Leslie Haywood is definitely charming. Perhaps that’s why this mom became famous for her product, Grill Charms, which helps drillmasters identify which steaks should be well-done and others rare, thanks to dime-sized stainless steel charms that can be inserted into the meat while cooking. So it’s no wonder that when Haywood went on ABC’s Shark Tank, the sharks all wanted to sink their teeth into Grill Charms. Haywood talked to Celebrity Parents about the triumphs (and tribulations) that she encountered while promoting her product (her dad died in the middle of the process) and how her passion has pushed her forward to be a successful entrepreneur mom.
Did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit?
Not at all. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I wanted to be like her. I was very much into my career, but the moment I had my first daughter, I stopped working and never looked back. So when the idea for Grill Charms happened, it blind-sided me.
Describe the day when your idea came.
We had a dinner party in my Charleston, SC home in April 2006. We grill year-round; I always loved to cook and entertain. We were grilling Jamaican jerked chicken. My husband Jason is a soft rub junkie; he loves spicy and I don’t. He made some really spicy food for his friends, and when he brought the platter to the table, he couldn’t remember which was spicy and which wasn’t. Well, I bit into the spiciest piece of chicken ever! I got mad at him, and he got defensive. He said, “Someone should invent a way for me to tell the difference!”
We use a lot of wine charms at home, so people can tell the wine glasses apart. And people always have the same problem when they grill; they are always cutting into the meat to see which is the well done and which is the rare. By the end of the dinner, I started sketching the Grill Charms. I went nuts figuring out all the different components to the charms. From that moment on, my life changed and my passion for the product has not changed since that night. By November 2007, I launched the product on store shelves. And then I had breast cancer in between.
Oh my goodness.
I was diagnosed in June 2006, two months after I had the idea for Grill Charms. I couldn’t even think about cancer. I just thought, “Let’s get this over with, because I have a company to run.”
We learned very early on in my diagnosis, that the kind of breast cancer I had was not life-threatening. My mom had breast cancer, so I had been going for mammograms in my early 30’s. How could I wallow when there are women who don’t survive? I was lucky.
Thank God you recovered and are now cancer-free. Now, what was the response to Grill Charms when it first hit the shelves?
Amazing. It’s a grilling gadget, but women instantly get it. It’s a product that men buy for women. I started locally which is important when you’re starting your own company. People like to support local companies. You need to garner your support in your backyard, your hometown. Grill Charms are now sold all over the U.S.; it’s even in Alaska.
They’re using it to grill moose.
[laughs] Yes, that’s right.
Now let’s talk about your appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank.
It was the first season and a producer contacted me. He had seen me on the Big Idea with Donnie Deutsch. It was a lengthy application process. There’s a show in England called Dragon’s Den, which is a version of Shark Tank, so I was able to watch episodes on YouTube. It was extremely intimidating to go on the show, but I thought, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?” By the time I did it, it was the second time which was a tragedy in itself.
Your dad passed away during that time period.
That took the experience to a whole new level. The day before I was to tape my segment, my mom called saying that my dad had passed away. It was completely unexpected; we had just had a 4th of July party the week before. It was so surreal. My dad had an aortal aneurysm in his abdomen. It was the most tragic thing that I had ever been through. I called the casting director to let him know, and I couldn’t even speak. They moved mountains to get me on the next flight back; I owe so much to Mark Burnett’s production company. They even sent flowers to the funeral home. Four weeks later, I got a second chance to come back, and they didn’t have to do that.
I had a whole new perspective on life when I went back. It was so much more than the product; I wanted to prove to myself and my father that I could do it. It wasn’t about the money, the millionaires; I would trade it all in a minute to have my dad back. I had to make him proud.
How did your experience go?
To my surprise, all the sharks except one were fighting for it. I went with Robert Herjavec. It’s been awesome; he’s as nice in real life as he was on the show. He’s as involved in the company as I want him to be, which is exactly how I like it! [laughs]
Have you seen a change in your company’s sales since your appearance on Shark Tank?
Sales have increased 100’s of percent. I had 600 emails in my inbox the next day. The business has done so well because of the show. The first year on the market, you hemorrhage money. In the second year, if you break even, you’re good. When I was doing my taxes, I realized that I had actually made a profit. I didn’t mean to do that! How did that happen? [laughs]
Where is the line today?
I’m at a cross-roads. I’ve made all my bread and butter with the independent stores, but to make the millions I’d have to go into mass retail. I’m playing around with it, seeing if that’s the direction I want to go. There are so many possibilities; I have so many ideas.
How do you find balance between this new career and your family?
Is it okay for me to admit that I suck at it?
We all do. No one has the balance. No one.
I totally agree. My children do pay a price for me being who I am. My business pays a price for me being a mom. It’s the absolute truth. People don’t want to admit that. There is a price that has to be paid to your children and your business for you doing both. You have to find a way to make the benefit of each worth the cost.
I have never heard anyone say it so succinctly. Your business is like a needy child, and you’re consumed by it, but you can’t ignore the other kids.
That’s exactly how I feel, too. It’s so worth it, when my daughters tell me how proud they are of me. They get proud when they say that someone saw me on TV. They want to invent something. They’re 5 and 7 now, and when they were smaller, they would say, “I want to invent crayons!” It’s days like that that I know it’s worth it. They look at what I’m doing and they see the bar is set so they know that they can do anything, too. I get so much satisfaction out of what I do, that it carries over into the mommy time and makes me a better mom.