If you had to look around your office to identify potential hazards at your workplace, I bet the last thing you would think of is the chair you are sitting on. ‘Sitting is the new smoking’, health experts are warning us today linking extended sitting in front of our screens with a cluster of conditions like neck pains, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat.
But, thankfully, there are clever alternative office chairs that are a lot healthier for our bodies and help relieve back and neck tension caused by regular office chairs.
Today I am super excited to have a conversation with the business owner who seems to able to think not only outside the box but also outside the office cube. Liz Mercer is the Founder and CEO of Sleekform Furniture. Sleekform is a direct-to-consumer line of ergonomic furniture that specializes in kneeling chairs and help you build the ergonomic office of your dreams. Their mission is to provide an alternative seating option that is accessible for the average person.
‘At some point in history, people stopped trying to improve the chair. We get a new version of the iPhone every six months and we line up for hours to get our hands on the most minor of updates, but we haven’t had innovation in sitting. And by “improve”, I don’t mean make cuter. I mean more body-friendly’. Liz writes in her blog.
Let’s have a chat with Liz and find out how her new alternative chair business is going.
Liz, tell us about how you came up with the idea for the business
Liz: I worked at a software company, and that software helped people understand how to sell on Amazon. It helped identify places in the market where you could create a product and do pretty well without having to put a whole lot of money into something and not know whether you gonna sell something or not. This specific type of chair had that market share, the available gap, so I just started to look into that and then I decided to leave that software company and come to Sleekform for full time. That’s when I began to dive into the nitty-gritty of everything.
This type of chair was originally created in 1970th in Scandinavia, and I just came to love them. But in the history of these chairs they’ve always been expensive, they have always been priced around 500 dollars. I set the goal of making it affordable for anybody to grab this chair. That’s why I chose the direct to consumer model and that is why I decided to produce in Asia vs. building somewhere else where labels are more expensive.
And what was it like when you started?
Liz: Everything was different. Everything was new. In the beginning, I was afraid of touching too many things. So if I did anything incorrect, was I going to get reprimanded from those companies. I was a little bit timid but what I learned was you could fix everything, everything is fixable, you can just dive into it and figure it out.
Logistics was most challenging because of all the steps. The goods have to go from manufacturer to freight forwarder, onto a boat, through customs, onto a truck, and finally into the warehouse. So it’s a whole lot of logistical pieces that needed to fall into play. Luckily, there is a group out there Flexport whose services I use to take my goods from the supplier to the warehouse here in the US.
You’ve been around for two years and have already seen some positive results. Tell us how you measure success?
Liz: I think for me personally the level of success comes from people who the chair impacts. When they write to us, we get a lot of customers’ emails and customer reviews to let us know how the chair is doing, how it’s changed their lives and so the more of those that coming – I measure success in that way. And then in the internal side, it is to see my team growing and becoming more skillful – to be able to help other women I hire on my team expend past what they thought they could do and get out there and push boundaries they were afraid of pushing.
Outlook for the future
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for your company?
Liz: Right now, we are direct to consumer, so I sell on my website and I sell on Amazon. The next thing that I really want to get into is offices. I want to help people make their workplaces healthier. We can’t change the way our life is. Our life is sedentary. But what I can do is I can start to infiltrate small areas of the world that are very sedentary and just show people that there are different ways to create your life. A different way to live in a sedentary lifestyle and not hurt your body in the process. Whether it’s a chair or a standing desk, it could be alternating between a chair and a standing desk, really helping to figure out how that looks for each individual person.
And then the second one is getting these chairs to children in schools. Children are worse than we are – they want to move more than we as adults. We put them in this challenging situation where they have to sit upright and focus for these long periods. If we put different chairs that would allow them to move a little bit more, be a bit more engaged, they will do better in school. Those are two places I want to focus on next.
What are some unexpected benefits of owning an eCommerce business?
Liz: I’m all online. I am a big proponent of remote work and location independency. Firstly, you can use the money that would be used for brick and mortar stores from a staffing perspective, from a rent perspective and from a utilities perspective, and all of that can go back into the product. To continuously improve the product, hire better talent as well as buy more products.
Then, ready-made eCommerce solutions allow me to move faster without having to have a high-tech coding background. I can make some small tweaks on my website without hiring coders to make things happen by using online tools that allow us to move more quickly. And, there are so many online tools out there you can utilize. For example, I use MailChimp for email marketing and Quickbooks to manage my accounting and bookkeeping.
Also, my entire team is entirely remote. I genuinely believe the positives of remote work outweigh the costs because I can work with people who are incredibly talented from all over the world. I am located in Austin; if I can only look in Austin, it’s a much shallower pool of talent than it is if I can look at the entire globe. The team right now has me based in Austin, Texas; my advertising guru is in Moldova, suppliers are in China, and a content writer in Canada. The time swings are large, and we all have to be flexible with that. To make life a little easier, we utilize several online tools, one of which is Google Drive to organize documents and Slack for centralized communication.
Tell us about the biggest challenges you have faced or facing now.
Liz: One of the biggest challenges I am currently facing is the trade war between the United States and China. One of my largest priorities is to make the chairs affordable for anybody. With this new trade war, I have to add between 25-32% to pay to the government. This reduces the ability for me to continuously buy more chairs and consistently offer these chairs at a lower price. So it really forces me to think outside the box. What else can I do from a logistical standpoint that reduces cost? What other things can I do from a manufacturing standpoint? Can I buy two containers instead of one to reduce the unit cost? So that’s a big challenge right now.
However, in the beginning, the most significant challenges are just in your head. I built all of these situations that I could not overcome, but they were not actually real situations. I feel like we women; we’re always kind of afraid of if we do it wrong, what do we look like for the public, friends, and family? What if we aren’t the best? That’s scary for us. Males are more used to putting themselves out there and going outside their comfort zone, say, maybe ask a girl out, and if it doesn’t work, it’s ok. But as females, we are not brought up that way. I think it’s a little bit scarier for us to put ourselves out there, like what if it doesn’t work? So once I started taking over those things and realized that if it’s not perfect, it’s ok. I can fix it. I can figure it out. I can Google something differently. And this is how you start to learn and begin to build on yourself and your knowledge.
What drives the driven?
Liz, what drives you to keep going?
Liz: I am a part of several female entrepreneur organizations. There is one, in particular, located in Canada. We meet up, and when we get together, we share stories and things that have been happening. But what I didn’t know I would gain from this group is the ability to text them all the time. We share wins that we have in our days, and I never anticipated having that on my phone and at the drop of a hat to be able to talk to someone and ask a question: ask advice or share something I was proud of. It’s like you have an entire group of women who are standing behind you and pushing you forward and telling you are doing a great job, giving you tips and tricks and there as a support system – having that has been a game-changer.
Did you have a role model when you started?
Liz: My parents were my role models. My parents had their own business, and it was amazing to see them grow that from childhood. As a child, when you see something that your parents do, all of a sudden, you feel like you can do it too, whatever that is – doctor, business owner, being in the military. Whatever they are, you believe you can do that also. I was fortunate to have that influence as a child.
Today it’s cool to be living in this day and age, where entrepreneurship is popular, and people talk about it. Entrepreneurs are this new type of celebrity. You can look up to Sarah Blakely, Kylie Jenner, or anyone who is in your sphere of interests – the stories are being told. So even if you don’t have those role models in your family, the stories are there.
Liz, thank you for sharing with us your story. I am sure with the energy and determination you have, very soon you will be a role model for someone else.
If Liz and I still haven’t inspired you to leave the office and start your eCommerce business, I hope we at least inspired you to throw away your office chair. Ready to consider the latter? Click the link above and explore alternative ways to make your workplace healthier.
Ready to discuss your eCommerce idea? Click the button below and we will be happy to have a chat with you!