A Michigan winter—it’s a phrase that conjures up an image unique to each Michigander, but it is likely that snow and cold temperatures factor prominently in the picture.
Whether you are a winter sports enthusiast or someone just hoping to survive the winter months, there is a harsh and messy reality that comes with winter—wet, slush-soaked gloves and mittens, often worn by Michigan’s smallest winter sports enthusiasts, children, and the parents who are mostly enjoying (sometimes enduring!) exploring the snow-laden landscape with them.
This reality hit home with Karen Smoots, B.B.A.’99, a mother of two, who was exasperated with trying to effectively and efficiently dry her family’s wet gloves without the residual dampness and characteristic musty odor that accompanies the process.
As is so often the case, necessity was the mother of invention. Karen enlisted her husband Ryan, B.S. ‘99, an engineer, to go to the hardware store and find some parts that could be put together in such a way that warm air could be forced up into the fingertips of gloves. He assembled a makeshift unit in their garage, and after testing it on the family’s wet gloves, Karen knew they were onto something.
The Green Glove Dryer fits over a floor heat register, allowing warm air to flow up through the nozzles of the unit. Since it uses the heat already being used to heat a home, the device requires no additional energy to accomplish its task of quickly and thoroughly drying gloves and mittens.
Once the Smoots family decided that they were interested in making their household solution available to others, the next step was to look into manufacturing the product. Karen was extremely committed to finding a local manufacturer. “Local is everything,” says Smoots. “It means everything to me that I can walk into my manufacturer, see the product being made and talk to the staff. They know me, and I know them, and that is so rewarding! Local means tax dollars going back into our community and schools. Local means giving our residents job security. Local means families thrive, and that is how communities thrive.”
Smoots ultimately decided on Portage-based WL Molding as her manufacturer. And it was a moment of happenstance that led to the partnership. “I was simply driving one day and glanced over and saw the sign that said WL Molding. So I picked up the phone, scheduled a meeting that week, and the rest is a match made in Michigan!”
Once production and marketing began, Smoots and her family were in for the rollercoaster ride of being entrepreneurs. In their first year in business they sold 1,300 units. Now in their second year, they have sold more than 8,000 units, and their product is in Bed Bath & Beyond, on Amazon and QVC, and in several local Michigan businesses. And people are noticing. The Smoots’ customers are impressed not only with the product but with the personal attention that the business gives its customers, including a and-written thank you note from Karen on the invoice for each purchase. The business has also earned several awards, including a Best of Michigan Award for Stellar Startup Companies as well as one for Best Overall Small Business.
When asked what advice she has for potential fellow entrepreneurs, Smoots has some key takeaways from her experience thus far. “Having the right mindset is key. It takes long hours, hard work and creativity to be successful. It also takes salesmanship. If you cannot sell your product, then neither can someone else.”
The goal for Smoots and her family is to make the Green Glove Dryer a household brand, and it seems that they are well on their way to making this “Made in Michigan” product a must-have well outside the borders of the mitten.