“I wear all of the hats.” – Raleigh entrepreneur Wes Johnson

RALEIGH – When Raleigh native Wes Johnson bought hand-sewn hammocks from two brothers in 2005, he had no idea the $30,000 investment would reach nearly $1 million in sales.

Last year alone, the company, Lawson Hammock, sold over 5,500 of its Blue Ridge Camping Hammocks and grew around 70%.

And he’s doing this solo – a one person operation.

When Johnson met the Lawson brothers at a local music festival, they were in the process of shutting down their hand-sewn hammock company. At the time, Johnson ran his own building and development company, WRJ Realty and Development.

“I decided to buy their inventory kind of for fun,” said Johnson. “It was a side gig to the building and development thing.”

He set up a website to market and sell the hammocks. Johnson then found a group to sew the hammocks, which can also be used as a tent. He was responsible for the assembly, packaging and shipping, which turned out to be a time-consuming task.

In addition to the main body of the hammock, the original product featured grommets, poles and ropes. All of which had to be assembled.

Lawson Hammock

A Lawson Hammock advertised at Amazon.com

A Lawson Hammock on sale at Amazon

The website explains what you get:

  • Non-Stretch Polyester Straps
  • Hybrid Ground Tent or Hammock: Can be used as a single or double ground tent, or a suspended hammock.
  • Ideal Use: Perfect for all types of camping including car camping, backpacking, scouting, kayaking, canoeing, mountaineering, or jungle camping. Quick and easy setup only takes a few minutes. Suspend the hammock from two trees or any sturdy object. No trees in sight, set-up as a ground tent.
  • Portable: With a compact pack size of 22 x 6” and pack weight of 4.25 lbs this Hybrid Bivy and Hammock is the perfect lightweight shelter for all adventures.
  • Comfort: Lawsons patented design uses arch poles and spreader bars to keep the hammock bed flat, thus eliminating much of the cocoon effect created by standard parachute hammocks. With a roomy 90 x 42” interior and 275 weight capacity there is plenty of room to spread out.
  • Included: Lawson Blue Ridge Hammock / Ground Tent Hybrid, Detachable Waterproof Rainfly, Integrated Mosquito and Bug net, Stuff Sack, Spreader Bars, and *Hammock Straps (*Bundle Only)

“I was sourcing each of these components from individual companies and then assembling them,” said Johnson. “Even after the product was done, I printed the instructions, put the hammock in a bag, filled out the label and shipped it. This was just for one hammock. The margins were not very good if you took into account the time I spent.”

It became too much. When the number of hammocks he was assembling reached nearly 50 a month, he decided to find a partner who could manufacture and assemble the hammocks.

“I ultimately found a manufacturer overseas through a trade event,” Johnson said. “We tested out samples and found a design. They also source the individual components and box it.”

Even with a successful manufacturing partner, the shipping of the hammocks ultimately became overwhelming. He found a warehouse and logistics company that now takes care of all shipping. Today, aside from testing products, he does not touch the hammocks shipped to customers.

Learning to do it all

While Johnson had launched his own realty and development company soon after he graduated from N.C. State University, marketing the hammock was a new experience for him.

Yes, he is responsible for all business development, marketing and public relations for the company.

“I wear all of the hats,” said Johnson. “I have to focus on the sales and growth component, such as new ways to sell the hammock and reaching out to new retailers. I handle all customer service. If a customer calls, I handle it.”

His efforts are paying off. Today, the Blue Ridge Camping Hammocks can be found at Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and on Amazon.com, among others. How did a one-man operation connect with some of the country’s top retailers? According to Johnson, it was a process.

“For most of my retailers, it was a process and a lot of follow up,” said Johnson. “For these large companies, you have to get on their good side. I would make cold calls and follow up. Some of these took years. The market changes, and now they see they are selling more camping and hammock products, so they gave me a shot.”

Johnson is also responsible for online marketing and public relations.

“The direct to consumer marketing is great for me because the margins are better than going through a retailer,” he said. “I am working with someone to help me with social media marketing. I currently have 43, 000 followers on Instagram.”

His online marketing efforts speak for themselves. Year-to-date, direct and online sales are up around 300%.

“Most of it was trial and error, and a lot of it was common sense,” he said. “I kept my finger on the pulse. I learned as I went. Same with social media. I would see influencers posting things. I started to reach out. People have given me insight. I do pick the brains of people I know.”

Today, Johnson has an office at HQ Raleigh where he has access to other entrepreneurs he can learn from.

“I have conversations with them over coffee and beer,” he said. “The insight of the people there has been invaluable.”

How to be an entrepreneur       

Johnson knew early on in his career that he wanted to work for himself.

“I realized after being in the corporate world that I wanted to do my own thing,” he said. “I liked the autonomy. I didn’t thrive in a more bureaucratic setting. I liked the flexibility and freedom to be a decision maker, whether they were good or bad decisions, and deal with the consequences.”

So what advice does he have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

“It may be cliché, but follow your heart and passion,” advises Johnson. “You have to figure out what works for you and resonates with you. Also, don’t let fear paralyze you. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Don’t let that fear paralyze you. You have to find ways to circumvent it. It is okay to fail and screw up and ask for help.”