Give Up Your Stuff, Not Your Dream
Two bold women hit the road in an RV for two years to follow their passion
With the future of their startup, OME Gear, hanging in the balance, South Carolina entrepreneurs Jules Weldon and Stacey Pierce believed that they had to either give up their dream of owning and running a family business or "go all in" and sell their last substantial asset, their beloved house.
It was two days before Christmas 2020, and this was the hardest decision that they had faced in their 10-year, tight-knit relationship, including five years as a married couple.
After maxing out their credit cards, draining their bank accounts and closing their 401(k)s, they were low on options for raising capital needed to keep the business running. They asked each other how much they believed in OME; both answered 100%.
They were convinced of the importance of moving forward, "even when the dream or goal looks impossible," explained Weldon. Added Pierce, "We always look at roadblocks as new opportunities to learn."
Betting the House and Its Contents
Committing wholly to the outdoor-products company meant they had to downsize their lifestyle and lower their personal overhead, Weldon, 52, and Pierce, 51, sold, gave away or threw out 95% of their stuff, including furniture, clothes, kitchen items, a boat, a truck and a golf cart. They put the remaining 5% in storage.
"We were broke, broken and stressed to the max."
The story of OME Gear began at the shore some 25 years ago when Weldon's parents, Jerie and Paul, saw a single mom wrestling with her beach stuff while spending time with her three children on the sand.
Shortly afterward, her parents invented a two-in-one lounger/dolly initially intended for the beach. But despite their hard work, and success in securing a patent, they lacked sufficient capital to take the product to market. Her parents didn't have the money to keep OME afloat while caring for their family needs and responsibilities. They didn't have the know-how to make it happen, and her mom was busy operating her bakery.
Weldon and Pierce picked up the family dream and pursued it with more hard work, redoubled determination and four additional patents. They persisted despite many setbacks, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which made raising money and manufacturing products extremely difficult.
Trading Down to an RV
The decision to downsize their personal lives came as a result of needing to rescue 2,500 units of their products that the manufacturer was holding in a warehouse in Utah and would not release until Weldon and Pierce came up with the money. "We were broke, broken and stressed to the max," explained Weldon.
Once they made the decision to go "all in," a buyer snapped up their single-family house in Charleston, South Carolina, four days after it went on the market. At the time, they did not even know where they were going to live.
They decided to hit the road for two years in an RV, leaving their three-bedroom home in a lovely neighborhood and moving into a 250-square-foot RV with one small closet. As further evidence of their commitment to the business, they wrapped the motorhome in plastic printed with OME Gear branding to promote their outdoor furniture company.
Weldon settled in within a few weeks, but Pierce, a self-proclaimed nester, took a few months to consider the RV her new home.
Stranded in 'Nowhere, Arizona'
They also enjoyed the adventure of being on the open road for two years and learned to laugh at the pitfalls, like the time their car came off the hitch in "Nowhere Arizona" and slammed into the back of the RV they were driving . . . not once but twice.
They quickly learned about life on the road in an RV, such as the fact that everything has to be secure and you have to unhook the toilet and the power each time you pull away from a campsite, and you can't run the microwave and the hair dryer at the same time or you will blow a fuse.
They also moved 55 times and slept in 63 beds in the two years while traveling an eye-popping 73,000 miles.
By being willing to put everything on the line and embrace the possibility of failure, they believe that they set themselves up for success.
While they were on the road, they made more than 200 "cold call pitches" to a variety of small and large companies. "There is no shame in this game," said Pierce. "If people have ears, we are telling them about OME Gear and the Wanderr."
The Wanderr is an innovative, transforming cart that holds up to 150 pounds of gear, rolls easily over any terrain, including soft sand, and can transform into a low beach chair, recliner/lounger, higher off-the-ground camping chair or camping cot. With three optional straps, it can be used as a "hauler" to transport kayaks, paddle boards and surfboards.
Blueprint for a Rich Life
Their quest was about so much more than a product or a business. It became a blueprint for leading their richest and most productive lives, regardless of the obstacles.
"It is imperative that you figure out what you are willing to give up in order to reach those dreams," said Pierce. "When the going gets tough — and it most definitely will — you've already made the decision to not quit. The words 'give up' are not in our vocabulary."
These resilient entrepreneurs say having one another to lean on is the key to getting them through the tough times.
"There are many entrepreneurs who would have given up by now, but having a partner on this journey makes the tough times seem just a little easier," Pierce explains. "One of our mottos is in having each other, our joys are multiplied and our sorrows are divided. This is so true in every aspect of our personal and entrepreneurial lives."
Have a Reliable Partner
Their relationship is absolutely one of the top factors in their tenacity and perseverance levels.
"We embrace the theory of the 'little red wagon,' " Weldon said. "I think having that support from Stacey is everything. Being in our position as an entrepreneur who invented a product is one of the loneliest places that you can be because people don't understand how difficult it is to take a product to market."
"When you have someone else to validate the mission that you've been called to, it makes it so much easier. There have been so many times when we would have given up if we didn't have each other."
This helps them through the rough patches. "People have told us that they think we are crazy," Weldon adds. "But the resilience of the human spirit is nothing short of amazing. We look at one another and wholeheartedly disagree. When you have someone else to validate the mission that you've been called to, it makes it so much easier. There have been so many times when we would have given up if we didn't have each other."
"My husband Paul and I and the entire family are immensely proud of these two women. It means the world to us," said Jules' mother, Jerie Weldon.
"When you look at the extreme struggles they have gone through, we are so proud that they keep persevering, and keep going like the Energizer Bunny," she added. "They might bump or fall down, but it's wonderful to watch their progress."
Jerie Weldon took her own leap of faith when a friend invited her to learn how to decorate cakes early in her 59-year marriage. The mother of two learned a new skill and as her family increased to six children she grew her dreams into The Master's Baker, a successful business now operated by one of her four sons, Chad, in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
In fact, she notes that five of her children are following in her entrepreneurial footsteps. "It's exciting to watch Jules and Stacey step out of their comfort zone and thrive, especially when I know a lot of people would be too frightened to take that first plunge," Jerie said. "How can I not admire their courage and tenacity?"
A Calling, Not a Product
OME stands for Oceans + Mountains = Earth, or Outdoors Made Easy. The idea was to have the company appeal to many outdoor activities. As a result, its products are made for a wide cross-section of nature lovers and adventurers, including those who frequent the beach or the lake, as well as those who enjoy camping, fishing, hunting, tailgating, soccer games and other sporting events.
What Pierce and Weldon love about OME Gear goes beyond the products for which they secured patents. These impassioned entrepreneurs say the major purpose of the company is to open the door to the outdoors for people who find it difficult or decide to avoid it because of all the "stuff" that is required to enjoy a day out in nature.
"We believe we're supposed to have a global impact with our company," Weldon explained. "When I am called to something it is impossible for me to give up."
Sharing Their Story
Beyond building a successful company, these two inspirational women plan to create a platform of influence and positive change. They have won several prestigious innovation awards, are effective motivational speakers, and recently spoke at TEDx Wilmington in Delaware.
In building OME Gear, Weldon explains, "we have come up against some pretty significant obstacles and roadblocks, and our heartbeat is to help fill in the potholes so that those who come behind us, particularly women, will have an easier go at it," she added. They want to grow their company so that they can give back in a big way.
"We have come through so much and persevered," Pierce says. "We know it will be worth it, but even more so, it is worth it now. Who we are becoming as a result of this journey is what this is all about!"
"We have come up against some pretty significant obstacles and roadblocks, and our heartbeat is to help fill in the potholes so that those who come behind us, particularly women, will have an easier go at it."
They hope to buy a new home in South Carolina in the near future, after two and a half years of not having a permanent address, and have no regrets about gambling big on their business. Their beloved RV is on the market ready for the next owners to make their memories.
"There have been moments when Jules and I have been brought to our knees, but the wins have kept us going," says Pierce. "I just never wanted to live in a shoulda, woulda, coulda world. We believe this is so close to being a breakthrough for our future that if we stopped now and looked back, I think we would have regretted that for the rest of our lives."
Weldon adds that, "the hard truth about our journey is that it has required us to give up more than we thought we could."
"But," she continues, "it goes back to the commitment we made during our wedding vows, to live a life with no regrets and one that is filled with lots of adventure!"