Accidental Entrepreneur

A sore thumb, a golf ball and an oven…what do they have in common? Heather Karr!

Licensed Massage Therapist, Heather Karr didn’t set out to be an inventor  and product developer. She really just wanted to solve a problem she was experiencing with thumb and finger fatigue after deep tissue massage for her clients. Read how her adventure has unfolded and take inspiration for your own journey.

KH: Tell me what your inspiration was for this product….several clients with the same issue? Your own pain? How did you conceive this?

HK: Oddly enough, I didn’t intend on “inventing” anything to be sold. I had a problem and made something for myself to solve my problem. Quite honestly, I ended up pretty lucky that it was something that could help other people too and that it hadn’t already been done. The part that wasn’t just luck was all the hard work (and money) that it took to get it to market. It was way more work and money than I thought. And the time. Oh, Lordy, the time!

This is how it happened: I love to perform deep, therapeutic work, and was especially loving the trigger point work, but if I did it for very long it really hurt my thumbs and fingers. Being the giver that all therapists are, we tend to risk hurting ourselves to help make our clients feel better, so I tried using the hot stones. The stones were a bit of work to grasp, and I didn’t have good control over them, so a client (John Schneider, the actor, actually!) suggested I try a golf ball. He told me he lays on the floor on them on his back to get into his knots. I tried massaging the golf ball on his back and he loved it. It was so fabulous that I looked online and it seemed no one was using a golf ball for massage so I registered “golfballmassage.com” and figured I would rock this massage! Over the next few days I realized why no one was doing it for deep massage. The golf ball used alone was hurting my hand and it was really hard to control, like the stones. But I loved the size and hardness, so I thought if only there was something out there that would control it AND disperse the pressure on my palm AND be small enough so my hand was gliding on the client at the same time, then that would solve ALL my problems! I molded my idea out of Sculpey® clay and baked it in my oven. After several versions, I finally came up with one that worked really well. (You should see the first ones—they’re hysterical!)

After using it for a long time, it became obvious that it was something that would be great for other therapists. A friend helped me get a provisional patent and another friend loaned me some money to get it manufactured but I had no idea what to do to get it to market.

KH: Did you write up a formal business plan? How did you do that? Do you have business training or education? Did you seek a mentor?

HK: At first I didn’t have any sort of plan other than knowing that it was a great tool and a lot of people could benefit. I’m lucky to have a lot of really smart and talented friends who gave me good advice (and bad advice too, hah hah). Before I was a massage therapist, I was a graphic designer/art director and had planned and designed marketing materials for other businesses so I was able to put together packaging, promos, and what-not. My experience was in the automotive and motorcycle industry (oddly enough) so this particular industry was new territory for me. I have MANY friends of a variety of expertise that I am eternally grateful to.

Since I had a web presence with the “golf ball massage” before the SPABALLTM was manufactured my information popped up on the radar of the producer of the CBS show “The Doctors”. They were doing a segment on “unusual massage modalities” and he ran across my website. I thought it was a joke at first! They wanted me on the show! After he talked to me they decided to do the whole segment on just my massage instead of the three they had chosen. By the time the show aired I barely had the website and products up to sell. That show pretty much launched my business.

KH: Did you set a detailed budget for your launch?  And if so, how have you done with it? Are there some areas you went over? Some you didn’t need as much as you thought?

HK: Between the free publicity I got with this unusual modality, and the fact that it is truly a useful tool, the word of mouth within the spa industry really launched it quite organically. Because of the appearance on the show it exposed the SPABALLTM internationally and is literally sold all over the world now. I wish I could take credit for being a genius business woman but I’m not. It was really just a combination of luck, persistence, getting good advice, having smart and giving friends, a design and marketing background, optimism, and willingness to work 24/7 for years with little play time and no spare money. I’ve learned a lot along the way.

KH: Do you have a favorite ball?

HK: Man you ask good questions! Yes, the soft cover balls need lots of lotion to roll well. Hard cover balls roll better. Once in a while I run into a ball that is a tad too big for the holder–you would think they are all exactly the same size. I may be the only person who knows they aren’t!

KH: Any take away tips for other who might have a product development idea?

HK: If you have a good product idea (and it’s a marketable and profitable item) be prepared to give up weekends, sleep, money, and time. I think people think that all you need is a good idea to be a success. The easy part is the invention … the hard part is everything else! Also, you can’t do it all by yourself. Sometimes you have to take other’s expert advice and other times you need to trust your gut. The hard part is knowing which to do when! I highly recommend working with your local SCORE mentoring organization as a starting place.

KH:  Do you have distributor (wholesale) prices for your fellow salon/spa owners?

 Yes! Therapists can find information about carrying the SPABALLTM and the KADDYBACKTM for their clients at www.golfballmassage.com  and click here to see the SPABALL Wholesale Order Form.

Ed. Note: $2 for every kit sold on the website goes to Our Community House of Hope, a hospice organization that is near and dear to Heather’s heart.

Watch Heather’s story here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeFnqPBUv1w