Some entrepreneurs will try out any old idea that comes into their head, while others have a eureka moment thrust upon them. For Karyn Climans, a close call with serious injury sparked a desire to help others avoid a similar fate.
Thankful for the protection afforded her by the helmet she was wearing, Karyn decided to work towards promoting their use. To make the prospect more attractive to both kids and adults, she founded Tail Wags Helmet Covers.
We interviewed Karyn and spoke about the impetus behind starting her business, the struggles of maintaining her focus in the face of life’s tribulations, and what the future might hold for her, her family and the company she’s building.
Tell us why you decided to become an entrepreneur.
Eleven years ago, I was in a serious ski accident but fortunately I was wearing my ski helmet. The helmet saved my life! Ever since my accident, I became determined to encourage more people to wear a safety helmet while biking, skating, skiing, snowboarding, and tobogganing. Incorporating my costume design and teaching background, I created my first helmet covers 9 years ago and established Tail Wags Helmet Covers. All of my helmet covers are designed to make it FUN for kids and adults to wear their safety helmets.
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
Customer feedback is the thing that makes the hard work of running my business worthwhile. I’ve had parents call me to tell me their child who didn’t want to wear a helmet is now wearing their helmet in the car & house because they love their Tail Wags!
Since my company goal is to increase the number of kids and adults actually wearing their helmet, I know I’m doing a good job!
Can you describe a typical day?
There are NO typical days. Some times I’m standing on my feet for 12+ hours at one of my shows (particularly in the pre-Xmas season when my shows are back-to-back across Canada). Other days I’ll work from home in my pajamas. Some days I’m immersed in the designing of new helmet covers and the ordering of fabric. Alternatively I might be tagging and packaging product – truly one of the most boring jobs ever! The sign-up of new shows for the year takes a ridiculous amount of my time every January. Other days I’ll be engaged in social media marketing for Tail Wags on Facebook and Twitter.
Who do you count on for help? Is there a team at work, or is it a one-woman-band?
I am a very creative person but I admit to being technically incompetent, therefore, I rely heavily on my web programmer. I also have a part-time photographer, graphic artist, bookkeeper, accountant and I’ve even hired a few part-time sewers to assist with production because it’s impossible to do everything on my own. Hiring out for these services, I can spend more time on the aspects of the business that I love!
Have you ever had to sacrifice something at home for work? Or vice versa?
When my sons were young and I was building my business, I learned to compromise my standards on housekeeping and home-cooked meals. Living with dust bunnies and eating the occasional take-out dinner wasn’t going to kill them and I needed the extra time to focus on my business.
Have you ever had to sacrifice something at home for work? Or vice versa?
More recently, I have had to sacrifice work for personal reasons. In the Fall of 2014, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time as my son was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and, if that wasn’t enough, I was going through a nasty divorce. I’ve always been a strong and independent person but these issues nearly knocked me out. Thank goodness for friends and family who rallied around and the support of the wonderful new partner whom I met on Match.com several months after leaving my marriage.
Two girlfriends drove me every single day for my radiation treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital. My book club friends supplied fresh home cooked meals each week and my partner hugged me tight and reminded me every single day that I would beat cancer. As for my son, it’s been a tougher road with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation but, fortunately, he has my determination and strength and he has remained stoic and strong. He has continued to work thanks to the support from his employers who has been accommodating and empathetic – allowing him to work from home whenever he wasn’t feeling 100% and take time off for his frequent medical appointments.
One of the toughest aspects of my health issues was the need to keep working no matter how lousy or exhausted I felt. There were days when I was standing in my booth and the walls of my 10’x10’ space were swirling around me. The lowest point happened during a show in in the Niagara region over the Thanksgiving weekend. I was racing back and forth from Niagara to Toronto every day for treatment and then standing on my feet for the long show days with a smile plastered on my face. But even I broke down on the final day of the show when my son was being given his 1st chemo treatment and I couldn’t be by his side. Much to the chagrin of the show organizers, I ended up packing up my booth and heading back to Toronto even though this is a big faux pas for exhibitors. I’ve probably burned my bridges and won’t be invited back as an exhibitor at that show but I needed to be with my son and to heck with the consequences.
There were some people who questioned my determination to continue with my Fall show schedule during my treatments but, as a small business entrepreneur, I don’t have the luxury of sick days.
Bills still keep coming in even when you’re ill and I knew I needed to keep working throughout the pre-Christmas season when sales are highest.
Fast forward to today and I’m pleased to say I have been given a clean bill of health although the doctors will continue to monitor me closely for the next two years due to the risk of recurrence. As well, my son has almost completed his chemotherapy and his tumours have shrunk considerably so his prognosis is excellent. In order to celebrate, my son and I are planning a one-week vacation to the Grand Canyon to relax and rejuvenate before he begins one month of daily radiation – anything to help keep his spirits up is important to me. More good news is my boyfriend and I announced our engagement to our families on Christmas Day.
Wow! That’s a well-deserved vacation! What do you like to do when you do get time off?
Thankfully I can enjoy the occasional day off now that my business is well established. As long as I’m not in the middle of my busiest show season, I will take days off to meet with friends, go to the fitness club, read a good book or go on long bike rides with my fiancé and I don’t feel in the least bit guilty! After all, I’ve worked hard to build Tail Wags and I’m determined to enjoy the fruits of my labour.
Are you active in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?
Over 20 years ago, I was the Volunteer Coordinator at a large community organization in downtown Toronto so volunteering has always been an important part of my conscience. I think everyone should find time in their lives to give back to their community whenever feasible. That said, I’ve been guilty over the past few years of neglecting my volunteer obligations but I certainly hope that I’ll be able to re-start those activities again in the near future.
Supporting local is something I practice every single day. As a small business owner, I know how difficult it is to succeed when big box stores are creeping up in every single neighbourhood and they are undercutting the viability of smaller family owned local businesses. I also know the long term consequences of relying on cheaply made overseas products. When we send all of our production offshore, Canadians lose jobs in the manufacturing industries. As well, other related businesses suffer including marketing firms and suppliers of raw goods (just to name a few). For example, Tail Wags Helmet Covers was offered a deal on the CBC TV show, Dragon’s Den, but the deal was contingent on shifting the manufacturing of my helmet covers overseas. I turned down their offer because I believe strongly in keeping production local and hiring Canadians whenever possible. I know all of the professionals I hire for my small business are happy with this decision because they need their jobs as much as I need them!
Are there other entrepreneurs that have inspired you?
There are too many women entrepreneurs to list them ALL here but I’d like to list a few who have been part of a women’s entrepreneur support group I’ve known since the early years of my business:
TeachMy: Christy Cook
Luvali: Jackie Durk Dinsmore
Steeped Tea: Tonia Bateman-Jahshan
Smart Hands: Laura Berg
All of us had a vision when we started our businesses and all of us have managed to succeed!
So, what does the future look like for you and your business?
I’ve decided that 2015 is the year to re-focus on the growth of my business. Now that my divorce is finalized and my health issues (and my son’s) seem to be settling down, I’m more determined than ever to grow Tail Wags. Wouldn’t it be nice to see even more Tail Wags helmet covers next time you’re skiing, skating, biking or tobogganing because it will be a clear sign that my 100% Canadian business is thriving and I am managing to convince even more people to wear a safety helmet? A definite win/win!
Any tips for moms thinking of starting a business?
Passion and perseverance are key to the success of any business.