The University of Arizona is launching Ideas to Doors, a brand-new conference focused on retail and brand startups. Participants are invited to converse with successful entrepreneurs at the Fox Theatre on Friday, Sept. 15 for a business conference meant to inspire and instruct students and professionals.

The event is hosted by the Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing, whose mission is to raise awareness among students, and in the professional world, about the opportunities and challenges of being in retail, said Scott Hessell, director of the Center for Retailing and a professor in the UA’s Retailing and Consumer Sciences Program.

The Center for Retailing holds the annual Global Retailing Conference every spring, which is focused on Fortune 500 Companies like Walmart and JCPenney. Looking to start something different, Hessle was hoping to appeal to budding entrepreneurs and professionals with innovative ideas.

So he found eight successful companies with intriguing stories and interesting founders.

“I came up with this group of companies that all fit all of those criteria,” he said. “They’ve got really energetic and very dynamic leaders, are successful companies—but also have traversed a lot of challenges.”

Unlike your typical conference, with PowerPoint and lectures, Ideas to Doors will have a casual discussion format in which people can talk to the speakers and ask questions. The conference also encourages casual dress: jeans and T-shirts.

“They have a different set of stories, a different set of challenges, but understanding what they’ve done, how they’ve addressed their challenges, how they’ve come back from failures,” Hessell said. “That’s what these conversations will be about—sharing that story.”

 

Inspiring Youth

The attendees will be cut of a different cloth, compared to those of other conferences. Hessell expects many professionals, but also UA students. He also plans for many high school students enrolled career and technical education marketing programs from throughout the state.

The students are part of the Distributive Education Clubs of America (commonly known as DECA), an international association of high school and college students preparing to be entrepreneurs, with 8,000 students in 95 Arizona high schools.

“We create opportunities for students to be able to use the skills they’re learning in the classroom,” said Kathy Frommer, DECA’s Arizona state director. “We connect them with business leaders and do a lot of networking that allows them to be able to make those connections.”

She said a conference like Ideas to Doors “makes their learning real” and opens the students’ eyes to new ideas. The young learners realize how their education is preparing them for a career path.

“Listening to people that are innovative thinkers, it’s very exciting for them,” she said. “Definitely, it’s great to get them thinking along a career path.”

Although the event is being advertised as relatively casual, DECA students have a required dress code of no less than business casual: collars and slacks.

 

The American Dream 

The local presenters are Eli and Jen Crane, a husband and wife team who founded Bottle Breacher. Their company, selling bottle openers crafted from .50 caliber bullets, has grown to $6 million in yearly sales in less than four years.

Eli was an active-duty U.S. Navy SEAL when he got the idea for the business. The couple has two little girls, and he wanted to spend more time at home with his family. 

His brother gave him a bottle opener made out of a bullet that he bought in the Philippines. Eli liked it, but thought he could make a better one. He started making more in his garage, and Jen started selling them on web retailer Etsy.

A year later, November 2014, the couple went on Shark Tank and got investors to put up $150,000. Eli left the military to focus full-time on the business once it provided a means to support the family.

Bottle Breacher handles 98 percent of its business online, with a few retailers carrying its merchandise. Since the inception, the Cranes have added 50 additional products, which are 99.9 percent U.S. made, with many materials made in Tucson. The company also maintains a staff of 30 to 45, with more joining the team around the holidays.

They’ve both spoken at conferences before, but it’s mainly Eli’s forte, as he’s the “brand of the business.”

“Obviously, when you see a bullet bottle opener, you want to talk to a Navy Seal,” Jen said.

The Cranes like that Ideas to Doors is a casual, conversation-style event. 

“People get to participate; people get to ask questions,” Jen said. “So I hope what people learn is success doesn’t come overnight, and it takes an extreme amount of hard work, and it doesn’t look pretty.

“Entrepreneurship can start anywhere. You don’t have to have a million dollars, you just have to be willing to work hard.”

 

Come as you are 

Hessell expects up to 500 people, and preregistration is required. Registration closes on Sept. 13, and there will be no same-day admittance. The conference is free to UA students, faculty and staff, $20 for other students and faculty, and $95 for everyone else. Prices go up after Sept. 8. To register, go to ideastodoors.com.

“These small companies have a story to tell,” Hessell said. “I just find those kinds of stories really, endlessly fascinating. And I know I’m not going to be the only one that walks away thinking, this is a really interesting take on this industry."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.