Multichannel Start-up: Koo Koo Bears Kids Co-founder Lays it All Out
Four years ago, eyeing a niche for upscale designer room furniture and decor for children’s bedrooms, three business veterans with decidedly different backgrounds joined forces to launch the Koo Koo Bears Kids catalog/online business. During a session at last week’s NEMOA conference in Cambridge, Mass., one of the principals, Joe Mediate, shared the lessons he learned in starting up the company and steering it on the road to success.
1. Pool diverse backgrounds. Mediate, with 23 years of experience in the computer business, was approached by two women for the start-up: One with a background in retail merchandising, the other with experience working with Helen Ballard in getting the Ballard Design catalog off the ground.
2. Be a jack of all trades. “Nobody knows more than you do,” Mediate said, when you’re in the early stages of a start-up.
3. Start small. Koo Koo Bear Kids started out by buying a 1/3-page ad in the New York Times Sunday magazine section.
4. Be prepared for an onslaught. When Koo Koo Bear Kids took out that ad, it had two people answering phones with 20 phone lines that were all lit up with people requesting catalogs. “That was our first market test,” Mediate said. “We took more than 6,000 catalog requests.”
5. Setting up a Web site is a given; making sure you’re up to speed on search engine optimization, search engine marketing and pay per click is almost equally vital. “Spend time on SEO,” Mediate said. “You need to know it yourself.” Not unlike many other catalogers, Koo Koo Bears Kids’ sales have grown from 30 percent online in 2003 to 60 percent online last year.
6. Other quick take-away tips. Mediate said in his presentation that he and his partners learned the following from their start-up experience:
*Don’t listen to everything people say.