Manufacturing, Retail, and Small Business & Startups

Slush-soaked gloves spur business idea

Four years in, inventor partners with Consumers Energy to put glove dryers in classrooms across the Mitten State

December 21, 2018
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TheEcoDryer now has an antimicrobial element called Sanafor to reduce fungi and bacteria as the gloves and mittens dry. Courtesy TheEcoDryer by Green Glove Dryer

Tired of her boys coming home from school each day with gloves still wet from recess, Karen Smoots took action.

She asked her husband, Ryan, who is an engineer, to pick up some PVC pipes and other parts from the hardware store, then they set about making a glove dryer in their garage.

The pair spent eight hours that wintry Saturday in 2014 creating a device that fits over a heating vent and forces warm air up into the tips of gloves and mittens positioned on nozzles to dry them quickly without blocking the heat flow to the room or presenting a fire hazard.

“I wanted to do it without using any extra electricity,” Smoots said. “I could have gone out and bought a boot dryer. But my heat is running all day and all night, so I wanted to use it.

“Saturday night, we put all their wet stuff on it, and by Sunday, everything was dry.”

Smoots said she didn’t think of capitalizing on the product until some friends who were visiting saw the contraption and wanted one for their house.

“We were like, ‘Um, no. It took us eight hours to make this,’” Smoots said, laughing.

Soon after, she decided the invention was worth sharing, and her business, the Green Glove Dryer, was born with a product by the same name.

Smoots holds the titles of founder, president, CEO and inventor, and she has three employees who do logistics/scheduling, fulfillment, and media and public relations.

Green Glove engaged Portage-based WL Molding to manufacture its first product, and in the first year, sold nearly 1,500 units. By the second year, Green Glove had sold 8,000 units via Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon and QVC.

Recently, Green Glove switched to Vicksburg-based Miniature Custom Manufacturing as it rolls out a new model, TheEcoDryer.

“We have redesigned it, so it’s a completely new design of the way the nozzles go into the base,” Smoots said. “Generation one was a snap-in system, and it’s now a turn-and-lock system, which is so much better.”

Along with the locking system redesign, Smoots also added an antimicrobial element called Sanafor to the units to reduce fungi and bacteria as the gloves and mittens dry.

“It reduces the need for sanitizer or sprays in the classroom. My son has a hand sanitizer allergy, crazy enough,” Smoots said. “You have to always look at how to make things better, and that’s what we did.”

Smoots said she removed the word “glove” from the new dryer’s name because she wanted to make it clear it can be used for multiple applications, such as drying shoes, boots, reusable water bottles and hats. She is also selling a wall version that hangs from vents positioned on walls.

All versions of the dryer retail for $19.95 plus $2 shipping at thegreenglovedryer.com.

When Smoots was promoting her business via a TV appearance in Detroit in February 2015, a teacher in Pontiac who had watched the segment called her frantically asking her not to leave the area until they had connected about the dryer units.

“She said, ‘I need these for my classroom.’ It came to me, this is a whole other subset or segment of our business,” Smoots said. “This is why we started it, with my kid coming home from school with wet things.”

Through a series of connections, Smoots signed a partnership with Consumers Energy whereby Green Glove Dryer sells its products wholesale to Consumers, which buys them through its shareholder charitable initiatives, and Consumers supplies them to the schools free of charge, with Green Glove handling delivery.

“It was one of those things where I was like, ‘Yes, this makes sense, how do we get them there?’” Smoots said. “I simply said, ‘OK, Karen, put your thinking cap on.’ It wasn’t in my business plan or in my lane, but it made all the sense in the world to partner with them.”

Green Glove began deliveries of “class packs” — enough dryers for a whole classroom — through TheEcoDryer School Project on Nov. 13. In the first round, it delivered products to 270,000 K-5 public, private and charter students in schools throughout 29 counties in West Michigan.

In 2019, Green Glove plans to expand delivery to 38 more counties in northeast Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Eventually, the company plans to deliver to southeast Michigan once it has enough stock to outfit such a populous area.

Smoots said this is happening while the company’s Amazon sales are also growing by 33 percent to 35 percent each season — the business has sold 60,000 units in 2018 between retail and the school project — but she feels especially excited about her school project.

“People don’t realize where their market is and their product best fits when (they) start out and create a brand,” she said. “We’re just getting started. It’s where our lane is.”

Smoots said she plans to keep Green Glove a home-based business for the foreseeable future, even as it grows.

“I’ve never had a desire to have a big building and have my name on the side of the building,” she said. “That is not as important to me as making a change in people’s lives. We’re impacting kids, teachers and community health and wellness, and that’s what really matters.”

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