What is now a $11 million company started when Jason Stoter purchased a hammock on a beach in Mexico in 2002.
“I was on a non-tourist beach with several Mexican classmates,” Stoter explains. “An entrepreneur selling local hammocks spotted me and came over, so I bought one as a souvenir. Within a week, I thought ‘I think I can sell these in Canada.’”
As he finished his MBA during a final-semester exchange in Mexico, he began planning a hammock-import business. He spent the last week of that semester thinking about starting a business importing hammocks. He soon returned to Mexico where he met an Australian hammock importer who convinced him that Brazil was the place to buy.
“In February 2004, I had just gotten married. I used student funds, my savings and all of my wife’s savings to send $60,000 to a person in Brazil, with the hope of receiving a 20-foot container of hammocks in return,” he says.
The container arrived and they stored hammocks in three bedrooms of their rented home in Guelph. They did $21,000 in sales that year. By 2005, business had grown by 50 per cent with Stoter working on the business on Saturdays, evenings and one day a week, while keeping a day job as a controller.
Two years later, he moved his focus to China, and introduced some new lines, including what he calls the “hammock combo,” which is a hammock with its own metal stand. That year, sales increased by 100 per cent and Hammock Village Ltd. posted its first profit. The following year, when sales hit $250,000, it was time to leave his day job, a move that resulted in sales of $614,000 in 2009.
Throughout that year, he had significant sales in Home Hardware stores and was invited to supply their warehouses across the country. “I had been peddling away, going door to door of different Home Hardware dealers, and finally the hard work paid off.” He also starting attending trade shows and ended up securing deals with many companies.
That year, he changed the company’s name to Vivere Ltd. — an amalgam of words that mean “to live” in Spanish and Italian. “My vision of the business was to be more global and I needed something fresh and new to get me there,” he says of the name change.
Sales continued to grow for the next few years, topping $1 million in 2011, the same year he launched into the U.S. market. At the same time, Stoter sourced a new hammock stand from India and hired three sales representatives for the U.S. operation and three more for Canada.
Today, sales continue to climb, with $8 million in revenues in 2014 and $11 million forecasted for 2015. He still sells through Home Hardware but has now added RONA, Lowes, Amazon, Costco and other mass merchants.
Rapid growth is great, as any entrepreneur will attest, but success also presents problems for inventory and funding purchase orders. That’s where Export Development Canada (EDC) has helped. It began in the early days by financing 50 per cent of a $300,000 line of credit, an amount that has grown yearly and now exceeds $1.8 million. In addition, in 2014, EDC guaranteed the company’s U.S. inventory for up to $700,000.
The company’s latest venture involves a 2014 expansion to Europe, with a subsidiary headquarters in Born, Netherlands. Sales there have extended to 12 countries, including Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany, France, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland and Netherlands.
“Jason is an interesting entrepreneur,” said Anna Piekarska, account manager at EDC. “And the story of his company’s rise is inspirational. We’re proud to be able to play a role in helping a smart entrepreneur grow internationally.”
“Without EDC, I wouldn’t have been able to grow this fast,” says Stoter. “Their help allowed me to keep the company in my own hands.”
Stoter, who also started selling in Japan last year, is now the No. 1 distributor of hammocks on Amazon Japan. He says couldn’t have done it this quickly without EDC. “Financing has always been a challenge,” he says. “EDC has allowed me to continue our hyper growth. The other option was private equity and surrender part of our business. I wasn’t interested in that.”