Diane Mastrull: Walmart may boost Chesco woman's product

Beth Tucker - and her mannequin - model Tucker's Eye-Pocket, a handy way for women to carry their cellphones free from the crowded confines of a purse.
Beth Tucker - and her mannequin - model Tucker's Eye-Pocket, a handy way for women to carry their cellphones free from the crowded confines of a purse. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 27, 2013

For entrepreneurs, developing a good business idea is often the easiest part of the job. The tougher one is getting it known.

For Beth Tucker, a Chester County mother of three, the opportunity for exposure has arrived.

Surprisingly, it comes compliments of a retail behemoth often assailed when it comes to town, largely because of the perception that it harms small businesses - Walmart.

It's where Tucker, 42, a graduate of American University with a degree in graphic design, says she regularly shops. More important, according to Walmart, so do 245 million members of the buying public - each week.

That means tremendous potential for Tucker's Eye-Pocket, assuming it polls well over the next few weeks to months. That's when the public gets to vote, as part of Walmart's "Get on the Shelf" contest, whether the Eye-Pocket is worthy of inclusion on the Walmart.com shopping site and possibly in stores.

The product represents Tucker's passion for fashion and a profound aversion to what riles her and most women with deep handbags: the inability to find a ringing, singing, or vibrating smartphone buried inside them.

Eye-Pocket is a purse sized to accommodate smartphones, with a section inside to hold the other essentials of womanhood: credit cards, lipstick, driver's license.

As the word eye suggests, the purse also is designed to enable its wearer - it has a long strap - to glimpse the smartphone screen discreetly, tap out an e-mail or text message on the keyboard, and take or make a call without removing the phone. One side is sheer organza, the other, a decorative cotton fabric.

"We're so attached to our phones," Tucker said last week in her home office in Birmingham Township. "I think it solves the problem in a stylish, fashionable way."

Not to mention without the humiliating tragedy of the phone's taking a dive where only that which is intended for flushing should go.

Priced at $20 each, about 300 Eye-Pockets have sold since their debut at the West Chester University bookstore in November 2012. It didn't do so well there, where it shared a table with other bags and lacked what is needed to appreciate it - a demonstration or explanation, Tucker said.

"Once people get it in their hands and see how it functions, it's a no-brainer," she said.

Tucker, who did some of the early sewing herself, designed an insert - a cardboard replica of a smartphone - and relaunched in a few local boutiques in March. The purses are now made at Matthew Cole Inc. in Philadelphia's Juniata Park, with materials selected from Fabric Row in South Philadelphia.

The whole package - the purse, and that it's made locally - appealed to Martha Philpott, owner of Nota Bene Boutique in Malvern, which now carries the Eye-Pocket.

"She's had to replenish me a few times," Philpott said. "The customers seem to really like them."

Teachers, nurses, and doctors are among the buyers, said Philpott. Recognizing health professionals as a promising niche, Tucker has made Eye-Pocket samples in scrubs fabric and is offering them for sale through special order from her website, www.eye-pocket.com. Another target market is iPod users.

She needs more sales before expanding the line to include pouches appealing to men, possibly in camouflage and khaki.

That's where the Walmart contest comes in, meant to give the public more of a voice on what they can buy at the mega-retailer - and give a boost to small businesses, said spokesman Ravi Jariwala. (Earlier this year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. also pledged to increase its purchase of U.S.-made goods by more than $50 billion over the next decade.)

"It's tough out there for entrepreneurs," Jariwala said.

Of the "thousands" of entries, 93 are from Pennsylvania, 105 from New Jersey, and eight from Delaware, he said.

Based on online voting through Sept. 2, 20 finalists will be selected, then featured in a Web series that will run for five weeks through early October. The top five vote-getters will have their products carried on Walmart.com. Whichever gets the highest number of pre-orders will be named the grand-prize winner in early November.

That business will get product placement on Walmart.com's home page, will be featured in e-mails to Walmart customers, and will have a chance for possible exposure in Walmart stores.

Last year's overall winner was HumanKind Water, a Philadelphia bottled-water company that commits all profits to developing clean-water systems in underdeveloped countries.

To get a crack at the top title and all its perks, Tucker said, she now has "the challenge of reminding people to keep voting - without being annoying."

Confident of long-term market demand, she also has her sights on another retail biggie, this one in her backyard - QVC.

"The phones aren't going anywhere," Tucker said. "We need a better way to carry them around."


Diane Mastrull: More Details

To vote for the entrepreneur you would like to see win Walmart's "Get on the Shelf" contest, go to www.inquirer.com/shelf


Diane Mastrull: >Inquirer.com

Beth Tucker talks about the market for the Eye-Pocket, an answer to the way women carry cellphones. www.inquirer.com/eyepocket


Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or follow @dmastrull on Twitter.

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