It all began 12 years ago with a product that had the unassuming name of Odd Pods.
“It was a kit to grow cacti from seed in multilevel chambers and compartments,” says Grant Cleveland, founder, CEO and president of DuneCraft Inc. “It was something I wanted to do just based on the strength of the supply chain here — and it kind of took off.”
Odd Pods are still being sold and are now among DuneCraft’s 300 products, a number Cleveland still wants to grow a bit.
“The ideal amount in our industry is about 340, so I still have a little more to go,” Cleveland says.
Building up what you offer
Where do the ideas come from for products with funky names such as Wizard Mountain, Rainforest Cloud, Banana Bonanza, Chris Catnip and Fly Trap Fred?
Cleveland says while inspiration can come from nearly anywhere, there is one source he feels is the most important: customers — regular and quantity buyers.
“If they come up with an idea, they have ownership in it,” he says. “If I show them a prototype and ask, ‘What do you think?’ and they make some refinements, they have more ownership. It guarantees me a big customer right off the bat.”
At that point, word-of-mouth helps spread the message that a certain entity is carrying the product.
Other ideas are supplier-driven. With the creation of a new material or process, it might make sense now for a formerly impractical product.
“I have epiphanies all the time,” Cleveland says. “We sift through them and every now and then I try to categorize my top 200 ideas.
“Then I look at what kind of costs there are in implementing, packaging and buying limited amounts of components. Then I look at who is my customer for this — what is the projected payoff?
“Say I have an idea to make a zombie dome. OK, that is going to cost me about $5,000 to execute. And it’s got about 100 percent chance of bringing me $200,000 or more. Well, that’s a no-brainer.”
Stay away from Dora and SpongeBob
The key feature of DuneCraft products, which range from themed terrariums to carnivorous plant collections, is to appeal to a wide audience.
“We sell from preschool all the way up into nursing homes,” Cleveland says.
The one idea to avoid, Cleveland found out, was to keep your distance from licensed characters.
“I spent six figures to put Dora and SpongeBob on kids’ garden kits only to find out that my base assumption was entirely wrong,” Cleveland says. “It was horrible. The licensed products sold at one-eighth the rate of my non-licensed products.
“When you slap Dora on it, all of a sudden you lose the huge appeal,” he says.
“I tried Curious George, I tried Eric Carle, I had a bunch of licenses. I thought this would have a great payoff. But it absolutely didn’t.”
One retail store actually canceled carrying DuneCraft products for a year, but did then take them back, saying it couldn’t ignore his better-selling products.
How the setting helps creativity
There’s something you can’t ignore when visiting the DuneCraft site — it’s like walking into a rain forest.
When the company needed more room to grow, Cleveland found a site in Warrensville Heights that would be its new home. It was refurbished and opened in December — complete with plants, ponds and waterfalls. The potted rubber plants, ficus trees and other plants serve as dividers rather than cubicles to define an office.
“They [researchers] have shown that having plants around makes you more creative, and makes you think better and work better with others,” he says. “That is part of the reason why I’ve always had plants in my offices. This kind of takes it to a new level. I know I feel it.”
Some studies have shown that talking to your plants can help them to grow, so does Cleveland talk to his plants?
“No. Maybe if I were bored or lonely, I would. I don’t know. There is just too much going on that I don’t have time to talk to the plants. I don’t even talk to the fish! I barely pet my dog!”
How to reach: DuneCraft Inc., (800) 306-4168 or www.dunecraft.com
Grant the Man
Grant Cleveland, a direct descendant of Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 25th president of the United States, humbly says he is the brains behind DuneCraft – “which is surprising, but I guess I have a contrary viewpoint that helps.”
Some have called him a Renaissance man. A serial entrepreneur, he started his first business when he was 14.
“My degrees are in accounting and finance from John Carroll University. I have also had six or seven other companies when I was in high school and college. So I’ve been pretty entrepreneurial all my life.”
A gardener who has installed breathtaking perennial gardens, he is also an artist and photographer.
In addition, he founded an Internet company and is the primary author and designer of the company’s software, a dashboard driven ERP/ASP called SteelStage. He hopes to market SteelStage to other companies. Cleveland also sketches out the design for most of the packaging for products.
“Our packaging is designed to sell itself,” he says. “That’s our salesman. We don’t have a multimillion dollar advertising budget behind it or a huge social media program that is pushing interest.”