The life-changing moment for Bill and Dinah Vogel came 14 years ago, when their youngest son Charlie—only two at the time—was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a neuromuscular disease that would confine him to a wheelchair. Both Bill and Dinah had busy careers, but after learning the seriousness of their son’s condition, Dinah decided to leave hers and devote herself full-time to her family.
The family faced another crossroads when Charlie was in middle school and his older brother was entering high school. The teetering economy had triggered yet another shakeup at Bill’s job, and his only prospect for staying with the company would have required him to move his family—for the sixth time in the last ten years. That’s when he and Dinah realized that they needed much more flexibility than corporate life would ever offer them. “We needed to pay our bills, but secondarily and more important to us, we needed the time and financial flexibility to make sure our son’s disability didn’t become an obstacle to him.”
Both the Vogels had entrepreneurial spirit. They were always coming up with inventions to make life a little easier, such as the shaving mirror Bill had designed that wouldn’t fog up in the shower and the potty chair liner Dinah had devised that made potty training a toddler easier. So they decided to take a leap. Bill left his corporate career, and the Vogels went into business for themselves as a husband and wife team, manufacturing and selling their inventions. They stayed in the place they had come to love, Knoxville, Tennessee, and chose Amazon to help get their business off the ground.
“I picked Amazon because I just think it’s great place to start,” says Dinah. Her instincts were good. Within a year Amazon customers made the Vogels’ “The Shave Well Company” fog-free shower mirror the top-selling shower mirror on the site.
“A year into it,” says Bill, “we were selling more in an hour than we sold in a day when we first started. So that shows the trajectory of our growth.”
Best of all, the Vogels use Fulfillment by Amazon to store their inventory and fulfill customer orders. This gives them the freedom to run their business when and where they need.
When asked how this flexibility has affected his family, Bill begins to talk again about Charlie. Charlie was recently invited to participate in an experimental drug study that required nine extended visits to New York. Bill, Dinah, and Charlie have all been able to go to each visit, working together to overcome the extra challenges that a wheelchair adds to air travel and getting around New York City.
“We were very fortunate to have the flexibility for him to participate without it posing any challenge whatsoever to our business,” Bill says. He describes the experience of running their business while “sitting in a hospital 800 miles from home. When Charlie is resting, recovering from the infusion, Dinah and I are on our laptops, selling, servicing our customers, working with our vendors, getting product to Amazon’s Fulfillment Centers.”
Charlie has also inspired an important aspect of the Vogel’s business: the way all of those shaving mirrors and potty chair liners are assembled. Bill and Dinah pay to have the work done here in the U.S.A. by Sunshine Industries, a Knoxville non-profit that provides jobs for people with disabilities.
Bill marvels at what he and Dinah have accomplished.
“It was tough going out and starting a business in the depths of the recession,” Bill says. “All that being said, here I am two-and-a-half years later, I’ve got a wonderful business.”
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