business

Small Business Success Story: Beach Pockets

Bored at the shore, a former dental hygienist launches a booming beach business.

Kiplinger's spoke with Barbara Bigford, 58, of Paoli, Pa., about what inspired her to invent Beach Pockets, which are anchors for beach umbrellas. The dental hygienist-turned-entrepreneur has made more than one million dollars in sales since creating the product in 2001. Here are excerpts from our interview:

Where did you get your idea? For years, I took my three kids and our beach umbrellas to the shore. I’d look forward to reading my novel but end up holding down umbrellas in the wind. One day in 2001, I was bored and staring at the sand. I thought, Why not use it to hold down the umbrellas?

What came next? I found a lightweight and fast-drying material and sewed a pocket that could be tied to the umbrella pole and filled with sand. Unfortunately, at the beach the anchor slipped off the pole. Several trips to Home Depot later, I found a collar with a screw that you could tighten to fit different-size poles, and I attached pockets to the collar. It worked.

Did you apply for a patent? Yes, after one old gentleman on the beach pumped me for information and asked if I had taken my idea to a lawyer. Within 24 hours, I talked with a patent attorney in Philadelphia to start the process. I got a patent in September 2002.

How did you start your business? I paid about $450 apiece to have a couple of prototypes made, and I took them to a trade show. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I hired a manufacturer in Orlando to make 6,000 units. Over the next several years, I sold to Acme supermarkets, Ace Hardware, SuperValu, Walgreens and other retailers. In 2004, I appeared on QVC [the broadcast retailer], where I sold more than 2,000 units in six minutes.

How did you finance the business? I used about $34,000 in savings and $85,000 from a home-equity line of credit, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank loans, primarily to pay for manufacturing. I used any money I made to pay off loans or plowed it into the business.

What was your sales strategy? I was honest, I was genuine, and if I didn’t know something, I asked questions. In my first meeting, with Acme Markets, the corporate buyers asked me what my margin was. I was a dental hygienist. I didn’t know margin! I told them so, and they were really helpful. Also, I was tenacious. Even after Wal-Mart made Beach Pockets available online to its store managers, I visited 125 stores over six months.

Why did you decide to license Beach Pockets? Through 2008, I racked up nearly $1.6 million in sales. I realized that I needed help to run a growing business. I didn’t want to sell the company, so licensing my product to another company to manufacture and distribute seemed best. After the first licensing agreement didn’t work out, in 2013 I signed with Aqua Leisure, in Boston, a leader in seasonal and recreational goods. The company paid me an initial royalty to begin our partnership, and I’ll get between 4% and 6% of everything that Aqua Leisure sells, starting with a relaunch this summer. That’s a typical licensing arrangement. I’m also getting a monthly consulting fee. I’m bringing in a little over $50,000 annually from my projects, but when the royalties from Aqua Leisure kick in, my income will increase significantly. Aqua Leisure anticipates sales of $1 million annually within two years.

Have a success story you want to share? Write us at successstory@kiplinger.com.

Most Popular

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2022 vs. 2021?
tax brackets

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2022 vs. 2021?

Depending on your taxable income, you can end up in one of seven different federal income tax brackets – each with its own marginal tax rate.
September 20, 2022
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
19 Best Stocks to Buy Now for High Upside Potential
stocks

19 Best Stocks to Buy Now for High Upside Potential

Finding the best stocks to buy when the market is selling off can be daunting, but the pros believe these 19 top-rated names are poised for big return…
September 23, 2022

Recommended

Is Relief from Shipping Woes Finally in Sight?
business

Is Relief from Shipping Woes Finally in Sight?

After years of supply chain snags, freight shipping is finally returning to something more like normal.
September 23, 2022
Succession Plans for Farmers (Whether Your Kids Want the Farm or Not)
small business

Succession Plans for Farmers (Whether Your Kids Want the Farm or Not)

Legacy planning for farmers comes with some interesting challenges and opportunities.
September 8, 2022
Buckle Up: What the Inflation Reduction Act Means for Your Small Business
small business

Buckle Up: What the Inflation Reduction Act Means for Your Small Business

Your cost of doing business could be going up for two main reasons. Prepare now with these five tips.
September 7, 2022
Selling Your Construction Business to Employees or Family? Here Are 5 Tips for Success!
small business

Selling Your Construction Business to Employees or Family? Here Are 5 Tips for Success!

Even though you’ve already identified a great buyer for your business – and it’s someone you know and trust – you still have some work to do to make t…
September 3, 2022