From the June 2000 issue of Startups

On her way to a job interview four years ago, Janice McLean got a hole in her stocking that "you could see from Seattle." Horrified, she ran into a convenience store and bought a pair of pantyhose, then realized that she had no place to put them on. Fortunately, her future employer didn't hold the fashion faux pas against her, and she got the job. But her experience set the 31-year-old former administrative assistant on a mission: To install pantyhose vending machines in restrooms across America.

Today, her Baltimore company, McLean Machines and Company Inc., exists to keep women safe from pantyhose disasters, offering four types of legwear styles in small to extra large for $2 to $4 a pair. Twenty-three vending machines are installed in churches, municipal buildings and airports in the Baltimore area, but McClean hopes that's just the beginning. She plans to install the machines wherever hoseless women can be found: in schools, bus depots, hospitals, theaters and other hot spots around the country. McLean will also offer the vending machines to women-friendly businesses.

McLean researched the business before jumping in, reading vending industry publications and visiting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to learn whether anyone else had a similar business. "There were vending machines that sold pantyhose along with other products," she says, "but no one had a current patent on a vending machine that sold only pantyhose." The coast was clear for McLean to have an engineer design a vending machine that she could turn into a prototype. She invested $3,000 in the endeavor-$2,000 in personal savings and a $1,000 microloan from a local business incubator, Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore. Marketing the business wasn't a problem. Baltimore Business Journal and other media learned about the enterprise through word-of-mouth and ran articles about the vending business. Now McLean is working on a new line of hosiery called Uni that she hopes retailers will pick up. "The biggest hold-up for me," she says, "is having the time to reach all the potential markets."

Contact Source

McLean Machines & Co. Inc., (866) 515-5010