As Travis Killian Proves, Small Improvements Solve Big Problems
Good Morning America voted the Repel umbrella from Travis Killian #1 on their list of the best gear to keep you dry.
Then Kendall Jenner said, "I liked it (the Everlasting Comfort Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier) because it looked cool, honestly, and it had a good review on Amazon. I'll throw lavender or eucalyptus in it; then I'll sit and just chill out from the day with my crystals."
They're not alone. A growing horde of fans concurs as you'll see if you scroll through Upper Echelon Products' 20,000+ reviews product reviews.
What’s the Secret?
"We always think about the customer," co-founder Travis Killian says, in talking about his multi-brand company, which specializes in uncommonly useful everyday items from umbrellas to knee-pillows.
Improvement with each iteration is the name of the game. "Pretty much every time before we place an order, we look at any complaints our customers have made. Then we find a way to improve," said Killian.
Sometimes, this quest for refinement gets interesting, especially for onlookers. Picture Travis and his partner Joe Federl flying down the highway, windows down, Repel umbrella poking out an open window as they test its ability to withstand gusts of wind. In their pursuit of a nearly indestructible umbrella, the duo added Telfon for strength and rust-proofing, then upgraded the handle and fabric as well.
"With the most reviews, the best ratings and rankings, we drew crowds of customers who never wanted to shove a broken, backward-bent umbrella into the nearest trash can again," said Travis. "We weren't the cheapest; we weren't the most expensive." But the superlative they've nailed down is the one that matters most - best selling.
One Successful Brand Became Seven
Travis' gaming background makes growing multiple brands fun. He treats the business like a game - especially when it comes to ranking well on Google, Amazon, and Bing. Give these search engines what they want to see - without being shady - and you'll gain a competitive advantage.
The duo won't enter a new market unless they're pretty sure they can do it 1-2% better than what's already out there. They don't cut corners. They're not lazy. They're strategic, always tweaking their systems to do just a little better.
While enjoying a coveted spot in the top 100 sellers on Amazon, Travis and Joe use the same drive and processes to create and grow each new product line. Highly diversified, no one product represents all of their sales. Their system is replicable across verticals and brands, currently including:
- Repel® and Rain-Mate™ umbrellas
- Everlasting Comfort™ seat cushions, back cushions, donut cushions, and pillow protectors
- Le Chateau™ wine decanters
- Café Du Chateau™ French presses
- LumiLux™ toilet bowl lights
- Flux Phenom™ magnetic screen doors
Peril On The Path To $30M
From 2017-2018, counterfeiters were a constant problem for Upper Echelon. Like a game of whack-a-mole, these sellers popped up on the product listing daily. The counterfeiters would sell through the bulk of 100 units in stock faster than Travis and Joe could fight them. Eventually, Amazon paid attention to the duo’s complaints and helped. Amazon’s Transparency program was designed, in large part, based on this instance of counterfeiting.
Travis says, “I’ve seen a lot of sellers just give up when counterfeiters are on their listing. It’s important to be a fighter. Never back down. Ask for help when times are hard.”
They also struggled to scale on their own.
"My strength is in strategy. I'm really good at delegation, creating processes, streamlining tests, and working on the business, rather than doing busy work," said Travis. "I realized that I'm not a great manager. So hiring someone for that role was important. Hiring the right people combined with finding better sources for financing over time allowed them to grow quickly in just a few years."
Soak This Mindset In: If Travis Killian Can Do It, So Can You
"I loved reading stories of people that grew up in a similar situation that escaped and did something great with themselves," said Travis. "I believe in paralleling your life to someone that is where you want to be, whether you meet them or not."
He's also found some camaraderie and practical support in The Backroom. Travis has made connections he's stayed in contact with for years. "It's nice having a community to bounce ideas off of and, you know, talk about some of the struggles of being an entrepreneur," he said.
More than anything, having a long-term business partner who is down to earth helps keep Travis's stress as low as possible. "I don't really get scared. Neither one of us takes things personally," said Travis. "After working with each other for as long as we have, we know how to deal with each other." That ease is especially useful when they start to develop a new project. They study the worst-case scenarios. They plan for what might go wrong. Then they go for it.
Mistakes are part of it and nothing to fear. They make it possible to build something truly exceptional. "When it gets hard," he said, "just learn and improve and try to do a better job next time."