It feels like yesterday when Jared and I were at the Housewares Trade Show in Chicago, IL. I was running down the aisle in four-inch heels, running after a buyer who was wearing a Home Depot name badge. I couldn’t let him see me chasing him down the aisle, but thought this was my only chance to show this person our invention. He had hurried past our booth as Jared was talking with another retailer. I didn’t get a chance to stop Home Depot as he was passing, by so I took off after him. Once I passed him, I stopped and started to look around, pretending I was looking for someone. As he approached me, I was able to read his first name and called out to him by his name. He looked up and I said: “Can I please show you my invention?” Technically, it wasn’t my invention, but it sounded good and I’m married to the inventor so it’s kind of the same thing, right? He listened to my pitch, said it was a great idea, but he is not the buyer for that area. I said: “No problem, but you may know someone that knows someone, do you mind if I grab your card and follow up with you?” Done! It was that simple, I finally had some name and some email address of someone at Home Depot.
It was a good start.
After the show, I followed up with my contact. Unfortunately he didn’t know who to refer me to, and I was back at square one. However, we didn’t give up. In the following months, we met many other buyers at trade shows. We made connections at The Container Store, The Grommet, Brookstone and more, and collected enough business cards to get started.
During May 2014, we decided to attend the Hardware Show in Vegas because that’s where all the big-name stores – including Home Depot, Ace Hardware and Do It Best – go. To my surprise, I ran into a high school friend who just appeared on Shark Tank. After I said hello, his Home Depot buyer came by and I was able to get another Depot business card. I again followed up and – ding, ding, ding – we had a winner. I was introduced to the picture-hanging buyer Christopher (who is no longer in that department). Christopher requested a sample and I remember telling Jared: “It’s now all up to you. I chased, I emailed, I called, I followed up, I pitched, I sent pricing and now the sample is on its way and now it’s all in your hands of your invention. The decision is now on product”.
Two weeks later, Jared and I were making breakfast when my phone beeped. It was an email from Christopher. I thought this was it we were in like Flynn. Instead the reply read something like this: “Thank you for the sample great product, but I am no longer in charge of the picture hooks department.” I seriously wanted to cry. After all that work, he got moved and his position wasn’t replaced. But I didn’t stop there. I suggested placing our product online and he responded pretty quickly with the person in charge. To make my story short, I contacted that person and a few weeks later, she got moved. I was back to square one yet again, until a new person came on and finally put our product on HomeDepot.com. That process took 6 months. The entire process from start to finish was 14 months before we saw Hang-O-Matic on homedepot.com.
Needless to say, we were overjoyed to have started the journey with Home Depot. But as the weeks went on, there weren’t any orders. Then again, how could there be? It wasn’t like there was a huge billboard on the freeway that said Hang-O-Matic was available on Homedepot.com. Jared had invented a product that didn’t yet exist, so a customer wouldn’t know to visit Home Depot website in order to buy it.
We needed to make things happen in order to prove to the store buyer that it would sell. We did a few targeted Facebook ads to get things moving and, sure enough, orders started pouring in.
Another two years passed, and I found a new buyer who would never write me back. We had proof of sales online, we had proof of sales in other stores, and didn’t understand why the new buyer wasn’t responding. In mid-2016, we were presented with an opportunity to get Hang-O-Matic into another big box store.
We decided to sell our dream home to keep funding our business, rather than take on an investor that would only act as a bank account. We moved to a new city and, our next-door neighbor stopped by to say hello. It just so happened she was a manufacturer’s rep. She said she had a close relationship with Home Depot and could help get our product in there. It was music to our ears, and what were the odds that our new neighbor would be a rep? A few weeks went by and, again, there was no response.
Now let’s fast-forward another six months. Jared decided on a hunch to email the new buyer who ignored me. Within minutes, he received a response. It said: “How soon can you come to our corporate office for a presentation?”
The thing we learned from this experience is that buyers have a high turnover and they don’t make product changes in their department every day. It’s all about the space and when they’re reworking their shelves. It’s all about the timing. If Jared hadn’t gotten that bug to message the new buyer himself, we would have missed it. It was the perfect day, the perfect time, and perfect weather. He flew to Home Depot headquarters and presented the Hang-O-Matic to 10 people around a table. He had printed a power point, which wasn’t really used and flew home back to the waiting game of the decision, which took another month. From there, it took another eight months to receive 18 PO’s.
It was long three full years from start to finish. We never gave up and continued to follow up. If you want something bad enough, write it down and focus on your goal.