Julie Weldon and Stacey Pierce took their product, The Wanderr, on the road this past March. Now, they’re gearing up for a TV appearance Thursday on Joy Mangano’s USA network show, America’s Big Deal.
The Wanderr, Weldon and Pierce’s star product for their company, OME Gear, is a five-in-one chair and cart designed for beach and camping trips. The product can be contorted into different configurations, allowing for easy transportation of camping or beach supplies and providing a built-in chair and sleeping cot or laid-back lounge chair.
The idea for the Wanderr actually came about in 1998, when Weldon’s parents spotted a single mom struggling to keep up with her kids and lug all her beach supplies in one carrier. Weldon’s parents patented the idea and tried to bring it to market but the venture fizzled.
After years of working for an international business management consulting firm, Weldon approached her parents in 2010 about trying to bring the Wanderr to life once again.
She launched her own company partnered with a manufacturer that offered to buy 60% of the business, but after struggling with a difference in values, Weldon decided to step away from the business in 2014 and reset.
“When Jules walked away from her own company, where she was making a lot of money, she actually took a job working at the shrimp shack on Shem Creek with Captain Wayne Magwood making just $10 an hour,” said her business partner and wife Stacey Pierce.
Over the next few years, Weldon and Pierce started a consulting business coaching firm called Salty Rim, but the concept behind the Wanderr never left their minds.
In 2017, they decided to once again take the jump. They completely designed Weldon’s father’s original invention and turned the product into a five-in-one portable camping/beach device. After two and a half years of work, the couple finally brought their product to market in March 2021.
In yet another leap of faith — and show of confidence — the couple even sold their home in Charleston and used the equity to help fund the venture and travel the U.S. to build the brand.
“No one can accuse us of not being all in, that’s for sure,” joked Weldon.
Though Weldon and Pierce have been able to raise a significant chunk of money for OME Gear, there remain deeply ingrained forces at play when female entrepreneurs go for it in male-dominated spheres.
Women CEOs receive just 2.7% of all venture capital funding, according to one 2016 study, with 1.7% of that money going to women in technology. Furthermore, just 0.2% of investment money goes towards women of color.
That gender disparity is something Weldon and Pierce are familiar with, particularly while traveling the country for trade shows, festivals and other events.
“The space is very male-dominated,” said Weldon. “We’ll go to trade shows and look around the floor for other women inventors of complex products like ours, and there are very few. Everytime we tell people that we’re the inventors, they can’t hide their surprise.”
“They always ask if we’re engineers,” said Pierce. “We’re like, ‘Nope, just two blonde women!”
Since leaving Charleston and hitting the road in March, the couple has made it all the way to San Diego, selling their product at music festivals and outdoor events along the way. Most recently, they won the Most Innovative Craft Award at the National Hardware Show.
“We’re doing this the old-school way, creating a grassroots movement where we encourage people to get outside. When people can actually meet the founders and watch us demo the product, it’s honestly an easy sell,” said Weldon.
They plan to continue their efforts for the remainder of their 18-month trip, making stops at any event where people may need to haul gear and have a seating option once they’ve reached the destination. People attending kids sporting events, music festivals and camping trips are the exact demographic OME Gear is targeting.
Even during their off-hours hanging out in RV parks, Weldon and Pierce are conducting business as other RV campers will approach them for a demo of their product.
But, the two women will take a brief break from their travels to appear on America’s Big Deal this Thursday.
“Joy Mangano is a very well known entrepreneur, and the whole reason she started the show is because she wanted to empower entrepreneurs. And, a lot of them are female. So, the opportunity that she’s giving us on a national platform is incredible. It’s almost overwhelming,” explained Weldon.
But Mangano’s own vision very clearly aligns with Weldon and Pierce’s.
“Our product is great and we believe in it, but we have a bigger mission. We want to create a product that’s wildly successful and build a platform of influence, so that we can help change that 2.7% statistic,” said Weldon. “That’s a huge goal of ours — establish a fund to empower women entrepreneurs to lean into what they’re doing without making it so difficult.”
To help support OME Gear, tune in to America’s Big Deal on the USA network Thursday at 9 p.m. Or, participate in the presale competition by purchasing a Wanderr at shopamericasbigdeal.com.
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