Don’t Underestimate the Impact of One Good Idea

by Martin Lieberman, Staples

If you’ve brought carry-on luggage on a plane any time in the past decade, you know how annoying it can be to pack your shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc. — you can only bring as much as can fit in a quart-sized clear plastic bag. After yet another flight and going through security, Linda Flanagan knew there had to be a better, more stylish way for people to travel with toiletries. So she put her design background to good use and created the AirQuart®, a fashionable way to transport all the regulated essentials when you travel by plane, and her company Flanabags.

The TSA-compliant bags, which launched in 2011, caught on quickly, and today they can be found in stores across the U.S. and in Canada. This success has taken even Linda by surprise. “Don’t underestimate the impact that one good idea can have,” she says. Here, Linda explains how finding a creative solution to a problem before anyone else can be the launch pad a business needs to take off.

AirQuart is such a smart product. How did you come up with the idea?

Looking around the TSA line on one of my many flights, I saw travelers like myself struggling to keep their liquids and gels in a plain plastic kitchen bag. That’s when an idea struck: I was going to face the challenge of building a better TSA-compliant bag. I fired up my sewing machine and started creating clear vinyl quart-sized bags with fashionable fabric trims. I kept adding features that made the bag more utilitarian than the plastic freezer bag: a built-in wrist strap for hands-free carrying, a gusseted bottom that stands up, an interlocking coil zipper to secure small items and so on. Then I trademarked the name AirQuart and took my product to local retailers to get feedback. To my surprise, all the feedback was positive, with reactions like, “We can sell this” and “This is a no-brainer.”

What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

Because my home is my office and my warehouse, it can seem like I’m always working. But being my own boss gives me the freedom to set my own hours, and take a day off when I need to. And the commute is a breeze.

What gets you up and excited in the morning?

I love opening my email in the morning to see what orders have come in overnight. It seems like there’s always someone shopping online in the wee hours of the morning.

That’s exciting for sure, but it can also create challenges. How do you handle them?

Now that demand has grown for the AirQuart and other bags in our line, our biggest challenge has been finding manufacturers in the U.S. to produce them. We were lucky to find a factory in the South we’ve partnered with, but we’re still searching for a backup factory, in anticipation of even higher demand in the future.

Other than by sales, how do you define success?

I think a big measure of success is simply finding a solution to a problem and implementing it in an elegant, unexpected way. With no competition for a fashionable, functional TSA-compliant bag, I find that I’m selling people something they never knew they needed. I compare it to cup holders in a car: 20 years ago, nobody knew they needed them. Now you can’t live without them.

What are your favorite marketing channels?

Since 2013, I’ve exhibited at several travel goods shows and this has proven to be the best way to reach independent luggage dealers. I now work with more than 70 retailers in the U.S. and Canada. At the same time, I pursued product reviews in print publications and spots on television programs that cater to travelers. This “free” publicity helps drive consumers directly to the Flanabags.com Web site.

What’s one tool that you can’t run your business without?

Like every other business, I couldn’t function without my computer. Whether I’m designing flyers, invoicing customers, sending faxes or reviewing fabric swatches online, it feels like I’m always at my computer.

What role does Staples play in helping Flanabags succeed?

I do all of my short-run color printing at the Copy & Print Center at my local Staples in Marlborough, MA. It’s very easy to produce color laser copies of product flyers, package inserts and color cards on very short notice with a quick turnaround time. I also print banners and signs that are specific to the audience I’m trying to reach at a trade show.

In addition, I purchase acrylic letter sorters and use them as point-of-sale product displays. The AirQuart bag is the perfect size to fit in those racks and it has proven to be a good incentive to give to our dealers.

Ten years from now, where do you see Flanabags?

I plan to continue to add products to the Flanabags line. The possibilities for good-looking and functional travel bags are endless!

Do you have a great small business success story? Let us know in the comments section below, and we might feature you in a future article!

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