“Eureka!” When it hits, your life can change forever. Jen Groover’s “eureka” moment had her dumping out her bag, and inserting the dishwasher cutlery tray. It wasn’t the first time she dumped out her bag – but it was the last. A new mother of twins, Groover struggled with her suddenly ample cargo, including two car seats. She’d be in grocery store lines, trying in vain to find her debit card: “I had to dump out my whole bag out on the conveyor belt,” she recalls, “I couldn’t believe innovation hadn’t come further.” “I always wanted and believed there was a way to see the whole bag without emptying it out.”
Enter inspiration – disguised as the dishwasher.
“I was unloading the dishes, and suddenly I noticed all the forks, knives and spoons standing up, each individually visible.” Groover quickly removed the dish tray and stuck in her bag, thinking “there it is! This is it!” Greek for “I have found it,” the expression “eureka!” is attributed to Archimedes, contemplating the water level rising as he sat in his bathtub. He suddenly understood the principle of displacement, and modern physics is forever in his debt. He was so excited, he ran through the streets of Syracuse, completely naked. Groover’s “eureka” was similar – except for the nudity part. It did, however, prominently feature a household appliance. That’s the funny thing about inspiration – those who have experienced it know you can’t predict when, or what form it will take. That night, Groover barely slept. She skipped bed and went straight to her computer, where she researched bags with compartments. To her delight and very great surprise, they didn’t really exist. “I kept saying to myself, ‘I can’t believe no one has thought of this,’” says Groover, “that’s the post-it theory in a nutshell.” The post-it note theory: if you keep wondering how it’s possible something doesn’t already exist, you’ve got a viable product on your hands. It’s an indication that there’s an obvious need for your prospective product. Just because something seems obvious, doesn’t mean it exists. Groover was right – there was a need. Her company, The Butler Bag LLC, became a multi-million dollar company less than two years later, and is still being tracked as one of the world’s fastest-growing handbag brands.
Taking on the old boys’ club
Of course, success requires more than a single eureka moment. Groover says her immediate circle of friends and colleagues was very supportive…but that was it. “There were plenty of naysayers in the (handbag) industry,” recalls Groover. They had done things the same way for so long, and figured there was no need to innovate, or mess with what they thought was a good thing. After all, women love their handbags…don’t they? “The industry was all made up of men, oddly enough.” The handbag industry – specifically, the men who dominated it – didn’t exactly welcome Groover’s ideas with open arms. “It was an old boys’ club,” says Groover. “They’d been around forever. Any new vision just threatens their territory.” In situations like that, complacency sets in all too easily. They feel they know their consumers, but in fact they’ve lost touch. The world – and their market – changes. How do you break down those barriers? Hard, consistent work, says Groover: “I went out on my own, first to prove the idea works, then to prove consumer demand, before industry recognizes.” It helps to consider things positively. Where there is an old boys’ club disconnected from the market, there is an obstacle – but also a tremendous opportunity. Capitalism, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Filling a need, or indeed a vacuum, is hard work – not to mention the full-time duties of raising twins. How did Groover deal with both? “It was tough,” she says with smile, “and it gets harder.” Kids and companies are somewhat similar – the bigger they get, the more time they require. Groover’s twins are almost five. They have their own social calendars: gymnastics, parties, you name it. As Butler Bags took off, so did her own calendar. How does she manage her time? “I don’t cut back on either work or my kids,” says Groover, “if I’m not working, I’m with my kids, or vice versa.” She found other ways to make or cut back on time. “I don’t chit-chat just to chit-chat, I don’t go out for coffee just because, there are no random dinners with friends,” says Groover, “I make sure I go to important moments –birthdays, weddings, that sort of thing – but I don’t just ‘hang out.’”
Groover is also quick to point out there’s more to commercial success beyond just getting your product in the marketplace – a lot more. Groover harnessed the power of fame. Getting her product in celebrity hands was one of the first things she set out to do. “My publicist showed it to a woman who owned a celebrity gift bag company,” recalls Groover. “She loved it, and wanted to use them for the Miami Vice movie premiere.” Celebrity gift bags are only free for the celebrities. For vendors, it’s an investment, and not a cheap one at that. Groover was asked to donate 75 bags for the event, and had to provide her own travel. That’s not insignificant, especially for a start-up. Was it worth it? “It was an amazing success,” exclaims Groover. At the Miami Vice premiere and similar events that followed, she met with a lot of different celebrities and “created that momentum.” That’s hardly the end of the story. So many products end up in celebrity hands with precious few results, because there’s no follow-up. Celebrity “approval” (it’s not endorsement unless they’re explicitly recommending the product, reminds Groover) is a tremendous opportunity, but just that – an opportunity. “If you don’t leverage that chance, you can’t just sit back and collect money,” says Groover, “that’s where the work actually begins.” How do you leverage celebrity? It opens doors. Stores don’t necessarily want to risk precious shelf space on an unknown product and company. The media isn’t obligated to accept and support you out of the gate. The sooner you realize this, says Groover, the better. Pictures of celebrities with your product are just another way to get seen.
A true MOMeo
Groover is a true mompreneur. To many others, Butler Bag and its undeniable success would be an end in itself. She sees it as yet another opportunity to take advantage of; a springboard product. From brand management deals to a development line, a launchers cafe, a book coming out, and TV shows in development, Jen Groover is its own brand. She is a natural entrepreneur, and had many patents before Butler Bag hit it big. Still, she credits one simple fact for her original idea: motherhood. “Every woman gets frustrated with her purse, but becoming a mother of twins placed severe limits on my time – it became intolerable.” In that respect, Groover sees Butler Bag as a symbol. Making existing things better is always the best idea: “It doesn’t have to be rocket science, just something better than before, says Groover.” “Simple innovation is best.” As Groover says, you can learn anything, and you can do anything. You can hire people for everything else. Read the update on Jen Groover Now!