“I knew I’d never use it unless I could find a way to organize my things,” Crook says. After searching fruitlessly for a purse organizer, she sat down with pen and paper and designed exactly what she wanted: a pouch-like purse organizer with outside pockets for pens, sunglasses, mobile phone, credit cards, keys and other small items, inside pockets for lipsticks or small flashlights, zippered pockets for change and personal items and inside dividers that keep it all in one compact space.
Crook, who doesn’t sew, bought some fabric and enlisted the help of a friend to make the prototype, which worked exactly as planned. Then a friend who’d had some purses made in China offered to introduce Crook to her manufacturer, and thus was Pouchee born.
“I ordered 2000 Pouchees for $1500 using the prototype,” Crook says. “I thought that would be a lifetime supply, but they all sold within the first month.” The selling part was hard for Crook. “I am not a salesperson, but I had to do it even though it scared me to death,” she says. “I remember walking into stores in fear and trembling, wondering what I’d do if the store buyer didn’t like my product.”
“Fortunately, my husband is a phenomenal salesperson, and he was very helpful from the beginning. He gave me a lot of encouragement and pushed me out the door. Sometimes he’d even go with me.”
Crook says she’s been very blessed from the beginning. “Every single store I went to for months bought from me,” she notes. “We went to numerous cities, including Charleston, Columbia and Charlotte. “Some of the stores that bought from me called before I’d even left town to ask if I could bring more because they had already sold out.”
This success gave Crook a lot of confidence in her product. “When you know you’ve got something that’s helpful to people, it’s easier to say, ‘This will sell in your store and help your customers,’” she notes.
Crook began manufacturing in 2005. Within five years sales were in the multi millions. The first year Crook got Pouchee into 60 stores. Now they’re in nearly 2000 worldwide, including Chile, Ireland and Canada. “I was almost 60 when I started this,” Crook laughs. My mother said, ‘I thought this was going to be a nice little hobby.’ I said, ‘Yeah, me, too!’”
Shortly after Crook began selling Pouchees, she found storeowners all asked her the same question: “Are you going to market?” “Here in the South, that means the Americas Mart in Atlanta,” Crook explains. “I knew I had to go, so I booked space in the first show I could get into, which was about four months after I started selling.”
At the time, the Pouchee came in one material and three colors. “The first time we went to market was a little difficult, but we managed to triple our business and get noticed,” Crook says. “We picked up a rep group there and started really growing from that point on, when going to market became a major piece of our marketing strategy.” Crook now has reps that do gift shows in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas as well as Atlanta.
“Rep groups are the only way to reach the countrywide market without having a sales staff that travels with me, and that’s a lot more expensive,” Crook observes. “My first rep came to me because the buyer for a store that was selling Pouchees told her rep group about me. They came and asked we were willing to let them sell our products.”
In addition to rep groups, Crook uses social media extensively to market her line. “We use everything—Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Amazon,” Crook says. “We’ve also used PR companies in the past, hiring different kinds for different reasons, some for seasonal promotions and others for more contract-type PR.”
Crook originally shipped products from her home’s garage. Once the business grew to where we couldn’t fit one car in our three-car garage, it was time to move. Though she still orders some Pouchees from her first manufacturer, today Crook uses more than one factory because product sales outstripped the first factory’s capacity.
“When I started with China in 2005, things were super cheap,” says Crook. “Their economy was just starting to build, so you could get good quality and good pricing.” Now the middle class is growing and they are doing quite well economically, so it’s not necessarily the best place to get good pricing anymore, but it’s still a major player because of infrastructure. “I can get fabric, hardware and labor there,” Crook says. “We’re not opposed to having products made in other places, including the U.S., but I can’t even get anyone here to give me a quote because our products are very labor intensive and detailed.”
Crook plans to add more organizational products to her line. “We’ve changed our tagline from ‘the ultimate purse organizer’ to ‘fashionably functional solutions for women,’” she says. “We want to solve problems. Purse organization was just a start. We want to get into travel organizers, products for mommies, work and play—everywhere a woman needs help keeping her life organized.”