A Dirty Stick, A Cocktail Napkin, and A Few Good Friends
by LEE HARRIS
It has always been said that if you rub two sticks together, you can make fire.
Well, this is a story of two people who rubbed two sticks together and made money. They created a business based on two little boys who wanted nothing more than to be able to roast s’mores over a firepit, but had trouble finding sticks that were clean and free of pesticides.
“Yes, it all began with our sons when they were little,” says Erin Cooper. “We had a firepit, so their friends would come over and want to toast marshmallows and make s’mores; but they would go into my garden and break off branches I didn’t want broken off,” she laughed. Erin and her husband Joe also worried about the children finding sticks that might be too short, embedded in poison ivy, or laden with dirt and toxic pesticides.
“When I was a kid growing up, we straightened hangers and used those,” laughed Joe. “But our boys and their friends needed something safer. I knew there’s gotta be a better way, so one day I started designing something on a cocktail napkin.” The “something” Cooper designed proved to be an easy, safe, natural solution. The Coopers named it SMORSTiX, a simple invention that’s nothing more than a 30” stick crafted from untreated hardwood that not only is safe to use, but leaves our trees and forests undisturbed, making this footprint on the planet a very positive one. The Coopers thought it was a good idea, and so did the venues who now market SMORSTiX…names like Stop & Shop, Stew Leonard’s, Benny’s, Walmart of Canada, IGA, and hundreds of retail groceries, campgrounds, and hotels and resorts across the United States. A simple solution to solve their children’s problem has now morphed into a very successful business that has resonated throughout the United States and Canada, with virtually no end in sight. “Initially,” Joe said, “We threw a little money at the idea, and so did some of our friends.” Erin added, “You need to have that kind of support, the support of good friends.”
It began simply enough with just the sticks, but as the idea caught on, Joe continued to sketch more ideas on more cocktail napkins, and soon the Coopers had taken SMORSTiX to another level. The company now offers a SMORPAK which contains the makings for ten s’mores…graham crackers, bars of premium milk chocolate (called, not surprisingly, a SMORBAR), and marshmallows,…everything that’s needed for campfire, grill, or microwave enjoyment. A smaller version of this is the SMORBOX which makes two s’mores, perfect for a simple dessert following a cookout. And you certainly don’t have to wait for the holidays to order your very own SMORNAMENT, an attractive see-thru globe ready for hanging, with two graham crackers, a square of that same premium milk chocolate, and a marshmallow lovingly tucked inside.
The response has been tremendous; the applause for the products, thunderous. “A while back the Food Network contacted us,” said Joe.“They were going to be doing a feature on everything marshmallow. At the very end of the program a guy from the Food Network did just sixty seconds on SMORSTiX: talked about it, held up the product, gave contact information. By the time we turned off the TV and I went downstairs to the computer, the orders were already starting to come in.”
As the product caught on and their business grew, the Coopers defined their roles to best organize and handle the pace of their growth. Joe now is in charge of distribution to supermarkets and grocery stores, while Erin deals with campgrounds, hotels, and resorts. “In the hospitality business they actually call the person who handles this kind of thing a ‘Fun Manager,’ because it’s a fun part of the business, and it is…for both of us.” Sometimes when the orders are coming fast and furious and the stress level is high, Joe ameliorates the situation by laughing and saying, “Hey, it’s just a stick in a bag.”
Those “little boys” for whom the Coopers originally developed the product, are now grown up. Joseph is 28 and lives in New Hampshire; Rit (short for Richard) is in San Diego. “They grew up in this business,” Erin says. “As kids they packed bags.” Joe adds, “I had a big map of the United States on the wall. Every time we got a new venue for SMORSTiX I put a pin in that location, so the boys learned geography and also saw the business grow right from the ground up.”
Their sons are still involved to this day, Joseph in sales and Rit in graphic production. Even though neither one of them lives any longer in Connecticut, they both have SMORSTiX license plates on their cars in their home states, and they’re still excited and fully invested in the ensuing success every time a new pin is stuck in that map.
The future? “We look forward to controlled growth and to keeping our promises to people,” Joe says, without even having to think about it. Although the Coopers have worked very hard to establish their product line, define their distribution, and do it the right way, they are still a bit bemused about the whole thing.
“I still can’t believe it went from an idea on a cocktail napkin, to our kitchen, to mass production, to the Food Network, and now into Canada,” Joe says as though he’s still pinching himself over the success. And all of this happened because two people who loved their little boys rubbed two sticks together so many years ago, inciting a fire of success and fun.
For more information, or to order and have SMORSTiX sent directly to you:
Phone: (203) 245-4929