Big Boost

Even though you've got a great idea, hurdles along the way can stop you dead. Find out how this entrepreneur bashed through the barriers to create a successful product.

One hot summer day in 1998, Stephanie Heroff of Minneapolis decided she just had to wear a top with spaghetti straps. Sounds simple enough-but, of course, there was that little problem that women everywhere can relate to: those pesky bra straps peeking out, and no decent alternative but the one-size-fits-all contraptions that come in cardboard boxes.

Determined to wear those spaghetti straps, Heroff decided to put her ingenuity to work and create a better solution. Her idea? Sew bra straps to the spaghetti straps so they couldn't separate, and then have small hooks in the top to hold a removable bra. Heroff was on to something: She had a tailor make about 30 prototypes for her friends to try, and they all raved, commenting on how someone at last understood the problems of summer clothes. "I started taking little surveys wherever I went, asking women if they ever wore tops with spaghetti straps," recalls Heroff, 30. "When the answer was no, the reason was always the same: Women didn't like their bra straps showing, and the shelf bra wasn't supportive enough."

Sound like the perfect product for a success story? Not quite. Heroff had some pretty significant problems from the get-go:

  • No one had ever made a product like Heroff's, and manufacturers weren't sure exactly how it could be done.
  • Stores would have to stock a selection of tops in different sizes and colors and a selection of bras. They weren't sure how to order her product.
  • Heroff quickly spent her funds creating prototypes, because she was producing them at retail. Plus, she ended up needing more than 50 additional prototypes before finishing the product's design.
  • Finally, while fashion designers were fully aware of the technical details of the clothing industry, Heroff was pretty much in the dark.

In a nutshell, Heroff's product had the potential of turning into a big sinkhole that would quickly drain every penny she had.

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This article was originally published in the November 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Big Boost.

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