Editor’s note: Nell Merlino is founder, president and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, a nonprofit provider of resources for women to grow their micro businesses into million $ enterprises. She is guest blogging for Inventors Digest.

By Nell Merlino

Angelia Hopson is a unique figure among Count Me In’s M3RACE community.  She’s started more than one business – which is actually common – but built the second by finding the customer before she created the product.

Angelia Hopson

Angelia Hopson

Angelia built her first company, a safety and environmental consulting firm, over the last 11 years and took it over the $1 million mark.

She was expanding her existing business by working with a previous client to create “closed loop sustainability solutions” – the process of taking a corporate client’s waste and turning into recycled, reusable products – like taking waste tires and combining them with coal or crude oil to create new fuel.

She had another idea for recycling tires, but before she began the costly process of developing, sourcing, producing and marketing her new product, she went straight to the horse’s mouth – her potential customer.

Already having a relationship with the diversity suppliers at Sam’s Club, she was able to set up a meeting with them and representatives from Sam’s auto maintenance department, Tire Lube Express, so that she could understand their need and they could understand her methodology.

Basically, Anglia’s solution to Sam’s Club’s environmental sustainability goals are to sell their waste back to them as Genesis Rubber Mulch.  Her process is just taking away used tires, sending to disposal company, having the tires shredded, colored, packaged, and sent back to Sam’s Club as recycled rubber mulch chips for sale to consumers.

Confident in her previous experience with the EPA’s rules and regulations, Sam’s Club granted Angelia her first contract before they ever saw the final product.  Only after the contract was signed did she trademark the name, develop the packaging, design the product, purchase the UPC code.  Genesis Rubber Mulch just hit its first six Sam’s Club locations on March 9th, and will be in 9 stores in April.  Angelia is now working to get into Walmart and their online stores.

Clearly being a saavy business owner, what did Angelia need from the M3RACE?  Getting the story out. Angelia is in the process of approaching Lowes, Home Depot, and Disney, and she knows that some publicity and credibility will strengthen her case.

I asked her what advice she’d offer to other M3 Racers, and she said her story is a lesson to others.  “Pay attention to market trends,” she said.  ” Understand your business and your customers’ needs.”