In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Bill Rychel, CEO of DecoPlate. DecoPlate sells ThermoSāf ® digitally decorated dinnerware, is based in Northbrook, Illinois, and has been in business for five years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business?
Bill: This is my 4th startup. There was an opportunity to apply a proven digital decoration technology on a revolutionary new microwave, oven, dishwasher, and food-safe composite dinnerware material, and we took on the challenge and created DecoPlate.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
B: We made our first plate the same way we make all of our products today, by hand, one at a time. The composite resin we currently use is the 44th formulation in use since we started the company. We are continually improving our materials, our systems, and our customer satisfaction.
R: How do you make your product? What’s your process like?
B: Our products are 100% manufactured in the Chicago area. The plastic resin is manufactured in the western suburbs of Chicago, the molding is done (using our tooling) on the South Side of Chicago, and the digital decoration is done at our facility in Northbook, IL using a proprietary system we worked almost 2 years to perfect, before we made our first sale.
R: Was it hard to work for two years before you could make a sale? How did you have faith that it would be worth it?
B: Because everybody we gave samples to raved about the usability and the look of the products. We knew that when we had the process perfected, that this product would be a winner.
R: How do you refine and change your resin formulation? Do you have a chemist on staff?
B: We don’t have a chemist on staff, but we work closely with our resin supplier (one of the world’s largest plastics manufacturers). Their staff of chemists and engineers have the plastics expertise, and their efforts combined with our expertise in digital printing and dye-sublimation have produced today’s ThermoSāf ® formulation.
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
B: My favorite part of the business is working with bright, hard-working and engaged young people. DecoPlate is a fun place to work. My least favorite part of my job is dealing with outside suppliers who don’t honor their commitments. Fortunately all of our current suppliers are awesome.
R: Do you have any tips for businesses who are dealing with outside supplies that are unreliable?
B: Make a change as soon as possible. Changing suppliers is sometimes complicated and painful, but in my experience a little pain now is better than a lot of accumulated pain later.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
B: I funded the business personally for almost three years until DecoPlate became profitable.
R: Where was the first place you sold your product?
B: Mommy bloggers. They loved the products, and the free samples, but they generated very few sales.
R: Where do you sell your product now?
B: Brick and mortar retailers large and small, dozens of online personalization resellers, and a wide range of owners of photographic or digital content who are looking for new and interesting products to place their images on. We are also expanding our business into the promotional products market.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
B: Anyplace a market exists for a safe alternative to melamine dinnerware.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
B: Since we are primarily an on-demand ‘drop-ship’ wholesaler, most of our new customers come to us through word of mouth from wholesale customers or other non-competitive manufacturers. Social media so far has not been a huge driver of our business.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with your business?
B: We had a large household name, national customer, file for bankruptcy earlier this year. Dealing with the bureaucracy of the courts in attempting to get paid for goods we sold in good faith has been very frustrating.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
B: Our first large sale (to a nationally known weight loss company) was our trial by fire. 10 weeks of 24×7 production to deliver in time for a TV promotion was the toughest, but at the same time the most rewarding achievement our team has had thus far.
R: How did you get the connection for your national weight loss tv sale?
B: By accident. At the time, there was a Longshoreman’s strike, and hundreds of container ships were sitting in harbors up and down the west coast unable to unload their cargo.
The customer had already purchased TV spots for a major program roll-out that included a portion-control plate, and their shipment of plates was stranded in Long Beach Harbor. Their representative found us on the web and ten weeks later, we delivered well over 100,000 plates in time for a successful program roll-out.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
B: Know your customer and know your product. A good sale is one where both sides walk away happy.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
B: My favorite business quote: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” -Benjamin Franklin
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
B: I get to bring my Labrador Retriever ‘Maggie’ to work with me each day.