An idea to create colorful bracelets that can help wearers share their adventures has hatched into more than $65 million in sales for Copiague-based accessory brand Trrtlz.
Amerily Products Inc., the family-owned business behind Trrtlz (pronounced turtles, after the tiny turtles that adorn many of the bracelets), has sold more than 65 million of them in three years. The bracelets, which come in some 175 different styles, sell for $1 each at retail locations in 11 countries.
What started as a collection of turtle designs has expanded to include dozens of animals, such as Elephantz, Monkeyz, Owlz, Ladybugz, Giraffez and Pigz. Each elastic bracelet features 44 plastic beads: 22 tiny animals or symbols and 22 shiny round ones. The brand assigns each color a meaning; for example, purple means loyalty, red means love and orange means bold.
The colors fade over time, and the company says the faded bracelets can be thought of as representing the adventures people have had while wearing them. “When you give someone a faded Trrtlz bracelet, you are sharing your adventures with that person and inviting them to carry a part of you with them,” the Trrtlz website says. The brand spreads its story through social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
“The bracelet is just a simple bracelet, but the sharing of it is where the real value comes in,” said Trrtlz co-founder Joseph Ferlito, 28, of Lindenhurst. “One of the stronger aspects of the bracelets is that it appeals to all ages. We like to call it the turtle travel currency.”
The brand was launched in 2013 by Ferlito and his cousin Giuseppe Ferlito , 39, of Bassano Del Grappa, Italy, after a Sicilian girl they met on a beach in Italy gave them each a keepsake bracelet with a small turtle. When they returned home, people asked them about the bracelets, and they recounted the story. Many who heard it said they wanted a bracelet, too. That’s when Joseph, who had worked at a jewelry production facility in Italy and later worked as a freelance photographer, and Giuseppe, who was head of marketing and sales for an Italian jewelry firm, started making their own turtle-inspired bracelets to give to friends and family.
“We received such positive reactions from our friends and strangers, we knew this was going to be huge,” Joseph Ferlito said. “What we weren’t prepared for was the rejection from [chain] retailers.”
The two cousins worked on the concept, packaging and design of the bracelets for three years before starting to sell them in boutiques, hair salons and surf apparel shops on Long Island.
After a failed attempt to get into 7-Eleven stores on their own, the two linked up with Holbrook-based wholesale distributor Galaxy Distributors of Suffolk County Inc., which finally got Trrltz into the convenience store chain. The bracelets, which are manufactured in China, were tested in 50 stores in the New York area, including Long Island, and then expanded nationwide.
“We found that because we were a little small company, the retailer relationships were stronger” with distributors, said Joseph Ferlito, who graduated from Siena College in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. “To build and develop that infrastructure requires millions of dollars of startup capital. We understood that we would be making less money [selling through distributors], but by bringing the right members to the team we were able to create longevity.”
The list of retail buyers eventually grew with the help of Galaxy Distributors as Walgreens, Five Below, A.C. Moore and other chains signed on.
“We partnered with Trttlz once I saw the item and I fell in love with it,” Galaxy chief executive Darren Cash Warshaw said.
After a year and a half, the Ferlitos started to work also with Jacmel, a Manhattan-based distributor, which got them into Walmart, Target, Michaels and Kroger stores. Jacmel was also able to help them secure licensee partnerships with Disney, DC Comics, Marvel, Hasbro, Hello Kitty, Peanuts and My Little Pony, as well as the National Football League and Major League Baseball.
“We saw an opportunity to take a once-in-a-generation type item in the jewelry industry and dramatically increase its potential by leveraging our distribution platform and relationships with leading brands,” said Jacmel owner Evan Berkley.
Working with distributors is a logical alternative because they provide valuable services, said retail consultant Howard Davidowitz of Davidowitz & Associates Inc. in Manhattan.
“If you deal with the right distributor, they have instant credibility,” Davidowitz said. “They are already shipping everything to the same store. They know the fixtures, placement and they know the people. If you did this on your own, you have to build your own organization with contacts and distribution.”
While the distributors take a cut, the increased sales have boosted the Ferlitos’ revenue. The first year, they had revenues of about $3 million after paying the distributors. This year, they expect to rake in about $15 million.
“I absolutely had faith that once we were in one store, it will open the door for everything else,” Joseph Ferlito said. “Persistence was the key to this entire project and understanding that it only takes a single ‘yes’ to get you moving in the right direction.”
Company: Amerily Products Inc., Copiague
Co-founders: Joseph Ferlito and Giuseppe Ferlito
Projected fiscal 2015-16 revenue: $15 million