A group of inventors in the entrepreneurship class at Buffalo Grove High School had one goal this year: to land their product -- Skunk Aid -- on the shelves of a retail store.
Now, as the school year winds down, their sights are much bigger. They not only have landed their de-skunking kits for dogs in a few stores, they are looking at national publicity through a segment that airs Thursday, June 8, on NBC's "Today" show.
"We are beyond excited for this opportunity," says junior Jackie Molloy of Buffalo Grove, who teamed up with classmates Nicole Relias and Shayna Reznikov, both of Arlington Heights, to launch the product last fall.
Their story first appeared in this column in late October. Within weeks, they drew the interest of Lou Manfredini, WGN's "Mr. Fix-It." He invited them to WGN's radio studio for an interview and he also placed their product in hardware stores he owns in the Edgebrook neighborhood of Chicago and Villa Park.
Manfredini's producer, Lindsey Smithwick, says Manfredini loves to support small business owners and entrepreneurs, and he promotes their products on his monthly segment with "Today" co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb called "Lou's Life Changers."
"When Lou read about these high school girls who took a common problem and created an effective solution -- all on their own -- it immediately caught his attention," Smithwick said. "He thought this would be a cool project to pitch, and the 'Today Show' producers loved it."
Watch Manfredini describe Skunk Aid -- with its prepackaged wet and dry de-skunking solutions, as well as spray bottle, gloves, towel and mask -- during the 10 a.m. segment on Thursday's "Today" show.
All of which presents an exciting set of challenges for these young entrepreneurs: How to keep up with a rapidly scaling business.
Mike Schiestel of Detail Kitchens in Arlington Heights has served as their mentor in the class during the school year, and another class mentor, Craig Leva, owner of Long Grove Confectionary, also has stepped up with advice.
"I have been a fan of this group's product and have offered some help," Leva says. "They have an exciting opportunity to significantly grow their business through the attention that they have received."
Both class mentors advised the teens to tighten their product design by making the boxed kits smaller in size, which would require changing their graphics and finding a graphic designer who specializes in this kind of packaging.
The students also will have to seek more vendors where they can buy in bulk to meet rapidly increasing orders. And they may need to change their method of distribution.
"Currently, they sell on Amazon and self-fulfill orders," Schiestel says, "but they will need to shift to having Amazon fulfill the orders to ease their burden."
The reality of their heightened visibility was brought home last week when they were asked to ship four kits to the NBC studio at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.
"We definitely want to cherish this moment, though, because, as Mike has reminded us, this type of opportunity doesn't happen to everybody," Molloy says.
"We are ready to make the most of it in order to help benefit our business and product, but we also realize how fortunate we have been to have these connections and incredible chances so early in our careers," she adds. "It has been a thrilling adventure so far, and we can't wait to see where else Skunk Aid will take us."