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Developer of eco-friendly grocery bag faces decisions

John Seelmeyer

Burning with the zeal of a crusader, Debra Ward set out to replace the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag with a sturdy reusable bag made from recycled materials.

Dozens of lessons and a couple of awards later, Ward finds herself at a crossroads with the EZ Grocery Bag.

She’s seen that sales of the bag do well when there’s a concerted marketing push, but she’s so busy with her day job that she can’t give the EZ Grocery Bag the attention it needs.

So she’s looking for a partner to provide the financial muscle to dramatically step up the marketing effort. Another option is a buyer or licensing deal for the intellectual property patent and trademark that

supports the product.

But in no way does Ward feel defeated.

“I can say I’ve actually designed and produced a product and brought it to market,” says the owner of

Dream Weaver Marketing. “In addition, I did something good for the planet, and I feel good about it.”

Fired up after she watched a “National Geographic” television special about the environmental problems posed by disposal plastic bags, Ward began designing a reusable bag manufactured from recycled

materials.

Her design allows the bag to be rolled for storage. It’s larger than compact bags and includes two inside

pockets.

The big challenge in bringing the design to reality? She knew next to nothing about manufacturing.

Using the Web site alibabba.com, she found her way to a contract manufacturer. And the manufacturer helped find a source for recycled material a fabric made from recycled soda bottles.

More learning soon followed. She paid for the first order in full with a wire transfer, but was surprised by an $1,800 bill to ship the finished bags from the Asian manufacturer.

She trolled the Web, obtained information on patent and trademark applications, filled out the paperwork, ran it by a lawyer and filed it with federal authorities.

Simultaneously, Ward hired a consultant to develop a Paypal account for Internet sales and began teaching herself about search-engine optimization. And she began marketing the bag which retails for $8.99

through networking groups such as e-Women Network and Reno Early Birds.

Along the way, she garnered enough attention to be recognized by Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology as “Green Company of the Year” and earned a Senatorial Certificate of Achievement from

Sen. John Ensign.

That, in turn, was enough to attract the attention of investors who wanted to take the product national if Ward would put up half the money. She decided to take a more cautious approach, staying local while she learned more about marketing the EZ Grocery Bag.

She learned that the bag takes concerted selling, particularly to change consumer behavior.

“With grocery stores still handing out free plastic bags, people do not feel any urgent need to change their

habits,” Ward says.

She sold 500 bags in about five months through personal contacts and her Web site. She continues to step up the marketing push with two YouTube video campaigns and enhanced Internet campaigns.

Ward has learned enough to believe the EZ Grocery Bag has legs but she’s also learned enough to know that she can’t devote the time necessary to market the product while she’s working 65-hour weeks with the clients of her marketing firm.

But even if she finds someone else to run with the EZ Bag, Ward says the experience has provided invaluable first-hand experience in the development and marketing of a consumer product.