Two Grosse Pointe women who launched their business in their basement are poised to do $2 million in sales before the year is out.
Karen Eschebach and Karen Weaver came up with the idea for their start-up company, Clever Container, while at a party in 2006.
"I think the minute that Karen said it, it was like a light bulb, like 'Oh my gosh, that's a great idea. Why hasn't anyone ever thought of that?" said Weaver.
Eschebach was a professional organizer at the time and Jennifer Weaver was a consultant for Pampered Chef. They decided to try and sell the products Eschebach uses to organize homes in a home-party setting.
They began their business by working out of Weaver's basement.
"We basically started in a very small room," said Eschebach. "That was our warehouse and we each had a desk outside of that little tiny room. "
The home party idea took off for these Grosse Pointe women. After about two years, Clever Container got some publicity on a network morning show and a story in an area newspaper, women all over the country wanted to become Clever Container consultants.
"We had to buy lots and lots of stock and when that happened the husbands kind of got together and started knocking down the walls and then we took her entire basement over," said Eschebach.
To date, they have 900 consultants across the US and hope to have as many as 1,200 by the end of the year.
In 2010, Eschebach and Weaver were still operating their business out of a basement, but then they caught the attention of two Chicago-area businessmen.
"This Metro car pulled into the driveway and this guy comes out and says you know, 'Hi my name is and I'm representing these two gentlemen who are interested in your company,'" said Eschebach.
The businessmen invested $250,000 in Clever Container. They used the money to move their warehouse out of the basement to an actual warehouse in the Chicago area, an online ordering system and came up with a new compensation plan. Eschebach and Weaver also started working out of an office in St. Clair Shores.
Eschebach said they are on track to do $2 million in sales this year, but they are putting all the money they make back into the business.
"We are looking within the next year to 18 months to have everything be designed and manufactured for us and by us," said Eschebach.
Local 4 asked Eschebach and Weaver the four steps they would recommend others take to make their million-dollar business idea a success.
This is what they said:
1. Test the market beyond your friends and family.
"Your friends and family are either going to be super supportive or pessimistic. You need people that are not emotionally involved. If it's a product, try promoting it at vendor fairs, expos, or within specialty stores. If it's a service, maybe you could offer your service free to gain experience and testimonials. Jen and I started Clever Container by selling at vendor fairs and asking people to fill out a survey. We then entered their name into a drawing for a free product."
2. Look into industry resources that are available.
"There are many small business organizations that offer a lot of resources. There's Michigan Small Business Owners, Women Small Business Owners, StartupNation. Read books if they help. Jen and I looked into our industry professionals via the DSA (Direct Selling Association). We also read books by Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay) and Doris Christopher (Pampered Chef)."
3. Check out your competition and determine your niche.
"We found another company trying to do the same thing as us. They were much more business-like and formal. We wanted to make organizing fun so we took a different spin on it. Eventually that company contacted us and asked if we'd like to buy them out. We decided to continue on our path which paid off in the long run. Their company no longer exists."
4. Decide what your financial and time commitment is ahead of time.
"It's best not to get in over your head. Just like gambling, you have to know when to walk away. On the flip side, you also need to persevere when things get tough. It's a fine line. Determine if travel is required, time away from your family, whether you'll be working from home or at an office. The more you know up front, the better it is to plan."
If you're interested in Clever Container you can email Eschebach and Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (586) 777-7105.
For their website, click here.