This month we interviewed Eric Peacock, the founder of the just-launched Mail a Monkey™ gift service.
Erin and Eric Peacock started Mail a Monkey™ because they were tired of spending a ton of money on boring gifts that arrive in a big box overstuffed with wasteful packing materials. They knew there had to be a better way to make people happy. Mail a Monkey™ provides a fun and green alternative to traditionally mundane mail order gifts. They mail monkeys and other unique plush, recycled and organic gifts in reusable transparent tubes that arrive at their destination peering out at the recipient. No wasteful cardboard, peanuts or bubble wrap are used – just the gift in its travel tube that is made from recycled plastic. Every gift includes a personalized note and all expense paid travel (free shipping) anywhere in the U.S.
Eric, tell us about the genesis of the Mail a Monkey concept! What inspired you to create this unique product?
Like most women, my wife Erin loves flowers. As a budget conscious guy (Erin calls it cheap), I have never loved to buy flowers because they are costly and get thrown out after a few days. We were talking one night about my lack of flower giving and I shared my theory that flowers are somewhat cliche and a “waste of money.” Big surprise – she didn’t agree! The conversation shifted to the crazy things that people do to make money. We joked around how everyone loves monkeys. One of us said that we should mail monkeys. That was about a year ago and here we are today mailing monkeys and other unique gifts.
What did you do before you started the site? Any online retail experience?
I graduated with a degree in marketing and over the years have become a marketing graphic designer. I currently manage the online presence for a handful of small businesses and do freelance graphic and web design in addition to Mail a Monkey. Erin comes from a family of retailers, which has really helped with the online merchandising and logic behind Mail a Monkey’s witty and whimsical online experience. We didn’t want to just create a website that enabled us to process transactions. We really wanted the customer to have a good time on the site, be engaged and have it be fun enough that they would mention Mail a Monkey to their friends and family.
You feature organic and recycled material products. Was being eco-conscious part of the concept from the beginning?
We were already an eco-minded bunch – we recycle, compost, Erin drives a Prius… Once we decided to move forward with the Mail a Monkey concept, we knew we wanted it to be more than just monkeys in the mail. We had many debates on how we would deliver the monkeys to their new homes. After much research, we found a company that makes clear tubes from recycled materials and that are recyclable (and reusable). The use of the tube also eliminated our need for other packing materials like cardboard, peanuts or bubble wrap! That was the beginning of our green mindset for Mail a Monkey. From there we started deeply researching monkeys and other gifts that had less of an impact on the environment. We found materials that were made from recycled plastic bottles, as well as cotton fabrics that are 100% organic and colored with all-natural dyes. We will soon be introducing a line made from bamboo! Most of our marketing materials are printed on recycled stock as well.
What was the most daunting challenge you faced in creating the company? (the products? marketing?)
Finding quality products that we are willing to put our company’s name on and back with our own dollars has been the biggest challenge. With quality, safety and design and the top of our minds, it has been quite a challenge to find exciting and unique products.Dealing directly with the manufacturers overseas proved to be quite a daunting task as well. Quality control and consistency are very hard to manage over such a long distance and with minimal experience. The long lead times and a large initial investment in design and safety testing can quickly become overwhelming. In the end, we decided to use monkeys and gifts from a myriad of suppliers in order to be able to offer the best range of products to our customers.
Launching an online product is challenging because you aren’t in the shopping aisle for people to discover. What is your strategy for reaching customers? What avenues – social media, paid search, banners – are you going to leverage?
There are so many products competing for consumer’s dollars these days. With an ad budget of nearly nothing, we have had to be quite creative in marketing and promotional efforts. One of the other reasons that we decided to go with the transparent tubes for shipping is that the “wow factor” is built right into the product itself. Everyone who comes in contact with a Mail a Monkey gift immediately knows what it is and where to find it. It starts with the mailman. He sees the product, as does every other postal employee along the way.
Our business customers such as real estate agents, sales people and agencies send Mail a Monkey gifts to their clients. Many of those gifts go into a mail room and are put on a cart and wheeled through the building where it is seen by more people. The buzz is built into the product and its packaging.
In addition to using this snowball effect, we also take advantage of the power of the people and their collective voice through venues like Facebook. We plan to start using Twitter soon and are considering using AdWords and might give Facebook’s new advertising platform a try.
How are you using Animoto videos as part of this effort?
We believe in the power of pictures and the use of video. It engages customers in a way that text and a still image just can’t. Once someone receives a monkey in the mail or if you explain it to them, it is very easy to understand how it works. However, on the web you don’t have these luxuries. There are only a few seconds to capture the attention of the visitor and engage them enough to continue clicking through the site.From day one we knew we needed video to be a catalyst so that people would “get it.” I have been a fan (and customer) of Animoto since I first saw them on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. Nearly all of my clients have videos created using Animoto’s service. It is just too easy and compelling not to take advantage of it.
We didn’t have the budget to hire a videographer to shoot a fancy commercial for us and we really didn’t need one. Using our product photography from the website and a $150 video camera, we were able to take advantage of Animoto’s new video feature to produce what we think is a great “commercial.”
It took a fraction of the time and nearly no cost to produce and we have received so many comments on how cool it is. We actually delayed the launch of the site a week so that we could integrate it into our home page using a video lightbox feature. We also downloaded the High-Res version and uploaded it to YouTube and Facebook to help extend the reach of the video.
Aside from Animoto what web services or products did you find invaluable in building your business?
I am a huge fan of the power of email marketing. I have been using Mail Chimp for the past five years and it only seemed fitting we use them with Mail a Monkey. Our email newsletterhas done wonders for us. We try to make our email campaigns as fun and whimsical as the website.We did all of the design, layout and usability for the website, but we hired a developer to help us “slice and dice” it into a functioning store. Choosing the right commerce solution is a huge deal and finding the right developer is even bigger. We used Aeolidia. They are web ninjas and without them we would still be spinning our wheels and trying to sort it all out.
Any tips for our readers starting up businesses of their own?
Do it. Take a chance. Don’t hesitate or wait for the right moment – it will never come. If you have an idea, bounce it off friends, family, co-workers, your dog and whoever else you trust and then make it happen. Listen to everyone’s “advice” and don’t have an ego. Great ideas come from the strangest places. Hire people smarter than you and once you have decided on a final budget and timeline – double it. Everything takes longer than expected, but at the end of the day when you get your first order (and 1000th), the feeling of accomplishment and pride is like nothing else. Oh, and if you don’t love whatever it is that you are considering, move on to another idea. Without passion for your product, it is doomed from the start. Have fun…