Eileen Sloan's bright idea for a small business didn't come to her in the middle of the night, nor did it evolve in some high-level graduate school class. It was born out of necessity.
Sloan was teaching first grader classes a few years ago in Plainfield and Downers Grove when she kept running into the same problem many other teachers and parents encounter with young kids -- their inability to tie their own shoes.
"I would have 30-plus first graders who didn't know how. I needed a solution for my own sanity because I couldn't spend all my time teaching them," Sloan said.
Sloan began experimenting with a makeshift tool, incorporating a coffee can lid with punched holes designed to hold the laces in place and pop off when the task was completed. And that was all it took for the kids to eventually learn themselves.
"I literally taught one girl and she immediately turned around and taught two others," Sloan said. "It was such a game changer for me when they were able to tie their own laces. They weren't tripping over each other, it saved time, plus it gave them a sense of independence."
Sloan knew she was on to something, so she contacted a company in Denver to make a plastic prototype and immediately took care of the patent process.
EZLeaps was soon born.
"This literally changed my life and my classroom, so I thought maybe it can help others," said Sloan, who is now based in Colorado.
Sloan put a video together for Nordstrom demonstrating EZLeaps and it wasn't long before a store representative responded.
The relationship started with Sloan conducting monthly shoe-tying classes at Nordstrom stores, but has expanded into a formal curriculum at 116 Nordstrom stores and online sales of EZLeaps last summer.
EZLeaps are now available in various designs and colors at 33 retail stores including several Nordstrom outlets, and may soon expand into Canada.
"Working with Nordstrom is a dream. For such a big company, they still operate like a mom and pop," Sloan says.
Needless to say, Sloan's teaching days are over and she's concentrating full-time on EZLeaps. She anticipates the brand to continue to grow and to expand into specific areas, like the autistic community.
"There's 18 million kids at any given time that need to learn to tie their shoes between 4-8 years old. When you're looking to find a partner to enhance your business, it's all about finding a good fit. How would your product fit and enhance that company?"