Female Defense Products
Madison Ryffel graduated from college in May but unlike many of her fellow classmates she’s not worried about finding a job. She already has not one, but two, online businesses both well on their way to success.
In February, Ryffel launched her first enterprise – Fort Worth-based Female Defense Products, a line of non-lethal self-defense items primarily for women – before she finished her degree in entrepreneurial management from the M.J. Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University.
The 22-year-old businesswoman comes by everything entrepreneurial naturally. Her father, Jim Ryffel, is founder and president of Woodcrest Capital LLC, a Fort Worth commercial real estate investment and venture finance firm. He earned his MBA from TCU. Brothers Travis, also a TCU grad, and Hunter started their own businesses at early ages.
“I started as a kid, at about 6, with a lemonade stand in front of our house. I knew from an early age about being an entrepreneur,” she said. “I like selling. I hope to be successful. I’m doing well so far. I got so much positive feedback when I launched the business. I’m being told this is what people are looking for, especially parents.”
The concept for a self-defense company for women came about when Ryffel was challenged with creating a company and writing a business plan for it in one of her classes.
Two years ago she dropped a night class because she didn’t feel safe walking home. She said she had never thought about carrying pepper spray or mace with her for protection. After her father gave her some pepper spray they began talking about starting a business to provide safety and proactive defense for women, in particular college students. Twenty-five percent of females are sexually assaulted while in college, Ryffel said, referencing several nationwide studies, including a report in The New York Times. She says self-defense is the best way to prevent and reduce sexual assaults.
“Nothing bad has happened to me,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case for all people. I have several friends who’ve had a sexual assault encounter. One of my friend’s mother was sexually assaulted when she was a student at TCU. You hear about Baylor and UT – it goes on everywhere.
“You don’t think it will happen to you or someone you know but it does. The sad truth is that you can’t rely on the police to protect you, so you should have the tools to secure your safety and to defend yourself if necessary. Our mission is to help reduce crimes against women.”
Ryffel spent several months researching numerous defense companies and products as well as determining who her competitors were and what her competitive advantage might be.
“I wanted my company to be more personal than just a website,” she said. “I wanted it to be about me, in part, and that I have a college lifestyle experience.”
Female Defense Products features 30 to 40 affordable, discreet items that women can use to protect themselves, whether at home or at work, on campus, or while out shopping or exercising. Products include pepper sprays, stun guns, mace sprays, defense keychains, door jammers and tasers.
“These products aren’t necessarily just to prevent sexual assault. They’re not just directed toward women,” Ryffel said. “They can be used against dogs or snakes or bees – even for Realtors and runners, women and men. My target market is college students. But it’s really more for the parents who are going to protect their daughter going off to college.”
Ryffel works out of a small office near the TCU campus that doubles as warehouse space for inventory. Because each product is small, she doesn’t need a large warehouse. She handles all the orders and the shipping herself.
The hardest part of operating the business, she says, is the marketing.
“How do I get people aware of the business? People can’t buy if they don’t know about it,” she said.
Figuring out how to differentiate her self-defense company led Ryffel to start her second business – Ninety Fours – in April, again before she had even been handed her college diploma.
“My dream has always been to have a storefront,” she said. “When I was going to gun shows I had to think about what would set my products apart. What would attract women to my table? Of course, clothes and jewelry.”
Ninety Fours is an online women’s clothing boutique (www.ninetyfours.com) featuring casual to dressier pieces, including blouses, T-shirts, dresses, pants and shorts. Ninety Fours offers affordable prices and free shipping.
The boutique’s name is a reference to the year she was born – 1994.
“It’s been a huge hit. It’s been rocking. It’s already doing as well as Female Defense Products. I’m having so much fun with it,” she said.
Business is booming, Ryffel says, because of word-of-mouth advertising and marketing through social media. Friends help model the clothes and then post pictures on Instagram and other social media sites.
“The problem with clothing stores is the high inventory,” she said. “I’m successful because I have low inventory and quick turnover.”
Ryffel is busy building both businesses and has a long-term goal of opening brick-and-mortar storefronts.
“I’m really motivated with these businesses. I like doing things for people. With clothing, it’s helping people shop for the best bargain. With Female Defense, it’s helping women protect themselves, maybe even saving a life,” Ryffel said.
“Some say because I’m a millennial I’m lazy and don’t want to work, that I have no motivation. I’m not like that. I’ve had a hard-work ethic instilled in me. I owe it all to my parents. I hope to pass that on to my own children.”