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Episode 6: How a DSM USA Mom Successfully Landed Her Product in Thousands of Stores Worldwide

Startup Stories DSM Podcast Episode 6: Lil' Sidekick

May 25, 2018

As new parents across the land soon learn, babies and toddlers have a knack for throwing things indiscriminately. 

Greater Des Moines (DSM) mom, Amy Vohs, too experienced this describing her child as a “habitual chucker.” A self-described germaphobe, Vohs went to the store to see if she could find a tether to keep said things from falling on the ground and getting dirty. However, products on the market weren’t providing the solution she was looking for.   

Developing a New Product

“How in the world, with all this technology that we have, is there not a solution to this?” Vohs told Startup Stories DSM host Mike Colwell. “So, I went on a mommy mission to stop the drop game and we came out with Lil’ Sidekick, our multi-functional tether.”

Lil' SidekickDevelopment of the first product, a plastic tether that prevents items like toys and sippy cups to fall on the ground, was a two-year process. Vohs said she had a huge break when she started working with Iowa State University’s industrial design program.

Bootstrapping design, development and manufacturing using Iowa companies, Vohs then put the product through third-party safety testing.

“If it was a product I was going to give to my child, I wanted it to be the safest thing that we could possibly manufacture,” Vohs said.

Packaging and Taking a Product to Market

It was at this time when she was ready to take her product to market that Vohs said she made her biggest mistake.

“When you have a retail product, packaging is key. Especially if you want to get into the big box world,” Vohs said. Having a new-to-market-product, people would look at it and would ask what it was.

A “brutal” meeting with a big box representative who “annihilated” their packaging for 20 minutes helped spur a redesign that better communicated the problem the product solved and how innovative it really was.  

Vohs says it was a $30,000-plus lesson learned — meaning family savings invested in the company that was spent on the initial inadequate packaging design. Undeterred, Vohs credits that experience for the product’s success and advocates for failure as a big opportunity to learn.

A Big Break

The company’s next break came when Vohs attended Walmart’s U.S. Manufacturing Summit and was able to pitch her product. Lil’ Sidekick can now be found in 125 Walmart stores nationwide. Vohs said working with big box retailers has been rewarding, “I love Walmart. They’re an amazing company and they’re trying to make a difference.” 

Lil’ Sidekick made its first sale in 2013. Fast forward to today and its product can be found in thousands of stores across the world. In 2017, its turned a profit thanks in part to 60 percent of sales being made outside of the U.S. in 13 Asian, North American and European countries.

A new product is set to launch later in 2018 joining the multi-functional tether on the shelves of Walmart and other stores internationally.

Hear the stories of other small business and startup business owners in the community in The Partnership’s Small Business Resources Hub or sign up for the Small Business Resources newsletter to stay connected for information about upcoming events, other resources and the latest announcements in the small business community in DSM.

Startup Stories DSM

Startup Stories DSM is a podcast featuring conversations with entrepreneurs who share both their victories and failures on their paths to success. It is produced by the Greater Des Moines Partnership.