As far as unlikely businessmen go, Peter Olausson is one of the unlikeliest. Moving from Sweden, Peter had absolutely no business experience, few contacts and a cultural upbringing that told him not to take risks, to be careful. However, going against the entrepreneurial odds, Peter has become successful in selling his product, the TrollyBasket, enjoying every minute of it. And he still manages to work part-time as a scientist at Yale.
“I never expected it to last this long,” says Peter of his trip to the United States and the subsequent business endeavor. Yet after being in the country only a short time, he met his future wife and became the entrepreneur he always wanted to be.
It all happened on a trip home to see his parents in the summer of 2007. Peter stumbled upon the TrollyBasket, a shopping basket on wheels, which allows people to shop without carrying heavy items. At the time it was sold exclusively in Europe, with headquarters in Norway.
With no business experience, Peter couldn’t imagine how he would write a marketing plan to give to the company’s owners. However, he used some grant-writing experience to convince them to let him and his wife—who would be the business’s co-owner—give it a shot, but the deal came with little support and no long-term agreements. They were on their own.
Peter and his wife then came across SCORE on the Internet. “I applied for a meeting, with four people of very diverse backgrounds, expertise and personalities.”
Peter’s first purchase totaled 1,500 TrollyBaskets, which cost him about $20,000. In total, he recalls investing roughly $100,000 to get going. “It’s hard to walk out into the garage and see this mountain of baskets you need to do something with!”
But again, Peter and his wife somehow managed to fight the odds, and sold some 17,000 carts the first year, from supermarkets and department stores to hardware and liquor stores. He has become the North American distributor, and describes himself as proud that he has penetrated the corporate structure with a product that people never really knew about beforehand.
Despite the recent recession, the TrollyBaskets have managed to stay afloat, as Peter and his wife have consistently pitched their product to supermarkets—one area that has always had steady business through tough times.
“If we can get a couple of big contracts, I will take on CEO of TrollyBasket North America and organize for TrollyBasket International, in which case I would have to leave my job and take on the responsibilities,” he says. Additionally, he hopes to be able to expand to expand to Canada, and Central and South America. “It’s been a huge culture shift for me,” he says, of the transition from the science to retail world.
“I was always taught to be very cautious and not take any chances. That was the Swedish mentality. But that’s completely gone,” he says. “And it spills over in many aspects of life, basically to take the chance when you have it, try to have fun and do something good with opportunities to present yourself.”
The SCORE Mentors helped the couple by putting them in contact with investors, customers, lawyers and designers. Peter is still thankful for the SCORE relationship, which he still uses two years later. “It’s been a great learning experience—challenging in many ways, but great to have many people along the way offer advice and help us.”
SCORE helped the couple identify first steps to get their company off the ground. “They were things that would be obvious to any business person, but they were critical to us,” he says.