Have you wanted to expand your product into other countries, but the distribution network seems complex and expensive? Today we talk to Barry Freeder, Founder and Owner of HitProducts.com, who grew his local business into a high-growth international powerhouse using resources accessible to anyone.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
How to grow your business overseas with a simple international distribution strategy
Getting into retail with a brand new product
Treating your product business as your full-time job from day one
And so much more!
You can listen to the full interview on your desktop or wherever you choose to listen to your podcasts.
Or, watch the full video interview here!
Visit HitProducts.com to learn more about Freeder’s highly featured products.
Do you have a brand that you’d like to launch or grow? Do you want help from a partner that has successfully launched hundreds of brands that now total over $2 billion in revenues? Set up a free consultation with us today!
Prefer reading instead of listening? Read the full transcript here!
Jon LaClare: If you're looking for ways to expand your product sales to other countries without creating a complex and expensive distribution network, you'll want to listen to today's interview with the inventor of the CouchCoaster and hear how he grew from a local business in the UK to a high growth international powerhouse.
Welcome to another episode of the Harvest Growth podcast, focused on helping consumer product companies, inventors, and entrepreneurs harvest the growth potential of their product businesses. Today, I'm really excited to be speaking with Barry Freeder. He's the owner and founder of HitProducts.com. One of their most well known products is called the CouchCoaster. We'll talk about that product.
He's got a couple others on his site as well, some really innovative products that he's developed over the years. I'm excited to share with you a little bit more about the products, but also the story behind the scenes of how he became so successful over the years. I think we're going to get some great sound-bites and bits of information. That'll be helpful to anybody really at any stage of your business. Barry, thanks so much for joining us and being on the show today.
Barry Freeder: Thanks for the invitation, Jon. Really nice to be with you.
Jon: First question for our audience. Let's talk about all your products, but your first one, your hero product today.
Jon: It's called the CouchCoaster. Tell us what is the CouchCoaster and how does it work?
Barry: The CouchCoaster essentially is a cupholder that sits on the arm of a sofa and holds a drink. It's a really simple product, but it's really relevant to lots and lots of people. I basically came up with the idea when I was living in a flat at the time and we had a sofa with a big curved arm. I was always balancing a bottle of Peroni or something like that on the sofa, usually watching Match of the Day, one of our footballs shows over here in the UK. Inevitably, sometimes it toppled over and made a mess. I basically wanted to solve that problem and that's how the CouchCoaster came about.
Jon: That's fantastic. We're going to dive much deeper into that particular product, but before we do, you've got a couple of other products on your website as well. Can you talk about those?
Barry: Yes. Sure. The second product that I launched after CouchCoaster was TableCoaster. That's what I tend to call CouchCoaster's little brother. It's the desktop version of CouchCoaster. It's another anti-spill coaster, but it just adheres to any smooth flat surface. Obviously, it has a wall design that prevents the drink from toppling over, if it's accidentally knocked or bumped. Over the years, that product has also done extremely well in markets that I never even envisaged selling it. In fact, Japan being one of them for example, where a lot of the social leisure time that families spend on the floor, whether it's sleeping or getting together, having a meal. TableCoaster really found a strong home around the world as well.
The third product that I launched more recently, just before the pandemic, end of 2019, [coughs] excuse me, was a mobile phone accessory called phonetag. Now I always loved the idea of being able to prop my phone up, but all of the ring holders on the market, if you're familiar with those, were perfectly round and they only ever provided for a landscape phone stand. Phonetag takes on the idea of the ring holder, but by virtue of its shape which is tag shaped. It's got an elongated end. It actually allows you to position a phone in a horizontal or a vertical position. It does both directions and it's much more functional on that level.
Jon: That's great. I'll encourage the audience and if you're driving and listening. We'll put this in the show notes as well, but check out Barry's website, which is HitProducts.com. You can find all his products on Amazon and many other places as well, but check out the website just to learn more about them for sure once you get the chance. Barry, you shared with me some of your really interesting story, I think, of how you began this journey of launching your own products. At the time you had a full time job and left that to pursue this. CouchCoaster was your first big success. Can you rewind the clock a little bit and tell us how did you begin your journey?
Barry: Yes, sure. I think it really goes back to my childhood in a strange way Jon. I was always like making things as a child from normally bits of rubbish frankly that my parents were going to throw away whether it was an old cereal box or some tubes of sorts. I was building, assembling things in my room. I think the most infamous in invention that I built when I was much younger was the rifle that fired barbecue sticks, of all things. I managed to shoot myself in the hand and landed myself in hospital with that one. I thought that was the end of my inventing career. As the years went by, I knew that I wanted to do something in design.
I studied architecture at university in the UK, but strangely I fell out of love with that. I ended up working in the property industry in real estate for 10 years. It was only in 2015 when I was made redundant from my last property role that I decided, then was the right time for me to set up my own business and go forth with the strongest idea I'd had today because I was always messing around with prototypes in my spare time and sure enough that was this cupholder for a sofa. My friends and family thought I was, completely bonkers and leaving a the safety of a monthly paycheck from a well recognized industry like real estate to think I could make a living from selling a cupholder of all awful things. After a year's worth of developing the product and then launching it at some consumer or business shows in the UK. It got a fantastic reception and that really was the bedrock and the foundation of the business.
Jon: Let's talk about those trade shows because I believe that was one of in your, you mentioned before early successes. Talk about that first show how, did you get orders at a retail trade show without experience, without a track record or being able to show success.
Barry: Well, I knew that I wanted to launch this product in a very lean fashion. I think in the year of developing, I've been reading The Lean Startup by Eric Reese and it was all about spending as little money as possible, iterating, learning, failing, rinse, repeat, watch that type of thing. I knew that launching a trade show with a small stand, not spending a huge budget was a fantastic way to basically get a product in front of the right group of people. Be that consumers to be able to test direct selling to the end user or a business show where of course, you've got buyers, and wholesalers, distributors walking the shows. That's exactly what I did within a couple of months of landing product into my second bedroom which was my warehouse at the time. I was showing my product to hundreds, if not thousands of people at these shows and there is no better place to get a first-hand reaction to your product.
Jon: Finding not every retailer is open to taking on true innovation, but luckily there are still are great retailers out there that can fall in love with the product and really help you take off and get off the ground. From there you moved on to many other marketing channels, one of which was QVC. Could you share with us your experience, how was it working with QVC?
Barry: It was a chance meeting with an agent, in fact that represents QVC at a trade show in Birmingham, UK. They loved the product. They wanted to back it and they introduced it to QVC in a few different countries where they've got relationships and we scored some features on the UK channel. I flew to Paris to do a French edition which was interesting cause I had to translate through my ear and had to keep up appearances that I knew what I was talking about. It was showed in Germany as well and stateside, I actually flew over to St Petersburg in Florida where the product was shown on HSN, obviously now part of the QVC family.
Those were great platforms to show the product. Interestingly and honestly, it didn't do unbelievably well as a shopping channel product. It didn't get any re-airings, but I truly believe that if there's a marketing opportunity available to any startup, you grab that with both hands, you give it your best shot. 100%, that has created an unknown number of sales for me in other sales channels.
It's placed my products in more homes around the world than I could have imagined. Shopping channels are a tough business. I think a lot of your listeners will know that and some products that the buyers think will be absolute winners, they're not and some that they think will be winners-- sorry. Some that won't be, will be. It really swings in roundabouts and they never quite know until that product runs on those shopping channels as to which way they're going to come out of the watch.
Jon: Yes, and I've seen, like you said, both sides and it's really hard to predict for any product, which marketing channels are going to be best for them. QVC could be difficult for your business and a home run for another, but other marketing channels might flip-flop. That's the importance. I think you alluded to in the beginning, especially of a business, as you're working to grow it, testing different concepts, different marketing channels, or different marketing, creative copy, et cetera, can be so important to nail down, what's really going to work for the business and not giving up. You got a great product it's working in some marketing channels, QVC may or may not, move on to the next one. Find other ways to go to the business.
One of the things you did next, I think in your inner sequence, or about the same time potentially was starting to work with some online or website catalogs grommet.com. It was one example back in the day that I think you mentioned to me before we spoke here, it really helped to get off the ground from a internet perspective and an overseas perspective. How did that help you propel the growth of the business, getting into these online catalogs?
Barry: I was very fortunate to to be introduced through Grommet. It was actually through a peer in my network, who I was tapping into a little bit as a mentor at the time, which I strongly recommend anyone do, who's thinking of entering a new market for sure, and needs to learn the ropes. He had previously sold one of his products on the grommet. He introduced me to their discovery director at the time and the grommet, such a fantastic company. They really back small businesses and their products. I was blown away when they put in a first purchase for just over 10,000 units, which it's nearly unheard of even if you were introducing a first product to, a maybe a Walmart, Target, these days. That's a punchy first purchase order.
They made that order. I delivered on it and they put my product in front of so many eyeballs. It was such an amazing opportunity, they got TV segments for it. The product was then written about, by many, many different online publications via a BuzzFeed or a Good Housekeeping that earned so much free publicity for the product, often pointing back through affiliate marketing links as people use these days over to the Grommet or my Amazon page. It just escalated from there in the States.
Jon: You and I just talked about some sad news that came out very recently about the Grommet where they are ceasing operations soon, is business changes, unfortunately. I wanted to bring that story up. I think there was a positive side to the Grommet, because it could be taken to other businesses that'll be around for a long time. One of the benefits of working with an online catalog like that is that it gives you, as you mentioned, free PR. They've got an audience, they share your product with their audience and other platforms. We'll talk about Amazon in a couple of minutes.
One of the issues with Amazon as you start off with a brand new product is, "Hey, they've got a massive audience, but how do you get breakthrough the clutter and get shown to their audience with their new product, et cetera?" That's one of the things where Grommet was fantastic. Then there are other marketing channels that are similar, other ways to make sure that you get traffic.
Even if you're selling on Amazon, how do you get awareness? How do you get traffic to your site, to Amazon, et cetera? Today that might be through a paid media strategy, let's say on Facebook, Instagram, et cetera, may have to place a Grommet. I think it worked well obviously, for your business was not just that order, but I know many other orders passed that one as well and drove a lot of success. Then the next step of your business, as I understand, it started to have a lot of success on Amazon. Right?
Barry: Exactly. It was impossible to ignore. Obviously, Amazon had been operational in the UK for some time, just like in the States, it's a very strong market over here in the UK. Obviously, the economy's not doing great now and I'm sure you are reading about that in the news, and vice versa, but we have, I think over 500 million consumers in Europe, so collectively we are a huge consumer base, bigger than the United States. Amazon has been building more and more fulfillment centers across Europe, just like it has over in America.
I started slow on Amazon, launched on the UK platform, soon joined their pan-European program where you could ship to UK and then they distribute your product across the border to Europe. That is more tricky now with our breakaway from the EU, but it's still very viable. There's still lots of business being done. Then sure enough, as soon as I started selling in America, which wasn't on my to-do list, it wasn't in my business plan really. It was quite clear that I would be silly to not ship from the manufacturing base over in far east to the USA as well.
I quickly opened the USA. I think that was followed by Japan, which was followed by Australia, which was followed by Canada. I think the real lesson for your audience, for anyone who's not followed this method, if they're interested in how I've scaled, is to think about how you can move your product to lots of different countries, tap into that Amazon fulfillment network. It's basically shrunk the supply chain whereas in the past, you may have manufactured in China, sold to a distributor that would've sold to a wholesaler, that would've sold to a retailer, that then would've sent to the consumer.
Now you have factory, you have a brand, you have Amazon and you have the end consumer. It's just contracted everything. That's not to say, we will making more money because boy, do Amazon know how to charge? That's obviously well documented across the web and in lots of Amazon seller groups as well. It's tough. It's not easy, but the opportunity they provide to distribute product and get your product in the hands of consumers in markets, you never imagined even selling. It is next to nothing. It's amazing.
Jon: I'm glad you brought up that international benefit. Obviously, you're based in the UK, selling in the States, and across the world. I get that question all the time from a lot of our clients, "Hey, we're doing really well in the US, how do we expand abroad?" As you mentioned, five years ago, it used to be a different answer. You had to find a distributor. Unless you're going to set up boots on the ground and an extensive distribution network, it was very difficult but going through a distributor that had connections to retailers, et cetera, it was a whole process. You had to rely on them, but now you can become that distributor or really work with Amazon to become that, to have touchpoints directly with consumers and Africa, Asia, Australia, across the world in a much simpler way.
Barry: Exactly. The links I acquired through the business shows I attended and I went to many in the UK. I went to a big show in Germany called Ambiente in Frankfurt, which is a very big consumer goods show. I went to Atlanta for their big giftware show. I went to the big ones that were really relevant to my products at the time. I met retailers and I met distributors. For the first three-ish years of the business, that is how I was doing most of the selling, but within the seven years I've been selling now, the retail landscape has just completely changed. We've seen retailers fail, and we've seen some retailers win, but they've transformed their business plans.
A lot of the retailers that are still in business now, they seem to be doing more sourcing, developing their own brands and buying products from the far east that way. For example would be a good case study there, but the retailer that are still buying from the brands that are still also selling on Amazon. They're the ones that's suffering, because there's no product differentiation. The retail landscape's been shaken up. Amazon's grown and grown exponentially, and brands have had to just work out what is right for them. For me, it's been jumping on the Amazon bandwagon and milking out as far and wide as possible.
Jon: Great point. Barry, do you have any resources that you recommend to our audience? Any books, podcasts, shows, events that have been really helpful and transformative for your business?
Barry: I'd say in the early days it was definitely tapping into the minds of those that have been there before me, not being afraid to ask questions of those more learned, those more advanced. Don't be shy of picking someone's brain. People often like to talk about their experiences and share their success because they want other people to be successful. I've fielded lots of phone calls from some product design firms I've worked in the past, where they've got clients and they're thinking about product idea, but are a bit nervous. That was me back in the day, wanting to get that advice and information from those that have trodden that path before, so definitely trying to establish some links there. I would also say in terms of new product development it can be risky, it can be expensive and everyone has their own strategies to what to do there. I used to just prototype everything in cardboard, old pizza boxes, the prototype of CouchCoaster was a Domino's pizza box that I'd carved into this curved shape with a recess to pop my beer in and that was it.
As soon as you show somebody, aesthetically it doesn't look the part. It just looks like a bit of cardboard with a hole in it but functionally, you can see where I'm going with that and that's the seed of the idea. I always encourage people to make a rough idea of it preferably in 3D, so you can get a real, tangible feel as to how this product might look and feel and operate.
Jon: With 3D printing technology coming down to, if it's not a flexible product like yours, those are great things to do. Years ago that was thousands of dollars, now you can get it done for tens or hundreds of dollars depending on how small the project might be, so there's a lot of ways to do it. Keep the investment low in the beginning as you're figuring it out. I totally agree with you.
Jon: Barry is there anything I didn't ask you that you think could be helpful for our audience?
Barry: I think one of the things that I'm more and more cautious of is how expensive advertising has become online. I think even as new channels like TikTok and other things that developed, I think it's really hard for brands today, a lot harder than it was in my position seven years ago. There's so much noise on the internet, we're thrown so much information when we scroll our social feeds, paid advertising can be expensive.
I think today when you design a product you have to think just as much about how you are going to market your product as the product itself, creating a good product is actually less than half the battle won. How are you going to get that product seen and then sold is the other bigger chunk of the puzzle. Unless you have a strategy, your product just might get lost in the space-time conundrum.
Jon: No, great point. I was just talking with one of the pioneers, the infomercial industry here in the US from back in the '80s about how easy it was back then where it was a new marketing medium. Anything you put on TV back then almost anything would sell and sell a lot. It was a Wild West, it was really easy and really the internet used to be like that. Call it 10, 15 years ago as each marketing channel first Google, then Facebook, Instagram then so many other marketing channels since then.
If you're at the front of that incline or that rapidly changing time, then you can really take advantage of it. Right now, it's different right? You've got to have strategy. Any great product is not going to sell well without great marketing, you're exactly right. You've got to have the story behind it and do it in an effective way and I will say we still see great successes. We have a client right now with those Wild West numbers, where every dollar they spend they're generating $20 to $25 in revenue, it's insane. It's a lot of fun but it takes a lot of strategy to get there right, it's not easy. You got to figure that out and not every business is going to be quite that successful but it still can be done.
You're right. You got to do it the right way up front, so I'm glad you brought that up thank you. I do want to encourage our listeners please go to check out Barry's products at Hitproducts.com or you can search for CouchCoaster or his other products directly on Amazon. If you search for him you'll find him quickly. He's got a great presence on there.
Be sure to check out harvestgrowthpodcast.com to see other episodes we've recorded. If you like this episode you want to learn more about how you can profitably grow your consumer product business, please subscribe to our show and leave us a review at iTunes or Google play.
Barry, thanks again, I really appreciate the time today.
Barry: Thanks for having me Jon.
[00:25:03] [END OF AUDIO]