Brand Spotlight: Dope Ropes co-founder takes leap of faith mid-pandemic

The backstory – Dope ropes

Inspired by pop culture of the 80s and 90s, Dope Ropes was founded by two brothers – Keon and Kaz Ghaharian. Their jump rope brand has reached great heights, particularly during the Coronavirus lockdown, with consumers looking to increase their fitness from the comfort of their own homes. 

We caught up with Keon to find out where the original idea came from, what challenges he’s faced during the pandemic, and what improvements have been made in fulfilling customer orders.

Before we delve further into your brand’s journey, let’s visit the ever-ongoing topic of lockdown. How exactly has the pandemic impacted Dope Ropes and have you come across any major challenges?

It feels inappropriate to pick out a positive from such a devastating crisis, but we’ve definitely seen a big hike in demand for our ropes during this time. We saw a considerable increase at the peak of Covid – at the start, it was around 10x demand. Great, we thought, but this was an immediate challenge.

I was running out of stock quickly and struggling to keep up with the demand. Delivery networks were also slow initially but we did manage to get back up and running fairly quickly.

I decided to set up with a new US-based supplier as soon as possible. Not only were we able to get stock in quicker, but we also developed new products off the back of this. Those bigger orders definitely helped with rates we were getting from suppliers, and it also helped with shipping costs as we were shipping more at the same time. 

Throughout Covid-19 it’s been about making sure we are open with customers and being realistic about delivery timeframes.

One idea we had was to run pre-order sales so customers could lock in a jump rope at a lower price with the understanding they would need to wait a bit longer. This was well received.

As I’m running this as a side business to my main job, I simply didn’t have enough time and didn’t fancy going on little or no sleep for too long, but even with these challenges, the outcome has been positive. The business has grown so quickly over three months. In fact, I had to move so fast that I probably ended up achieving what I wanted to do in two years, in those three months. 

With more and more people looking to stock up on home fitness equipment as a result of being confined to their homes and gardens, those orders really did spike. It was obvious at that point I needed a fulfillment partner to help meet this demand. This would mean I could spend less time on fulfilling orders myself, and more time on marketing and developing the business (and making sure I got enough sleep!)

For those who’ve never heard of Dope Ropes, how did the business come about?

I’ve been skipping personally for about two years, and it was actually my brother Kaz who got me into it. He lives in the US, where jump rope is bigger than in the UK. When Kaz came back for Christmas, he brought a jump rope with him. He taught me a few of the basics, and I carried on from there.

Since then, it’s been the only form of exercise that I’ve done consistently, as I tend to get bored with most of the sports I’ve tried. Apart from the obvious high-calorie burn and low impact of jumping rope, it’s also been great for my coordination, confidence, and mental wellbeing.

I started Dope Ropes as a side project a couple of years ago. I found the availability of decent jump ropes was really limited in the UK – there wasn’t enough information out there, so I wanted to change that.

It very much started as one of those basement business stories you hear about, with stock being held at my parent’s house!

The other thing that inspired me to start the business was the benefits of jump rope, not just in terms of fitness but also in terms of mental health. You can focus on it and get away from the real world for a bit – I find it meditative. Especially now, with Covid-19, it allows you to stay active and healthy, in and outside of your home. Also, the jump rope community is just really great and supportive.

On the community side of your business, you clearly have a unique social media presence with some seriously impressive jump rope skills on show. Has social media marketing been a focus for you?

So initially I wasn’t too active on social media as I wanted to make sure I executed the posts in line with our brand in terms of aesthetics and overall feel.

In the past year or so I have nailed down our brand color palette – largely pinks, blues and purples, as well as using retro filters and transitions more in the videos. This enabled me to develop a brand identity and be able to build a community around this aesthetic. I find that customers and others on Instagram also really love the retro vibes and colors.

You’ll see in our Instagram feed I’ve developed a retro video game arcade as well as a retro TV series to host tricks and tutorials. I’ve also started to post old skipping videos from the 80s and 90s. I know my customers appreciate free content around tutorials, footwork and tricks, so I plan to expand more in this area over the coming months.

 

 

Before I increased the frequency of posts and content, I used paid social advertising to really pick up those initial sales and by extension, a keen social following. So investing in Facebook ads was really important in getting things moving initially for my brand.

I myself have been part of the jump rope community for many years on social media, even before Covid-19. Being personally involved from the roots up has given me a relevant voice and the ability to help people who are starting out on their jump rope journey, having been there myself. It’s my hobby, so that makes it so much easier to run this business and social media because of that. 

Within that online community, have you identified any influencers and ambassadors to work with?

I’ve been very selective when it comes to this. I have two great ambassadors for the brand who were previous customers, so I knew they already loved my products. I’ve sent free items to select people and it’s been a great way of building awareness, plus, I’m able to share their content on my pages and in my social media advertising.

It’s been great to see so many people start their jump rope journey during lockdown, learning new tricks, staying active and sharing their stories on social media. They’re all ambassadors for jumping rope!

 

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So you ship free products to your ambassadors, but how about customer orders. What did your initial fulfillment operation look like? 

I basically had all my stock in my parent’s house and my mum and I fulfilled orders maybe once or twice a week. We were packing the orders and driving to the local post office! 

That worked fine until lockdown hit. It became very difficult and time-consuming – we simply didn’t have the infrastructure to fulfill demand properly. I became worried that orders would be too slow getting out the door, which would lead to a bigger customer service problem.

As a solution, I started to look for UK-based fulfillment centers and James and James was recommended to me on a Facebook Advertisers group I’m part of. Moving quickly was key, as I had orders coming in every day, and I felt confident from my initial calls with James and James that we could get up and running quickly. I think the onboarding process took just one day of my time, probably less.

You use Shopify for your online store. How did you find the process of integrating it with ControlPort

The integration was very straightforward. I remember being on a call with the James and James team and we literally did it over the phone in 10 minutes. Then it was just up to me to map the shipping services I offer customers to those provided by James and James, and upload my products to ControlPort, which only took a few hours.

The Shopify integration is easy and the James and James Client Services team were helpful in guiding me through it. It was seamless and I’m so very pleased with it.

What impact has the partnership made to your business?

Time-saving is the biggest one. I probably started to save 2-4 hours per day at peak by not having to fulfil in-house. And, as that time saved was spent on marketing, product development and content, there is no doubt that this led to growth, both in terms of customer numbers and my business offering. 

The other noticeable impact is on stock. There is a limit to how much stock I can physically have at my own home.

With James and James, I can stock more and make bigger supplier orders, resulting in cost savings there. In addition, I can now store bigger items such as mats and start selling a bigger range of products to customers. 

And finally, do you have any key advice for other eCommerce businesses that are looking to grow in the way you have?

I would say, from experience, outsource your fulfilment sooner rather than later. I thought I needed to be doing serious volume, but in fact, I think I could have done it pre-Covid.

The time-saving element is so crucial for growth, allowing you to focus on the business more in terms of marketing and development. I would also say that fulfilling from your own country provides a great customer experience.

I have an edge over people who drop ship products, which can take ages to arrive, and I can also compete with the likes of Amazon on speed.

The range of shipping options is also a real benefit that you don’t really have if you’re fulfilling orders yourself.