Starting Up: HIDEIt Mounts creates niche in TV market

Nintendo’s Wii is often credited for introducing motion controls to the mainstream.

For Relina Shirley, however, the system served as the spark behind her startup HIDEIt Mounts.

More specifically, Shirley’s journey into the entrepreneurial world can be traced to the Wii’s sensor bar. Well, that and her inner interior designer.

“The cord wasn’t long enough to make it from the cabinet to the console,” Shirley said. “So the Wii stood on our fireplace mantle for a while. Eventually, I just couldn’t handle it.”

After noticing the space behind her television, Shirley thought it would be perfect if she could somehow mount the Wii on the wall. Not only would it fix her cord issue, it would also keep the system nicely hidden to boot.

Shirley, however, couldn’t find any wall mounts for the Wii on the Internet. To come up with a solution, she did what many wives have done throughout history: get their spouse cracking on the case.

“I talked to my husband and he started toying with the idea,” Shirley said. “He went to Home Depot, bought a blowtorch, and made a mount out of plexiglass.”

Husband Chuck’s “pièce de résistance” worked so well that the couple thought it could be a viable business. In April 2009, the Shirleys started selling their product online under the name HIDEIt Mounts.

“Our very first month, we sold 15 units,” Shirley said. “That was pretty impressive for us because we don’t even know how those people found us.”

Bootstrapped business

These days, HIDEIt mounts serves up a more expanded product lineup besides its initial offering for the Wii.

In addition to its classic plexiglass offerings for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Apple TV and various cable boxes, the company also is offering adjustable metal mounts that can accommodate newer consoles and just about any box-shaped electronics that can be stood on its side.

Although the company consistently sees good growth year after year, it’s still a small business. The company didn’t start making enough money for Shirley to quit her full-time position as a job recruiter until last year.

After seeing a slower pace of growth in 2011 and 2012, this year is shaping up quite well for HIDEIt Mounts. Shirley is keeping sales figures close to the vest but says the company is on pace for 50 percent growth to date. Business also get busier from the middle of the year so she’s expecting even better sales in a few months.

“There was a slowdown in the gaming industry as a whole between 2011 and 2012 but we’re seeing huge growth this year,” Shirley said.

It’s a nice success story for a bootstrapped company that was started during the midst of a recession. At the time, the Shirleys were novices when it came to starting a new business. That meant a lot of research via the Internet and taking their lumps as they built the business.

Shirley is especially proud about creating a new venture without burying themselves in debt. HIDEIt Mounts remains self-funded, with most profits being reinvested back in the company.

“We may not always make the right choices — we made some costly ones and learned some hard lessons along the way,” Shirley said. “But we don’t owe anyone money so we don’t have anyone telling us what to do. We still have complete control and can run the company in a way that we think is best.”

One thing that also helped HIDEIt Mounts grow during tough economic times is their decision to move from California to Nevada in 2010. When they first formed the company, the Shirleys were paying more in taxes and fees. By moving, the couple landed in a “best of both worlds” scenario, Shirley said. It is a familiar refrain for many companies moving into the Silver State from its next-door neighbor.

“We don’t pay as much as we do in California but we’re still close enough to drive and see our families over there,” Shirley said.

Online

Despite inking a deal with retailer Micro Center, HIDEIt Mounts currently has no plans to expand its presence into major brick-and-mortar stores.

Instead, the business is focusing its attention on building its presence online.

One of the learning experiences the company has learned are the challenges and costs involved in being carried by a major retailer such as Target or Walmart, Shirley said.

“For one, the costs are higher because you have to invest in things like packaging,” Shirley said. “Retailers also let you jump through a lot of hoops so it doesn’t make financial sense for us right now.”

The switch in consumer buying trends from physical stores to online is also a factor in HIDEIt Mounts decision to concentrate on the Internet. Right now, the product is available in online stores such as Amazon, for example. The Internet also allows the company to reach an audience beyond the United States.

Nevertheless, challenges still remain for the small business. Although the release of new systems is a driver for sales growth, the fact that the Xbox One is not designed to be used vertically means they can’t make a wall mount for the new Microsoft console. Although the company still has mounts for the Wii U and PlayStation 4, the lack of an Xbox One offering represents a lot of potential lost sales as more people switch to next-generation gaming.

“The Xbox One is a big piece of equipment so not being able to use it vertically is unfortunate,” Shirley said. “It’s an issue, but we really can’t do anything about it.”

HIDEIt Mounts also still needs to build recognition in order to succeed with its online approach. Despite its positive sales growth, many consumers still are not aware that the product exists.

The good news is that competition for making wall mounts for game consoles and media boxes — at least domestically — remains limited.

Shirley hopes that building a business based on a unique product and expanding its offerings will give HIDEIt Mounts the staying power it needs.

“We created a totally niche product so we’re forging into a market that didn’t exist before,” Shirley said. “We haven’t grown to the point of being a household name but we continue to see organic growth, so I think we’re doing pretty well.”

THREE TIPS

Advice from Relina Shirley for other prospective entrepreneurs or small business creators.

Live within your means: If you’re bootstrapping your business on your own, you need to make sure that any big-ticket expenses are absolutely necessary. Be mindful of where you’re spending money so you’re not overleveraged.

Google is your friend: Whether it be information on permitting or making a business plan, try to do plenty of research online. Don’t be afraid to seek guidance from others as well. There are a lot of people out there with more knowledge than you.

Take a leap of faith: Find a niche, create a good product or service for that niche, and believe in yourself. There will be trying times but the rewards are worth it if you manage to create a successful business.