Heidi Worcester is no stranger to entrepreneurship. The Harvard-educated landscape architect found success in the business world working for others but yearned for job flexibility and independence after becoming a mother to three children.
In 1993, the Lyme resident left her job and joined forces with her mother and another mother-daughter team to develop The Farmhouse Collection, a nationally distributed line of furniture. She sold the company three years later and immediately started writing a series of children’s books for Harper Collins.
Five years ago, Worcester launched businesses including HEALgoods, a high-design, luxury men’s belt and sock company and NEATGoods, a brand that creates mass-market consumer products to provide better every day experiences for customers and users.
“For a while I had two companies going,” Worcester explained. “The challenges were very different and I thrived on that dialogue but ultimately I felt I could not manage both and be a good mom and wife. And while leaving HEALgoods felt like abandoning a child, I have not looked back; NEATGOODS now has the attention it needs from me to thrive.”
NEATsheets, the first product in the NEATGOODS brand, is what Worcester calls a better solution to napkins, clothing protectors or bibs. Disposable, sanitary and available in several attractive patterns, NEATsheets adhere easily to shirts and laps, and are perfect for meals, barbeques, picnics, on-the-go businesses and caregiving.
Inspiration for the product originated from Worcester’s parents as they drove across the country on a road trip. After eating many a meal in their car, they conceived of a disposable, self-adhesive napkin that would have prevented many a stain on their clothing. “Being a mom of three who was always in the car,” Worcester said, “the idea really resonated.”
As she delved into the concept, the entrepreneur determined that the market for NEATsheets was considerably larger than she originally perceived. Her brother Greg Pesky who has a background in business came aboard as her partner.
“We see our primary customer as the female baby boomer. They tend to be discerning clients who are caring for others and are sandwiched between parents, a spouse and friends on the one hand and kids and grandkids on the other. They may be a professional or a homemaker and want products that not only function better, but are appealing and well-designed.” “I have a 102-year-old grandmother who is the most stylish and elegant person I know,” she said. “But life changes. For her sake – and mine – I am going to choose a product that doesn’t just function, but that appeals to her and offers the most dignity.”
For the detail-oriented architect, taking time to proceed from concept through commercialization was important. “We were committed to being the better option getting the product made to our exact standards was imperative. We threw away our first shipment of product after finding its quality to be sub-par before going to market. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.”
Despite her base knowledge as an already-established entrepreneur, Worcester found herself inexperienced in selling everyday consumer products. She turned towards the Women’s Business Development Council for advice. The experience of working with women, she explained, was nothing short of “powerful.”
“The Women’s Business Development Council gave me solid and thoughtful advice on marketing, finance, and creating a business plan. For example, Anne DiFrancesco suggested that I diversify my product line. She said if I am putting that much effort into selling one product, I may as well sell several, and now we are expanding the line. They also helped me start the process of setting my business up to have Women-Owned Small Business designation. Most importantly, they helped me establish connections.”
She described being an entrepreneur as a career that can sometimes be a “lonely venture." “You tend to work in a void and that can be very difficult. It is important to connect, to reach out and seek advice, to ask people their opinions … then think about what they said and make your decision. Other people’s ideas may cause you to pivot or may reinforce your original idea as being solid. That’s what is so great about the Women’s Business Development Council,” she said. “They help create a community I can connect with and it’s made a world of difference for an entrepreneur like me.”
Today, five years since her parents’ road trip, online sales from her web site and Amazon (her products receive 4.85 star ratings out of 5 and consistently rave comments) continue to grow on a steep up-hill trajectory and have more than doubled in the last six months.
“The effort we are putting into the details is paying off. We’re also committed to donating one-percent of all sales to charities that benefit the planet as well as supporting our community by donating product to fundraisers such as pancake breakfasts, barbeques and auctions.”
For more information on NEATGOODS, visit NEATsheets4Eats.com.