Leslie Haywood is a Charleston, South Carolina entrepreneur who had a good idea and turned it into a good business.
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We spent some time talking with her about her company, Charmed Life Products.
Tell me about your current business, Leslie. What are you doing exactly?
I invented Grill Charms™. The concept is similar to wine charms, but for your food.
Grill Charms are the size of a dime with a decorative head and a stem that is textured so as not to fall out of the food while grilling. They are made of food grade solid stainless steel, and sit flush on the food so they do not interfere with the grill when being moved or flipped.
Food is Grill Charmed prior to cooking so when it comes off the grill perfectly charred and plated for guests, everyone knows which one is theirs. They simply look for their unique individual Grill Charm. No more cutting into 5 steaks to try to find the rare one. No more having all mild barbecue chicken because only a few people like it spicy. Have a food allergy or health concern? "Grill Charm-it" to avoid problems.
When did you start the business?
One sultry April night in 2006, my husband was grilling some fantastic boneless chicken breasts for my friends and me. The flavor of the evening was Jerk, which we all love.
Some people happen to like their chicken "jerkier" than others, i.e. more rub equals more spice and heat. Some of us like ours on the milder side. Once all the chicken came off the grill, it was arranged on a serving plate, brought upstairs to be served to our guests. My husband couldn't tell which chicken was spicy. Wouldn't you know it… me being a "mild" person; I bit right into the hottest one of all! He said "I wish there was a way to tell which chicken was which" and immediately I knew we had something.
This was the light bulb moment. In my mind I started the company that night, but according to that State of SC, I didn't start my company until November 2006.
That's a great story. It's amazing how good business ideas sometimes just jump in front of us. By the way, what were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I worked for corporate America for nine years until I had our first daughter, and left a fantastic company and wonderful career to be a stay-at-home mom.
I didn't mean to throw myself head first back into business, but I just couldn't help myself. When you have a great idea (or what you hope is a great idea) it becomes more of a compulsion than anything else. I couldn't NOT start the company.
Since then I have tried very hard to balance family (passion #1) and business (passion #2). During my corporate career I learned the ins and outs of business, finance and sales, but inventing and entrepreneurship were not part of that skill set for me. I really had NO experience.
Where did you get the startup money?
I started the company in the middle of the 2006 real estate boom, so can you say "Home Equity Loan?"
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
There is currently no product like Grill Charms on the market.
There is however; a similar product which has been around for decades. It is called a "Meat Marker". There are countless styles and materials. It is a stake with a large end that sticks out of beef which labels the meat "Well Done", "Medium Well", "Medium", "Medium Rare", and "Rare". It is normally made of stainless steel or the cheaper versions are plastic. You find them most frequently at chain steak house restaurants to help the servers know which plate / steak is cooked to which "doneness". It is made to be used only on beef, and is put in the meat only after it has been cooked. The meat marker stands out of the meat so there is no way for you to cook with it in.
Grill Charms are vastly different as they can be used for most grilled meats or vegetables. They are used to personalize or mark the food PRIOR to cooking and can be used with many methods of preparation including grilling, blackening, oven broiling, pan frying, baking, etc.
Grill Charms have a textured stem so they will stay in place while cooking. The ornamental head is not limited to words such as "Well done" which serves only 1 purpose (to mark well done beef). They have designs to personalize food for any reason such as flavor, doneness, spice, free of certain allergens etc… Unlike generic meat markers, the heads of Grill Charms are flat so as not to interfere with the grates of the grill when moving, flipping and grilling.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
It takes a lot more time and energy then I ever imagined, but I also have found more passion for my product and my company than I thought I had.
I knew from my "light bulb moment" that this was something I had to do and that I would love it, but I just didn't know how much. I really didn't think though that it would be this much work.
People tell you it's hard and all consuming, but you just can't imagine until you're in it (and thank goodness, otherwise I don't know that anyone would do it!!)
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Not really. I have gained valuable knowledge from everything I have done and all of the mistakes I have made. Mistakes are only mistakes if you gained nothing from making them.
I have grown and learned from every decision I have made, even the bad ones, so I'm not so sure I'd change much.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
Constantly being focused on sales and marketing has been key to our growth. I look for opportunities to sell my product everywhere.
Even watching TV when I'm supposed to be winding down, I'll see that (for example) Jim Cramer of Mad Money makes an off handed comment that he likes to grill on charcoal instead of gas. I wrote that down, looked up his birthday and gave him a set of Grill Charms!
Early on I outsourced the facets of the company that didn't bring in revenue and now I focus the majority of my efforts on sales and marketing. Pretty much if it's not bringing in the money, I let someone else do it.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
When you take the plunge to become an entrepreneur, expect the unexpected and never give up.
I am learning that it's pretty common to have to scrap what you initially thought was the prefect process, material, design, plan, solution etc… and just start fresh. You shouldn't let that discourage you; it's all just part of the journey.
You will run into roadblocks and there are people and circumstances that will try to keep you down. PLOW THROUGH!
You are in control of how this crazy entrepreneurial story goes; don't give away the pen to another author. Stay in control, stay focused and when plan A, B, C and D fall through, E, F and G will be there if you know where to look.
That's really excellent advice, and it's no wonder you're doing so well. Thank you tons for sharing your entrepreneurial experience with us, and good luck in growing your business.