RinseKit is a company that designs and sells portable shower systems for anyone who loves to be outdoors. It was founded by owner Chris Crawford, who is a surfer and needed a solution to clean himself off before heading to work after a surf. The first version was made out of PVC pipe, and from there the company has continued to grow in strength.
RinseKit has won many ‘best product’ awards over the years, and most recently appeared on SharkTank, where the team ended up getting a deal from Daymond. After shifting its focus from in-store to online, the company aims to grow its e-commerce business by 20-30% this year. Their current monthly revenue figure is $150k, so there is plenty of potential for growth. Find out more from Chris about how his journey started.
Who are you and what brand did you start?
Hi, my name is Chris Crawford and I am the founder of RinseKit. RinseKit is based in Vista, California and we design and sell portable shower systems. Our target customers are predominantly surfers, pet owners, campers, people who go fishing, hunting, diving…., or pretty much any outdoor activity!
Our most notable milestone would have to be when we were featured on Shark Tank, as well as the many awards we've been fortunate enough to receive for the best product. Our website’s blog page lists all the awards we’ve won, should you want to learn more.
How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for RinseKit?
I essentially came up with the idea to solve a problem I was having. I’m a surfer, and I was growing tired of getting into my car salty and dirty before work. I had my own pool construction business so I made the first version of the RinseKit out of PVC pipe. I had several people ask me how I made the shower in the back of my truck so I started to sell them. After making several design changes, we launched the brand and started the business out of my garage in Carlsbad.
The only real portable shower available at the time was the cheap solar bag. I drive up and down the beach all the time looking for a good place to surf and saw that most people were using old laundry detergent bottles to rinse themselves off with. I saw then there was an opportunity to make a shower system that was portable and easy to use.
The name took some time to come up with. It was based on the concept of a first aid kit, the idea of it being a utility product. ‘RinseKit’ was available and seemed to fit the design and functionality perfectly. My brother-in-law is a graphic designer so I had him make a logo for us. It turned out to be pretty good; we got voted as one of the top 5 logos on Shark Tank.
Describe the process of launching RinseKit?
Once I had a prototype system, I began to work on a good container to put it in. Originally I was buying plastic utility totes from Walmart and putting our parts in them. I had to drive all over Southern California to different Walmarts in the attempt to buy enough of them.
The issue was that the black totes would come with a silver lid and the green totes would come with a black one. I would try to switch them in-store or buy both colors and switch the lids, returning the green and silver ones later. Walmart was probably incredibly confused by this as they were getting great sales in Southern California. It stopped once I started making my own tote box.
We had many early hurdles – the port strike, manufacturing defects, price changes... the list goes on. You just have to keep grinding away and try to get smarter every day.
We’ve had to open up and rebuild over 10,000 products over the years. Typically, you do everything you can to make sure the product turns out well but you never know what’s going to go wrong until people start using them. It’s always interesting to work with a different culture like China. They just don’t see things to be an issue like we would.
We had one instance where we went into production and got samples that looked perfect, so we started production. Two months later, we received the product in our facility and started finding random orange parts on some of the units. We have no orange anywhere on any of our products. We thought it was just a fluke but as we started opening more boxes, more of them had orange parts. We found out that the factory had run out of black parts and they had extra orange parts so they figured it wouldn’t matter. It looked horrible and it was right where the hose connects to the nozzle, so we had to rework all of the units.
The startup costs were pretty heavy with this product. Tooling was over $100k. Also, plastic manufacturers typically like to run over 3,000 parts before changing the process for another product, so we had seeded the business with over $500k just to get into mass production.
We originally started at local street fairs and trade shows. Once we got production going, we ran a Kickstarter campaign and raised over $400,000. We got pretty lucky with our Kickstarter and had a video go viral that got over 36,000,000 views on Facebook. That kicked the business into high gear from that point on.
Shortly after the Kickstarter campaign, we had the producers from Shark Tank reach out to us asking us to appear on the show. Going on national TV and discussing all the details of your fragile startup was an entirely new level of stress. But the show went pretty well and we ended up getting a deal with Daymond. We never officially brought him into the business, though. To this day, we still get people asking about Shark Tank and what that experience was like.
Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?
For us, Facebook Business Portal for Facebook and Instagram ads have yielded the best results. We also run PPC AdWords to protect our RinseKit name. However, nothing else has come close to Facebook’s efficiency.
With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?
We have evolved quite a lot over the last five years and have seen sales trends and marketing strategies change drastically during that time. Initially, we focused on developing our business through the traditional wholesale distribution model, using regional and state sales representatives who opened and maintained wholesale accounts throughout the US. We sold into specialty retailers like REI, Camping World, Bass Pro, and Ace Hardware, as well as local Mom and Pop shops.
We were lucky enough to get great publicity through shows like Shark Tank, HSN, Fox, NBC, etc., as well as being recognized for excellence in innovation by receiving awards like Gear of the Year. With great effort, we went from selling RinseKits at local street fairs, to selling container loads to national chain stores.
This was not an overnight phenomenon and took teams of highly talented people with grit, determination, and a willingness to grow through the growing pains. If there is one point we want to drive home, it’s to not get discouraged when growth doesn’t happen the way you want it to. It’s important to adapt and evolve and be willing to make the right choice for your business, even if it’s a hard one.
The wholesale model worked for us for the first couple of years of our business, but with the rise of e-commerce, especially the exponential growth of Amazon, we decided we needed to take a different approach. Our primary focus has since shifted to e-commerce and Big Box Stores/Club accounts like Costco, Walmart, and Sam’s Club. This sales strategy required a new approach to marketing which meant we stopped producing in-store displays and started engaging in Facebook and Instagram ads.
It’s always been about the customer, but more than ever, we have realized the need to ENGAGE with them. We don’t just want customers to see our product in a store and walk by. We want to have conversations with them on Facebook. We want to share product stories on Instagram. We want to KNOW our customer and we want them to know us.
How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?
If at any point you walk into our offices, you will immediately feel the buzz; of conversations, of ideas, of innovation, and critical problem-solving. Business is constantly changing and so are the needs of our customers, which means it's our duty and privilege to constantly evaluate where we have been and where we are going.
We are thrilled about the trajectory of our business and excited to see all the new ways it will grow in 2020. From new accounts to new industry opportunities, we know 2020 will be big for us. We are in the process of developing new products and new marketing material. Our sales strategy has shifted and we are implementing new apps and technology to improve our customer experience. We hope to grow our e-commerce business by 20-30% this year.
What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?
Take your time when setting up the business; everything from finding the right manufacturer to bringing investors on board. It’s hard to know what’s right and wrong when it’s your first time going through the process but do your homework. Rushed projects and decisions will almost always come back to bite you.
If you meet someone who is pushing you hard to not miss the opportunity, it should be a red flag. Find some good advisors who are not invested or going to benefit from the business. They will give you unbiased advice. At the end of the day, most people are looking out for their own interests.
It will get tough and you need to get lucky. All success stories are usually harder than they appear when you get under the hood. Every business has tough times and you just need to keep pushing and keep getting smarter. When the lucky breaks come by, don’t be afraid to take some calculated risks. We were not sure if we were going to do the Kickstarter and we were worried about going on Shark Tank. Both opportunities were fun and helped the business grow at the end of the day.
What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?
1. KNOW YOUR COSTS.
Profitability is key to long-term success, and you can’t be profitable if you don’t have a firm grasp on your margins. Go over your costs with a fine-tooth comb and don’t forget, it’s not just about the cost of goods. There are a lot of indirect costs associated with selling online. Look at things like import fees, duties and taxes, warehousing and fulfillment fees, platform fees, marketing fees like Facebook ads, shipping cost, acquisition costs, sales taxes, commissions, etc. Every penny counts.
2. MAKE SURE YOU'RE ACTUALLY SOLVING A PROBLEM.
Make sure your product or service solves a problem or meets a need, then communicate this to your customer. Do your market research upfront and avoid markets that are saturated, or trend markets that won’t have a long-lasting consumer base. Pay attention to pricing BEFORE you commit to a product. And make sure there is a market for your product with an MSRP people are willing to pay for and that gets you a healthy net margin.
3. TINKER TINKER TINKER.
Never get too comfortable with sales – ALWAYS evaluate your business. What has the highest yield for you? Is it specific ad sets, products, new verbiage, new content, ambassador programs? What isn’t working? Cut out the extra fat. Never let your online business become stagnant because you didn’t take the time to look at the numbers and study the data.
What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run RinseKit?
We originally used WordPress and Woocommerce for site and cart, then switched to Shopify. Though Shopify is more expensive, the reporting tools are easier to manage for most people. Shopify’s CS is excellent and the site is less likely to crash, which we experienced with several WP hosts.
|Analytics||Shopify, Google Analytics|
|Shipping||Shipstation, Fedex, USPS|
|Productivity||Google Docs, Dropbox|
|Payments||Paypal, Authorize.net, Shopify Payments|
|Design||Adobe Creative Suite|
See what tools other founders use here.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?
I’m not much of a book reader because I don’t have the attention span. I do like watching videos and have found the Master Class videos really interesting.
Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?
I have had the pleasure of having many talented people involved in the business. We’ve had everything from amazing sales teams to investors. One of the people I learned the most from was Beaver Theodosakis. He has built many successful brands – prAna clothing being his last project. He helped guide me through my early years and I’ll keep some of the lessons I learned from him for the rest of my life.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?
Not at this time.