Business alumnus sees success with Shark Tank appearance
Thursday, June 3 2021 01:00pm
Business Bobcat alumnus Kevin Consolo and fellow Bobcat Chris Pavlica continue to innovate and develop new products to make life easier
Chris Pavlica (left) and Kevin Consolo, BBA '07, (right) appeared on ABC's Shark Tank to pitch their SneakERASERS product. Photo courtesy of American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
By Megan Bulow
When you look back at your college years, some of the most memorable times are when you meet the people who will be part of your life forever. For Kevin Consolo, BBA ’07, and Chris Pavlica that serendipitous moment came freshman year when they lived two doors down from each other in Tiffin Hall.
As Kevin tells it, they were “two kids from Ohio with similar interests.” Chris saw Kevin putting away his golf bag and they clicked over their love of sports and a similar sense of humor. “We’re still not friends,” Chris joked.
One other common interest that fueled their friendship was an entrepreneurial spirit. From their days at Ohio University to a recent appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank, Kevin and Chris have always shared a drive to succeed and a mutual dream to come up with an idea that would lead them to success.
“When we were in college, we were up late trying to come up with the next million-dollar idea. We lived in Bromley Hall on the 9th floor. We’d come up with awful ideas that seemed good for 24 hours,” Chris said.
Kevin originally planned to major in journalism, but due to the competitive nature of the program, he started in the College of Business where he fell in love with the creative side of advertising agencies.
“I think the College of Business is such a great well-rounded background that takes you into your career and your passion,” Kevin said. He reflected fondly on his time on the executive board of the professional business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, a stint working at the golf course, and an internship as a copy writer with University Communications and Marketing (UCM).
It was during an internship in Akron that he happened to see a piece from UCM in a magazine. He didn’t know much about the department, but he decided to reach out to see if any opportunities were available and pick the brain of Mark Krumel. That conversation eventually led to Krumel becoming his supervisor for that internship his senior year.
“I didn’t know what it would come out to be. I took the chance and took the risk. It was definitely a fun experience working in that office,” Kevin said.
While Kevin focused on business, Chris was a telecommunications major in the College of Communication. Kevin reflected on their time as roommates and remembered how Chris was dedicated to his craft, staying in working on films rather than going out with friends.
“He’s always been the same way,” Chris said of Kevin. “We play off each other. We have the same work ethic.”
Just like Kevin, Chris had the initiative to drive his career forward. He started trying to make connections in the film industry. He initially struck out when he tried to find contact information for famed music video director Joseph Kahn, known for his work on Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Eminen’s “Without Me.”
While Kahn was hard to reach, Chris was able to connect with Brad Rushing, Kahn’s cinematographer. Chris eventually left Ohio University to pursue his dream in Los Angeles, even living with Rushing for a time out in LA. Chris remembers thinking, “I have to figure this out on my own.” That drive to achieve has continued to serve him well as years later he came up with an idea for a business venture that would prove to be a success.
The Start of an Idea
Five years ago, Chris was in Atlanta pitching a film project to Coca Cola. As it turns out, that film now plays every 12 minutes at World of Coca Cola, but that’s not all that came from that fateful trip. As Chris was preparing to meet with executives at Coca Cola, he was dismayed to see that the sneakers he had packed for the pitch meeting had gotten marked up in his luggage.
Grabbing his smart phone, Chris tried to find a quick fix to clean his white shoes. The best option he found was hand sanitizer on a paper towel in his hotel room. The results were passable for his meeting, but Chris realized this could be that elusive idea he and Kevin had dreamed about pursuing years ago. When he got back to LA, he called Kevin to tell him he had an idea that could be the one.
They spent the next year and a half trying to make their idea a reality, which is how SneakERASERS was born. Their product is a durable dual-layer sponge that includes a special formula to help the user wipe away dirt, scuff marks, and other grime. It comes in a single pre-moistened pack for cleanings on the go, or they sell a dry version in a cost-effective 10-pack for use at home or anywhere you have access to water.
While other sneaker cleaning products exist in the market, Kevin and Chris said SneakERASERS is the best way to clean shoes, without a doubt. Chris said, “We created it to be denser and more compressed and added other layers. It also has a super-soft shammy layer that cleans sensitive materials on shoes. It works like a pencil eraser and naturally disintegrates as you use it.”
One of the biggest advantages SneakERASERS has over other products is the convenience factor of having an instant, portable sneaker cleaner with you whenever you need it. “You can’t break out a large spray and brush kit and make a mess. That’s more of a chore to do at home,” Kevin said.
As they tested their product, they heard positive feedback from family and friends. While the good reviews from their inner circle helped to build their confidence in the product, they found that feedback from those they didn’t know was even more satisfying.
“One of the biggest rewards is you never know how people will react. It’s nice when we get strangers telling us they love it,” Chris said.
As they started to see success in retail and talked to buyers from the automotive parts and sporting goods industries at trade shows, an idea began to take shape that they could change the composition and design of SneakERASERS to create new products. It was time for their company, FTI Brands, to expand on its initial offering to include cleaning sponges for other industries.
After all, FTI stands for “Free to Innovate,” and that’s exactly what Chris and Kevin decided to do after meeting with representatives from Ace Hardware, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and AutoZone, who loved the SneakERASERS product and wanted something similar to clean other items. “It puts the idea in your head. We went to the lab and tested it on cars. We did the research and figured it out,” Chris said, describing the process for how AutoERASERS came to be.
Kevin and Chris were taking SneakERASERS to golf courses to clean their clubs and shoes and decided to create GolfERASERS, a product that could be used specifically for cleaning golf balls, clubs, and shoes. This product comes with a free silicone tether to hang from your golf bag, so the cleaning sponges are easily accessible and visible to other golfers.
“It’s innovation over what’s antiquated in the category,” Chris said. “People ask us, ‘What’s on your golf bag?’”
Swimming with the Sharks
As their business saw success and they continued to expand their product line, Kevin and Chris were able to meet another goal: Getting picked to appear on ABC’s Shark Tank. According to Kevin and Chris, around 40,000 businesses apply to appear on Shark Tank every year. Only 100 companies make it to air.
After they were selected, they started practicing for the show having colleagues and investors quiz them repeatedly and test them on different scenarios. By the time they filmed their segment, they felt like they had overprepared.
Chris said, “It was very exciting and very traumatic. Especially this year with Covid, the Sharks have said it was way more intense. For a lot of these companies, their business is their livelihood. If they don’t do well, everything crumbles into pieces.”
Kevin echoed Chris’ sentiments about the pressure they felt to do well. “If you lose your temper or say the wrong thing, they have the footage. That could be your grand introduction to America,” Kevin said. “Just like the College of Business presentations we prepared for, you do your best. We prepared for this, we worked really hard on this. Now let’s go do it and have some fun.”
They were thrilled with how it turned out as two of the Sharks, Lori Greiner and Alex Rodriguez, offered them a deal—a $200,000 investment for a 20% stake in SneakERASERS. The two baseball fans felt like they scored a homerun by striking up a deal with Greiner and Rodriguez, a dream team of retail and connections in the business world. Greiner, the queen of retail and queen of the shopping channel QVC, and Rodriquez, a former New York Yankee turned business mogul, were the two Sharks they hoped to snag.
What's Next for FTI Brands?
Since their episode aired, a couple of their products sold out on Amazon and Walmart.com, and Chris will be making an appearance soon on QVC before Father’s Day. Kevin and Chris are excited to capitalize on their Shark Tank appearance, and they are working as quickly as they can to continue to expand.
“I feel like we’re just scratching the surface on our retail partners and channels. There are so many questions we get from customers that ask, ‘How do we buy this?’ We want to explore selling our products in other countries and selling through other retail channels,” Kevin said.
Even with their success, Chris and Kevin still look back at their time in Athens and the experiences at Ohio University that shaped who they became.
Kevin said, “Almost every day I think about Ohio University. This is a little bit of that sales class where we had to learn how to close. You pull a little bit from every experience. You might not remember each test or lecture, but you gain a little experience and knowledge from every class. You have to wear all these different hats each day. The College of Business gave me a good background to switch from operations, logistics, sales, inventory management, and presentations.”
Like many alumni who have left town, Kevin expressed a love of Athens. “I miss it so much! I miss Athens. My experience was tremendous there. I just want to go back all the time,” he said.
When they do return, Kevin and Chris will be able to buy SneakERASERS in a handful of stores, including the Walmart on East State Street where Kevin remembers shopping when he was a student.
What started over a mutual love of golf and the luck of being two doors down from each other in Tiffin has led to a lifelong friendship and a successful business venture that they once dreamed of turning into reality.
“We complement each other so well. We face so many hurdles and road blocks every day,” said Chris. “It’s so time consuming, but we love it. It’s been an awesome ride.”