The Gold Coast woman has turned a messy situation into a multimillion-dollar idea, with the pandemic seeing demand for her product go “nuts”.
Suzanne Horton’s son loved surfing and the beach but she was constantly having to deal with sand “everywhere” in her life.
The Gold Coast mum said she was forever using all sorts of buckets and towels to try and keep the sand from going all over the place, yet the mess and a piece of artificial turf has now changed her life.
She launched her idea to combat the mess, called Muk Mat, from her dining room table five years ago and has now turned it into a business that sells in excess of $2 million a year.
“The mess would involve a daily vacuum of the car and usually entail having to hose the kids feet and legs down, sometimes their whole body after surfing,” she said.
“The other issue is with wetsuits when taking them off, there is no good way to get out without stomping it back into ground to pull off the feet, and at the end we would get a bits of gravel and grass and sand stuck.’
Ms Horton created a DIY mat made from artificial turf that her kids, now aged 16 and 13, could scrub their feet to remove the sand.
She said she was constantly stopped by people to ask where she had gotten it from, but at the time she never imagined she would end up running her own business.
“I have a background in health science and the majority of my working life has been spent doing that. But before our youngest was starting school I decided to take a year without pay because my husband travels a lot for work and life was getting absolutely chaotic,” she explained.
“After taking that year off which was just blissful, we realized we can scale back on one wage and for me to be available for the kids and it was the best decision from a family point of view.
“Having come from full on corporate life, I loved being with kids, being able to surf, go to yoga, it was fantastic so I had no intentions of starting a business at all. At that stage it was all a fairly relaxing lifestyle.”
Yet the “incredible” interest from others while out in public with her DIY set up led the mum to researching if anything like it existed in Australia.
It didn’t so the family tipped in $10,000 to start Muk Mat and the first 500 products, described as a “patch of grass on the ground”, sold in the space of three weeks.
Originally, it had been marketed as a way to keep sand, dirt and grass out of a car after a surf, but then it became clear that it could also work for cleaning feet and shoes after running, footy, golf, riding and camping, Ms Horton said.
Little did the 48-year-old know that her business would be a lifesaver for the family three years later when the pandemic hit, as her husband’s corporate health business for the travel industry basically shut down in an instance.
“His world pretty much folded overnight while Muk Mat did the opposite,” she explained.
“When the Covid lockdowns hit, domestic travel and car trips and caravanning exploded and that’s when Muk Mat catapulted. We saw growth up to 400 or 500 per cent from what we did, everything went nuts and we were having to ramp up production significantly.”
Now, the product comes in five different sizes and two colors with the charcoal gray version a request from customers for something more “neutral”.
While the caravan and camping market are now the bulk of her business, Ms Horton has seen her mats used for more unusual purposes.
“A lot of people buy them for their pets as a lot love to sleep on and curl up on them – that’s an area that’s been unexpected,” she said.
“Occasionally, we get someone that uses it as a golf tee off mat and it’s used a lot for outdoor showers for the base and laid flat in their boot as well, so if you’re got wet shoes and towels you pop it on the mat and it hasn’t dripped or dirtied the back of the car.”
Despite now being a $2 million business, Ms Horton said she remained a “one woman show”, although she has finally done some outsourcing.
“I don’t have any staff. I contract people for project-based roles after the stress that came with managing, up until recently, customer service and wholesale inquiries, packing and shipping and twice a day I would pick up a car full of mats, bring them home and have my teenage boys rolling and putting thank you cards with them,” she said.
“So I had stacks and stacks of Muk mats and then after dinner I would print off shipping labels and pack for a couple of hours and load my car and do two trips to the post office in the morning. They were long, full on days.”
She said as a small-business owner it’s a fine line between managing where the money is going.
But she scored a huge win last year with her products stocked in outdoor adventure retailer Anaconda and plans to roll out more sizes of the mats, in particular for the caravan industry.