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Single Mom Designs Beautiful, Eco-Friendly Lunch Bag for Women!

I have no doubt that Mary Lou Palazzolo's story will give you a dose of inspiration! As a single parent, raising two sons, working full-time and going to school at night, you might think there couldn't possibly be one more moment (or ounce of energy) left to do anything else. But Mary Lou took it a step further and designed and launched an amazing new product -- called Pranzo Bags! Pranzo Bags are stylish- eco-friendly lunch bags that look like a fashionable purse. We wanted to hear more from Mary Lou! Read on to hear her story...

Mom Invented: Tell us about your company.

Mary Lou: I have an on-line business. I invented a high fashion, eco-friendly lunch bag for women made in the U.S.A. All of the components are purchased in the states. The Pranzo Bag (Pranzo translates to "lunch" in Italian) comes complete with an aluminum water bottle, a large ice pack, a removable machine washable drawstring bag  with a super cute identification tag so that you can find your lunch in a crowded refrigerator. It is eco-friendly:  no need to use plastic bags, paper bags or plastic water bottles. Pranzo is available in faux ostrich, crocodile, rattlesnake and viper in vibrant colors.

MI: Why did you start this company?

Mary Lou: I invented Pranzo Bags because high-fashion, eco-friendly lunch bags for women are nowhere to be found!!

MI: What were your initial goals?:

Mary Lou: My goal is to manufacture a high quality bag made in the U.S.A. for women who want to be stylish yet help save the environment. Another important goal is to be able to work from home, start my own business and not have to work in a corporate office.

MI: Tell us a little bit about you & your family.

Mary Lou: I am a single mom who raised 2 boys alone while working full-time and attending a university in the evenings. I worked on developing this unique lunch bag myself for 4 years and finally launched the web site and business. Sammy and Santino are now 21 and 23 years old and are as creative as I am. My parents immigrated from Italy in the 1950's and raised 8 children while starting a business as custom work workers.

MI: What was your 'aha' moment when it came to starting your business?

Mary Lou: I was employed at one of the large automotive companies near Detroit, Michigan and could not find my lunch in the large, crowded refrigerators. There were mounds of plastic shopping bags crowded in the refrigerator.  A former co-worker suggested that I purchase a lunch bag so that I would not have the problem of finding mine everyday. I explained that I could not find one that would be fashionable enough to carry into a corporate office and roomy enough with a longer strap. If someone would just manufacture a fashionable bag....I would buy one!!! That's when I said "aha" I'll create my own lunch bag and design it as a purse.  That's when it all began.

MI: Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?

I've experienced a number of setbacks, both personally and professionally, during this 4 year project. I used my own funds to produce all the bags. I was laid off from an automotive company which caused a delay in producing more bags. After that, I was in a horrible auto accident (I was not at fault) and therefore had to take care of myself by going to physical therapy for 2 years!!

While all of this was happening, I found my manufacturer online and there were several setbacks. I had to change manufactures a few times to find the "right one". The issues were mainly about suppliers.  The suppliers that I had dealt with stopped carrying some of the products that I needed for the bag.  For instance, the inner lining that I originally used was discontinued and so I had to find another product from a new supplier.  I finally did and turns out that this new lining is even better!!

My bags were originally manufactured in Kentucky and I traveled there to watch them create a bag and found that they were very slow.  Plus I shipped the supplies to them, paid for the sewing and had to pay the shipping charges of the bags back to Michigan. That's when I switched to another manufacturer near my hometown.

The final struggle I am currently having is that my product is made in Michigan and all of the components are purchased in the states.  Therefore, the retail cost is much higher and I am hearing that the price is too high for a "lunch bag".  I try to defend myself in selling quality, durability, and the fact that it is made in the U.S.A. along with many other positive features.

MI: Did you file a patent for your product? How did you go about it?

Finding a patent attorney was not difficult but very costly. The first patent attorney wanted $2,800 to begin the process. I could not afford that and thought about it for a few weeks.  I spoke with a co-worker explaining the frustration on getting a patent and she informed me that there was an entire patent / legal department in the building where we worked.  I set up a meeting with one of the attorneys explaining my situation. He highly encouraged me to do my own patent through the USPTO web site. I contacted them and received all of the documentation necessary for a design patent. I did struggle through the paperwork. One day, at a Christmas party, I met a woman through a friend who had just lost her job as a patent attorney's assistant. I asked her if she would assist me on my patent.  She agreed. We submitted the patent!!!

MI: What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product?
Inventions take time. It is a work in progress and you have to be determined to make it happen.
Should something not go your way, you have to be able to start from scratch and find the suitable supplier, vendor, or materials to create the product.

Has the Media played a part in getting the word out about your product?
Pranzo Bags were featured on a television show:  STARTUPNATION which aired last March. The DVD is now sold on Amazon.com. I am working on getting Pranzo Bags on QVC and HSN.

What was the biggest learning curve in terms of marketing your product?:
Since my bag is very high quality and made in the U.S.A. the retail price is considerably higher. I have to market to women who can afford the product.

What has been your greatest success or high-point with your product or business?

Mary Lou: Being contacted by PBS for television and winning the on-line StartupNation contest. I have also been written up in local newspapers within the Detroit area and my bags will be featured in The Detroit Fashion Week.

MI: Have you experienced a low point in business? If so, how did you get back on track?

Mary Lou: I am experiencing that now as the Michigan economy is in a slump. However, I am a determined, spiritual person who believes that I was given this wonderful idea and I am convinced that I will make it.

MI: How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and mom?

Mary Lou: I worked diligently in the evenings and weekends to get my product off the ground. I missed many social activities.

MI: What surprised you most about the process of starting your business?

Mary Lou: How much time it takes.

MI: What advice would you offer other moms developing their products/ideas?
If you have an idea...go with it and don't listen to naysayers!! Go with your "gut" feeling and make it happen. If you don't, someone else will and you will be upset if you see your idea on a store shelf. The sky is the limit!

Thank you for sharing your story, Mary Lou! You can learn more about Mary Lou's Pranzo Bags at PranzoBags.com
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If you have a great story to share about your product or business, we’d love to hear it! And if you’d like to connect with other amazing women inventors and entrepreneurs, join the Mom Invented Community!


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8 Responses »

  1. Mary Lou - you are so gifted, determined! Sorry to hear about your accident. Someday, when I'm one of those wealthier ladies, I'm going to get a Pranzo bag.

  2. These are beautiful and what a great idea! Congratulations on you success! I will sharing this on my facebook page. God bless.

  3. they look incredible along with dual purpose... congrats... and if you are looking to place in a store, I am in Greenville SC and would be interested.

  4. Way to go Mary Lou! I've always felt kind of frumpy carrying my Kroger sack into downtown Detroit office building.

  5. I can personally testify that Mary Lou is a very determined young woman and has worked very, very hard to achieve this goal. We've been co-workers off and on through the years. Pranzo is a great product which has the added advantage of allowing those who have to carry temperature sensitive medications around of being large enough to accomodate both lunch and the meds.

    I really admire your tenacity, Mary Lou. Keep up the good inventions because there's gotta be more where this one came from!
    Jean

  6. Very inspiring Mary Lou! Thank you so much for sharing. I absolutely love this idea. May God continue to bless you in your future endeavors.

  7. Hi Mary Lou--I am sooo happy and excited for you! You have a great product and I've already emailed it to a friend and will post it on my fb and twitter pages! I love it and agree that it's a good fit for QVC or Home Shopping Network..but also..I see this in department stores! I hope you're contacting the big ones! Love, love it! All my best, Tina Hill/Owner of Kidzsack

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