Have you wondered how you could create a product that can make other people’s lives better? In this episode, Camille welcomes Sarah Heineman, the founder of Car Cabana, a product that transforms the backside of a car into a personal changing room to give privacy and space for families and has helped both children and adults alike.
Sarah shares how she discovered the idea of the Car Cabana and how she overcame the challenges of finding the right manufacturer to now producing around 2,000 units. She also talks about how she used social media as a marketing tool to reach more people and the other future growth opportunities she sees for the Car Cabana.
If you’re thinking about creating your own invention to help other people, tune into this episode to hear Sarah’s journey of creating the Car Cabana from scratch and developing it into a product that now helps different communities of all ages.
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SARAH HEINEMAN [0:00]
I can talk to you in a 1-3-minute little video and I can tell you why I love this product and I can give you some details on it. And I can have a conversation with you, but when it comes to making smart business deals, making sure I’m doing that well, and finding the right people to partner with as we foster really good growth here together with more than just my skillset.
CAMILLE WALKER [0:31]
So, you want to make an impact. You’re thinking about starting a business sharing your voice. How do women do it that handle motherhood, family, and still chase after those dreams? We’ll listen each week as we dive into the stories of women who know. This is Call Me CEO.
Welcome back everyone to another episode of Call Me CEO. This is Camille Walker and I’m here with Sarah Heineman, who is the creator of the Car Cabana. And I have to tell you this is an invention that she came up with on her own, but I saw it on a viral video and I had to have her on the show because O thought it was so smart.
I’ve talked about it with tons of family and friends because I’m like, “You have to see this invention,” because there are so many reasons as mothers, people with children, anyone out and about especially road tripping or going anywhere that you’re going from one thing to the next, you need something where you need a little privacy and this is actually an extension of your car.
It’s like a tent that goes around the backside of your car and gives you privacy in a space where you can dress your child, maybe even go to the bathroom. I know people who have had to travel with porta-potties, whatever it is, if you’re potty training a kid. So, Sarah, this is such an amazing invention. Thank you so much for being on the show today. I’m excited to hear your story.
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.
Yeah. So, tell our audience a little bit about you, where you’re from, and how you got started on this invention.
All right. Like you said, my name is Sarah. I live in the Minnesota-Minneapolis suburbs area. And it’s a funny story how I thought of this. I actually don’t even remember exactly what train of thought led me to really thinking of exactly the Car Cabana, but I do remember it was really late at night.
I was lying in bed awake at 2 AM as we do. And I just remember thinking, I wonder if I could fit underneath the hatchback of our minivan with a blanket over it. And I wonder if that would work. And I tried it immediately. I literally got out of bed at 2 in the morning, went out to my garage and opened up the hatchback of my minivan and I stood underneath with a baby blanket. It was tiny, a tiny baby blanket, over the edge of my hatchback. And I was like, okay, yeah, I think this could work. And then, I went to bed. And that was my brain dump for the night, acting on it right away.
And I drew out some sketches, talked to my husband about it, and then reached out to some manufacturers and was really surprised. Not really surprised, I’d never done anything like this before, but I just hit dead end after dead end after dead end. And it was mostly because magnets, which is how the Car Cabana attaches to your vehicle, were just really expensive and you have to find your own magnets and you’ve got to source them. And I couldn’t find anything that was going to work.
And so, the idea just fell. It dropped. I didn’t do anything with it for, gosh, probably about a year and then my husband found out he was being deployed. And we found out he has a pretty good paying job that he is now taking a break from to be deployed, to be in the army full-time, and that’s a pretty drastic pay cut for us. And he was like, “We have about 9 months before I leave, try again. Reach out to more manufacturers. Try again.”
And so, I did and matched with this really incredible manufacturer and he sourced the magnets for me. He didn’t make me go out and do it. He did it for me. And it’s become a really great partnership and has just really taken off in ways that I won’t say I’m shocked by it, but I’m also a little bit, wow, this really worked. It’s doing what I wanted it to do. I’m getting the word out. People are loving the product and the product’s really great. So, it’s just been really exciting to see it all come together.
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Yeah. Oh my gosh. First of all, mom van life is where it’s at. I was such a hater on vans before I had one. And then, I’m like, these auto doors are amazing. The scale of space in the back is amazing. And now, adding on top of this, it becomes your own little mini apartment. You’ve created a way for us to actually get kids changed or get in and out of wet swimsuits or I have to tell you, I was telling my sister about your product.
And she has this horror story of irritable bowel syndrome of one night that she was driving home and it was late at night and there was nowhere to go to the restroom. And she had to get out of the car and her kids are like, “She had to go to the bathroom. She was just traipsing through the woods.” It was just this whole thing. And I’m like, “Had you had the Car Cabana, you could have figured out something where you weren’t running away or it wouldn’t have become such an urgent situation where maybe you could have come up with another solution,” which I don’t know what that would be exactly.
But I was reading through. So, as you’ve had a video go viral, I want to say I saw it on Facebook. I don’t think it was on TikTok. Talk to me about how that’s helped grow your business because that’s where I saw it. And I was looking at the video and the comments and engagement on that video and it was wild. People were going crazy for it. So, tell me about that.
Yeah. So, our first night that we launched, I posted two videos on TikTok. They were videos my husband took of me in our driveway, basically the first time that I put our final product on the car. And I was just explaining it. And honestly, the video was for Facebook and Instagram stories. That’s where I’ve been marketing just really closely to friends and family because again, I’ve never done this before. And so, I really wanted to make sure that our website was working smoothly that when I shipped them out, were people getting a confirmation email? All those little details, I wanted to make sure that everything was running smoothly before I took it to the internet as a whole.
So, I was just marketing in my stories. So, the video that we took was for that. And then, I took another video. I just propped my phone up on a tree near our driveway and I simply just walked up to my car, put the Car Cabana on, and then cut the video, no talking, no anything. I put those two videos on my personal TikTok and I went to bed. And the next day, they had over 250,000 views. And then, throughout that day, they just kept going and going and going. The one without talking is at 6 million, the other one is at 2 million or something like that and I was just blown away.
So, immediately we got an influx of orders. And making videos on TikTok, not everyone is a hit. Most of them aren’t. Most of my videos are not hitting 1 million views, but it’s really exciting the ones that are. And then, I put the same video, I don’t know, maybe a month and a half later, I was like, okay, let’s put it on Facebook. See how it does there. Put it on Facebook. And that’s gone mega viral, millions and millions and millions of views and that’s the one you saw.
So, it’s been honestly our pretty much main way of marketing and I think that social media is such an incredible way to market. It’s so personal. I’m just a mom coming to other moms. I’m a mom coming to other caregivers and people who need this product. And it’s relational and it’s simple. And there’s not a lot of production quality value that goes into it. It’s just me in my driveway talking about this product that I’ve made. And I love social media for that aspect. And it’s just a really great way to connect with people and show them a product that can really just make their life simpler.
And I love that you have really solved an issue that so many parents relate to and even people in general. I don’t think you have to be a parent to love this product, but it works really well with vans. It can work with other cars too, can’t it? With the hatch up and just the same concept of wrapping it around?
Yeah. You don’t need to have a minivan or a bigger SUV. As long as you have a hatchback that you can stand under, you can use the Car Cabana. That’s how I simplified that description of it.
Yeah. And what’s cool is that I and so many other people have paid for ads on Facebook and different places and it just tanks. And I think that that’s so disheartening, but when you have a product that is so unique and solves such a big issue, I just love seeing that that there’s still that space for organic growth and changing a small business owner’s life. So, with that influx of orders that came through those viral videos, were you able to handle that influx? What did you do? Did you have to bring on a bunch of employees? Walk me through that.
It’s so funny that you asked that because you can’t see it on camera through creative cropping, but I’m surrounded right now. I’m literally sitting immediately next to a bunch of stuff. I’m packaging up a ton of orders right now.
Yes and no. We have been able to keep up a little bit. Our first order that we placed was for 500 units and the TikTok videos took care of the first half of those and the Facebook video took care of the second half of those. And so, we sold out of those in 7 weeks. And then, our very first weekend that we opened, we placed another order with our manufacturer. We were like, “Listen, we’re getting good traction on this. We’re ready to place another order.” And that first day, we had made enough for a down payment for an order of 2,000. So, we went ahead and we ordered 2,000 with him. Is this interesting to go through these details?
Absolutely. We’re just brand new. It’s just these numbers are just real right here right now. So, when he was ready to ship those out, I said, “Listen. We’re sold out. I really want to be able to offer.” Everything takes a long time. It takes 30 days for him to ship the products to me. So, I said, “Can I rush ship just 500 of them? I just want to be able to give people something quickly before the summer’s over. Let’s get 500.” So, he rushed me 500 of our 2,000 order and that’s what I’m packaging up right now.
We’ll sell out today. We restocked on Friday. Today’s Tuesday. So, we’ll sell out of those today. And then, the rest of that shipment is coming, goodness, maybe in 3, 4 weeks. And so, our biggest thing is just trying to keep up with demand. And in the meantime, when you don’t have the product, it’s keeping momentum going. And I think as a small business owner, I’ve really done quite a bit of research on how do we keep momentum going? Because when we’re so grateful for these orders, we’re so grateful for being able to sell out of our stock, we’re so grateful for that, but we also don’t want to be a flash in the pan product that three years from now, people are like, “Yeah, I remember that Car Cabana video that I saw on Facebook. Whatever happened to them?”
I want to be able to use this momentum and grow it and keep it going. So, it’s just staying relevant on social media, continuing to use the product myself. We’re offering pre-orders as soon as we sell out today. I’m going to switch it to pre-orders for our next batch or product and really just reaching out and trying to learn different ways to use the popularity of our product and use how it’s gotten viral to our advantage and not let it just stifle our growth because I think it can really go both ways.
As far as hiring anybody, no. It’s just me. I was up until 2:30 in the morning last night. I’ll be working probably for 3 or 4 more hours today packaging orders before I bring them to the post office. So, yeah, it’s a lot of work that I’m so happy to do it. It’s been such a blessing and to be thankful for it is the only option really.
Yeah. Tell me what is the timeline that we’re looking at. When did you set out your first video? And today, what day is it, the 9th? August 9th. Yeah. So, what’s the time scope here? I know you said something like 30 days for shipments. So, has this only been available for 60 days?
We launched on Memorial Day. So, that was 3 months, not quite. Yeah, so it’s August 9th, so the very end, yeah, 2.5 months. So, yeah, we’re brand, brand new. So, it’s been crazy. Yeah, we’ve got the 500 and now we’re sold out of that in 7 weeks. And now, we have the 500, again selling out of those in four days. And then, we’ll preorder for the 1,500 that’s coming next month. From there, we’re able to place a bigger order because we have more money to work with after selling the 2,000. And so, we’ll be able to place a bigger order and continue to grow that way, but it’s a learning process, for sure.
No, that’s so cool. I’m just so excited and happy for you. I think that TikTok and Instagram and Facebook, the short-form videos, have opened up the ability for small businesses to really showcase something new and exciting and have it take hold and create opportunity is just the best thing ever. I think a lot of times, we can get pulled down by all the expectations of social media so to see it take off for other people. I think gives us a lot of hope. So, tell me where do you hope to see this go from here?
I would love to be able to continue to grow it, continue to make these products for families. I love the product that we have. Our first 500 were so great. And then, we’ve made some improvements. And so, moving forward, we have the new and improved Car Cabana and we hope to be able to continue to offer maybe more specific versions of Car Cabana for different activities. I don’t know.
I think it’s so cool because it’s such a personal marketing form that I’ve used. I’m getting personal messages from people saying, “Hey, have you ever thought about this?” or “Gosh, I really love it for this.” And the special needs community, especially it’s been the biggest blessing surprise of this business so far because I’ve been reached out to by probably at this point hundreds of caregivers in the special needs community saying, “I changed my older child or I changed even an adult. And if we’re out and about, bathrooms don’t accommodate for us. We have the infant changing tables, but I can’t change my bigger child or even adult in a public restroom. So, I end up changing them in the vehicle.” And to be able to offer privacy for them while we do that, that’s so incredible. So, that community has just been really exciting to be able to partner with them.
And I would love to just be able to, like I said, sports teams, “Hey, let’s get some of your locals on here. Let’s put this as a fundraiser for your team.” Different things like that, I just think there’s so much room for growth. And being so brand new, my eyes are just wide open to all these opportunities. And I think in listening to your podcast, it’s realizing, okay, how do we scale well? How do we partner with people that are really good at certain things, things that I’m not good at?
I can talk to you in a 1-3-minute little video and I can tell you why I love this product and I can give you some details on it. And I can have a conversation with you, but when it comes to making smart business deals, making sure I do that well, and finding the right people to partner with as we foster really good growth here together with more than just my skillset.
I love it. I think that you are on such a good trajectory. There’s nothing but growth here because I look at what you’re doing and that you’re open to, okay, I’m going to need support and that you have communities already reaching out to you, I think that it’s nothing but good things. So, make sure you’re still getting rest and taking care of you because I know you’re on a wild roller coaster ride.
Yes. Thank you. I know. I think that these 2:30 in the morning things can’t last for very long. We just do once in a while. That’s fine.
Yeah. It’s funny because a lot of times when I talk to business owners that have been for 10, 15 years, that first year especially is just bananas. You’re just a lot of times running on fumes. So, I will suggest to you one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year is Shoe Dog, which is the story of Nike. And it’s one my very favorite books that I’ve read.
I’ve read a lot of books through the year and listening to his manufacturing woes and what he learned going through that process and scaling and changing his offerings and products and SKUs and all of that, his experience is incredible. So, if anyone’s listening to that right now and wanting some inspiration, that Shoe Dog is incredible because I think so often, we think that we know it all or Nike, they must know it all. They don’t.
He almost went out of business 3 or 4 times and had to get extra funding and was living from one order to the next because the demand was so high, but he had to keep fueling the growth. And I just love that because I think that there’s so much that we can learn from each other and that Blue Stripe or Blue Ribbon is what Nike used to be call and it was changed to Nike on a whim. Things that like that that you’re just like, there’s so much room for growth and learning from each other. So, I know we’re going to be seeing that from you too and I’m so happy for you.
Thank you so much. Thank you. I’m adding that to my book list, for sure. That sounds interesting.
Yeah. It’s a good one. All right. Tell everyone where they can find your product so that we can support you and follow your journey online.
Yes. So, our website is www.carcabana.shop. And you can find me @sarah.heineman on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and keep up with us there.
Awesome. Thank you so much and thank you to your husband for serving our country.
Yes. Thank you for having me, Camille.
Hey, CEOs. Thank you so much for spending your time with me. If you found this episode inspiring or helpful, please let me know in a comment and a 5-star review. You could have the chance of being a featured review on an upcoming episode. Continue the conversation on Instagram @callmeceopodcast. And remember, you are the boss.
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