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Salute to American Success

Startup Brings 'Bling' to Senior Citizens with Product Design

Today’s American Success goes to JoAnn Tilghman, founder and president of Granny Jo Products -- a small business that adds a little bling to senior citizens’ golden years.

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Tilghman, who is from Lakeland, Fla., was an average American mom -- complete with the minivan and the bake sales.

“I was on the typical mom-track,” Tilghman said. “I’d been PTA president, Boy Scout Den Mother, Sunday School teacher.”

In 2006, she added -- founder and president of a company with international sales -- to the list.

It all started when Tilghman was taking care of her mother-in-law. Whenever they made tea or soup, she noticed she had trouble grasping hold of the one-handed ceramic mug. When she tried to pick it up, she was clumsy and unstable.

Tilghman realized that the problem wasn’t the weight of the mug, it was the holding it with one hand. So she had her son, James, 43, make a mug with two handles and voila! She could use the mug with ease.

Tilghman christened it the “Dignity Mug” and set her sights high.

“Probably after about a week I thought, ‘this doesn’t make sense that this product isn’t on the market,’” Tilghman said. “How can this product not be available, because my mother-in-law certainly can’t be the only person who needed it?”

So she trusted her gut and went big -- 10,000 mugs big. She placed the enormous order of the two-handed mugs and launched Granny Jo Products.

Turned out that people couldn’t keep their mugs off those mugs. They sold so well that Tilghman looked to expand her line, drawing her inspiration from her own mother.

“My mother was always a lady who dressed up, so a black nylon bag or a plastic bag tied to her walker really was not going to work for her,” Tilghman said.

So she created a line of designer walker bags with fun patterns and materials, including sophisticated designs for formal events like weddings. Granny Jo Products even makes custom covers for typical senior citizen medical equipment.

“I had a request for an oxygen tank cover with ‘bling’ on it. With ‘bling’, that’s what she said,” Tilghman said laughing. “We made her a black one with silver beads on it.”

To Tilghman, the designer walker bags are more than just designs, they allow her customers to display their personalities and continue to feel like themselves, even when their bodies can’t do what they once were able.

“People have a life and they had a life, and fashion for a lot of women is very important. If they have to use a walker they want it to look good,” Tilghman said. “They want them to go with their outfit and say something about them and there are not a lot of options that allow them to do that. I think we offer things that allow people to show their personality, independence, and still have some fashion sense. Some of our walker bags are quite fabulous.”

Tilghman said she’s found that many of the products offered seniors are only found in hospital supply centers, and for good reason -- they look like they belong in the hospital, not in people’s homes or in their daily lives.

“People don’t go to hospital supply centers to browse!” Tilghman said with a laugh. “Everything is from the medical line -- people don’t want that, they want fashion. When you think hospital, it’s utilitarian-looking, it’s not something people want.”

That’s why Tilghman expanded her line to carry about two dozen products, including: scooter bags, wheelchair blankets, and adorned napkin clips with pearls and beads -- which she sells almost 25,000 of each year.

“We sell them to assisted living centers by the boatload!” Tilghman laughed.

Tilghman said Granny Jo Products serves an underserved market.

“Traditional retail has not embraced the senior market. Even if JC Penny had a corner for seniors that wasn’t just hospital equipment I’d be happy. In my perfect world, Macy’s, everybody would have a little corner for seniors,” Tilghman said. “I think there’s a perception that someone will have a problem spending $50 on a gift for a child that who isn’t even born yet, and yet they think $50 for grandma is too much. Well, maybe she doesn’t need another teacup, maybe she needs something she can use.”

Tilghman can cross opening her own business off her bucket list.

“It’s really fun. There are a lot of days where it’s not fun, but it’s satisfying and it’s rewarding,” Tilghman said. “It’s just better than I thought it could be.”

In the Salute to American Success series, FBN’s Charles Payne puts the spotlight on self-made entrepreneurs, who – like him, are living proof that the American Dream is real.

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