Small business with big plans

My latest feature on a local entrepreneur can be found here. Full text below.

Small business with big plans

by Karina Coombs

Caitlin O’Connor knows a lot about brand management thanks to her time at Proctor & Gamble (P&G). Countless hours spent driving her four children to various activities has also taught her a lot about life in the car and given her time to think. While it can be a messy place, the minivan can also inspire big ideas. And in O’Connor’s case her big idea appeared at the intersection of her professional and personal life. She created a product for the car.

Cargo Tissues and Dispenser

O’Connor’s product is Cargo Tissues and Dispenser—a visor-mounted tissue dispenser that allows a driver to handle spills or runny noses without taking his or her eyes off the road. The dispenser is offered in two colors and refill tissues are sold separately—each priced at $9.99. Cargo went on the market in January. “As a mom and as somebody who now with four kids spends a ton of time in the car… Honestly, if I’m not spilling my coffee, somebody is sneezing or worse. It has saved me and helped make my life a little bit better,” she says.

Cargo is based on a car tissue dispenser that O’Connor used and enjoyed 15 years ago before it went off the market. “I had been thinking about it for years… because it was a product that absolutely fit my lifestyle [and] met my needs.” Realizing she could create a similar product as well if not better, O’Connor decided to take on the challenge, explaining it was a “leap of faith.” Cargo is the first of many products she hopes to release through her company, Acadia Brands.

Caitlin O'Connor (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Caitlin O’Connor (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Acadia Brands

A graduate of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, O’Connor worked in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry as an Assistant Brand Manager at P&G before she had her children. “I fell in love with brand management,” she says. “It’s really exciting to be able to develop and market products… P&G has world class training and you come out of there with fantastic experience.”

Shortly after relocating to Carlisle in 2012, O’Connor and her husband (who also worked at P&G) decided to create their own CPG company. The name Acadia Brands was chosen to capture the couple’s collective brand management experience and as a nod to a favorite family camping spot: Acadia National Park.

According to its website, Acadia Brands is a “micro CPG firm specializing in identifying unmet consumer needs and creating products that delight the consumer.” The Cargo brand is the company’s first product line, but O’Connor is already thinking of creating additional transportation-based products based on customer feedback. “One of the things I love about brand management is interacting with the consumer and hearing what he or she would also like.”

Becoming an entrepreneur

After the launch of the Acadia Brands and the kick-off for their product line, O’Connor’s husband began a full time job and passed the torch. “I have carried the ball the rest of the way,” she says. One of her first tasks was coming up with the brand name, Cargo, and applying for and receiving a registered trademark. “You have to do a ton of research and clear searches,” O’Connor explains. “It’s a very detailed process, [but] it was very exciting for us to get [it].”

Because she was confident in the mass appeal of her product, O’Connor opted to sell it online and chose Amazon.com. “It’s not just women with kids who are the potential users of this product,” she explains. “It’s everybody who spends time in a car in the country. Amazon, with millions of unique users every day, is a great place to get [Cargo] in front of the people who would be using it.” O’Connor is also using Amazon for advertising, shipping and for inventory tracking.

While her experience at P&G has proved invaluable, O’Connor is the first to admit she’s still learning as she goes when it comes to being an entrepreneur and being responsible for every aspect of the business. “As the entrepreneur you wear every hat,” she explains. “I know what I need to do, but I don’t necessarily know how to do it all.”

Promoting the brand

One thing O’Connor is busy learning is the various social media platforms that are increasingly important for promoting brands. Cargo currently has pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other similar sites. She also uses high traffic parenting blogs to get the word out to their legions of followers. The blog authors review her product and then hold online giveaways. O’Connor has also started her own blog and is focusing on car-related topics at “Life in the Car.” She also recently appeared in the Boston Globe. Locally, O’Connor has been letting people sample Cargo, including  almost a dozen area preschools.

A Cargo in every car?

Online sales have been good, but O’Connor is already in the process of thinking about store displays and making pitches to local retailers with the hopes of getting her product into brick and mortar stores. Several new iterations of Cargo also are in the works and will be released in the near future.

While O’Connor enjoys managing  her business day to day, she knows there will come a day where she needs help for it to grow. Her goal? She envisions a Cargo in every car. “It may seem like a small thing in the big scale,” says O’Connor. “But it’s something that makes my life easier every day and I think does the same thing for other people who spend a lot of time in the car.”

While Acadia Brands may seem like a small company when compared to P&G, O’Connor has every reason to hope and plan for big things. A number of industry publications predict significant growth for CPG startups over the next five years as more consumers turn to smaller businesses for personal care products. Smaller firms are also finding more success with online sales than their large counterparts.

“A lot of the moms that I meet that are friends of mine from school have been so supportive. The sense of community I’ve gotten [from] just being a Carlisle resident and parent of school aged children [and] as an entrepreneur… [People talk about entrepreneurship being lonely], but I feel so much support from my friends and family.”

To learn more about Cargo visit: http://reach4cargo.com.For O’Connor’s blog, visit: http://mylifeinthecar.com

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