Former flight attendant Sandy Stein hung up her wings to start her own business. Now, Finders Key Purse is a year old and has sold over 1 million products. With some business card savvy, Stein has seen her business soar.
As a stewardess, Sandy Stein flew the friendly skies during an elegant time – the early 1970s. She got married, bought a home and started a family. All was well. Then, in 2004, her husband lost his job.
There was no way they could afford the mortgage on her part-time flight attendant salary. Stein agonized over how she could supplement her income and provide for her 10-year old son, Alex. But instead of going into a tailspin, Stein said she prayed for guidance.
“One night I had a dream about a product that would decorate the outside of a purse while preventing the keys from falling to the bottom,” says Stein. “Finders Key Purse was born.” She named the company after her son: Alexx, Inc.
With no formal business or college education, Stein relied on her creativity to bring her product to market. But traditional gift representatives weren’t interested in selling a single item and she had yet to build any business credibility.
“So, I decided to use my friends [as] my sales reps and add a bonus if they shared our sales plan with others,” says Stein. “In 2005, our first year of business, we sold 1 million Finders Key Purse [products] into the retail gift industry. Not bad for just a flight attendant!”
Today, over 12 million of her unique key fobs have been sold, and she has added variations to the line – designing custom pieces for companies like Harley-Davidson and TD Bank.
“There had never been a key finder before, so I invented it,” says Stein. “What fun I’ve had living an entrepreneur’s life. The company is my second baby, but in this case, it actually provides money for me – unlike my firstborn who spends that money!”
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Let’s fly back to the beginning: What was your start like?
Though I had money, I was surprised that most landlords wanted a track record before they would rent an office to me. I spent months looking for a place to rent before I found a wonderful man who owned the building, and he was happy to give me a chance to prove myself. We quickly outgrew his place in about a year, but then finding another place afterwards was so much easier.
Also, I knew going into the business that I had to purchase our product from overseas, but didn’t realize there were extra costs. I had to account for shipping costs on both ends along with duties and tariffs and middlemen, which added to the bottom line.
What has your journey with credit cards been?
When I first started Alexx, Inc., I decided that I would only accept credit cards and checks for payment. Since I was a new company with a new product, the store owners were happy to give us payment via credit card as it provided a safety net for them.
So, not only would they have 30 days to try out the product, but this would ensure if we didn’t send a product or something went wrong, store owners could call the credit card company to make sure we didn’t get paid. But we lived up to everyone’s expectations and more! It was a rare day when there was a credit card dispute.
Today, I would say that about 75 percent of our customers use credit card payments for our wholesale site, and about 90 percent on our retail site.
Which credit cards do you have and use for the business?
I have a few. The Platinum Card® from American Express is for our business, as the travel perks are great for me because I still travel for work. It includes a $100 credit for Global Entry and Priority Pass lounge access. I use the rewards for personal travel, knowing that I will get a percentage of my points back.
I also carry an American Express® Gold Card for personal use and add points to that account. Then there’s my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, which I use for both business and pleasure. The added points go into my Marriott portfolio. All my credit cards provide me with exceptional customer service, which is good if I run into a refund situation.
There have been a few times when disaster hit, and I had to put money into the company in order to stay in business. My credit cards have been helpful in those instances since we have a lot of expenses.
Since we service both wholesale and retail customers, we go through a lot of packaging for shipping – which is very expensive. Then there’s payroll, insurance, tariffs (the new 25 percent one – ouch!), product development, collateral for mailings, social media, videos and employee perks.
However, I am happy to say that we are running smoothly and remain debt-free without any leveraging.
What are the future plans for the company?
Currently, we are running at a steady pace with new opportunities coming our way, making growth a good possibility. My son keeps telling me that I should retire like the rest of my friends, but every time I consider that option, something new and exciting happens and I say, “Not now!”
Our patent still has another six years before it expires so I am going to make the most out of Finders Key Purse before I call it a day. But get me on a “bad” day, and I might just jump on a plane to Hawaii and retire with a mai tai and a wonderful beach sunset!
What have you learned about business and borrowing along the way?
I am so grateful that I have never had to borrow money in my business or personal life. I guess that comes from my dad, who lived through the Great Depression and instilled in me that if I can’t afford it, then don’t buy it. I am appreciative that I have lived that way since I was a child.
Getting into business is exciting, with lots of ups and downs. When I first started, I had my exit strategy in place – just in case I wasn’t able to pull off what I thought I could do. This was essential since I had used almost all of my life savings to fund Alexx, Inc. and Finders Key Purse. It gave me peace of mind.
My advice to other entrepreneurs: Make sure you have enough money to stay in business while accounting for the time it to really get a foothold in what you are doing. And make sure that you don’t end up penniless by investing everything you own without a back-up plan. There are some things you just can’t anticipate, both on the plus and the minus side.