Here’s a quick dare. Head to www.elope.com. Search for any of this combination of the company’s custom-designed hats: the light up anglerfish jawesome hat, the racing reindeer plush helmet or the delightfully simple (and best-selling) pig kit.
Now, try to not smile.
Making sure no one could win that dare and that “Everybody’s Laughing on Planet Earth” (which is what “elope” stands for) was the mission of Kevin and Keith Johnson when the brothers launched the company as a kiosk in a Colorado Springs mall decades ago.
The brothers created elope “to share their love of laughter and style with the world,” according to the company’s website. And “more than 25 years later, that same joy of adventure, desire to make people happy and passion for creative costuming inspires every decision we make.”
It’s not too surprising then, that the product line has grown to 1,000 hats, costumes and accessories -- half of which are original elope products and half of which include licensed material of the likes of Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss, and dozens and dozens of universally known franchises. The company has also grown to 45 employees at its Colorado Springs headquarters, and continues to expand its contract manufacturer in China.
When it comes to its business, a funny thing about elope is that, despite its B2C beginnings, for much of the first part of its story, it was a B2B shop. It sold products to businesses and retail partners like Walmart and Target, and did quite well. But like so many manufacturers and wholesale distributors, with the advent of ecommerce and its entrance onto Amazon some three years ago, that business model came full circle. Now, a full 50 percent of its sales come direct from consumers, with a strategy focused on growing that segment.
No Laughing Matter
Delivering “fantastical service,” is a key company mantra. But while it may have appeared fantastical to customers, executing that first year on Amazon required something akin to whooshing one of those Harry Potter wands to wield magic on the back end.
That was the year Eli Rustenbach joined the company as the Strategic Analysis Team Lead. She remembers those orders pouring in from Amazon leading up to that first Halloween, the busiest time of the year for the company. With a 12-year-old Sage system that Rustenbach describes as being “manipulated within an inch of its life to do what we needed it to do,” the company got everything out correctly and on time, but it was a Herculean (or perhaps Gryffindor-ean) feat.
“We were manually uploading thousands of orders, minute by minute from Amazon,” she said. “It was a mess.”
After that Halloween, the company knew it needed to change its ERP system. Aside from the inflexibility of the Sage system, there wasn’t a strong partner community building connectors and tools to extend it.
“When Amazon came along, Sage was by no means ready, and they’re not going to be ready for a while,” she said.
SuiteSuccess a perfect fit
Driving process improvements with technology would enable elope to focus on more strategic activities, like conducting keyword research to boost Amazon sales and finding ways to improve its customer experience on its own ecommerce website. At the same time, the company was eying expansions to eBay and Walmart.com.
Attracted to its fixed rate implementation and the opportunity to implement best practices from industry leaders, as well as configure the system to its own needs, elope implemented NetSuite using SuiteSuccess.
“Because we had been with Sage for so long, we lost ourselves in our own band aids, and didn’t know what was needed anymore,” she said. “We were excited to have different ways of doing things from NetSuite’s industry experience.”
Virtual warehouses, real growth
With a single source of data, elope leverages virtual warehouses and real-time stock information for demand planning across 1,000 SKUs for B2B and B2C sales, and to optimize fulfillment from its warehouses in Colorado Springs. With the ability to easily expand its business to eBay and Walmart.com, the company has already paid for the NetSuite implementation.
B2C sales are up 40 percent year over year, while automation, prebuilt reports, and real-time inventory data access enable elope to analyze and plan growth strategy. The company is now eyeing international expansion in Europe.
Reflecting on the Amazon debut, Rustenbach mused about the possible next “game changer,” of course not knowing what that may be. But she does know that this time, elope won’t be coming at it with a system that is old hat.
“I don’t know what that next thing is. But I know they’re going to build a connector for NetSuite,” she said.
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