Perfecting the Process of Getting in Front of Customers
Marine Maj. Stuart Scheller came up with the idea after reassembling his dress uniform because of a promotion. The concept included creating a mold that would allow a service member to put attachments on ribbons easily and in regulation. After sharing his plan with a fellow military officer, Zach Rohlfing, a new venture called The Perfect Ribbon was born.
After that conversation, Rohlfing, a pilot in the Air National Guard, sketched out how the mold might work. Scheller said he remembers thinking that Rohlfing had already done more work than he had, so he decided the two men should go in on a partnership.
“Finding a partner who wants to make money and work hard in the beginning is the easy part. But the business will do one of two things: Fail or succeed. And these two directions both add a lot of stress on a partnership,” Scheller said.
He adds three tips to consider when contemplating a partnership:
1) Ensure you can trust them.
2) Ensure the divorce is planned out from the beginning so the exit path is always an option.
3) Clearly define the different responsibilities of the partners from the beginning, otherwise one always ends up resenting the other.
Scheller and Rohlfing worked through the research and development process, enlisting help from CAD experts and relying on information from those familiar with using 3D printers. Parallel to that, the pair began the arduous process of applying for a patent — a process that Scheller likens to “the DMV on steroids.”
The patent has been working through the US Patent and Trademark Office for the last two years, so Scheller anticipates receiving it soon.
Once they filed the paperwork, they decided to launch the business with the one 3D printer they had and a “terrible Wix website.”
“We weren’t really sure what we had,” Scheller says, but “It just caught fire and it was crazy.”
In the first 96 hours, 300 units of The Perfect Ribbon were purchased by service members worldwide. Scheller recalled feeling like they couldn’t keep up with the packaging and shipping demands.
The initial hype of The Perfect Ribbon earned the company attention on social media. It didn’t take long for fellow entrepreneur Sam Meek, a Marine veteran and current CEO of Sandboxx, to take notice of The Perfect Ribbon. Meek reached out to Scheller and Rohlfing to tell them the product could have real traction, including a possibility of being sold in military exchanges. The entrepreneurs also bought another 3D printer to double efforts for online sales.
Meek later called to tell Scheller that he’d set a meeting for him with the Marine Corps Exchange Innovation Team.
The team focuses on providing products to customers inside base exchanges that help strengthen the relationship between the consumer and the Marine Corps — products just like The Perfect Ribbon. Scheller said that for “a lot of the right reasons, they expedited us into the MCX.”
That was in April 2019. By then, there were 20 3D printers and injection molds working round the clock to keep up with demand. But Scheller didn’t want to just stop there; he wanted to get The Perfect Ribbon in the hands of all service members. He reached out to the Navy Exchange, who gave him a verbal contract, provided The Perfect Ribbon would be willing to switch distributors from Tactical Gear to Vanguard. Both companies supply exchanges with tactical gear and uniform insignia, among other products.
Just as The Perfect Ribbon was set to debut in the NEX and move forward with placement inside AAFES, the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to everything. Scheller rolled with the changes and moved to a Shopify platform to reach new customers. Most of the revenue stream for The Perfect Ribbon still comes from MCX purchases, where Marines can find it hanging in the uniform accessory portion of the MCX. The product is currently in most large MCXs, and Scheller hopes to get it into joint bases soon.
Of his chance meeting that changed the trajectory of The Perfect Ribbon, Scheller said that the company would have eventually gotten to where they are now, but it would have just taken a lot more work.
Vendors interested in exploring a similar path should visit http://mymcx.com/index.cfm/about/partner/.
“It’s not easy getting into exchanges, so you have to be patient, diligent, and aggressive. Of course, it helps to have someone who can advocate for you too,” he said.
Another component of his extensive reach is his peers. Scheller embraces the concept of being a third shift entrepreneur, and he said the experience helped him shape ideas for post-military life.
Scheller says if senior leaders were to more openly embrace the idea of facilitating the skill development of entrepreneurs, the challenges many veterans face after retirement might not feel so pressing.
“I feel like the suicide rate has a lot to do with service members having a lack of purpose when they get out. So being an entrepreneur automatically provides you with a lot of skill sets that might not otherwise be available,” he said.
To active-duty service members who are sitting on their own big ideas, Scheller offered this advice: “You have the time. The question is, are you willing to outwork the next guy?”
Visit https://theperfectribbon.com/ for more information on The Perfect Ribbon.