probably once at five, it just stops. And, you know, you try to give them an adult blanket and it's like, figure it out. And they're like, I don't want this gone. So that's what, that's my free idea. And then I'll, I'll keep thinking ifI think it's up, then obviously share the idea.Tavis (19:48):Hello. Well, we think that, you know, um, that we've proven that that kids and babies will be in campsites, uh, moving forward. I think that you're going to start seeing that more and more because the demand is there and, you know, we've got a lot of ideas for how we can suit their needs. So our goal isn't just to make sleeping bags, it's really, to help parents and families just enjoy the outdoors together. So in the next few ears, like, well, we plan on coming up with a lot of ways to help address those things.Jason (20:14):I know we've got that picture in the background. I'm assuming, is that your child? Uh, no, no, it's not. Oh, another stock photography.Tavis (20:25):This is one of my favorite photos because it's from a customer of ours and she's with her child and that's mountain Denali. The background looks high up. Yeah. If you've ever been to Alaska, like the odds of getting a, uh, sunny clear day like this, and then if you've ever tried to photograph your child, you know, having them sit and it's possible person came along and I never talked to them before. I'd never met them or interacted. And they just sent me this photo out of the blue, like, Hey, we had a great time.You know, it's an only this week and it really just blew me away because I've tried so many times to get pictures like this or on kids. And it never works.Jason (21:05):Thomas, you've been so generous with your time. Uh, we'd love for you to obviously plug your product even more so they can find it onMorrison outdoors, as well as Amazon and a REI that you want to show us one. I know I've seen it and you can kind of see that green picture in the background, but let's show off this wonderful construction. You sat down feeling,Tavis (21:24):This is a little Mo 40, uh, it's uh, for babies as young as six months to 24 months old, uh, it's got a snug secure police collar. So the little babies can't possibly slip inside and we want to make sure it's safe, but also big enough that, you know, a two year old can wear it comfortably. Um, it's got adjustable cuffs so they can get their hands out during the day. And then you can fold those in at night and help keep them warm.We have downhill, or this not use a synthetic fill. It's really similar but less expensive and doesn't use any animal products. Um, and yeah, they come in two sizes. So we've got the baby bag for six months to two years. And then the toddler bag is for two to four years old, we also launched a trading program.So if you buy the baby bag, you can trade it in and you'll get cash back for it. And you'll get a discount on the next size up. So you can save a little money that way.Jason (22:10):How smart is that kids are gonna grow. It's guaranteed.They will grow.Tavis (22:17):I mean, I hear that complaint so much from parents is that they don't want to buy gear for their kids because they are growing so fast.And I get that completely. I wanted to make sure this had a long enough life at18 months, that you could get at least, hopefully two seasons of use out of it, ish, and then make it easy to transition up to the nextJason (22:34):Tavis. I've got another business idea. Now that, that hand, that turns into a mitten, um, as a 30 year old man. Um, I also get a, normally you do, you kind of slink your hand in, but there's still, it's not covered up. I would like thatTavis (22:54):Eventually, maybe for like an April fool's thing one year.I mean, we get requests and, you know, Snuggies exist, but they're not down.They're not plush, you know,Jason (23:05):No for our desk, please go onto his website, check it out.Uh, the website it's really clean. It's really slick. Uh, the kids are so cute wearing them. You, you see, you know, different customers, uh, on the different places, uh, outdoors where they've used the bags. Uh, so thank you so much on behalf of humanity, um, for forgiving, you know, parents away in which, uh, seriously, you don't have to because, you know, actually, and I honestly think it was parent. I would think, you know what? It's just too cold. I don't want to bring my baby out there to be uncomfortable. I don't have all my gear, blah ,blah, blah. Let's just not do it. And wait until they're older and when they can carry their own stuff, then they get to come. But you found a way in which,Hey, you know, there's no, there's no age that you shouldn't be allowed to be out of not allowed, but, uh, that it shouldn't be a part of the lifestyle.Tavis (23:48):Absolutely. I know what you're saying. And I think that's totally true. It feels inaccessible, or it feels like too much work, you know, to like pack up the car and to get all the gear into like, especially now, like everything is, feels exhausting as a parent. And I go through that myself, you know, all the time, it's still like, Oh, do I really want to, like, it'd be so much easier to stay in and watch them another day. But every time you get out there and you, you know, you breathe the fresh air and you say to yourself, this is completely worth it. Still rewarding. Yeah, it is. It really isJason (24:21):Tavis. It was a pleasure. We enjoyed hearing about your business. We can't wait. We'll, we're going to do a check-in later on. Cause I know you're going to keep selling these things so awesome. Congrats on, on creating a successful idea. And we wish you all the luck in continuing to sell these, uh, the us as the elves in the background, we'll continue to pick pack and ship those to make your customers happy and obviously make you happy. But thank you for allowing us to help you grow.Tavis (24:44):Thank you. I really appreciate it. And a shout out toFrank, my account manager. He's the best Frank. And thank you both for your time. I really appreciate it. Thank you. You got it. Have a great day. Cheers.Bye.