[quote style=”boxed”]I try not to look at things as failures. Every time things don’t work out as planned I see it as a learning experience. Sure I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I try to learn from them for the next time I am faced with that situation.[/quote]
Anita Crook never dreamed of owning her own business. For most of her adult life she was a stay-at-home wife, mother, volunteer worker and ministry leader. In 2004 Crook was quickly approaching 60. By now her two sons were married, and she was busy planning her husband, Gene’s and her new home, helping him part-time with his business while waiting expectantly for grandchildren.
Then it happened…no, not the grandchildren, the idea that would catapult Crook into a life of commerce and industry. It all began with a gift. You see Crook was an organizer purse fanatic, and she would spend hours searching the stores for the perfect purse. It had to have all the right pockets, not because she was such an organized person, but Anita Crook was a self-proclaimed impatient soul. Horrible at waiting, Crook wanted to be able to get her hands on her phone, pen, lipstick or whatever she needed at the time she needed it. There was only one problem. Once she got her purse totally organized she wasn’t about to change purses no matter how badly it clashed with her outfit. That was way too much trouble. So what was this gift? Why a great, trendy California bag WITH NO POCKETS, given in love by her son for Christmas. Crook received the gift with grace, all the while knowing that she would never use it. But she really liked it, and couldn’t get it out of her mind. “If I could only find a way to organize this bag I would use it,” Crook thought. Eventually she began to sketch and soon she had a design for what she believed to be the perfect way to organize this bag.
That was when she hit her next hurdle. Crook couldn’t sew. This problem was solved however, while visiting with a sick friend. It seemed her friend’s daughter sewed, and the first POUCHEE was made. Almost incidentally, she mentioned to Crook that she knew someone who had bags made overseas and that she might want to speak with her. Crook did, and the next thing she knew there were 2,000 POUCHEES coming in from China.
Seven years later Crook is selling Pouchees in almost 1,600 stores, has five patents, and a family of organizer products. Now 66 years old and a grandmother of four, “Life just keeps getting more and more interesting!” Crook says with a smile.
What are you working on right now?
We have a number of new products in the works. I love to solve problems. I was having trouble traveling with my favorite jewelry and keeping it from tangling so we are working on a new way to do that. I wanted a fashionable way to always have my iPad with me so we are working on the SMARTBAG. We are also redesigning some current products, and of course there are always new fabrics, colors and sizes of our best sellers.
Where did the idea for POUCHEE come from?
It was Christmas, 2004. At our usual Christmas Eve family celebration I opened the gift from my oldest son. It was a great, trendy shoulder bag which I loved but knew I would never use. There were no pockets, just one, big, empty bag. I had to have my pockets to organize my purse. I would normally spend days looking for just the right organizer purse with all the right compartments. Of course once I organized it I would certainly never switch purses, no matter how bad it looked with my outfit. It was just way too much trouble.
“If only I had a way to stay organized and change purses,” I thought. The search was on. I looked in stores and websites but found nothing that satisfied me. The pouchee® idea was born.
What does your typical day look like?
I am an early riser, but I try to make time most mornings to have coffee with my husband, catch up on the news, and spend time reading Scripture and in prayer before heading for the office. It’s not unusual, however, for me to catch up on my business emails, and work on some articles or product designs before I leave home as well. It’s easier for me to think when I am alone at home. Once I get to the office it is usually just “taking care of business.” I have four talented women working for me, and they each know their jobs and do them well, so I mostly have to just keep things coordinated. I think of myself more as a team leader than a boss. By the end of the day I am pretty tired so often my husband and I will grab a bite on the way home, and then I crash.
How do you bring ideas to life?
That can be quite a long process. A lot of thinking goes into solving a problem. I begin sketching, and then a call is made to the patent attorney. While the patent is being applied for I send the drawing to the manufacturer who interprets it and sends me back a prototype. This process can go back and forth for months till I feel it is right. Then we pick out colors, fabric and place the purchase order.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Oddly enough I am a real technology geek. I love gadgets, so blending technology with fashion and practicality is really fun for me.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Let me just say that the man I worked for was a really great guy, but I am not cut out for cookie cutter work. I thought it would be fun to work for a company that produced newsletters because I love to write and create and enjoyed creating a newsletter for my husband’s company in the past. In this company however, you did one job and did it all day long. I was in the layout department so I placed articles someone else had written and arranged them on a page with clip art…all day. It was making me crazy so I tried to quit 3 times. Twice I was talked out of it but the third time I had to go.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I don’t think I would change a thing about how I started (except maybe start thirty years earlier). I began working out of my home, shipping out of my garage and doing everything myself. This enabled me to invest everything back into my business. We grew pretty fast and when I needed help I hired my first employee. We worked side-by-side at one desk in my home office. When we outgrew my home office, we moved to an office building and warehouse where we are today.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Every Friday we have a team lunch. Sometimes we go over strategies, policies, pick out colors or just enjoy lunch together, but it’s a great opportunity to grow together as a team
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I try not to look at things as failures. Every time things don’t work out as planned I see it as a learning experience. Sure I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I try to learn from them for the next time I am faced with that situation.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Invest smartly in your business. Spend your time and your money where it is going to grow your business…good employees, good products, building good relationships with customers and reps. Expensive surroundings may make you feel successful, but they don’t make you successful.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Wow! Just one thing? Hard to pick…I would love to see more common sense in the world, where people would think through the long-term consequences of their actions.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Bible. There is enough wisdom there that I use every day conducting my business and my life.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
1. Gini Dietrich: because she posts great marketing articles and shares a lot of great content
2. Coach Jenn Lee: because she is inspirational and talks about issues important to small business owners, such as staying positive, customer service, and being successful in life as well as in business
3. Inc Magazine: because the articles and links they post contain lots of useful tips for business on a wide range of topics we all deal with
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
About 2 minutes ago, when my husband called me from Louisiana. He always makes me laugh.
Who is your hero?
My husband and two sons are my heroes. They are all inspirations to me both professionally in their careers and in their generosity.
What is your favorite aspect of owning your business?
I love creating something that gives people pleasure. Whether it is new products that people love using, and our wholesale customers are selling well, or just creating an atmosphere where people enjoy their jobs. If I am helping to make things better for others, that makes me happy.
What is your most important life lesson?
To forgive. No one does anything so horrible that I should let it ruin my day.