By Denise Lodge
Sergey Brin and Larry Page co-founded Google in their twenties. Thomas Edison was granted his first patent at age 22. Despite the history of younger entrepreneurs and inventors, entrepreneurship is not an endeavour strictly of young adults.
At age 58, Anita Crook was not expecting to found a business. In fact, she was looking forward to retirement; yet in 2004, she began a new career. Crook launched Pouchee®, the purse organizer that has reached global success, selling in over 2,000 stores worldwide. Now, eight years later, at age 65, Crook continues to expand her business and has no plans to retire.
When asked if she had ever considered becoming an entrepreneur, Crook simply states, “No. Never.” By the time she founded Pouchee®, she had already raised a family. She had played an advisory role in some of her husband’s entrepreneurial endeavours, and though she found them excellent learning experiences, she never considered herself a businesswoman.
In Christmas 2004, her son gave her a trendy purse that she loved, but knew she would never use. There were no pockets; there was no organization at all. The solution? “So unlike me,” Crook says, “I designed an organizer.” Crook did not sew, so she spoke with her friend’s daughter, who did. This acquaintance led to a friend who had purses made overseas, and eventually to the creation of the first Pouchees®.
Pouchee®: The Ultimate Purse Organizer
Pouchee® is designed for busy, fashion-conscious women, and makes it possible to change purses quickly to match multiple outfits. Fitting neatly inside handbags, gym bags, beach and other bags, Pouchee® also organizes their contents, making them easily accessible.
In Crook’s words, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Pouchee® was born not only out of her desire to “stay organized and change purses,” but also out of her “impatience.” She does not like to “fumble around, hunting for her keys and pens,” so she “always searched for organized purses.” The problem with these purses was that once their contents were organized, it was too much trouble to change bags.
Crook launched Pouchee® with little overhead and absolutely no debt, and when asked to what she attributes her success, Crook gives credit “to God.” Her life as an entrepreneur was not anything she “planned or knew how to do.” She does not consider Pouchee® her “achievement”; “It was a surprise.” She says that it has “all worked out the way it has.”
One of the greatest struggles Crook faced when she began Pouchee® was nerves. Many decisions needed to be made, such as choosing colours and fabric. She was afraid to “get it wrong.” Added to such decisions was the possibility of regretting the financial investment; she wondered, “What do I do if nobody likes them, and I’m stuck with 2,000 Pouchees®?”
Crook also faced the fear of selling the product; she says that the “fear of rejection” was a reality she “had to overcome.” With “prayer and trembling,” she approached stores with her product. The first store loved the Pouchees®, and for the next three to four months, a steady stream of stores purchased them. For her first season in business, Crook encountered 100 per cent success. Some stores called back within days to re-order. The fact that people liked and used her product gave Crook the courage to keep going.
Pouchee® has expanded from selling in 60 stores to more than 2,000 worldwide. Crook says that it is exciting to see the growth; she says that she is not a sales person, but she listens to her customers. When it comes to details such as “colour, material, size, comfort, and design,” Crook listens to what people want, and is willing to adapt her product.
Crook knew herself and her goals from the outset. She knew Pouchee® was a product to be sold in boutiques, and she maintained that vision.
Crook shares encouraging advice for those who would consider beginning a business. There are a lot of decisions to make, from getting your product on the market to pricing. She recommends some helpful tips:
- Consider the cost. Can you make enough money to re-invest the profits into your business?
- Think as a consumer. Will people be willing to pay what you ask? Knowing your market will help you to make wise decisions.
- Know your product. Where can you see your product sell? In which stores, specifically?
She encourages anyone who has a dream to “go for it.” She states that failure is merely a learning experience. She also advises that what seems to be the worst is rarely as bad as it is “in the mind.” “By overcoming fear,” she says, “you never know what will happen.”
We asked Crook what challenges she faces today, operating her expanding enterprise. For Crook, her primary challenge is the “enormity of the decisions” she makes. Aware that her decisions affect not only her, but also her employees and her customers, Crook seeks to make decisions carefully, thoughtfully, and wisely. The amount of inventory to buy, investing profits back into Pouchee®, and considering employees comprise “a delicate balancing act.”
Aging in Entrepreneurship
As an entrepreneur, “there are both advantages and disadvantages to being older,” Crook expresses. While she does not “have the energy” in her sixties that she “had in [her] thirties,” she has more “experience and wisdom” now than she did then. She makes different decisions now than she would have made at 30.
Some of those decisions include renting her office building instead of owning it. She began Pouchee® debt-free, and would like it to remain that way, with the “freedom to make decisions without worrying about paying someone back.” She says that learning from her mistakes has been the best way to grow in wisdom.
Crook sees a change in society’s attitude towards aging. When Crook started her business, “nobody said [she] was too old.” Now the grandmother of four, Crook remembers a time when grandmothers “sat around, rocking, and waiting for the kids to call.” “Now,” Crook says, “grandmothers wear chic clothes, go to the gym, operate businesses, and eat well.” A positive attitude towards mature adults “starts with us, and society will come along.”
Crook’s goal is to build her business so that “all women everywhere know about Pouchee®.” She wants to “add products, increase its presence, and continue to build on what has been started, adding new styles and materials.” In her personal life, she wants to “grow in grace, love God and others more, and live long enough to see her grandchildren grow up.”
As for retirement, “when you don’t start working until you’re almost 60, you keep going as long as you’re healthy and able.” Crook says she will continue at Pouchee® until “God says “stop.”” The concept of retirement has changed so much that Crook is unsure what it means; Crook lived an active life before she founded Pouchee®, and she is sure that she would continue post-Pouchee®. Crook says that “her” plans are not truly hers; “What tomorrow brings,” she says, “who knows?”
When she was nearly 60, Crook “stepped out into the unknown.” She is proud of “facing [her] fears,” and “happy that [she] did it without worrying about the future.” Thankful that she is able to live the life she does, she does not “take it for granted,” but takes “each day as a gift.”
For more information about Anita and Pouchee®, visit www.pouchee.com.