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Inspiration strikes when it’s good and ready. You can’t rush it. You can’t force it. But you have to be ready to act on a good idea to bring it to life — it also helps to have plenty of grit and determination to navigate the rocky path to successful entrepreneurship.
No one knows this better than Julie “Jules” Weldon, co-founder and CEO of OME Gear®, a Charleston, South Carolina-based small business that designs and sells outdoor products. The company launched in 2018, 20 years after Weldon’s father and mother designed and patented a two-in-one outdoor recreational product that transformed from a lounger into a cart for hauling everything you’d take to the beach.
Weldon’s parents tried to bring their innovation to market in the late 1990s before shelving — but not forgetting — their dream. In 2010, Weldon, who at the time was a business management consultant itching to start her own company, called her dad and asked if she could take her parents’ product to market.
Her father loved the idea. She then partnered with and sold 60 percent of her original company to a manufacturing firm in North Carolina. She redesigned the product into a three-in-one, took it to market and won innovation awards.
But Jules soon realized that her values did not align with those of her manufacturing partners — she could not be successful with the company. So she walked away, and in 2018, the manufacturing firm dissolved Jules’ then company.
Knowing this idea had great potential, Weldon partnered with Stacey “Stace” Pierce, whom she later married, to form their company, OME Gear. What followed was an exhilarating — and incredibly challenging — journey that saw the pair continue to refine the lounger and earn industry recognition for their five-in-one innovation, The Wanderr®. The highs and lows have been extreme, but Jules and Stace are excited to begin shipping The Wanderr to customers in early December.
As entrepreneurs across the United States mark National Women’s Small Business Month, Weldon and Pierce share their story with the hopes it inspires other women to take a chance on themselves and embark on a gratifying journey of their own.
The following is an excerpt of an interview with Weldon and Pierce:
Longitudes: What has been the most rewarding part of owning a business?
OME Gear: We actually own two businesses, OME Gear and A Salty Rim, and have two podcasts, GSD Entrepreneur and Do It In Nature. The most rewarding part of us owning our own businesses is our ability to work together every day.
But beyond us working together, we have built an incredible network of other entrepreneurs with whom to share the highs and lows of entrepreneurship so we know we are not alone on a deserted island with a limited supply of water.
Longitudes: What are the main challenges you face in your industry?
OME Gear: Being women in the outdoor gear space creates quite the challenge on many fronts. One front is finding funding to support our company.
The data is staggering on how many women do not receive funding for their businesses compared to their male counterparts and, if they do, it is mostly in tech. We have done 398 pitches, to 98 percent men, in the past three years. I would say our biggest challenge — and the thing that keeps us up at night — is finding the money to back our dreams.
Longitudes: Do any growing pains stand out to you?
OME Gear: As entrepreneurs, we face new challenges on a daily basis. We often say we feel like we are running a marathon of hurdles. Some of our biggest growing pains and learning curves have been finding trustworthy manufacturing partners and finding funding to help grow our business.
Longitudes: What has surprised you the most about being a small business owner?
OME Gear: How much resilience it actually takes to keep going. People talk about this all the time, but it’s difficult to comprehend how much perseverance it takes until you experience building a business yourself.
Also, another thing that has surprised us is how many people don’t live by the “golden rule” of treating others as you’d want to be treated — lack of communication and doing a half-hearted job. What we’ve learned is when you find good people who match your values, keep them close!
Longitudes: What makes your business work?
OME Gear: The thing that makes our business work is the team we have built. We could not do what we do without our team.
We have been strategic in finding the right person for each lane in our business. We have learned that finding people to work in their area of strength helps us communicate and make better decisions as a team.
Longitudes: Which UPS services are you using, and how are they helping you?
OME Gear: We are fortunate to be a part of the Diverse Customer VIP initiative with UPS, which means we enjoy full integration with UPS from “cradle to grave.” Our product is picked up from our manufacturer, moved across the ocean, processed through customs, trucked to our fulfillment centers, shipped to customers — and UPS handles returns as well.
We will also work with the marketing team to target and market our product to UPS’s customers. Knowing UPS handles all of our shipping and fulfillment needs is a godsend and helps us avoid logistics nightmares. We believe in outsourcing whatever we can to the experts so we can focus on what we do best in running our company.
Longitudes: What tips would you give to other small business owners?
OME Gear: Ask for help. Surround yourself with a network of people who have done what you are trying to accomplish.
Ask questions, and then be willing to learn and apply what you’ve learned. Also, if you believe in your idea, don’t quit. Your big break might be right around the corner!
Longitudes: What’s next for your business? How are you continuing to innovate?
OME Gear: We are on target to finally bring our flagship product, The Wanderr, to market in time for the holiday season. Once we launch our first product in the market, we will then introduce other products shortly thereafter.
Our hopes are to become a one-stop shop for anytime you need to load and carry something and want a comfortable seat and bed when you get to your destination.
All photos courtesy OME Gear.
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