SCOTTSDALE, AZ — For Andi Barness-Rubin, the COVID-19 pandemic drove invention. The Scottsdale woman created a recyclable shopping cart liner to protect people from germs and dirt clinging to shopping carts.
Barness-Rubin, who launched Cart Safe in April 2020, mentions an oft-cited study by University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba – also known as Dr. Germ – that found E. coli and other bacteria during a random shopping cart check.
“Once it was learned that the amount of bacteria found on shopping cart surfaces was higher than those found in public restrooms,” Barness-Rubin said, “we knew we had to create a cover that would add that essential additional layer of protection between shoppers and shopping carts.
The mother of three – sons aged 15, 20 and 23 – said keeping families healthy inspired the invention she created and designed. She filed a patent. Barness did not give a specific number of wagon liners it sold.
According to a 2019 report by American Express, about 42% of businesses are owned by women, but women entrepreneurs are often paid less than men and have less access to venture capital to fund their startups.
Barness-Rubin and Arizona State University business professors Hitendra Chaturved of the WP Carey School of Business and Dennis Hoffman, director of WP Carey’s Seidman Research Institute, spoke in separate interviews about the benefits and disadvantages of starting a business during COVID-19, women-owned businesses, and what makes a business powerful. Hoffman spoke via email.
How your own life can lead to a business
Barness-Rubin: I was trying to find a way to protect my family and myself when I went to the grocery store. I looked for something to protect against germs and bacteria with the basket and there was nothing available so I made one.
I searched “how dirty is a shopping cart”, because I was a bit curious. The only place I went during the pandemic was to the grocery store. I wanted to know what my exposure to germs and bacteria was. I was really shocked at the amount of bacteria that overtakes public restrooms. I think it’s because the shopping carts weren’t really cleaned. Maybe once every two months they were cleaned before the pandemic.
Businesses must be able to stay in place once the COVID-19 pandemic is over
Dennis Hoffman: The memory of the pandemic seems to be fading fast, based on my assessment of recent restaurant activity in Scottsdale, but a product like this can last provided it receives rave reviews from customers who can be posted on the site, and it fits all shapes of carts and they come in all shapes and sizes.
Hitendra Chaturvedi: I think Cart Safe is a great business idea. Hats off to creativity and ingenuity.
Here are two things to watch out for. What happens when the pandemic is gone? Will people still buy it? Will someone with deep pockets copy the idea? How will she compete?
Barness-Rubin: Even though COVID is fading, people will still be concerned about germs and dirt, so I will continue to promote my product on Amazon and Facebook.
Getting the word out is a challenge for small business owners
Barness-Rubin: A lot of people don’t know how to find our website, so it’s important for this company to get our name out there and spread the word in every way possible.
For one thing, it’s not like people can keep searching on Google, because they’ve never heard of it. Spreading the word can cost you more than you want to spend, so there are only a few hurdles in trying to let everyone know what the product is. Another challenge is that many customers wanted the item but couldn’t afford the price, so I give discounts when I can.
Chaturvedi: It’s important when you think about business that you think about execution when it comes to marketing yourself. It’s about showing what your company can offer the public and showing how their product will be different from others.
Being your own boss is a heady affair
Barness-Rubin: I think it’s tough, but great in that I don’t have to have a boss and I can set my own work schedule. I don’t think I can work for anyone else again.
It’s very exciting to create something that takes a lot of work, especially when you’re creating a product that’s new to the market and you’re trying to get people to understand what it is.
Even when times are tough, businesses can still succeed
Chaturvedi: Starting a business right now will likely provide many new opportunities for those who can understand how consumers will react in the future.
Hoffman: Knowing your market and recognizing how consumer behavior has likely changed is very important. (There is still) uncertainty around changes in consumer behavior. We know the current changes but how many will be permanent?
Women entrepreneurs face obstacles, opportunities
Hoffman: Women and minorities face challenges due to discrimination, but they also have access to targeted government programs in an effort to lessen the impact of discrimination.
Chaturvedi: There are definitely challenges for women and minorities when it comes to being an entrepreneur. I myself am a minority, as I am an immigrant from India. I think it’s important not to prepare for the worst and think that I’m a woman or I’m a minority so I won’t stand a chance and instead I come with confidence and show people what your skills are.
Barness-Rubin: There are challenges, but I don’t feel like I’m much different from other business owners. I think we all try our best, and I don’t know what it’s like to be a male business owner. I think a lot of women are afraid to take a chance, so it was really important for me to get out of my comfort zone and start Cart Safe.