Susan Clayton, the founder of WhitePaws RunMitts, is a runner who came up with a simple solution for a common problem. “As you run, your temperature fluctuates. You are cold at the start and then you heat up. You might also get cold again if you run in the shade or the temperature drops. You’re constantly putting your mittens on and then taking them off,” she said. “I would just stick them in my shirt or in my pocket. Sometimes I would lose one. I was constantly fumbling with them.” Clayton invented RunMitts to solve this challenge. “RunMitts are convertible mittens. You can just take the top off if you need a little airflow. If you get really hot, you can just push them down to your wrist. Then, if you need them again, you just pull them back up.”
Why did you start the company?
I have a hair salon that’s been in business for 24 years. Besides that, I have a bunch of hobbies because I try to stay as active and healthy as possible. I started running in my twenties. I’m in my fifties now. I would always stop and start, but about eight years ago I started seriously running. I ran with a running support group called Back on My Feet. We ran every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:30 in the morning. I was the coach, so I’d have to be out there every day. I prefer running in the winter, but I was always cold. I’d be miserable. My hands would be numb and it would drive me crazy. I was always trying to find the perfect mittens. I saw a friend of mine running with socks on her hands. I’m a knitter, so I thought I could knit something better than that. I tried a couple different types. I finally found one I liked and decided to see if I could get it patented. I had heard of other people who had a simple idea and showed it to someone and then that person took it and got it patented and sold it. Even though it was so simple, I wanted to get it patented so someone couldn’t take it from me. I took it to a patent attorney and it took three years to get the patent approved. Once it did, I launched the company.
How did you fund the company at the start?
I used personal savings and some credit. I had some rental properties and I happened to sell one just before I started the company. I had that available capital to start. I also got a small loan from my mother.
How do you manage cash flow?
I manage cash flow from sales. We’re still a very small company. We’re seasonal from October to February. We use some credit and money we’ve made to pay for inventory. We start getting inventory in the middle of the summer. If I run out of a certain product, we have a manufacturer close enough that we can get more as needed.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
Trying to find time to run it while running another business. It’s difficult to keep it organized and to stay focused on the days I have devoted to work on this business.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
I meet complete strangers who say, “Your mittens changed my life.” I had someone say, “Now I can run year-round. I’m so glad that you took the chance.” And I go and talk to young students. It’s great to tell them that you can take a simple idea and start a company from it. Just keep pushing for it. It’s helped me stay really positive by getting good feedback from young kids.
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?
I should have done more research. I didn’t do enough research on fabric or on the manufacturer or on production. I thought making mittens would be super simple because it’s a simple product. But, it’s so much more involved than I ever thought. You really have to make sure that the manufacturers do quality control. So many of the first products I got I couldn’t sell because they weren’t sewn right. I should have known more terminology so I could have better communicated to the manufacturer what I really wanted. A lot of them will take advantage of you if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?
I got the patent and found a patent attorney who supported me. Mine helped me to stay focused and stay positive. I’m so glad I stuck it out and waited to get the patent – that was really crucial.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Don’t be afraid. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something or something is not a good idea. I’ve had so many people try their best to discourage me. Listen to your own mind and stay your own course. Don’t let the naysayers distract you from your purpose. In the long run, you’re the one who has to go through all of this, so don’t let someone else who is not going to be there or be supportive stray you from your final goal.
What’s next for WhitePaws RunMitts?
I started with a new manufacturer that I think is really going to help move the company forward. I started with a new water-resistant and wind-resistant fabric based on customer feedback. I also want to add products like hats and other accessories to the line to take it from a mitten company to an apparel company.