2020 started with a bang. On January 5, I was surrounded by a few hundred of my close relatives, friends, and business associates at a local theater for my big "Shark Tank" ABC TV premiere. I had filmed the episode months before, and it was finally time to reveal the outcome live to my guests and about 30 million other people. It was the party of a lifetime complete with a drumline, comedy hosting, awards ceremony and an open bar. The atmosphere was electric and I really felt that I was my own version of the & # 39; American Dream & # 39; was fulfilling.
It all started more than a decade ago when I was a professional in the window industry and constantly and numerous complaints from customers about the problematic nature of age-old window screen technology. I knew there had to be a better way, so I went to my garage, determined to fix every problem my customers hated about their window screens.
Several years later I showed up with my flexible "gum and duct tape" screen prototype window and looked around to some industry professionals. I was immediately advised to patent my invention and do whatever it takes to get it to market as soon as possible. After many discussions with my family and trusted advisors, I decided to go all in. Investors were secured, patents were filed, a factory site was completed, machines were custom built, and my company was official.
At the time, marketing for the B2C sector was not in the plans. But the & # 39; slow yes & # 39; from established window manufacturers and dealers to come on board with us prompted me to rethink, rethink and expand my strategy, eventually hiring a local boutique marketing agency to build an e-commerce website , create a robust social presence and sell directly to homeowners.
This move led to the sweeping moment when I received an email from a Shark Tank Producer saying they found my product on social media, thought it was a perfect match to pitch to the Sharks, and asked if I was interested in coming on the show. At first I dismissed it as some kind of joke or spam. Shark Tank is not coming to you, is it? But a few days later when my phone rang and "Sony Pictures" appeared on the caller ID, I knew my world was about to change.
I took this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and decided that if I walked without getting out of the tank a deal, it wouldn't be because I was unprepared. I've spent hours, days and weeks watching previous Shark Tank episodes, learning all about each Shark's personalities and investment strategies, memorizing my business numbers, and sharpening the perfect, compelling 90 second pitch.
total of 2½ surreal hours for the sharks; make-up, set and technical adjustments, awkward minutes of silence as we all waited for production directions, some takes, some more adjustments, pauses, more takes, and we were done. It was an exhilarating, incredible experience.
And now I – me, everyone I cared about, and millions of strangers – was all about to see my appearance for the first time. While I clearly knew the result, I had no idea how the segment would be edited or how it would appear on TV, and I felt almost as nervous as I did when filming.
The excitement was palpable, with all eyes on the big screen. Three Sharks made a bid for my invention of my flexible window screen, with Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner fighting a tense battle for the final showdown. Barbara was selling her attractive offer, and I thought about it when Lori yelled, "I'm doing that same deal!" I accepted and the crowd went wild! Lots of champagne toasts, pictures and a few speeches later, the theater was cleared and I went home from what was one of the best nights of my life. 2020 was approaching – until it was no more.
A few weeks later, news began circulating about a potentially deadly virus making its way around the world. Soon after, the shutdowns began, uncertainty set in, and business owners began scrambling all over the place.
I knew that if my business were not only to survive, but to thrive through the pandemic, we would have to take a long, hard look at our strategies and re-evaluate everything in the face of unprecedented times.
I was fortunate to have several advantages in my industry;
- We were considered an essential manufacturing company and remained open.
- Because of the amount of time people spent at home, many took stock of the condition of their homes and decided to invest the money they had saved through canceled vacations and pandemic stimulus checks in home improvements.
- But most of all, the CDC published its official guidelines for healthier indoor environments, and "increase ventilation by opening windows" was listed for homes, schools and workplaces.
Articles and news stories about the benefits of fresh air continued to pop up, and public interest was piqued. While opening your windows for fresh air and better ventilation is extremely beneficial, opening your windows without the protection of the proper insect screens isn't, and I wanted to help.
We specifically wanted to help homeowners looking for ventilation solutions, so we decided to temporarily lower our screen price by more than 25%. I made a video announcement quoting the CDC's official guidelines and explaining our temporary price cut. We promoted the video with an aggressive social media marketing campaign.
As an added benefit, FedEx got wind of what we were doing and offered to help by temporarily reducing our shipping costs. We passed these additional savings on to our customers by lowering the price of our screens by an additional $ 5 each
The results were unexpected and even a bit shocking. Retail sales were up 500% from March to April and continued to rise even after we normalized prices. We have expanded our customer service team, hired more production workers in all our factories and added shifts to meet demand.
I am grateful to be one of the companies that managed to thrive during a global crisis. In the months since the pandemic began, my company has secured multi-million dollar venture capital investments, signed an equity deal with Lori Greiner and partnered with the Global 500 giant Saint Gobain whose ADFORS division – the undisputed world leader in technical textiles – now has exclusive rights to sell FlexScreen products within the retail and dot-com channels.
Much of the success I've had is the result of calculated risk taking, a willingness to constantly re-evaluate, and a determination to invest in greater online exposure through social media, blogs, podcasts and other brand awareness strategies.
Today's business leaders need to be more flexible than ever. Make sure your investments remain relevant and your products or services are customizable. Don't wait for things to "come back" or you might find yourself in the dust of the innovators.