Based in Guelph, Ontario, Vivere Ltd. is an outdoor living company that sells a variety of hammocks, stands and accessories. Since 2004, the company has grown from a small Canadian operation that started in a house with rooms full of hammocks to a global company known for unique designs. The company’s primary product offering is great quality hammocks and accessories in fresh contemporary designs, and vibrant exclusive colours.
Creating a needed and necessary reprieve from hectic modern living, Vivere strives to promote leisure and a calm, balanced lifestyle. From coast to coast, whether backyard, balcony or backpacking, Vivere encourages a passion for the outdoors, rest and relaxation. This month Founder and CEO Jason Stoter spoke with The Canadian Business Journal about the hammock supplier’s interesting history, growth and commitment to customer service and niche products that give it a competitive edge over the competition.
Born on a Beach in Mexico
In 2002, while vacationing on a beach in Mexico, Stoter was approached by a man selling hammocks and bought one for $20. He was instantly taken with the relaxed, outdoor feelings the beautiful hammock inspired and had the idea to import the hammocks from Mexico to sell in Canada. He returned home to finish his MBA, but a few years later Stoter returned to Mexico looking for suppliers. While there, he met an Australian businessman who convinced him to import hammocks from Brazil instead.
In 2004, Stoter founded as Hammock Village (later rebranded as Vivere). His first large customer was Home Hardware and other retailers that sold gardening equipment, gifts, and outdoor patio furniture.
As years passed, the company’s sales doubled and Stoter wrestled with the best next step for the business. He considered diversifying by adding more outdoor living categories or expanding the hammock line and finding new markets outside Canada. Ultimately, he chose the latter and it turned out to be a good choice.
The company expanded into the United States in 2012 and experienced exponential levels of growth, paving the way for greater international expansion. In 2015, the company launched in Europe with similar levels of success. With a significant amount of online sales, the company is currently setting up partnerships in Japan, mainland China and South Korea. In addition, from its European base, the company is reaching out to interested parties in the Middle East and parts of Africa.
“The business has kind of gone from this little Canadian company that started in a house with three bedrooms full of hammocks to something very global with many employees around the world,” Stoter says. “Lots of change, lots of growth, lots of excitement. It’s been a roller coaster ride, but the roller coaster doesn’t go down very often. It continues to climb.”
Over the years, Vivere has experienced a lot of popularity online. In 2013, the company became the best-selling hammock combo supplier on Amazon.com and has consistently received positive reviews via the online service. In the social media age, Stoter stresses the importance of quality products and excellent service, because the customer has the power to call out bad business practices online. As a result, for its large international customer, Stoter is the wholesaler but the company continues to handle quality control issues, testing and regulatory issues that are specific to particular markets.
The Wow Factor
Vivere sells a variety of traditional hammocks, stands, and outdoor accessories but their unique designs, such as the Original Dream Chair and hammock combos, make up almost 80% of their sales. In fact, offering products that are unique to the market is what continues to make Vivere the successful company it is today. Vivere ranked 27th on the 2014 PROFIT 500 list of fastest-growing companies in Canada.
“We are quite aggressive in pursing new products that are not in the market, so niche items and products that the consumer can say: ‘Oh wow!’” Stoter explains. “We try to wow the consumer each year. It’s difficult and hard work to find new products each year, but we work really, really hard.”
Exceptional customer service is a core principle. “Our goal is to get the product in the hands of the consumer at the most affordable price and give them 110% support at the customer-service level,” he adds. “I think taking good care of your customer is really important today, because the consumer will hold you accountable. There’s the web and there’s social media. If you are not taking care of the consumer, they will call you out on it.”
While Stoter says the company’s success has a lot to do with hiring hardworking team members who care about the business, there are a couple other business secrets he doesn’t mind sharing. The first is to only do a couple of things, but “essentially be the best in the world at those things.” He also suggests offering consumers a product or service that is different and has more value than the competition. “If it is not different, it is going to be very difficult to be successful,” he remarks.