The key to any successful business is to identify a problem (preferable a problem that people didn't know they had) and fix it. For example: Whoever convinced the world that public toilets needed a thin flushable paper liner to protect the user is undoubtedly a rich man. (We'd love to know exactly what germs are transmitted from sitting directly on a toilet seat after someone -- oh horrors! a stranger! -- else sits on it. Following this logic, I'm looking for venture capitalists interested in doorknob gloves and iPad touchscreen disinfectant.)
But I digress. Meet New Jersey soccer moms Jill Levin and Annemarie McCartney, both boomers credited with solving the problem of stinky kids' feet. As a mom myself, I get this problem. In fact, if you want to get it too, just join me when I have carpool duty and half the boys soccer team removes its cleats and shin guards in my car after a practice. Even the dog wants out, and her favorite thing in the world is rolling around in some other dog's poop. She at least has the option of straining her neck out the window to escape the smell. Moms? We are in the car, windows rolled down to limited avail.
Levin and McCartney have seven kids between them and a couple of odoriferous minivans. Enter Skunkies, little sachets that eliminate odor and bacteria and have propelled Levin and McCartney into the Mompreneurs' spotlight.
Here's the story that Levin shared with Huff/Post50:
Tell us where you got the idea for Skunkies.
As my third child was about to go into first grade, I knew that I would have the day to myself and was looking to do something. Up until that year, I was a stay-at-home mom and had done a few different things from my home -- sold health and healing beaded jewelry, ran a Nanny Cam business where we installed a temporary camera system in homes to monitor day care. Knowing that I would have time to be out of my house during the school day, I was racking my brain to think of something to do.
I was a huge fan of the show "The Big Idea" that inspires people to go into business. Donny Deutsch, the host of the show and well-known marketing guru from N.Y.C., would say that taking your worst problem and remedying it would give you a great idea and passion. And then there I was -- on my way to a soccer tournament with my friend Annemarie and a bunch of little boys. I told the kids, "Time to put on your shin pads and cleats," and with that, the odor that took over the car was so vile we had to pull over and open the windows! For real!
I looked at my friend and said to her, "We need to remedy this problem and get the stink out." Right there, we started discussing the idea and that was our first informal business meeting.
Then what happened?
We met daily from then on about different ideas and sought opinions from our families and friends. We started researching remedies and put together a prototype. We would go to our kids' games and give them out for free. When people started to want to buy them, we knew we were on to something.
Once we knew they were salable, we formed a business. I approached local stores and took small orders. At that point we were making them in Annemarie's kitchen. Each time we got a store to carry them, it gave us the momentum to go out and make another sales call. Of course there were people and stores that didn't want or think they needed them, but we kept forging ahead. We went to our friends and family to help us with the business part like forming a LLC and trademarking and so forth. We used any resource possible not to incur costs.
How did you get from that stage to the next?
I started e-mailing TV stations and newspapers and started to get some publicity; I am still doing all our public relations. When we got a call from a Fox Business news show to come pitch our product to the host, we were out of our minds. We went to New York City, pitched our product to the three hosts of the show, got three thumbs up --and the media thing just spread from that like wildfire. We got calls from local stations, magazines and newspapers.
Tell us about your big break.
I think our big break was when I called a local soccer tournament that was happening at City College in New York and asked if we could come sell our product and give Skunkies to the referees. We were "discovered" by the chairman of the board of Bed Bath & Beyond, who loved Skunkies. Once we hooked up with BB&B, we knew we were headed to the big leagues and we needed manufacturing and distribution. An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer business section led to a partnership with a 100-year-old Camden, N.J. sock company and now Skunkies are manufactured and distributed proudly across the United States.
How do you balance everything else going on in your life?
Well, I care for two aging independent parents. I have three kids in three different schools -- they all play various sports. I'm planning for my son's bar mitzvah event in May. I still schedule the school snack bar, take care of school fundraising, help with homework. To be honest, I don't know how I juggle it all. I guess I'm a good multitasker. I am proud of myself but usually don't have time to stop and think about it until someone asks me how Skunkies are doing. And then when I saw are hitting Walmart in a few weeks, it's a shot of reality.
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