CrossFit enthusiasts Than and Emily Ruyle hit upon the perfect product to sell online to their customers in 2016. The couple had started working out at a CrossFit gym in late 2014, while they were planning their wedding, and got hooked on the program’s camaraderie and results. At the time, Than was a respiratory therapist at UW Hospital, on the waitlist for a Physician’s Assistant training program, and Emily had her own internet marketing business.
Than found himself dreaming of a career that would allow him the same freedom and flexibility Emily had. He decided to try starting his own internet business, and launched with silicone wedding bands as his first product. “I worked on it for most of 2015, had samples made, and launched on Amazon with one product in November of 2015,” he says.
Emily says the most successful products on Amazon are lightweight and nonbreakable, with great margins. “That’s basically the definition of a silicone wedding ring,” she says, laughing. “It took off well early on—Than was one of the first to market.”
The product was so successful that the couple decided to work together to grow the company, and Emily came on board full-time. They sold CrossFit related products like jump ropes and wrist straps and worked to define their target market, women 25-44. As a two-person company, they were small enough to pivot quickly, which they did a few times, before settling on shorts as a main product.
“With just two of us, it was easier to build and expand the business and work on what products would encourage repeat purchases,” Emily says. “We wanted customers to be excited to come back often to buy something, and we identified booty shorts as that thing.”
How did they figure out that shorts would sell well? “I was in Facebook groups for women weight lifters, to listen to chatter,” laughs Emily. “It was mainly about food and booty shorts.”
WodBottom keeps customers coming back by creating shorts with clever, creative patterns to which their customers feel a connection, whether they feature their spirit animal or their favorite food.
“When thinking about new designs, we like to think about how we can make them ‘extra’,” Emily says. “For example, how do we make flamingo shorts extra? Flamingos weight lifting in booty shorts, with the same pattern on the flamingos. We created conversation pieces that got people excited and raving about us, like a T-Rex unicorn with rainbow hair lifting weights.”
As WodBottom took off, Emily’s parents, who live in Madison and were early sources of cash to grow WodBottom, suggested that Emily and Than look into UW-Madison’s small business resources.
“I went online and found SBDC, submitted the form, and set up an interview with SBDC director Michelle Somes-Booher, and since then, we’ve used her one-on-one consulting services,” says Emily. “This year, we’ve started to look at leadership and management programs at the SBDC.”
Somes-Booher gave the Ruyles actionable projects to bolster their business operations, like creating a manual detailing their customers, customer service process, and fulfillment process.
“She went through and suggested how to make things even more clear,” says Emily. “Michelle would create actionable tasks and then review our work to ensure it was done correctly and clearly for our employees.”
Another assignment was to develop a brand guide so that when Emily delegates design projects, she can do so knowing her contractors have creative guidelines to follow, which makes her job easier and more efficient.
“That came from Michelle, as well,” says Emily. “She said, don’t jump on hiring full-time employees; get your feet wet with people you can pay hourly and even work with virtually, until you get a feel for what you want in an employee.”
Emily had always had virtual employees as a digital marketer, so having in-house employees was new for both her and Than. They appreciated Somes-Booher’s logical perspective on the emotional issues that can come up with in-house employees.
Somes-Booher also encouraged the Ruyles to create a cash flow worksheet they could use to explore different scenarios and outcomes of how to best allocate cash flow. It provided visibility into how financial decisions could impact the business six months out.
“She really helped us have a bigger picture of WodBottom,” says Emily. “It helped us step back, analyze, and make the best decisions for the business.”
“She put us in touch with gBeta Madison, a seven-week accelerator for early stage companies,” says Than. “Emily applied, and we were one of five companies accepted to the Fall cohort. The exceptional training and opportunity to pitch to real investors really helped us. We began to raise money early this spring and were able to secure $250,000 in angel investments.”
Somes-Booher has been a critical force in helping with the backend aspects of the business, with which the Ruyles are less experienced—helping with HR, sharing contact names at banks, and putting Than in contact with a fractional CFO.
“She’s been invaluable in so many different ways,” says Than. “Every time I meet with her, I write down all these notes—she always gives me actionable stuff. I highly recommend Michelle and often refer friends to her.”
Somes-Booher also helped the couple define their roles: Emily handles marketing and design, and Than handles finances, budgeting, management, and HR. WodBottom has a website, a mobile app, a Facebook shop, an Instagram shop, and is carried on Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. Emily also oversees email marketing, text marketing, push notification marketing, and Facebook ads.
Emily says the SBDC has been an important force for their business.
“It’s night and day between how we started and where we are now, even,” she says. “We’ll be even better and more well-oiled five years from now, with Michelle’s guidance. She’s already made a huge impact on operations, systems, hiring, and termination.”
Emily says Somes-Booher’s experience and expertise is unparalleled. “We trust Michelle’s knowledge,” she says. “She talks to so many other businesses and has insider views on what’s working and what’s not.”
Long-term, the Ruyles would like to continue to scale and expand their product lines, continuing to raise awareness and funds for victims of domestic abuse. A percentage of all of WodBottom’s sales go to Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) of Madison, which provides services and shelter to victims of domestic abuse in the Madison area.
“We want to support a nonprofit that affects lives on the individual level,” says Than. “Our cause resonates with our customers; women write in all the time and share their experiences. We plan to continue that partnership and make that a big part of what we’re doing as we grow.”