Amy Fazackerley: Identifying a Pain Point and Building a Solution for It

Amy Fazackerley photo

Amy Fazackerley is the co-founder of Lay-n-Go, a product solution for packaging and organizing a variety of regularly used items such as toys and cosmetics. Amy came up with the idea of necessity when she realized there was no good solution in the market. There had to be a solution to spend hours of play without hours of cleaning up.

Lay-n-Go started out as a family need and then expanded to include other useful solutions for individuals, such as cosmetic cases, tech accessories, and even military bags for emergency responders.

Amy is the ultimate example of a rockstar entrepreneur whose creativity knows no bounds. She took needs from everyday family life and turned them into something valuable with her innovative design skill set that blends quality alongside functionality.

Solving a pain point

While LEGO is fun for all the family, it is particularly challenging for parents to clean up after. Amy’s three sons would spend hours playing LEGO – and it always took just as long to find, collect and organize all the tiny pieces.

Amy needed an organizational solution, but even after searching high and low in the market, nothing she found seemed to fit all of her needs. “I went everywhere to try to figure out what was the solution on the market that would help me manage these toys with small pieces. And I found nothing,” she said. So, she decided to come up with her own.

She wanted something that was easy to clean, contained the parts, could be used on the go, and was machine washable. She spent the next year on designing, testing, reengineering, sourcing, and manufacturing what would be Lay-n-Go’s first product. It’s an activity mat and storage bag that allows for quick and effortless clean-up of small toy pieces.

Since developing their first product, Lay-n-Go is constantly innovating to offer organizational solutions for life, play, and travel. Amy remarked, “We’re always designing. As a consumer and as a mom, I’m always looking at what’s the next problem that I’m bumping into.” They’ve also released the COSMO collection for cosmetic products, the TRAVELER bag for men, the LIFESTYLE and CINCH backpacks, the tech accessory WIRED solution, portable nail station NAILSPA, the PET BED, and their newest DEFENDER line designed specifically for military members and emergency responders.

Getting utility patents

One of the biggest challenges they’ve faced in protecting their intellectual property and all the time spent in designing their products. Five years after the company was established in 2010, Lay-n-Go was awarded its first utility patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for its invention. They got their second utility patent in 2018, and the third in 2020. But they weren’t safe from infringers stealing their idea.

“We have had to stop multiple sellers on different platforms,” Amy shared. At one point, these sellers would even use Lay-n-Go’s name, images, and even pictures of her and her children on the packaging. When asked about small individual mom and pop shops, Amy said, “We do follow, we try to follow where we can. It’s all-important to us because it is our intellectual property and people need to know that we own that. And it was our blood, sweat, and tears that went into this and we’ve spent years training. It is protected through the patents and it’s our right to say, we own that. And you need to take it down.”

When Amazon started the Patent Neutral Evaluation Program, they were invited as a beta to participate. The program is an innovative way for patent owners to protect their intellectual property. If they suspect that a seller on Amazon has sold products without their permission, then under this new initiative there will be an investigation by a third-party evaluator with an understanding of utility patents and law.

Being a WBENC-certified women’s owned business

After striking a deal with Target, they got certified as WBE by the Women Business Enterprise National Council. They decided to use this opportunity as a marketing tool to show off their new packaging and design. Even Target was thrilled to have that as a great addition.

“We’re currently in over a thousand Target stores. And we love to show that on all of our packagings. And we do feel like it is a differentiator,” Amy said.

The WBE certification logo really helped, because women are always looking for ways they can support other female-owned businesses. She hopes that when customers see their products with the logo on the shelves, they can educate and encourage them to elevate women-owned businesses.

You can listen to my full conversation with Amy on the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast!

Transcript from Podcast

[00:00:00] Amy: I am the customer, right? I’m the one that had the problem and had the pain point that identified the need. And so I am the one walking into Target, walking down the aisle, looking at products and I am the customer. So I always put myself in the customer’s shoes.

[00:00:18] Natasha: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How do they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

I’ve written a book, a memoir that starts with my challenging upbringing with all the twists and turns and points, including saving my company due to the pandemic. It will be published this year. So please go to natashamiller.co and sign up on my mailing list so you’re the first to know when it’s available.

Today, I talked to Amy Fazackerley of Lay-n-Go about her invention, filing for their four patents, and how she had to protect your company from offshore knockoffs. We also touched upon how she went about gaining access to stores like target and CVS, and what they’re working on this year to grow their business. Now let’s get right into it.

[00:01:32] Amy: I always start with my story of, because everybody knows the saying necessity is the mother of invention. So that is really where I start my story because I’m a mother of three boys. And when this all started, they were very young. And I think everybody can relate to the pain of Lego, whether it’s stepping on them or cleaning them or managing them.

So I was a mom with three boys and I had a huge pain point, which was my Lego collection. And I did not want to get rid of it because of course we all love Lego and they’re a multi-generational toy. My husband grew up playing with Lego and we have all of his space Lego as well. So I kept adding more Lego collections and bigger investments.

I had hundreds of dollars invested in this toy and I love them, but what I didn’t love was cleaning and managing them. So I went everywhere to try to figure out what was the solution on the market that would help me manage these toys with small pieces. And I found nothing. And that’s when I came to realize that I was using a sheet and I would pour the sheet in the bins bucket or basket.

But my kids didn’t want to play with them inside the bins, bucket or basket, because all the great little pieces, the weapons and heads, a little mini figure pieces, they would all go to the bottom of the bin or the basket. So what would they do? They would just dump them all out. So every day over and over, I would be cleaning up 800 pieces of Lego.

And I finally said to my husband, Hey, this is really crazy, but I can’t find a good solution on the market. So I am going to create something. And as I started to design and develop, my friends kept saying, this is a great idea. I want one of these when you finish, when you have something available, let me know.

And so that was really the start Natasha of looking at a problem, solving the problem, and figuring out that I bet there are a lot of other parents out there like myself that are finding the same problem. There’s no solution. There’s no good solution on the market. So I would say that’s really how the whole thing started.

[00:03:40] Natasha: That’s amazing. It actually brings me to two questions.

One is, what did you do before you came up with this idea? And did you ever think you would be entrepreneurial? The second question is now when you see challenges that you want to solve, are you a serial inventor?

[00:04:02] Amy: Yes. I love looking at all sorts of problems now that I bump into on a daily basis and figuring out how can I make it easier? Just how can I make a better mouse trap? So to go back to your first question, I started my career in sales and marketing. So I was in pharmaceutical sales and print sales. And then I wanted to get into strategic marketing.

So I went back, I got my MBA and got into the digital world of marketing. I did that and I ended up also doing a lot of fundraising. So the combination, my skill set was sales, marketing, and really learning what makes people tick for fundraising? I was fundraising for building big buildings. I did work on a science center and an art center.

So I was working with big givers. And so I think the combination of those skills is what really led me to go, you know what, I think I have some of the skills to be able to take this idea and see it through. And like all entrepreneurs, we all have grit, even if we don’t know what we don’t know, we just figure it out.

And so as a mom with three boys and just a passion to figure out how to solve that problem, I just made it work and it evolved over 10 years. And it did evolve into me recognizing that maybe once I got on the path of testing the toy solution, I quickly realized, and I said to my husband, who was my co-founder.

He had his own job as well. And his skillset was different than mine, which is what makes it so brilliant.

[00:05:41] Natasha: That’s amazing.

[00:05:42] Amy: He has more of the engineering and the VC background, which is what I didn’t have and which is what I needed. He also had his own graphic design company. And so I needed those skills too.

So when we decided. I quit my job and kind of started building and we saw momentum and he quit his job. It was really a great skillset to be able to say to you.

[00:06:06] Natasha: What you came up with was Lay-n-Go.

[00:06:10] Amy: We did. And so when we started the business, it was really based on the toys and that was our pain point. But what I came to realize, which was so brilliant was that this concept that we came up with and we didn’t have a patent when we started, it was patent pending. And a few years later, we were able to get our first patent. We now hold three US utility patents with a fourth pending.

But I would say maybe three or four years into it, I said to my husband, “Hey, I’m having the same problem that my kids are having with toys, but my problem was with makeup.” And why hasn’t the beauty industry figured out that women want to see their makeup? Just like the kids want to see those Lego. We want to spread it all out. We want to see everything.

We want to be quick and easy. And we also want machine washable, which was always from day one, one of my requirements for my product, because when you live with four men..

[00:07:06] Natasha: Are they machine viable?

[00:07:11] Amy: Yes, machine washable, machine drivable. Everything had to be easy, quick and easy. And so what I did was I took the demographic and the moms that were buying my toy solution.

And I said, Hey, let me test this idea. We miniaturized it for the. Matt. We started with a 60 inch, which is really quite big. And we miniaturized it for our own kids because we worked at home and we said, Hey, we want to go out. We did go out. We took our kids everywhere, traveled a lot and out to dinner, but we wanted a solution that we could go to the restaurant or on the tray table.

So we took that size, which was an 18 inch light and I padded and quilted it. And I thought, let’s market it and package it like Tiffany does. You put it into a nice little bag and let’s see what the moms think. So when we really got to focusing on we’ve shifted and pivoted from the play to it, and what I always say is Lego to lipstick.

We realized that it was much more of a mass market play, right? It wasn’t just for the demographic of, you had to have the toys you had to have the kids, every woman wants options and colors and sizes and fashion, and it changes. So that’s when we just kept organically growing and then brands like Sephora. They wanted to do a private label.

Costco. We were in every Costco in the United States and Mexico. They all came to us and said, Hey, you guys have this really innovative, patented solution that we’ve never seen on the market before. It’s a bag that lays flat and we want to do..

[00:08:44] Natasha: Did they do a white label or did they use Lay-n-Go?

[00:08:49] Amy: They used Lay-n-Go. But what we did was we did create exclusive patterns for them. So that was really fun too, to be able to work with their teams.

[00:08:58] Natasha: I don’t want to spend too much time on this second follow-up question. But are you developing or have you developed other things?

[00:09:07] Amy: We’re always developing. My husband and I are, I think at heart, we are those artistic minds. We work well together, but we also are both right and left brain thinkers so we can understand the business and being profitable and all of what goes into running a business. But we also, I think in our real hearts are designers and we love to design and develop. So we’re always designing. And as a consumer and as a mom, I’m always looking at what’s the next problem that I’m bumping into.

And I just went down the line. I started with the toys. I developed the Cosmo, which is for makeup. We have a nail solution. I have a pet solution. So I had the same problem with my pets. Nothing that was portable, washable easy for when we took our dog traveling. And what we’re looking at right now is an iteration of our current cosmetic bag Cosmo, a 20 inch, but it transforms into a bucket bag.

[00:10:08] Natasha: So that’s a bag that can transform..

[00:10:14] Amy: Yes. So it’s a three in one, it can be a Lango and then it pulls out and becomes this bucket bag. So we’re working on that. We’re also working on a military solution, which is really fun. My husband grew up as a military kid and lived in England and traveled around with his parents.

He really understands the military and the needs. So we’re looking at how can we work with the military and take our innovative design and help the troops in the frontline.

[00:10:42] Natasha: So in entrepreneurship and when you think about niche businesses, the best thing to do is niche down, and it looks like the developments and the innovations that you’re thinking about are really parallel to the Lay-n-Go. You’re not off making something completely outside of that. Although, I can’t imagine that you won’t in the future, but was that a concerted effort that you thought, okay, we’re just going to really focus on this flat bag.

[00:11:14] Amy: Yeah. What we’ve always said to one another is, it’s like developing, we’ve had to educate our consumer on our brands and our, really our partners.

How do you educate people that come into the store? And we want them to say I’m here to buy a Lay-n-Go. And the definition of Lay-n-Go, like everybody knows what a Kleenex is, it’s really facial tissue. But when you say Kleenex, you know what it is. When you say Vaseline, it’s really petroleum jelly.

It’s not Vaseline, right? Those are branded. Everybody knows what that is. So our hope and our dream is that when you go into a store, you ask for a Lay-n-Go, it’s a bag that lays flat. That closes and cinches quickly to a bag. Excuse me, a mat that lays flat that quickly closes to a bag. So that’s what we’re trying to educate the consumer and our partners and the world on.

[00:12:06] Natasha: That is a brand deal breaker exercise. So you want to be the Xerox of that’s a verb, it’s a noun. So the next thing I want to talk about and have you teach me, and our listeners is about applying for patents. When did you do it? When should you have done it? What are the tips and tricks? And that will feed into protecting your US IP from offshore knockoffs.

[00:12:32] Amy: We’ve had an unfortunately that’s really been one of our challenges is how do we protect our intellectual property and all the work and the time in the years that we’ve spent designing and developing this idea, how do we keep it ours? And so I would say to any of your listeners out there, that the number one thing to do is to research, find a patent lawyer.

And as soon as you feel comfortable enough to put your resources and your money behind your idea, get that as a patent pending, as soon as you possibly can.

[00:13:04] Natasha: What are your basic fees?

[00:13:05] Amy: Upfront, it can be, their trademark fees and then there’s patent fees. And we have a trademark lawyer and a patent lawyer.

So there are different levels of how much protection do you want. And then there’s a design patent and there’s a utility patent. And those are very different. We went for the top of the top utility patent. And when you watch shark tank, that’s the first thing they ask you. Do you have a utility patent?

That’s the first thing they want to know. And so we went for the Gusto, which was a utility patent which is a little more expensive.

[00:13:32] Natasha: Are we talking like a hundred thousand dollars?

[00:13:37] Amy: No. Thousands of dollars, but it’s a process Natasha. So of course you start by submitting the first round and it is a process. We got rejection after rejection, and then you have to keep paying the lawyer to go back and tweak and fix and tweak and go back and submit, and then you get rejected again. And then you tweak and you look at it again and you submit.

[00:13:59] Natasha: Are you changing tiny little details that really are just a legality and not a real big differentiator?

[00:14:11] Amy: Yes. It’s all about the wording. And proving that it’s not so obvious. And that was a challenge for us, which we finally ended up getting the patent based on the fact that if it was so obvious, why is nobody doing it?

We got it based on commercial success and all through those years that we kept going back and forth. We kept building our business and building our sales and we could show them, Hey, in a million dollars of sales, we aren’t spending a million dollars in marketing. And so it was the numbers ultimately, and product is king.

Our products showed them, you’re right. It’s not on the market and is commercially successful.

[00:14:48] Natasha: You have three patents and one patent pending. Can you talk to us about those three patents and what they are specifically?

[00:14:55] Amy: The three patents are based on the original first patent. So what we did was we kept going back and adding more to the patent to make it deeper and broader and more secure, essentially. And then the fourth patent that’s pending is the new product that I was telling you about, which is not related as a totally different patent than the first three.

Yeah. So we got our first patent in 2015 and then our second patent in 2018 and our third patent in 2020. And we just submitted our fourth patent in 2020, hoping that we’ll be able to get within the next couple of years.

[00:15:28] Natasha: So the importance of patents as I’m learning right now, there’s two main things. One, if you’re looking for venture capital or any kind of capital.

They want to see that you’ve protected your idea. And then to really a patent isn’t worth anything until somebody tries to knock you off and you need to take them to court. So let’s talk about protecting your US IP from offshore knockoffs.

[00:15:52] Amy: Yes. So that was the first thing our lawyer said to us, by the way, which was back in 2011, 2011 when we submitted the non-provisional was when we said, oh, thank you so much.

We got it submitted. Where does this go now? And he said it’s going to be a wait and see and go back and forth. And then when you become really successful and this thing has legs and takes off, you’ll be back to see me again for protection, right? To go through the process of looking at who’s ripping you off.

And that’s exactly what happened so fast forward, and thank goodness, like you said to your listeners that we had the protection and we ended up getting the patent and more patents for deeper protection, but we haven’t had to go to the court process of it, but we have had to stop multiple sellers on different platforms.

That they would pop up and they were even using our name. They were using our images. My own children were used on packaging and my pictures were used on packaging when it first happened. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And now it’s just people will email me and say, Hey, do you know you’re on this and this isn’t here.

[00:17:04] Natasha: When somebody knocks you off in a different country and sells within that country and uses your children’s faces and the Lay-n-Go, if you have a US patent, how are you protected there?

[00:17:15] Amy: The one thing we did, and this was really, almost a game changer for us. We went through years and one of our largest channels was Amazon.

And they started a patent process called the patent neutral evaluation process. And thank goodness. We were invited as a beta to participate in this program. And what they do is you identify several infringers and you put up some money and it’s very, for small business, it’s like doable versus going into the court system and spending hundreds and thousands, maybe a million dollars on this, but you’ve put up a small amount.

You’re identifying as the infringers put up a small amount. If they want to, say, they’re not infringing. If they don’t put up the money, then they assume they’re infringing and they take them down immediately. And you go through a third party mediator and the third-party mediator. Basically decides your lawyer submits and their lawyer submits and the third party mediator that Amazon identifies reviews all the cases and then just turns yes, they’re infringing or no, they’re not.

So we ended up going through this. It was about a five month process and we won the case. For us, it was multiple selves. But it gets better because that was just the beginning. And it was only one part of your patent. So you only had to identify one thing in your patent that they were infringing on.

And what happened was they came back with a case number and said, you’ve won your case. Anybody that looks and as identified that you go through brand registry and submit that you think is infringing will be immediately removed and Natasha, within two weeks I had thousands of sellers removed.

[00:18:56] Natasha: Okay. Wow. So how did that increase or improve your sales and who is out there looking to see if somebody is emulating you or ripping you off completely?

[00:19:09] Amy: Well. So we have somebody in house now.

[00:19:12] Natasha: They’re full-time jobs?

[00:19:14] Amy: It’s a full-time job.

[00:19:15] Natasha: What is that called? What is that role called?

[00:19:20] Amy: She’s one of our channel managers, but she should be the channel police manager really. And the trick is it’s whack-a-mole. So there are on one platform, but then you go through brand registry and the removed and they jump to another platform and then they jumped to another one. And then they’re back on that one. So we’ve been really, it’s a such a sock of energy.

[00:19:40] Natasha: Have they landed on Alibaba?

[00:19:45] Amy: Oh, yeah. That’s, I would say.

[00:19:46] Natasha: I just read today in the newsletter, the hustle, some big Amazon take down. I didn’t read it in depth, but it seemed pretty like a big breaking story.

[00:19:57] Amy: They’ve had some issues. And fortunately for us, we were in that program and it’s been very helpful. And one thing I did want to mention was once I got that case, in that case number, I put together a whole program of what the case looked like and why we won. And I pitched it to the other platforms and big platforms I’m talking, when you think of their big competitors and three out of four of them said, you know what?

We agree. We will implement what they did.

[00:20:26] Natasha: But are they helping other sellers that aren’t as organized as you are?

[00:20:32] Amy: I spent a lot on the ground.

[00:20:33] Natasha: You don’t have the program. They just have you protected. So are people doing this on Etsy and are you going after even small individual mom and pop shops?

[00:20:41] Amy: We do follow, we try to follow where we can. It’s all important to us because it is our intellectual property and people need to know that we own that. And it was our blood, sweat, and tears that went into this and we’ve spent years training. It protected through the patents and it’s our right to say, we own that. That’s our idea. And you need to take it down.

[00:21:03] Natasha: So I know that you are a certified woman owned business, and we talked about that before. You have a product. I have a service, and I think that in all the research that I’ve done about how these certificates work in our favor, that it’s really great if you have a product. And it’s really great, if maybe you’re trying to sell to the government.

Talk to me about how that certificate works for you and how you work it.

[00:21:33] Amy: Yeah. So WBENC. For those that are wondering what we’re talking about, it’s Women Business Enterprise National Council, and they certify women owned businesses. And the way we’ve implemented it and used it is that they give us the certification as a logo.

And like you said, we have our product packaging. We have included in all of our product packaging. And I would say the best case and example I can give is that we’re currently in over a thousand Target stores. And we love to show that on all of our packaging. And we do feel like it is a differentiator.

So when somebody is walking down the aisle and see options of what they can buy and ours isn’t, again, we have to educate, right? It’s not the traditional cosmetic bag that’s tall and skinny and zips across the top. That’s not what you see when it’s hanging on the Target shelf. They have to stop and go, “What is that?” And then they see the woman owned emblem on our packaging, we hope that women that are interested in are looking for that cosmetic solution stop to not only look at our product, but also recognize that, Hey, I’d like to support a woman owned business. And I think that they do, I think that a lot of women, if they tune into that and they catch that, that they’ll appreciate that.

And even Target when we said, we are a woman owned, certified, and we planned to put that on our packaging, they were thrilled to have that as an added bonus.

[00:22:57] Natasha: And tell me if I’m wrong, but having that certification really helped you get in at Target because they’ve made a promise to fill some of their shelves with minority or diverse businesses, but consumers and you probably don’t track them.

What made you buy this bag? Was it the women owned business? You can’t really tell, can you.

[00:23:20] Amy: No, that’s a great question. And I wish I knew the answer to that, to be honest, but there are a lot of programs. And like you said, they have to fulfill those requirements. Those big companies, I was accepted again through WBENC, through a CVS executive program that I took, and it was a four month program.

And at the end you get to pitch CVS and their executive team. And it was a fabulous program that was a free service through WBENC. And I did pitch and I got accepted. I think there were 350 applicants and they only took 18.

[00:23:51] Natasha: Are you still carried in CVS?

[00:23:55] Amy: I am.

[00:23:56] Natasha: Great.

[00:23:57] Amy: So we got into CVS and so they were willing to test the product in 10 of their stores. And so we’re on the shelves being tested right now.

[00:24:07] Natasha: Perfect leading to my next question is to teach the listeners about how to go about getting into stores. So you didn’t have the women owned business certificate that made target go, oh yes. I’ll talk to you. There was something else that happened. So can you lead us up to how you get the attention of these outlets?

[00:24:31] Amy: Some people say, how do you do it? It does take time. We’ve been at this for 10 years and I would say we continue to organically grow. We continue to innovate. We listen to our customer. I think that’s number one. And for me, really I am the customer, right? I’m the one that had the problem and had the pain point that identified the need.

And so I am the one walking into Target, walking down the aisle, looking at products and I am the customer. So I always put myself in the customer’s shoes. When I go into stores, looking at where is it placed? How’s it placed? What are the colors? What are the trends? What are the price points? Where’s it positioned?

And I think when I start to talk to some of the buyers and it takes a lot.

We do it through trade shows. We do it through organizations, meeting through WBENC and EO and WPO. It’s all the various connections. And then we get picked up. So like Good Morning America. And we’ve been on the today show because of the story.

Do you have a publicist that’s pitching those outlets? Or are they finding you?

They’re finding us. I did have a PR firm when I started. And I think as we kept growing and you get into one store and then they go, oh, you’re in that store. Then if that store carries you, then we want to carry you. And so there’s this trickle down effect.

[00:26:07] Natasha: You know, something just came to mind is that I love these bags called Stasher. And earlier when you were talking, I was like, oh, wonder why Anthropology hasn’t done a collab with Lay-n-Go or even Spanx with Lay-n-Go like all these companies. I was already trying to create new business for you. And then I was thinking, oh, I see Stasher in Anthropology, strangely enough. It’s food storage.

I suppose you can put other stuff in there. But yeah, that was just a thought that came to mind and. They’re a fairly new company. And I’m just wondering, do you guys rely on a big salesforce? Do you rely on media, publicity? What is the secret to getting picked up?

[00:26:52] Amy: I think it’s all the above. We’ve tried a little bit of everything.

Some things work, some things don’t. We’ve had sales groups. We’ve had rep groups. We’ve been on QVC. We had a rep group through that. They found us QVC of all things at the toy fair in New York. So there was, how to go figure, right? And then they didn’t sell the toy. They sold the cosmetic bag. But I would say it’s a little bit of everything throughout the years.

And then I did want to go back to your collaboration idea because I love that. And we recently are working with a magazine, a beauty magazine and they had a client that had products. Guess what? That client that had multiple facial anti wrinkle so we’re working with them in collaborating on the magazine and the products. And we have the solution that holds the products.

[00:27:54] Natasha: It needs to be a little bit stronger material, but I was just trying to put these shelves up with my dad this weekend and finding something in the tool bag that isn’t like a hammer where it’s just easy to grab. It’s infuriating.

[00:28:09] Amy: So then I will add that too.

[00:28:11] Natasha: I’m sure guys, if we make an army green or camouflage, guys would love it.

So what challenge today this week, are you facing in trying to overcome in your business?

[00:28:26] Amy: Like I had mentioned earlier, our challenge is always intellectual property is protecting our intellectual property. I think that’ll be going until the day I die. Until my patent runs out. We’ve had a challenge in the past with tariffs.

So we started manufacturing in Pakistan and we moved to China. And then as everybody knows what happens with China, our tariffs went from 17% to over 40%. And when you’re making deals with some of these large companies, you can’t go back and say but hold on, my tariffs just changed. That doesn’t happen.

So that’s a big challenge. We ended up moving our manufacturing from China to Cambodia. But I would say today, one of the biggest challenges is really the supply chain in general.

[00:29:14] Natasha: Is that due to COVID or just in general?

[00:29:20] Amy: Due to COVID. So the factories have been closed and then they’re open and then they’re closed and then the workers are sick and then they’re closed again.

So you get that delay and then all the ports are backed up. So yet again, to get a territory..

What about the materials?

Absolutely. And the materials are still probably 90% of the materials was still made in China. So materials are made in one place and you’ve got to transport them to another place. And then that’s delayed. And then the factories are delayed and then the shipments are delayed and then the ports, they can’t get into the port.

We had a shipment before Christmas that was there. It was at the port when it was supposed to be, but it was on the boat outside of the port, cause it couldn’t get into the port for three weeks. It sat on the water.

[00:30:07] Natasha: I’m in the San Francisco bay area. And recently there was like the longest backup in the port of Oakland. Like in the whole world, we had the biggest backup and I can see the boats out on the water. Very interesting challenge to have to deal with.

In addition to that challenge, what are you focusing on this year to really scale and grow your company? Are there strategies that you’re really doubling down on?

We are. We saw a big shift this year due to COVID of the online purchasing, right? The stores to the online and not that all of our stores are so important and we are really focused on helping all those stores and praying that all those businesses open up and are healthy again and this year, but, and we are focusing on the online presence and avenues that we can Instagram and TikTok.

[00:31:04] Amy: Are you on TikTok?

[00:31:06] Natasha: We are.

[00:31:08] Amy: Do you dance around and point outward?

Yes. My husband and I have talks that have been pretty hilarious. So yes, we’ve done a few kind of interesting.

[00:31:21] Natasha: I’m looking at it right after we get done.

[00:31:24] Amy: Did your business increase or decrease due to COVID by end of last year?

It shifted, I would say it decreased in the beginning and then it increased. Q4 is always is our best quarter and no doubt. We’ve got a great gifting item and we always see our sales spike in Q4. So fortunately. We did see it again this year and more.

[00:31:46] Natasha: That’s what I was getting to with that shift to online buying. I wondered how that translated in revenue for you.

So do you have an exit strategy and if you do or don’t, did you even think about it when you started the company?

[00:32:01] Amy: I think we’re always thinking about an exit strategy. I do think that we’re in it for the long haul. My husband, I love what we do. We love working together. Our kids have been really involved and I think if somebody came along and we were offered the right price, there’s always an exit strategy. And we’re always planning on how do we build the sales and get it to that point that somebody would be interested in purchasing.

Absolutely, but we have a lot more to do. So we have a lot more ideas and a lot more product that we have been working on. So today I would say we’re not quite there, but yes. If the right opportunity came along, we certainly would probably not say no.

[00:32:45] Natasha: I asked the question recently, because I’m learning more and more about, even if you don’t ever want to sell your business, you should still run it as if you want to sell it. And of course, that’s good for you because you have more profit, but becoming an absentee owner, which seems like such a dirty word to me, like I’m not an absentee owner, but now I’m starting to try to become that. Not because I want to sell my business. I don’t have any near future plans to do that, but I want to be prepared and you should be prepared one to three years before you even sell.

And I’m learning this all from a friend in EO. It’s a question. I started my business 20 years ago and there was, I remember for so long people would say, “Would you ever sell?” And I’d be like, are you kidding me? I would never sell because it was really my identity. And now as I get older, a little more mature, I’m like, huh, I better start planning on making this business as profitable and self running as possible so that when the time comes that I want to, or have to, I’m ready.

This episode really got me thinking about solving for the day-to-day problems I encounter and wondering if I could actually develop a physical product and set the world on fire.

Thank you to Amy for educating and inspiring us. And for more information about her, please go to the show notes where you’re listening to this podcast.

For more information about me, go to my website, natashamiller.co. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

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