Female Disruptors: Dana Robinson, KEYPER On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
“Shoot for the moon and land upon the stars.” Some of my ideas are WAY out there. However, I throw out lots of lines and if a few stick, I am okay with that! I don’t want to ever look back and regret not trying something.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Robinson.
Dana Robinson is co-founder and CEO of KEYPER (PurseKeyper, LLC), maker of the patented Original Key Ring Bracelet. She was born and raised in Somerset, Kentucky. Dana attended the University of Kentucky, earned a BBA in Marketing, and was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. She put her marketing degree to work in the tourism cabinets of two Kentucky governors, serving as Woody Harrelson’s personal assistant in LA, and finally doing new product launches for vendors as Special Events Manager at Macy’s Herald Square — all before the age of 30! Dana now lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her two teenaged children and a mostly well-behaved dog.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in a small Kentucky town where my Mom was always solving problems for our family, as we did not have a lot of retail stores and the internet didn’t exist. When I wanted a “halter dress” for a homecoming dance and couldn’t find one, she would stay up all night and cut the pattern out of newspapers and make it for me. Her career was being a teacher, but she could sew, bake, play golf, and do just about anything. She always motivated me to be the “best I can be”. Years later, she showed me the piece of fabric she had made to hold the weight of a purse to a shopping cart so she wouldn’t have to worry about her purse being stolen. BOOM, it all came together — my marketing degree, my networking from the Governor days, my coming from a small town but experiencing the “dream big Hollywood days”, and what I had learned from watching other vendors launch new products in NYC — and I immediately said, “Mom, this is the best invention ever! Let’s do it! Let’s get this in the marketplace!”
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We’re disruptive because we’re so original. We didn’t build a better mousetrap, we designed a new approach to catching mice! We’ve introduced a product to the market that is unique because it combines fashion, function, and security. Its patented design allows it to hold the weight of a 20-pound bag (which we’ve all carried, right?) secured to the handle of a shopping cart or stroller, but it also holds our small IT Bag purses, clear bags for stadiums, or even just your keys — and it looks great doing it! We’ve received over 400 five-star reviews from women we’ve never met. Many of them say they never knew such a product existed, but now that they have one, they can’t wait to order more colors!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you make when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we found out the Kroger buyer wanted PurseKeyper in 40 locations, it was at a time videos were becoming popular in retail outlets. After experiencing our ineffective point of sale in Dillards and the gift stores, we jumped at the chance of producing a video which showed all of the uses of PurseKeyper and our new accessory, the PhoneKeyper. We were determined to get noticed! We had a 5 foot high rotating display with pegs, and we invested in video monitors. My dad punched holes in the top of wooden displays and created a mount that we needed. We spent so much money in the displays, video, monitors, etc. We were going to be the first vendor to have a video in Kroger! As we started delivering the heavy displays in the backdoor of Kroger with all of the other delivery trucks, Mom and I are carrying everything and wearing our matching PurseKeyper shirts. We were so proud of our displays! And…so excited about the new opportunity! However, we quickly realized the newly remodeled Kroger stores had hidden their electrical outlets! They were behind the walls and ceilings! We both just started laughing hysterically! We found our displays had to either be on some random wall somewhere, or elsewhere with no video. All of that money and time in a point of sale we just knew was perfect and the buyer loved, but we never tested one in a store environment before we made 40 of them. Lesson learned…..do a test run!
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My mother and grandmother for sure. My grandmother passed away in 2015, but they were both strong women who made a difference in their families and their communities. They encouraged me to stay strong for my kids. They empowered me to set an example for my kids to not give up in something you believe in, just like they had set examples for me during my life.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has “withstood the test of time”? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
We were thrilled and proud to disrupt our market segment by introducing the rebranded KEYPER as a unique product. The flip side of that was that no one knew what to call it, and we didn’t know how to advertise it where search engines could help women find it. Was our product a wristlet, a purse, a clear purse, a bracelet, a keychain? Well of course it’s all of those things, but we had some unexpected challenges with the SEO process. The KEYPER is so unique that we had to come up with our own simple description that would help women find us — and I think the “Original Key Ring Bracelet” gets pretty close. Another challenge is pricing. KEYPER’s Signature and Canvas lines are manufactured in Lebanon, Virginia — Made in the USA! We are one of a few fashion accessories with manufacturing in the USA, which is not always easy or inexpensive. We have to set our price points accordingly, with smaller margins in some cases. Buyers of some major retailers will tell me they will not carry KEYPER because our price points are too close to the name brands. We deserve fair pricing, but being the new girl can subject you to unfair comparisons.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example of each.
- Make “buckets” to put categories of issues in. During the time of re-branding to KEYPER, Mom expressed that she needed to step back from overseeing the manufacturing. I found myself in charge of manufacturing (which included sourcing all materials), re-branding, advertising, picking new fabrics, securing new e-commerce distribution channels, AND being a single mom of 2 active teenagers — I was definitely overwhelmed! A friend told me to “put each thing in its own bucket.” It worked! When I couldn’t solve a manufacturing issue on a given day, I left it in the “manufacturing bucket” for another day, and moved on to another issue from another bucket. I had lots of mental buckets — business and personal — and only opened one at a time. I still apply it today.
- “Shoot for the moon and land upon the stars.” Some of my ideas are WAY out there. However, I throw out lots of lines and if a few stick, I am okay with that! I don’t want to ever look back and regret not trying something.
- Sara Blakeley said, “Listen to your customers. If they are buying, stay the course.” I read every review and every comment from our customers. Most of them are fantastic, and many of them include great suggestions. Our customers inspire me and encourage me to keep going.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next.
So many customers tell me they want us to come up with a “male version” of KEYPER. I can’t wait to challenge men to “keyp it together!”
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Not only am I a woman, I am “Dana from Kentucky.” What does that mean? All I can say is, I found myself feeling like I was not taken seriously in a lot of manufacturing meetings, licensing meetings, etc. — mostly by men. I started bringing a male friend who’s a bank president with me. Even when they looked at him while answering my questions, it definitely made a difference in how I was treated. Don’t get me wrong, I work with some awesome professional women — and men — but I had to deal with the stereotype that because I’m a self-employed mom, I must be doing craft projects at my kitchen table.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
During the rebranding of KEYPER was when the movie “Joy” was released about Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop and was a single mom. I cried the entire movie, being able to relate to so many things she experienced. Her book then came out, and I highlighted almost every other paragraph. The timing of her sharing her story motivated me to continue creating the KEYPER story.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I have always wanted to be in a position to help others. When I realized PurseKeyper was much more than a purse holder, it was a KEYPER to help women “KEYPIT Together” during her everyday routine with all of her essentials. The rebrand of KEYPER began. I woke up one morning and thought of starting the “KEYPIT Together” Foundation. We donate 5% of our profits to help women and children “KEYPIT Together” when they find themselves going through an unexpected life challenge like I had experienced. There are no words to describe the fear I had when I found myself going through a difficult divorce with a 4- and 6-year old, and four little eyes looking up at me. If I hadn’t had the help and support of friends and family, I couldn’t have “kept it together.” Children do not need to see mommy scared or worried. What do women do who don’t have the support I did? I hope that some of them will be able to turn to the KEYPIT Together Foundation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
I have held onto this quote in both my personal and professional life. As much as I wish I could go back to the beginning of my marriage and my company, and have my eyes more open and have done things differently, I concentrate on doing “the next right thing”, whatever that is and holding onto a great ending.