Moving into your first college dorm is an exciting and sometimes terrifying moment. You’re on your own for the first time, experiencing a level of freedom you’ve never enjoyed before, learning to rely on yourself to form good habits and make it to class on time. Your dorm room becomes a sanctuary from the bustle of college life, a place to relax with new friends and a quiet spot to cram for your upcoming midterms. But in order to cut costs, universities often skimp on space and comfort in their residence halls, leaving students missing the luxuries of home.
That’s how DormCo.com founder Jeff Gawronski felt when he moved into his first dorm room. He was assigned to a top bunk and couldn’t figure out a way to keep his personal items at his bedside—he had no shelving, and he needed to be able to reach things like glasses or the TV remote without climbing out of bed. So he improvised, inventing a primitive version of DormCo.com’s popular bed post shelf as a form of convenient storage. Based near Buffalo, NY and selling online since 2006, DormCo.com has since grown into a superstore for all things dorm-related. We talked with Jeff about breaking into ecommerce, authenticity and how to make your dorm room a little more like home.
Q: How did you get into the residence hall furnishings industry?
A: When I was back in college, I invented a product called the bed post shelf. I was on a top bunk, and there was no solution that existed for keeping your items beside—I just made a simple shelf for my alarm clock, phone, TV remote, you name it.
I didn’t believe that you could just graduate college and launch a company on one product, especially a shelf for bunk beds. The market seemed so limited. But I took a job out of college doing pharmaceutical sales, and for some reason hung onto these leftover shelves. I had a great career and enjoyed it, but those things in my closet were nagging and I had to do something about it. I quit the career and drove around the country selling this now-plastic shelf to university bookstores. I launched my first online store in 2006, selling college dorm supplies.
Q: How did you decide that the Volusion platform was right for you?
A: I didn’t think there was an out-of-the-box solution that was actually of worth, until I spoke to a friend who owns a Volusion store. He had just started and he said, “I’ve researched them all, and Volusion is the best.” You could actually take a shot and see what happens. And there I was, relaunching with DormCo.com, the name I purchased, and I’ve remained loyal ever since.
Because of DormCo.com’s ability to grow, we’ve been able to add another Volusion store called Byourbed. The new site caters more to larger and normal-sized beds in people’s homes, and we launched it because we were getting so many requests from parents who had moved their kids into a dorm and wanted that great bedding for themselves. We chose the Volusion platform because we’ve seen it work well. Why change what’s not broken?
Q: What sets you apart from the big box stores?
A: The passion for products. We’re always inventing or producing new and interesting products that are centered around college dorm life. We develop new items that make sense for college students’ needs when they’re living in a dorm. It’s not just a store; it’s a desire to provide the best product at the best price. When consumers see that, they recognize it as authenticity, and our authenticity is second to none.
Q: Besides bedding, what’s one dorm essential you feel every student should have?
A: I think sometimes with bedding, people forget the bed topper. That’s a vital piece. You might have had a normal bed at home, but now you’re going to a mattress that, if it’s 8 inches thick, you’re lucky. With no box spring. When you’re talking about real sleep, you need a bed topper for sure. Even if you get the cheapest one for under $20, you’re doing well for your sleep.
Q: What tips do you have for a young person who’s just starting their own ecommerce business, like you did after college?
A: It’s not going to happen overnight. If what you’re providing to consumers has a true purpose, eventually consumers will take note of it and you’ll start seeing success. It’s a marathon, not a race. You have to be ready to put in those insane hours or scrimp because you need to spend a little more on advertising or a product. For us, there was no major funding, no family member with lots of money handing it over. You can be from nothing and move up to where DormCo.com is.