Sandy Stein of Finders Key Purse
In 2004, 52-year old Sandy Stein faced the prospect of unemployment after 32 years in the airline industry. At the same time, her husband's job was at risk, as well. Sandy knew she had to re-invent her life to guarantee a future income for her family, including their 10-year old son, Alex. Her invention, Finders Key Purse, started as a dream - literally. One morning she awoke with the product idea, and two and half years later she's managed to turn that dream into a multi-million dollar business. Here is her story.
Why did you start your company - and when?
About 2 years ago, I came to the realization that my husband, who was 53 at the time, was probably going to lose his job as a consultant in the souvenir gift industry. I had been a flight attendant for 32 years and knew that my job, too, was in jeopardy - the airline industry was having (and still is) terribly rough times. It was imperative that both my husband and I be gainfully employed so that we could provide for our son.
Have you ever experienced an epiphany that changed the direction of your life?
That night, I went to bed, and prayed to my Dad in heaven, asking him for guidance. I know it's hard to imagine - but that very night I dreamed of a new key chain that would decorate a purse while keeping the keys from falling to the bottom.
When I woke up, I remembered every detail of the dream, including the exact measurements of this key chain. I went into my home office and bent a piece of metal that had a flower attached to it. I added a clasp to the bottom of the piece, and hung it on my purse. VOILA!!! I knew that my heavenly inspired dream had huge potential. I sat down and thought of what to call it, and somehow knew that the name was meant to be Finders Key Purse (find your keys in your purse). I could barely contain myself with the excitement of knowing that I had invented a new product that could change my life!
My husband, Steve, came home that evening, and I immediately ran to the door to greet him with my homemade Finders Key Purse (FKP). As a souvenir consultant, my husband had made mugs, keychains, and magnets by the thousands, so when I saw him smile, I knew HE knew we had something.
What were your initial goals?
That night I told Steve that we were going to make millions selling this key chain. His smile disappeared when he realized that now HE was going to have to get involved in yet another one of those "Sandy" ideas. I insisted that this idea was the answer to my prayer, and nothing and no one would be able to dissuade me from getting it on the market.
What process did you follow to develop a prototype?
My husband had worked with manufacturers in China for the past 25 years, so I asked for his help in getting my rough prototype turned into a full fledged working prototype. Once I saw the "real deal," I was even more certain that I could do this.
How long did it take to launch the company?
It took just over six months to get FKPs on the market.
What's behind your company name?
The company's name is Alexx, Inc. Alex is the name of my son and my father. Thus Alexx, the company name, has one "x" for the past and one "x" for the future.
Was there anyone who said you couldn't / shouldn't do this?
Steve introduced me to one of his mentors - a multi-millionaire - who had owned several gift companies. He told me he liked the FKP, but was certain that it could never do much in the marketplace, because it was just one item - and no one would want to sell one item. He suggested that I sell the idea to another company and forget doing it myself. I got a second opinion from another similar source, who had the same advice. They both said that I could not succeed with a company that sold just one item.
But the more I heard "no," the more determined I was to make this happen. I set out to create my own sales force among my flight attendant friends and other friends and acquaintances who thought FKP was a great idea. I devised a sales plan that would enable everyone to make a good amount of extra "fun" money - or even create a full source of income, if that's what they wanted.
How did you finance your business?
I pretty much wiped out our entire savings account to order the FKPs. But I couldn't afford to have items on backorder, because I wanted to have the credibility necessary for repeat orders.
How much inventory did you order...and where did you store it?
I initially ordered 300,000 units. I know that was a huge risk, but I knew I could do this.
I was fortunate to find a 50-year-old building surrounded by barbed wire that was already paid for. The landlord said he liked my spirit, and gave me a low-cost lease on a month-to-month basis. I was on my way.
What kind of support system do you have in place personally and professionally?
I hired my nanny, Alicia, to be a shipper - she had worked with Alex since he was a baby. She told me that she didn't know what to do as a shipper, and I told her that I didn't know what to do as a President, so we would learn together!
I hired a part time bookkeeper, Liz, for 15-20 hours a week, who ended up becoming my full time office manager and controller. I had Mandy, a friend, answer the phone, and Mandy's sister, Christie, help out with product development. Steve was in charge of getting the product, and I was in charge of everything else.
I am grateful beyond words for the success that has been reaped with Finders Key Purse , but more importantly for everyone around me... especially a staff who always cheers me on and that has been instrumental in making Alexx, Inc. a viable company. An idea is just that, an idea. It is the teamwork of my staff and my reps that have made the company what it is today, and I will be eternally thankful to all of them.
Through what markets are you selling?
We only sell wholesale. Our reps are allowed to sell on the Internet, retail, and/or wholesale. By giving them lots of choices, we give ourselves that much more opportunity to make sales.
What secrets have you learned in terms of marketing?
I learned a long time ago that there is no better marketing tool than to have a great product and women who talk about it and share it with others. Up to this point our marketing has been strictly word of mouth.
What has been your greatest success or "high point" in the process?
My highest point was when Liz, our controller, announced that we had hit $1 million in sales - within the first 4 months. THAT seemed like a dream!
We opened our doors on December 9, 2004, and by December 9, 2005, we had sold over 1 million pieces of Finders Key Purse. Our original reps grew from 50 to 2,000 and my employees grew to 10. We got lucky and more office space opened in the same building, and we could move into that as well.
From this one little item, my husband and I both have a source of income (a pretty good one at that). We now employ three customer service representatives. Our sales reps have made working with us a hobby, a part-time job or a full-time job depending on their needs - they make as little as $10 a month or as much as $9,000 a month, depending on what they want to do with their time. And all of this from one tiny little keychain.
In 2006 we sold another 1 million+ pieces of Finders Key Purse, and with a little luck, my patent should be approved in 2007 (after almost 3 years of waiting).
Do you have new ideas in store? How do you come up with them?
Currently, I am working on a couple of other inventions that I plan to introduce in July 2007. I never knew that I was an inventor. I did always know, though, that I was tenacious and willing to try just about anything. In my life as a flight attendant, I was always selling something to supplement my income. For over 30 years my friends told me, "Some day you will hit it big." I always hoped I would live long enough to say they were right!
What is family life like now?
My son Alex is now almost 13 and is a rough and tumble sports enthusiast. He enjoys having the company named after him, but doesn't like when it becomes a subject of conversation for me. Hubby, Steve, is still working with getting our product manufactured properly, and is back being a consultant for the souvenir industry. I finally retired from Delta after 34 years, and have started my second life at age 53. I thoroughly enjoy what I do, and I truly believe that I was capable of pulling this off through the many years of life experience that I had dealing with the public and life in general.
What falls by the wayside when balancing business and personal life?
My family is very content lately to eat "out" most of the time. I still have time to do Mom things, but cleaning and cooking are left to the professionals. When things get tough, either at home or at work, my best friend LaNaya (friend of over 35 years) is ALWAYS there to support me and tell me how great I am (even when I don't feel great or even good).
Who has been your biggest source of inspiration?
My Dad always said that I could do whatever I set my mind to do. He gave me inspiration to make it. I only wish that I could listen to one more of those "war stories" that he always told when I didn't do the right thing. He would be proud today for sure.
What advice would you offer to those following in your footsteps?
For any mom who is thinking of developing a new product, make sure you first see a good patent attorney. Unscrupulous people, who are happy to knock off your product, come in droves if your product is a good one.
Also - never take "no" for an answer if you are sure that you are right. Many people are envious that you are "going for the gold," especially if they cannot or will not see your big picture. Also - there will be many opportunities for you to change to fit the corporate mold - don't do it. What makes you special is who you are. Women are extremely intuitive - go with your gut. It rarely is wrong.
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