Sean Alexander is the President and Founder of KAILANI Sports, Canada’s Fastest Growing Outdoor Lifestyle Brand. The company offers a wide range of outdoor products including Rotomolded Cooler boxes, Soft Cooler Bags, Insulated Drinkware and Vessels, Paddleboards, Dry Bags, and Dog Kennels. Sean shared with us the story behind starting KAILANI after a career layoff, how the company has grown their product portfolio, and their focus on delivering high-quality products at an affordable price. Stay tuned to learn more about their business and success in the outdoor market.
What is your business called and what does it do?
KAILANI is Canada’s Fastest Growing Outdoor Lifestyle Brand, manufacturing Premium Rotomolded Cooler boxes, Soft Cooler Bags, Insulated Drinkware and Vessels, Paddleboards, Dry Bags, along with a new and exciting “Patent Pending” design of Dog Kennels, launching May 2024.
What made you want to do this work?
After coming off a career layoff in the oil and gas sector in 2020, along with the start of COVID-19 lockdowns, I founded KAILANI simply to manufacture stand-up paddleboards(SUPs), which was the origin story for our name, meaning “sea and ski” in Hawaiian. In the beginning, I was designing, manufacturing, importing and selling these Coolers and Paddleboards from a 14-foot trailer, which allowed me to offer free delivery in Calgary, and enabled pop-ups across the city. This quickly morphed into manufacturing other products that complement the outdoor lifestyle, such as insulated drinkware.
What problem did you want to solve with the business?
Initially, the major problem I needed to solve was being unemployed and needing to support my family. After some initial success, I turned my attention to creating a more diverse product portfolio that went head to head with the “Big Brand” everyone was familiar with. Our one key differentiator was our price point and delivering higher perceived consumer value because of the savings, and we have continued to hone this to compete with larger companies and grow our market share.
Who are your clientele/demographics?
Virtually anyone could be a customer of KAILANI because of our wide assortment of products across multiple segments. Our drinkware product line bridged the gap between younger and older consumers as nearly everyone, at any age, utilizes various tumblers, bottles, and vessels to carry food and drink in. Our customers range from young children still in grade school packing up their lunch, to people heading to work with their coffee, and even to retired folks spending time outdoors and on the go. Whatever they are using our products for, they know they are receiving great products at a fraction of the price of the “Big Brands.”
How does your business make money? How does it work?
We design, manufacture, import, warehouse and distribute all of our own products. We sell through a variety of channels including directly to consumers (DTC) via our e-commerce site and Amazon Canada, in addition to through retailers. Our retail partners sell to both the general public and to promotional marketing companies who custom brand our products for their corporate clients for gifts. We have a great relationship with Amazon, where we sell directly to consumers and can get products into customers’ hands in as little as 24 hours through Amazon Prime.
Where in the city can we find your products?
We are headquartered in Calgary, and our products can be purchased at over 15 retail stores across the Calgary area, as well as online at Amazon.ca.
What is the best question a prospective customer could ask when comparing your products?
“How do I know the difference between a high-quality cooler product and a lower-quality cooler product?”
Answer: a “rotomolded” cooler offers the best structure for a cooler that will last a lifetime and ensuring it has a fairly thick wall filled with insulation for a greater “R” Value will give you the best ice retention.
What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?
The best part about what we do is walking down the street, or being on holiday and seeing our products in the hands of people we don’t even know. Creating a brand from scratch and seeing it grow from a one-man shop, selling out of my garage and a trailer to where we are today is incredible. We now can see that consumers see value in what we produce and are willing to buy it, which is the ultimate satisfaction of an entrepreneur.
The worst part is when the customer is looking for a certain product that is out of stock, which can be extremely frustrating and can make us question why didn’t we make more. This leaves us greatly anticipating the next shipment almost monthly so we can fulfil the orders from the many channels we sell in. This high demand, of course, is a good problem to have, but can quickly become an issue if customers aren’t able to get the products they are looking for. We recognize this and are constantly working to improve our sales analytics to ensure we are able to meet customer demand in an efficient and effective way.
What is your favourite joke about your own profession?
I wouldn’t say it’s a joke, but more of a moniker. People who aren’t aware of the KAILANI Brand, when we meet, ask, “What does KAILANI do?” I typically reply with “We are just like the big, recognizable brands, but without the big brand price.” They understand instantly because while the big competitors make great products, at the end of the day, many people cannot afford them, or cannot justify spending their money on their products. That’s where KAILANI comes in: many campers and outdoorsy people who require that type of cooler, do not own a big brand version because of the price. We are targeting those consumers looking for every bit of quality the competitor offers, but at a reasonable price point.
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?
Another great startup from Calgary is Gradient Soda.