By Tania Moffat
Back in 2006, while working out of their Winnipeg home, scraping together used boxes for shipping, and hand printing their own labels, it may have been hard for Cory and Nella Frank to imagine the true potential of their dream.
The weekend business was born when Nella’s love for fashion and experience in leather manufacturing and design was brought to life on the Internet by her husband, Cory. His business acumen and experience with software engineering provided the backbone for their successful business model.
CNF Marketing launched its first website, Fur Hat World, after partnering with a Winnipeg-based manufacturer.
“We started the business with $46 to rent web space, and sweat equity,” remembers Cory. They started with six hat designs and no stock. Items were made as they were ordered, saving costs on inventory.
The hats were a niche market – a product not readily available in the mall or at big box stores. Cory implemented his skills in search engine optimization, ricocheting them to the top of Google. The pair’s first sign of success was when they sold 12 hats in one weekend. “I remember being so happy and excited. It was Thanksgiving weekend and we were on top of the world,” says Nella.
“We weren’t rich, but that’s when we knew our formula was working. It was a sign we were on the right path,” agrees Cory.
And indeed they were. Two years later, their basement and bathtub overflowing with product, they decided they needed a bigger home to manage their inventory. They even hired a couple of employees to help them with their rapidly increasing Internet orders. By year three, they decided to take the plunge and leased a portion of a warehouse here in Winnipeg, a warehouse they purchased the following year.
Always looking for new and interesting items that fit their niche, Cory and Nella did something a lot of larger operations forget to do. They listened to their customers. “They tell us what they want and like, and we have always followed that from day one,” explains Nella. From hats, they expanded into other luxury products including gloves, coats, accessories, rugs, blankets and other natural products. They diversified and anticipated trends, developing six online retail sites offering 4,000 different products.
This once-modest home business now hosts six online retail sites and ships products across Canada and the United States, as well as to a large clientele in the United Kingdom.
Cory and his IT department have customized and tailored CNF’s websites to meet their needs and best service their customers. Fur Hat World is still their most popular site, with Russian and trapper styles being the most sought-after products. Today, this site offers the largest variety of fur hats in the world in terms of style, price and fur options – and all items are in stock and ready to ship the same day.
The sites offer customers photographs of the products which accurately reflect the design and quality of the product they are purchasing; details are provided on the materials used; and the price and where the products have been made are outlined. Unedited customer reviews are also posted.
Nella and Cory are extremely proud that they have never sacrificed on quality, craftsmanship or design; their luxury goods are origin-assured. This is an assurance that the fur carrying the label comes from a country where animal welfare regulations or standards governing fur production are enforced. While they don’t have a storefront, customer service is a top priority as their customers are all end users.
After eight successful years, the couple has learned that they complement each other well and are able to share together the stress and success of their Internet retail business while remaining happily married.