Amy Davis ’10 learned in her MBA classes at Sacred Heart University, as well as in the real world, that developing a product is a multi-faceted job.
A resident of Weston, CT, Davis is the creator of Kiss-u Tissue Tube®, a cylindrical tissue container that fits in car cup holders. Davis reports that her product is catching on; evidenced by sales through the national chain, Walgreens.
But the road to this early success was not an easy one, as Davis found out when she pursued the manufacturing and marketing of the Kiss-u Tissue Tube®.
In the dining room of her Weston home with all forms of the product surrounding her, and with her orange tabby nearby listening, Davis admits that she knew little about the business world and had to acquire business acumen, which seemed overwhelming at first. But Davis points out that she has a strong work ethic, obtained from her father and grandfather – one of whom started his business from nothing and the other who became an inventor for Western Union – and this only made her more determined.
She notes with pride that she always has worked in some capacity, even as she raised her three kids. She studied neuropsychology and art therapy, was a teacher in the New York City public school system, did some consulting work, and even had a brief stint teaching teachers on the graduate level. She worked with a nonprofit, AMBYESE, that mentored inner-city high school students and exposed them to the business world, and handled its public relations.
She learned during her work in public relations, “How incredible the business people were. They are so giving of their time, of their money, and of their spirit.” But, she says, “I didn’t know how to run a business or really anything about business.”
She wanted to use MBA studies in combination with her master of science in education from Bank Street College to help run a not-for-profit that impacted kids, so to obtain the business skills she enrolled in the MBA program at SHU.
During her third class at Sacred Heart, a marketing class with Dr. Laurence M. Weinstein who has since retired from Jack Welch College of Business, she had to invent a unique product and market it. While the marketing plan she created was just an exercise, she got serious about peddling the product after she graduated.
What she learned right away, she says, is that, “Inventing boils down to problem solving.”
Here’s her example: When parents are raising their kids, many of whom suffer from colds and allergies, there’s always a large tissue box in the back seat of the car. As she has done numerous times herself as a parent, she would reach around the seat searching for the box to hand her kid a tissue, while simultaneously attempting to drive safely. “Multi-tasking,” she quips, “is not actually neurologically possible as people think it is.”
Davis remembers vividly the day she took her dogs to the park, where they got all muddy from playing. Once in the back seat of the car, the rambunctious hounds rendered the tissue box unusable. Thinking there’s got to be a better way to have tissues in the car, she reached down to pick up the tissue box off the car floor and glanced at the cup holder. It was as simple as that. “My dogs were the inspiration,” she smiles. From that point on – for every waking minute – she was thinking about that product for her marketing class and beyond. Every class at Sacred Heart gave her something that she could use in shaping her new product, a product that would eventually become her new business.
She used an old mailing tube as a guide and played with different shapes, sizes and kinds of tissues. She knew it had to be cylindrical and of hard cardboard, and she wanted it made of biodegradable and recyclable materials. What she ended up with is 7.5 inches tall with an oval pull-through top and a removable bottom for refilling. She sells refill packages too. Kiss-u Tissue Tubes also come in eight exterior designs, which she created, to attract different demographics. Designing, she says, has been her favorite part of the process
The product, which retails for $1.99 each, is manufactured in China because Davis couldn’t find a company in the United States that would take on the project. She entered into a contract with Walgreen’s for what is called a “one-time buy,” which includes items that have not yet been market tested. Kiss-u Tissue Tubes – 7,600 cases with 16 tubes in each - was rolled out on Feb. 1, and in the first three weeks, $55,000 in sales were made nationwide. “Apparently, when they get out on the floor, they are gone,” Davis says. “The feedback I have gotten from people has been great.”
Davis is working on shipping more cases of Kiss-u Tissue Tubes to Walgreen’s and is approaching another national giant, CVS, about carrying her product. It also is sold in some smaller drugstores in Fairfield, Westport, Bridgeport and Darien. For more information, visit www.kissucorps.com.
When she thinks back to what she learned from SHU, she says, “One of things Professor Weinstein taught me - you have to determine your demographics, determine what they are going to like, tell them why they’re going to like it, and try to be a little trendy.”
Her targets were women between 30 and 45 with children and women over age 55. She has discovered that men, too, are now buying the product. And she was surprised to learn that she has quite a good number of 20 to 30-year-olds buying it.
As for the name, it emerged from a playful rhyming game – familiar to many people who have kids. It goes like this: “Mommy, mommy, I need a tissue.” “Kiss you? I hardly know you.” “No, mommy, not kiss you, tissue.”
Now, she speaks with a command of the business world – from manufacturing to shipping to marketing to financing to retailing.
She is grateful for what she learned at SHU and how the MBA program led her to where she is now. Davis would like to see educational institutions like SHU adjust the curriculum to include a practical component, “So that each student who invented a product could carry it through all their classes as a means of applying what they were learning. And who knows how many other products might come out of SHU!”
It turns out that she was on to something. Anthony D. Macari, Esq., director of the WCOB’s MBA program and a clinical assistant professor of Finance, says that in July 2009, the program was revised, now called the Welch MBA, and contains a 12-credit integrated core. “In this core, student teams develop a product and then carry that project through all disciplines, such as finance, budgeting, operations, marketing and managing an international launch. While the revision came a little too late for Amy to take advantage of, her comment is spot-on.”
As for the preparation she received at SHU to be able to further her dream and idea, Macari says, “Our MBA classes combine practice and theory better than most programs, in large part because most of our MBA faculty have both ‘taught it’ and ‘done it.’” Macari’s own background illustrates his point. He was a cofounder and partner in Carlyle Brands Consulting, where his clients included Lehman Brothers, SchoolNet and Cardean University. He was also a director of strategy and assistant dean for business and legal studies at New York University. At Fortune Brands in Old Greenwich, he was director of business development and business planning.
He adds, “Amy, by her own admission, isn’t a finance person, but not only was she able to fill in her knowledge gaps but also to immediately apply what she was learning because by launching her business she was ‘learning it’ and ‘living it.’”