Today, we're happy to announce the second semi-finalist of our summer contest for funky start-up brands, The Smart Hanger. When Leigh Meadows, founder of The Smart Hanger, decided to take a little break from work two years ago in order to dedicate some time to her personal projects, little did she know that she’d soon have a new business to run. As Leigh said in an interview to SCHMOOZY FOX, the idea of The Smart Hanger, a Toronto based company was born out of a to do list that was supposed to include only her personal projects. Since then, this simple and yet original project received a lot of press coverage, and featured in the popular program The Dragon’s Den.
Today Leigh tells us why The Smart Hanger can be called a funky brand.
SCHMOOZY FOX: Leigh, tell me how you ended up starting The Smart Hanger when you actually wanted to take some time off work?
Leigh Meadows: Indeed, two years ago, in August, I made a decision to spend a bit of time concentrating on my hobbies and personal projects. I felt that I was facing something new in my life, and decided to put together a little to do list of everything that I wanted to achieve during the planned me time. I actually always put such lists of priorities each time that I face changes in my life, so it was a usual thing for me to do.
That time, my desire to do something good for the environment was on top of my list. But this wish was quite general. I wanted to do something very concrete, and yet could not think what exactly this could be.
One afternoon, my son Jacob and I were rearranging his closet to prepare the boy for the new school year. Towards the end of our cleaning session, we collected a pile of wire hangers lying in his room, ready to be thrown away. “But this is so bad for the environment!” my little son said. “Why don’t they make these hangers out of paper?”
Though I thought it was a great commend, I didn’t dwell on it too much at the time. But then, I found myself lying fully awake one night a couple of weeks later, thinking about what he had said. That’s how the idea of The Smart Hanger was born.
SCHMOOZY FOX: What is The Smart Hanger all about?
Leigh Meadows: The idea that I had was to replace wire hangers that go to landfill and generate so much waste, by recyclable paper hangers. As simple as that!
SCHMOOZY FOX: You quickly progressed from the idea of just making paper hangers, to turning them into an advertising platform for brands.
Leigh Meadows: This was a logical step that was born out of the necessity to cover the costs of producing these hangers in Canada. I could have outsourced manufacturing to lower cost countries, but producing the hangers in Canada simply made more sense from the environmental perspective. As this was quite expensive, it was decided to give advertising space on hangers to brands.
SCHMOOZY FOX: Two years on, and you have many brands interested in advertising through The Smart Hanger, and a dedicated force of sales people. How did you go about setting up a business and getting it to work?
Leigh Meadows: What was most important for me at the very beginning, was to get the product right for my main customers, drycleaners. They are the ones who are the biggest users of wire hangers that most of their customers simply throw away. And so, they are big contributors to landfill waste. I actually received a lot of help from the drycleaner in my neighborhood, who greatly helped me understand the market. I then met with many other drycleaners studying their needs in terms of shape and durability of the hanger. It was actually not very easy to make a perfect prototype, and the process was very scientific!
SCHMOOZY FOX: Did you have any insights into the needs of end users of The Smart Hanger?
Leigh Meadows: The role of the end consumer became of great importance when we decided to invite advertisers. I wasn’t sure how people would take the fact that they would see ads on the hangers when they picked up their clothes from drycleaners’. But they took it quite well, especially since they knew that The Smart Hanger was solving an environmental problem of landfill waste.
SCHMOOZY FOX: As an end consumer, where would I get my Smart Hangers now?
Leigh Meadows: First of all, we’re currently only present on the Canadian market, although there are immediate plans to start distribution in the US and as a next step, in Europe. You’d mostly see them at your local drycleaners’, but soon you’ll also see them in department stores, and fashion stores that sell eco fashion. You will actually soon be able to buy packs of Smart Hangers as a finished product in itself. We’ve signed a deal with a big licensing company in Canada, and you’ll get your paper hangers embellished with Dora and other movie and cartoon characters.
SCHMOOZY FOX: A paper hanger is a superb idea, but it seems relatively easy to copy. What in your opinion can be done to be able to stay competitive?
Leigh Meadows: I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, so I actually think that competition is good! If there is competition, I treat is as a very good sign! But really, first of all these hangers were not that easy to make, and we have a design patent on them. Then we have a first mover advantage, and signed exclusivity agreements with many brands and advertising agencies for several years to come. Finally, as soon as we begin being profitable, I’ll make sure to invest the right amounts of cash into brand building activities for The Smart Hanger.
SCHMOOZY FOX: why do you think The Smart Hanger is a funky brand?
Leigh Meadows: What makes it funky is the fact that nobody has up till now challenged the idea of boring wire hangers that pollute the environment. The Smart Hanger is revolutionary in its simplicity and its effectiveness, and these are no doubt qualities of a funky brand!