It was by terrible accident that I got into business—a literal accident. In the early 1990s, a tire blew out on my vehicle. I was a single mom, my children were toddlers, just three and four years old, and because of my injuries, I was left navigating an old-fashioned wheelchair.
The damage to my leg and foot was significant and the doctors were unsure if the leg was salvageable. I thank my sisters who convinced the doctor to reconstruct my leg, allowing me the ability to walk today. My physical therapist recommended that I alternate ice and heat to help alleviate my suffering. The trouble was, I didn’t have enough arms to chase after my children, use a traditional wheelchair and hold a hot or cold pack in place. “There’s got to be a better way!” I thought, and so I made my first heating pad and accidentally became a businesswoman.
I had no formal training. I just had a product that people wanted. It was by word of mouth I started selling my original heating pad. Once, there were so many people coming to my house that my neighbors thought I was selling drugs and reported me to the police. I decided, at that point, that it was time to take my product to the market. I rented a booth at the flea market and was officially in business.
In 2000, I was issued my first patent. I started selling my product at small craft shows every weekend, where I packed up my kids and supplies and drove across the state to put a few bucks in my pocket. Although my product was patented, others were making knock-off products duplicating my heating pad left and right. I discussed this with my patent attorney but was advised I didn’t have enough money to fight those infringing upon my patent. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and several companies at this point had started copying my design, but I was not flattered; I was driven. I needed to take care of my children, so failure was not an option, and by God’s grace and mercy, I was able to support my family through my invention.
In 2005, I married my best friend and adopted a German Shepard. As my family grew, so did my responsibilities. There were some months where I used my mortgage payment to make show deposits. I took risks, some bigger than others.
“You can’t make this stuff up”
I took a few more risks and attended shows out of state. Texas has a month-long outdoors Christmas show. Typically I didn’t participate in outdoor market events, but I was reassured by other vendors that this show would be worth it. So, in November of 2013, I bet my mortgage on this show, packed up a van and a trailer with sewing machines and everything I needed to manufacture the product while on the road. And, wouldn’t you believe it? The year I attended this Christmas market, Texas had the largest ice storm it had seen in a hundred years.
If I wrote a real story about the many things that happen in business, most people would think it’s simply made up—you can plan all you want and then something out of the blue hits you, and you just deal with it.
The city was not equipped to handle the ice storm; everything just shut down. There was so much ice, I couldn’t leave the hotel. It was during this ice-out that I was offered the opportunity to learn Amazon. I had always thought about selling on Amazon but never had enough time. With no technical knowledge, I spent hours trying to navigate the online platform. When I had questions, I called seller support. I must have called them 100 times. Soon, I was selling my product on Amazon. I returned home on Christmas Eve, my children decorated the house, and I saw the tree glistening through the window. I experienced one of those reassuring moments which made me then realize my sacrifices had been worth it. Online sales were now strong enough, I felt my driving from show to show to peddle my goods was soon coming to an end and “retirement” was in my near future.
Still suffering from chronic pain due to my earlier auto accident, I wrapped a heating pad around my knee at night. One night, in particular, stands out—while lying comfortably in bed with my husband and our dog, my husband pulled the covers and ends up taking my heating pad with the covers. I re-positioned my heating pad, and then the dog re-positioned herself, moving my heating pad out of place yet again. I found myself fed up, and said, “To heck with this, there’s got to be a better way!”. I got out of bed at 3 a.m. and created the first prototype of a stretching heating pad that would later be named “Therma-Stretch”®.
Just when I thought I was going to retire, I created a stretching heating pad for my personal use. I thought it was too good NOT to share with the world—back to driving from show to show to peddle my new invention would mean retirement would now be further from my grip. I sought out a patent attorney, and I was told my design was not patentable; it was not unique or novel in any way. My daughter encouraged me to seek a second opinion. Turns out, the first attorney I spoke with was incorrect, and we were able to apply for a utility patent. In 2014 my son, and I opened our company named Livell. It’s a play on two words, live and well, and is representative of “Live Well, Feel Better”. Over the next few years, we developed “Therma-Stretch”®. In 2016, we were awarded a utility patent for Therma-Stretch®.
During that same year, my sister and I flew to Utah to attend the Women’s Leadership LIVE Competition. Money was tight, but this was an opportunity I had to take. To my surprise, I won 1st place! During 2017, Therma-Stretch® won many additional awards including the “Best Invention of the Americas” and “Best Alternative Therapy” by INPEX.
Women’s Leadership LIVE has provided me the opportunity to work closely with and appear live on HSN many times. The journey doesn’t stop here—we have half a dozen more patents pending and continue to develop products and ideas that can help people just like me. I am fortunate to have been able to find a miracle in my tragedy and blessed to help those who also suffer from aches and pains.
If you believe in something don’t take no for an answer.
Be ready to do whatever it takes.
Don’t let an opportunity pass you by. They aren’t always obvious.
Have a plan and do your homework but be flexible.