Lisa Illman demonstrates the Kritter Kondo
As Holiday Shopping Season 2010 begins to fade into the past, you may be just now catching your breath from all the hustle and hurry that came as the year wound down for e-commerce sellers, and a new one begins. Are you thinking about picking your head up and taking a look around at what's new and what's next? We thought you might be.
We've written before about the nuts and bolts of using Alibaba.com for product sourcing. Now, thanks to Alibaba.com's acquisition of Auctiva, you can sample Alibaba.com right from Auctiva's site. So we thought this time you'd like to have a few examples of how other e-commerce sellers are using this wholesale sourcing site to build and/or expand their businesses. This profile is the first in a series of articles that will give you an idea of how others have built their business ideas into realities.
It starts with a need
Lisa Illman is a long-time pet lover. Today, she is also president and founder of Kritter Kommunity, a business born of a personal quest. Some years ago, Illman rescued her two feline friends, Madi and Abi. They all live together in Philadelphia and, although the City of Brotherly Love is warm and friendly, living in a condo in a large urban center made outdoor time impossible for the two cats to enjoy. Illman grew frustrated that she couldn't allow her friends to join her outdoors for visiting and relaxing. Like so many other business ideas, Illman's success story began when she started to shop around for a way to create enclosed space so she and her pets could safely enjoy the sunshine and fresh air together.
Enclosing the whole courtyard would have required approval from the city, complete with permits. So Illman decided to find a simpler, more cost effective way to get those beasties safely outside. In trying to find just the right pet enclosure, she was actually designing her product and her business.
Illman wanted the enclosure to be ample enough for a cat or two but easy to store for condo and/or city dwellers like her. She wanted it to set up quickly and easily and just as easily fold up into a size and shape convenient to store in small places. Add a canopy accessory to provide shade and a versatile carrying case, and you've just come up with Kritter Kondo.
Illman worked with an engineering firm to create exactly the design she wanted, and then she set out to find a manufacturer that would help her bring her prototype to the market. She started looking for manufacturers of sporting goods items, since her finished product uses many of the same materials as soccer nets or other sports structures. She first tried to find a manufacturer in the United States who could help her.
"I tried the Internet, phone book and referrals to find a manufacturer in the USA to make my product," she tells us.
I find most of the manufacturers to be extremely helpful and many are fluent in English
The Alibaba.com connection
It turns out she couldn't get a U.S. manufacturer interested in her project. Searching Google for manufacturers, Illman came across Alibaba.com and cautiously began to consider importing her new invention. Having no background in international product sourcing, she was nervous at first.
"I was extremely apprehensive," she says. "It was a scary adventure!" But, Illman had a plan and so she proceeded, cautiously.
"The Web site itself is not complicated," she explains. In fact, she found it quite easy to navigate and identify potential business partners. "I find most of the manufacturers to be extremely helpful and many are fluent in English."
Illman decided to work with Platinum Sports, and with each e-mail, her fears and anxieties began to ease. "As I continued to get pricing, work with them on the design, and continuously stay in contact, I began to trust more and more," she said. When she received her first shipment and discovered that everything had gone, for the most part, exactly as planned, Illman admits she was relieved. Since then, her business has taken off, and her partnership has grown stronger.
In the more than one year that has passed since Illman made that initial leap of faith and forged her international partnership, her product line has grown and her relationship with her manufacturer has changed.
"My contact left Platinum to start his own business," she tells us. "I followed him, as it was obvious to me he had the understanding of working with international customers."
Illman and her offshore partner continue to work closely together through e-mails and now Skype. "I highly recommend Skype," she comments. "It's great to put a face with an e-mail, and have that type of contact." Using Skype can also help you work out the details of design in real time, and ensure that both parties clearly understand changes and adaptations to the finished product.
I recommend Alibaba to others and I continue to use it for other products
A 'Kommunity' begins to grow
Illman began using her Kritter Kondo for Madi and Abi, and the neighbors began to notice. She started to get inquiries about where she found such a marvelous thing.
The interest wasn't limited to cat owners, either. With the dimensions of even the standard Kritter Kondo, a small dog (under 35 pounds) would just as easily be happily and safely outdoors as a cat would be. Dog owners started asking about the Kondos, because they're perfect little spaces for families who travel with their dogs or would just like to take them along on the next family picnic. Plus, they are washable and water resistant, just in case they need a quick hosing down or they're accidently forgotten and left outside in the rain.
Illman's product line now includes the original Kritter Kondo, the Kritter Kondo, with the built-in shade guard and the new Kritter Konnectors. These enclosures allow you to link more than one Kritter Kondo together for expanded fun, or you can just use them with just one Kondo to extend the size of your outdoor critter space.
Looking back at all she's accomplished since she first began working on this project, Illman is very happy to have found Alibaba.com.
"I do recommend Alibaba to others," she says, "and I continue to use it for other products."