Backstory

Supplying smaller retailers can result in a better payoff

vbridges@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2013 

VIRGINIA BRIDGES — vbridges@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Rob Jordan’s advice •  Do things on your own terms. •  Don’t allow buyers to rush you. •  Ask how long a buyer has been in a position and how often the position changes.

— In 2011, Fortis Design owner Rob Jordan received product inquiries from three major retailers and started to expand his company and production facilities.

The year, however, ended up being one of the company’s worst, Jordan said.

Fortis, founded in 2000, is a Raleigh design and wholesale company that creates and distributes products such as hand-painted greeting cards, magnetic wristbands that hold screws and nails, and designer duct tape.

Jordan came up with an idea that would turn into Platypus Designer Duct Tape after a friend said she wished there was a duct tape for girls.

In 2009, Jordan took that idea to Shanghai and developed and manufactured a craft duct tape with a matte finish and seamless pattern that could be used to cover shelves, decorate furniture and make wallets.

Platypus Designer Duct Tape won the Retailers Choice Award at the Las Vegas National Hardware Show in May 2011. A buyer for a major retail chain called Jordan the next month, and he went to the company’s corporate headquarters two days later.

Jordan started working on a plan to deliver 24,000 units of duct tape in three custom colors to 1,000 of the retailer’s stores within five months. However, Jordan had his eye on the larger order he expected to follow that would go to about 3,000 stores.

Fortis spent thousands of dollars on new tools and equipment and hired people to build, package and deliver the product on time.

Two more large retailers also reached out to Fortis that summer. One ordered a one-time holiday shipment, and Fortis continued to work with them with mixed success in 2012. The other retailer’s buyer moved to a new position, and the business relationship fizzled.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s smaller customers signaled they would stop selling the duct tape if it was available at the big-box stores, Jordan said.

As the deal with the first retailer progressed, Jordan’s communication with its buyer reduced significantly, he said. He didn’t receive a purchase order until about a week and a half before the product was supposed to ship.

“I wasn’t sleeping at night,” Jordan said.

After the order was filled, Jordan reached out to the buyer to discuss next steps. The buyer, however, was changing positions and the buyer’s predecessor wasn’t interested in working with Fortis Design, Jordan said.

“There was nothing I could do about it,” he said. “I went from having really big money goggles on my head to realizing it was out of my control.”

Jordan then decided that selling to major retailers wasn’t the path he wanted to follow.

Jordan was ready to return to a base of smaller customers.

“We are living and dying by a single buyer that may not even want to talk to us,” Jordan said. “That is not a good place to be.”

Now Jordan is rebuilding Fortis Design with a focus on smaller clients, such as Jerry’s Artarama and Quail Ridge Books & Music. HGTV Magazine featured the Platypus duct tape, along with other brands, in its January/February issue. The “Today” show highlighted those products and the duct tape fad earlier this month.

“We need to find a lot more smaller customers,” Jordan said. “But right now, where we are is we love what we are doing again.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917

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