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Woman of the Week: Sharon Vinderine

Sharon Vinderine wakes up at 5 a.m. every day, makes herself a cup of coffee, and reads a minimum two chapters of a business book.

“It’s a struggle to constantly try to build up your information base,” she said. “But, if there is some tiny tidbit you can learn, you’ve gained a whole lot.”

Vinderine is the founder and CEO of Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA), a seal-of-approval award for products that were reviewed by real families. She has worked with a number of iconic brands like Johnson’s Baby, Gerber, and Harlem Globetrotters among others, to help promote and market their merchandise based on the experiences of parents who actually tried their products.

The idea behind peer-endorsed products was the result of Vinderine’s experience with her first child. She spent a ton of money on products she saw on television or in magazines she thought would work the best. Turns out, the products were less than perfect. “I then called friends and asked what products you can’t live without,” she said. “They were the best products!”

With that idea in mind, Vinderine started working on the PTPA Seal of Approval. An entrepreneur herself — she invented the Kangaroo Towel, a bath towel that acts as a pouch to hold your wet baby, as well as helped found MIPPS, one of the first wireless Internet providers in the 90s —she understood the challenges of promoting a product. She actually submitted the Kangaroo Towel to a U.S. company for review and certification; yet, the only feedback she received was “it was a pretty colour and very soft.” The certification did not include marketing or inclusion in press releases.

“I remember sitting at my kids Gymboree classes and starting a plan of action: I was going to develop a program that was going to actually accomplish all of the things that a new entrepreneur needs — a better way to market, differentiate your product, a better way to get your product on magazines or TV. I wanted to change the way moms were shopping, which was not based on what advertisers say.”

According to the PTPA website, 54 per cent of consumers say the Seal of Approval has a positive impact on their purchasing decision. Over 80 per cent say the seal made them feel more confident about both their purchase and the brands associated with it.

How does it work? Parents are given products for free in exchange for detailed feedback that is shared with manufacturers. PTPA will also provide help in magazine and television advertisements, as well as other forms of creative marketing techniques that are affordable and effective. Vinderine and her PTPA seal-approved products, was featured in over 150 shows, including The Rachel Ray Show, Extra!, The Steve Harvey Show, as well as ABC and Fox.

“From a business perspective, I feel like we are really impacting the way consumers are shopping,” Vinderine said. “When a mom sees our seal of approval on a package, it is almost the equivalent of her calling 20 of her best friends and asking what they think. That seal of approval says it all.”

PTPA now has a database of about 85,000 parents to pull from. Vinderine said that helping families, especially those with a low income, is one of the biggest benefits of the business. Based on one of her favourite quotes from her dad — “I don’t care what you do in life, but whatever you do, make sure it has an impact on the lives of others” — she would try to find low-income families to test cribs and dressers. All products are delivered and assembled, and families can keep them for free after the review.

Vinderine said that launching her own business was a challenging experience. How do you convince people this new seal is important? How do you convince television shows to feature your products? Vinderine encourages entrepreneurship through mentoring, but urges young businessmen and businesswomen to consider the reason behind their idea.

“If you are doing it to launch a second source of revenue, that is not a good enough reason. If you are passionate about what you are launching, it will get you through the rollercoaster of launching a business.”

Vinderine was recognized as one of RBCs Canadian Women Entrepreneurs and one of Canada’s Rising Stars according to Profit Magazine. The PTPA Seal of Approval is one of the three most recognized awards in the U.S., leading to seven new certifications such as “Santa Tested.”

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Ladies, do you need specialized Doritos?

Apparently, women are embarrassed by crunching and finger-licking. This is such a problem, that Indra Nooyi, the CEO of the Doritos parent company, PepsiCo, said they are looking into low-crunch chips that will come in special packs designed to fit in a purse.

“You watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavour, and the broken chips in the bottom,” Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio.

“Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers.”

I love the sound of a good, crunchy potato chip, and I think many women do too. Because really, what’s the point of a chip if you can’t crunch it? Do I feel embarrassed when I have to lick my fingers? Not really — honestly, I use a napkin if one is around, but I’m not picky. While the idea of a purse-friendly chip pack is appealing, I’m pretty sure Doritos can simply label them as “travel-friendly” to hit all gender demographics.

“It’s not a male and female as much as “are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?” Nooyi asks. “And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon. For women,  low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavour stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse?”

As much as Nooyi says it is not a “male and female” issue, it absolutely is. Gender marketing and gendered products have circulated stores for decades, and apparently the #MeToo and TimesUp movement isn’t doing anything to change how people, even female CEOs, see women. Women are dainty. They nibble on their salads and carrot sticks while waiting for their husbands to return home from work. During the Superbowl, women aren’t the ones to gobble up nachos or get messy with a pound of chicken wings. They drink fruit smoothies, right?!

Come on. Innovation and inclusivity is great, but can Doritos agree that making crunch-less chips in purse-size packaging specifically for women is a bit sexist? Men have briefcases — wouldn’t they like a smaller-sized bag of Doritos? Sure, low-crunch chips are intriguing, but can you not market them as perfect for sneaking a bite in the boardroom instead of the perfect snack for easily-embarrassed women? Why does everything have to target a specific gender? The product is chips…shouldn’t the target demographic be “people who like junk food.” Trust me, that category is universal. You really don’t have to derail it.

There is no information about the specific product — so who knows? Maybe this is just the beginning of PepsiCos brainstorming on the matter and tomorrow, they will announce Nooyi was mistaken. Or, they could really go for it and make the Doritos pink!