I interview a lot of people for this column, but the ones that are the most fun are the down-to-earth, gritty types that sniff out a shot at success and pounce.
Krista Woods, a mompreneur from Ashburn, Virginia, literally did that with her business, which involves smelly athletic wear. She has used persistence and a knack for sound bites to launch herself and her product on NBC’s “Today” show and QVC cable shopping network.
Her company, GloveStix, removes the stink from hockey and lacrosse gloves, baseball mitts, shoes, skates – you name it.
The quotable mother of three – among the fastest talkers I ever interviewed – mortgaged the house, drained her son’s college savings account, gave up a big chunk of income and spent the last two years pursuing the business.
She grew up in leafy McLean, Virginia, the resourceful granddaughter of the founder of the area’s Koons auto dealerships. The self-described “normal person” tried community college, but is quick to assert that she has always worked for a living and does not have the financial resources that some of her relatives have.
“I have worked for every dime,” she said.
GloveStix reminds me of one of the late-night Ron Popeil infomercials for a Pocket Fisherman or a smokeless ash tray. But Woods’ step-by-step mission of inventing her de-stinker could be a how-to on start-ups.
“It’s a lot harder than you think it is, and you have to be persistent,” the 42-year-old said.
We’re talking about 15-hour drives to a Florida lacrosse tournament that ended in a rain-out. Or making a trip to the biggest lacrosse convention on the planet only to see it get canceled by a blizzard. This is a mom who quit her six-figure job before there was any sign that the new venture could work, who endured endless turndowns by manufacturers and retailers.
“My dad always raised me to work hard and to never quit,” she said. Starting a business is “a constant leap of faith. You really have to dig deep at times.”
GloveStix are a couple of air-holed plastic tubes the size of big cigars that are connected by a rope. A scented insert bag goes inside each tube, which then is placed inside shoes, gloves or whatever, where they absorb moisture and kill that smell.
The gritty tale begins in July 2014 when Woods; her husband, Chris, and her 13-year-old son Jackson – “the Master of Stink himself,” she said – were on their way home from a lacrosse tournament in New Jersey.
There was a “huge stink party in the back seat, and I was tired of being invited,” Woods said. (Now you get why “Today” put her on TV.)
“I just couldn’t take it any more. I reached in the back seat, grabbed his (lacrosse) gloves and said to Chris: ‘It’s these. They just stink.’ “
That launched a discussion in the car spanning three states, dissecting the world of smelly sports gear.
When they got back to Ashburn, Krista jumped on the Internet and started researching what to do about the odor-causing bacteria that breed in athletic gear and bags filled with sweat. The answer: Suck up the moisture.
Her husband went to Home Depot for some tubes and built prototypes in the garage, the plastic tubes connected by paracord, a nylon rope used with parachutes.
She searched thousands of patents online, using keywords having to do with sports odor, smell, whatever. She asked a patent-attorney friend for help. By Sept. 18, 2014, she had filed for a provisional patent.
They thought up the name GloveStix and registered the domain name through GoDaddy.com.
She then pored through the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, emailing and calling companies within 300 miles, looking for someone who could mass produce her prototype.
Through various friends and contacts, they found a company to manufacture the replacement bags with an exact mixture – her secret sauce – to fix the smell problem.
By January 2015, Woods found a company called DA International Group. One of DA’s specialties is helping firms get their products manufactured in China. Woods took $20,000 from her son’s college fund to order 1,500 prototypes.
She then began shopping the contraption to lacrosse and hockey retail stores. She started a branding effort on Facebook and Instagram pages, amassing 600 followers and 50 pre-orders from customers who wanted to use them for everything, including Ugg boots to elbow pads.
The constant obsession with GloveStix shredded her 50 percent share of the family income. Her husband would work at his auto dealership job during the week and spend weekends helping with GloveStix, driving hundreds of miles to sports events to find customers.
“It was becoming a huge sacrifice and burden on our family,” Woods said. “The cost was rising monthly. This fun side business was actually turning into work, but at this point I was financially invested and there was no turning back.”
The first 1,500 units began arriving last June. After fulfilling the pre-orders, they filled their SUV with the makings of a pop-up store (tents, display stands) and three kids, then drove to Williamsburg on the first of several family working trips.
Their first sale was at 7:52 a.m. to a dentist who stopped by the tent before it was even fully set up. He even helped teach them how to operate the hand-held Square charge card reader.
The last year has been spent increasing the GloveStix’s profile, with road trips as far away as Minnesota and Florida. If an event is canceled, they still drive around, cold-calling hockey and lacrosse shops to pick up new retail outlets or just meet new customers.
Sales have tripled since she won a start-up competition called “Next Big Thing” last month on the “Today” show. The competition included a follow-up appearance on QVC.
The real upside of this business, if it survives, lies in the refill bags filled with the odor-soaking secret sauce. Those cost $7.95, and should be replaced every 90 days.
The plastic GloveStix cost $29.99.
If Woods can get enough people hooked on GloveStix, that could spawn a demand for the filler bags. And that demand could create a stream of recurring revenue.
Woods has sold 8,966 units so far, including 6,884 in the last month following her TV appearances. Those numbers far exceed her first-year goal of 3,000. The gross sales from all the units is around $160,000. She has sold 2,558 refills as well.
Woods estimates she has spent $63,000 of her own money in the last year. She recently took out a $70,000 home equity loan to invest in the business.
I asked her what advice she would give to would-be entrepreneurs.
“Things are going to go wrong, and it’s how you overcome them,” she said. “I am confident and fearless in my ability, but I am fearful of failure. So I am cautious, relentless in my research, and I am pragmatic.”
And also this: “I am smart enough to know what I don’t know so I am humble enough to ask a ton of questions.”