Started in 2009 by Christopher Burch, Poppin is an office supply company with a twist—they make office supplies that are thoughtfully designed to actually make your desk look better, not cluttered.
Their design aesthetic is emphasized so much, in fact, that they don’t even consider themselves an office supply company. “We consider ourselves a work lifestyle company,” says CEO Randy Nicolau, who joined Poppin in January 2012. “If you’re a stay-at-home mom, if you’re a student, if you’re a salesman on the road, working out of your car—we’re going to have products for all of that. Our motto is, wherever you work, however you define work, we want you to work happy.”
Poppin is currently planning a major relaunch for September 2012, which will see the company expand from office supplies to items like furniture, and technology and kitchen products. Soft goods, such as bags, and games for the office breakroom are planned soon after. With the product relaunch will come a website relaunch, as well, focusing on more inspirational photography, showing curated workspaces for the office, home, dorm room, and more.
Poppin is no stranger to starting fresh. When they received their first batch of product, back when the company had just started, the results didn’t match Burch’s expectations. Because they ordered the product from different manufacturing plants in China, items that were supposed to match were slightly different colors. “I would guess that probably 99 percent of people would have shipped the product to the customer, given the amount of time they’d already spent and the amount of dollars that had already been invested,” says Nicolau. “But because Chris has such impeccable standards with respect to quality when it comes to customer experience, he decided not to ship any of the product.” Everything was donated, and Poppin started from scratch.
“The biggest mistake the company has made is really around the execution of the manufacturing— not realizing that is actually very tricky and multifaceted, and that there are a lot of resources to help you mitigate problems. Companies will help you with the quality control and testing,” says Nicolau. To fix the issue, and to prevent similar mistakes from happening with the new relaunch, the company hired more employees in China (two are ex-pats, to address any communication issues) and they have narrowed their manufacturing factories down significantly.
Expanding for the Future
At the moment, Poppin has 17 employees in their New York City office and another 5 in China, and are planning to double in size by the time of the relaunch. “We hire for where the company’s going, not where we are. We want to be a billion dollar company. We’re hiring folks that are the caliber that can manage and operate in a company of that size,” says Nicolau. And the main thing they look for when hiring is something unusual: no previous experience at a similar company. “The one thing we do look for is that you don’t have experience at an office products company. We think that has been one of our strengths. That way they don’t bring any baggage to the table. We’ve had a lot of people from the industry who’ve sent in resumes, and we’ve interviewed a few of them and it’s kind of confirmed our suspicion. They just bring a preconceived notion of what that industry should look like, and that’s the industry we’re trying to disrupt.”
Poppin received $6 million in Series A funding from Shasta Ventures and First Round Capital in February 2012, but hasn’t received any additional funding for the expansion. Although the company knows they’re taking on a big challenge to expand and relaunch the business so quickly, several of the recent key hires over the past few months have worked for companies that have experienced tremendous growth in a short amount of time.
For the future, the company is concentrating on social marketing, taking advantage of websites such as Pinterest to capture their demographic. Many of their current customers are extremely well versed in social media—when they receive one of Poppin’s products, some customers immediately take a picture of it and add it to their Facebook page. In the next few years, says Nicolau, although the company won’t disclose specific sales figures and projections, they’re aiming to pass the general standard for what they consider a successful e-commerce company: more than $10 million in sales for the first year following the relaunch, and approaching $50 million in sales the year after that. For the foreseeable future, there are no plans to sell products wholesale, and Poppin is aiming to define and communicate its brand through direct-to-consumer e-commerce.
As for their five year plan? “We’re going to be a much bigger company. I think we’ll have found our way with respect to what products and categories people are going to look to Poppin to fulfill for them,” he says. “Five years is a really long time in e-commerce, because when you connect with people socially and virally, the growth is phenomenal.”
Michelle Court is the managing editor at The New York Enterprise Report. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.