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With 10 years’ experience in import and wholesale distribution, Australian entrepreneur, Peter Byrne, thought he was onto a winner when his distribution business, Combined Group of Companies, bought the Trolley Bagsconcept from inventor, Paul Doyle. Designed to eliminate the need for the3.76 billion plastic bags dumped in Australia’s landfill sites each year, the product was already a hit in the UK and Ireland after appearing on the Irish TV show, Dragon’s Den in 2012. But as it turned out – their introduction to Australia earlier this year, wasn’t that simple.
Peter said “when I first looked at it, Trolley Bags already had some proven success in Ireland, although Ireland has banned plastic bags since 2002.
“We did a trial in Australia with a few pallets and took it to market and that was very successful – online, not at wholesale with the buyers.”
But like any other product Peter’s business had previously introduced to market, their initial strategy was indeed to take the product to their established buyer relationships and sell via wholesale. Much to their surprise, after talks with a number of wholesale buyers including Coles, Woolworths and Aldi – there were no takers for the Trolley Bags.
Peter said “the wholesale buyers initially rejected the product for various reasons: ‘consumers would not pay that price point’, ‘other alternatives exist’, ‘not much interest in this’ – this is just to mention a few.”
For the product that had proven itself a winner on the other side of the world, here in Australia, it was a cold response and back to the drawing board.
Speaking of their popularity in the UK, Peter said “plastic bags have appeared in the news for some time now there, with public debate and the passing of the plastic bag tax in Parliament. It was the actual introduction of the tax at the beginning of October that catapulted sales in the UK significantly. Everyone was suddenly looking for an alternative, so timing was great.”
Backing away from their typical wholesale strategy, Peter looked no further than Facebook for a vehicle to market the Trolley Bags direct to buyers. Shunned by wholesalers, the product became an instant hit via their Facebook page. Comments and views were overwhelmingly positive according to Peter with one particular video achieving over 33 million views and 1 million shares.
Peter said “the wow factor generates the success online as it’s so easy to share and pass on. We’ve had a number of posts go viral and when it does, it’s just like a snowball rolling down a mountain – it just gets faster and faster and bigger and bigger, picking up more interest all the time.
“We have one post in New Zealand that has been shared over 1 million times and viewed over 33 million times – you know you have gone global when that happens!”
Peter’s Facebook experiment has since become the main source of advertising for his Trolley Bags. And on reflection, it makes perfect sense: “virtually everyone in our target audience is on Facebook and visits the platform regularly, said Peter.”
But how do you make it work? Peter says – it’s simply a game of trial and error.
“It just takes off for no reason that we can understand yet…I read an article some time ago that says you just have to put it down to ‘Zuck.’
“One of our most popular videos is a quick and unplanned one taken on the iPhone of a 10-year-old boy opening and closing the Trolley bag, in a shopping Trolley, in the back garden for 30 seconds.”
The popularity of Trolley Bags on Facebook has resulted in a huge demand for sales with up to 650 units now being sold in Australia in a single day. Coming as no surprise, the once skeptical wholesalers now want a piece of the pie. Several major retailers are now stocking Trolley Bags on their shelves including Howard’s Storage World and Harris Scarfe in Melbourne. Peter is also in talks with other big retailers including IGA.
So what has Peter learned from his experience with Trolley Bags that he could share with others looking to bring an innovative new product to market? He said “be patient, quickly adapt to circumstances and opportunities and [a growing marketing trend] – online video content is crucial!”