Turning daytime smarts into a 24/7 business

Written by Vince Thompson, Contributing Editor

Brian Willems, a residential developer and weekend surfer in Los Angeles, has always been passionate about living the best life possible.  At the same time he's been focused on doing it with a deep respect for the environment. When the green building industry began to flourish, Brian became an expert in green construction products, materials and appliances.

Along with two fellow entrepreneurs, who are dot com veterans, SmartLivingDirect.com launched in early 08. Leveraging their daytime Smarts into 24/7 Global business that's helping to save the planet seems Smart. Let's learn more....

Brian, how's business?

Great. We are doubling customers every month and looking for more office space. Our goal is to reach at least $1 million in sales next year.

While we’ve had the chance to take on investment we believe that ramping-up slowly will allow us to create solid partnerships with manufacturers, personally handle customer relations and have more control over our vision.

For now, we are running Smart Living Direct with a small warehouse space.

How do you find customers?

We are currently running several national online advertising and PR campaigns and we’ve also reached out to local agencies like the City of Santa Monica’s Sustainable Works program, an organization that educates residents.

Do you simply aggregate other people’s products?

Although we initially started out only carrying proven products that we identified, our business plan has always been to manufacture our own line of energy saving products. We’re doing that now with our Smart Solar Attic Fan, which drastically cuts down HVAC load, creating an immediate savings in electric bills.  We manufacture the Smart Solar Attic Fan in China but we also have products being manufactured in India and with discussions to manufacture in the US and Germany as well.

How do you go about finding manufacturing partners and navigating the challenges of doing business around the globe?

It’s easy to find factories and manufacturers online. There are dozens of websites. We choose to contact companies whose websites include photography, examples of their work and client references.   After that, accessibility and communication is key in making our decision.

We’ve found manufacturers in China and India to be highly motivated, gracious and accessible. We often communicate with our partners there via Yahoo Messenger and email. Sometimes cultural differences get in the way of understanding what is and isn’t possible and so we have to be careful not to confuse the difference between overpromising and their effort to be polite.

To ensure a successful relationship we also put our manufactures to the test by starting with small runs and samples that we can test for quality and marketability. This also shows us how well a manufacturer performs with respect to a delivery schedule.

What’s the coolest Product you sell?

This is a difficult question because we are always testing cool products. Recently we tested dual flush retrofit kits for toilets and found a product we think is the best. It’s called Flush Choice by Aqua Save.  The Flush Choice gives the homeowner a choice of a half or full flush, which drastically cuts water waste and cost.  A typical family of 4 can save up to 20,000 gallons of water per year.

Of course, some of the other products we sell like, Denim Blue Jean Insulation, The Green Wash Ball, Composting Toilets and the Solar Powered Vaccine Refrigerator are also very cool.

Is Green tech is overhyped? Have you accounted for that in building this business.

No, Green Tech is not overhyped.   Natural resources are finite on our planet and therefore it’s incumbent upon the human race to conserve energy and resources by discovering and developing alternative energy sources, as well as to cease polluting.  We also have to clean-up and reverse the damage that has been caused by years of carelessness.   At Smart Living Direct we have carefully chosen products that are proven to show an immediate energy, environmental and monetary savings.

What ‘s been your smartest management move so far? And your dumbest?

We believe our smartest management move so far is our dual business model. We   manufacture our own line of products for distribution and retail the best products on the market.

A naïve move that we have made is assuming that a manufacturer can be trusted to engineer a concept based on a brief specification.  As a result of several failures in products development, we have changed our process to first utilize engineers domestically to develop the schematics and plans for our products and then making an additional trip to the individual factories to ensure that our products are manufactured according to spec.

How do you suggest Entrepreneur’s learn about the Green Business?

Use the Internet. It’s all online.

What advice can you share for the entrepreneur?

We have been fortunate at Smart Living Direct, to have three core founders, each with a wealth of business experience and talent. We encourage entrepreneurs to work in teams, leveraging the individual strengths of each team member.

Take a spin around SmartLivingDirect.com right here:

And check out that Solar Powered Attic Fan.

or the Flush Choice Retrofit Kit

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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