Starting a travel goods company in the early days of a global pandemic isn't easy. Just ask Tracy McGee, founder of . jet setter.
“There were times when I thought my business would never succeed,” McGee said. “I wanted to start a company focused on helping people travel in an organized and fashionable way, but because of the pandemic, no one is traveling anymore.”
Despite these challenges, McGee not only successfully launched Mr. Jetsetter in 2019, but was also able to weather the pandemic and grow the business significantly over time. His line of fashionable and durable travel accessories can now be found in his more than 30 boutiques across the country and numerous national retailers.
Success wasn't always obvious, but Polsky Exchange Small Business Growth ProgramMaggie was able to take Mr. Jetsetter from a simple idea to the success he is today.
After experiencing the frustrations of tangled necklaces, disorganized makeup, and basic travel bags while traveling, McGee thought there had to be a better answer. She wanted something that would keep her organized simple but stylish.
She started looking for options, but to her surprise she found none.
“We wanted something more than just an organization.Something stylish and a little bit classy,” McGee said. “But I didn't see it, so I thought there must be an opportunity here.”
With no experience in manufacturing or product design, McGhee began looking for manufacturers online. Her process was far from smooth, and it took her countless hours to find a vendor who would work with her to create the product she wanted without investing a lot of money.
Eventually, she found a manufacturer to work with her on the project, and after several rounds of customization, adding and removing various options, Maggie completed her first product. A jewelry case, a makeup case with brushes, and a toiletry bag. Triple Trio with Removable Pouch – A stylish and functional set consisting of all three.
With her first product in hand, she began selling it to family and friends.Her initial feedback was encouraging – they really liked her But to really test her product, Maggie wanted to get in front of people she had no connections to.she set up in several places Surprisingly, it continued to be well-received at small pop-up markets around Chicago.
“When we started selling at pop-ups, we realized there was some interest, and little by little it started to pick up steam,” McGee said. “I really started I believe I can accomplish anything. ”
Hoping to build on this momentum, Maggie applied to participate in a major retail trade show. But just as Mr. Jetsetter began to take off, the entire world grounded.
In March 2020, Maggie set up Jetsetter's first booth at a major retail trade show. She remembers sitting there and looking around at the nearly empty building.
“The week the trade show was held was the same week the world shut down due to COVID-19,” McGee said. “I remember being there and talking to other vendors, but no one knew what was going on. It seemed light in terms of attendance, but it was also a first for me. show, so I had no idea what to expect.”
Although many customers canceled their plans to attend, a few still attended. And for Maggie, that's all she needed.
“But I ended up getting my first order at a local bag store in Chicago at that show,” McGee said. “When I heard that, I was convinced that Mr. Jetsetter had potential.”
adjustment in the air
While the jet-setter was beginning to feel successful, Maggie knew she needed to pivot to get through the pandemic. People weren't traveling anymore, and it was a tough environment for a company that sells travel goods.
She immediately got to work and created a new product: a stylish face mask and wristlet set to complement the Triple Trio. While there was some initial uncertainty about how it would play out, it ultimately helped the jet-setter get through the pandemic.
“At the time, I was part of a retail accelerator program designed to help small businesses, and thanks to that program I was able to sell a set of face masks and wristlets to Walgreens.” said McGee. “They liked the product and tried it in a few local stores. It was a success and we eventually rolled it out to more stores.”
“Looking back, my core product and the pandemic allowed me to break into major retailers for the first time,” McGee said. “At the time, I didn't think it was necessarily a good thing because I was worried about whether jet-setters would be able to survive the pandemic, but in hindsight, I can see the silver lining.”
From that point on, Mr. Jetsetter began to grow. As the pandemic continued, Maggie introduced more products that were in line with the business's original concept. They also became popular as people started to travel back. This success caught the attention of other retailers, and Mr. Jetsetter began expanding into other stores, including his TJ Maxx, several airports across the country, and soon Macy's.
McGhee's efforts have been recognized with accolades and recognition, including receiving the Chicago Minority Supplier Development Council's Supplier of the Year – Class I Award and nominations for the Walgreens Diversity Supplier Award and the National Minority Supplier Development Council's Supplier of the Year Award. It also stands out.
“It's been an incredible journey with ups and downs, but I'm still here and I'm so grateful,” Maggie said.
Magee has plans to continue building. Her immediate goals are focused on exposing Jetsetter to more customers by making Jetsetter's products available through more distribution channels and retailers.
Looking further into the future, she wants to expand her product line to everyone who travels.
“Men have asked us about a line for them, so we want to create something that appeals to men, women, and gender-nonconforming travelers,” McGee said. “We also want to expand into travel accessories for kids and pets. People are traveling like never before, so there's definitely room to create products that help everyone stay organized. .”
planning a trip
Jetsetter started with just a simple idea. Coming from a sales and marketing background, starting an entire business from scratch was difficult.
Early on, McGee was introduced to Polsky Exchange's Small Business Growth Program, which helps businesses grow and expand across the South and West Sides. She was excited to receive help starting her business, but she learned that the program had revenue requirements that she didn't meet. Rather than give up, she decided to reach out to her anyway.
“We looked at the income requirements and knew we couldn’t do it, but we also knew we needed help,” McGee said. “My background is in a corporate environment, which is very helpful, but it’s very different from entrepreneurship and starting a business, so I knew I needed guidance.”
“I contacted the exchange and asked if they would consider me, and I was eventually accepted into the program.”
This program was most important in launching Mr. Jetsetter. She was able to receive guidance from a mentor, and a team of students from the University of Chicago provided hands-on consulting. This left a lasting impression on her and the business.
“I still keep in touch with the advisors from that program,” McGee said. “I had student helpers who helped me create a marketing plan. I used their recommendations for my product and it was very helpful. It was a great opportunity to see what was being seen and think about different ways to get your product and brand out there.”
Follow Jetsetter on Instagram (@msjbrand) and Facebook (@msjetsetter).
Our Small Business Spotlight series highlights Southside and Westside businesses participating in Polsky Exchange's Small Business Growth Program. Learn more about these great businesses.
Article by Darwin Minnis, associate director of media relations and external communications at the Polsky Center. Darwin is passionate about telling the stories of people, products and companies that have a positive impact on their communities. Email Darwin.