Don’t limit your idea of who you are or what you can do.
Stephanie and Allison are two High School friends from Eastchester, NY who are now both teachers. They met on the softball field and formed a close bond that continued through their college years and beyond. Weekly coffee dates turned into discussions about shared dreams of starting a business together. They were tired of schlepping countless bags to and from school everyday and knew that there had to be a better solution. They wanted to create a functional bag that was tailored to the needs of a modern and successful teacher. Thus, The Teacher Tote was created. Stephanie attended Sacred Heart University and received a Masters in Education. She now teaches High School Math in Greenwich, Connecticut. This is her eighth year of teaching. She resides in New York with her loving husband and baby girl. In her spare time, you can catch her at a spin class, cooking the latest vegetarian recipe or reading a book off of Reese Witherspoon’s suggestion list. Allison attended Iona College and received a Masters in Teaching. She now teaches Kindergarten in the Bronx, New York (in the same school as her husband!) This is her sixth year of teaching. She enjoys looking at life through the viewfinder of a camera, and can usually be found in the kitchen baking anything with chocolate in it.
Where did the idea for The Teacher Tote come from?
We have been friends since high school and knew we wanted to create a business together. We would meet up for coffee on a regular basis and brainstorm ideas. Since we are both teachers, we wanted to create a business around that. A tote bag for teachers was the one idea that seemed most beneficial as we thought about what can help teachers on a daily basis.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Since teaching is still our full-time job, we are at work most of the day. We work on the business each day when we find time, whether that is before or after school or during the day when we find a few free minutes.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It starts out at a very basic level, by literally drawing what we want to create. We send our manufacturer our sketches with measurements and ideas for materials. We will communicate back and forth until we feel that they have a good understanding of what we want. A sample will be created, and we will make adjustments from there.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The polling feature on Instagram stories. It allows us to get a feel for what our customer wants. We were recently in the process of creating new colors and instead of just releasing colors we thought would sell, we received feedback from our customers. From a selection of five colors, two were chosen as the favorites.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Responsiveness. We strive to respond to all of our emails and social media within 24 hours. Our customers appreciate our promptness and attention to their needs.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t limit your idea of who you are or what you can do. We both went to college to be teachers and that is the box we put ourselves in. Never did we think that we would be businesswomen, running our own company!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Creating your own business isn’t just for the money. We have gotten so much joy out of working together and interacting with our audience. Seeing people value and love something that we created is simply amazing.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Stay in touch with your audience and what your customer wants. That is made much easier these days with social media. We can create a post or poll our audience on an Instagram story and we are able to communicate with them and know what they are looking for.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Getting in touch with teacher influencers. These are teachers on Instagram who have a large following. When we first started out, we sent our totes out to these teachers. They got to try them out and posted about their favorite features. This is how we gained our first followers and sold out of 500 totes in less than a month.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We decided to attend a teacher conference as a vendor to sell our totes and get some face time with our customers. Long story short, we were not very successful with our sales there. We learned that it is easier to spread the word about our business and continue to make sales online.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A traveling ear piercing business for children in the comfort of their own home. After recently having a baby, and going through the harrowing process of getting her ears pierced at a Jewelers’, this would have been a more ideal situation.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We recently partnered with a teacher focused box that included a discount card to buy one of our totes. There were many sales from this partnership and we will continue to partner with other brands.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Quickbooks, we can easily log on each day to track our expenses and sales. We like being able to see what is going in and out of our business each day.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Educated: A Memoir” by: Tara Westover
As a teacher in the public school system, we can take for granted that everyone has an escape from home to school each day and a good education at their fingertips. It was so interesting to learn that in modern day America, this is not the case for some children.
What is your favorite quote?
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
- Once you create your product, test it out yourself and get feedback from your customers.
- Have a goal for each day and strive to complete that goal before moving on to the next task. It could be as small as answering an email or as big as designing a new product.
- Don’t limit the idea of who you think you are and what you can accomplish.
@theteachertote on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.