Story of a Startup: Divine Inspirations Products and Services

A 72-year-old business trainer shares her nine-year-long journey from inspiration to sales.

It’s never too late to become a successful entrepreneur.

A real-life example of this truth is septuagenarian Shelley Thomas, founder and owner of Divine Inspirations Products and Services. A longtime business trainer and consultant, Thomas had pondered several inventions over the years but never moved past the concept stage.

“I always thought about inventing things,” she recalled, “but I would run the ideas past my daughter, and she always said no.”

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While doing some housecleaning one day, Thomas got frustrated with her Swiffer, which required different pads for mopping and dry sweeping. She also didn’t like having to frequently change out and throw away the disposable pads. A permanent, multi-use pad seemed like a much better approach.

“My daughter liked this one,” Thomas recounted with a laugh, “so I figured I must be onto something.”

Thomas began by creating a basic prototype to see if the concept was viable. This established, she then checked to see if anything similar had been previously patented. Finding the field wide open, she enlisted a patent attorney and began working on her application.

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It was here that the first roadblock appeared. The patent agent rejected several versions of the application, and Thomas became increasingly frustrated with the attorney, who ignored her proposed revisions.

“I knew I hadn’t exhausted all my options, so I filed a new application using the language I wanted to use, and it was accepted,” she said.

This was 2017, two years after Thomas came up with the original idea. Next up was finalizing the product details. After experimenting with several materials, she settled on microfiber, finding it most effective at picking up dirt while also being more durable.

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There was only one problem.

“Unfortunately, they don’t make microfiber in the United States,” Thomas explained. “It is only produced in China. So, I had to connect with a manufacturer in China. And I do not speak Chinese.”

After more internet research, Thomas found a supplier and worked through the language issue with few problems. Communicating only via email, she was able to send specs to the company, and after some exchanges of materials and samples, finalize the product.

Meanwhile, there was the business side of the operation. Thomas took advantage of every workshop she could find, some online and some from local sources such as Xavier and Southern universities and The Idea Village.

“They covered all the different areas I needed for my business,” she noted. “I looked at everything that seemed like it could help me. And most of them were free, so I could take advantage of them despite not having much of a budget. I learned that there is always someone who can help you get what you need.”

After completing the state’s and city’s processes to incorporate the business, Thomas was ready to take the final steps: marketing and distribution. She developed a slogan with familiar overtones: “One cloth, that’s all.” Initially, sales are entirely online, via marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart, and through her own website, Orders are filled by the companies’ fulfillment centers, or by Thomas herself for direct orders.

With sales launched in first quarter 2024, Thomas has at last concluded her nine-year journey.

“I’m 72 now, and people say, ‘Why are you bothering with this?’” she said. “But if you can do it, why not? Get started, and for each challenge, find a solution, then move on to the next challenge. For everything that didn’t work out, there was something there that I learned that I could take to move on to the next level.

“I knew I had a good product; I knew if it was benefiting me it would benefit other people. I didn’t know how difficult it would be, how long it would take. But I just kept moving.”

Meanwhile, “I’m already turning over ideas in my head for more new products.”

Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.


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