Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Eric Morton and I am one of the cofounders of CuffStyle, LLC. My team and I invented Cuff Adapters, which are small silicone tabs that fit over shirt cuff buttons allowing cufflinks to be worn with standard button-down shirts.
The idea for Cuff Adapter was born out of frustration with the limited ability to wear cufflinks. Previously, cufflinks could only be worn with French cuff shirts. French cuff shirts are often expensive and exclusively designed for formal wear. We found that most people owned one or two French cuff shirts if any, and they were usually just plain white or a simple pattern. We found that most people rarely wore these formal French cuff shirts (maybe once or twice a year for a wedding), and therefore they rarely wore cufflinks. This is where we felt the real problem existed.
Cufflinks are such a great way to accessorize and enhance an outfit, especially for men who have such limited options as it is. There are so many cool cufflinks out there, ranging from fancy solid gold designs to casual novelty designs, and we felt there was a serious need for innovation that would allow cufflinks to be worn more often with any button-down shirt in any setting.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Cuffstyle LLC was founded by myself, Jason, Chris, and Carl.
Carl came up with the original concept while trying to solve a very simple problem he was having. He loved playing acoustic guitar, but shirt sleeves always seemed to get in the way while he was strumming. He would typically fold his shirt cuff up just enough to keep it out of the way, but the cuff would constantly fall back down while he was playing. He wanted a way to keep the cuff held back, and he thought cufflinks would do the trick. Unfortunately, he didn’t own any French cuff shirts, so he started to improvise, and thus the idea was born.
All in all, we believe the key to success in business is not being skilled in any specific technical area, but rather being skilled at networking, managing, and motivating people.
He came to Jason, Chris, and me with the idea and we immediately saw the potential. At the time, Jason, Chris and I were in the beginning stages of building a leather goods brand, American Bench Craft, which we still own and operate today.
Jason’s experience is in product design, manufacturing, and supply chain management, Chris’ experience is in eCommerce sales, search engine optimization, and marketing, and my experience is in sales, business management, and data analysis. Carl, the original inventor has an extensive background in product design and owns several patents for innovative technology across a wide range of industries.
We told Carl, we definitely wanted to explore Cuff Adapters a bit further, but we would need to do it on the side because we were still in the throes of growing our leather goods brand. So, over the next couple of years, we refined the product, received the utility patent, designed packaging, and set up a manufacturing/supply chain. We then began testing the market in 2019 with direct to consumer sales on Amazon and sold over 2,000 packs receiving 100+ reviews with a 4.6/5 star rating.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Carl originally designed Cuff Adapters as a leather tab, which is why he approached Jason, Chris, and I (three guys building a leather goods company). We worked with Carl to redesign the tabs and make them out of silicone, to improve functionality, durability, and aesthetics. We wanted Cuff Adapters to be a product that was inexpensive, easy to use, single size and color, virtually invisible when worn, and would not melt or be damaged if left on while washing, dry cleaning, ironing, etc. Taking all this into consideration, we redesigned Cuff Adapters, reducing the size, making a single slot, and opting to use a translucent silicone material.
We then found an overseas manufacturer and began experimenting with different packaging solutions. We wanted to be able to offer different packaging options with varying presentations and prices. We offered them bulk packed so they could be cost-effectively included with cufflink purchases, and we also designed higher-end retail packaging in a metal slide top tin.
Starting a business from scratch is very challenging and I have learned there are no shortcuts to sustained success.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Cuff Adapters was a side project for my team and me because we didn’t want to invest all of our time and energy into a new innovative product until we proved that there was a market for it. We have spent the last two years perfecting the design, setting up our supply chain and finalizing the packaging. We are self-funding this project so we have not had to raise capital or bring in any outside investors. We also did a lot of market research before investing more time and money into this venture. The market research for cufflinks looks very promising and has an expected Compound Annual Growth Rate of 13.52% over these next couple of years.
We started a test selling these on Amazon last year to try to gauge the market. New and innovative products are great but it can be difficult to sell at first because you have to educate the consumer on why they should buy this new concept. It took us a couple of months before we were able to start selling these on Amazon because no one is searching the term “Cuff Adapters” so it was a challenge to drive traffic to our Amazon product listing. However, the product started to slowly sell and the listing got a couple of positive reviews. Then the product started to sell even more and we were shocked at how many positive reviews they were getting. To date, we have over 120 reviews with a 4.6/5 star rating.
The success we have had on Amazon proved the concept that these will sell and gave our team the confidence to start pursuing this full time. We have always known that Business to Consumer was not the end goal for Cuff Adapters so we are now fully transitioning to Business to Business. This is the reason we have not focused on building an Instagram or Facebook following because these are a low-ticket item that is perfect for big-box retail.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
To date, our marketing approach has been very basic. We uploaded a simple video to YouTube packed with keywords targeting traffic based around people trying to figure out how to wear cufflinks with standard dress shirts. This video is linked to our Amazon listing which has over 100 reviews with a 4.6/5 star rating.
The most important aspect of selling on Amazon is getting positive customer reviews and that can be really difficult when you are selling an inexpensive low ticket item. A lot of the times the only people motivated enough to leave a review are the customers that had a bad experience or were not pleased with your product and getting bad reviews can ruin your chances of success on Amazon. Almost no one will buy a product on Amazon that has a 1 or 2-star rating, the majority of people will only look at products that have 4 stars and up. This is why it is so important to focus on positive customer experience so you need to make sure your listing has great product photography and if needed, videos that explain how the product works.
Also, focus on your product description so that the customer knows exactly what they are buying. We have found that it is always better to give the customer more information than needed so that way they will not be surprised or disappointed when they receive the product. You can have the greatest product in the world but it will not sell on Amazon until it starts getting positive reviews so make sure you really focus on the customer having a positive experience. Once you start getting a lot of positive reviews, more people will feel comfortable knowing they are buying a great product and that is when your sales will really start to grow. Our ad spends on Amazon targets general search terms to include cufflinks, dress shirts, etc..
Moving beyond Amazon is the next step, and we are just now transitioning to B2B sales with targeting Online and Brick and Mortar Retailers. A lot of this involves just getting on the phone, sending persistent emails, and physical samples. We are also looking into hiring a Retail Placement firm to help us pursue the Big Box Retailers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future looks very bright for Cuff Adapters. Market research is predicting impressive growth in the cufflink market. Casual and personalized cufflinks are becoming much more popular and the cufflink consumer demographic is broadening to include a wider age and socio-economic range. Our Amazon sales have been steadily growing every month and Amazon recently marked it as an “Amazon Choice” product. We are now at a point where we are going to keep on letting Cuff Adapters grow organically on Amazon but our main focus is going to be getting into big-box retail and other wholesale orders.
We believe Cuff Adapters offers just as much benefit to the retail/fashion brand industry as they do to the consumer. Over the next year, we plan to focus more on B2B sales by pitching Cuff Adapters as a tool that businesses can use to grow their cufflink sales. We are currently hiring a company that is focusing on getting Cuff Adapters into big-box retail so these next couple of months should be exciting and a great learning experience.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When you begin to hire people or firms to help grow the company you have to do your due diligence. The safest bet is to first network with fellow entrepreneurs, ask who they have worked with, and then vet those companies to determine if they are a good fit for you.
Do not just go with the first company that pops up in your Google search.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most influential book I have ready is The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber. This one book changed the entire way we do business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I have been involved in entrepreneurship for the last five years and I can definitely say that it is not the easiest lifestyle but it is by far the most rewarding. Starting a business from scratch is very challenging and I have learned there are no shortcuts to sustained success. However, if you are willing to put in long hours with little to no pay and step outside your comfort zone there is no better feeling than watching your idea grow into a self-sustaining business.
You always hear the saying “Work on your business, not in your business” and this is one of the hardest yet most necessary things you must do to grow and succeed. In the beginning, it is unavoidable. You have to wear all the hats and do everything from sales, customer service, packaging, fulfillment, accounting, etc. But as you grow you need to figure out how to delegate these operational tasks so that you can focus on growth. It is a constant battle, and you need to always be analyzing and assessing what you are working on and determine if it is actually helping you progress towards a greater goal. It is so easy to fall into a comfortable routine focusing on day to day tasks rather than pushing yourself to pursue the less certain more demanding goals that will lead to true success.
Delegation is a huge part of working on your business, not in it. However, delegation does not mean just hiring someone to do the work for you. You have to be sure you have the time to manage whoever you hire. DO NOT just hand a PR firm $9000 in January for 3 months of work and expect to not talk with them again until March when their work is done.
You need to be on the phone with them a minimum once a week analyzing and assessing what they are working on and how it is benefiting your company. Nobody knows your business as well as you and you need to be able to guide people in the right direction and help them figure out how to best serve your needs. All in all, we believe the key to success in business is not being skilled in any specific technical area, but rather being skilled at networking, managing, and motivating people.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We will be looking to hire several positions over the next year. First, we are looking for a PR/Retail Placement Firm to help us establish brand credibility and pitch Cuff Adapters to big-box retail buyers. Next, we will be looking for a Legal Professional to monitor/protect our patent, structure licensing contracts, and review retail purchasing contracts.
Finally, we will be looking to hire a plastics engineer to help us reduce production costs, investigate in-house manufacturing, and diversify our manufacturing/supply chain.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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