Startup Showcase: Send best wishes while doing the dishes
Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews entrepreneurs for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on December 1, 2018.
Approximately 6.5 billion greeting cards and 13 billion rolls of paper towels are sold and used every year. The unfortunate end game for both these products is the trash. That is a lot of waste. However, what if you had the opportunity to reduce that waste, while still enjoying the tradition of a novelty card and soaking up a mess … all at once? Entrepreneur Carla Scholz is making that idea possible with her businesses Soak it Up and Clards. She has created eco-friendly products that not only appeal to the heart but the mind, and by doing so is impacting the future of our environment.
Name of companies: Soak it Up; Clards
Business Start Date: October 2017
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Customers: For Soak it Up we are working with wholesale 120+ gift shops including local locations in St. Paul: Bibelot & Corazon. Also, a few hundred e-commerce through soakitupcloths.com and Etsy. Clards is just getting up and running.
Name: Carla Scholz
City you live in: St. Paul
High school attended: Sevastopol
College attended: University of Wisconsin – Stout
Q. What led to this point?
A. I am a mom, an art director, and an award-winning goat milker. I grew up in Door County Wisconsin. As a kid, I fell in love with goats because my parents created and ran a “Living Museum of Rural America” called The Farm. I designed my first t-shirt when I was 12 that read “I’m a Kid from The Farm.” I’ve been designing stuff ever since. Art directing thousands of retail catalogs exposed me to loads of products and provided an opportunity to come up with original ideas for products like shirts, mugs, snow globes, and greeting cards. All things that nobody really needs. My latest business allows me to create products that are environmentally friendly and useful.
Q. What is your business?
A. Soak it Up sells clever, compostable European sponge cloths. 1 cloth = 1,500 paper towels. By choosing to print on bright colored cloths with a single color, our process uses minimal production materials making them more eco-friendly than similar cloths. Fun regional designs like “Minnesota land of 10,000 lakes and a whole lotta flakes,” “Great Lakes Always have been,” and “Wisconsin proud world capital of bratwurst, toilet paper and more” make sales at (mostly Midwest) gift shops steady and growing. Most are available online too, but you must visit Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, or Minnesota State Parks for custom cloths.
My latest new big idea with Soak it up cloths is Clards: greetings that clean up — literally.
Clards eliminate the waste and give an alternative to paper towels. Multi-function Clards are more than a greeting card, they are a useful, eco-friendly gift that become a daily reminder of the event/emotion given for. Clards appear to be like any high end greeting card but the difference is once wet they transform into soft, durable, long lasting cloths. Monitor the growth of this product at Clards.com.
Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. I met with a friend from Valley Art Group — a wholesale rep group that specializes in local artists — to pick his brain and learn more about what was trending. He brought a sample sponge cloth and one of my first thoughts was, what else can this be used for? What about a greeting card? After months of research we agreed that if I designed and produced some regional, funny cloths Valley Art Group could sell them. At the same time a retail client of mine agreed to several custom designs. The first Soak it Up Cloths order was placed in September 2017. To date over 10,000 cloths have been sold.
Designing and producing Soak it Up Cloths established manufacturing, sales, materials and time to file a patent for my big idea. I was very fortunate to be chosen by an outstanding attorney through Legal Corps. (recommended at a JJHill Center program called Meet the Expert).
Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. Soak it Up cloths and Clards are a healthy and earth-conscious solution to everyday items.
Q. Where do you go when you need help?
A. I ask anyone that will listen for suggestions, meet with people, call old friends, go to networking events and make cold calls.
Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. Designing a greeting card with unusual material sizes and processes with large minimum quantities has been challenging. Finding a digital printer that was willing and able to try to print on the unique material was key. I recently found a willing participant and samples have turned out well. This will allow for small print runs and customization.
Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. I enjoy idea generation and problem solving. I have worked with many startups and have learned by others success’ and failures.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. The potential of this idea to make a difference.
Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?
A. Manufacturing details including product importing and assembly.
Q. How are you funding your business?
A. To date it both Soak it Up has been funded by sales. A crowdfunding campaign is in the works for Clards for early 2019.
Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?
A. Success would be American Greetings (Papyrus) embracing my Clards concept.
Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?
A. A great entrepreneur needs to trust instincts, ride the highs to survive the lows, and believe it can be.
Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. My parents instilled in me the importance of nature and our environment. Anyone living on this planet has an obligation to future generations to be aware of their impact. I want to make eco-friendly products an easy choice even for extreme or careless consumers.
Q. How did the James J. Hill Center help you with your business?
A. I just finished the James J. Hill Centers first Co.Starters program which helped me fill in the blanks, understand important details, and left me energized and feeling confident. I have made many helpful connections through various events at the Hill including people from Score, Legal Corp, and WIN.
You can hear from startups like this every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. Visit jjhill.org/calendar for scheduled dates.The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public
8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups