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Business Observer Friday, May 10, 2019 5 months ago

Entrepreneur and TV pitchman uses contacts, focus on sales to grow new venture

Craig Rapihana is building up FlipFork by harnessing lessons learned.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Craig Rapihana made Lazy Bunz work for him.

He helped build Lazy Bunz, a business that makes water floats, before selling it in late 2018 to a company called TRC Recreation LP, also known as Texas Recreation, for an undisclosed sum. A native of New Zealand now based in Sarasota, Rapihana says Texas Recreation is one of the leading float company manufacturers nationwide. 

The process of growing Lazy Bunz, learning the world of Amazon and getting the product into retail stores helped Rapihana build his credibility in the competitive consumer products industry.

Rapihana is also a pitchman on Home Shopping Network, where he focuses on home improvement products. That provides additional sales experience and added credibility.

Now he’s using his experience and contacts on a new venture — FlipFork, a five-in-one grilling tool designed to help people multitask, on the grill or in the kitchen. The key will be to harness his lessons learned — and keep his eye on the prize: sales.

About a year ago, Rapihana met Chicago entrepreneur Joe Lerario through a friend of a friend. Lerario showed Rapihana an earlier version of the FlipFork, and Rapihana saw potential. “Taking it to market is where I came into it,” Rapihana says.

Lerario and Rapihana — Lerario is co-founder and president, while Rapihana is chief development officer — moved quickly: within 17 days they were in China visiting manufacturers. There they found two factories where FlipFork is now made. Rapihana says the cost is lower there than the U.S., which follows another lesson: monitor expenses. “At the end of the day,” he says, “you have to keep the lights on.”

Rapihana handles FlipFork’s Amazon and Facebook presence, no small task when small tweaks in an Amazon product page can mean big differences in sales volume. The process involves finding out what the competition is, along with the best images and keywords. “It’s really a lot of data of trial and error,” he says. “This image versus that image, etc.”

"I’m on a mission to build more and more businesses and take them to market." — Craig Rapihana, FlipFork

He learned how to optimize Amazon sales by spending three or four hours a night absorbing insights from mentors, webinars and conference calls while building up Lazy Bunz. His Lazy Bunz experience also helps with retail. He knocked on a lot of doors for that business, he says, and now knows retail buyers and can get them to consider products.

FlipFork is sold on its own website, Facebook, Amazon, The Grommet, Ace Hardware and Bed Bath & Beyond. Raphiana is talking to additional retailers for more locations. 

The company also uses sales representatives — some of the same people Rapihana encountered when promoting Lazy Bunz. “I hired top guys who I would compete with,” Rapihana says. 

As part of the effort to expand FlipFork’s reach, Rapihana plans to use the next three months to attend barbecue events where he’ll demonstrate the product. He's also looking for Instagram influencers to partner with. 

In a mantra that can help any executive, Rapihana maintains a laser focus daily on profitability. One example? He structures his to-do list with red items and green items. Green items are tasks that will make him money, like calling a buyer back. Red items could be tasks like following up with someone who may not result in a sale. For those items, he considers whether he could delegate the task.

During the slower time of the year for FlipFork, particularly January and February, when people aren’t thinking as much about grilling, Rapihana won’t sit idle. Anyone who has a business, he says, should look at the high and low periods in each year and use the lulls to work on new products — or to sell another type of product that fits the season better. FlipFork is also looking into new variations of the product. “No one wants to be one-hit wonder,” he says.

The ultimate goal for FlipFork, Rapihana says, is to build up the business in three years, then sell it. That will happen, he says, “If I make a big enough sizzle on the grill.” The ideal buyer could be a company like grilling industry stalwarts Weber or Big Green Egg.

If Rapihana sells FlipFork, he won’t be done in business. He’ll look for more products he believes in, and add his personal touches. He's also launching a business called My Daily Pitch, where he’ll be a consultant for entrepreneurs who want to grow their brands. “People talk about cutting out the middleman,” he says, “but the middleman has the Filofax.”

He’s looking into developing webinars and training programs for entrepreneurs, too. Rapihana says, “I’m on a mission to build more and more businesses and take them to market.”

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