The Gold Coast woman has turned a messy situation into a multi-million dollar idea as the pandemic sees demand for her product go ‘crazy’.
Suzanne Horton’s sons loved the surf and the beach, but she constantly had to deal with sand “everywhere” in her life.
The Gold Coast mum said she always used all sorts of buckets and towels to try and stop the sand from getting everywhere, but the mess and a piece of artificial grass has now changed her life.
She started her idea to fight clutter, called Muk Mat, from her dining room table five years ago and has now turned it into a business that sells more than $2 million a year.
“The mess involved daily vacuuming of the car and usually involved having to hose down the children’s feet and legs, sometimes their whole body after surfing,” she said.
“The other issue is with the suits when you take them off, there’s no good way out without pushing them back into the ground to pull the feet out, and in the end we’d have pieces of gravel, grass and sand stuck together.’
Ms Horton created a DIY artificial grass mat that her children, now aged 16 and 13, could rub on their feet to remove the sand.
She said she was constantly stopped by people asking where she got it from, but at the time she never imagined she would end up running her own business.
“I have a background in health sciences and most of my working life has been dedicated to this. But before our youngest started school, I decided to take a year without pay because my husband travels a lot for work and life was getting absolutely chaotic,” she explained.
“After taking this year off which was just happy, we realized we could take a pay cut and have me available for the kids and that was the best decision from a family perspective.
“Coming from a full corporate life, I loved being with kids, being able to surf, going to yoga, it was fantastic, so I had no intention of starting a business. At that point, it was all style fairly relaxing lifestyle.
Still, the ‘incredible’ interest from others while in public with his DIY installation led the mum to research if anything similar existed in Australia.
It didn’t, the family paid $10,000 to launch Muk Mat and the first 500 products, described as a “patch of grass on the ground”, sold out within three weeks.
Originally it was marketed as a way to keep sand, dirt and grass out of a car after a surf, but then it became clear that it could also work for cleaning feet and toes. footwear after running, soccer, golf, horseback riding and camping, says Horton.
Little did the 48-year-old woman know her business would be a lifeline for the family three years later when the pandemic hit, as her husband’s corporate health business for the travel industry virtually closed in one case.
“His world practically folded overnight while Muk Mat did the opposite,” she explained.
“When the Covid lockdowns hit, domestic travel, road travel and caravanning boomed and that’s when Muk Mat was catapulted. We saw a growth of up to 400 or 500% compared to what we were doing, everything went crazy and we had to increase production considerably.
Now the product is available in five different sizes and two colors with the charcoal gray version a customer request for something more ‘neutral’.
While the caravan and camping market now forms the bulk of her business, Ms Horton has seen her rugs used for more unusual purposes.
“A lot of people buy them for their pets because a lot of people like to sleep on them and cuddle up on them – that’s an area that was unexpected,” she said.
“From time to time we have someone who uses it as a golf tee mat and it’s used a lot for outdoor showers for base and laying flat in their boot as well so if you have shoes and wet towels, you put them on the carpet and it didn’t run or dirty the back of the car.
Although now a $2million business, Ms Horton said she remained a “one woman show”, although she eventually outsourced.
“I have no staff. I hire people for project based roles after the stress of managing, until recently, customer service and wholesale enquiries, packing and shipping and twice a day , I would take a car full of rugs, drive them home, and have my teenage boys drive around and put thank you cards with them,” she said.
“So I had stacks and stacks of Muk mats and then after dinner I would print out shipping labels and pack for a few hours, load my car and make two trips to the post office in the morning. They were long, full of days.
She said that as a small business owner, the line between managing where money goes is thin.
But it scored a huge win last year with its products stocked at outdoor adventure retailer Anaconda and plans to roll out more rug sizes, particularly for the caravan industry.
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