In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Erik Howe, managing partner of SIC Cups. SIC Cups sells sustainable drinkware, is based in Jacksonville, Florida, and has been in business for four years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business?
Erik: My business partner and I that founded it both have active families and live in Florida. For some reason we always wanted a cold drink near us when doing something fun.
We needed something that worked better than the current products on the market and the only real vacuum insulated drinkware at the time was plain stainless steel and looked industrial.
We tried to figure out how to make a cup look cool, so we were one of the first companies to powder coat the cups!
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
E: We worked with a factory to help design our first prototypes that had been in the drinkware business for a long time. At the end of the day a cup is a cup, so there is a limit on design variations, but we changed our design very quickly to create a more slick, tapered look that we preferred and our customers definitely liked.
R: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
E: We have manufacturing partners in China that we work with – a few different factories. Our factories make all of the major name brands that you know on the same line. Unfortunately, there is not a single vacuum insulated stainless steel cup produced in the USA.
There are a lot of factories in China that handle lower volumes, but only a few factories that produce for the major brands and provide the highest quality every time.
R: How did you get connected to a factory?
E: We found our first one on Alibaba, but then we went to the Canton Fair and found our other suppliers there!
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
E: I handle our manufacturing process with our Chinese counterparts that are twelve hours ahead of me, so that means many times working late at night or early morning to communicate with them.
The other main part of my job is administrative. I handle the financials and day-to-day operations. I would prefer to have someone else work with our partners overseas, but the experience is hard to give up as time is the only way to learn how to do business there.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
E: We bootstrapped between my partner and I to buy our initial inventory and we each put in $20,000. We sold through the first batch, used the money to buy the 2nd order which was tripled the first, then the 3rd and you get the idea!
R: Where was the first place you started selling your product?
E: Amazon – we thought maybe this would be a side hustle and we could sell some on Amazon and have a nice business. We started getting tons of emails saying “I have a store in X, do you carry your products in stores?”
R: Where do you sell your product now?
E: We have several different retail channels – mainly boutiques, we have a lot of online businesses that take our cups and personalize them for end customers. Our custom logo business has really expanded in the last year and now we have a lot of resorts, cruise lines, hotels, golf courses, etc. carrying our products which is great!
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
E: I would love to sell more of our products on our own website and as many smaller boutique retailers as we can. We have specifically chosen to not go after the big box retailers as we go into these stores and it is just transactions. With big box there is absolutely no connection between the buyer and the seller.
Nobody wants to help, greet you, provide customer service, show you new things. We feel if we are a part of a smaller store, we mean something to them and they like the brand and the product, they will share that passion with the customer and that is what we are looking for.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of SIC Cups?
E: Social media is the most important part of our marketing, it is by far the easiest way to target specific demographics and to measure results.
We embrace it and believe in it and hope that we can be presented in as much of a non intrusive way as possible. Sometimes it fits to a customer’s liking but you are at the disposal of the very big companies that own these channels and that can sometimes be a struggle.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with SIC Cups?
E: Everybody told me but I didn’t know that business can really be ruthless and there are bad people out there trying to take advantage of you to gain more money for them all the time. Unfortunately, now I am forced to be skeptical of business deals instead of optimistic about them and that is not as fun.
We got completely screwed by a major competitor of ours that had never made stainless steel – they were a plastic drink company for 60 years. They were a much bigger company than us and courted us to partner with them so we could private label their stainless steel line to help them launch faster.
Without too much of a sob story, be leery of the much bigger companies wanting to “partner” with you. They don’t play nice and don’t often act the way they say they will.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with SIC Cups?
E: We have been able to work with a ton of charities where we sell them cups at an extremely low cost with their logo and they resell them or do different things to help raise money through our products. We have two great resort customers in the Abacos that were severely impacted by the hurricane this year, we sold a hurricane relief cup that donated money to them and sent them over $24,000.
Both my partner and I are golfer’s and we were super stoked when Jim Furyk selected our cups as a personal captain gift to all of the players, caddies, wives and dates for the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. It still makes me very happy when I get texts or emails from friends and family all over the US and they see someone carrying a SIC cup in a random place.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
E: It is so cliche but just go for it. There has literally never been a time in the world where it is easier to launch a product. The researching resources to find products, the ability to find manufacturers, place orders, connect with retailers or find online sellers, all of it can be done in unbelievable time and at such a lower cost of entry than in the past.
Also the other advice is don’t expect a home run, try to find some singles and doubles to figure out the kinks. If you get a home run, super, but if you don’t, you will have learned enough that when your home run comes you can execute it that much better.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
E: I want to make money when I sleep.
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
E: The flexibility to work and spend time with my family. I have two children who are four and six respectively, and one more on the way. I know these years are going to fly by, so I want to be able to do both. Work and be with them as much as humanly possible.