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The majority of teachers who start business opt to offer services, but products are also a great way to create an additional stream of income.

 

Today’s Guest: Allison and Stephanie, Creators of The Teacher Tote

Stephanie and Allison are two High School friends from Eastchester, NY who are now both teachers. They met on the softball field and formed a close bond that continued through their college years and beyond. Weekly coffee dates turned into discussions about shared dreams of starting a business together. They were tired of schlepping countless bags to and from school everyday and knew that there had to be a better solution. They wanted to create a functional bag that was tailored to the needs of a modern and successful teacher. Thus, The Teacher Tote was created.

 

Summary

Allison and Stephanie have been friends since high school and, after becoming teachers, decided to give entrepreneurship a go.  When they realized that they (and every teacher on the planet) were carrying multiple bags to and from school every day, they knew there had to be a better way and took the big step to create a product of their own.

They set out to discover what teachers really want in a bag, especially a bag that could replace all the others they were lugging around.  A space for a laptop was a must because… life.  But they found that no matter what kind of laptop bag people carried, they still had to carry something else; A lunch bag. So they added an insulated lunch pocket to their bag, one of my favorite features!

Of course, starting a business, especially a product-based business like the Teacher Tote, does require an investment.  Allison and Stephanie ran the numbers (Stephanie’s a math teacher!) and both decided that they were comfortable spending a certain amount of money… and no more.  They then figured out what they could do with that investment, and gave the project a green light.

Now that they’ve got a year of business under their belt, they’ve found a way to divide tasks based on each other’s skills, and make major decisions – like deciding to use a fulfillment center instead of shipping from their homes – together.  And they credit their shared vision for the company for being able to handle any curve balls that come their way.

 

Connect with Allison and Stephanie

The Teacher Tote is a tote bag designed with the teacher in mind! There are pockets to contain all of your needs! Two outer side pockets can hold your liquid containers (coffee, water, etc), while a zippered front pocket perfectly fits your cell phone. Open up the bag and you will find an insulated lunch box; built right into the bag! There is also a middle zippered compartment to safely store your laptop, as well as a side flap for those papers that you swear you’ll grade when you get home! Several other pockets for pens, small office supplies, your wallet and even a key ring will make this the most convenient all-in-one bag you own!

Contrary to the name, The Teacher Tote is NOT just for teachers! Anyone looking for the perfect all-in-one bag that has a place for everything would LOVE The Teacher Tote.

Full Episode Transcript

Side Hustle Teachers:
More and more teachers are getting into the side hustle way of life, and that’s a fabulous thing. But did you know that most teachers who start their own businesses choose to offer a service rather than a product? Well, today, guests are my very first product based entrepreneurs and they are here to share their story with you. So stick around.

Hello. Hello. Hello. Welcome back to Side Hustle Teachers. I am Stacey Ogden, your host and today I am honored to be talking with Alison and Stephanie of The Teacher Tote. If you are a teacher and you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you have likely seen their ads come across your feed because I know they did for me many, many times and I was just fascinated by how they came up with this idea, how they decided to put it together. And when I reached out I was super thrilled when they decided to join me for the podcast today. So they’re going to be telling you us all about their story, their journey, how they went from being high school friends to building their friendship through their college years and then deciding to build a business together. And here’s the great thing. They built their business because they saw a need.

They knew they wanted to do something for a little extra income as teachers because let’s face it, none of us are rolling in dough, but they knew that if they offered something that wasn’t solving a problem, they weren’t going to get anywhere. And that’s where the teacher tote was born. So if you have not seen this particular product, and even if you have, there’s a lot of great information that goes on behind the scenes that you don’t know about. Stick around for today’s inter interview with Alison and Stephanie because they are addition all the dirt, including how they make decisions as a team and how they decide what comes next in their business.

Now, if you’re thinking that a business would be a good fit for you right now, it is time to join the business prep program. This program meets by monthly and every month you get a lesson and you get an opportunity to be in what’s known as the hot seat. The hot seat is an opportunity for you to ask questions that are specific to your business and get feedback from people who have been there, done that. It’s an awesome low cost option for people who are just looking to get started in their side hustle journey. You can find out more@sidehustleteachers.com forward slash business prep. But now let’s jump in with Allison and Stephanie.

Alison and Stephanie, thanks so much for being here today. Thanks for having us. Yeah. So before we get into, um, where you are now, how about you tell us a little bit about what you do in education and then how did you make the leap into entrepreneurship?

The Teacher Tote Ladies:
Yup. So I’m Stephanie. I’m a high school math teacher and I’ve been teaching for seven years, and I’m Allison and I teach kindergarten. Um, this is my fifth year of teaching and we were high school friends actually, um, who just want it to start kind of a business. And um, we always like met for coffee dates and we’re always trying to think of ideas. We’re both teachers so we always threw around a couple of ideas and the tote just stuck really because you’re always thinking about or bringing so many bags to school. We have a lunch bag, we have our pocketbooks, we have um, a laptop bag. Like how can we make this easier for us and for other teachers. And that’s how the teacher too.

SHT:
Yeah, that’s awesome. Cause anything that can solve a problem for teachers is, is a okay in my book. Cause I know I’m like a Sherpa going to school every morning with everything that I have to carry. Oh my gosh, always lugging so many things. So now we have a lot of, um, service-based entrepreneurs on the show because I think that’s something that teachers sort of gravitate towards. How did you navigate this whole world of like creating a product that seems like even like I’ve been in this a long time, that seems overwhelming to me.

TTTL:
It was kind of a crazy process. We still sometimes look at each other and don’t know how we ended up here. Um, but it was like kind of a creative process of just like drawing up ideas and getting samples made up so we can test them out at our own schools and just kind of changing, you know, things that we needed to make a little bit, um, more functional for us. And eventually we just thought that other people would want the same thing.

SHT:
So like in teacher tote 1.0 what were some of the things that you notice like, “Oh, we definitely need to take care of this when we do 2.0 okay.”

TTTL:
Well we were on packaging I guess from our own houses to start off. Um, and it, we, it, it increasingly got overwhelming. Um, so we were like, we need to figure out how this can be run better. Um, so we are currently fulfilling out of a fulfillment center where they store our beds and they fill them, um, themselves that we don’t have to actually, um, touch the product per se. Um, and we can kind of deal with customer service and marketing and that kind of stuff now.

SHT:
Awesome. So when, when you were actually designing the bag though, how did you like figure out what to tweak and what to keep?

TTTL:
Like we said, we kind of, you know, made samples up, we would take them to school and use them ourselves. Um, and we also have a big network of know teaching colleagues, people in our family that are teachers, friends, and we would show them the bag and kind of ask them, you know, what’s your opinion on this? What would you like to see in a teacher bad? And you know, what changes would you make, um, going forward? And the consensus was pretty much that we had a product that everyone thought would be, you know, kind of like, why hasn’t this come out yet? Why isn’t there something, you know, just for teachers and all the things that we need to bring back and forth to school.

I think the lunchbox component was a big seller because that’s something that everyone always carries separately from a bag and now it was built inside. So that was a real, a real wedding points for people. Yeah, that was one of the first things I noticed. I was like, Oh my gosh, there’s a lunch pox, like right inside the bag. This is awesome. So, so getting feedback from family and friends, did you get any pushback from people? Were they like, you’re crazy or were people just completely gung ho and go for it?

I think everyone was like really supportive. They were kind of like, how are you doing this? Like how did you get this main, like how did, like we don’t have business backgrounds, so it’s like we had, uh, you know, set up QuickBooks and, um, set up our own baking, like all that stuff that we never learned in school cause we went to be teachers. Um, we kinda had to teach ourselves. So they were all kind of really impressed I think with what we were doing. And uh, yeah, just we ordered 500 bags, like our first run and we sold that in less than a month and everyone could not believe it. They were like, wow, this really happened. And actually, and I remember thinking and like while we place that order, we were so scared that we were going to be stuck with 500 bags in our parents’ basement. Like not being able to sell them. And like Stephanie said, we sold out, you know, very quickly and it just kind of took off from there.

SHT:
Yeah. So one of the things that scares people about doing a product business is that there’s definitely more of a financial investment than there is with doing something that’s service-based, which is really basically you can put up a website and say, I’m offering this service and here you go. So how did you sort of navigate the finances of getting samples made and you know, ordering 500 bags? Like I can imagine there was some anxiety there. Um, cause as you know, teachers are not the highest paid people on the planet. So how did you sort of navigate that, that world of investing in yourselves?

TTTL:
Well, we just kept costs low. Like we going in, we, we’re like, okay, we’re both comfortable spending this amount of money and like we were not willing to go over it and we kind of figured out, you know, the cost of cement for samples, the totes costs this much. Um, and this is what we’re comfortable investing. If we lose it, we lose it. Um, it was not a crazy number, so we were okay with, um, but we had to put in and it obviously, um, you know, so and that’s good about having a math teacher as your partner because she is really on top of the numbers and like keeping everything in check. So that was super helpful too.

SHT:
That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So how would you guys say, um, your relationship is different now that you’re working together and building a business together that does add an extra layer to a friendship when there’s money involved. So how do you, how does that sort of work?

TTTL:
I think the only thing that’s changed is that we get to see each other more, which is honestly a big plus. Um, you know, we had always seen each other pretty, you know, routinely, but it would mostly be just catching up about life and things. Um, and I would say we still do that, but like we dedicate like 20 minutes talking about the business and then 20 minutes talking about everything else. So we try to, you know, keep business and friendship separate. Um, but we still know that like if we get a text or something and we just jump in and talk about business stuff, it, it kinda just, you know, flows. Yeah. I think we have mutual respect for each other and we know that we really trust each other. Um, we know, you know, we’re each doing our own part of the business as well. So we each handle different aspects of the business and we really trust that we’re doing the best thing for each other.

SHT:
That’s awesome. Yeah. Cause you know, there’s, there’s definitely a piece to working with another person that is challenging navigating that, that sort of interesting river. Do you guys tend to sort of take everything together or do you divide up tasks based on who’s good at what?

TTTL:
Yeah, like Alli said I’m the math person side, but I do a lot of the numbers stuff. Allie does a lot of the social media. She’s more artistic than I am. So, um, she deals with, I would say social media more. Yeah. I do like emails. Um, a lot more. It sounded like a lot more the business stuff. Yeah. You know, I’m dealing with our manufacturers. There’s a lot that goes into the business and even, you know, for two people it’s still a lot to, you know, designate tasks. But we, we do the best we can and we get family members to help. I mean our husbands, you know, jump in whenever they can. Our, our family, you know, is helping us pack bags and take them to the post office when we started. So it’s definitely, you know, you need a village.

SHT:
Yeah, I would imagine. So when it comes to decision making, how do you work through that process of making a decision? Like if something needs to be added to the bag or if you want to invest in something or if you want to Uplevel your, like when you decided to go to a fulfillment center instead of shipping everything from your garages, how do those decisions get made?

TTTL:
Kind of, I think it starts with investigating. We kind of investigate it into different fulfillment centers, um, and then kind of get all the facts laid out. Um, me and Allie go over them together and kind of just weigh out the pros and the cons. Like what do you think is better for our business? Um, and then we kind of just make the decision together. We actually have made a few decisions that we’ve totally agreed on so far. So it’s, I think we have the same mindset as to we want to see the business go and how we want to see it grow and everything. So since we have the same, you know, mindset and goals in mind, we ended up
making the same decision. I think for the most part.

I also like plays along with teaching. You know, if you’re teaching a lesson and you can just tell that it’s not going the way you wanted it to go, you need to stop and make changes. We kind of, you know, both realize when that’s happening in the business and we, you know, do some research like Steph said and kind of find the best options that we can kind of switch directions to.

SHT:
So would you recommend any particular resources to people who are considering, um, starting a product based business? Like where did you get the information? Like how did you even know how to reach out to manufacturers? Did you like subscribe to YouTube or a blog or podcasts or anything like that? How did you know what to do?

TTTL:
So, um, my husband actually is really into side hustles and like has always tried to um, start something on the side. So he’s read a lot of literature about that and I think through him, him always talking about like things that he was interested in kind of got me interested in it and he had a lot of, um, resources to use and, and websites to go on. For example, Alibaba is a website that you can go on and reach out to manufacturers all across the world. So that’s something that we use to contact manufacturers. From there we just kind of found one that we liked and that’s how we moved forward. Um, we had to learn how to, how to start trying to figure out QuickBooks. So we kind of just watch some online videos about that, um, to talk to an accountant about it. Um, and just kind of learned as we went. But again, also use people around us to help us with these things.

SHT:
Yeah. Cause I would imagine that that’s super overwhelming for people who are like, well, I’ve got this idea for, you know, in this widget that I want to sell, but I don’t know where to get started. And I know Alibaba does a lot of, um, like premade things. Did you work with someone to get, you found a manufacturer that made something similar to what you wanted to do and then decided to customize it from there with that person?

TTTL:
Um, so no, we actually drove our own design for the teacher tote. Um, we had our own product. We just found a manufacturer who use those materials and to save. Were you able to use those materials? They wrote to create the product for us, but the design was completely original, not based off of anything else that we’d ever seen.

SHT:
Wow. You guys are so like, I’m right there with what you want. I love that. So you mentioned a couple of out a little while back that you both have the same idea of where you want this business to go. So where is that?

TTTL:
I don’t know. I think just we, again, we were working out of our garages. We’ve now moved into the women’s center, so we’re just kind of moving up with that where our marketing, we’re, I’m running sales all the time. Um, we’re trying to get on larger platforms to advertise our product. Um, so I think just getting on like more universal platforms and selling more bags per month. Um, so hopefully kind of the business like runs itself really. Right. I think, you know, a year ago, this time we, we weren’t sure where we were going to be. Like I said, you know, we thought we would end up with 500 bags in our basement. Um, so it’s kind of like a day to day thing. Everyday we like stop and look at ourselves and were like, we can’t believe we’re here. So to think about where we might be a year from now, it really is like kind of unbelievable for us.

Let me kind of just today I guess the opportunities that are coming our way, we just had to take them as they come and we’ll keep going.

SHT:
So do you see this becoming a full time business one day or do you hope to keep it as a side hustle and continue in the classroom?  I’m putting you on the spot!

TTTL:
I mean, you know, it certainly has the potential to, to be, you know, that side business. Um, it, it can get really difficult sometimes, you know, teaching and coming home and doing this on the side. Um, I feel like we almost, you know, wanna remind people like, Hey, we’re teachers too. Like we’re not just, you know, robots on a computer, running a business. Um, so it can be hard to have that separation. But I think, you know, it is possible if we continue to work hard and, and do both, you know, that that could be an option?

No. And we both do love to teach. So it’s not something that I would say want to give up right away. But maybe down the road, you know, if this really does take off, we would not be opposed to it. So we’re keeping our options open.

SHT:
So I would love to know how do you guys see this business, you know, experience and knowledge that you’re getting for yourselves? How do you see that translating into your classrooms? As you know, I found personally that when I started my side hustle I got much more creative as a teacher because I was learning about a whole bunch of new things. Do you see that sort of trend and how it’s impacting your students as well?

TTTL:
Um, I would say I’m on maternity leave, so I haven’t been, maybe I really haven’t been in the classroom, but I can just see it as more of like, um, like a motivator. Like I didn’t think this was possible for both of us. So it was like, you know, the kids are stuck in class or if they’re stuck on a math problem, like you can like try to persevere. And like push through and you can, you can do it. Or even outside of the classroom if you have goals, like do them try it. Like you could, you can literally, you know, take a drawing and create it if you want it to. Um, so I think just, you know, making sure that our kids know that they can do things, that they might put limits on themselves if they can actually go forward and pursue them.

Almost like translate to life skills. Um, you know, you, you learn time management, you know, setting aside time for, okay, this is schoolwork, this is teacher taught work and then you have your personal life obviously. Um, and also even just like, you know, dealing with customer service, it’s almost like you’re, you know, talking to parents and you’re having that, you know, you’re building that community and trying to convey, you know, whatever you need to get across.

SHT:
Yeah. That was one thing that came across when I started my business that I, and I work with teachers, so it’s, it’s even easier I think because they understand. But, um, being able to explain things more diplomatically because now I’m thinking about it from a business owner perspective, really translated to dealing with those parents who might need some help understanding things that are going on. Um, let’s talk about though for a minute. How do you manage your time when it comes to being full time teachers? Being a mom, being married, having a business. This is something that I know a lot of people struggle with. So how do you, how do you sort of divide up your time?

TTTL:
So we, we just for talking about that because in um, July we had our one year business anniversary and I kind of just like, we stopped and saw it, you know, said to each other. Like you said, Stephanie had a baby, I got married, we moved into a new house. It was just like all of these things happened in one year. Um, we actually got our first shipment in the week of my wedding and it happened at the same time. Our first sale was made when I was born in the plaintiff by honeymoon. So like it was just all of these things happening at once and we had to kind of learn as we were going, you know, how to delineate that time.

Like you said, we kind of just got thrown into it and had to make up our schedule as we went. Um, I know for me during the school year it is hard to, you know, kind of set that time. But over the summer I’ve gotten into like a really nice routine of like, you know, going to the gym and then I come home and answer emails and then, you know, making some Instagram posts, it’s a lot easier. Um, you know, it have that time. But during the school year it is hard to do that.

Yeah. During the school year, I would say it’s like early morning, uh, time on the business. So like responding to emails early in the morning at lunch time and then like after school. So kind of just everyday we’re definitely doing something for the business or just making sure it’s like small chunks of time maybe throughout the day just to get stuff done so she doesn’t back up.

Um, but definitely easier during the summer cause find time. Yeah. I’ve always said some are, is just long enough to make you think that you live like this and then you go, it’s like my reality. Do you find that there’s any struggle? Like I know that there’s definitely, for me, mom guilt when it comes to, I already go to work all day and you know, then I come home and I, you know, I need to do work for school. Although at this point I’ve sort of managed and made things more efficient. So there’s not a ton of that. But you know, now I’ve got this business I work on and I work with clients.

SHT:
How do you find that your spouses and you know, the needs of your family balance out with your business?

TTTL:
I would say they’re like, they’re beyond supportive. They’re like, okay, you need to visit this stuff. Like go ahead and do it. Um, if I need a babysitter to come to watch the baby for a little bit, like they’re willing to do it. Like everyone is really, like we said, it’s a, it’s a community of, of helpers. And advice and all that kind of stuff. So really supportive. Yeah.

SHT:
Wow. You guys are really lucky to have a small, a small baby. Only five months. I’m sure your kids are older. It’s a little bit more difficult. Yeah. My eight year old definitely will not sit quietly in a music. Um, so what do you think is next for the teacher tote? I mean we’re always thinking of new ideas, you know, new ways to get ourselves out there and get our product out there.

SHT:
Okay.

TTTL:
Kind of working on some new designs right now, maybe some new colors. Um, we’re always, you know, getting suggestions from customers of things they want to see and we always take those into account and you know, try to think of ways that we can take the product further, you know, and keep it going.

Yeah. So I would say, and then there’s listening. I look out for additional colors or even new products that we probably will be adding very shortly.

SHT:
Oh, new products. What sort of things are we thinking about?

TTTL:
About adding? I’m a backpack because a lot of requests for that. We know the toe, you know, isn’t always, um, you know, great for everyone’s community. So backpack could be useful as well. So we’re gonna try and work on that. Um, and then again, always adding colors cause everyone likes the fun little pops.

SHT:
Yeah. I remember when the, the first advertisement for the teacher tote came across my Facebook page and I was like, Oh my gosh, this is genius. And then I read the comments below and they’re like, why, why no more colors. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, can you guys be just happy that there’s something for me that was actually,

TTTL:
Oh, was surprising to us because when we made the product we were like, Oh black, it goes with everything, you know, it’s a standard, you know, classic color. That would be great. And then like you said, immediately everyone wanted colors and we were like, Oh, you know, like we just never kind of realized that I still use my black bag. I love it. You know?

SHT:
So when you add a new color like that, do you have to then, cause your first order was 500 bags, do you then have to order like 500 or a minimum order of every single color?

TTTL:
Yeah. So 500 is the minimum order of a color. Yep. But we’re up to like 5,000 bags per order at this point. So, um, we’ll be adding more so worried about that. Yeah. We can’t do that in our basements anyway. Yeah know. I would imagine that you’ve got what, like five different colors now. Yeah. Yeah. So 25 bags would and in position, I don’t think your family would be so supportive of that.

SHT:
So how can people find you if they want to, um, learn more about your bags or follow you or see your sort of growth as you go? Of course order.

TTTL:
Yeah, we’re on all on all social media, social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter at the teacher tote. Um, and you can ask questions or comments on our email, customer support@theteachertto.com and also visit our website, the teacher tote.com.

SHT:
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. This is actually the first time I’ve had a product based person on the show. So I know people are going to be like really interested in your story and how you went through that process and the different things that are involved in that. So thank you so much ladies for being here.

Let's connect!

 

Find your just right side hustle!

Starting a side hustle is tough when you don't even know what business to start. Answer 6 simple questions to find the hustle you're best suited for!

How Teachers Can Create a Product People Love with Allison and Stephanie of The Teacher Tote
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