How I Made It: How one couple turned grocery bagging into a fast-growing business

Farzan and Jen Dehmoubed, a husband-and-wife team from Carlsbad, are the founders of Lotus Trolley Bags. The company and its product, marketed as a sustainable and convenient alternative to plastic bags, were born out of necessity.

After California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags in 2016, the Dehmoubeds jumped on the opportunity to supply shoppers with a new way to pack their groceries.

The product is popular online, currently sitting on the Amazon’s Choice list at $35 for a four-bag set, but shoppers also can get the bags at Vons, Safeway and Ralphs grocery stores in California. The company is in talks to offer the bags at Whole Foods and Target stores in California as well, and the Dehmoubeds are finalizing a deal with TV shopping network giant QVC.

The idea is to speed up the grocery packing process by allowing the bags to hang from the grocery cart, accordion-file style. But the Lotus adds a few unique design elements to its patent, including egg and wine holders along with an insulated bag for cold items.

Before the bags

Farzan, from Toronto, received his master’s degree in marketing from Macquarie University in Sydney, while Jen, who grew up in Maryland, got a degree in dietetics from the University of Maryland. Before starting their bag company, Farzan ran a marketing company and Jen was a teacher.

A part-time project

The Dehmoubeds weren’t expecting Lotus to become a full-time job. Starting the company as a small, part-time project, the couple expected their first shipment in 2017 to sell out in three months; they ran out of the 5,000 bag sets in two weeks.

Facing significantly larger demand than anticipated, they realized that properly running the business would require all their attention.

“That was the turning point in our mind that there was a demand for this product,” Farzan said. “At that point, we knew it was time to go in full force. We spent every hour of every day on this, and we left our jobs completely behind.”

The decision to pursue a career selling the bags wasn’t immediate, they said.

“It was giving up full benefits and a salary, and that obviously makes you nervous,” Jen said. The couple “had to have faith and just make the leap.”

Hanging bags
Lotus Trolley Bags are designed to hang from the side rails of most grocery carts. Lotus Grocery Bags

Growth spurt

The four-person operation sold 20,000 trolley bag sets last year. But the Dehmoubeds expect to more than double sales this year — to as many as 50,000 units. They want to add three more people to the Lotus team within the next two months, Farzan said.

It was giving up full benefits and a salary, and that obviously makes you nervous. [We] had to have faith and just make the leap.”

Jen Dehmoubed, co-founder of Lotus Trolley Bags

The cause

The bags were designed as a better alternative to traditional plastic bags. Beyond being machine-washable and reusable, they’re made from recycled plastic.

“We were both happy when the plastic [bag] ban came into effect, but what we found is that with a lot of families, it didn’t reduce our waste,” Farzan said. “We were just accumulating bigger, more cumbersome plastic bags.

“Plastic never goes away, and so wanting to do something that made a difference — put a dent in the plastic pollution and help preserve the Earth — was the motivating drive for the both of us.”

Lotus has donated some of its profits to environmental causes. It partners with the nonprofit 1% for the Planet, donating 1% of every sale to the cause. Farzan said Lotus wants to donate as much as $50,000 this year.

Lotus Trolley Bags
The four-bag set of Lotus Trolley Bags rolls up, yoga-mat style. Lotus Trolley Bags

Running a company

Lotus is a small but growing company, and Jen said it’s important to keep morale high. She also emphasized enjoying small victories.

“We celebrate the small milestones together. This is exciting, and it’s a big part of making it happen,” Jen said. “It’s important not to lose sight of the small achievements as you go along the way.”

The $50,000 mistake

There’s a learning curve for new entrepreneurs, and some mistakes are more expensive than others, Farzan said. For the second round of bags, the couple didn’t conduct a quality-control check, and the shipment had to be redone.

“That was probably a $40,000 to $50,000 mistake,” Farzan said with a faint laugh. “It was an important lesson to be learned, and we learned it. From the beginning, quality was important, but it’s part of everything we do now.”

Personal life

Both avid volleyball players, the couple met on the court. They’ve been together for six years, married for three. They love the outdoors and still frequently play volleyball. Both 38 years old, Farzan is a surfer, and Jen is a yogi.

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