What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?
The success of our project is dependent on creating a stable, flourishing demand for Yellow Leaf Hammocks, in order to train and employ more weavers on an ongoing basis.
As we attempt to break into the national hammock market, our shoestring budget eliminates the possibility of a paid national advertising campaign. To overcome this obstacle, we are employing a marketing strategy that is focused on two prongs: creating customer evangelists and pursuing media opportunities. Our short term (6-18 months) goal is to execute our online marketing strategy for virtual sales (85%), using pop-ups to interact with customers directly (15%) and build brand evangelism.
Through every event and opportunity for direct consumer engagement, we have found intense enthusiasm for the brand and the story behind it. Even with our beta site and fledgling brand during the Summer 2010 test period in New England, we found that consumers were not only excited to buy our hammocks for themselves, they wanted to spread the word to their parents, friends and neighbours. We will continue to engage face-to-face and to leverage social influence marketing to build this community into increased sales.
Similarly, the brand story and brand image lend themselves to media opportunities. During Beta, we were featured in several local, national and international articles. Increased effort in media relations will be a focus in the coming months, now that the brand elements are in place.
A key understanding is that the Mlabri value leisure above material wealth. With respect for their traditional values, we understand that they would often prefer not to weave until they need more money. In order to ensure a stable supply, we will expand outside our original employment pool and begin to offer weaving opportunities to other marginalized ethnic groups. In working with weavers from among the Mlabri Tribe, Hmong Tribe, and the rural Thai community, we have given priority to older women, women in general and poor people. This is a key priority as we scale.
Tell us about your partnerships
The most important partnership we have is our partnership with the Mlabri Tribe. They are our key stakeholders, our production force and our reason for being. The opportunity to spend time living in the Mlabri village this February cemented our relationship and stoked our determination to help them build a brighter future.
Our partners on the ground in Thailand, the members of the NGO who helped establish the Mlabri Village and the shop owner who first began distributing the Mlabri Hammocks, are key figures in building Yellow Leaf as a global brand. They had long dreamed of selling hammocks on a global level, especially in America, and are working with us each step of the way to make sure that our brand and products are of top quality. They are our daily eyes and ears into the progress of our sustainability initiatives.
As we build upon our belief in the Four Pillars, we are working with expert auditing and certifying organizations. We were recently awarded B Corporation status. We are also working with the CarbonFund to quantify and offset our impact.
As part of our efforts to gain national exposure and build the brand based on personal interaction and experiential marketing, complementary brands have signed on to feature Yellow Leaf Hammocks at their events. We are currently partnering with RelaxZen beverages to feature “Relaxation Stations” on the EVP Volleyball Tour, as well as the Sustainable Living Roadshow. We are in talks with national brands to showcase Yellow Leaf as an integral part of their promotional events and to promote our mission every step of the way.
Explain your selections
The foundation of our enterprise is the conviction that U.S. and global customers will sustain our growth through sales based on belief in our mission and love of our products. With their financial support, we will continue to grow and replicate this model.
In order to work with hill tribes and other ethnic groups in a way that supports their cultural autonomy, we will always continue to work with local NGOs to understand cultural sensitivities, local politics and environmental concerns. They are an invaluable resource to us, though we don’t seek financial support from them.
The first test phase of this company was entirely self-funded by our CEO and word was spread by enthusiastic family, friends, and customers. When Joe first returned from Thailand with the far-fetched idea of building a global brand based on his experience, he was astounded by the outpouring of support, connections and advice his personal network provided. These connections and advisers have continued to play a key role in Yellow Leaf’s growth. The ranks of our advisers now include CEOs of multi-million dollar companies and we’re building a network of close colleagues among sustainable enterprises. The Mass. SBA has recognized and promoted Yellow Leaf for its ambitious social mission.
Through our partnerships with other businesses and brands, Yellow Leaf is continuing to establish a national presence and building community through personal interaction and social media. As a collaborative, creative company, we will continue to build mutually beneficial partnerships with major brands.
How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?
Producing the highest quality products enables us to charge market value for sustainable goods, rather than a fair trade premium. Staying mission-focused will allow us to maintain customer loyalty, which is key to gaining market share and scalability both in terms of sales and social impact.
Sales growth is the key to strengthening our social mission and achieving our intended impact. We will capture a slice of the $7B leisure products market, specifically the $200M hammock industry. With sales of sustainable goods at $6.5B, we’re poised at a desirable nexus for a consumer segment far surpassing current capacity of 20k hammocks. In order to spark demand and fuel growth, we will implement creative use of multimedia to facilitate recording and sharing product experiences with community by leveraging technology and social media.
Proprietary hammock weaves will be protected via patents. Brand elements (tag-lines, logos) are (or will be) protected by copyright and trademark laws. Our manufacturing costs are capped at purchasing raw materials (yarn) and employing additional weavers (a key enterprise goal). Inventory management to anticipate demand is a key driver of economic success and is where the majority of our cash can be tied up.
Enforcing a rigorous QC process will negate strain on customer service and free cash for marketing (stimulating demand). An efficient distribution strategy will also free up cash to further build demand and therefore scalability.