SCORE Turns Entrepreneur’s Late-Night Eureka Moment into Thriving Skewer Business

Shirley Washington's Sway-Oh product

SCORE Turns Entrepreneur’s Late-Night Eureka Moment into Thriving Skewer Business

Shirley Washington’s middle-of-the-night inspiration – mixed with a splash of assistance from SCORE St. Louis – has led to a recipe for success for her skewer-serving business.

Shirley Washington of Sway-Oh
Shirley Washington of Sway-Oh

The St. Louis-based entrepreneur launched Sway-Oh and its debut product line – Skewer Food Server – in 2019 after she couldn’t find a way to make her fruit skewers stand out for her niece’s bridal shower. She debuted the skewer displays – which come in swan, square and dome options – at the 2019 International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, where they were selected to be in the new products showcase. And now they can be found online from retailers Amazon, Michael’s and – most recently – Walmart.

Shirley frequently entertains and often serves various types of foods on skewers like fruit, veggies, cheese and candy. Although she normally serves them flat on a platter, for her niece’s bridal shower, she wanted something special.

“I wanted them to stand up and make a statement.” she explains. “So I hopped in my Jeep and drove around to big box stores and retail outlets looking for something that would make them stand up the way that I envisioned in my mind. But I really couldn’t find anything.”

There are other similar products on the market, she notes, but they lack the pizzazz and weren’t as unique as what she was looking for.

“I just wanted ours to be a little more elegant because it was for a bridal shower,” she adds.

Even after the bridal shower and the wedding had come and gone, Shirley says, she couldn’t stop thinking about the skewers. 

“In the middle of the night – like 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning – I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got it,’” she says. 

“I got up and just started sketching it out in a notebook that I keep on the side of my bed. When I saw it in the morning, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what I had in mind.’”

The problem was, Shirley didn’t know anything about creating products. But thanks to a Google search and a little luck, she happened upon SCORE St. Louis, a nonprofit organization and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration that helps entrepreneurs start, grow and successfully exit a business.

“It was a blessing to be able to stumble upon that organization,” she says. “It’s been like my best friend. That network of resources is invaluable. It is remarkable.”

Shirley’s SCORE mentors have experience in an array of backgrounds, including creating products, bringing products to market, manufacturing, trademarks and patents. They helped her connect with retailers and learn how to present and pitch her business.

“They have resources that are free of charge for anyone who wants them,” she adds. “You just have to ask.”

Dana Connon – who has a background in manufacturing and has volunteered with SCORE for over 10 years – is the first mentor that Shirley connected with and the one who helped her with product development.

“We talked about getting a prototype together, showing the prototype to prospective buyers to see what kind of response they would get, and putting together a business plan moving forward,” explains Dana, who also puts on free workshops for SCORE.

Once Shirley had her Skewer Food Server prototype and was ready to move forward, Dana says there was another SCORE mentor ready to help her with the next stage.

“That’s the beauty of SCORE,” Dana says. “The mentors all bring their own uniqueness to the mentoring world, and we work collaboratively to mentor different clients with different expertise. And it’s all free.”

“It’s a really good organization,” she adds. “It’s a very valuable resource for entrepreneurs. It does help a lot of people with ideas and further on in their businesses.”

Shirley says she isn’t sure what she would have done without SCORE and her mentors.

“I’ll tell you one of the scariest things about being in this space is not knowing what you don’t know,” she explains. “But to be able to talk with people who are in this space or retired from the space or navigated that space, they can tell you and they can help you manage.”

Moving forward, Shirley says she is working to expand Skewer Food Server’s footprint in the marketplace and to create new products.

Help for your business

If you’re looking for some more business help of your own, like the amazing mentors and classes at SCORE, look no further than MOSouceLink: We are your connection to 650+ business-building resources and experts across Missouri. Just tell us a bit about what you need online or call us at 866-870-6500 from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday, and we’ll build your custom set of next steps for free.

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