When Laura Bartlett left her friend’s house one night in 2012, carrying an unfinished bottle of wine covered in plastic wrap and secured by a rubber band, she was less concerned with how pretty the hack looked than she was with spilling her wine.
After she got home, her then 20-year-old son, Mitch Strahan, joked that her makeshift wine stopper looked like a condom.
“We just kind of laughed about it,” Bartlett, 51, tells CNBC Make It.
But the joke stuck.
“It was just a funny idea until one day, several months later, he was like, ‘I think I’m going to do this. I think I’m going to make a wine condom,' " Bartlett recalls.
What started as a successful Kickstarter campaign to create the wine stoppers with a sense of humor — which raised nearly $10,000 in 2014 — is now a legitimate business. Bartlett and Strahan's Wine Condoms have now surpassed $1 million in total sales, they are featured in Paper Source stores around the country and the product is currently being considered by a big box convenience store.
But at the start, Bartlett, who was working in marketing for a bank, and Strahan, who was waiting tables, didn’t know where to begin. They just knew they wanted to make condoms for wine bottles.
“We couldn't get them made at a condom factory because true condom packaging was [done] on an assembly line,” which wouldn't allow for customization, Strahan says. Instead, they worked with an overseas glove manufacturer to find the proper molds for a product that would fit a wine bottle and sourced packaging from a company that made pill sample packets to mimic the appearance of a traditional condom wrapper.
After production issues and costs racked up, the venture ended its first year at a loss even after the crowdfunding raise. But encouraged by word-of-mouth sales and the response to their Kickstarter campaign, the duo decided to continue. Bartlett even cashed an insurance check (for her spare garage’s leaking roof) to pay for a new batch of Wine Condoms when some defective ones broke and needed to be replaced.
“It took a lot of convincing from me too. I’m like, ‘I promise, we’ll make that money back,’” Strahan remembers telling his mom.
But big breaks in the ensuing months made the gamble worth it, starting with the product being featured as a holiday gift idea on The Today Show in 2014. Two years later, a Wine Condoms video profile from LADbible, a U.K.-based online publication, went viral on Facebook and now boasts over 30 million views.
“Any time we got some major publicity, the response was really great,” Bartlett says.
Last year, Bartlett and Strahan sold over $500,000 worth of Wine Condoms, mostly through Amazon, and are projecting annual sales to cross the $750,000 mark in 2018. Now that the business has scaled, instead of storing product in Strahan’s apartment, they've moved it to a 3,000-square-foot warehouse near Dallas. Through their website, a box of six reusable wine condoms sells for $15.
Four years ago, if anyone had suggested to Bartlett that the company would grow to be as big as it has, the idea would have been as laughable as the plastic wrap contraption that sat on her counter and started it all. The journey has taught Bartlett and Strahan that even if you don’t have any experience launching a business, it can be figured out with just a few internet searches.
“Don't wait for somebody to give you the blueprint — go find the blueprint,” she says. “We paid a bunch of our time and money to chase down that blueprint, but look where we are now. It’s because we didn’t give up.”
— Video by Zack Guzman
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