Steven Epstein is the creator of the Flip-It!® Cap — an innovative lid that helps users get every single drop out of almost any bottle. One of the great things about the product is that when your bottles go to landfill, they won’t become environmental time bombs by leaching into the environment and water, as the Flip-It!® cap prevents this from happening.
After featuring on the hit show Shark Tank and QVC 72 times, sales of the bottle cap has reached $55k per month. So, how did Steve come up with this unique idea? And what are the biggest pitfalls he’s faced so far?
Who are you and what brand did you start?
My name is Steven Epstein, and I’m the creator of the Flip-It!® Cap.
The Flip-It!® is a problem solver that works around the world, providing a solution to one of man’s oldest problems: getting that last bit of product out of a bottle. We sell kits that allow people to invert almost any bottle. This means gravity does the work of bringing that last bit to the opening, where the user can then simply squeeze it out. Imagine: no more shaking, pounding, balancing acts, or cutting open. The environmental bonus is that cleaner, emptier bottles end up in the landfill. And as they are clean, there’s nothing left to leach out into the environment.
The company is headquartered in Las Vegas, with a warehouse in NJ. Our target audience is exceptionally broad and includes men and women — from young to old — and regardless of language, religion, culture, marital status, or any other differentiator. At the end of the day, the Flip-It!® suits every person who wants to get that last little bit out of their bottles.
We’ve been featured on QVC 72 times. Anyone who knows anything about QVC knows that you don’t get on once without a great product — and you don’t get on twice if it didn’t sell the first time, so to have been on 72 times is a source of pride and certainly validates the concept and the value of the product.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Flip-It!® Cap?
One winter night in 2014, I went to pump Lubriderm lotion and the pump sputtered and quit. Like most people would, I flipped the bottle and wedged it into the corner of my vanity to keep it from falling over. The next night I went to get the lotion but naturally, I had to remove the pump in order to access the product. The first problem was, “where do I put the wet, sticky pump that isn’t a place I’m going to have to clean afterwards?”. Answer: in the sink. I dealt with using the lotion (although if I had a third hand it would have been easier) and cleaned up the messy sink.
As I was re-installing the pump (since there was still an inch of lotion in the bottle), I realized “I’m going to have to go through this over and over… there’s got to be a better way!” and voila, I had the lightbulb moment and Flip-It!® was born.
I searched the market and was unable to find a solution that provided the range of sizes or elegant solution that Flip-It!® provides. It’s a stand — a dispenser with a valve that controls the flow, features a fail safe design, and replaces funnels and bottle couplers.
I worked with a graphic designer who helped me create the Flip-It!® logo. In this day and age of limited attention spans, I believe it’s super helpful if a brand name communicates what the product does. “Flip-It!®” pretty much sums it up. One of our registered slogans is “Don’t toss it….Flip-It!®”
Describe the process of launching Flip-It!® Cap?
My main business is contract packaging, which is where companies come to me with their formulas and packaging specs and I blend, fill, cap, label, and pack out their goods. I know from many years of doing this that bottle threads (with few exceptions) are standard around the world and really only come in 4 sizes: 38, 33, 28, and 24mm.
I was fortunate to have started a relationship with a custom packaging vendor named Jansy Packaging, who had the design and manufacturing resources to help me prototype and tweak the design into the product now on the market. The Flip-It!® has undergone a few improvements over the years. We now use a more pliable blend of BPA-free plastic and have fine tuned the fail-safe aspect, which will not permit a bottle to stand upside down if the dispensing valve is open. This prevents inadvertent leaks.
Startup costs were fairly significant: several hundred thousand dollars for legal including patent searches and patent applications (4 issued), trademarks (3, 1 international), trade show booth, 8 injection molds, inventory, graphic art, lab safety testing, web site design and registration, literature, etc…
Promoting any new business is very difficult in this day and age. Consumers are bombarded with choice, and their attention is now spread across the universe of screens: phones, tablets, laptops, TV, streaming services and the internet. In the beginning, we did a lot of social media posting and attended trade shows, but the shows are losing popularity since they are expensive and produce limited results. However, as they say “you only need one good one” to make a show worthwhile.
I’ve had many memorable moments, but some of the best have been selling out on our first QVC appearances in both the USA and separately in the UK, getting onto Shark Tank, and doing over $70,000 in sales on GMA’s Deals & Steals off a 25 second exposure. Today, we’re moving cautiously into brick and mortar retail but are selling kits all day, every day on Amazon.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
I am constantly turning over stones to identify new markets and opportunities for Flip-It!®.
For example, there’s been plenty of news in the last year exposing how curbside recycling is failing, and how towns and municipalities are abandoning their programs since the bottles are ending up in landfills anyway. One of the issues is that bottles discarded with remnant product inside are environmental time bombs, as those remnants leach out into the ground and water as the bottles are crushed down to make room for more.
By using Flip-It!®, people are able to easily empty their bottles completely, saving time and money in the process, and eliminating the huge bio burden from those remnant products. We are spreading this word and reaching out to communities where residents are being instructed to rinse their bottles out. By using Flip-It!®, water (another precious resource) is saved and no liquid waste stream is generated. That’s something most people don’t think about.
I’ve reached out to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to encourage them to consider using Flip-It!® to save money on all the hand sanitizer they go through at checkpoints. Every time I travel, I see bottles of hand sanitizer where the pumps won’t pump and the remnant product (and perfectly good pumps) are thrown away. Since Flip-It!® eliminates the need for funnels, TSA could buy the economy-large size and refill, keeping countless numbers of pumps and pollution out of the environment while saving taxpayers dollars and better protecting their employees.
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
The biggest issue I see today is the infinite competition for people’s limited attention spans. This is a complete reversal from how it used to be, when there were 12 TV channels, no internet, few distractions, and a hunger for entertainment and stimulation. Chances were good that if you cast a net — for example in the form of an infomercial — you would reel in customers.
Today, people are scattered across the universe of options, are spread very thin, and are mentally exhausted and overwhelmed. Competing for their attention is extremely difficult, and I’m not sure that anyone has the answer. Thankfully, there is no learning curve with Flip-It!® — a 3-year-old can figure it out in a few seconds, and it solves a problem which gives people more free time (and money) to spend as they like.
Growth Improvement Stats from 2018 – 2019:
46.9% increase in total sales
- 172.7% increase in Amazon sales
- 374.4% increase in Website sales
And 33% increase in returning customer rate from 2019 - 2020
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
We were recently brought in by several thousand Sally Beauty and ACE Hardware stores, and continue to try to get the attention of Costco, Walmart, Target, etc. We’re on the shelf at The Container Store, and at Cosmoprof — a professional beauty supply chain (hair salons LOVE Flip-It!® for their back bar treatment bottles - it’s a revenue producer for salons). Every customer continues to reorder.
We recently added an adapter for Nivea® and Eucerin®, as well as two smaller adapters, all of which work with the Flip-It!® base cap. At this point I’m having a lot of fun with Flip-It!® and don’t have an exit strategy. Although if Amazon wanted to buy it, I’m sure we could work something out. With their global reach, exposing the world to Flip-It!® would make a huge difference in people’s lives and to the health of our planet.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
- Don’t underestimate the amount of time and money it takes to get a product into the market. It takes a lot of both!
- Hire the best people you can. Business is difficult in this day and age, and reliable employees who have broad skill sets are essential. They’re out there — you just have to look.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
This is a great question but my feeling is that Amazon is dominating retail and for good reason: they give their customers a silky smooth user experience. My advice to people is to not spend a fortune on your own ecom website because at the end of the day, people will go to Amazon to purchase.
Build a respectable site — one that lets people learn about your product or service, but don’t go into debt doing it. I’ve made flipitcap.com as easy to use as possible. For example, there’s no need to create a username or password, and we allow low shipping minimums, etc.. But still I think we do 25 Amazon sales to every 1 on our website. We do have a few accessory items that are too inexpensive for Amazon to carry and those help drive some sales to flipitcap.com.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
As I was updating my packaging, I commissioned a SurveyMonkey survey to poll 1,000 people and the results were used directly in the design and messaging, which was very important.
The exposure from my appearance on Shark Tank, while I didn’t love the edit, has been beneficial in helping promote the brand. Hopefully I’ll get another swim in the tank and get the result I wanted originally, which was a deal with the right Shark. Other than that, I’m self-taught and started out sweeping floors and picking up litter, so I’ve done every dirty job and learned how to deal with customers, suppliers, supply chains, insurance, logistics, etc. “the hard way”.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
My wonderful assistant Jamie has been amazing and has been with me since the inception. We make a great team. Brad from Jansy Packaging has been a great vendor and resource to help me build the brand. I’d recommend them both to anyone who needs manufacturing and graphic art help. I met a sales rep at our first trade show, who looked at my original packaging and said “great product, lousy packaging, because it doesn’t tell the consumer within 2 seconds what it does”. He was right, and now we have packaging that gets the job done very well.
Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Patents and trademarks are important but understand that there is an 18 month “window of invisibility” at the USPTO, where someone could have gotten in front of you in line and you wouldn’t know for 18 months. The best, most thorough patent search will NOT reveal their existence. Therefore, proceed cautiously and don’t spend a lot of money on molds, inventory, packaging or anything else until you’re sure you can get your patent, or at least not infringe on any other.
Get a trademark in China if you will be manufacturing there, so no one else can get it first and give you headaches later on down the road.
Approach your sales with a solid MAP (minimum advertised price) policy in place and be prepared to enforce it. This will prevent people from buying at wholesale, then selling your item on line and undercutting you.
Beware of scams. If something doesn’t feel right, step back and look at it from another angle. We were scammed in the early days; a customer from Switzerland emailed us, LOVED our product, wanted to order several thousand dollars worth. He paid by credit card but insisted on using some freight forwarder for $1100 instead of UPS for $300. It didn’t feel right to me. I questioned them and they said “we use these guys all the time, we don’t mind paying more”. The catch was, they wanted us to pay the forwarder, so they just included the fee in their payment to us. We paid the forwarder, and it turned out that the credit card they used was stolen so the money was no good to us, but the money we wired to the “forwarder” was lost.'Hire the best people you can. Business is difficult in this day and age, and reliable employees who have broad skill sets are essential.'Click To Tweet
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
I have a very efficient business running and don’t need anyone right now, although as our retail presence expands I might need another warehouse worker or two. Right now, I don’t need an investor; I’m adequately capitalized but would consider selling the company for the right offer. I’ve often thought that a large CPG company with worldwide distribution could grow Flip-It!® easily and profitably. Every company now knows they need to be more sustainable and Flip-It!® is a truly sustainable product that would make a great line expansion.