Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Elizabeth Ackmann, co-founder of LowTides Ocean Products, located in Red Bank, NJ, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
LowTides Ocean Products is a sustainable and stylish beach chair company that uses the upcycled ocean and recycled plastics. Our mission is to preserve the ocean for future generations through a line of best-selling eco beach chairs, beach towels, and beach accessories. The brainchild of a New Jersey shore native, Brenton Hutchinson, LowTides aims to save our ocean by removing plastic before it enters and turning it into durable beach gear.
Recently highlighted in Forbes, Coastal Living, and Vogue, LowTides style is its key differentiator. We partner with international fashion names like Laura Ashley and surf brands like Jetty Life and collaborate on exclusive patterns in our Artist Series from the award-winning talents of Molly Hatch, Thomas Paul, and Evelyn Henson.
LowTides' line of backpack beach chairs is built for the whole family and includes adult low, adult high, and child. Built by beach lovers and for beach lovers, we understand beach chair is no longer a quick purchase. It is something that customers use for years on end. LowTides unique patented design has modern features that avid beachgoers seek, like backpack straps, bottle openers, XL cup holders, rear pockets, bag hooks, and fabric that is stain, water, and fade resistant. Our trademark is 'Sit back and save the ocean,' and our goal is to make it simple for everyone to do good and look good.
Tell us about yourself
I am the Co-Founder of LowTides and the sister of Founder Brenton Hutchinson. Brent came up with the idea in 2018 when we were at the Jersey Shore, where with our families, we spent every summer weekend. In 2019, I was in the midst of transitioning my career from food marketing to building my own creative marketing firm when he asked me to join him on the LowTides journey. Conveniently enough, my background included 10+ years of importation, product development, and brand management.
While Brent spearheaded the product development of the product, including hiring engineers, reviewing the manufacturing facilities, and visiting communities that collect our sustainable ocean plastics, my background in product management and graphic design enabled me to focus on the brand's social and e-commerce presence. The LowTides mission truly walks the walks and talks the talks. It is equally as important for us to build the best beach chair as it is to ensure all our practices are ethical and sustainable.
Although working with family may pose a challenge to some, we have a very symbiotic relationship. It helps that we understand each other's personalities, and having been raised together, we have a similar sense of style and fashion, which greatly helps the direction and fast growth of the brand.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I should say the sense of creating a product with hundreds of five-star reviews. But truthfully, that just motivates us to keep pushing forward in product development and design using sustainable and recycled materials.
The biggest accomplishment for me is the amazing community that LowTides has created through its online and coastal presence. It has not been easy to be a start-up, let alone an eco one, in an industry that has cheap and readily available options. Our focus initially was education. We actively disseminate information about the ocean plastic problem and what we are doing to do to solve it. In doing so, we have joined the green wave that is happening around us. This is the time when products are looking at their materials and production methods and changing them to be more eco-focused. Having over 25k followers on Instagram and 20k in our email list who support the mission that a beach chair, towel, and beach accessories can be reimagined to not only save the ocean but also be stylish makes all the struggles worth it. There is nothing better.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
For me personally, the hardest is having an e-commerce business. The internet is the sole reason for our success. However, it isn't always the kindest.
In today's internet culture, there are so many trolls, or as I like to call them, keyboard warriors. Those who go out of their way to write negative things, and I am not speaking about customers. In most cases, it posts viewers who will write something off-putting about the price, the look, or the design. It frustrates me that in less than 10 seconds, they can cut down a small business that we've been building for over four years by saying we're not worth it. Being at a mid to high price point, this type of remark used to be the most common comment. We've had to do a lot of rethinking of our messaging to explain to people fast fashion and throwaway options are what we are going against. Supporting small businesses that are reinventing a product that will serve you for 5-10 years is truly worth it.
I try not to take it personally, but it is hard. I do go out of my way to message back when this occurs to show them that it's not a robot. It's me, Elizabeth, the co-founder, wife, and mother of two kids. The one who is reading their comments and responding to thank them for their insight.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Do extensive research and require recommendations before investing in your consultant or manufacturer. We were not initially successful with our first run due to bad advice on both. This naivety we brought to our first season cost us two years in development. Luckily, we are working with amazing partners now, but it was really a gut punch to start off in such a sour spot.
- Seek investors before you even start. Financing has been our largest hurdle after manufacturing. Most of our competitors are very large brands and companies with large funds. As a small business in the manufacturing industry, we are not so lucky. We've been able to overcome this by offering preorder options, which help cash flow along with various financing options through the years.
- Build a brand on your passion. You won't be able to predict all the trials and challenges you'll face while building your business. If you have a true belief in the mission, the product, or the service you stand for, it will not only push you over those humps but enable you to see opportunities in those moments.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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