Sometimes personal need is the best motivator for innovation. It certainly was for Marc Pichik, the Iowa entrepreneur who invented Retract-A-Gate after getting a new puppy.
When he couldn’t find a product more versatile and durable than traditional safety gates to contain the new pet, Pichik designed one himself and started a company called Smart Retract. That was in 2002. Seventeen years later, he is the owner of a growing business, with sales around the world and shops in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and soon in Spain to handle local needs.
Pichik started small by selling through retail stores in Iowa but quickly realized he had to get the brand online to expand the customer base. A website built to optimize search results for safety gates and a steady investment in Google AdWords worked wonders for customer acquisition.
Smart Retract uses an array of digital tools to achieve efficiency and productivity. This includes automated transaction management from the time an order is placed through accounting, email marketing through MailChimp, and Google Analytics to analyze marketing campaigns.
Annual growth has been steady as a result, allowing Smart Retract to enlarge its staff to 12 people, with more hiring in the works. “If it weren’t for online tools and our ability to market to customers searching for our specific products, we’d have a completely different business model,” Pichik said. “It just wouldn’t work.”
He added that the Internet has made it possible for Smart Retract to compete against big corporations that have much larger distribution and retail networks.
While Pichik said it is important for the technology industry to evolve and for big tech companies to be fair, he expressed concern about regulations aimed at them. Any action could trickle down to small businesses online and great care is needed to avoid regulations that would unfairly reduce small businesses’ competitiveness.
The symbiotic relationship between Smart Retract and Google, in particular, fueled the company’s growth, Pichik emphasized. “These products and services offered a level playing field.” And now, he said, Google is taking that message from entrepreneurs like him to Washington because they have to dedicate most of their time and resources to running successful small businesses.