written by Megin Potter | Photos provided
The legend of her great-great grandfather’s famous solo sailing expedition has inspired entrepreneur Tracy Slocum since she was a child.
In the late 1800’s, Joshua Slocum, an expert mariner, set sail in the old, single-mast boat he rebuilt and christened the Spray. During the three-year voyage to follow, he braved disease, hurricanes, pirates, and other hazards before returning to America as the first person to circumnavigate the globe alone.
He had accomplished what others considered impossible. What made Slocum’s success even more incredible was that the 51-year-old seaman didn’t know how to swim!
Testing the Waters
Like her ancestor, Tracy Slocum is a dreamer and a risk-taker.
Tracy, who grew up in the Capital Region, attended Shaker High School, and then LeMoyne College in Syracuse. She married her husband, Daren, in 2001, and worked in pharmaceutical sales before staying home for nine years to raise their two sons, Michael, and Charlie.
For as long as she can remember, Tracy has been jotting down ideas for new products in her journal.
“The list goes on and on,” she said. “Still, to this day, I think of things.”
A love of the wind and the water also courses through Tracy’s veins. Inspired by the fur garments that protected the captain from harsh sea conditions in his day, Tracy developed the modern equivalent – a windproof, waterproof, washable faux fur blanket that’s been making waves ever since.
“I created this blanket that seemed so simple but it really was a gamechanger,” she said.
“You must then know the sea, and know that you know it, and not forget that it was made to be sailed over.”
– Captain Joshua Slocum,
author of Sailing Around the World Alone.
Yearning for excitement and unafraid of failure, at the age of 45, Tracy courageously embarked on an adventure into entrepreneurship. “It is really scary to take that first step, especially when you’re in a comfortable spot, it’s just the hardest thing,” she said.
In 2017, Tracy and her team took the fledging Pretty Rugged products to the NY Now trade show, where, to her surprise and delight, she was awarded with the Best in Market and Best New Product distinctions. That same year, Oprah featured the Pretty Rugged Lap Blanket on their 2018 list of Favorite Things.
“That’s when I realized you can’t let age or whatever people say discourage you. Just go with your gut,” said Tracy.
Tracy continued travelling across the country for trade shows, and just before the pandemic, she and her team ventured to China to tour the mills creating Pretty Rugged’s products.
Pretty Rugged’s buttery soft Rugged Tex TM, with its nylon backing, and the waterproof SatinTex TM are used to make blankets, outerwear, and accessories.
Witnessing the fabrication of something that would not exist without her fortitude and her team’s dedication was motivational.
“When you see it come to fruition in front of you, it’s a proud moment,” she said.
In Deep Water
In the last five years, despite stellar growth, millions in sales, and very comfortable margins, costs created a situation where Pretty Rugged netted just $32,000 in 2021.
Like so many entrepreneurs before her, Tracy turned to ABC’s “Shark Tank” to form a strategic partnership that would turn the tide. Appearing on Season 14 of the show was surreal, she said.
“When you stand behind those two sets of double doors, your life flashes in front of you. It’s the most unbelievable thing and your heart is pounding.”
“Then they open and you’re standing in front of all the sharks for about 30 seconds before you start to talk. There’s this pregnant pause that happens. It’s very strange,” she continued.
“I was well-prepared. I know my company, the business, and my story. When I started talking, everything else just went away.”
All Hands on Deck
Emerging from the Shark Tank victorious demonstrates how effective entrepreneurs handle intense pressure.
“Positivity and negativity plant seeds in a company and grow. You have to find a way to address it and keep moving forward or you get bogged down,” said Tracy.
Building a great team and encouraging the best in employees requires an entrepreneur to have creative problem-solving skills. Pretty Rugged’s employees are located across the country, and many work from home (in addition to in their dedicated office and warehouse space).
Although it makes her heart sing to see her own children, who now attend Albany Academy and Providence College, grow into adulthood, having them leave home is also a heartbreaking reality she’s still trying wrap her head around, she said.
Tracy Slocum is living her definition of the American Dream – having the ability to start a business, watch it grow, earn a profit, and be rewarded for the effort.
“Anyone can do this at any age. You just need to start. Take the first step.”