Turn Your Customers Into Superheroes
In 2006, Holly Bartman was a stay-at-home mom preparing for her son Owen's fourth birthday party. The party was to have a super hero theme and Bartman was making capes as a giveaway gift. The capes were a huge success and one of Bartman’s friends suggested selling the capes for cash.
"I started with a few here and there, and then I would take that money and buy a little more fabric, sell those, and buy more fabric," Bartman says. "Pretty soon our bedroom was full of capes, and my husband said, 'Okay, you have to get out of the house with this!'"
In early 2009, Superfly Kids found a home in a tiny 200-square-foot space in an old winery building in Farmington, Michigan, where it began an epic tale of growth. With revenue just shy of $2.4 million in 2012, the company racked up a three-year growth rate of over 1,800 percent. The start-up, now based in Livonia, is one of the companies vying for a spot on the 2013 Inc. 5000. As applications arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of these fast-growing private companies. (For more information and to apply, go here.)
It was at the old winery where Bartman met her partner in crime, Justin Draplin, who was another business owner renting space in the building. "I was rolling out fabric in our shared hallway, and Justin said, 'I think I can sell these better than you.'"
According to Draplin, in those early days, Bartman had her approach all wrong. "She was thinking about it as a hobby, where I approached it as a business from the start," he says. A serial entrepreneur who owned his own marketing company, Draplin gradually sold off his business and took over customer service, billing, and operations at Superfly. He did research on the potential market, figured out how to reach new customers, and helped Bartman balance her workload.
Superfly grew rapidly under the dynamic duo, selling capes, masks, and cuffs to Halloween, Christmas and birthday shoppers online. Eventually the business was selling about 1,500 items per day, with some big customers purchasing several thousand SKUs in a single order. The staff swelled to 17 and Draplin expects that number to skyrocket in 2013.
"We do superheroes! Superheroes are amazing and can do whatever they want--and they do it better than anyone else," Draplin says. "I guess that personifies how we think at Superfly."
JULIE STRICKLAND covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurial endeavors of all kinds for Inc. Her work has been published in Brooklyn Based and City Limits in New York, the Free Times in Columbia, SC, Real Travel Magazine in London, and Daegu Pockets in South Korea. She lives in New York City.
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