The power of customization
Jen Dodson has always loved gymnastics. Her love for the sport and those gymnasts she worked with empowered her to start DRYbands, a product that addressed the common problems gymnasts had with their typical cotton wristbands. As her business developed, it became the shared love she saw with gymnasts and their supporters where she realized how the power of customization could be so impactful.
Starting her own business
Jen started coaching when she was 15 years old and continues to do so to this day. At the end of 2015, Jen decided to do something about an issue she kept seeing over and over again with gymnasts. The wristbands that gymnasts wore weren’t absorbent enough, nor could you really wash them. They progressively got crunchy and smelly. They were stiff and hard to get on at times, often cutting into the limited amount of time gymnasts even had available for practice. They even became easily loosened with use. She wanted to reengineer wristbands for gymnasts, make them better, more comfortable and longer lasting. Additionally, Jen wanted to help gymnasts like her sister, who suffered from hyperhidrosis, where excessive sweating led more easily to rips. Rips! They were the worst.
It wasn’t easy. It took Jen over two years to develop a product she felt good about bringing to market. This included using the right materials, figuring out the best stitch pattern, ideating on the most important features, and even just learning the industry business terms. There was a lot of trial and error, no doubt. The first manufacturer she worked with had ghosted her (under-provided on product, then literally packed up and left no trace)! She worked with a limited operating budget that only provided her with the ability to hold a small inventory. With all those obstacles, she pushed through and was finally able to start selling in 2018.
It started with one step at a time. Once her product was made available, Jen wasn’t sure that anyone would like what she had developed.
“In the beginning, I didn’t trust it to be important enough. It’s a lot more expensive than a regular wristband. I didn’t think people would make the switch… that it would be a big enough problem [where gymnasts would make the switch].”
Then, unexpectedly, someone Jen didn’t know purchased a pair on her website and she “was losing [her] mind”! After that pair, more began to sell. She was encouraged to obtain a larger inventory and sought out a manufacturer to ramp up production. DRYbands traveled to meets to show off product in person and Jen started an Instagram account. By February 2020, Jen saw a regularity in acquiring inventory and sales…and then, the pandemic hit.
Fighting to stay alive
Before lockdowns began to take place, Jen met a T-shirt vendor that, in hindsight, helped bring her business to new heights. Competitors and copycat businesses emerged when DRYbands hit the marketplace. These businesses created sensational stories behind their products, offered more color options, and provided appealing trendy patterns. They were taking away from Jen’s sales, so she needed to up her game.
The T-shirt vendor that Jen met had set up his Cricut to make on-demand customizations during a weekend meet. He was designing, cutting, weeding, and pressing all on site. It was the perfect opportunity for Jen to observe and ask questions about how Cricut added to his business.
Before: “I always pictured it as this is a crafty mom making cute things for the kids. I didn’t understand any of it. It was all completely foreign to me. It was scary to even look at…”
Jen was able to watch the process and understand it better. With a bit of online research, “We were convinced that it was right for us, so at the airport on the way home, we purchased our first Cricut machine!”
After: “When we were watching them, I was like, ‘I wish we could do that.’ They make great sales because everyone wants their name on a T-shirt. We’d see them type it in [to Design Space], cut it out, then weed it. It didn’t look that scary.”
Utilizing Cricut allowed Jen to easily expand DRYbands. It “gives us that chance to make our product fresh and unique” and “helped make it a much more level playing field” against those competitors. She no longer feared copycats knowing DRYbands was a superior product, and she had the ability to cater to her customers!
The power of customization
When DRYbands added personalized T-shirts and sweatshirts, Jen relied on direct-to-garment companies to fulfill orders. They were expensive, poor in quality, and kept a horrible turnaround record. With Cricut, Jen said goodbye to those companies and brought everything in-house. “Using the Cricut machine has allowed us to make our own sweatshirts with the quality we feel our customers deserve,” she says.
Business picked up as time went by and customization gave her an advantage. With Cricut, Jen added new products to her shop that helped her adapt to current times. Chalk buckets were one of the things that became a big hit.
As the world changed, so did the industry. With everything that happened with the USA Gymnastics (USAG) team, the overall focus in gymnastics was also changing. Health and wellness of the athlete became top of mind. Gymnasts looked for positive reinforcement and showed more and more that they wanted things personalized. At least half (if not more) of the orders that were placed reflected this desire. Gymnasts wanted to add a customized saying, a motivational message to their DRYbands. Coaches and parents gave Jen feedback such as, “my gymnast looks at her wristband every time before she takes a turn.” Gymnasts sought positivity and encouragement to fight through fears and struggles in maintaining their skills.
After Harper completed compulsory level gymnastics, she discovered her father was getting deployed. He would be missing meet season as Harper made it into the highest levels of gymnastics. Knowing that Harper was upset, her mom had found the perfect gift in customized DRYbands—a physical reminder that Dad would always be nearby and a part of her journey. Even though he wasn’t able to support her in person throughout the season, he’d be there in spirit every time she takes a turn.
As Jen told us Harper’s story, you could see the emotion in her eyes. Her love for gymnastics exists not only for the sport, but for the individuals that contribute to it.
“Our Cricut machine has enabled us to spread hope and courage to gymnasts who need it!”
When Isla Cook was in an accident that left 46 percent of her body in second- and third-degree burns, the community rallied to help. Leotards emblazoned with #IslaStrong were sold to fundraise for Isla’s care. As a previous customer, Jen also wanted to contribute in some way. She decided on giving Isla a new set of DRYbands personalized to her recovery. Proof of her strength isn’t just written on her bands, but also proven by how she recovered faster than expected. Isla is currently competing again. Excited about her new DRYbands, Isla’s mom even mentioned how the softness of the bands were another added benefit to Isla’s sensitive skin.
The pandemic drove DRYbands into less than 10 percent of typical sales. Customization helped boost that back up. It became so popular that Jen and her family created a separate production area for her business. “Making use of our Cricut machine has had an enormous impact in our business,” she mentions.
With more gyms opening and more happening in person, Jen looks forward to attending events and meets again to spread word of mouth. She is continuously making improvements and adding to her business, becoming busier each day. She’s also mostly gotten past the fear that her products aren’t good enough to keep up with what’s out there. She knows she’s got an edge over the competition.