This Buzzy Company Failed and There's a Simple Reason Why

Niche markets are tricky. This entrepreneur learned the hard way.

This story appears in the September 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I have three kids, and I’m not at all prepared for catastrophe, thought Trae Nunnink. He wasn’t a prepper, one of those people mocked as armed isolationists. He owned an ad firm for trucking companies. But he wanted to feel secure and equipped, so in 2014 he launched Boltwell, an online store selling emergency preparedness kits for various natural disasters. It was a hit in the media but folded last December. Why? 


Related: The 3-Step Emergency Plan Every Entrepreneur Needs

Why did you think Boltwell would work? 

We conducted a study with a research firm, which found that while people do worry about catastrophic events, they aren’t well-prepared. They acknowledge that they should have items set aside, but no one wants to be seen as a weird survivalist. Our goal was to make prepping approachable. 

So why didn’t it take?

We wanted to open a store with a high-tech vibe -- salespeople wearing lab coats and fun gadgets lying around -- but to cut costs, we went e-commerce. However, we should have been a brick-and-mortar business. Because we were selling a feeling of security, it was important to let customers touch and see the product. The kits were expensive, starting at $325, and we couldn’t demonstrate their quality in person. 

Related: Why Businesses Succeed and Fail

How many of those did you make?

We invested in way too much inventory up front. We were so confident it would sell, and we didn’t want to risk being seen as a prepper store that was unprepared. In hindsight, we should have cut inventory in half. 

What did you learn about prepping for business?

Don’t build a tower unless you assess the cost. I misjudged how much it would cost to do it right. 

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