This is Part 2 of 2 of the “Early Years of Marketing EasyStand” by Mark Schmitt.
Click here to read Part 1.
We found people to invest funds to get us started. We took some pictures of the EasyStand, ran some ads in disability magazines and made some brochures. All of a sudden we had 38 orders for EasyStand standers…
Perils of a Startup
Now that we had orders in and many of them paid for, we had to deliver. We had to scramble to make things happen. We had a skeleton crew of just a half dozen people who were already overloaded building wheelchairs and already had more orders for EasyStands then we had expected. Incredibly, we worked through all the problems, challenges and roadblocks to get the first EasyStand out the door. Our first order was shipped in September, 1989. The good news was that sales kept coming in on a regular basis for the next few months.
Another Brick Wall
This sales and marketing thing is easy (or so we thought). A few months into selling the EasyStand the sales started to slide into oblivion. What were we to do? We thought it was going to go on forever. Easy and simple, we put ads in magazines and customers buy. Wrong, we needed to use our selling skills. The problem I had was the very definite lack of selling skills. The first calls were as haphazard and disjointed as they could be. Even as a paraplegic, I really had no clue about customer’s wants and needs, nor did I care. I was straight forward and went for the sale right away without all the idle chit chat. Whoever said asking for the sale was wrong. It was easy, but not effective. I realized fast that you needed to find out their story, their needs and their wants and satisfy them before they were going to hand over a big chunk of money. Selling direct was not the easiest job. Getting a hold of a customer was very difficult. This made for long days. My one man sales team meant being willing to call customers from 8:00 in the morning to 10:00 or 11:00 at night.
Our EasyStand sales were growing but not fast enough. It was a struggle and we needed more sales. We made forays into products such as sledges for sledge hockey, shower/commode chairs and even tried selling our own line of wheelchairs. These new products helped us meet payroll but really did not do us any good. The one man sales team had it rough trying to keep up with several products, but the manufacturing team had it rougher by far. Alan made a dramatic decision that changed us from a scattered, unfocused company to a company focused on EasyStand. We quit the sledge and wheelchair business, and got rid of the bathroom equipment. We also laid off everyone except for a shop person, assembly person, Alan and myself. We got rid of the pop machine, towel service and had to take turns cleaning the bathrooms. We also changed our distribution channels.
A New Beginning
Our new distribution channel was through suppliers with independent reps handling the sales management in specific territories. Even though I got my wheelchairs through suppliers, I still had no clue how they really worked. We got calls from them asking if they could sell our products but I kept putting them off and telling them we were not interested. Imagine someone calling and asking to sell/buy your product and blowing them off (I was a rookie). We soon realized if we wanted to really grow we needed a bigger team selling the EasyStand. We also started to get calls from more people who wanted to sell EasyStand – independent reps. By now I had figured out that I truly was a novice when it came to this business. Today our network of 50 reps, 2500 suppliers, and distributors in 35 countries helps to promote the EasyStand to the people who need it.