The Kiss-u-Tissue Tube is Just Plain Smart. Another… “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” Product
When Amy Davis presented her Kiss-u Tissue Tubes to me...tissue dispensers that fit into car cup-holders...I had another "Why Didn't I think of That" moment. My mind went straight to my own family van that usually has several boxes of tissues inevitably wedged or smashed underneath our seats. Amy's story about her journey both touched and inspired me. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Mom Invented: Why did you start this company and when?
Amy: I had never worked in business in any way before I started this company. It all began when I was driving my kids to a friend's house in September of 2007 when one of them cried out for a tissue. A quick glance in the rear-view mirror told me that this kid needed a tissue NOW, so I quickly began to search my immediate surroundings: the seat next to me, the floor, and the hold-everything bag next to me; only to come up short. And then as I reached behind me to search the floor of the back seat I glanced up at the road just in time to swerve out of the way of my neighbor's fence. That was a wake-up call. I pulled over to the side of the road so I could attend to one thing at a time. And I thought, "I can't be the only one with kids who have autumn allergies and wait until the last minute to cry out for a tissue."
Two days later, arriving home after a jaunt in the dog park with my three wet and muddy (but happy) dogs, I opened the door to let them out. Naturally, they managed to trample the brand new giant tissue box I had bought the day before for $4.00 rendering it useless. With a few expletives, I reached to the floor to retrieve and dispose of the box when my coffee cup caught my eye. I looked from the coffee cup sitting undisturbed in the cup-holder between the two front seats, to the mangled tissue box on the floor, and back again. "Wait a minute," I thought while picking up the tissue box, "Why can't this be there?" and with my eyes I pointed to the cup-holder. And so the Kiss-u Tissue Tube was born.
Mom Invented: Tell us about your background and how it relates to your company?
Amy: After retiring from teaching in the NYC public school system, my husband and I moved our family to CT. When there, our third child was born and I stayed home to raise my kids. After 15 years I decided to go back to school to get my MBA. In one of my first classes (Sept 2007) I was asked to develop a product and market it. While this may seem like a daunting task, it really wasn't. When I considered what a product really is, I realized it was just a solution to common problem and all I had to do was pay attention when I had a problem, think about it, and try to solve it. Within a few days I had my product.
Mom Invented: What process did you follow to develop a prototype?
Amy: Design, design, design, and redesign! First I just transformed common household stuff. Then I figured out what already existed that was like what I wanted to do, in my case it was mailing tubes. Then, after searching for a US company (with no luck) I found a Chinese company on Alibaba.com with a manager who was willing and able to help me hone the design and make me samples.
Mom Invented: How did you determine your product's marketability (is there a need, would people buy it)?
Amy: I test marketed the product first on my family and friends, and then in my local community. I convinced some local pharmacies, a gas station convenience store owner, a car wash company, and a local grocer to carry the product for me so I could figure out where it would sell best.
Mom Invented: Were there any setbacks in product development that had to be overcome?
Amy: Lots. I have probably 8 or 9 prototypes, all solving a problem that arose as a result of testing the product. In terms of manufacturing overseas, the issue of language is a big deal. Product design, product use, and quality of materials is all easily misunderstood. Importing is an education in and of itself!
Mom Invented: What was the biggest learning curve in terms of developing your product?
Amy: I knew nothing about anything. I knew nothing about design and design programs (I used Adobe Illustrator), I knew nothing about establishing a company, I knew little about technology (I made my own website, and registered myself as a vendor for Walgreen's -- no small feat!), I knew nothing about sales or how to convince people to take my product, and I knew nothing about importing. Learning curves were steep at every turn for me.
Mom Invented: How did you finance your business?
Amy: My business has been done on a shoestring so far and I have financed everything. However, I just received approval for a line of credit from Chase Bank -- not bad for a start-up! I have to say that getting this line of credit wouldn't have been possible without the help of the Women's Business Development Council (WBDC) which is part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). They provided the financial tutorials, marketing expertise, and helped me prepare my business plan for the bank so I was able to secure the line of credit. They are dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs. Most states and many communities have a WBDC branch and they were indispensable in my development.
Mom Invented: How much money have you invested so far? How do you feel about that?
Amy: At first we had invested about 20K. My husband's company loaned me half the money to fulfill my first Walgreen's order and I used a small inheritance to finance the rest.
Mom Invented: What has been your greatest success or high point with your product or business?
Amy: Probably when I first met the Category Manager at Walgreens in April who had launched my product without meeting me in February and told me he loved the product and wanted to keep carrying it.
Mom Invented: Have you experienced a low point in business? If so, how did you get back on track?
Amy: I have cried a lot. Pretty much everything that could go wrong with the first big shipment to Walgreen's did go wrong -- except the ship that carried the product didn't sink...
Mom Invented: How have you managed to juggle the roles of business owner and mom? What falls by the wayside?
Amy: For a while it was my health that fell to the wayside and I gained about 30 pounds. I definitely came last. The only thing I gave myself was, provided everyone was taken care of, I would run out to the movies once in a while after dinner. But as my kids got older I was able to take better care of myself.
Mom Invented: What kind of support system do you have in place personally and professionally?
Amy: Personally I had little support other than the encouragement of my classmates now and then. My family never really understood or accepted that I could or would do anything but be a mom. That was hard because it is natural for a mom to want everyone to be happy so I continued to try to please everyone. While I was in an MBA program (on the 3 year plan...!), my school was focused on corporate teachings not entrepreneurial teaching, so the guidance I could get from there was somewhat spotty. However, after my experience the school has adopted much more programming that reflects the fact that more and more people are working on their own and/or in smaller businesses. I think my example helped sway them a little bit at least!
Mom Invented: Who has been your biggest source of inspiration? What keeps you going?
Amy: I want to contribute financially to my family. I never really realized how difficult it is to provide for a family, how much pressure is involved, and how every decision I make impacts my family. I have a much greater appreciation for what my husband has done all these years. When I didn't have any money, I figured out other ways to feed and clothe myself. But being responsible for a family is completely different.
Mom Invented: What surprised you most about the process of starting your business?
Amy: Probably that I made it into Walgreens. I think I knew I would muddle my way through everything else -- design, legal things, importing, trademarking, and all that; but to actually get a huge store to buy it, well that required divine intervention!!!
Mom Invented: Are you using Social Networks to help build your business?
Amy: I have a Facebook page and a blog. Unfortunately, though I tried for a few short stints to write everyday, I have not been able to keep up the blog. I actually have pangs of guilt every day about not writing it. There is just too much for me to do for my business and for my family -- grocery shop, cook dinner, chauffeur kids, plan activities -- you're a mom, you know what I mean. And I don't have any help in either venue.
Mom Invented: What advice would you offer other moms developing their products/ideas?
Amy: While everyone wants to be the amazing one to invent and launch a successful product in no-time-flat, the truth is the journey is just as much fun as the endgame. We put a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves. So I would say, "Take your time. Enjoy the journey. Live and love the process."
Mom Invented: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Amy: My product saves lives. When someone is driving and looking for a tissue they are very distracted. Additionally, the driver often has to reach to the right for a tissue, causing the car to veer to the right and endangering anyone along the side of the road. Who knows how many lives it will save, but I know for my family, it is a life-saver.
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- As Featured on Tamara Monosoff’s blog ‘Mom Inventors’ | Tissue Issues
- As Featured on Tamara Monosoff’s blog ‘Mom Inventors’ | Tissue Issues
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