She wants me to do what?

I met my girlfriend Angie 24 years ago. I had recently moved from NC to VA for a management position at a restaurant chain.

On our first date she told me she was not only looking to find someone to date but a business partner as well. I really liked her and said “sure sounds good” not really thinking she was serious.

Day two of knowing her she asked me to go to the library and locate and copy all hair salons throughout the US. It became clear she was serious about a business partner and by the way, there were over 250K salons!

Seriously? The last time I was in a library was when I was 12!!!

Sometime later she tells me she needs me to sew tire inner tubes together to make a bag. I seriously had no idea what made her think I could sew! She said I mentioned I had sewn a patch on one of my jackets. REALLY!!!!

The next weekend she asks me to rent a truck to pickup an industrial sewing machine that she found and by the way it needed to come to my house. Before I knew it we were making bags and decided we were ready for the Accessories Show in Las Vegas.

Those first bags were heavy and one of them was almost 24” high and we were gluing them the night before the show. We really couldn’t believe we had some orders.

Things were slow going in the beginning as we learned the best way to clean the inner tubes, how to create a collection and how to sell them.

First, we had to find a source to get inner tubes. We quickly learned that only tire centers that serviced tractors and earth movers had inner tubes.

Going to pick them up was always an interesting adventure. The tubes were heavy, dirty and we could always count on the appearance of the kind of spiders that sent you running. Before I knew it, we were making this work.

Now was the time I had to decide whether I should leave the security of my job or give this my full attention. We talked about it and decided we were both all in!

We started receiving local press not only about the bags but the recycling aspect. One of the facts that people found interesting and alarming was the fact that over 250M tons of tires and inner tubes are disposed annually in landfills. The public only hears about them when there’s a fire.

We were working late one night, which was every night and the phone rang. It was 11:00 pm so Angela just answered hello sounding slightly annoyed, as we were watching “Golden Girls” while cutting inner tubes.

I know you’re probably thinking “Golden Girls”? They’re funny and still in syndication to this day!

The person asked for me and Angela said, “who’s calling”? The caller gave her name and said she was the assistance to the fashion director from the Today Show and she was interested in including one of our bags in an upcoming segment.

I couldn’t hear this, I just saw Angela’s eyes getting larger and she said, “Oh, they are closed, I’m with the cleaning crew can I get your number”? When she got off and explaining we couldn’t until morning to talk with them.

I spoke with the person who was producing the segment and she said they wanted our NY Tote and needed it that afternoon. I was thinking, REALLY? You’re in NY and we in VA, how’s that happening?

She suggested FedEx Same Day delivery. Cool, no problem, but of course it was a problem. I soon discovered since our account was opened after 9/11/2001 that service was not available to us. We understood but were beyond disappointed.

Within 5 minutes we received a call from the general manager of an auto dealership in Michigan interested in getting pricing on our bags for their gift shop.

Angela immediately asked her if they had a FedEx account and how long have they had it? The initial response from the caller was “what & why”?

We offered them free bags to test in their shop if they allowed us to use their account to ship our bag to NY. They agreed, and the bag made it to the show just in time.

The next morning around 8:45 am there were our bags right next to Michael Kors products. Within minutes the phone started ringing with orders.

Very exciting, but we quickly realized we needed help producing the bags. Between collecting inner tubes (sometime driving 1 hour away) cleaning and sewing, it was too much for just the two of us.

While looking for factories that would work with inner tubes, we received a call from a woman interested in distributing our bags in museum gift shops throughout the US and the Caribbean.

One day while taking an order from her, I asked if she had any contacts for manufacturing. Up to this point all our communications with her had been via email. We discovered she and her husband were successful business owners and investors.

She requested our business plan, which of course we didn’t have. We quickly put one together and sent it off. To our surprised she called soon after they received it and said they were flying from Puerto Rico the following week to meet with us and see our operation.

We went from totally excited to “See our OPERATION”! Oh boy, our OPERATION is five industrial machines in our living room, one in the bedroom and 5 tons of inner tubes in the back yard!

They flew in the following Thursday morning and came to the house. We were immediately comfortable with them and within about 20 minutes we were on our way to lunch.

During lunch we talked about plans to setup inner tube collection and processing in Puerto Rico. This would make us legible for government incentives by creating jobs and recycling.

They told his one of their friends had a factory in the Dominican Republic that could produce the bags. This was beyond awesome!

We left the restaurant heading to our attorney’s office to get the contract process going. While walking from the car into the office the husband received a call. He said we needed to wrap this up ASAP as they needed to get to NY for another meeting.

As soon as we sat down he asked the attorney if he could just write up an agreement, so he could sign and leave. The attorney said he couldn’t do it that fast, the contract would be ready in a couple of days and we left.

Walking back to the car I thought, “well nothing will be settled during this meeting”. I was so wrong, as soon as we got in the car he pulled out his check book and wrote us a $100K from his personal account.

This was half of what we had requested, and he didn’t even care about the agreement not being in place.

It was hard to believe things was happening so quickly. For the next three months we continued making bags, ordering material and sending inner tubes to factories for samples.

During the next three months we started noticing things were not coming together on the projects we had agreed upon with them. At first, we thought they were just busy and didn’t really worry about it.

We started participating in celebrity events like backstage at the Tony Awards and Access Hollywood’s Golden Globes event. These were cool events and we received some awesome press, but they were expensive.

One of our bags that was featured on the Today Show was chosen in be included in Neiman Marcus catalog.

During this time, I was invited to speak at an event hosted by Good House Keeping in NY and at a women’s conference in Chicago. Things were hard since we were still producing the bags ourselves, but it was truly an exciting time.

Getting in touch with the investors became extremely difficult. They just wouldn’t respond. The next investment installment was needed for us to stay on track.

We kept moving forward on our end, but things got to a point that we needed the things they agreed to do to be put in place and it just wasn’t happening.

Eventually after months of daily calls, emails and text I finally got him on the phone and everything had changed. They were in the middle of a nasty divorce and our business and two others became like the children caught in the middle.

He told me he owned over 50% of the other companies that they had invested millions in and literally just shut them down to spike with soon to be ex-wife.

The only thing that saved us from that same faith was they owned 50% of ours. I know, bad move on our part, tell me about it!.

He couldn’t just shut us down, but he could and did make it impossible for us to move forward with our plans.

We couldn’t believe how everything with them had turned into a complete mess! Our attorney said we had grounds for a case, but we couldn’t afford to go up against his deep pockets.

Plus, he was motivated to ensure we didn’t succeed (along with the other 2 companies) his wife found. As he told me, he was sick of his wife’s hobbies. WOW, now our business is being view as someone’s hobby!

We tried everything to stay on track, refinancing our home (against the attorney advice), cashed in my 401K, yet another move that seems like a good one at the time. We really believed we could continue to work hard and make it work.

I woke up one morning and realized this is not working and it was time to go back to work. Around this same time Angie’s mom became suddenly ill and she had to move her back to VA from another state to care for her.

It was so hard to believe that everything we had created was disappearing like a puff of smoke!

Angie’s focus had to go on her mom and I went back to work. During this time, we focused on a few private label jobs for businesses mainly during the holidays. But, the problem of no real outside factory in place we were not able to grow.

We setup a store on Amazon and started to focus in that area with other products that we could have produced overseas. We even tried having our bags made overseas, but it was too expensive since we had to provide the inner tubes.

As great as Amazon is we quickly realized the pitfalls of being on someone else’s platform. This was the first time in my life that I was truly feeling defected. Everything was going wrong so fast! I didn’t know which way to turn.

I didn’t know how to help Angie while she was dealing with her mom’s declining health and watching everything we had worked so hard to build fall apart.

During this time, I received some of my dad’s personal items from my step-mom. He had passed away about 2 years before that time. One of the items was my dads shaving cup & brush.

It immediately brought back memories of him shaving while I sat on the edge of the tub and watched. He always told me “soon I’ll be teaching you how to do this for yourself”.

I thought putting shaving cream on your face was the coolest thing. He would put a little on my cheek, but he said I had to wait until I was older for the razor part. I kept begging him to shave my face. 5

He finally agreed that I would get my first shave on the weekend! I now know that just meant putting shaving cream on both cheeks, but at age six I was so excited to do what my dad did.

He worked at a steel mill and it was still dark when he would leave in the morning around 5:00 am. I decided it would be a great idea to sleep in the hall right outside my parent’s bedroom door, so he wouldn’t forget my shaving lesson.

Never mind it wasn’t the weekend yet!

Well, he didn’t forget me because as soon as he stepped out of the dark room (careful not to wake anyone) he stepped on my back! Both of us screamed and everyone was now awake!

Well no shaving lesson that day, but I did get to have breakfast with my dad before he left for work.

I made a shaving bag that day, which was the first time that we created a bag that I had an emotion connection too. We weren’t sure if we wanted to go back down the road of bag making again or would this just be a special memory bag for me.

One day I saw a video of Russell Brunson talking about his potato gun business. How things went from great to the wheels coming off when a google change which was beyond his control happened.

I was fascinated with what he discovered about funnels, creating offers and connecting with your customer base with massive value.

He created a system that turned his business around and made sure that no outside forces could impact his business.

We’ve decided, we’re doing this AGAIN!

Entrepreneur, Space Enthusiast & Avid Reader