NeatSheets: a napkin with a difference
Lyme — When Heidi Worcester's parents were driving across the country a few years ago, playing golf courses, visiting presidential libraries and hanging out at barbecue joints, one of their biggest complaints came from eating in the car.
Both in their 70s at the time, they were constantly putting down newspapers or laying out napkins to try to keep the food off their clothes as they drove.
"Inevitably something drips on you," Worcester said.
Then Worcester, a Lyme resident with three children, started thinking about her own experiences carpooling kids wearing uniforms to various athletic contests. And she thought about adults trying to pry their eyes open with cups of coffee as they drove around.
What a mess.
Thus the foundation for her NeatGoods company was laid, with an initial line of oversized napkins she dubbed NeatSheets.
"The idea was to have a napkin that could stay on you — big enough to protect from spills in a car," she said. "It's an incredibly simple idea but it's a useful idea, and it didn't exist."
Previously, Worcester was involved in a furniture company, which she later sold, and had written children's books published by Harper Collins in a series titled "Beryl E. Bean: Mighty Adventurer of the Planet."
She was encouraged that people she knew instantly understood the concept behind her new company, and she began networking by joining a business accelerator group of women entrepreneurs called The Refinery, where she refined her ideas and was introduced to the legalities and funding issues involved in starting up a new company.
She also worked with Women's Business Development Council, which just opened a new office in New London. A brother from Minneapolis, Greg Pesky, signed on as a co-owner.
Initially, she thought NeatSheets would be geared toward the fast-food market, but eventually realized, thanks to her elegant 102-year-old grandmother, that the senior market would be a better starting point.
"Better-designed, everyday products aren't always available for seniors," she said.
Rather than a bib that Worcester thought seniors would find offensive and might be difficult to tie, NeatSheets would stick on clothing, come in different patterns and would look like oversized napkins.
"The idea really resonates with people," she said.
And everyone has a different idea of additional ways it could be used: by people putting on makeup, by picnickers, by wedding- or prom-goers trying to keep their clothes clean, by Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis patients.
"It promotes independence," Worcester said. "A bib could be seen as childish."
NeatSheets are designed to be disposable, Worcester said the high quality of the product often allows people to reuse them. They are made in China with paper on one side and plastic coating on the other, with adhesive tabs adhering to clothes.
NeatSheets have been selling on Amazon.com for two years, but recently saw a surge. Worcester reported that between January and June, sale of the product doubled, perhaps, she said, because of increased awareness of the product from a combination of factors, including promotional efforts such as donating NeatSheets to charity events, sponsorships with barbecue and food festivals and positive comments on Amazon.
"I don't know how people are finding us," she said, though the company has a NeatGoods Facebook page as well as a presence on Instagram. "It's not something you Google."
NeatSheets are not available in any store, and she admits it's difficult to target where it might get some traction: a medical store, a party store? She has exhibited at home shows and seniors shows, but is ramping up her efforts this year.
A box of 100 NeatSheets sells for $30. She says one NeatSheet performs better than 10 napkins when it comes to protecting clothes from food stains.
"It's a premium product, but not exclusive," she said.
Worcester said she has received much support over the past year from the business advisory SCORE and her mentor Buz Sawyer. It was Sawyer who convinced her to put aside another business she had been running, a boutique belt design company, and concentrate on NeatGoods LLC.
"It's been a really positive experience," Worcester said of her experience with SCORE, which offers free business advice and programs at several locations in southeastern Connecticut. "It's nice to feel there's a connection to someone on a regional basis."