A business major, an engineer and a sales marketer rolled the dice with a new outdoor game they invented while dreaming up a way to make extra money. Two years later, their product has landed at Walmart.com and other retail outlets.
Greg Meade, a 25-year-old business major from Connecticut, said he and his best friend, Mike Delpapa, and his older brother, Chris Meade, 26, were killing time one Sunday watching ESPN highlights and trying to think of a product they could create. Ten hours later, the guys took the premise of the popular childhood game four square and blended it with the beach and backyard game of volleyball to come up with Crossnet, which they have since patented. Greg Meade, CEO of the company, said this is not the first time he’s started a company, but it is the first time a product has landed in big-box retail.
“We took our life savings and bootstrapped Crossnet about two years ago, and we have all worked to get it to where it is today — on track to gross $2 million in sales this year,” he said during a recent interview with the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal.
Delpapa, 25, is an engineer who began working on a prototype for the game in late 2017. After researching game components, the partners opted to import the game from China because of the cost savings. He said Delpapa flew to China and worked with a product assembly manufacturer who puts the product components in a box and ships it to the company’s fulfillment warehouse in Connecticut.
Meade said the company uses Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to source the game components, and they are packaged in China. He said the trade wars with China are a big concern for his partners, but so far the company has been able to order ahead and avoid price increases.
The product retails for $149.99 on Walmart.com and elsewhere it is sold. Meade said the partners have built in about a mid-double-digit profit margin at that price. Since becoming operational in August 2018, the company has sold roughly 15,000 units. He said they have back stock inventory of 10,000 units to ensure they can meet order demand as the spring season approaches. Meade said the company initially faced issues with order fulfillment when demand outstripped inventory.
“We had a push for the product from eBay and Amazon really early, and we had to pause because we just could not keep up with the demand,” he said. “Amazon has a really strict fulfillment policy, and if you fail to deliver, they will suspend your account. We didn’t want that to happen, so we paused it on our own and worked to rebuild the security stock.”
Meade said part of the bootstrapping included a social media campaign the partners conducted. The trio loaded up their sparse belongings and headed to the endless beaches in Miami and worked that scene by setting up their original Crossnet game and getting interest from beachgoers of all ages.
After a few months in Miami, the partners split up to market in their respective territories. Greg Meade is in San Diego and works the West Coast beaches. Chris Meade returned to Connecticut to work East Coast beaches and schools for physical education options. Delpapa remained in Miami and continues to cover that area.
“We couldn’t believe how much interest our product got from the massive social media campaign we did early on. That has been the way the retailers found us,” Greg Meade said, adding that they partnered with Spreetail, an outdoor-sports wholesale distributor in Lincoln, Neb., that got Crossnet into retail.
He said Spreetail manages the day-to-day orders at retail and Crossnet does their own fulfillment. He said the lean company does not have administrative staff, and the partners want to focus on marketing, developing other sales venues, and new product development.
Through Spreetail, the Crossnet game is sold online at Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Amazon, eBay, Jet, Wish, Newegg and Google Express. The product is also available in the Midwest in Scheels sporting goods stores and is coming soon to Dick’s Sporting Goods. Meade said the item is available for in-store pickup at Walmart.com.
Meade said the game weighs about 20 pounds and ships in a box about the size of cooler. The game kit includes a volleyball, air pump, poles, nets, boundary lines and stakes. Crossnet is designed for backyard beach play, which has a seasonal sales cycle in much of the U.S. Meade said the company will soon launch an indoor version of the game that will continue to be marketed to physical education programs in schools as well as to tailgaters and for other events that take place on concrete.
“We have the product in 2,500 schools right now, and Chris continues to work that market for us,” Meade said. “We are three optimistic, hardworking guys doing what we want, and we still see plenty of opportunity with our company.”
Crossnet is part of a growing outdoor recreation industry that generates more than $887 billion in consumer spending annually, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. Cornhole games have been popular in recent years, but Meade said the Crossnet game is a way for families and players ages 6 to 86 to enjoy. He said the net is adjustable, which makes it the game easier for younger kids.
“Everyone probably remembers playing four square as a kid, and Crossnet brings back memories and helps create new ones,” Meade said.
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