She Needed A Place To Stash Her Cash – And Now She's Rolling In It

11/20/2012 02:35 pm ET

One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about one woman who hated having a messy purse and dared to do something about it. Her solution struck a chord with other women, and today the Pouchee is flying off shelves. -– Marlo,

By Lori Weiss

It was the gift that kept on giving. On Christmas day, 2004, Anita Crook unwrapped a beautiful box, streaming with ribbons and bows. It was an expensive present from her son, David, that was picked out with love, but maybe not with quite the practicality Anita would have preferred.

“It was a beautiful purse,” Anita recalled, “really beautiful, but I knew I’d never use it. So I thanked him and put it on a shelf in my closet. It had no pockets and I’m the most disorganized person you’ll ever meet, so I need pockets in my purses to help me keep track of where things are.”

So Anita went back to using the same basic black purse she’d used every day -- the one with the special place for lipstick and another one for keys. The one she had organized perfectly. And the pretty purse sat high above her colorful wardrobe, taunting her, almost daring her to give it a whirl.

“I needed a way to use that purse,” Anita laughed. “So I looked for an organizer, but I couldn’t find anything that worked for me. So I decided to create one.”

There was one little obstacle though. Anita couldn’t sew. But she could picture what she wanted. And she was an art major in college. So, 35 years after graduation, she dusted off her design skills and began drawing.

“I can’t even sew a button back onto my husband’s shirts. But I was telling a friend about my idea and she told me her daughter sews, so she took my sketch and created my first prototype. And she knew someone who knew someone who manufactured purses. So I ordered 2,000 and named them the Pouchee.”

That’s right. Anita ordered 2,000 purse organizers with pockets for pens, sunglasses, phones, credit cards and keys, as well as special hidden places for money and personal items. And she did it without as much as one sale.

“I didn’t know I needed sales first,” she said with a grin. “And I’m not usually a risk taker. But I took the only money I had in my savings -- grocery money that I’d stashed away over the years -- and placed the order. It just seemed like an idea that would take hold.

“I have to admit though, I’m not a salesperson and I don’t take rejection well. Even when I’m working a phone bank and someone says I’m not planning to vote, I just say okay and hang up! So when a box of samples arrived, I was scared. The thought of going to a store and asking them to like something I’ve designed sent me into a panic. I thought I was going to have 2,000 Pouchees in my garage for the rest of my life.”

But Anita took a deep breath and picked up the phone. And as she stepped into the boutique where she’d make her very first pitch, she simply told her story, and at 58 years of age, she made her very first sale.

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It Ain't Over: Anita Crook

One boutique led to the next and within three months, she’d sold every one of the 2,000 purse organizers that she had stored in her garage. And just as she put in an order for more, she met a group of sales reps at a gift show in Atlanta.

“They had customers who had purchased the Pouchee,” Anita explained, “and they knew they were flying out the door. So they asked how many I had in stock and I told them I’d just sold out, but I had 5,000 on order. And all their chins dropped. They said, ‘That’s not going to last the first day!’”

And they were right. Today, only eight years since the Christmas morning that Anita opened that beautiful box, she’s brought in more than seven million dollars in revenue. And she’s got an array of purses to match every outfit -- with and without pockets -- because now she can simply slip her own Pouchee in and out of them.

“I’d never had a creative idea in my life. My husband is the one who had millions of them. But he had a manufacturing plant and he was so busy making everyone else’s products, he never had time for his own. So he likes to say ‘my wife has one idea and look what happens!’

“I look at myself as a problem solver. I’m not an inventor or an entrepreneur. I had a bag with no pockets. I wanted to use it. And I needed to find a way to make that happen.”

And now lots of people want to make that happen. Since the Pouchee took off, Anita has had to fight off the copycats -- and with a patent firmly in place, the woman who was once afraid to make a sale, has become fearless.

“My attorney is a pitbull. We’ve won four lawsuits and we’re working on our fifth -- with companies that are much bigger than we are. I wouldn’t be afraid to sue Walmart at this point.

“People come up to me at trade shows and ask if they can take a picture with me,” she said humbly. “I’m not a rock star. I sell purse organizers! But so often I hear women saying ‘I had this idea years ago, I wish I had done it.’ And I’m so glad I don’t have to say that -- I’m so glad I took that first step.”

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