A remote home-based business selling customised cups might not sound viable, but when you’re an American mother-of-four living in the Australian desert, you learn how to make things work.
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Sound engineer Shelly Zimmerman, originally from Virginia in the United States, started her business MyColourCups in the outback town of Alice Springs in 2009.
MyColourCups is a range of personalised plastic cups designed for reuse. Each cup can display up to six names on a rotatable band, making the product perfect for children or at parties.
With little understanding of Australian consumers and limited local resources, Zimmerman explains the journey she went through to get her product to market.
What inspired the idea for MyColourCups?
I didn’t set out to start a company – I set out to train my family on how to reuse the cups they were already using.
Two years ago, I had four kids ranging in age from six to 18, and I also had other kids coming over all the time.
The problem stems when kids get a drink – they get a cup, have a drink and then put the cup down. When they’re getting another drink an hour later, they go to the cupboard for a new cup.
I decided to design a reusable cup because I sick of doing dishes over and over; I wanted to cut down on dishes and water use.
What was the process from there?
I followed all the basic guidelines [detailed] in business education centres. I did some market research because I had to see if it was a product that people really wanted.
I did a couple of online surveys and found that other people were looking for the same thing that I had been looking for quite awhile.
I did the designs myself. I needed a [design] tab, so I downloaded a free drawing and that really helped me.
How did you secure a manufacturer?
I initially went online – there’s a community online called manufacturers.com.au. I posted a request and got two responses so I engaged in some dialogue with them.
I then did some other research for companies available outside of Australia. One was easy to talk to and gave me feedback; I didn’t get that from any of the other manufacturers.
I ended up going with them – they’re a British company in China and I engaged with them around January 2009.
I did everything over the internet and phone, which meant prototypes were sent back and forth. It wasn’t that hard [for the manufacturer to go off my drawings] because it’s not really a complex product.
However, there are two pieces of the cup that fit together, so I sent videos on how I wanted that to work. That was more difficult – deciding how the two things would fit together. I didn’t officially start selling until January 2010.
How did you fund the business?
I approached some banks but I didn’t get approval so I got a personal finance loan. I invested $45,000 into the business.
What are your revenue projects for the year ahead?
I don’t earn a wage yet [through MyColourCups] but I have a full-time job. This is my start-up business and that’s how I look at it.
Currently, the business is earning between $500 and $1,000 a month but I’m hoping to double that within six months.
How do you plan to build the business?
I have three different party businesses that are starting to introduce these products at parties. I’m also planning to come up with a new scheme for drop shipping.
I want to attract some resellers and have some different selling tactics. I’m currently operating the business at my house and I ship the products out from there. The bulk of my orders are within Australia but I’ve also delivered to the United States.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
The problem I have is that it’s such a personalised product but people don’t really get what this product does. I need to get in the hands of my target market.
It’s been really slow getting this to catch on. Sales on my site are slow but the traffic is good. Optimisation is a priority and I’m doing PR now, which I didn’t do before.
It’s all about who you know. Last year, I joined [online “mumpreneurs” network] connect2mums and started getting involved in the things they’re doing. I’ve met a lot of women doing the same thing and I’ve been bouncing stuff off of them.
The eco side of the business is another aspect I need to focus more on. Australia as a country has more of a conscience of the environment. When I was growing up in America, that wasn’t a priority.
My product can help put an end to disposable plastic cups going to landfill and saves water through reuse, making it a greener solution.
What would you have done differently?
I would’ve had a sales strategy from the get-go. Sales are the most important denominator. Not getting that right from the start has hindered me a lot.