In this week’s Success Story, I look at Pat Cuartero’s enthusiasm with yo-yos, which is contagious. His tricks are so out of this world it makes you want to buy a yoyo from YoYoNation, the online yoyo specialty store owned by Cuartero, and see if you can recreate them. Sharing your enthusiasm about your own brand, as Cuartero has shown, is one of the strongest ways to promote it.
Passion, Play, Profit
Pat Cuartero had been playing yoyo since he was a little kid. When he was in high school, he became a 2A yoyo champ. If there’s anyone who deeply knows the joys of yoyo, it’s Cuartero. He would play yoyo while waiting for a subway train, during conference calls, at a grocery line.
When Cuartero opened his online yoyo store in 2005, he had only $8000 credit card debt as startup capital. He had no business plan and he had no idea how his business venture would turn out, if it would bring him money or if it would bankrupt him. All that was clear to him was that he wanted to spread the joy of yoyo. “My dream was to make New York the capital of yoyos,” said the half-Chinese, half Filipino entrepreneur.
Five months later, YoYoNation earned a net income of $32,000. That was when he decided to commit to his business full time. He quit his six-figure salary job as technology programmer at Merrill Lynch. Some people would think he was crazy, but for Cuartero, everything was right about his decision. He was going to devote his time on the one thing that he was truly passionate about, and this attitude is the key ingredient in the small business success of YoyoNation.
A Brief History of Yoyo in US Commerce
The yoyo was introduced to the US by Filipino-American Pedro Flores. His shop was later bought by Donald Duncan, who began producing wood and plastic versions for nationwide distribution. The toys became extremely popular during the Great Depression because they were cheap. In the 1950s, Duncan sent out yoyoists across the country to market the toys and to show the public how to do yoyo tricks. However, yoyo’s popularity slipped that Duncan had to file for bankruptcy in 1965. In 1968, Duncan was bought by Flambeau Inc. Since then, the yoyo had ups and downs in terms of popularity.
Then came Cuartero. Reminiscent of the branding strategy used by Duncan’s yoyoists in the 1950s, Cuartero traveled to many places to perform and showcase his yo-yoing skills. He appeared on popular shows like The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Early Show, and posts videos on YouTube. He was also featured on Entrepreneur, PC Magazine, The New York Posts, and many other magazines. He became his brands’s best endorser!
Sharing the Passion
Cuartero’s YoYoNation carries yoyos of all styles and for all skill levels. The store also sells casings, strings, and bearings, as well as clothing and yo-yoing gear.
However, the brand is more than just about retailing the best yoyo gears on the market. Competitors are already doing that. At the heart of YoyoNation is a genuine desire to share the joys of yoyo. To achieve this, the e-store hosts a community forum that allows yoyo enthusiasts to teach each other new tricks, discuss the best type of yo-yo for a particular trick, etc. Forums also allow Cuartero to reach out to customers and establish a relationship with them, which definitely helps sales. As a result, YoyoNation boasts of a 90% conversion rate. Whenever they announce a new product, it disappears quickly from the store shelves.
YoyoNation also hosts competitions, which make owning a yoyo even more appealing.
Getting the Funding
YoyoNation’s initial funds were only $8,000, which they took out on their credit cards. Cuatero said he wanted to start the business small. If all things fail, this amount sets the limit of what they could lose. The amount already covered everything, from technology to inventory. It helped a lot in reducing costs the fact that he and his partner Weber Hsu were computer experts. The developed and designed their online store, saving a lot of money in the process.
Surviving the Challenges
Pat Cuartero has faced many challenges, including lack of business knowledge. He also faced emotional challenges in dealing with competition, some of whom ended up name-calling, harassing, and insulting Cuartero. He braved all of these to create a brand that would represent an authentic passion for yoyo and what you can achieve with it. YoyoNation has already shipped over 1.6 million yoyos worldwide.
As to what advice he can give fellow small business owners, Cuartero said people should lose their dependency on money. Make sure your fervent passion for your own product is captured in your brand, and money and success will follow. However, it is sad that YoyoNation had to be closed down and Cuartero moved on YoyoSkills. I still consider this a success story and I think entrepreneurs can still learn a few lessons from this story.