Anne Brewer is a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur. As a mother of three and the wife of a Marine, she found it difficult to maintain a typical career. “As a military spouse, you have to find ways to work out of the home or make your own way because you’re always coming and going,” she explains. “It’s too hard to commit to a full-time job because you always have to move.”
So when her husband retired and the family settled down in Wilmington, N.C., Brewer did what she always had done: she started her own business. Her latest entrepreneurial endeavor is proving to be her most valuable yet, and the idea came to her—of all places—in the bathroom.
“While enjoying an outdoor concert a few summers ago, I used a portable toilet, and my smartphone fell out of my back pocket and onto the floor,” she says.
At that moment, a lightbulb went off in Brewer’s head. She grabbed a napkin and, using her daughter’s short pocket as a reference, started to design a low-cost solution for a high-tech product. She called her solution the Potti Pocket.
The Potti Pocket is a sanitary, polypropylene holder for smartphones. Its peel-and-stick backing adheres to nearly any surface.
At first, Brewer began marketing her new product to portable toilet companies, but she quickly realized the versatility of her design. “There are so many applications,” she says. “People can place them in their cars, homes, offices, bathrooms, night stands.”
Brewer created a second brand for her product, Pocket Palz, for home use. But selling the products individually introduced a whole new set of challenges, including an increase in production cost, the logistics of supplying her distributors and the added expense of customization.
Then, there was the issue of marketing. “It’s like I was using buckshot,” she explains. “I didn’t know which market to target first.”
Brewer quickly realized she needed to refocus her mission. “You get so much advice, and you want to listen to everybody,” she says, “but you need to listen to yourself. Go back to why you started doing it in the first place.” Because Pocket Palz is a completely bootstrapped venture, Brewer says, “it reached the point that I either had to go big or go home.” And go big is exactly what she did.
Brewer put a hold on retail distribution and began marketing her products to customers with the potential for higher-volume purchasing. Her products have since found their way into Clemson University’s residence halls, East Carolina University’s Health and Wellness building and even onto the seats of some minor league baseball stadiums.
According to Brewer, the advertising potential of Pocket Palz has been a major selling point for larger facilities. “People love to be interactive,” she says, “and [stadiums] are encouraging people to bring their smartphones, but discouraging bags and purses.” Pocket Palz serve a universal solution; stadiums can use the product to advertise to their fans, while the fans use the product to safely store their mobile devices.
Once Pocket Palz gains traction, Brewer plans to expand into different markets. She’s even in the design and prototyping stages of creating three new products. In the meantime, she plans to beef up manufacturing to fill the larger orders already coming in.