Back in 2016, Kat Samardzija returned to her locker after tennis practice and discovered that all her valuables had been stolen. In response, she created a wearable wrist locker so that she could keep her valuables on her at all times, even during workouts and practice.
Five years later, Kat sits in her own warehouse packed to the ceiling with boxes of those wrist lockers waiting to be shipped out to customers across the country.
Locker Lifestyle is Kat’s accessory brand that allows you to stash small essentials for fitness, shopping, or walking the dog so you can feel confident about where you’re going and what you’re doing. Competing in a total of 24 national pitch competitions to date, it’s no surprise that Kat’s dedication to sharing her story would result in the success and growth of Locker Lifestyle over the past couple months.
The Locker Lifestyle product lineup
Currently, the Locker Lifestyle lineup includes the Wrist Locker (Kat’s original wrist wallet to stash your stuff), the Headband AID (a headband with buttons to relieve ear irritation from wearing a mask), and the patent-pending Guard Locker (a protective neck waiter with 2 pockets). If these products sound like something you or a friend would wear – check out Locker Lifestyle’s Website and get 15% of using the discount code – FUTUREFOUNDERS15 (valid through the month of March 2021)
Even with the many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kat and Locker Lifestyle flourished in 2020. She took home $25,000 with her Gold Award win at MassChallenge. She moved the business to her own warehouse to handle growing demand. And just recently, Kat found her product featured on Good Morning America, which led to her selling out her entire inventory! And now with 2021 just getting started, Kat is more than ready to continue to grow and build out the Locker Lifestyle brand.
Since she began Locker Lifestyle, Kat has always been looking for opportunities to meet new people. She joined the Future Founders network in 2018 through the prestigious year-long Fellowship program, and has spent the past two years in the Alumni Accelerator program. “With 100% percent and transparency, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the program,” said Kat reflecting on her time in the program. Even as an alumni, she’s still talking to fellow founders and program heads on a weekly basis.
In 2020, Kat also participated in MassChallenge, a four-month-long accelerator program that provides founders with pathways to create jobs and generate wealth. During the program, Kat was put in contact with mentors from Puma and Amazon, both of who offered her valuable insights into the accessory and ecommerce industries. Launching her product on Amazon with her mentor, she did 18 times the sales compared to her previous attempt.
The MassChallenge Reach
The program culminated with the first ever virtual edition of the MassChallenge Awards, where 33 of the 200 companies involved were awarded with equity-free cash prizes from a $1.4 million prize pool. Winning the ‘Gold Award’ of $25,000 for Locker Lifestyle, Kat claims, “it came at the perfect time.” Putting the money towards her manufacturing and building a team, Kat will continue to work with MassChallenge as part of their virtual alumni program.
Kat’s time on the tennis court at her alma mater Grand Valley State University is the origin of the Locker Lifestyle’s brand. Playing solos tennis is comparable to how Kat’s journey with manufacturing began. When she first started working on Locker Lifestyle full-time, Kat was working out of her parent’s garage and acted as her own warehouse manager. “I had a semi-truck coming to our subdivision to drop off products,” said Kat, “I was taking in thousands of pieces and stashing them in my parent’s garage.” At the same time, she was shipping all of the products herself and even working as her own customer service representative.
Scenes from inside the new Locker Lifestyle warehouse
With the success of MassChallenge and products selling at a larger scale, Kat was able to secure her own warehouse location and hire on some part-time employees to ease the process. Again, the timing couldn’t have been better for Locker Lifestyle. Just a couple weeks later, the brand was featured on Good Morning America’s “Deals & Steals with Tory Johnson”, a feature Kat had been working towards for months.
“I almost said no at first,” Kat claimed, in reaction to landing the GMA spot. Appearing on the show during peak holiday season, she wasn’t sure if her team could handle such high demand and shipping in the short period of time. With a boost of encouragement from her “Momager” and securing the new warehouse, Kat gathered a team to work 24-hours straight the day of their GMA appearance. Selling out of her products on both the GMA website and Locker Lifestyle’s website, Kat stated, “It was so cool to see that people were willing to search out our brand and buy women-owned.”
Locker Lifestyle and other products on GMA’s “Deals & Steals w/ Tory Johnson”
Gaining over 5 million new eyes of national exposure, Kat credits the GMA appearance with helping her pitch to new retailers while also giving her some valuable lessons. “I cannot please everyone,” she said, reflecting on the feedback she received after shipping her entire inventory. With holiday delivery and shipping errors out of their control, Kat and her team learned the patience one must have when communicating with unhappy customers. Looking back at the experience as a whole, Kat states, “We had some awesome people reach out, and I got exposed to a lot of different customers on a national level.”
With the GMA appearance behind her, Kat is using the momentum to keep pushing her product to new customers in 2021.
This year, many businesses are hoping for a return to some form of normalcy after the pandemic, Locker Lifestyle included. One of Kat’s biggest struggles in 2020 was losing local and national in-person retailers due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Bringing on a new team member to hone-in on getting those retailers back, Kat’s hopeful to gain more exposure outside of her ecommerce presence. Retailers also offer unique and lucrative promotional deals that Kat is looking forward to getting back in 2021 as well.
Finding balance is another goal for Kat this year. Reflecting on her recent growth, she hopes to build a foundation where her growing team can easily adapt to new product launches and focus on upcoming PR features. “I want to continue to position our COVID-related gear like our Button Headbands as well our [patent-pending] Neck Gaiters,” stated Kat. Protecting the Locker Lifestyle brand and products will always be her number priority as she continues to innovate.
“All my products are proprietary to the brand. I manufacture them, I distribute them, I brand them, I do everything. It’s important to me that with the actual product breadth growing, I’m able to protect them as Locker Lifestyle.” – Kat Samardzija
With all of her success in 2020, Kat is on a win streak comparable to a Serena Williams Grand Slam title run. And with Kat’s dedication to her company and a goal of getting Locker Lifestyle in front of as many new customers as possible, the win streak is sure to continue.
Check out Locker Lifestyle’s appearance on Good Morning America’s “Deals & Steals with Tory Johnson”.
Use code “FUTUREFOUNDERS15” through the month of March for 15% off all products on Locker Lifestyle’s Website.
Apply for the 2021 Future Founders Fellowship.
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