Maria Messier was two weeks from her due date when she couldn’t zip her winter coat. “None of my outwear fit, and I refused to purchase an expensive maternity coat that would only be used for a few short months,” she remembers. She made due with her husband’s coat, but started to wonder what could be done to make it easier for women to wear their own outerwear while pregnant.
Later, when she was pregnant with twins, she shared her conundrum with her aunt, Joanne Frank. Frank was a designer with more than 40 years in the fashion industry, and she started to prototype and test a jacket extender, the Extendher. Together they developed an extension panel that could be worn during pregnancy or for babywearing comfort.
Along with figuring out how to target customers, the pair faced major challenges regarding manufacturing. Frank and Messier wanted to keep production in the United States, and they struggled to find a manufacturer who would take on a small job.
Together, they looked to SCORE for guidance. “We realized very early on that there is no ‘magic black book’ on how to run a business. Often times, it is trial and error," Messier recalls.
“We knew we had an amazing product, but had found it difficult to turn it into true business, rather than a hobby,” Messier remembers. And the expenses required to transform an idea to a product left the pair with little to spend on consultants. “The fact that SCORE mentorship is offered at no cost is truly a blessing. We are so fortunate because we have had four mentors all come to offer their insight and valuable knowledge,” she says.
Messier attended online workshops about online reviews and growing blog subscriber lists, which prompted her to start following up with customers to ask them to write a review. The pair also worked with several mentors who each shared their expertise on a particular subject.
On the product side, mentor Tom Evans helped Extendher evaluate price points and made suggestions for a new price structure. “We have since changed it and are very happy with our decision,” Messier says. Mentor Ken Moore helped Extendher connect with local business journals, and Don Finney encouraged Messier and Frank to seek a wholesale specialist to work with big-box stores.
“We surpassed 2015’s sales numbers and are about to enter our strongest quarter,” Messier said in October 2016. She says all the mentors’ suggestions the team has followed through with have all been successful. Extendher was a national finalist in the 2016 American Small Business Champion competition.
In 2015, they reported $7,000 in sales, and after winning the Championship in 2016, their sales skyrocketed to $23,300—a 330% increase!
Messier says, “I look to SCORE as not only a sounding board to present ideas to, but also a safe place to brainstorm and troubleshoot with.”