When I (it's Alex here...) started "Clippopotamus" in 2007, it was on a whim. I was staying home with our daughter Story, and was looking for a fun outlet. This is the part of the story where the other hair clip company owners say,"There was just nothing on the market that worked in my daughter's fine hair, I had tried everything! So I invented this fabulous clip!". Instead I am honest: there were ribbon-covered hair clips in my local stores for upwards of $8/pair and I couldn't see spending that much on something that cost less than $1 to make myself. So I spent some time Googling, found tutorials on how to make them, and so it began.
In the beginning
I sat down and made some of those hair clips I was too cheap to buy. And then I made some more. And then I sold them to a couple friends. And to their friends. And then my darling husband designed me a logo, a website, and it all started to snowball. In a matter of a few weeks, my products were being sold in retailers across Canada and I was learning more about wholesaling and retailing children's products than I had ever dreamed. I had a background in research and a degree in Business that I wholly put to use that year, let me tell you.
When Melonhead (a large children's hair cutting chain) decided to stock my products, I was elated. At the time it was just me sitting in my basement making all the products, and I had my parents and husband all working like crazy to get our first huge order out the door. It was exhilarating and more than a little mind-blowing that these little crafts could be doing so well in stores.
I spent hours upon hours each and every night contacting retailers, sending samples, following up... all to get my product into stores. Each time a new retailer placed an order, I felt a thrill... each one was a success, a huge win, a major accomplishment. And when they re-ordered time and time again, I was so proud of the work I had done to turn something into a business the way I had.
Each one of these developments changed my little business into something bigger, something a little more out of my control. Prices were adjusted to fit into retailers' demands. My husband Ryan and I spent countless late nights designing new packaging, creating line sheets, dreaming up promotions for retailers and creating a brand from just a name. Every tiny detail was agonized over and thought about at least a thousand times. But it was so worth it: the work paid off and our darling Clippo took off like crazy.
Each success drew the (negative) attention of competitors and put me in some horribly uncomfortable positions with some really nasty fellow hair clip company owners. It's a killer business, ask anyone involved. (aside: email is forever, people... I still have the email from a competitor whose right-hand person sent me a string of absolutely vile emails. They go nicely with the owner's response to the situation and her outrage at my refusal to sell them my product that they openly admitted to wanting to copy. I quote, "We have a line of soother clips coming out that will look very familiar." Nice.)
The reality of business
It's been four years now and since those early days, we've grown so much that I don't personally make any of our products anymore. I'm lucky enough to have an amazing staff of people working with and for my business. We've shortened our name to just "Clippo", hired a sales rep, a PR company, had four website redesigns and a major rebranding, we've phased out those original hair clips and grown our product line into a well-known brand across Canada and in much of the United States.
With the success of my company came some fantastic opportunities: I've become friends with people I considered my heroes before, met other inspirational business owners, had fun speaking engagements, enjoyed meeting loyal customers, had successful fundraising initiatives for causes close to my heart, and let's not forget the general sense of pride and accomplishment I feel when I reflect on how special Clippo has become.
But there are also the negative sides: my prices are controlled by what retailers demand, my sales events are frowned upon by these retailers because they affect their ability to sell at full price, there's a lot of work involved in keeping things fresh for the retail market and the competition in the market is vicious. My super-sales rep works hard to compete with other accessories companies in the market but it isn't easy with kids' products. With so many companies outsourcing to China (yes, even small Canadian businesses buy from random Chinese factories), competition is fierce. Even Melonhead started their own line of made-in-China hair clips. EDIT: Melonhead has contacted me to say their clips are actually made in Ontario, so the info we were given when they dropped our line was apparently untrue. I've never stepped into a location so I can't verify this, but I do know they sell other Canadian-made products so I'll have to go on their word today. When you can buy these clips for .29 cents a pair or a webbing belt for less than $2 from a Chinese factory, it makes it hard to compete for profits when we pay our staff high Canadian wages to make our products here.
Winds of change
In recent months I signed up for the ABC Kids Show in Kentucky this year. It's the biggest retail buying show in North America and it was a pretty huge step for us at Clippo. I was very excited to go, and had some amazing inquiries about our products long before the show date. But I had this nagging feeling that something just wasn't right. Something wasn't quite fitting with what I wanted for Clippo. I sat down with my husband and discussed where I'd like to see the company in five years, and what I wanted from it. What if one of these large retailer inquiries went forward? What if we were a huge hit and signed a bunch of new retailers? What if? What if? What if? I know that right about now you're waiting for me to say goodbye and let you know we're shutting Clippo down but that's not the case at all.
Here's what I want for/from Clippo:
I want Clippo to be a company that does good things.
I want to be charitable and fun, and to have my customers come first.
I want to always be the voice and controller of the brand you've all come to know, love and trust.
I want my company to offer what many do not: true craftmanship and pride in a 100% Canadian-made line that WILL NEVER buy products from a Chinese factory and let customers believe they're made here. (especially concerning if you have no idea what the working/pay conditions are at these factories...it matters. Human rights matter more than profits.)
I have no interest in letting retailers make more on our products than my manufacturing staff makes.
I don't want to use a Canadian factory to make the products because I absolutely love the fact that there is a Mom sitting behind a sewing machine at home lovingly making Clippos for you all.
Of course I want to remain a financially successful company, but I do not want my prices inflated because of retailers "needing" a 100% profit margin.
So here's where this lead me:
I backed out of the ABC Kids Show because it no longer fits the Clippo model of business. We are going back to basics.
We are bringing Clippo back to the people who matter most: our friends, fans and families.
Clippo is withdrawing from retailers. We will no longer be wholesaling our products.
So what does this mean to you?
It means our prices will drop dramatically in the very near future. It's important to me that we offer you our amazing line at prices you deserve and we can feel good about offering. It means we will be free to change up the line, offer you specials, new products, limited editions... whatever we want! Because we'll have control over our products and not answer to anyone but you. It means we get to stay focussed on the fun part of our business: growing it alongside our amazing, faithful fans.
It means that we honestly love what we do and we want you to love it just as much.
Thank you. Each and every one of you. I absolutely cannot wait to share this next phase of Clippo with you all.
(p.s. Just for reading, here's a 40% discount code that is good till August 2nd. Remember that we're actually shut down till then, so orders won't ship till after the 4th. Code: CLIPPOLOVE)