Wednesday, 25 June 2008

First-million story #9 - Be in love with your idea

In 1980, when the younger of her two daughters started kindergarten, Doris Christopher "started feeling this urge to get back to work." But not just any work. "I wanted to do something meaningful that had responsibility attached to it."

After months of deliberation, Christopher came up with a concept that accomplished her aim, and eventually put her at the helm of a $700-million business. She founded the Pampered Chef, a Chicago-area company with a sales force of 70,000 "kitchen consultants," who sell kitchen tools to guests during in-home demonstrations. Her company went big-time when it was sold to the Berkshire Hathaway investment group (Christopher remains as chairman), but she cooked up the idea around her kitchen table.

Christopher, a former home-economics teacher, loved cooking and teaching, but was wary of the demands of a full-time job. While brainstorming ideas with her husband, Jay, she noticed that friends often didn't have the small kitchen tools that she considered essential. "When people were in my kitchen, they'd ask, 'Where did you get this? Can you get one for me?' That was the notion that finally clicked."

Selling kitchen tools suited Christopher's background and her desire for flexibility, but her husband's entrepreneurial experience was critical. "My husband had the idea that you could try something and it might work, or it might not," says Christopher. "That was very helpful."

Borrowing $3,000 against a life-insurance policy, Christopher prowled the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, picking up good-quality kitchen tools at wholesale prices. At her first home show, in October 1980, she sold $175 worth of vegetable peelers, kitchen shears and other gadgets. By year's end, she had grossed about $7,000.

The business grew slowly. Says Christopher: "You have to be in love with your idea because you're going to spend a lot of time with it." It wasn't until 1987 that the Pampered Chef surpassed $1 million in annual sales. But "I was as busy as I wanted to be, and I was successful."

TIP #9: Enjoy what you're doing. Doris Christopher's affinity for cooking led her to found the Pampered Chef, a purveyor of kitchen tools.

Add to: Digg Add to: Del.icio.us Add to: StumbleUpon Add to: Slashdot Add to: Netscape Add to: Furl Add to: Yahoo Add to: Spurl Add to: Google Add to: Newsvine Add to: Blinkbits Add to: Ma.Gnolia