The Fulfillment Stress That Comes with Unprecedented Press (And How Baloo Living Solved It)

Baloo Living founder Elizabeth Grojean.

  • Elizabeth Grojean founded Baloo Living, a business that sells weighted blankets sourced from eco-friendly materials, after a trip to Bali left her questioning the corporate rat race. After ordering her first product sample, Elizabeth knew she had to get the blankets into the hands of more people.
  • The first business challenge Baloo faced was with fulfillment, an often overlooked, backoffice task that’s critical for scaling. After unplanned press coverage left her scrambling to fulfill orders, Elizabeth started her search for a fulfillment partner—unfortunately, she found that most were rarely able to deliver what was promised.
  • After a positive experience using Shopify to build her online store, she decided to entrust her shipments to Shopify Fulfillment Network. Elizabeth says Shopify has helped her deliver a consistently great fulfillment experience for her customers and helped Baloo save money by identifying more cost-efficient fulfillment center locations.

When Elizabeth Grojean traded in her life in New York City for a one-way ticket to Bali, she had no idea she was about to embark on the start of her entrepreneurial journey.

While it might sound reminiscent of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth’s decision to give up the big city grind to enjoy Bali’s tranquility is what led to her career as an independent business owner, selling products that facilitate relaxation and more restorative sleep.

Fast forward two years, and today Elizabeth is the founder and CEO of Baloo Living, a company that makes eco-friendly weighted blankets.

Weighted blankets were initially embraced as a coping tool, particularly among parents of children with special needs and patients suffering from chronic anxiety. In recent years, they’ve garnered mainstream attention, reaching a broader customer base who have successfully adopted the blankets as an aid for restful sleep.

 

“Weighted blankets distribute an even, gentle pressure around the body, similar to the feeling of a hug or being held, which signals to the nervous system that it’s safe,” Elizabeth says. “And so that fight-or-flight reflex we have just automatically shuts down, and you can more easily find this deep state of relaxation.”

The positive role that weighted blankets can play in helping people create healthier relationships with rest and tranquility was what drove Elizabeth to start Baloo Living in the first place. Elizabeth’s encounter with the demands of frantic corporate life, and the sudden relief she found in trying on a weighted blanket, gave her a very personal understanding of the problem. And it was this experience, she says, that motivated her to pursue entrepreneurship and get the blankets in the hands of as many people as possible.

The breakthrough that led to Baloo Living

After her initial trip to Bali in 2017, Elizabeth immediately felt the weight of New York City’s fast-paced and often frantic environment. “After returning to the city, I realized that I couldn't go back to my old life, or back into a cubicle,” she says. “I had only a few thousand dollars left in my bank account, but I decided that I would rather face the unknown than go back to the rat race.”

There and then, she decided to opt-out of the stress-infused corporate culture and start a business. Fortunately, the entrepreneurial wheels were already in motion, and Elizabeth saw an opportunity to combine her own experience of decompressing with the business opportunity of helping others cope with stress.

After settling back into Bali, Elizabeth enrolled in an online course on how to launch a brand selling private-label products. Having already experienced the benefits of weighted blankets firsthand, Elizabeth quickly identified the financial opportunity they presented.

Within weeks, she ordered and received her first product sample, a moment she describes as pivotal in her decision to get the blankets into the hands of more people. “I remember taking that blanket and putting it on in the middle of the afternoon, and I felt this really surprising, deeply relaxing sensation come over me,” she says. “And that’s the moment when it changed from simply being a way to make a living to something I was really passionate about and excited to share with people.”

Baloo Living launched six months later.

As an entrepreneur, the thrill of that first sale is an important milestone, and Elizabeth recalls the moment in April 2018 vividly. “My first sale wasn’t from anyone I knew,” she says. “I had launched the product online—I didn't tell any friends or family—and I got an email with my first order, which actually came through Amazon. And I couldn’t believe that someone had exchanged money for my blanket, which had no reviews and no social proof. I was so excited!”

Baloo’s first encounter with growing pains

Elizabeth started selling three or four Baloo blankets per day and initially believed she had reached her upper limit.

Then Baloo received the type of press that many businesses wish for: in November of 2018, New York magazine’s The Strategist named Baloo the year’s “best weighted blanket to gift.” As a result, Baloo sold out of all its Q4 inventory in two days—which sounds like a dream scenario, but it came bundled with a whole new set of problems.

Elizabeth is quick to recall that moment and the aftermath that followed. “It was a shock, and at that time, it was completely unexpected,” she says. I had a brand-new warehouse. My shipment had just arrived the day before. All these orders started pouring in, and the warehouse was not a D2C fulfillment center, but rather a bulk order pallet fulfillment center. A friend of mine had just opened [the warehouse], and I had to fly to Southern California. Together, we were up fulfilling orders back-to-back until midnight for days. It was a nightmare.”

“When fulfillment is working well, you don't think about it. When it's not working well, everything grinds to a halt.”

Elizabeth chose to sell Baloo’s products from her own website from day one. But, originally, she was shipping most of her orders through Amazon FBA, along with the independent warehouse that her friend owned. It was here that Baloo’s first serious business challenge arose—her friend’s warehouse was its early days and not equipped to support large scale direct-to-consumer shipments.

Of all the growing pains a business can encounter, fulfillment is a distinct sore spot. It’s a critical function that often flies under the radar, unnoticed until things go wrong.

“Having fulfillment buttoned up and in place is crucial if you want to scale,” Elizabeth says. “When it’s working well, you don’t think about it. When it’s not working well, everything grinds to a halt. You can do so much work to create a brand, to make that sale, to convert that customer, but if you cannot deliver your product to them, you’ve completely failed.”

Frustratingly, Elizabeth found her initial search for a new fulfillment partner to be wholly unfulfilling. Over a year and a half, she worked with three different fulfillment centers looking for the perfect fit. Her expectations were high, but that’s because she saw fast, reliable fulfillment as a competitive advantage.

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“Having fulfillment be something that you can rely on to provide not only satisfactory service but even above and beyond what’s expected, is one of the best ways you can differentiate yourself with customers and drive word of mouth recommendations,” she says.

Elizabeth took on the task of choosing her next fulfillment partner by interviewing and visiting several warehouses. While most were quick to tell her what she wanted to hear, Elizabeth says the reality rarely matched the picture-perfect proposal.

“The next warehouse I chose presented a great sales pitch. I went to their facility and it seemed really clean and organized,” Elizabeth says. “But for me, the biggest thing is communication. If you’re told one thing and then consistently delivered another without getting straight answers, then your customer can’t count on your word, and to me, your word is the most important thing.”

“Choosing your fulfillment partner is so crucial; they're the ones you rely on to deliver for your customers.”

Switching to the Shopify Fulfillment Network

The decision to partner with Shopify Fulfillment Network, which now supports Baloo’s distribution in the East Coast of the U.S., was influenced by Elizabeth’s experience building Baloo’s online storefront with Shopify.

“By that point, I trusted Shopify, its reputation, and the interactions I had with everyone in the company,” Elizabeth says. “I could also sense this enthusiasm for merchant success from the people I spoke to, as well as Shopify’s entrepreneurial attitude toward everything they did—which is the same attitude that I bring to my work every day.”

This shared philosophy mattered to Elizabeth because she was in search of a fulfillment partner that could match the standards she set for the rest of her business. “I’m genuinely honored when someone has chosen us among all the other brands out there, and I take it personally to deliver an amazing experience for them,” she says. “So we promise delivery by certain dates. That's our word, and we always strive to stand by that.”

For founders driven to share the enthusiasm they have for their product, no detail is too small or inconsequential. For Elizabeth, part of delighting the customers meant offering free shipping that was built into the overall price, especially since Baloo blankets aren’t lightweight. Not having the shock of added shipping fees “makes the experience better for our customers,” Elizabeth says.

“I want to partner with people who love what they’re doing, who are excited to solve problems every day. Because that’s what coming to work is for me.”

“We live in an incredible time right now. There are so many amazing tools at our disposal, including Shopify, and I’m really excited about Shopify Fulfillment now because this is the first time there’s such an integrated tool between the storefront and fulfillment on the back end,” Elizabeth says. “And a company like Shopify can do things at scale and do them so well, which creates all kinds of opportunities for merchants like me.”

One of those opportunities is the insight surfaced through data. Elizabeth credits Shopify Fulfillment Network’s support in helping her realize that opening an East Coast fulfillment center would be a great opportunity for her business.

“It was the Shopify Fulfillment team that helped me understand the opportunity we had by opening a fulfillment center on the East Coast. The team even ran the reports and historical analysis that helped us see how much of our customer base was located there,” she says. “By shipping from the East Coast, we’re able to cut our delivery times to customers down almost by half, and we’re saving an incredible amount on our shipping cost, not to mention lowering our carbon footprint.”

In addition to reducing shipping, Baloo Living commits to its core value of respecting the earth: lowering its carbon footprint is a key component in the brand’s eco-friendly ethos. Other ways Baloo walks the sustainability talk? It has eliminated plastic from its packaging (the blankets come in a cotton dust bag) and uses glass microbeads in its blankets, instead of the more common plastic beads.

What's next for Baloo?

As for Elizabeth, these days, living in New York City doesn’t weigh her down with the same pressure. Baloo also recently expanded beyond blankets with the launch of the Sleep Stone Mask, an eye mask that encourages more restful sleep.

With Baloo enjoying healthy, sustainable growth, Elizabeth recently hired her first full-time staff member—in addition to freelance help and support from part-time employee No. 1, her mom.

For future founders on the verge of starting their own business, she has this advice to offer: “Surround yourself with people who are interested in the same goals as you, and who might be just a few steps ahead of you on the journey. I cannot overstate the importance of having a community around you while you’re building a business. It’s one of the most challenging and most personal experiences you can go through, but it’s made possible by the people that are around you, encouraging you.”