Thursday, January 14, 2010

Inventor Showcase: Grill Charms!

Leslie Haywood is one class act! She swam with the Sharks, started a feeding frenzy and is still riding the big wave in! I cannot say enough about what a truly charming, smart, and talented lady she is. She has fought her way through the kind of adversity that would cause many of us to crumble. The authentic person she is on the inside shines right on through to that beautiful person you see on the outside! She has a lot of very important information to share with us, so I hope everyone is paying attention.

1. Prior to entering the Shark Tank what was the starting point for getting Grill Charms into stores?

I think for most inventors and product developers the best place to start is in your own back yard. Success begets success and the perfect place to start is with your local stores. In today's world especially, folks are very eager to help others in their community. I went to a locally owned, independent kitchen store that I shopped at, simply walked in with my sample and gave her my schpeel. It was my first sales call and I'm not sure if she felt sorry for me or genuinely like the product (and it really doesn't matter) but that 1 local store was my first wholesale account. From there, I went to another local store in a different area of town and did the same thing and so on and so forth. Once you conquer the local area with your "hometown" story, than branch out from there in your state, then nationally etc...

2. You have shared that Charmed Life Products, LLC operates within a very tight budget. Where would you encourage inventors to spend their money (i.e., PR, Advertising, Patenting, etc.)?

There are a few areas where I think money is best spent. I think branding is important and doesn't have to break the bank. Having professional "materials" and by "materials" I mean brochures, sell sheets, business cards, stationary very important. In the beginning not having those things is okay, but when and if you want to get into the larger stores, you will need to present yourself like someone that can handle a 20,000 unit PO. Sending in your product submission vendor application on plain white paper with a handwritten return address on the envelope might not get you the attention you want. The larger retailers want to know that you are not a small-time operation with your office across from your children's playroom....(EVEN IF YOU ARE!!) Shhhhh.....(Don't tell anyone, but my office really IS across from my children's playroom ;) hee hee! Don't forget, perception is reality. Also, if you really want to be in the wholesale market, you need to do the RIGHT tradeshows for your industry. At most shows in today's times you simply hope to break even at the show, BUT the contacts you make and the experience you gain are INVALUABLE!

3. How has your family reacted and adjusted to Mom becoming a bona fide entrepreneur with her products being sold on a global level?

I'm not sure they'd admit it now, but I don't think my family really thought I'd actually do it. Every day people have crazy ideas and say "I'm going to do this thing", but such an extremely small percentage of people actually follow through. I don't blame them for looking at me funny when I said "I'm going to bring this product to market". I'd look at me funny too! Since then they have certainly gotten used to the idea. My children who were 1 and 3 when I had my light bulb moment are now 5 and 7 so they grew up with it and think everyone is an inventor. A few years ago my then 4 year old asked my sister "Aunt Brandy, what did YOU invent?" My daughter then proceeded to tell her Aunt that she was going to invent crayons when she grew up. That was my daughter's first lesson in "inventing". I explained to her that crayons were already invented but she could make a better crayon someday. Some people think what I have done is something special or even "extraordinary". My daughters think it's the norm. I can't imagine the loftiness of their goals when they grow up!!

4. I stole a quote from your blog "There are no short cuts. (Remember that newbie entrepreneurs!)" - What is one important piece of advice you could give to the rest of us?

I'm going to answer this with another part of my blog because I think it's so important:

I would like to share with you one of the biggest lies about business and a mistake that many new inventors and entrepreneur make:

"I naively thought (as you might too) that Press = sales. That is simply not the case....unless maybe you get on Oprah. PR is necessary and gives you the credability to go GET the sales, but it is not the golden goose that newbie inventors and entrepreneurs think it is. I thought that a few big newspaper articles, a national cable TV appearance and a few national magazines would mean life on easy street. NOT SO! There is no substitute for good ol' fashion pounding the pavement. Making sales calls is where my money comes from, not from an article in a magazine or a few appearances on TV. Had I understood that sooner, I would have made a lot more sales calls early on and wouldn't have been so preoccupied with the press. New entrepreneurs think that there is some "golden ticket" out there and I'm here to tell you, it's a lie. Don't get me wrong, PR and marketing are important, but you have to understand what it is, what it does and how to use it to increase revenue. It (in and of itself) is NOT instant millions! Press alone does a lot more for your ego than it does for your bottom line.

Now I might wind up eating my words and lord knows, I sure hope that day comes, but if you are looking for that 1 golden ticket or are basing your entire business plan on fame and not sales, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I do what I do to keep my name in the media to continue to build brand awareness, but I no longer hold out for that "one big break". Sales Sales Sales is where my bread gets buttered."

I actually wrote that before I had my prime time debut I will admit that certain press and media opportunities can take you from not profitable to profitable, so maybe, just maybe Oprah is not the only golden goose. Regardless, I still stand by my original statement in that basing the success of your business on press and media is a BIG MISTAKE and in most cases, if you don't parlay your media attention into something more than your 15 minutes, then you will be no better off a month down the road, then you were before you got your "big break". Should you get a big break, in order to maximize your 15 minutes and try to turn it into 30, do all the "right things" such as notifying other media, current customers, target customers and pie in the sky accounts as well. Have your press release ready to go and set up interviews with folks who have been there for you in the past. You need to make sure you get some real sales instead of just flooding your inbox with people wanting to know if you can get them the name of your media contact or soliciting everything from closeout inventory offers to warehousing. I do know one thing for sure..... sitting back on your 15 minutes is a HUGE mistake. It's your job to use the attention for what it is... a door to get more sales and not rely on it to bring sales all by itself. In the days and weeks after the attention, call on every account you can. 24/7 sales baby! No matter how dazzling you might be, John Q public is fickle and has a short memory.

5. Who is one of the greatest inspirations in your life?

That's easy, MOM. When I was seventeen years old, she was in her thirties and was diagnosed with IV breast cancer. The gravity of her diagnosis and the triumph of her recovery would only hit me after I too was diagnosed with the horrible disease at the age of 34 with 1 and 3 year old daughters of my own. Her courage and grace in her darkest hours gave me the strength and inspiration to make it through mine. I was right in the middle of starting my company when I got my diagnosis. Because of her love and support, I forged ahead with Grill CharmsTM, beat the cancer and now am working on giving back to the cause through my businesses. and

Some people say that I am an inspiration. I laugh at the thought. I got a set of new boobies and a tummy tuck out of the deal. She fought for her life and won. She is my friend, my confidant, my hero, and forever my inspiration.

6. Why aren't you in Hollywood making a movie!? Okay, seriously, tell us something funny about yourself!

Wow... a movie you say??!!! How cool would that be?! Okay... something funny huh.... I have the appetite of a 500lb man. Seriously... some people like to eat, but I'm sort of a freak of nature at how much I CAN eat. I am very disciplined now that I'm older because I have to be, (darn that slowing metabolism!) but I have on more than one occasion embarrassed people I have been with at restaurants with the quantity of food I can put away. I'm a small gal and it's sort of freaky to see an entire "boat" of sushi be devoured by one little 5'4" chick that weighs about a buck twenty. It's genetic. My mother and grandmother were the same way. My sister started doing a little research and we think that I don't have the proper amount of the chemical that tells my brain my stomach is full. Like I said... I do control myself because I have to, but when it come to red meat (shocker;) and sushi in particular, I do let myself go. My friends joke that on nights we decide to do sushi, fish all over the world begin to shudder with fear. If you ever get to Charleston, I'll show ya!!
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