The pandemic has brought pain and unexpected change to many. It has also brought out ideas, creativity, and new entrepreneurs. SmilesShield™ is a modern customized face shield company that allows your smile to shine with made-to-order customization with the categories of name customization, bedazzle, luxury, pageant beauties, pre-made, children, and sports collections.
Celebrities including Al Sharpton, Kandi Burruss, Gizelle Bryant, and Porsha Williams have been seen wearing their SmilesShield, developed by husband-and-wife team Ernest Smiles and Barbara Furlow-Smiles. Ernest, former director of Ryder Transportation, and Barbara, lead strategist and global head of employee resource groups and diversity engagement at Facebook, have used their experience and backgrounds to develop a needed product in the marketplace.
Black Enterprise caught up with the SmilesShield owners to discuss creating a new product, challenges entering the marketplace, and advice for couples going in to business.
When did you decide that SmilesShield is a product worth developing?
The SmilesShield’s goal is to create something special that put smiles back on people’s faces by allowing them to express their personality and authenticity, while still being safe. We relied on our forecast analysis that determined that the pandemic would be around for at least a couple of years, making this a viable business investment along with focusing on utilizing social media and an e-commerce approach to spread the word and test out the product. We knew from our early customers and diverse demographics that our competitive advantage was the millions of people from all ages, demographics, backgrounds that were in the market for face coverings.
What challenges have you faced?
Few people believed we had a viable product and we received a lot of skepticism from family and friends that wanted us to focus on our 9-to-5 jobs amid a pandemic and job uncertainty for many. Our competitive nature served as a driving force to prove doubters wrong, so we surrounded ourselves with talented individuals who immediately believed in our vision and saw the future in creating a best-in-class face shield product. As a result, many of the doubters and naysayers became believers and supporters after seeing the creative and innovative approach to our product lines and receiving immediate feedback and interest every time they wore a custom SmilesShield.
Why did the Smiles family make this family venture?
We made a decision early during the pandemic that we were going to shift our perspective to be open to endless opportunities. One of our routines in the morning is to pray together as a family and read positive affirmations. Our family prioritizes focusing on positive energy and maintaining a high vibration so that we can be open to creativity and opportunities. We made this a family venture because we knew this was a special moment where we could create something together that prioritized family happiness and prosperity during these uncertain times.
What advice do you have for couples/families going into business together?
Before starting any venture, business, or partnership, everyone must be self-aware of their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and vision for the future. Have a meeting and discuss important topics to ensure alignment. Clearly define roles and responsibilities and hold each other accountable as you would at your 9-to-5 job with bonuses for targets met, etc. For us, we created a 4F approach centered around focus, faith, family, and future.