When it comes to business, I am shark bait

For the last few weeks my family has been watching Shark Tank reruns on CNBC. Other than one time, when the husband of a close friend of mine was in the Tank to secure a deal for his start-up, I’ve never really watched the show.

But these last few weeks of watching have made me a fan. And my favorite episodes are the ones where the hopeful entrepreneur comes in with a product that the Sharks initially harpoon, only to be biting one another in the end to win the deal (here’s looking at you, First Defense Nasal Screens).

While watching the show my husband will often comment on what he would have done differently had he been in the hopeful entrepreneur’s shoes. He’s been a successful salesman for 20 years, so winning skeptical people over is child’s play.

For me, the show reminds me of my own feeble attempts at becoming an entrepreneur.  Over the years I’ve come up with several business ideas that, at the time, I believed would be my escape from the daily grind. But what Shark Tank has shown me is that if any of these ideas ever came to fruition, I most likely would have drowned before I ever entered the tank.

Idea #1 – BeautyBiz

This was my idea to open my own beauty store and sell all the boutique skin care and makeup lines that I couldn’t easily acquire in my middle America town. It was the late-90s when online shopping was in its infancy and stores like Sephora were only found in France. So, I started writing a business plan, convinced a lender would happily jump on board with my vision to bring the best in beauty to our city.

There was a store like the one I wanted to open about two hours away. I remember making a field trip with my mom, spying on the business, taking notes on how I would do things differently (better lighting, sample stations throughout the store, highly informed and passionate sales associates who can answer any makeup or skin related question, a membership club for frequent shoppers, exclusive happy hour events to showcase new product lines, etc.). At this point I was certain I would put the Dillard’s Clinique counter out of business (take that, Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion!).

Given the fact I had no money or retail experience, in the end all I had to show for my beloved BeautyBiz was a large, 3-ring binder filled with pages I’d printed off from the Sephora website (most of which was in French), plus a spreadsheet of brands I called to find out their terms for new retailers (none of which I could meet). But that binder had fancy tabs and a great cover I’d made of beauty images glued together a la the Seventeen magazine mood boards from my bedroom in the 1980s.

I threw the binder away years ago, but I learned a few lessons from my first attempt at entrepreneurship. First, I still love makeup and will forever be a sucker for anything that says it’ll make me brighter, firmer or have longer lashes. Second, a 3-ring binder filled with pages printed off from a French beauty website is not the same thing as a business plan.

Idea #2 – Luxe for Less

I don’t consider an outfit complete without the right accessories. I love purses, shoes, scarves, and my favorite is jewelry. You’ll rarely catch me without it, even at the gym. So, what’s a gal to do when you are tired of the bling in your wardrobe but don’t have a lot of cash to spend on shiny new things? Call Luxe for Less!

This was my idea to have fellow fashionistas gather for an exclusive sale on one another’s classy, cast-off accessories. You’d bring items from your closet no longer in use and sell them to your most fabulous friends.

I dreamed that Luxe for Less would become the premier second-hand sale of the fashion industry. To test the water, I hosted the first Luxe for Less event at my house. I remember spending time coming up with just the right creative copy for the invitation:

Ladies!

Want a new bag but find that your budget can only afford a coin purse?

Then you need to get the Luxe for Less!

This Luxe for Less party is all about PURSES!! 

How it Works

Bring at least one or more bags from your wardrobe. The bags should be gently loved – meaning something you would still be seen in public with, but you’ve grown tired of carrying (not ready for the garage sale). 

Bags can be everything from designer to discount, clutches to carry-alls, diaper bags to duffles. 

But the best part of the marketing pitch was my bio at the end:

Leslee Stewart, an admitted accessory addict, is the instigator of Luxe for Less. My closet is bulging with accessories I once loved but have since forgotten, thanks to something new, better, brighter, or bling-ier.

My goal with Luxe for Less is to help my friends clean out their closets, go home with fabulous finds at a fraction of retail, and have fun!

I’m not sure what’s worse – the use of too many exclamation points, my obliteration of alliterations, or my bio that clearly needs to be read while using jazz hands. I was passionate about purses, people!

As with BeautyBiz, Luxe for Less fizzled out fast. I only held the one party – (exclusive!) – but I did walk away with a great Prada knock-off that my uber-stylish friend, Stephanie, brought to the soiree. I carried that purse for a few years but eventually the bag was more less than luxe, and I had to say goodbye.

Even though it never amounted to more than a few pages of marketing copy and a happy hour, I had fun dreaming how my designer consignor party was going to take the world by storm, one accessory at a time.

Idea #3 – Organikins

My friend, Heather, is a very creative person. She can see an idea in a high-end decorating magazine and magically make her home look the same with some extra yards of fabric, a staple gun and trip to Goodwill. She also has a degree in printmaking and is a fabulous artist.

At the time this business idea sprouted, we were both new moms and were inspired by the growing trend for organic baby food, diapers and toxic-free bottles. One day over lunch, we came up with the idea of creating organic baby clothing that promoted a green lifestyle like recycling and using energy efficient light bulbs. (Insert eyeroll here.)

Our plan was simple. Heather would develop the designs, source the materials and print out the designs on onesies and t-shirts using her old college silk screening tools. I would handle writing our business plan, marketing the product and convincing my brother-in-law to design a free website.

We hit the ground running. Heather found an organic baby clothing supplier and printed up a few onesies. I found a sample business plan online, modified it, came up with clever marketing copy, and took my brother-in-law to Panera for a free lunch. Because what says you should do me a solid and build my website for free more than the You-Pick-2-Combo?

In the end, it never amounted to more than a few onesies that my baby wore. My brother-in-law was nice and appreciated the lunch, but in the end, he declined due to “real” clients and “bills” to pay. Heather eventually packed up her silk screening materials and we said goodbye to our Organikins dream. Our shirts may not have been a bright idea, but that baby of mine sure was!

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Idea #4 – DinoMom

The last business venture I explored came about after a girls’ weekend in Austin. I’d gone to visit my best friend from college, Kelly. We spent Saturday shopping stores along South Congress Avenue and came upon an art festival filled with vendors and unique items. One of the vendors was selling these awesome plastic dinosaurs they had upcycled into a succulent planter. I fell hard for these plastic t-rexes and triceratops, so I happily paid $15 to bring one home to my sons.

When I got back, I decided I could make the same thing and maybe give them as birthday gifts to the boys’ friends. Because of course, most 6-year-olds want their own plant to take care of.

I found the plastic dinos at Wal-Mart in the dollar bin and bought one. I then hit up Home Depot to get a plant. I nearly cut the tip of my finger off trying to carve out a hole on a velociraptor’s back, but I persevered. I painted him purple and created a little tag that I tied to his neck explaining what kind of plant it was and how to care for it.

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Dinotag

I decided to debut my first DinoMom creation at the birthday party of friend’s son. I carefully wrapped up the planter in a gift bag and added a $10 Target gift card, just in case the kid started crying when he opened it. I’m not sure what the boy thought of the gift, but his mom loved it. In fact, several of the moms thought it was a great idea. And that’s how I found myself with an order for 5 more dino planters. Immediately, I flashed forward in my mind and saw myself in a booth at a craft fair, just like the one I visited in Austin. I was ready to do this!

I went to Wal-Mart the next week to buy some more dinos for the order, only they were sold out. I tried a few other stores near me, but no luck. I called my mom back in Oklahoma to complain about the lack of dinosaur inventory. She offered to see if her local store had any. The next day she called me to say she’d found some and would be mailing them within the week. Hurray! My business wasn’t going to be shuttered after all!

About a week later, a large box arrived in the mail. I saw it was from my mom, so I naturally assumed it was the dinosaurs she’d located. I opened it, expecting maybe seven or eight animals. Instead, I found a box full of dinosaurs, horses, lions, tigers and yes, even bears. Oh my! There had to be 50 plastic, dollar bin animals in the box.

I called my mom.

“Hey there. Noah’s Ark arrived today,” I joked. “I appreciate you doing that, but I only needed a few.”

“I know you only needed a few,” she replied, “But my local store only had a couple. So, I called your aunt, and she found the rest of them in her Wal-Mart. I didn’t want you to run out, so we bought you all we could find.”

I love my mom, but I should have expected it. She is a graduate of the “more is more” philosophy. Oh, and she has a master’s degree in “Don’t throw that out. I’m saving it for a project I want to make.”

I made the dinos for my friend’s order, but after that, I kind of lost interest. There was something about that excess animal inventory that zapped my desire to make any more. For months, the box of plastic toys sat in a closet in our guest bedroom. Every time I’d open the door, I’d see the word “DINOS” scratched in Sharpie on the side of the box, reminding me my business was like those toys – extinct.

It took a move to another state to finally make me get rid of them. I donated them to Goodwill along with the rest of my closet clean-out items.

I like to think that maybe, some other mom out there found that pile of dinos at Goodwill and it sparked an idea to create something new and begin her own business.

My journey to almost entrepreneurship showed me that, while I may have a few bright ideas, it takes hard work, determination and relentless drive to make a business succeed. My business ideas? They were dead in the water before they even left land. At least I didn’t have to brave the Tank to find out.