A business model developed through a think tank at Buffalo Grove High School continues to grow, even as its student entrepreneurs prepare to leave for college.
As sophomores, Jackie Molloy, Nicole Relias and Shayna Reznikov developed the idea of an all-natural, de-skunking kit for dogs. They came up with their idea after Relias' dog, Bella, a golden doodle, had been skunked four times.
Over their first year, they worked diligently to develop the pieces of their all-in-one kit -- which includes separate wet and dry solutions as well as a towel and gloves -- and secured wholesalers for their ingredients.
They also worked on packaging as well as designing a logo and branding for their marketing purposes.
A little more than one year into their business, the group drew the interest of WGN's Mr. Fix-It Lou Manfredini, who placed their product, Skunk Aid, in two Ace Hardware stores he owns in Schiller Park and the Edgebrook neighborhood in Chicago, as well as Ace stores in Mount Prospect and Buffalo Grove.
These young entrepreneurs also sell their kits on Amazon and Etsy and they figure they've sold more than 400 since launching, and more than broken even.
Now, however, their business may be taking a sizable leap. Thanks to an introduction from Steve Weirich, one of their incubator coaches at Buffalo Grove, the group has drawn the interest of Bentley's Pet Stuff, which is based in Long Grove and has 94 locations.
"I love their product and willingness to learn and enhance their product from the feedback we gave and others gave them," said Lisa Senafe, president and founder of Bentley's. "They are very dedicated and I love to add locally made products in our stores."
Sanafe met last month with Molloy and Relias (Reznikov eventually sold out to her partners) last spring and she helped them with more than placing orders. Senafe talked about marketing their product, playing with their logo and basically having more fun with its appearance.
"We are very excited to try them out," Senafe said, "first in some of our Illinois stores and then hopefully expand to some other states we are in."
Molloy and Relias turned to classmate Kathleen Oku of Arlington Heights, who is a graphic designer, to update their look. Together, they conceived a cover for their kits that is more whimsical in nature and features a caricature of Bella, a playful skunk and all wrapped around this phrase: "Bella, we have a problem."
"Getting into Bentley's gave us a lot more confidence that we could grow our business and expand," Molloy said.
At the moment, their warehouse is in Relias' basement. There, the two business owners assemble kits ahead of time in order to have ready inventory when orders come in. Once they leave for college, their parents have offered to help, as has their teacher Karen Roberts, and even their younger siblings.
"We've thought about hiring another student to run it while we're gone," Relias says, "but we're afraid they wouldn't have enough time -- or enough passion for the business like we have."
Once they get to college -- Relias is headed to the University of Iowa to major in entrepreneurial management while Molloy heads to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, to major in political science -- they expect to manage the business remotely.
"It's exciting," Molloy says. "I know when we started this, we looked at it as a class project, but now it's a business -- our business -- and we don't want to give up control of it."