Leslie Haywood – Inventor of Grill Charms

[quote style=”boxed”]Press lends credibility to your business, but it does not necessarily equal sales.  Oh sure, you get an initial boost, but there is no substitute for good ol’ fashion pounding the pavement.  Making sales calls is where my money comes from, not from magazine articles.[/quote]

Leslie Haywood is founder and president of Charmed Life Products, inventor of Grill Charms. Leslie was a stay at home mom with 2 young daughters when a very spicy light bulb moment thrust her into the entrepreneurial ring.  Without having any prior experience in business or inventing, she pursued her vision of conquering the world one backyard BBQ at a time. During the start up phase of her company, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but still managed to launch her grilling product on store shelves within 18 months. They are now sold in over 400 stores internationally.  She has been featured numerous times on CNBC, various local and regional news programs and ABC’s Shark Tank. Her story and product have been publicized in such magazines as Redbook, Everyday with Rachael Ray, Parenting magazine, Health magazine, Inventors Digest and featured on The Today Show. She is mindful of giving back through The Pink Collection of her Grill Charms and by sitting on various boards in her community and volunteering for breast cancer organizations.

What are you working on right now?

Deciding what I want to do when I grow up.

Where did the idea for Grill Charms come from?

One April evening in 2006, my husband gave me the wrong piece of meat off the grill and my life changed forever.  I’m from Charleston, South Carolina and down here in the south, we grill year round.  My husband and I are also sauce/rub/marinade junkies so we always have at least 2-3 different flavors going on at the same time.  We were having Jamaican Jerk Chicken at a dinner party we hosted.  I like to walk on the mild side, while my husband likes everything blazing hot.  Like the wonderful husband that he is, he always accommodates my tastes, so he made some spicy jerk and some mild.  After a few beverages, watching the kids run around, talking to his friends and enjoying the warm spring evening, he had forgotten which chicken was which.  I think you know where I’m going with this, right?  He served me what he thought was the mild when it in fact lit my mouth on fire.   I got a little mad and he got a little defensive and said, “well, someone just needs to come up with a way for me to tell what’s what!”  That spicy light bulb over my head was so bright that it single handedly guided 12 ships into the Charleston Harbor.  As soon as we finished cleaning the kitchen, I started sketching prototypes that night and have never looked back.

What does your typical day look like?

At 6:30 AM I get up with the kids, get them ready, make breakfast, throw some workout clothes in the car and have them at school  by 7:45 AM. I go to the gym at 8:00 AM, work out until 9:30 AM, get in the shower by 10:00 AM, arrive at work by 10:30 AM,  leave work to get the kids at 2:45 PM, get  home by 3:30 PM for homework, soccer, ballet and/or tennis. We eat  dinner at 6:00 PM, do more homework, get the kids to bed at 7:00 PM and then do some more work.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I tell someone about them, usually my husband. He’s an idea guy, too, so we sort of feed off each other.  If I talk about my ideas, I feel like it breathes life into them.  I’m one of those “do what you say you’re going to do” people.  That’s all I ask of folks and that’s the standard I try to hold myself to.  If I want to hold myself accountable for something, I tell someone about it.  Even something as simple as dyeing my hair red.  If I say it, I feel like I have to do it.  So when I told my family that I was going to bring my idea for Grill Charms to market, even though I don’t think they believed me, I had to try.  I couldn’t go back on my word!  I’m liking the red by the way 😉

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The trend towards cooking more in the great outdoors; even the outdoor kitchen is becoming less of an anomaly and more of an essential.  Look: 

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

One summer in high school I got a job as an inventory control clerk with the government on a Navy base.  What that meant was that during the middle of the summer, my coworkers and I had to count all of the pieces and all of the parts to Lord knows what in a 120-degree metal warehouse with no air conditioning.  We had to find the item numbers and count every single piece of whatever we were counting.  Sometimes they were truck parts 3 feet x 4 feet and maybe 4 of them.  Sometimes there were nuts, bolts and screws and there were 13,000 of them! We would break those jobs up into parts.  If we had a big ol’ box  full of thousands and thousands of washers, we would bag them in groups of 100 and then count them that way.  All summer long, 5 days a week, 6 hours a day of counting, dividing up and counting again.  I learned a very valuable lesson that summer.  I learned that no matter how insurmountable a task, goal or dream seems, if you simply break it down into smaller manageable parts, you can pretty much achieve anything. That’s exactly how I viewed taking an idea to market.  I couldn’t think about the enormity of the big picture too much or I would get overwhelmed at the thought of all of things  I didn’t know.  I had to break it down into small and manageable steps.  Instead of “bringing an idea to market,” I simply did a preliminary patent search, made a prototype and started a business. Each next step then came into focus. Now doesn’t that sound a lot less scary?!

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

As much as I love media and as super cool as being on Shark Tank and CNBC and in Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine was,  I’m going to share with you one of the biggest myths in business that I too fell for as a new entrepreneur.  Press = success.  I thought that a few big hits, a national  TV appearance and a few national magazines would mean life on easy street.  Not so!  Press lends credibility to your business, but it does not necessarily equal sales.  Oh sure, you get an initial boost, but there is no substitute for good ol’ fashion pounding the pavement.  Making sales calls is where my money comes from, not from magazine articles.  Had I understood that sooner, I would have made a lot more sales calls early on and wouldn’t have been so preoccupied with the press.  I spent thousands of dollars on a PR company before I made my first $100 in sales. That is what I would have done differently!  Don’t get me wrong, PR and marketing are important, but you have to understand what they are and what they can and can not do.  It is not instant millions. John Q. Public is fickle and forgetful. You have to use your celebrity and media to get sales long-term.  No matter what show you do or what magazine you are in, you are still just a flash in the pan if that’s what you allow yourself to become.  Media gives you perceived credibility to become something more, but it does not necessarily serve “something more” up on a silver platter.  If not used correctly and continuously, press will do a lot more for your ego than your bottom line.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Make those sales calls.  As the owner/inventor/founder/president, I firmly believe that there is no more powerful sales person than you.  And if you can’t sell yourself and your product or service, how is anyone else supposed to?  Some entrepreneurs say they are just not good at sales.  My advice is to get good, at least on some level.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

It was the first real business idea I had when I got out of college and worked in an office back in the mid-90’s.  As the day approached 5:00 PM, I would hear other women, most of them married with kids, start talking about what they were going to do for dinner. That got me thinking: what if someone made about 3 different 1 dish homemade meals a week or every other day and delivered them to all the office buildings in the area? You could get an agreement with the companies and at around 3:00 or 4:00 PM a few times a week you could come in and people could get their dinners ready to go for that night. The food would be better than the stuff from the grocery store and it would be more convenient because the dinner would come to you right there at work at 4:00 PM.  Impulse buy!  I had all kinds of idea about the logistics and how it would work. If someone does this and makes millions, don’t forgot to put the royalty check in the mail. Contact me if you want more information about the concept.  I put a lot of thought into it back in the day.  I would be so proud if someone actually called me and said they wanted to do it.  I’d even be your brand ambassador.

Tell us a secret.

My car is a pigsty.  At any given moment there are Goldfish crackers, paper clips, multiplication flashcards, phone chargers, DS’s, laptops, a yoga mat and beach chairs all strewn from one end to the other.  Yes, my car is my dirty little secret.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

  • score.org: The business template gallery was an absolute lifesaver when I was starting out.  They have a plug and play business plan template, start-up cost calculator and break even analysis spreadsheet, just to name a few of the awesome things you will find.  You can also get free online counseling and mentoring from people in just about any industry.  It was one of those resources that I’m not sure I could have lived without.
  • helpareporter.com It is unequivocally then best place to get your PR.  If you look at my news page, the majority of the press I have received is a direct result of HARO.
  • startupnation.com  This site is full of information about everything from marketing to sales to patents and accounting.  Anything you want to know about starting and running a company is there.  The forum, which I used frequently in the early years, was a wonderful place to ask questions and quickly get real life answers from people who have been there.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Being that I’m partial to inventing, if you have an idea for a product, the bible is The Mom Inventor Handbook by Tamara Monosoff.  It truly is the road map for how to bring a product to market.

What’s on your playlist?

Anything by Rick Springfield (hmmm… maybe that should have been my secret),  Lady Gaga, Cher, Black Eyed Peas, Annie Lennox and Beyonce.

If you weren’t working on Grill Charms, what would you be doing?

Tennis lessons, 2 martini lunches, shopping and maybe keeping my car clean. What was I thinking? Anyone want to buy a grilling gadget company?

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  • @helpareporter:  Best place to get urgent media queries.
  • @robertherjavec: Shameless plug for my shark on Shark Tank.
  • @SteakPerfection:  Joe O’Connell is the one of the most knowledgeable men on the planet about all things steak–my favorite food in the world!

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

Yesterday while watching Tosh.O.  If you haven’t seen him on Comedy Central, you are missing out.  If you are easily offended or grossed out, pass it by.

Who is your hero?

My mom.  She is the rock of our family.  She raised 3 kids while my dad was gone out to sea much of the time in the Navy. She was told she had stage IV breast cancer in her 30’s and told she had 6 months to live. She lost her husband (love you PA!), had bladder cancer, was diagnosed again with breast cancer, had a tumor in her neck, was released from the hospital yesterday after the second stage of her breast reconstruction and she is still the happiest, most positive and vivacious person on the planet.  Nothing gets her down and I can only aspire to be half the pillar of strength and the women that she is. Through all this, she was the first women president of the Charleston Chapter of the Propeller Club, she was the only person nominated for both Propeller Club Member of the Year for the region and Southeastern Maritime Person of the Year as well as receiving the Maritime Association’s 2012 Beacon Award.  She is a superstar!

How do you balance the demands of both business and family life?

Balance? I don’t. Balance is a myth in business.  It is more of a juggling act than a balancing act. I say juggling because my family pays a price for having an entrepreneurial mom.  And most certainly my business pays a price for its founder and president having a husband and family. That’s just the way it is and my job is to make sure my business can be profitable and successful within the constraints of the time I am able to spend on it and that my children do not suffer or pay too heavy of a price for mommy owning a business.  Sometimes my business needs more attention and sometimes my family does.  It’s never a perfect balance and the juggling act that I do is adjusted on a daily basis.  When my oldest daughter was 5 years old and told me she wanted to invent crayons, I knew the impact I was having on my girls was worth it.  They truly believe with all their little 7 and 9 year old hearts that they can do anything, so I will continue to try to keep all the balls in the air.


Grill Charms Website: www.grillcharms.com
Grill Charms on Facebook: Grill Charms
Grill Charms on Twitter: @grillcharmer
Grill Charms on YouTube: grillcharmer
Leslie Haywood on LinkedIn: Leslie Haywood