Back in 2007, mother of three and enterprising entrepreneur Julie Pickens had $20,000 and a dream to create a totally new product that would help soothe kids’ chapped, runny noses. Though she had a background in sales from working with Gallo Winery, Miller Brewing Company, and owning a business as a franchisee for Cold Stone Creamery, Pickens hadn’t ever started from the proverbial napkin sketch.
Flash forward five years. You can now find Little Busy Bodies Boogie Wipes for infants and toddlers and its Saline Soothers for older kids in over 50,000 stores across the country including such retail juggernauts as Walgreens, Target, and Toys R Us; sales last year exceeded $10 million. And they're about to get even bigger thanks to Pickens' involvement with P&G’s Connect+Develop open innovation program.
By partnering with small companies, individual inventors, and even some competitors, Proctor & Gamble’s initiative has brought such how-did-we-ever-do-without-this products such as Olay Regenerist, Swiffer, and Pulsonic toothbrushes to market. The company credits Connect+Develop with more than half of its new product over the past decade.
Though Pickens had heard about the initiative, she tells Fast Company, "I didn’t sit down and have this great idea to pitch them." The popularity of Boogie Wipes patented formula had already attracted interest from larger companies looking to buy in. While Little Busy Bodies cofounder Mindee Doney had begun to transition out of the business, Pickens says she really wanted to stay and continue to grow. "I asked myself, 'How can we leverage Little Busy Bodies brand power and come together with a strategic partnership?'" The answer was to cast her lot with P&G.
Jeff Weedman, P&G’s vice president of global business development, who oversees Connect+Develop, notes that the biggest change in the program since its inception is that now in addition to vetting some 4,000 submissions annually, P&G goes out and solicits innovation from a larger network of businesses and individuals who have a history of working with them.
Pickens’ submission was one of the unsolicited applications that Weedman says gets vetted by a team who "sit close" to his desk. When something has merit (and a patented intellectual property), Weedman says it gets electronically submitted to a virtual review board of experts within the company. If interested, due diligence is the next step.
In Pickens case, her submission was compelling but not quite ready for prime time, says Weedman. But she’d gotten enough attention to earn a hand up. "It’s not just yes or no," explains Weedman. "It sometimes is about, Can we hook you up with someone else? This whole world is about connection."
Tapping its network, P&G introduced Pickens to Dan Meyer, CEO of Nehemiah Manufacturing, licensees of Procter & Gamble’s Pampers Kandoo flushable bathroom wipes.
Over the course of a dinner on P&G’s home turf of Cincinnati, Pickens says she and Meyer really hit it off. "Their philosophy of doing business was a perfect fit with ours," she explains describing Nehemiah’s mission to give back to the local community by offering jobs to those who are hard to employ, such as felons. From her headquarters in Oregon, Pickens had made a similar commitment to hiring moms who'd been out of the workplace for a while and needed flexible schedules to accommodate child care.
The two executives continued the conversation which eventually resulted in a partnership; Pickens moved Little Busy Bodies to Cincinnati this past April. "It just made sense to run a leaner operation by sharing overhead," she observes. It also will help as the two companies get ready to launch a new product within a new brand at P&G.
Weedman says he admires Pickens' initiative to relocate the entire company (including seven staffers). "She didn’t put a toe in the water, she’s an all-in go-getter. I am looking forward to big things," he adds.
So is Pickens. Until the big reveal, she has to stay mum about what the new product will be. Likewise, she can’t discuss the details of the licensing agreement, but describes in general terms as involving a royalty payment and marketing fee to use the P&G brand.
"P&G offers a tremendous amount of support; they want brands to be successful and put a lot of people behind it," she says. "If everything goes well, we could easily double our revenue with more brand awareness with consumers."
Little Busy Bodies will grow too, Pickens notes, adding new products independently, as well. "We will do fun stuff."
[Image: Ilya Andriyanov via Shutterstock]