CINCINNATI -- If you’ve ever left sweat on a car seat after a run, if you’ve ever sat on a car seat in a wet bathing suit, then you understand the need for Seat Hero.
The product, made and distributed by Chica Sport, is a waterproof seat cover that slips over the seat’s head rest. It’s designed to stay in place and be machine washable.
“Our tagline is, ‘Stop sitting on towels,' " said Meredith Finn, an Anderson Township resident who co-owns Chica Sport.
There are other car seat covers on the market, she said, but they’re not waterproof, and many don’t fit all the way over the headrest.
Seat Hero is the main reason Finn and her husband, Alec, an IT consultant, bought the company for $90,000 in November 2015. Chica Sport sells other products, she said, but none with Seat Hero’s potential.
“I thought it could be huge,” she said.
The company’s founder and former owner, Madisonville resident Meg Perez, agrees.
"If they market it correctly, they will have a million-dollar business,” she said.
A passion for running long distances
Formerly a national accounts manager in corporate sales, Perez started Chica Sport in 2009 so she could spend less time traveling and more time home with her family. The passionate runner’s first product was a nonslip headband that she offered in more than 900 styles.
She continued to run competitively in ultramarathons, with her specialty races of 50 miles at a time. Her involvement in those competitions helped build the brand.
But in 2013 or so, she felt less desire to spend time training, she said, and her passion for the business began to wane. She wanted to give back to the running community as a mentor rather than as a competitor.
So she sold the business to Finn, who wanted back into the workforce after spending 10 years as a stay-at-home mother. Before her children were born, Finn had worked in county government, but had never owned her own business.
Locally made products
She and her husband have invested about $50,000 of their savings into the business, above the purchase price, to do things like increase their inventory of Seat Heros. They are made locally by Casco Manufacturing Solutions and retail for $39.99.
She works from the company’s warehouse/office space in Newtown, from which the company may one day do walk-in sales.
This year, she joined the LAUNCH class of Bad Girl Ventures, a local accelerator for ventures owned by women. She’s looking for help creating a workable business plan to market the Seat Hero.
Her Bad Girl Ventures mentor, Luci Parmer, a business professor at Miami University and native Floridian, has been helping her with that, as well as finding other uses for the product.
“Growing up in the South, we always used towels coming out of the beach or creek,” Parmer said. “There’s not a lot of that here, but her Seat Hero would probably do really well in other areas where there are different outdoor activities.”
Finn has an advantage over other startup owners in that hers is already an established business, which earns about $8,000 a month in sales. It’s breaking even, she said, but she doesn’t take a salary. She expects that to change by the end of the year.
About half the sales come at marathon expos, about 40 percent from the company website and 10 percent from retail stores in Florida, Michigan and Louisville. Finn, who’s 48, would like to hire some younger people with more energy to work the expos.
She’s also considering creating companion products, such as something to protect car shoulder straps from sweat and wet.
Owning her own business has involved her in things she’d not thought about, she said, such as learning about workers compensation so she can hire her first employees.
“It feels really good to have something that’s mine … whatever I do, I’m responsible for (it),” she said. “Especially in this age of my life … it’s an interesting venture to begin, not having had that experience before.”