You Don’t Need a Shark to Find Financing for Your Small Business

by Martin Lieberman, Staples®

Greg Cronin never thought his Lockerbones product would turn into a successful business — he was just trying to help his daughter, Ashley, stay organized at school. But five years after creating something new with a piece of plywood, Greg finds his creation in hundreds of school lockers.

Like many small business owners, Greg (pictured here at right with Ashley and his business partner, Steve Coachys) considers himself a “serial entrepreneur.” Since leaving the corporate world 13 years ago, he’s owned a number of companies, including a real estate business, a bowling alley and a racquet club. But Lockerbones is more than just Greg’s latest venture. He’s producing this product through his Clinton, MS–based business FMD, which stands for For My Daughter/From My Dad. This will always be the inspiration behind everything he does, and he hopes Lockerbones will be just the first in a long line of products introduced by FMD.

We caught up with Greg to learn more about how he’s made Lockerbones a success, and find out how small businesses can overcome the challenge of finding financial support.

Where did the idea for Lockerbones come from?

It was a Sunday evening and my daughter needed a locker organizer for the next morning. I’m not someone who goes shopping on Sunday, and she went to bed a little sad and worried. I wanted to think of something to help her out, so I went and got a piece of plywood out of the garage, got my table saw, and proceeded to make the first Lockerbones. At about 2:00 in the morning I finished up. When I gave it to her the next morning, she was reluctant — it was basically just a pile of wood — but she loves me and she was okay with taking it to school. She put it in her locker and it worked extremely well. Then a couple other kids saw it, and, thankfully, they said they really liked it.

At the time, did you have any idea that the first Lockerbones would develop into what it’s become?

I did not. But it just snowballed, and more and more people were requesting one. The real “aha!” moment for me was when I realized there was no other locker organizer out there, just shelves. So that gave more meaning to this product. Then it took about a year and a half before it became evident that we had something that was bigger than our one school.

Is this your first business? 

Ha ha, no. I’ve always been innovative and owned my own businesses, for the most part. I started off selling vegetables out of a garden, just off a golf cart around the neighborhood. Then I did lawn care, then I was a tennis pro and then I got stuck in the corporate world. But I’m a builder — I build houses. I’m a developer — I’ve developed land. I’m a real estate agent. I own a bowling alley. I have a racquet club. I’m someone who likes to go out and do things, but I like other people to do things, too. I celebrate people being independent in the world and giving the world what they’re best at.

What challenges you the most, and how do you handle it?

It’s always a challenge to find supporters who will back you with resources and money. That’s the biggest thing, because the ideas are abundant out there. The challenge is finding people who have the resources available to get behind your idea so you can take it to the next level.

You need the pure determination to stick with it and to spend the time it takes to promote your idea and seek out willing investors. In my case, I found a partner named Steve Coachys who had an interest, so we had more than one person working on this. We also utilized our development authority here in Mississippi. They had some local inventor conferences, and we went to one and presented our product. We won a little money there and got a little recognition in the local press. And then we landed an opportunity to be on “Shark Tank” and present our product to a large audience. A company our size can’t buy that kind of advertising. So that launched us as a valid, nationwide player.

How did your appearance on “Shark Tank” affect Lockerbones?

Appearing on “Shark Tank” was more significant than the deal we received. The deal we received from the sharks may or may not work out as a benefit to us, but the exposure on the show is indeed the benefit. The response from all the people who saw us and have contacted us proactively has been our largest success.

And then, when Staples called me three days after the “Shark Tank” episode aired to invite us to participate in this year’s Back to School program, I did not think there was a remote possibility of accomplishing that. But Staples has a business development, forward-thinking part of the business that focuses on innovative products and new offerings. Being able to work within Staples, to utilize resources like that, has been very impressive. While “Shark Tank” was a great success for us, Staples has moved us along faster and further than the sharks would ever have time to do.

What’s your secret for making more happen?

Be willing to collaborate with people. Have a willingness to share and to give credit where credit is due. A lot of the time, people just want credit. They just want to be thanked. Be grateful for the people who assist you and express that to them openly.

Have you received any particularly good advice that has helped you or changed how you’ve built the business?

“Stay with the course and be patient” was important. Things don’t happen overnight. That’s probably been the most consistent message I’ve heard. Getting through a successful project launch is a journey for an individual, whereas it may be a day-to-day business operation for a large corporation.

Where do you see FMD in 5 to 10 years?

My hope is that the business will be financially rewarding and we’ll be continuing to introduce new products. Hopefully we’ll have an income stream so we can provide in our communities. That’s my biggest goal: to have an ability to fund some other activities that I feel our community and our country need. It’s what motivates me.

That, and your daughter, of course. I’m sure Ashley’s real proud of her dad.

Yeah, proud and embarrassed at this point — it’s a good balance.

Lockerbones are available on staples.com® and in select Staples® retail locations.

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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