About the Two Grannies In A Garage
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Bev Vines-Haines and Charlotte Clary have known each other since 1986. They met in Yelm, Washington, just two moms driving kids to church and school. But it wasn't long before their matching entrepreneurial spirits had them bent over numerous 'money making' ideas and projects. They have researched home remedies, studied herbal properties and used their families as guinea pigs for numerous concoctions. Over the years, they have acquired a file filled with business cards they created for one idea after another. They have run a newspaper, produced original Murder Mystery Dinner events, operated an advertising and PR firm and generally sizzled with endless ideas.
One trite expression says, "Even a blind pig eventually finds an acorn." So true. One day Bev and Charlotte were discussing a friend suffering from toenail fungus. It was bad. He was an Air Force pilot who had served three tours in Vietnam and often had to wear heavy boots for days at a time. Charlotte said, "You know we know how to fix that." Bev agreed. So they formulated an anti-fungal salve, went out and bought the ingredients and cooked their invention up on Charlotte's stove. They mailed it off to their friend. Eventually they heard from him that it worked! In fact, they recently took a picture of his ten perfect toenails.
But who are these women?
Bev Vines-Haines is a Journalist who has worked at several newspapers. Being a bit independent and creative, she often struggled to keep her opinions and her originality out of her reporting. It was a natural evolution for her to go back to school and study creative writing. For several years she wrote romance novels and then chose the easier path of ghost writing for celebrities. She and her husband Larry have seven children and 23 grandchildren.
She has had a few 'regular' jobs in her life, a few years at Weyerhaeuser and a short stint at Southwest Airlines. But mostly she has been self-employed or has worked free-lance for newspapers and magazines.
Charlotte Clary's first enterprise began very early, picking and selling green beans from the family garden throughout her neighborhood. She also won weeks of free camp by selling Campfire Mints. (Wonder if she could still go...) She graduated high school with honors at a very young age and married her high school sweet heart, Bob. During the 70s she produced four babies and got involved in home birth services as well as natural food. She created a line of clothes for consignment and boutique shops and started a home delivery whole wheat bakery goods business with a neighbor. Eventually, she went a bit more traditional and became a Tupperware Manager and won the Coveted Ford Torino Station wagon. During those early years her only mainstream job was three years as detail rep for Life Savers Candy. Once she moved from Spokane to Yelm, she started a family packaged salad business in the church basement. Sadly, they were two years ahead of the bagged salad craze.
But that was fine because Yelm is where she met Bev and their business adventures began. That toenail fungus salve became the flagship product of their line. Next came Eye of Newt (their number one product even today) and several other products for difficult skin conditions.
And if they hadn't formulated their amazing Ice Chips Candy things would have probably remained about the same. But they did formulate it and their world changed forever. It took less than a month for them to realize they had stumbled upon a million dollar idea. Everyone they knew wanted the candy, begged to buy the candy and told their friends about the candy.
One flavor followed another and then stores started wanting to carry the candy. Some ideas are so good they just forge their own way in the world. That was how it seemed with Ice Chips Candy. It tasted great, was healthy, safe for diabetics and the packaging was attractive. Ice Chips attracted interest from investors and manufacturers and retail giants. This story just has a long long way to go...
One of the most exciting things that ever happened to us is the day Shark Tank called. Charlotte and I were sitting with a guy from a local television station. He wasn't planning to put us on a show but rather to feature us on their website (advertisement style) for a monthly fee. Still, we were so new in the "Holy-cow-someone-actually-noticed-us" phase that we were hanging on his every word.
Just then Charlotte's cell phone rang and I gave her that look meant to convey, "Don't answer that! We're in a meeting." Since we never think alike, she answered it. In seconds she was mouthing something to me but I could not understand.
So I mouthed, "What?" By this time we are pretty much ignoring the television guy. Charlotte says into the phone, "Just a second." Now she whispers, "It's Shark Tank!" We're good at inner pandemonium so we did a virtual dance. "I'm in a meeting with a TV station," Charlotte says. "I'll have to call you back." So began the best ride of our lives.
We started our business ten years ago, making all natural salves to deal with difficult skin issues. Not dramatic but still, a lot of fun. We sold to several accounts and health businesses in our state and even tried to start a home party plan. About three years ago, in the fall of 2009, we were looking for a way to make Xylitol candy. We knew Xylitol was great for teeth and diabetics could enjoy it. We had tried ordering a few different kinds but could not find one with the zing and the burst of flavors we wanted.
One of the best things about being a novice is you have no idea what everybody thinks and everybody says. We are both grandmas and between us we have 37 grandchildren. We wanted a healthy candy that would taste good enough our grandchildren would gobble it the same way they gobbled sugar. Thus, Ice Chips Candy® was born.
It was only later we read we couldn't make a hard Xylitol candy. But that didn't mean a lot to us by then because we had already created one.
One thing is certain. You can teach an old dog new tricks. And it seems two old dogs learn twice as fast as one. We started a learning curve that was like an E-Ticket ride at Disneyland. It went fast. It went up and down. It took us places we had never been before.
One of the greatest salesmen we have ever met came to us and said, "Hire me. I can sell this candy all day long." He was right. He took us from 24 active accounts to almost 1,000 in a year. And that is the point where Shark Tank found us.
By that time we had moved out of my two-car garage and into a legitimate shop building. We'd hired a few employees and figured out ways to provide free shipping to our stores. We'd hired a bookkeeper and a couple office assistants. Our husbands, who had been contractors and tile-setters, came to work for us. That had been part of our original plan. Tile-setters ruin their knees over a lifetime of work. If we were grandmas, they were grandpas and the clock was definitely ticking. We decided we had to find a way to get them off their knees.
If you ask them today they will tell you we succeeded. They will also tell you they haven't been off their feet in almost three years.
Shark Tank loves entrepreneurs who are making sales. We had sales. Before we went to LA for our appearance with those Sharks, we had sales getting close to a million dollars a year and we were selling in all fifty states. We could answer questions about margins, profits, salaries and exit strategies.
Shark Tank is like no experience we had ever had. You are expected to prepare and to know the answer to whatever question they ask you. The hardest part (for us) was the pitch. That's the part when you first see people walk into the tank. It is memorized which is just plain scary. I don't know how many times we said those words. I don't know how many times we messed the lines up, forgot important words and just fell over in a heap of frustration, panic and laughter.
I know this. If you ever get a chance to go...do it! Once you get through the pitch, once they start talking to you about your product and your goals, once nerves give way to conversation, you're home free. People told us we would forget the cameras.
There are at least nine cameras in that room, one on every person involved and a few to catch any other detail that might entertain America come Friday night. But it is absolutely true. After the first few minutes, as soon as the questions began, our minds became so challenged for answers and facts we didn't have any extra energy for nerves.
The Sharks are wonderful people. Smart people. Oh so observant people! If you mumble for facts or numbers, they know you are not prepared. They do not appreciate information like, "Oh, well, we don't have any sales yet! But this is a billion dollar industry and we just know we're going to succeed."
We are fortunate we've worked judiciously the past ten years, grateful we built our sales carefully and patiently, giving great customer service because we honestly appreciate the people who buy Ice Chips Candy®.
Our time with the Sharks was great. We got a deal. In fact there was a small Shark frenzy for our candy. In the end we went with Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran because those were the two Sharks we said we would want if we could have our choice. I suspect they are all wonderful (including Mr. Wonderful). Personally, I loved Daymond John. We've read all their books and we are quite possibly their biggest fans.
There are tricks and secrets when it comes to business. I think hard-working, passionate people succeed more than those who think up an idea or a product and pass it off to someone else to develop. I could be wrong but it seems when the person who invents a product stays with the project and brings it to reality, there is a better outcome.
I also believe having talented, successful people hook up with your dream makes a dream come true!
But when you have the right product, a product people trust and understand, a product they want, none of the financial problems caused by a bad economy apply. All the rules fly out the window. Create a product that is safe, tasty and healthy or a product that meets a need that has never been met before and people will line up to buy it.
Be fair. Run a clean and happy factory. Trust your employees, your suppliers and your stores. Have a passion to make your product the best it can be. And if you can, get incredibly lucky and become partners with Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban.