By Jim Abbott The Daytona Beach News-Journal
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Desiree Haller shares what it has been like since she and her husband appeared on "Shark Tank" 10 months ago. While their waterproof, eco-friendly "SubSafe" sandwich container has been a huge hit, they've also launched several other environmentally conscious products that are doing really well.
Standing amid boxes stacked floor-to-ceiling in a 4,000-square foot warehouse at an office park off Spruce Creek Road, SubSafe entrepreneur Desiree Haller reflects on the past 10 months.
"We were in our garage until December," said Haller, who teamed with her husband, Adam, to invent the waterproof, eco-friendly SubSafe sandwich container. The product gained national exposure in January, when the husband-and-wife team was a hit on ABC's "Shark Tank."
"A lot changes when it airs," Haller said.
For SubSafe, the changes are reflected in growing distribution that includes 800 Publix supermarkets and an agreement with ORCA Coolers to market SubSafe containers adorned with the logos of NFL and college sports teams, Haller said.
"We're a big tailgate product," she said. "A lot of people bring subs to tailgates."
But not all the boxes ready for shipping are packed with SubSafes. The Hallers already are expanding into a new product line that offers a similar combination of practicality and planet-friendly design.
The company's new VyroSafe straws are made of a high-quality, 100 percent biodegradable paper that's an alternative to the estimated 500 million plastic straws used daily in the United States, Haller said.
The company has already sold 1.57 million, she said, at a wholesale rate of 5,000 wrapped straws (in solid or striped designs) for $114.50, according to the company's price list.
"They're going fast," Haller said.
The success of SubSafe resulted in a relationship with a Chinese manufacturer that enables to company to produce the higher quality straws at a competitive price, she said. The initial target markets are hotels, cruise ships and restaurants, she said.
The company recently shipped VyroSafe straws for use at the South Beach Seafood Festival. The straws also are being used at area restaurants including Chases on the River in Sanford, Millie's Restaurant & Catering in Daytona Beach Shores and Jimmy Hula's in Port Orange and Ormond Beach.
"We're offering same-day drop-off for Volusia County, to get the word out that we're here, we're competitive with our pricing and we've got a better product," she said.
At Jimmy Hula's, owner Jose Cifuentes is embracing the change to paper straws to stay ahead of a push toward laws that might ban plastic ones in beachside areas.
"We get mixed reviews," Cifuentes said. "Some people hate paper straws, but a lot of people are very happy about it. We go through a lot of straws, probably about 6,000 a month."
He's impressed by the quality of the VyroSafe product, he said.
"You spend a little more money than the cheaper brands, but they last about an hour," he said. "They are bringing in a better product, a four-layer product. So I'm very happy with it."
The Hallers test-marketed the straws on a most demanding in-house survey group: their two boys, ages 2 and 5.
"With most paper straws, the second they get it in their mouth, it starts to collapse, and then you have to ask for five more," Haller said.
Whatever the product, the Hallers strive to take an environmentally conscious approach to business.
"Before SubSafe, people were putting sandwiches into Ziplocks and into a cooler and it all ends up in the water," Haller said.
"We inadvertently created a product where people are using one container instead of thousands of plastic bags a year."
Beyond the products, the company pursues recycling opportunities locally and is working with an area company to plant trees at area schools throughout the year, Haller said.
"It's about keeping the circle going," she said.
With sustainability a big buzz topic, particularly among young consumers, the Hallers' eco-friendly mindset is likely an asset, but it needs to be hitched to useful products for a business to thrive, said Jim Deering, director of the Small Business Development Center at Daytona State College.
"Some companies develop products that are eco-friendly but don't really have a practical application, so they kind of fizzle," Deering said. "They have combined that mindset with the practical and that makes it work. It's something that people find useful and they will buy it."
Deering also praised the Hallers for uncovering one of the secrets to new product development:
"People can invent things or have ideas reshape something or do something in a different way and it doesn't have to be new," Deering said. "It can be a new way of doing something that's old.
"People have been using Tupperware or Saran wrap to throw a sub in a cooler for years. They came up with kind of a new way, but not really. An inventor shouldn't always think that they have to come up with something new. There are ways of doing things and those ways change."
Haller's advice for would-be entrepreneurs:
"Go for it," she said. "There are a lot of tools on the Internet to help you through the process. I found a lot of information on Google."
The biggest challenge for would-be inventors is balancing caution and ambition, she said.
"My husband's a dreamer and I'm more of a realist," she said of developing the SubSafe. "For me, it was hard to pull the trigger before I saw the result. If anything I should have been less cautious.
"I can say that I can't imagine having sat back and not done this and then watching someone else do it."
The couple already has another product in the pipeline to follow VyroSafe, she said.
WineSafe is a combination waterproof plastic container and koozie for wine or champagne bottles that comes equipped with a rubber cork. The Hallers expect to launch the product in coming months.
"It's about continuing to develop the product line," she said. "It's been incredible, the entire process." ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.