Like many homeowners and moms, Bothell’s Cindy Sawyer was either constantly straightening crooked hand towels or picking them up off the floor after her young children used them. Even when she was preparing family meals, she noticed how often her kitchen towel would slip off the handle whenever she opened the oven door.
Having towel troubles wasn’t earth shattering, but realizing how many other people were putting up with the same frustration inspired her to search for a lasting solution.
What she found available on the market were stick-on clips that anchored towels by pinching them and towels with snap-button loops, but these didn’t carry the versatility or aesthetic appeal she was looking for. She wanted an attractive and practical solution for the towels she already owned, one that would also allow her to adjust the towel’s hanging length for small children without falling off the bar.
When she realized that nothing like that existed, she decided to create it herself and invented ToweLocs, a unique fastener that easily and decoratively secures both sides of a towel together so that it can’t be pulled down and will always hang the way you want.
“I was working as a dental hygienist then, but I have always been into crafts, so I began making things at home to try out,” Sawyer said. “I’d taken art and business classes in college and I’ve always really wanted to create and invent things.”
Sawyer received a boost when she tried out for Inc. Magazine’s 2009 “Newpreneur of the Year” contest and was chosen as one of only 30 semifinalists out of a nationwide field. Though she didn’t make it to the finals, she felt like a winner.
“Other entrepreneurs are so willing to help,” she marveled. “They really welcomed me and were generous in giving advice and referring resources.”
It took her about a year and a half before she finally achieved a design that satisfied her with its ability to be stylish, as well as functional.
“Women want their homes to look nice and they love to accessorize,” she said. “My invention is perfect for that because not only does it work, you can choose from a lot of colors and designs to fit your personal decor.”
After finalizing her prototype, Sawyer began the arduous tasks of researching manufacturers, financing production, registering her trademark, initiating the patent pending process and developing a Web site, www.towelocs.com, launched earlier this year for the public to buy her invention online.
“It was all new to me. Registering my trademark took about a year. I even learned about how to make a professional ToweLocs commercial for YouTube,” Sawyer said.
Yet she feels the lengthy creative and production challenges she faced in the beginning have been easier to overcome than her current challenge of breaking into the retail market.
“Oftentimes with a small business owner that’s so new, it’s hard to get retailers to talk to you,” she said. “A lot of my work these days is calling stores and talking to their buyers. It’s tough to cold call. I’ve found that people in marketing and sales often say what you want to hear, but don’t follow through, and that surprises me because I don’t do things that way.”
Her husband and silent partner, Eric, has a background in sales, so Cindy asked him about that. “He says, ‘Yeah, that happens a lot.’ Then I go ‘Really?’ How can they do business that way?” she laughed, shaking her head.
Having been raised by hard-working parents who still own and run a goods and sundries store in Seattle’s International District, Cindy advocates perseverance and focusing on her buyers.
“My parents work full time six days a week, and my brother, sisters and I always helped out. The experience taught me a lot about customer service, how to listen to people and find out what they need,” she said.
Her satisfied customers in turn are helping Cindy advertise ToweLocs on Web sites such as Examiner.com and Handbooklive.com, and personal blogs.
“Let me just say, as a mom to two little boys, this invention is awesome!” posts Oregon blogger April Baker. “I can’t tell you how many times a day I am picking up hand towels off the counters and floors throughout the house.”
Because she designed ToweLocs for parents and hosts like herself, Cindy hadn’t realized that the back-saving advantages of her towel fastener could be another big selling point.
“I didn’t even think about that until someone mentioned it to me,” she said about the relief ToweLocs has provided to grandparents, seniors and customers who have difficulty bending down to retrieve dropped towels.
“It’s just a really versatile product and it’s pretty,” affirms Cindy’s first retail partner, Mary Pat Connors, owner of Kuslers in Snohomish. Besides housing a pharmacy, Kuslers specializes in fine gifts for the home and kitchen. “We’re carrying ToweLocs in our kitchen store and people are buying them when they buy towels for the kitchen. They do keep your towels where you need them and they make great gifts.”