This is the first in a series of posts about the winners of SCORE DC’s 2021 Black Entrepreneur Pitch Event competition with MagicMakers Group.
2021 Black Entrepreneur Pitch Event Winner - Start-up Product Category
Necessity is truly the mother of invention. Libra Riley was trying to hang a full-length gown in her clothes closet so its hem would not touch the floor. Seeing a drycleaner’s metal hanger nearby, she was suddenly struck with the idea of “swooping up” the bottom half of the dress over the metal hangar and then clipping the two hangers together. Libra knew she had something here.
In 2019, she took her concept – SWOOP -- to the International Home and Housewares Show with the intention of licensing her hanger and then sitting back and awaiting the checks. However, time, circumstance and opportunity changed the course of her plans; Libra calls it “divine intervention.” First, a presentation before an intrigued QVC representative at the show encouraged her to think bigger in terms of a collection of products. Then, another show attendee encouraged Libra to abandon the idea of licensing because the potential for earnings was so great. Rather, he suggested Libra should control the manufacturing process and introduced her to a California-based manufacturer with a factory in China. And finally, a large Australian retail outlet was ready to do business. These were a series of openings that made her re-think the direction of her business.
Pivoting away from a licensing arrangement meant that Libra would have to stand up her own company – product development, manufacturing, accounting, distribution, sales & marketing, hiring and more. “Could I actually run a business?” she wondered. “Yes, I have to, I have to try.” With that, Libra worked closely with engineers to refine drawings for purpose of prototypes and patent applications and started the groundwork with the manufacturer.
Libra will be the first to say she did not know what she was doing. She did not have a manufacturing background. “You may not know everything about manufacturing,” Libra said, “but you know what it is to be a customer – so create your product from that point of view.”
Libra had plans to attend the 2020 International Home and Housewares Show where she had been inspired to upend her plans a year earlier. And then the pandemic happened. “This was a scary time to launch something,” Libra recalls thinking, “but this might actually have been the very best time. People were home and as much as the pandemic is horrific, people were becoming more and more aware of the need to use their homes as efficiently as possible. Some people are using their walk-in closet as their work-from-home office.” So, she used this time to “solidify” the design, manufacturing and production and started working with a SCORE mentor to set up the “back of the house” operations.
And then Libra entered SCORE’s Black Entrepreneur Pitch event and won not just one, but two of the main prizes – a cash award and a consultation with retail experts Dara Trujillo and Jayne Tebbe-Shemelya of the MagicMakers Group. That consultation got into the “nuts and bolts” of sales and distribution strategy, and operations which was “critical” and “extremely helpful.”
Now that the economy is starting to re-open, Libra is “ready to rock and roll.” SWOOP hangers will be ready for sale by September direct-to-consumer through SWOOP’s website and on Amazon, as well, she hopes, through some strategic retail partners. For product launch updates visit www.SwoopHanger.com or @swoop_hanger on Instagram.
Libra Riley became a SCORE DC client in 2020, working with SCORE mentor Martin Crowson. Martin helped prepare her for the pitch event and think through what she needs to stand-up a company.