Hello! Our names are Justin, Taylor, and Brad, and we are the guys behind what will come to be known as “Riverr.” Although it isn’t important that you know anything about the three random guys who are creating this platform, we want you to know that we care about you and that we face many of the same challenges that you are currently facing in your business.
So, without further ado, let’s get started at the beginning.
This was the beginning. Taylor was going to school at Ohio State and his job was making smoothies at a local country club. I (Brad) was working for my dad, but before long I would be making the move to Kolkata, India. My new job was going to involve marketing for a garment manufacturer that was focused on giving employment to the poorest and most neglected in the city. The problem was that I didn’t know anything about the industry. I wanted to learn through some trial and error, so Taylor and I decided to embark on a journey.
We bought a small four color manual press, and we went around looking for work. Not too long after that, we convinced Justin to leave a good job in Florida to come back up to Ohio and join us on this journey. (I’m not sure what made him make that decision, but we are really glad he did!)
As you can probably already guess, it didn’t start out very well. We couldn’t find consistent clients, and we made a LOT of mistakes. We couldn’t get screens to come out right, we misspelled words on shirts, and the list goes on.
I also remember a time when we thought we caught a break and we were doing some camp shirts for an NFL player, but then after we had made the shirts we were ready to ship them, we couldn’t get a hold of the players agent anymore. We had put a lot of money and time into these, and they were now worthless.
We had a lot of downs and not a whole lot of ups. Sometime along the journey, though, we decided to buy an Epson DTG that needed a new print head. Horrible idea, I know I know. We did it anyway, though, and ended up spending a lot more than we thought getting it fixed and running again. (We have never had good experiences with Decision One, and unfortunately it is just part of the industry at this point…)
Soon after we got the DTG, we opened a shop on Etsy. I love to do research, and I quickly found that Disney is the biggest niche in the apparel section of Etsy. We made some Disney designs, slapped them on some mockups, and within a month we started making a lot of sales!
It was the most exciting point in the business that we had experienced, by far. It was such an elation to be at a point where we were profitable and we could cover Taylor and Justin’s pay each week.
Business was doing well, and we needed another printer. This time, we bought a new F2100, and it was one of the best decisions we made. It was so much faster and the prints were so much nicer, and we were still able to have one print operator. We paid this machine off by the end of 2018, and things had never looked so bright.
We opened another Etsy shop in the wedding/bridesmaid niche. I had done some more research, and we had found that this was the second largest niche in the apparel section on Etsy.
Once again, we started getting sales immediately. The only downside to this second niche was that a lot of the designs needed to be pretreated, which meant we needed to hire someone to pretreat fulltime.
A LOT happened in May of 2019. We purchased a third Epson DTG, we hired Tyler full time to help us with pretreating, and we moved into a legit manufacturing facility in Cleveland. It was very exciting and we were finally starting to feel like a real business. We were having more sales than we had ever had, and we were starting to take big boy steps that we had never had to take before this.
We were averaging between 2,500-3,000 dollars per day in sales from our two major Etsy shops. Unfortunately, this was the peak of our Etsy days.
We had to put the shops on vacation for several reasons, for a period of almost two weeks. When we got back online and started taking orders again, they were not as high as they had been before we had put the shop on vacation. (We know now that this is pretty common, and that putting your shop on vacation is a scary thing for a lot of sellers.)
Another thing that changed shortly after that was Etsy advertising. We were doing really well with the PPC on their onsite ads. We had never had a lot of luck with their google ads or any other offsite ads, but the onsite ones were great.
This must have been happening to a lot of sellers because they completely removed the ability to differentiate between onsite and offsite, and it instantly killed our margins.
Our sales were ok, but we didn’t know if we were profitable or not because the ad prices were so much higher than they had been before. We were stressed through the next few months, and we weren’t sure what next step to take.
Fortunately, God made our next step for us. (Proverbs 16: 9 says: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.”) That evening I was looking at our sales numbers on the Etsy app, but it was at 0 and it looked like there was no traffic coming in. I went to my email and realized that we had not only been suspended, but we could also not apply to be reinstated.
It was the end of Etsy. We had had a few copyright infringement notices given to us before this, and apparently this was equivalent to strike three. In all fairness, the infringement notices that we were given were from two sources: we had multiple infringements from Gerber for using the term ‘onsies.” We had always thought that ‘onsies’ was a generic term, but it’s not! (If you sell baby apparel, please use the term “body suit” instead.)
So anyways, the last infringement was for a Christmas sweater that had a picture of the Grinch on it that we had created ourselves. It was in January so if we would have just taken the sweater down on time (The end of Christmas), then we would probably still be on Etsy today.
Needless to say, I was freaking out, and I did not sleep that night. We had about a week and a half where we didn’t know what the heck we were going to do next. Obviously we should hang it up, right?
Ironically enough, on the same day that we were shut down on Etsy, we started doing some sub work for another marketplace seller. She has been awesome.
Not too long after that, we reached out to another Etsy seller, and told her that we knew the system and could do work for her as well. She had been looking for a sub and she was willing to give us a try. She has been awesome as well!
We all know what happened this month, and once again our sales were down to zero for about a month. We thought “God has to be telling us that its time to hang it up…we have just had too many crappy things happen to us.” Little did we know, but they have already turned out to be the two best events in the history of the business so far.
We started getting orders from our sellers again, and as you may have guessed, it was a lot of masks. We also applied for an SBA disaster loan, and we were approved! We decided to take the cash and upgrade our equipment to Kornit, so that we could give a better experience (Higher quality print and better pricing) to our clients.
We realized that there was a gap in the market. There was not a single workflow platform that worked well for print on demand sellers and decorators. The only ones we found were very expensive and hard to use, and they did not have the functionalities that we wanted anyways. We are currently using our shipping platform and Excel spreadsheets to see the orders that are coming from our sellers, and needless to say it is not ideal. Even when we manufactured our own products, we would have killed for a system that kept track of our production workflow, because it would have saved us a LOT of wasted garments and returns.
So, we decided to create our own. We want every POD seller and decorator to have a great option for their workflow. We want the system to connect within the platform to other sellers and decorators on the platform, so that everyone has a clear picture of what is going on in their business, and communication between parties is completely out in the open. We have never been more excited about a product, and we hope that you are willing to come on this journey with us. We need companies like you who will speak into the ongoing development so that we can make it easy to use and useful to anyone who has a POD brand or decoration shop.
We hope that it is ready to ship by the end of October, so if you are interested and want to become a part of the community, sign up below. We will keep you in the loop at every step, and we want you to speak into the product as it evolves and grows, because this isn’t about Riverr, it is about us as a POD community, and helping each other create the best version of our business we can as we continue to drive forward into the future.