This blog is are a part of my volunteer efforts to build a strong entrepreneurial community in South Florida and worldwide.
This week I met an amazing 63 year-old Jean Newell who after 35 years in real estate moved on to become an entrepreneur-inventor and educator generating close to $1million in yearly sales. Jean divides her time between her home in Ft. Lauderdale and offices in Melbourne and calls herself a boomer-preneur. I hope her story inspires not only Coral Gables baby boomers but other generations of entrepreneurs as well. As always, if you know of any inspiring entrepreneurs in Coral Gables who should be profiled here, please let us know.
Irina: Hi Jean, what is your invention?
Jean: I created a wearable organizer bag that could be used by both men and women from travel, work or play to hold their multiple high tech devices and daily essentials. I saw your profile on Gables Home Page and it said you don't leave home without your high tech devices so I know you'll love this accessory. My first invention, the PUP (for personal utility pouch) has been featured in gift catalogs, Dillards and QVC . I have appeared on QVC over 35 times as a guest host selling in excess of $1.5 million in PUP sales.
Irina: Did you file for a patent?
Jean: Yes, I applied for a patent. Although I don't think having a patent is warranted with every product. Some items can't be patented or the expense doesn't warrant getting a patent. Other times you may not want a patent because a patent shows in detail your design or formula. The classic case study is Cocoa Cola who has never had a patent because they don't want their recipe copied. I have also heard that the major toy companies do not patent their newest toy when introducing it for the Christmas holidays. They feel they will have a bigger market share for the holidays if they can be the first to introduce the toy without the competition knowing in advance about the toy's debut.
Irina: Where did you get the idea for the current venture? What is your experience in this segment?
Jean: I had no background in finance, distribution or manufacturing. I've learned some business basics at the Junior Achievement of South Florida some 45 years ago at Stranahan High School and that was it.
I've often said it felt as though my business was born and took on a life of its own. We all had at least one cell phone, palm pilot, digital camera, business cards, pen, notebook, pager, car keys, reading glasses, etc. These were items I was constantly using and consequently laying down in a home, in the car or at the office. I commented at a sales meeting that I was so tired of loosing my gizmos and gadgets that I was going to show up for work one day wearing a carpenter's nail apron with HOME DEPT written across the front- just for the luxury of using the pockets to store my daily personal and professional essentials. Although everyone laughed, I soon found out others were experiencing the same situation. What we agreed was need was a professional tool belt for women and men that could house our high and low tech items.
Irina: Any particular reason that led up to this venture?
Jean: After a few months of searching for an existing product we determined nothing was suitable for our needs. My associates thought it was a good idea and kept after me to design the product. Although the product was created out of a real estate need, the family members of the real estate agents who purchased the product were the ones who opened my eyes to the other possibilities.
Irina: How did you bring the bag to market?
Jean: The first sales started in Dec 2003 and 2 months later in Feb 2004 the product (the PUP personal utility pouch) had already been accepted at QVC. My first show on QVC was in May where 3900 were sold in less than 7 minutes. It's now more difficult to enter the home shopping networks in that way.
Irina: What is your competitive positioning for your bags?
Jean: My bags can be worn several ways so I compete with waist bags, shoulder bags and messenger bags. However, I'm fortunate that I have a unique niche market. For the consumer who wants one bag that has several applications, the competition is limited. The flat, rectangular shaped, the versatile style and the machine washable feature have kept the PUP and my newer model, giZmoBag, a popular accessory in the "multiple use" accessory market.
Irina: Describe your value proposition? How are you different from your competition?
Jean: The value to my customers is flexibility, price and security. The PUP bag is different because it's a flat design and not the typical egg shape of most fanny packs. The PUP can also be worn under an overshirt or to the side of your body for added security when traveling. The open pouches allow for easy access to phone, sunglasses, maps etc. Because I had designed the bag with both men and women in mind it had a much larger audience. The PUP had a lot of flexibility which is not found in most smaller bags.
Irina: How big is your market? What is your business model?
Jean: My market includes: professionals such as Realtors, other sales people, appraisers, surveyors etc. Anyone out in the field who needs to have several work related items as well as their other daily essentials available to them. Now I've also seen children and preteens are using the PUP. So, I have a product that looks like a tool belt when worn by men, a stylish accessory when worn by women and an all purpose bag for the kids. So my market is wide open.
Irina: How did you get your first customers?
Jean: My first customers were the associates in my office and their families. I continued to hear my customers say the product would be ideal for HSN or QVC. I pursued that advice and was turned down 5 times by HSN but was accepted immediately at QVC.
Irina: What stage are you at now? Revenue? Profitability?
Jean: Within the first 18 months of my business sales reached over 1.5 million dollars. It has had steady growth sense then.
Irina: Give us some sense of how your customers find you?
Jean: The largest segment of my website traffic is either repeat customers or referral or when my product or I am featured in the media. I do very little paid advertising and concentrate on PR and product placement. Because of the success in self-marketing my brand I now work closely with the Small Business Development Centers, The Women's Business Centers as well as other organizations sharing my expertise on how to market a business. on a limited budget. My business developed a completely new arm 2 years ago as an information center for entrepreneurs. I am currently writing a book titled "How to Turn a Pink Slip into a Red Hot Business" based on the advice and experience I now currently share during my seminars and as a keynote speaker.
Irina: How did you finance the different phases of the company?
Jean: Funding was a challenge. When I placed my first order to my bag company in Hialeah I was under the impression I could have any amount at our agreed upon price. But I soon discovered my first order had to be 3,000. I wasn't sure I wanted to go forward since that was a large sum. I funded my first order on a credit card. But 2 months later QVC wanted 3,000. Although I had the PO from QVC I found no bank interested in a 60 or 90 day loan. Luckily I had a home equity loan in place with a zero balance and I was able to self fund.
Irina: What financing stage are you at right now?
Jean: I'm self funded and I'm expanding my marketing and educational division. I will be adding more PUP products to my retail line but I am primarily focused on speaking opportunities and my educational, coaching and mentoring products.
Irina: Describe some of your team building experiences.
Jean: As a former Realtor I was considered an independent contractors and was expected to line up a team of professionals to take my contracts to fruition. Building strong relationships with core companies such as: mortgage brokers, building inspectors, surveyors, title companies, etc. is vital to successful Realtors. I used that same business model as an entrepreneur. I have a network of experienced people, most over the age of 50, who work with me as independent contractors. I have also kept my business close to home which I feel has been one of the reasons for its success. I currently have 2 full time employees and 4 independent contractors.
Irina: What is your growth strategy?
Jean: My strategy is to continue to solve consumers problems of organizing, storing and transporting our high tech merchandise. As more small high tech products are produced so are the needs to protect them. In every circumstance cell phone, palm pilot , digital cameras etc all come with their own individual case. I have yet to find a manufacturer of these products who produce cases to hold multiple electronics. yet a large segment of the population carry more than one item. I will continue to expand my business as "innovative products to simplify your life". My other growth strategy is in the education and informational sector. As with the PUP my customers told me who should be purchasing the product and now my audience wants the "how to" advice for starting their own companies.
Irina: What are your thoughts about exit?
Jean: I have a 5 year exit plan for my product line and no current exit plan for my mentoring and coaching division.
Irina: This is a great story, Jean. Any final words?
Jean: Recently I was interviewed by Matt Lauer on the TODAY Show during a segment titled "Fearless Boomers Starting Over" Which is quite appropriate as we all have to be fearless in today's economy. I was also commissioned by NASA to mentor their employees facing the big space program layoff this year. NASA created an entrepreneurial retraining program for their employees who want to start their own businesses.
Irina: And, where we can find out more about your products and educational services?
Jean: For PUP, it's www.lovemypup.com and for aspiring entrepreneurs is www.newcomarketing.com
About me: I am Irina Patterson, was a Medical Doctor and tech PR executive in the past, My current passion is entrepreneurship. I'm a volunteer for the Silicon Valley-based Global Initiative 1M1M that offers free online guidance to entrepreneurs worldwide.