Growing up as the youngest girl in a family of eight children, Claudia Hoexter spent a lot of time figuring out how the world worked on her own. While her Dad was juggling three businesses, her Mom was trying to keep up with the needs of her growing family. And her older siblings were always steps ahead — with little time to pass on life’s lessons to their little sister.
“Whether it was riding a bike or balancing on a skateboard,” Claudia recalled, “I was out there on my own. If I was on a busy street and I wanted to get to the park on the other side, I had to figure out how. I think that’s what made me who I am today. Nothing scared me. I thought if I press this button, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? I can’t blow up the world? I was just never afraid of anything.”
It was an attitude that would serve her well, when at 19, she caught the eye of a modeling agent, who advised her to stop hiding behind her long hair and fly from her hometown of Chicago to Los Angeles to have professional head shots done. She was the youngest in her family to strike out on her own — and having been raised in a strict household, that photo session was the first time she’d ever dared to wear even a stitch of make-up.
“I went through high school as this plain Jane and there I was in Beverly Hills, all by myself, in a photo studio. From the first moment the make-up artist applied eye liner, I felt transformed. And the photographer must have noticed, because he started shooting while I was still in the chair.”
That moment would put Claudia on the path to making millions — but not as a model. Despite the early success that landed her campaigns for companies that ranged from Sears to Saks Fifth Avenue, the rising star decided she wanted a more secure line of work and built a career as an office manager.
But she never let go of her new found love for lotions and potions and make-up — nor the fearless attitude she grew up with — and that’s what would lead her to create a product that would end up on the shelves of the biggest retailer in the world.
“I was getting ready for work one morning,” Claudia remembered, “and I started screaming. My husband Daniel came running, thinking that I had gotten hurt. He literally slid into the bathroom, he got up there so fast. And I turned to him and said, ‘I’ve got it. I’ve got the idea. I think I’ve just invented something.’”
“He’d heard it before,” she laughed. “I’m always coming up with ideas. But this time his eyes got big. He works in advertising and he knows what sells. And he said, ‘Claudia, we need to go talk to someone.’”
Claudia had been trying to get the last bit of serum out of a glass bottle. She considered breaking it, but she was afraid there would be shards of glass all over the room. She thought if only there was a spoon that could fit into the expensive bottles in front of her — that could reach into the corners and crevices and get out every precious drop, she could save so much money.
“That was the moment it all came to me. I knew what it would look like. I even sketched it out on a piece of paper. And I knew I was going to call it the Beauty Spoon.”
“I’d always wanted to work for myself. I’d see the CEOs I worked for and think I can do what they’re doing. And I thought one of two things is going to happen — nothing or something. I had to press the button.”
So, Claudia started searching the internet, sometimes late into the night, bringing her smart phone to bed with her and studying under the glare of the tiny light. She was determined to find a way to bring her product to market in a big way. And she had her eyes set on Walmart.
“After all,” she said with a smile, “their tagline is “Save Money. Live Better.” And that’s exactly what I was trying to do!”
Her search led her to a graphic designer who took her quick sketch and turned it into a 3D image that she could bring to manufacturers. With that in hand, the determined inventor set out to find a Midwest manufacturer who could produce the kind of volume a retailer like Walmart would demand and a warehouse that already supplied the enormous chain of stores.
“I told every manufacturer that I met with, ‘My goal is to serve Walmart.’ The last thing I wanted was for Walmart to say yes and then not to be able to deliver.”
And without as much as a meeting, Claudia dipped into the money she’d saved while she was modeling, and began manufacturing. She set up a website and began putting out the word.
“I must have sent the Beauty Spoon to a hundred bloggers. And I started selling on eBay and Craigslist. I wanted to be sure that whenever someone googled beauty tools, they’d see a good review and know how to buy it.”
But it was when she stepped away from the computer, the real information she was looking for appeared — right in front of her.
I was watching the five o’clock news,” she explained, “and there was a story about a global woman’s economic empowerment initiative that Walmart was putting into place. They were putting aside 20 billion dollars to source products from women-owned businesses by 2016. I was literally flailing my arms in front of the television — saying ‘Hello, that’s me — I’m right here!’”
So Claudia went back to her trusty computer and directly to the mammoth chain’s site. Step by step, she submitted her information and day by day, she received email after email informing her that she was moving on to the next qualifying phase. Six months from the day she saw that newscast, she was in Bentonville, Arkansas, at Walmart’s corporate headquarters.
“I was surrounded by teams of people waiting to do their presentations. And then I heard this huge company name — a global brand — called in. Fifteen people stood up! And then they called me in — just little old me with my briefcase.”
“I just kept thinking, what’s the worst thing that can happen? They can only say yes or no. They can’t take away my company. And by the end of the day, I’ll have my answer.”
But it didn’t take until the end of the day. Within 15 minutes, Claudia could tell the buyer was interested. And as she left the room, she shook Claudia’s hand and said she was on her way back to the office, to see how many stores she could put the Beauty Spoon in.
“I had to have her repeat it. I said, ‘Could you say that one more time? Just to clarify — you did just say Walmart is going to carry my product?’ I didn’t know when I’d be in there. I just knew I’d pitched the biggest retailer in the world and they said yes. And to me, yes means yes!”
And then, the day before Thanksgiving, Claudia got something she’ll forever be thankful for.
“I looked at my phone,” she said, with a hint of amazement still in her voice, “and I could see that I had 50 emails. I was sure I’d been spammed. But then as I took a closer look, I saw that they were all from Walmart — from 42 different distribution centers. There were 42 purchase orders!”
“I started to hyperventilate a little. I’d been waiting for his moment for more than a year and here it was. It was show time!”
Today, the Beauty Spoon is in 2,200 Walmart stores around the country and replenishment orders continue to roll in. And it’s also being sold in South Africa, Ireland and the UK. In just over a year, Claudia’s company is already worth half a million dollars.
“There’s no way to explain how I feel right now,” she said modestly. “I’m just so proud. Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I hadn’t tried. How would I have felt? I had to prove that I could do this and that I could do it on my own. No matter how big the risk is, how will you ever know if you don’t try?”
article by Lori Weiss via huffingtonpost.com