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Go Ask Mom

Gift Guide: Cary mom realizes dream of creating curling iron

Posted November 17, 2021 7:00 a.m. EST

Alicia Kelley had a dream of starting her own business. The Cary mom wanted to create a curling iron for people with long hair. The barrel would be twice as long to help reduce the amount of time it takes to curl longer hair.

After years of hitting the stores looking for a product that would work on her long locks, Kelley decided it was time to make her own curling iron. But was more difficult than Kelley thought.

"I didn't have a computer. I didn't have any experience. I went to the library, I got a book on manufacturers and, of course, there's about a million and they're all overseas," Kelley said. "So I thought, 'Well, it's a great idea. I just don't know how I will do it.' So I put it out of my mind."

A decade later, Kelley got her first computer and started looking for a manufacturer.

"It took me a long time to finally find somebody that was willing to make a very small order and he put together. It took about a year for me to get my first prototype," Kelley said.

When it arrived, Kelley said her hopes were dashed.

"It was the worst thing I have ever used. I couldn't believe it," Kelley said. "My hair slipped right out of it."

Despite other attempts, Kelley's finances were draining and a divorce left her a single mom. More years go by as Kelley searched for a new manufacturing partner.

"If I were to start from scratch, hire engineers, build a completely new curling iron from scratch, it would cost somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000," Kelley said. "What I did with my limited funds was take something (a curling iron) that was out of production and put it back into production and modify it and make it something new. So that was the only way that a single mom could afford to do something like this."

With some modifications and a partner willing to produce a small order of 500 irons, Kelley was in business. While she waited for the irons to arrive, Kelley's mother sent her a text about a contest she saw in Good Housekeeping magazine. It was for entrepreneurs to appear on HSN (Home Shopping Network).

Kelley entered the contest with her curling iron. She was selected as a finalist and appeared live on the network selling her Mr. Big Curling Iron.

"I sold out in 10 minutes and they wanted more," Kelley said.

The business took off and Kelley added other two more barrel sizes, a hair dryer and scalp massagers.

"When I started this, I think my kids were like 8 and 11 and now they are 25 and 22, so that is how long it took me to make and get it to market in 2016," Kelley said. "It was quite a long time. But, it's like, I just knew that I could do it."

Since launching her product, Kelley has battled breast cancer and COVID-19.

She recently appeared on the USA Network's "America’s Big Deal" reality show.

"I didn’t win a retail deal but I sold out of my inventory the same night so I think I’m on to something," Kelley said.

Mr. Big Curling Irons and products are available on Amazon and also via the Mr. Big website.