Entrepreneurial Journey: Jennifer Horton of ZAGS®
Each entrepreneurial journey is different and we are driven to start our businesses for various reasons. In a series of articles, I hope to explore these journeys, the highs and lows, the ins and outs, as well as the tips that different entrepreneurs have for making their businesses a success, not only financially but from a work/life balance point of view. Follow me on discovering the wonderful world of entrepreneurship as I talk today with Jennifer Horton of ZAGS ®.
On my first trip to the Southern C Summit in 2016, I connected with a charming and outgoing entrepreneur, Jennifer Horton of ZAGS ®. We were both new to the Summit and were looking for a connection. We immediately struck up a conversation about our backgrounds and what we did. She showed me her scarf with a beautiful abstract painting imprinted upon it. “It has magical powers,” Jennifer told me. I was curious to know how a scarf so beautiful held such powers. “It protects you from the sun”. Here the story begins…
As a quick background, Jennifer graduated from Clemson University with an art degree and a masters in teaching. Art has always been her first love but she quickly found out that teaching was not her calling. So with art remaining a constant, Jennifer changed directions and started a very successful career in sales. She loved building relationships and finding solutions for her customers, whether it be in copiers or pharmaceuticals. However, after her third child, she decided to take a break from her career and focus on her family. “Something was missing,” she told me. She always felt that God had given her gifts that she needed to find an outlet for, but she wasn’t sure where to put them to use.
As is often the case, necessity is the mother of invention. Their family travelled a great deal and spent many hours on the beach and outdoors. One day, after lathering her children up with sunscreen for the third time, she said, “I wish I had a blanket I could throw over you to protect you from the sun.” Thus, the light bulb came on and ZAGS ® was created.
ZAGS ® are sun protective, scarves, ponchos and blankets that incorporate Jennifer’s original artwork. Her journey led her to make a connection with a friend who worked with performance materials and who could make samples. She also found a printing process, called sublimation printing, which made the artwork part of the fabric and would not fade or peal after washing and active use. She tested her first prototype at her beach house in August of 2015. Do you see the theme here? Jennifer used her talents of problem solving, curiosity and art to fulfill a need and fill a void in the marketplace. She had mastered all these skills in her previous careers and is now using them in a new direction.
Another driver to start ZAGS ® was her desire to set an example for her children. She wanted to show them not only the importance of using our God-given talents, but that if you have an idea and vision for something new, follow it through to find out if it is viable. Hard work is a good thing. Not surprisingly, several of her children have started little side businesses as well.
I had the pleasure recently to talk with Jennifer about her entrepreneurial journey. Here are some things we discussed.
What is the biggest surprise or most difficult thing about starting your own business?
Learning the internet. It is a beast and can be a rabbit hole if you don’t have a plan. Building a customer-friendly, efficient website was the most difficult.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone who wants to start a new business?
Prayerfully consider your vision and direction. Be ready to learn new things with which you might be uncomfortable. Have the financials available to market your product for validation and look for the many free options available to gain exposure for your product.
For example, Jennifer entered ZAGS ® into Garden and Gun magazines “Made in the South” awards and is a semi finalist. She can now tout that distinction across her social media. Use what is in your backyard; college connections, friends and family, and negotiate for remnant magazine ad space.
What is your product’s distinctive selling point or differentiator for distinguishing yourself from the competition?
ZAGS ® is fortunate to be “first to market” for our product line. Additionally, the fact that we use original artwork and we are proud of the fact that ZAGS ® is made in the USA and more importantly, in the South.
What is the best investment (money/time) you have made in your business to date?
My website. If you are going to play in the retail space, either brick or mortar and/or online, a beautiful, consumer friendly website must be the backbone of your strategy. It will take more time and money than you will think, but you must get it right.
What is your favorite part of owning your own business?
Seeing my hard work come to fruition and its flexibility. It is also extremely rewarding to see my children want to create their own little businesses modeling them after what I have done. The ZAGS ® name is actually the first initial of my three children.
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
This has always been extremely important to me but is hard to do as a entrepreneur. My goal is to shut my business activities down at 3:00pm each day and focus on my family. I also try to make time for exercise, which for me is tennis. It helps me be more creative and I can focus on the task at hand with a clear mind.
What is your personal definition of success?
Definitely loving what you do.
Jennifer is excited about the future of ZAGS ®, but admits there is a lot that goes into keeping a business running. She had a few parting thoughts to share with future and current entrepreneurs:
- Don’t be timid, ask for what you want.
- Use what’s in your backyard. For instance, ads in local magazines can lead to articles.
- Spread out your marketing; do not rely solely on social media. Use your networks such as college connections, and family and friends to create buzz.
- Look for remnant ad space. The publications need to fill the space and will most likely make a deal.
- Use influencers/bloggers that produce great photography to amp up awareness and online presence. The cost is worth it.
- Look for collaborations. Entrepreneurs helping one other is a good thing.
If you’d like to know more about a specific entrepreneur, please let me know. It is a treasure to learn from one another. In the meantime, you can learn more about ZAGS ® on their website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.