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Baldwin County entrepreneur shines in first ever national pitch competition put on by Lowe’s

An Alabama small business owner has been announced as one of only three “top entrepreneurs” chosen across the nation after Lowe’s first ever virtual pitch competition, “Making It…with Lowe’s.”

The competition featured a diverse array of entrepreneurs from around the United States. Over 1,300 applications were received, and ultimately more than 400 unique products were showcased in a bid to see them sold at Lowe’s.com and in Lowe’s stores nationwide.

The top-five entrepreneurs got the opportunity to deliver virtual pitches that were aired by Lowe’s and judged by top executives from the national home improvement giant. The program was hosted by Daymond John, star of ABC’s “Shark Tank” pitch show and a New York Times best-selling author.

That group of five was then trimmed down to three entrepreneurs that Lowe’s chose to partner with as suppliers in order to deliver their products to Lowe’s customers. Afterward, that final trio was broken down once more, into a final two.

After everything was said and done, Baldwin County’s Christina Woerner McInnis (and her SoilKit) was selected in that pair and finished as the national runner-up.

Based in Foley, SoilKit is a breakthrough in the home gardening world. Utilizing its parent company AgriTech Corp.’s expertise in agriculture data and science, the product offers a simple way for gardeners and landscapers of all levels to get the most out of their specific soil.

Using SoilKit, anyone can submit a sample of their soil and — in a matter of days — they will receive a precise lab report with analysis and easy-to-understand recommendations on how to keep their lawn and/or garden healthy.

McInnis, founder of SoilKit, told Yellowhammer News that the inspiration behind the product came from her experience working in her family business.

“My grandmother started the Woerner Family garden center in Pensacola, FL back in the ‘70s,” outlined McInnis, a fifth-generation farmer. “She would take me to work with her on Saturdays to show me how to connect with customers and listen to what they needed. Thirty years later I find myself in the same place: a businesswoman listening to customers. Over and over, homeowners entered the store complaining about problems with their lawn or garden. Nationwide facts confirmed the problem was universal: There are 129.9 million households. Three out four have a lawn or garden and over 70% are dissatisfied. Why? Because so many don’t start where it all begins … in the soil.”

Through Making It…with Lowe’s, McInnis received a marketing support package, a mentoring package and a $5,000 Lowe’s Small Business Grant. And, of course, the main prize was earning coveted space on Lowe’s sales platforms.

As a result, SoilKit can now be purchased through the Lowe’s website; the product will also be on shelves of Lowe’s stores very soon. SoilKit comes in a standard version for only $29.95; a version with a trowel; and in a volume pack for landscape professionals.

However, reaching this point was no easy feat. McInnis advised that she applied for the pitch competition at an especially trying time last year.

“I was in the middle of Hurricane Sally devastation, coming out of shelter in place and navigating a host of other COVID restrictions,” she reminisced. “Three trees had crashed into our home; we had no power or internet; and our four children were displaced from school. The office was flooded.”

“Nevertheless, my Texas friend and marketing agent, Valerie Tyson with Strategic Playground, asked me to find a way to get to the office where we still had internet and apply for the Lowe’s MIWL program,” McInnis said. “With weather devastation, pandemic, and uncertainty, this program promoted what I needed most – mentorship. And hope.”

She also underscored how much Lowe’s has helped her family-owned company.

“I don’t think many fully understand the challenges small businesses face serving large corporations,” McInnis remarked. “There are so many additional costs such as EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), GS1 barcode compliance, and registering products on merchandising systems. As a small software company, we don’t have a large staff with broad experience in merchandising. We had to learn as we go, and mistakes have been inevitable, but Lowe’s support has really helped us navigate these challenges. We received a $5,000 grant which was used for video content development, employee training, and upgrades to our operational infrastructure. The mentorship of key Lowe’s executives has given us access to support in the complex and extensive onboarding process that exists in all large retailers.”

SoilKit’s growth is also a boon for the Foley area, with McInnis stressing that job creation is the biggest effect.

“I started this business with just my sweat equity as labor. Now, we now have 13 employees and are adding a new employee almost every month. It’s fun to add jobs in Baldwin County while solving local, national, and ultimately global agricultural problems,” she stated.

The Alabama entrepreneur has even bigger plans for the future of SoilKit and AgriTech.

“The future is my favorite discussion,” McInnis commented. “There are 129.9 million homeowners, of which 97 million have a lawn or garden and over 70% of them are dissatisfied. I want to solve the lawn and garden problems for homeowners, landscape professionals, and municipalities.”

“As our technology expands, we will combine soil test data with other local information like weather and atmospheric conditions to refine plant optimization recommendations,” she continued. “Ultimately, this will lead to the application of machine learning to improve global crop growth algorithms and build a highly valuable data business.”

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, a Lowe’s spokesperson praised McInnis and SoilKit, saying, “Christina’s story is compelling for many reasons: SoilKit tackles a real customer problem, with credibility backed by science and a family that’s farmed their land for five generations. Christina’s poise, passion and knowledge helped her product stand out, and we’re incredibly proud to call her one of our top Making It… with Lowe’s entrepreneurs.”

The other two entrepreneurs selected were from Metairie, Louisiana, and Des Moines, Iowa, respectively.

“I trusted this program would unearth great products, but our whole team was thrilled by the level of innovation the Making It…with Lowe’s participants brought us,” said Marvin R. Ellison, Lowe’s president and CEO. “Lowe’s began nearly a century ago as a small-town hardware store, and we know small business is the backbone of our economy. These products reflect the diverse needs of our customers and the communities we serve, and our Making It…with Lowe’s program attempts to give these diverse small business owners a shot at the American Dream – and inspire others through their stories.”

Based on the success of its first season, Lowe’s has also announced Making It… with Lowe’s will return for a second season this fall, encouraging entrepreneurs nationwide to get their pitches ready. Watch season one here.

Learn more about SoilKit here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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