Exciting News!!! This mom’s product is the first item in our new VentureMom store. I have a Soggy Doggy Doormat and it’s amazing. Lucky loves it and it dries his paws when he comes in from the yard. He’s even sleeping on it. Get one for your dog and kids here and help us grow our store. Click on the VentureMom Shop link above.
Do you ever think you have a great idea for a new product only to have your prototype fail? That’s what happened to Joanna Rein when she finally created a doggie mat to dry her pup’s paws on rainy days when he tracks in the muck from outside.
Her career in PR, Joanna was ready to go back to work after her third child was born when she found out she was pregnant with her fourth. It was 2009 and the global economy was in a shambles. Joanna had always wanted her own business but with four small children she figured she’d have to work for herself. An article in the Wall Street Journal that said the world had collapsed but the pet market was thriving; she decided to pursue an idea that had been brewing. “Inspiration came at a kids’ swim meet. As I watched a young diver dry off with a super-absorbent shammy, lightbulbs went off! If that small piece of material could dry an entire child, why wasn’t there something similar for 4 wet, messy dog paws?”
Getting the guts to move forward, Joanna took a “sham wow” , which is an orange cloth made of super absorbent material, to her tailor and had him sew on a no-slip bottom. Now for the big reveal. Joanna gathered her children and dog Buddy, by the back door with her invention on the floor. “Buddy wouldn’t go near it no matter how much I coaxed him. Turns out, dogs hate orange. I was so frustrated, I threw the failed attempt in the basement and forgot about it.”
But during the snowy, rainy winter of 2010 she was at the carwash. “I looked at one of the noodle mitts used for washing cars and wondered what they were made of. My idea was coming back to life.” She couldn’t give it up. Joanna finally found the source for the material – it was China, ughhh. If her mats was made there, she’d have to order 500 pieces minimum. And it was on the other side of the world. “I was nervous about being duped, so I had a friend who lived there, pose as my ‘overseas rep’ to make sure the manufacturer was legit before I sent my first check.”
Joanna made a prototype doormat of the super absorbent noodle material and tested it with Buddy – success – he loved it so much, he made it his bed. The material absorbs 7 times its weight in water and even attracts dirt that you don’t want in the house. It dries quickly and can be easily washed. This was a solution to a problem she knew others had too.
She was ready to move forward and her husband said to go for it. Now for the details. She placed her first order and then learned that she needed a freight forwarder. And when he called to ask if she had a loading dock, “The kids were screaming, the piano lesson in full gear; I had to hide in the bathroom to tell him the delivery address was the basement in my home.”
She came up with a name and had a friend help with the logo and packaging. When the first shipment arrived, she thought, “Now what? I dropped my kids at school and hit the road until I had to pick up my pre-schooler at 11:30. It was daunting making my first sales call at the local pet store. They ordered four mats, woo, hoo!!!” By the time she got home, the store called – they had sold out and wanted more Soggy Doggy Doormats.
By the end of the first week, she had four stores ordering by the case. Delivery became her biggest issue. “The Pet Pantry really promoted the mats and would call days before a big snowstorm desperate for multiple cases. I couldn’t fit the kids and the cases in the car. I got a sitter so I could make the deliveries.” With a few ads on Facebook and word-of-mouth the Soggy Doggy Doormats got featured on a Buffalo radio station , the heart of the snow belt, and Orvis called wanting to put her mat in their catalogue. “I was so shocked but thrilled.”
Then something disconcerting happened that stopped her in her tracks – someone copied Joanna’s design using the magic material she had sourced. They first approached her about becoming partners and suggested that if she didn’t take the deal, they would knock-off her product. Not wanting a partner, she worked to stop this imposter. “I felt so discouraged. Even though I had trademarked my name there was nothing I could do. He was a big store and I was just a mom with a simple idea.” Trying some legal maneuvering, in the end, Joanna had to accept that she would be competing with a guy who had copied her own invention. Joanna soon saw the “Dirty Dog Mat” in stores. He had even copied her packaging tag line.
Rather than give up, Joanna focuses on her relationships. She says the small shop owners, particularly the women, are huge supporters and even more so when they hear her story. Sales have grown to the point where she has a fulfillment center ship cases of the Soggy Doggy Doormat all over the East coast. “I’m working to manage my growth so I can keep the flexibility I love and need around my kids’ schedules.” With the rainy spring we’re are seeing, I’m sure sales will only be going up.
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If someone copies you, focus on relationships and soldier on.
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