Husband and wife team of Phillip and Dana Perkins had been making custom mouse ears for eight months when Phillip suggested they make a pair on their 3D printer. They gave it a shot and when their new collection launched, it sold out within minutes. That simple idea would go on to change their business and their lives forever.
When did you both discover your love for Disney?
Dana: I grew up going to WDW throughout my childhood and would read travel books about how to plan your trip, new experiences etc. I would have trip countdowns that ranged into the 300’s+ and wouldn’t sleep for weeks as the trip came closer I was so excited. Living in Wisconsin; WDW was a magical, warm, happy place where the whole family came together and just had fun. My Dad really instilled the wonder and appreciation of everything Disney and would talk - still does - about Disney endlessly with me.
Phillip didn’t discover his love for Disney until his first trip with me in January 2016. He was pretty skeptical at first, more of an “ok, we go here once and get it over and then never go again”. Well; that changed the minute he got there. Phillip was awestruck by the architecture, the work that went into every show and ride and just the magic that is so obvious in all the parks. He immediately requested to come back as soon as possible.
Tell us about both of your backgrounds and what led you to starting Aloha Ears?
Both of us have had multiple jobs and businesses; some successful, some failed. We don’t look as failure as the opposite of success but rather as a stepping stone to success. Phillip is everything from a ASE certified mechanic to owning two different home remodel businesses - which he sold when Aloha Ears went full time. I’ve been everything from a bartender at Applebees to a wedding and family photographer to an Assistant Football Coach for a Varsity Boys Team at a private school on the Big Island. We were also both in the United State Coast Guard Reserves - we met in Basic Training - super romantic - where we were Boatswain’s Mate and Gunner’s Mate.
Aloha Ears started off as a New Years Resolution. Home remodeling was slowly “killing” Phillip and I resolved to start a business that would sustain both of us fully so we could do something we both loved. Now, if you would have told us two years ago making mouse ears would be our full time jobs now we would have probably laughed in your face in disbelief; but here we are and we LOVE it!
When did you launch? Anything help you take the leap?
We launched Valentines Day 2016 with the 3D printing. Aloha Ears Boutique technically started June 2015 when we made cloth and wire ears but I was a giant klutz and hit my head on everything thus denting the wire ears. Phillip had a 3D printer at home he used to make car parts for fun and was like "Hey why don't we 3D print mouse ears? They would be indestructible." Valentines Day 2016 we had our first opening and sold out of the 25 pairs we had in 12 minutes. We had no idea the craze we had started for 3D printed ears and where this business would take us. Taking the leap was definitely terrifying, but sometimes the best things in life are. It was more a feeling of “we know this is good and we believe in it, no one has done anything like this before and it’s exciting! So let do it!” After that first launch, I had to lay down on the floor I was so overwhelmed by what had happened; I couldn’t believe it. Phillip was on a job site and immediately drove home after he saw everything sell out and I ran and tackled him the driveway out of joy!
What was your first product?
Our first ear design we ever did was the classic “open ear” it is the first and last design I ever did. I held a headband up to computer screen to get the general size of how big it should be in our designing program, guessing all the way, and went “sure- that looks about right.” It just happened to be the exact shape and size we needed. Phillip has of course designed and printed everything since; he has all the talent and brilliance there!
Looking back what would you have done differently in those early days?
We should have had more confidence in ourselves and what we were creating. There is always the doubting voice in our head that tell you “this isn’t good enough, no one is going to buy this…blah blah blah.” That voice is stupid. If even an inkling of your brain thinks it’s good, GO FOR IT! The worst that can happen is it tanks. Then you pick yourself up, move on and have faith yourself. Like we said before failure isn’t a bad thing, its a stepping stone to success.
How did you get attention, gain traction and grow your following?
We had to work extra hard to sell our ears first starting out. We lived in Hawaii thousands of miles away from any Disney park. As it was, trying to explain to our friends and neighbors there what we did for a living was almost impossible - no one knew what mouse ears were! The major thing we had going for us is no one had made 3D printed ears before; it was a new revolutionary thing in the community and people were fascinated by it. We got our Ohana, that’s what we call our followers and family on social media, by really being open with who we are. We would do live streams every Monday and it pretty much turned into a TV sitcom for a lot of our followers. We would of course talk about our business and what we had new coming to the shop etc but it also involved Phillip running around in an inflatable T-REX suit in the jungles of Hawaii, jumping off our roof into our pool to show how waterproof our ears are or me trying to bake as Phillip rapid fired a ton of questions at me about Disney and our product. Many times ingredients were forgotten in the bakes. We were really just ourselves; the silly, outgoing, a little crazy but professional people we are. We always put our Ohana first whether it comes to customer service or what the people want. We always made sure at the end of each day all our customers are taken care of and that they know us and feel comfortable with us. People are attracted and want to support kind, genuine, happy people.
What where some of your early growing pains?
Oh man, our biggest growing pain was time. 3D printing isn’t like a regular paper printer where you push a button and it’s done in three seconds. It takes hours for ears to print - our longest is 14 hours a pair; thank goodness those are seasonal! With that also comes all the designing time, all the repairing time, and of course all the prep and assembly of the ears etc. It’s just really time consuming. We do everything in house here ourselves with our little team we have created. All the designing, all the assembly, shipping, maintenance is 100% here in house. Many nights we set alarms for the printers so Phillip gets up every hour and a half to switch prints and didn’t get to sleep during really big pushes of sales. We have thus learned to purchase more printers and schedule our time better and happy to report we haven’t had to do that in awhile! There will always be learning curves and that’s kinda the best part of this business; we never know what it’s going to be like for forever!
What has stuck with you from day one that still drives your success today
Be original. Be original in what you create, be original in who you are and be original in how you live. Phillip and I are very much ourselves; we don’t want to be like everyone else! Of course there are people we look up to and admire but we always stay true to ourselves and our business mottos.
Our shop is really a one of a kind. Fast forward to today from Valentines Day 2016; twenty-two printers later and Aloha Ears Design being our full time jobs and creating a community based on appreciation for the love and design we put into our ears we can't believe this is real life most days. We get so much creative freedom to make what we want while also making it our own. It never gets old to see our ears in the parks and go tap people on the shoulder, compliment their ears and see their faces light up. Our customers are like family to us; our Ohana really, and we love hearing that our customers have made friends just by seeing random strangers wearing the same ears as them and both going "Aloha Ears?".
It's really a unique business we have and we wouldn't change it for the world.
You have turned up the dial on traditional ears by having everything interchangeable. The ears, bows and even tiaras can be swapped out in seconds. How did this idea come about? And how much trial and error did it take to get it right?
It was an idea that I wasn’t too hot on originally. I was afraid things would break or get lost, it would be confusing or frustrating for customers, etc. But, of course Phillip got rid of all those worries with the exact right system. Ours is extremely simple with a universal plastic snap velcro system that is across our entire product line. Phillip originally got the idea from a weekend we were at drill for the Coast Guard. We use the snap velcro to hold all our stuff in place when the boat tips over and does 360 turns. If it can hold 100 pound bags of gear, it can hold a 3 ounce ear on a headband! After we sourced the snap velcro, there wasn’t much trial and error at all. It was just the usual “Phillip-Brilliance” as I call it.
Your customization allows for endless combinations and possibilities between colors and fabrics. Was the idea from the start to allow the guest have a hand the entire way though building their ears?
All our options combined we have over 1.5 million combinations possible. We always started with the idea that we wanted to make truly one of a kind ears. We never wanted that moment when you walk into the park and see 40 people wearing the exact same ears as you. We wanted each customer to be able to create and pick their dream ear from our store. From princesses to rides to classic characters we have a little bit of everything for everyone.
What is your favorite part of running a brand thats entirely yours?
The ultimate creative freedom. We get to design what we want, when we want and how we want. It’s everything you could ask for in a brand!
What third party programs, services or products could your brand not run without?
All of Amazon.
What do you want people to think of when they think of Aloha Ears?
Ohana. We want people to feel like when they purchase from us; not only are they supporting a small shop run by real people, but they are becoming part of a family. You get a one of a kind made especially for you pair of ears and that in itself is magical.
What are you both currently working on? What’s next for the brand? What would you like people to know?
We have a new line coming out that showcases all the characters you know and love that get overshadowed! This new line thrives off the simplicity of the designs but allows the wearer to really dress up or dress down their look with the ears. It will be really fun to watch how everyone styles them! We are always coming up with new things. New ears, new lines who the heck knows! We like to surprise people!
Favorite Walt quote?
“Why worry, if you’ve done the best you can worrying won’t make it any better.” This got me though a lot of my college days.
What do you think Walt would think of the parks today?
Honestly, I think he would be very proud and also a little sad. Proud because it is a magical, safe, happy place for families to come together and have fun. Sad because he envisioned it to be a place of learning and exploration. It has more turned to a theme park and all about rides and running from thing to thing. We believe this could be changed if more emphasis was put on the learning aspect of the parks.
Mickey Bar or Mickey Pretzel?
Mickey Pretzel. We live for that government cheese. I’m from Wisconsin, can you blame me? We’ve never met a cheese we didn’t like.
Dole Whip or Citrus Swirl?
Surprisingly, Citrus Swirl! We got really spoiled with only having white pineapple in Hawaii and now golden pineapple is kinda “meh” to us. We still are the Pineapple People at heart though! Phillip usually goes for the Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
Favorite Disney restaurant?
Oooh; close call between Narcoossee’s and Coral Reef. The Almond Crusted Cheesecake at Narcoossee’s is heaven and the Mahi Mahi at Coral Reef makes our tummies do little happy dances.
Favorite park and attraction?
Phillip: Animal Kingdom and Slinky Dog Go Coaster
Dana: Hollywood Studios and Splash Mountain
Both: TOKYO DISNEYLAND! We miss it everyday of our lives.
Best parks tip?
Go in an off season like January! A trip can easily be ruined by long wait times and crowds, especially if you’re not a planner, so as long as you don’t mind the possibility of cold; January is our fave month to be in the parks!
Favorite holiday in the parks?
Christmas; Phillip loves the holiday lights! It reminds us both of his first trip and how magically perfect that trip was.
All time favorite fireworks show?
Wishes. #toosoon #neverforgotten #RIP #cryingemojii
Most magical experience you’ve had on property?
The first time we ever saw a pair of our ears in the parks “in the wild”. We practically ran this girl over and she probably thought we were insane as we were hugging her. Haha. Our dreams had come true though and it was just so surreal. That girl is now our very close friend :)
Who do you want to see interviewed next?
Main Street Press! They’re hilarious and amazing people