Interview: Michelle Staley, Founder, Busy Breathers LLC

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When this mompreneur’s son was born 3 months premature and needed oxygen around the clock for 2 years, she knew there had to be a better way to manage oxygen, diapers, bottles and *stuff* that go along with babies and everyday life .  A few years later, the Busy Breather’s Oxygen Carrying Backpack was born.

  • Michelle shares her story on how being active on Twitter landed her the opportunity to become the first Huggie’s Inspired Mom grant for $15k.
  • Landing a major account with Apria Direct
  • Getting her product into 1, then 10, then 75 Walgreen’s stores in Colorado

READ the Transcript

Rachel: Hi, I’m Rachel Olsen, Founder of Best Mom Products, where mompreneurs share their adventures and business. Today I’m talking with Michelle Staley, Founder of Busy Breathers, an oxygen carrying backpack. When Michelle’s son Ty was born three months premature, he needed oxygen around the clock for two years. Michelle decided there had to be a better way to manage oxygen, diapers, bottles, and all the stuff that goes along with carrying a baby.

 

Today we’ll learn her approach to getting her product into 75 Walgreen stores in Colorado, her success in being one of the first Huggies Mom inspired grant recipient, and what that meant for her business. Michelle, yours is truly a touching story, so thank you for sharing it with us today. Are you ready to get started?

 

Michelle: Yeah. I’m excited.

 

Rachel: Okay. Good. Well thank you for being here. And I appreciate you taking your time to do this. So why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about your story and how the idea came to you.

 

Michelle: Well, as Rachel had said, our son Ty was born three months early. It was a very difficult, scary time. We were actually told he wasn’t going to make it, and he spent four months in the NNICU, and we were overjoyed, excited to finally got to bring him home, but when Ty came home, he was still on oxygen when we left the hospital. And that’s our life support. We had to lug it around everywhere we went.  When we originally came home, we use those big pull carts that people pull around that are on oxygen. That’s what we were originally sent home with. And then when they said, you can go to a more portable style oxygen cylinder, of course we were thrilled about that, but it was difficult too. Because typically what gets sent home with people, at least before I got my product in the market, is a bag that’s basically big enough to carry the cylinder. It goes over your shoulder, like a shoulder bag, kind of, and that’s how you carry the oxygen. So, I just got very frustrated with carrying it around. It would fall off my arm. Especially with having a baby, you’re trying to carry multiple things, a diaper bag, your child, and plus I was a first time mom, so I thought I had to carry everything but the kitchen sink. And so it was very difficult, and you’re trying to carry either the baby or the baby in the carrier. And so I got really frustrated and went online to find a backpack that would carry multiple things, and I couldn’t find it at the time. And I was also thinking about starting my own business, because Ty’s health wasn’t good enough for me to work outside of the home. And so I put two and two together and that’s how it all came about.

 

Rachel: Did you know that this type of backpack was what you wanted to create when we’re going to start a business? And what was one of the first thing you did to research it, what was that process like?

 

Michelle: Actually when I originally was thinking about starting a business, my cousin and I were both stay-at-home moms, and we were looking into doing cute little onesies and cute little sayings on the bums, and that’s what I was originally looking into doing.  I put Ty to bed one night when I stayed with her. We were talking about business ideas, and I laid Ty down and I laid the oxygen down beside him and I was like, I’m just so tired of lugging this bag around. There has to be something better out there. And it was almost like a light bulb went off. So,, for the next day, I told my cousin I think I have a better idea, and I went online to try and find a multifunctional oxygen user backpack. We couldn’t find it. And so that’s kind of what started the process. And so started drawing up designs and different features I liked to have and that’s kind of what started it.

 

Rachel: Okay. And where did you go from there?

 

Michelle: Actually, we had, my aunt’s boyfriend at the time owned a company that did like, you can do cups or pens or bags for companies and put logos on them. And so I wasn’t really sure where to go in the manufacturing process, how to even get a bag made, let alone one that would carry oxygen. So I talked to my aunt’s boyfriend, and I said, do you think your company could do it? Because they were overseas. And he said we could try it out, because it was made out of special material and so forth, and see what we can do. And sure enough, we drew up the specs, as far as what we wanted, and they did a prototype for us, and that’s where we got the first prototype from.

 

Rachel: So that was that company, and then did you write it up yourself, the specs? Did you hire somebody to professionally do that?

 

Michelle: No, actually my cousin and I wrote up the specs ourselves. We just drew up a blueprint, and I did have a little bit of design in my background because that’s what I went to school for. So that’s how it came about.

 

Rachel: What kind of design did you go to school for?

 

Michelle: I had won a full ride scholarship to Colorado Institute of Art, and I took their fashion merchandising program there. That’s what I have my associates in, so.

 

Rachel: Okay. I find it interesting, because everyone I interview always has a strength in their background that they play on. So yours is design, I’m sure many other strengths as well. So tell me a little bit about the next step. Let’s go through the manufacturing process, and then we can talk about some other things as well.

 

Michelle: Well, we didn’t actually end up going with that manufacturer. Like everybody else’s story, there are always hurdles and there’s things that fall apart.  I knew that we had to find funding to get it going, and I didn’t have any funds of my own, not like I had a big savings account, I had any money to pull from, or resources to pull from. And so we kind of sat stagnant for just a little bit. To be honest, I don’t remember why we didn’t go with the first manufacturer. I just think it wasn’t the right fit or something. So then, long story short, my cousin and I parted ways, and I started to go off on my own and continue on with the process, and she had met someone that was actually in the bag manufacturing business himself.  So I was connected to another bag manufacturer in China that did backpack. I already had first prototype. So we tweaked it a little bit, and that’s when I went in and did my first manufacturing run, and I found the funding, and so that was probably about a year and a half after I came up with the original concept.

 

Rachel: Okay. And how did you find the funding? I think you have an interesting story, you told me, I think, when we talked about your friend that was a banker.

 

Michelle: You know, I had lots of friends and families that thought what I was wanting to do was fabulous and, but you know, even if you think it was fabulous, especially when it comes to family members to turn your money to them and say run with it. There’s always a possibility it won’t work out. And so I went to this banker and it’s called the Northeastern Colorado Revolving Loan Fund, and I think they’re nationwide, but it’s basically set up for people who can’t traditional funding. Which I couldn’t get traditional funding, because I really didn’t have anything for collateral or any money to put up myself. I went to talk to them and they turned me down. They said it wasn’t the right fit. We’d love to help you. We think it’s a great idea. And in the whole process, I had been talking to the oxygen company that’s serviced Ty that brought our oxygen, and was actually talking to the vice president there to see if they’d actually be interested in my product. Because I wanted to be able to go to a bank or someone and say I have one of the biggest oxygen companies interested in it. So, never gave up, and I finally decided to talk to a friend of mine who was a banker, at one of the small banks not too far from where I live. I said, “you know, I really believe in my product. I’m talking to this vice president. They believe in it. They say they’ll purchase it.” I mean, I didn’t have a purchase order at the time, but just their own words saying yes, we’ll do it. He said, you know, “Michelle, I’m going to talk to the gentleman in the Northeastern Colorado Revolving Loan Fund.” And I said, “I already talked to them and they turned me down six or eight months prior to that.” And he goes, “you know, I’m just going to call him.” Well, the next thing I knew, I don’t know if it made a difference, because I had another president of the bank calling. They wanted to see what they can do for me. So at that time they wanted a cosigner and I had an aunt and uncle that had been huge supporters of mine through this whole process. They were like, we’ll cosign for you. Well, they had some things that happened, so that fell apart. So I had no cosigner. Well, I was still trying to find funding, to figure out what I was going to do. And the banker called me back one day and he goes, “how are you doing Michelle?” And I said, “good, still plugging away”, and he said “well, I’m feeling risky today. I feel like taking a risk.” And I go, really? What do you mean? And he said, “well, we’re going to do a loan.” Basically did the loan with no cosigner, no collateral. I mean, just faith in my product, and I guess, wanted to bring it to market. So that’s how it kind of came about.

 

Rachel: That’s amazing. Were you ecstatic when you got that phone call?

 

Michelle: Yeah. I was just thrilled. I mean, through the whole process I never thought it’s never going to happen. I always thought it will work out one way or another. And, it did.

 

Rachel: What a great outlook. So what did you do once you got that loan? What did you do with that money?

 

Michelle: We went ahead and we started the manufacturing process, because I had to put half down when they started it. Then there was some delays in the manufacturing process, and it was only supposed to take three months and I think it ended up taking five to six months by the time it was all said and done. And so basically the loan that I got, I had a little bit of leeway, but it was basically just enough to cover our manufacturing.

 

Rachel: Okay. And tell me again, how many units were in the first manufacturing run that you did.

 

Michelle: 1,400 bags.

 

Rachel: Okay. And so did you have customers lined up at that point? Or you just had people that were interested at that point?

 

Michelle: I had people that were interested, so it’s not like I had any purchase orders that I had. Like I said, the biggest oxygen company that had over 1,000 locations and their oxygen users, so.

 

Rachel: Okay. So you get the product made, and it’s shipped and delivered, and was that process, other than the few delays in the beginning, pretty smooth for you?

 

Michelle: Actually no. It was a difficult process. There’s some things that I can’t really go into about the process. But long story short, the person that I got involved with to meet this manufacturer, it’s just was not a good fit. And to say lightly, it was not a good fit, and so there was a lot of stress along with that. Because I knew I had this production run going, but I wasn’t for sure if there was going to be issues there, and so it was kind of a long process.

 

Rachel: We can leave it at that. Okay. So now you get your product. What do you do with it?

 

Michelle: Well, I set up my own website, so I can retail to customers and then to get it into the  Lincare/ locations that I was selling into, basically when, I have an interesting story. When the bags came, they were delivered in the middle of a big blizzard here in Colorado, on a big truck. I lived in a really tiny house, so we had to offload all of the bags in the blizzard into my in-laws’ basement. And basically it was myself, my husband, my father-in-law, and my dad and I. And Ty helped out too. A blizzard. So that was kind of the start of it. And once the bags came in, then I started doing what are called E-blast and set up a flier. I’m trying to think here. This is taking me back. The president of Lincare actually sent out a mass email to all of the store locations, introducing my product. They got me put in the system, letting all the store locations know that my product was available. And then I did an E-blast to all the different locations of fliers basically saying the features in my bag, why they’d want to purchase it. At this point I wasn’t set up EDI, so anytime they wanted to send an order over, they had to fax it over to me. So I felt like it was old school, but it was what we had to do at the time. And when I first started selling, I sold like 200 bags right off the bat, and I was ecstatic. But I also didn’t quite know 100% what I didn’t have. Looking back, I’m just like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t have shipping boxes. Looking back, I’m like, what was I thinking? I didn’t have shipping boxes. I shipped everything from the post office, and you only have an x amount of time to get the product out. So I actually had a person that helped me with my QuickBooks  my instructor from the college, she was helping me get orders get together. So it was kind of a crazy process. But I don’t know if I could have prepared myself anyhow. That’s the way I had to do it, and just learn. So, when I sold my 200 bags, then I obviously got a UPS account. I can definitely tell people probably not the correct way to do it, you know, get a little more prepared but it happened so quickly at that point.

 

Rachel: Right. But that’s exciting. You sold the 200 bags right away. Did you think that this was going to be so easy.

 

Michelle: Yeah, I did. I thought, oh my gosh, they’re ordering bags, and then I did think it was going to be easy. I was like, wow I got my product in with one of the biggest oxygen manufacturers, or, excuse me, oxygen delivery companies out there. And, I was doing E-blast once a month, and they would fax orders over. Really, they had 1000 stores, so I was like oh my gosh, even if I just sold to a quarter of them every month. Maybe I should have looked at it bigger. I wasn’t thinking I had to sell in every store, but I was like gosh, I sell in half of them, and sell three or four bags per order. But what I didn’t know then, is the bags that they typically send home with people on oxygen, they get those a lot cheaper. My bags, you know, kind of like the Cadillac version. And so what they get reimbursed on , they look at the oxygen bag as being not a necessity but a luxury.

 

Rachel: Wow.

 

Michelle: Even though there’s still locations that order from me, because they really care about their patients and they want to give them the best product. But in some ways they’re kind of eating the cost on my products, so it was just, and trying to manage it all on my own, too.

 

Rachel: Yeah, let me ask you something, I’m curious. If they look at an oxygen bag as a luxury and not a necessity, what do they give to people when they have to leave the hospital? They don’t just hand you an oxygen tank?

 

Michelle: They don’t. They’ll send you home with an over-the-shoulder bag like they sent me home with.  There’s not really much to them. They’re just a sleeve with a handle, and the cost on those is very minimal. My bag has extra pockets, special features.

 

Rachel: So, when you realized that the oxygen distribution companies didn’t necessarily want to eat the cost of the higher end luxury bag, what did you do differently?

 

Michelle: That’s when I started thinking outside the box a little bit. And when I originally started selling to, Lincare, I’ll have to tell you a little bit of history. When I originally started selling to them, I would ship everything from my house. I warehoused everything. I drop shipped everything to the locations as well. In the meantime, the president of Lincare introduced me to a vice president of another company. They had both worked in the oxygen world together for 20+ years. They were friends. And this company introduced me to also sell to oxygen companies. Different types of bags, different types of medical products. So he just thought it would be an introduction for us to meet each other and start talking to each other one-on-one, because he knew he could get my foot in the door with other companies rather than me picking up the phone, cold-calling and say I have this product. Instead of trying to get into other companies that way. And so they started purchasing bags through me, and then they would go out and sell them to other oxygen companies, and I was still selling to Lincare even though they could sell to Lincare. But I made more per bag when I sold to Lincare directly. Well, the sales started to kind of dropping off, and I was just trying to do E-blast. And I didn’t have the big marketing budget like a big company would. So the vice president of my wholesale company that I work with, he’s kind of like my mentor, actually. I got to talking to him, and I said “maybe it would make more sense for you to market to Lincare, because you have the bigger marketing budget and also they’re on the same AS400 system”, so any time they go into order, any products, my product would be in their system.

 

Rachel: Oh, interesting.

 

Michelle: And so I kind of handed it over to them even though I made less amount of money per bag. That was totally my decision. It just made more sense to streamline it that way. Well, they were continually trying to sell to different oxygen companies, but I felt like it was my baby and I needed to create more customers, and I don’t sell a lot of bags off of my website, per se. Once again it’s that marketing budget. And so the wheel started churning, and I kept having people ask me, where can we go get your bag and look at it? We want to pick it up and see it and feel it. And that’s when I started thinking I need to get into a big box retailer, such as Walgreen or whatever. I went to a big trade show in Atlanta, to try to get my foot in the door with big box retailers, drug store companies, different things like that. And it was more of a gifting show, so it really wasn’t the right fit for my product.

 

Rachel: Okay.

 

Michelle: And so I came back from there. I hadn’t sold one bag. And I finally decided, I’m going to go in and talk to the manager at our local Walgreen’s. So I went in and talked to him. I actually had Ty with me. But I’d done my hair and makeup for the day, because I was out and about. You know how it is when you work from home some days. And I thought, you know, this is what I’m going to do. I went in and took my bag to the manager and said, “hey, I don’t know if you have the capability to bring in products into your locations.” And he goes, some managers can. Some store managers, if they see a product they want to bring in, they can. So by the time I left there that they, he said sure. He goes, let’s bring in some bags, get you set up, and then he of course, gave me the information of where I needed to go, to go in and fill out all the paperwork to get set up to get my vendor number.  So that’s kind of what started the process there.

 

Rachel: Okay. That’s fascinating to me, because you went to the trade show, not much success there. And just by going into to talk to your local Walgreen’s you learn that each store is managed differently, and some managers do have the approval to go ahead and bring whatever product they see fit in.

 

Michelle: They do. They do not in every locations, but some do.

 

Rachel: Right. So how did you feel after that?

 

Michelle: I was really excited, because half the battle was getting your foot in the door and getting a vendor number, and the manager down here at our local Walgreen’s is just, he’s fabulous. He’s been wonderful to work with. He’s still wonderful to work with. And so basically what I did, once I got a vendor number, I put a packet of information together, and then I drove to probably about 10 different Walgreen’s in this district. Some of the managers were like, sure we’ll bring you in. Some of them were like, well we need to get district approval before we bring you in. But it helped that I had a vendor number. Instead of someone just walking in off the streets. Even though that’s what I did at my local Walgreen’s, but it did help.

 

Rachel: Right, because when you have a vendor number, they know that you’re set up in the system already, and that it would be easy to order from you? Is that benefit of it?

 

Michelle: Mm-hmm. Exactly. And that’s basically how we got in the first 10, and then by talking to the local manager here, he said really, if you wanted to get into more locations, you need to get your foot in the door with the district managers.” And he actually took my product to one of the district meetings and told them about it and raved about it. Then I did my own due diligence and followed up with the district managers and actually spoke to the gatekeepers, their admin assistants, and got to know them very well. There’s four different district managers, so I put together a huge binder of any press that would have been done about my product, my vendor number, the benefits, why people that would walk in their store would want to purchase it. And what helped me is they carried direct medical equipment anyhow, so it was a perfect fit for there. So I sent the district managers each the huge binder of information, I don’t know, maybe a month and a half after I sent those binders and kept calling the gatekeepers. I think they wanted to see how the sales were going in the other 10 locations.  One day I had one district manager call, saying that her and another district manager wanted to bring my product into their location, so I got into 65 more stores just like that within two phone calls.

 

Rachel:  When your products are in stores, do they buy them outright? Or I think you mentioned before, was something like a buyback?

 

Michelle: Well, in order to get your foot in the door with Walgreen’s, you have to do guaranteed sells. So that if the product doesn’t sell, that you’ll buy back the product. So far I hadn’t run into that, but in some of those store locations, what I did find wasn’t the right fit for every locations. It just depends on the demographics that come into the locations. I mean, even though my product is for all ages, I found that some of the stores, they were moving, some of the stores they weren’t moving. It may be that the way the store managers were promoting it. Obviously at my local Walgreen’s they’re very good about promoting my product. But what they were doing inter-companying my bags, so some of the store locations weren’t selling, but some were selling. Instead of reordering from me, they would just move products within the company. And so far that’s kind of what happened. My sales with Walgreen’s have not been steady by any means, and I’m trying to decide what I’m going to do at this point actually.

 

Rachel: Okay. Have you approached other drugs stores?

 

Michelle: I haven’t approached other drug stores at this point, just because I’m trying to, you know, kind of taking a risk getting into Walgreen’s even though it’s an amazing thing. I mean I was hoping to go nationwide with it, work my way from Colorado, and then hopefully go within the region and then work that way. But, like I said, I think I almost need a sales source to stay on top of it to be able to go in, make sure they have my product set up correctly. I actually filmed an infomercial style video, kinda. And they set those up in most of the locations so that when people walk by the television, it would tell them this is what the product is, this is who it’s for. Because sometimes people with the bag just sitting there, they didn’t understand what the product was, so I don’t really know, I’m not for sure going into the big box retailers was the right fit for me, unfortunately, to be honest.

 

Rachel: But you did definitely have some success, I mean, it’s not easy to get your foot in the door at a Walgreen’s, let alone 75. It sounds like the biggest challenge you’re having, really, is having customer awareness, and that takes a lot of money and a lot of marketing dollars, and I know that you said there’s two things that I want to talk about. One was you’re one of the first winners of the Huggies’ Mom Inspired grants for, I think, $15,000. So I want to hear that story, and also Shark Tank and your thoughts on that. Because I know you’re one of the runner-ups correct? You were in the final stages?

 

Michelle: Yeah. I’ve been contacted twice by them, and the last time I was in the final stages I didn’t get selected, and so do you want me to start with Huggies or you want me to go with..

 

Rachel: Yeah, let’s talk about Huggies first.

 

Michelle: Well Huggies’. It was such an honor to be recognized by the company and able to put that stamp of approval on my product. I found out about the grant process kind of in an ironic way. I do of stuff on Twitter for my business, and actually saw a tweet come across from Maria Bailey. She was looking for three women either had a product in the market or looking to get a product in the market and wanted to get an interview set up, like a conference type interview, and you’re gonna be interviewed by a panel if people. And so I tweeted her right back and said, “hey, I’m interested. I’d love to take part”, and so had this phone call, had no idea who we were talking to, and just was excited that I was included in it and recognized for my hard work and everything. And so a few months after that, I saw a tweet that went across twitter and it was from Huggies; announcing that they were doing this big grant process, like a $15,000 grant, and I thought, because I wasn’t for sure who we were talking to, but I kinda caught through, I don’t even know how it came down, you know, through the pipe that maybe it was like Huggies we were talking to on the phone. But anyhow, saw this tweet come across and so I sent Maria a private message and said “hey, does this have anything to do with that conference call I was on a few months back, and she goes yeah, it does.” She said “you were actually talking to people from Kimberly Clark and Huggies”. Well, even though I was talking to them at that point they still didn’t give me any guarantee status that I’d win the grant from them. So I had to apply just like everybody else, and I’m using time frame here, how long it took, but I applied for the grant, and I would say it was like three months later, got a phone call from one of the big wigs at Kimberly Clark, congratulating me that I had won the grant and it was very exciting. Because when you’re a small business, cash flow is so difficult, and so I was like, oh my gosh, I got $15,000 to do some marketing and try to take my business to another level. So, just to be recognize and there’s others, let’s see, 13 other women, that had grants too. That I got to meet and just, you kind of develop a sisterhood. Kimberly Clark was very gracious and flew us out, and we all got to their headquarters and we got to meet and be wined and dined, and partake in a bunch of events, and somewhat still taking part in events. Because now they have a second group of Huggies Mom winners and actually I’m gonna see some of them tomorrow, because I’m going to an event up in Denver called Sparks and Hustle.

 

Rachel: Yeah, I wanted to actually ask you about that. I noticed you were a host. Well first of all, congratulations on your grant and I want to hear, too, what that money went towards. But let’s talk about you’re gonna get to see them tomorrow. How did you get involved with Spark and Hustle?

 

Michelle: Well, just like anything else, I see something that comes across the feed, and so I saw an email that came out, and they said if you’re interested in being a host, contact us, so that’s what I did. And I had to get a certain amount of people to register under my name, if they heard about Spark and Hustle through me and, I’m not really sure, I know we can do a roundtable discussion at lunch time as a host, and just be a little bit more involved with the program. Then also, I knew about the event because some of the Huggies’ moms. There’s actually five of us locally here in Colorado, and they were talking about it, and so that’s kind of how that came about.

 

Rachel: Okay, interesting. So let’s go back. What did you do when you received the grant? What did you use that money towards? And did you tell them beforehand what you had plan to use it towards?

 

Michelle: You know, they weren’t real strict with their guidelines. The processes were very easy. Obviously, in the application, I knew that marketing was going to be one of my biggest ways I was going to try to market my program. I did the course, the big box retail course, that’s how I spent some of my money. I did some marketing with it, and then actually had to do some catch up, with some of the grant funding, because month-to-month it’s not real steady. You’d think $15,000 is a lot of money, which it is. To get a grant that size, there’s not a lot of grant programs like that, but it doesn’t take long when you’re trying to do different programs, or trying to do different marketing. I mean, I marketed in the bump. Have you heard of the bump?

 

Rachel: Yes, I have. How did that work out for you?

 

Michelle: I got some exposure. We actually did it in LA. The person that I worked with said that would be a bigger demographic for me.  I got some contacts from it. Like I said, my product’s such a niche product. I tested and tried some different things, but I didn’t see big windfall from that.

 

Rachel: Yeah, let me ask you something. I notice that you are also one of the best new tech product 2011, for Contemporary Pediatrics Magazine. What does something like that do for your product? I mean, that seems like more of your target demographic.

 

Michelle: You know, it’s just a matter of getting that stamp of approval and that recognition. Like I said, I haven’t had a huge windfall, but at least I have that behind me if I do get it within my marketing budget to do some more marketing, that I have that stamp of approval, and just being recognized by such a, you know, it was such an honor. And I’m able to say, you know, the different companies if I’m broaching them now. I was recognized by Contemporary Pediatrics and also there’s more doctors that know about my products now.

 

Rachel: What about selling direct to hospitals? Or do you have to go through a distributor for that?

 

Michelle: The hospitals have been a little bit tricky. There’s a lot of red tape, and what I have found . . . You know, the hospital where Ty was born, they have been very good about it. They can’t really promote, because then it looks like they’re specifically promoting a product. But the respiratory staff, the NNICU staff, the doctors, now their gift shop’s sell me. I contacted, they put in a new gift shop called Resource there. And there’s probably about six of them nationwide, and some of them do carry me. They’ve been really good about referring people and bringing me in, especially when my son was born at the hospital and they want to offer products. It’s not your typical gift shop, it’s really products that help people with a certain need. So they’ve been really good about promoting my product. Children’s hospitals locally here in Colorado. It was like fighting tooth and nail. I mean, I donated products, I spoke at events, and I could give customers brochures at that point, but they wouldn’t let me leave any literature. So I think trying to get in through the medical equipment company, which I think I’m always shifting gears, trying to reinvent the wheel, and I kind of went back to I think I need to really just focus in on the companies that sell my product specifically and that’s where my end user is.

 

Rachel: Right. Interesting. No, this is  good. You sound like you tried a lot of different marketing tactics, and going after different target markets. To really figure out the best way to sell to your customers, and you’ve learned. It sounds like that you need more customer awareness that maybe sales aren’t as strong on your website, but they are through the distributors and kind of reevaluating the big box. So this is all really good information, so thank you for sharing. So you’ve won a lot of these awards,. and to me it sounds like you’ve had so much support throughout this time. From the manager at Walgreen’s to the banker who called you. It sounds like one of your strength definitely is building these really good relationships, and with the admins, I feel like by doing that you’ve been able to grow and just keep creating more contacts. How important, do you think, is relationship building throughout this process.

 

Michelle: Obviously it’s been huge for me, because I haven’t had a huge business account to just do this marketing. I’ve had to not be afraid to just get on the phone and call the vice president of the company. I got into Apria Direct, which is one of the biggest medical suppliers here a few months, well I guess it’s been about four months ago, now. I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door with them for two years, and I finally just decided I’m going to pick up the phone and call again. And so I finally got put through to the right person, and I don’t have problems talking to vice presidents of companies. Because I believe in my product, and I know it’ll help their customers. It’s just doing your own diligence. I had to be very scrappy and very smart about things when it comes to that. Because I don’t have all the money in the world to hire people to do it for me. So I had to just pick up the phone. And it’s huge. I have had a lot of successes, even though monetarily I don’t feel like I’m there yet. My product is in Walgreen’s, I’ve won these awards, I’ve been recognized. And it’s just a matter of just keep plugging away.

 

Rachel: Right. I think you have a great attitude and a great outlook, and I think you definitely believe strongly in your product, and it shows. And I think that your attitude of just, from every step of the way that you said, it’s like I never felt it’s not going to be in here or there. It’s always a possibility, and you made it happen. I think it’s interesting that it’s so wonderful that you look at every success as a success. Because as I talk to different women, some people just monetarily, and I feel like the money comes at the end. There’s no overnight success story and you just have to build on it, and once you figure out the right contacts and the right outlets; or how to do whether it’s social media marketing or whatever does make your product a success, it takes time to figure that out. So, congratulations.

 

Michelle: Thanks. Rachel, had I not, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s been difficult. There’s been ups and downs, and if I completely relied on the monetary aspect of it, I wouldn’t still be in business. I would have given up a long time ago. But, I think because of how my product came about, I mean I lived it. I carried my son around on oxygen, and I get emails from people saying your bag makes my life so much easier. It’s just a backpack, they say, but they’re like, it’s more than a backpack. So, I’ve had to look at the successes that I’ve had even though the monetary side hasn’t come in yet. But I had to. And that’s Okay. And I love helping people.

 

Rachel: It’s wonderful. How is your son, Ty, today. How old is Ty?

 

Michelle: Ty is seven and a half and he is wonderful. He’s full of life. He makes me laugh every day. Sometimes that strong will comes in, but every parent that has a preemie has been through the NNICU experience, has told me that their child is strong-willed. So he can be a little strong-willed some days. But he’s our only child and I feel blessed every day. We were told to tell him goodbye, that he wasn’t going to make it, so. And a lot of the families that I talk to that I deal with because of my business, their children have multiple issues, and some of their children are still on oxygen and it breaks my heart. But at least I can have empathy when I’m dealing with them with my product and even if my product can help them out in one little way just by making it easier, then.. I count my blessings, because I know a lot of families haven’t had it, so it hadn’t turned out as well as Ty. I mean we sometimes have to do breathing treatments on him, during the cold winter months when he’s sick. But he’s hospitalized one time after we got him home from the NNICU for about a week, because he got a cold. And for the first two years, we didn’t go anywhere hardly at all. I didn’t take him shopping because we couldn’t take the chance of having him get sick because he was still so susceptible. But he’s great.

 

Rachel: Right. I’m so glad to hear that. I feel like you are very lucky. So thank you. Thank you for sharing your story, And is there any parting advice you would like to give to the mom entrepreneurs out there, that’s listening to your story?

 

Michelle: I would just say that, because  I network with so many other mom entrepreneurs, that I become friends with. Before you decide to jump into this, just know that it has to be what you really, really, really want to do, and it’s not going to happen overnight. There might be some rare percentage of it that it does, but it takes a lot of hard work and blood, sweat, and tears. If you firmly believe that you’re ready to jump on that ride, and I think sometimes it does look like it happens overnight for a lot of companies, and you kind of go in. I mean, I did . I did come in with a false pretense that I’m in this big company, and it’s just going to take off. But if you believe in what your product is, and what you’re doing, and you know in your heart that that’s what you want to do, then go for it. Reach out to other entrepreneurs, and build that network. Because a lot of people won’t understand it. I had friends that worked traditional jobs and they don’t get what I do. When it comes to my business or why it’s so difficult, they’re like, just go get a full time job. You can’t just do that, when you have a business all the time, so.

 

Rachel: Right, right. No, very good advice. Thank you. For those of you out there that enjoyed this interview and would like to hear more, you can go to www.bestmomproducts.com. And I want to thank you so much, Michelle, for sharing your story. It was touching, and it sounds like it’s a great product that’s still on the climb up. So I wish you a lot of success. And until next time.

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