In 1998, Julian Parry, CEO and co-founder of Fun Friends, a company that manufactures novelty cell phone covers, was a man with a vision, but he did not know it. He was going on instinct and opportunity, and a plan to capitalize on what he called, "a three year, in and out product." Instead, three years stretched into eight. Both the wireless and the internet markets continued to grow, catching up to a product conceived before its time, being sold on a venue that was not yet known.
He had been on a lobster boat in South Africa when he noticed how a fisherman had made creative use of his time. "The guy had a lobster beanie baby that he had gutted, taken some of the beanies out, and put his cell phone inside it," Parry said. From there it was a short hop to coming up with a few animal designs and two different ways in which a cell phone could be inserted. But finding a factory to manufacture them was more difficult.
"We did a lot of tuning with probably 75 different factories in China, in order to find factories that could produce top quality product," he said. "You are putting your cell phone in there and your cell phone is pretty valuable, so you want it to stay there, and you want it to be functional and you do not want it to fall apart." The end result is composed of 35 pieces of high quality fabric from Korea, special rubber, and spandex that will stretch without ripping and stand up to daily use.
At trade shows, the Fun Friends crew trades the old for the new, when diehard fans come by the booth. "Four years a guy had one on. The animal was just beat up. They come with stuff we do not even carry any more, but they are still functioning, and they are still together. They are dirty and have a lot of wear, but people still love them and do not want to get rid of them," said Parry.
It was not always that way. When Fun Friends first came out, only the business executives had cell phones, and they preferred black leather cases to alligators, fuzzy frogs, and leopards. The buyers from the wireless companies were interested in marketing only to the business executive, but Parry knew there was a market in teens, women, and children that was not being addressed. "We'd flood their secretaries with samples. All the ladies in the office would be carrying Fun Friends, and the buyer would say, 'Wait a minute, all you girls like these things, huh? Okay, maybe they'll sell.'"
In the last year and a half, sales have exploded. Although Fun Friends is a wholesale company, their website also sells retail, but primarily to test new products for their resellers. Parry said they bring out about twenty new styles every three months or so. If the product is successful, then it goes into wholesale quantities. They keep the price point at $9.99, which is consistent with where they suggest their resellers set it.
These days, the products tend to debut on FunFriends.com in themes, so that aquariums or zoos can buy an entire assortment that matches the business. The most recent line is for colleges. "The college line we are going to keep growing. As we get the licensing for them, we keep putting them out. They go like crazy!"
Parry said the site has gone through five evolutions since he began selling on Ebay in 1999. They have added flash, and simplified their shopping cart check out process to three clicks, as well as improving product views. "We try to keep it simple and easy. We want the reseller to be able to complete the transaction without any problems. We will call if there are questions."
Predictably, Parry said selling on the web was much slower in the early years. But then they joined wholesalecentral.com, began going to trade shows and distributing their literature, and their sales began to grow. The biggest problem, he said, is managing all the different avenues. "You need to make sure that you are listed, you have banners up, and that you are getting a return on your investment; that you are not just out there advertising without getting results. It is really easy to blow through money on CPC and banners and all that."
Their website is a valuable marketing tool, especially for wholesalers who are unfamiliar with their products. As Parry noted, "You cannot explain to someone how cute something is until you try to explain how a frog goes on a cell phone. One picture is 1,000 words." He said it also provides resellers with a place to review what they saw at the tradeshow. "We want them to go find those products, especially the one that is the big seller."
Currently there are 75 different products on the site. But there are eight product categories, and some of the designs are featured in more than one category. That means, for example, that you can have a tadpole on your bar or flip phone, iPod case, keychain, refrigerator magnet, and computer mouse.
Plans for the website in the near future include not only downloadable ring tones, but making it interactive so that consumers can play with their Fun Friends online. Parry said they have a loyal clientele now, especially kids. "The minute we come out with new ones, they have got to have them."
This benefits their wholesale buyers, because the interactive website with its new features will be available to their customers. "We want to do things that the wholesalers are not able to do themselves. It is an end benefit for the consumers now that the product will actually have more to it than just the product."
Minimum order is 30 units. Wholesale buyers can pick and choose individual characters in packs of six units/style, or purchase one of the Assorted Best Seller Packages, which includes a custom Fun Friends display at no charge. Licensed Fun Friends and iPod Fun Friends wholesale for $28.50 a 6 pack. All non-licensed cell phone carriers wholesale for $24.00 a 6 pack.
For more information, contact:
2073 Porter Lake Drive, Suite E
Sarasota, FL 34240
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