After Sarah Dillon sold about 2,000 of her "GoGirls" every day of last summer's Minnesota State Fair, a friend offered that Dillon was a threat to become the "Betty Crocker of the 'pee business.'"
That remains to be seen.
To be sure, Dillon, who two years ago was an at-home Hopkins mom and part-time market researcher, is building a business that she expects will sell 1 million of the urination devices to female customers this year who want to avoid dirty toilet seats and squatting in the woods.
"Men have been able to use the world as their bathroom," quipped Dillon. "Today's active women go off to war, deer hunting, fishing, running and bicycling, but when we go to the bathroom we have to undress. I mean, who really wants to drop their pants in a Porta-Potty?
"A GoGirl enables a woman to stand up and to be as discreet as a man."
A GoGirl is a reusable, soft-silicone device with a short funnel that, after a little practice for most women, seals to their body and enables them to pee without sitting or squatting.
My colleague Kristin Tillotson, more eloquent than I, has referred to it as a product that "brings the sexes one step closer to true equality. Just ask any girl who's ever grimaced and bared it at a truck stop toilet or fairground outhouse."
The GoGirl, which sells for between $8 and $10, comes rolled -- along with tissue and a bag -- in a small tube slightly larger than a glue stick. It fits easily in a purse or jacket.
Dillon, 47, launched the product just 13 months ago at the annual Women's Expo at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
"We had it in the store for a while last spring, shortly after it launched, and it wasn't selling," said Chris Beckmann, pharmacist and co-owner of Center Drug in Hopkins. "Then Sarah had a booth at the Hopkins Raspberry Festival last summer, and at the State Fair, and suddenly we couldn't keep it in stock. The company was bringing in a couple dozen a day. They were huge stocking-stuffers at Christmas."
Dillon didn't conceive of GoGirl. She did take an original idea and made it better and more appealing to women. She also is the driver behind a growing marketing-and-distribution operation that peddles online at www.Go-Girl.com and through a growing network of 125-plus independent retailers.
The predecessor to GoGirl, the "FemMed," was invented by Dr. Jim Block, a Hopkins oral surgeon, who hatched the idea with his two young daughters in mind about six years ago.
"The product was white, flimsy, very clinical-looking and it didn't go anywhere," Dillon recalled. "Jim mothballed it."
Sarah Dillon found out about the product from her husband, Tim Dillon, a vice president of an advertising agency.
Block and Dillon, both Hopkins Rotary Club members, started talking about how to jump-start FemMed in 2008, after a meeting.
Tim Dillon, 44, came home that evening and asked his wife if she thought women of the world needed such a product.
Sarah Dillon liked the idea and ran it by a focus group of young-to middle-aged-women, more than half of whom were at least interested.
"Jim Block hadn't figured out the puzzle," Sarah Dillon recalled. "We needed a woman to figure it out and to bring it to women."
The Dillons contracted with a Wisconsin manufacturer of medical silicone to produce a softer device, and worked on building the all-important branding and packaging strategy. The theme can be summed up as: "Don't take life sitting down."
The website is the nexus of a woman-to-woman, low-cost "viral" marketing campaign that ranged from community festivals and 5K races to word-of-mouth, Facebook and all other avenues along the Internet.
"Women see it and go, 'Aah, I really could use that,'" said Jan Edman, a career marketer who joined GoGirl last year. "They say, "There's that gross bathroom between here and Mason City,' or in China.
"This has been a unique marketing challenge because there are some social hurdles to get through. But it's gaining acceptance. Our competitors generally are more expensive. But we're trying to take it to the masses."
Competitors include products such as Freshette, Pee-mates, She-wee and Whiz, generally quietly marketed as niche products.
Minneapolis-based Grizzly Creek Enterprises since 2007 has sold P-Mate, a throw-away pocket-sized device made from recycled paper that also allows women to urinate standing up
GoGirl is the most recent entrant and has created a buzz thanks to Dillon's broadcast-the-news approach that has gotten air time on network TV amid exhortations that every discerning woman ought to have a GoGirl in her purse.
Dillon's product scored mentions in local and national publications and earns stares from thousands as she motors about in her pink-and-white Mini Cooper, a veritable GoGirl billboard on wheels. She hands out GoGirls at events with her daughter and up to a dozen contract employees, all dressed in jeans and GoGirls T-shirts.
She packs boxes to meet rush orders at the Plymouth warehouse and otherwise lives the brand and sees potential for a company that she projects will have sales exceeding $10 million in a couple of years. That would be about 2 million units at wholesale.
"GoGirl is a brand that creates community with women," said a confident Sarah Dillon. "We've had sales in 13 countries and are adding five retailers a week."
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • email@example.com