EM Weekly: 17 Preparing The Community With Jenifer Stewart
[TODD DEVOE] Hi, this is Todd DeVoe with EM Weekly, and today we have a special guest with us. Her name is Jennifer, and she’s actually starting a business that’s a home-based business, dealing with disaster preparedness and emergency management type stuff, selling a disaster kit directly to home and abroad too, for that matter. So, Jennifer, welcome to the show.
[JENIFER STEWART] Thanks, Todd!
[TODD DEVOE] So, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into emergency services, emergency management, volunteerism, this whole wonderful realm of emergency management.
[JENIFER STEWART] Emergency preparedness has always been a passion of mine. I have always been that person that had a trunk full of stuff. Specifically, after 9/11, I started carrying trash bags and duct tape in my car, and we’d be in a picnic and someone would say: “does anyone have a trash bag?”, and I would have it. “Does anyone have any tape?”, and I’d have it. And like that, we kind of passed through their brain, that they’re thinking: “why does she have trash bags and duct tape in her car?”. So, I’ve always been that person carrying stuff, and about 4 and a half years ago, my husband and I saw advertisements on the back of the park for this training, and it was totally in our (inaudible). And so, we signed up and we took it, and we loved it! And when they issued us our pack, I was kind of upset, because the gloves they gave me were “one size fits none”. And you know which ones I mean, right Todd?
[TODD DEVOE] I do.
[JENIFER STEWART] Yeah, yeah. Thanks a lot. I think you gave me that pack! And so, I couldn’t do the exercise, because I couldn’t put my fingers in the glove. And so, I was really upset because one, I wasn’t told to bring my own equipment; and two, the equipment that they gave me didn’t work. So, I went and searched, looking for gloves, and I found out that the landscape for women’s products was just dismal. And I decided to start my own company. And I also have heard from moms in my neighborhood that they just weren’t prepared, and that they knew they needed to be prepared. They knew they were supposed to be doing this, but every time they tried, they got overwhelmed. And so, I put all of this info together and thought: ok, there’s not a lot of women’s gear; my friends are gonna be in trouble if within three days we don’t have supplies, what can I do to solve this? And so we started City Girl Prepper, to bring emergency gear to women and families.
[TODD DEVOE] Tell me about City Girl Prepper and… kind of how you got started, but how did you decide to kind of go that way? What was the catalyst to really get you going outside the idea that you couldn’t find some cool gloves to wear during the training?
[JENIFER STEWART] I wanted the families in my neighborhood to be prepared. I grew up in a family of scouts, and so we were always very self-reliant, and I wanted to help others to be self-reliant. And to me, what the community emergency response team is doing to help individuals be trained is so awesome, and I wanted to take that a step further and put the gear in people’s hands. So, what I have found, and I think a lot of studies have found, is that people will go to a class. People will read an article. But they don’t take that next step. And what I’d done, is I’ve been able to bring the education to the person and the shopping experience, all at the same time. And so, when their level of understanding is greater about what they have to do, and why they need this water and the food, and the cables, they’re more apt to take that step, because it’s right in front of them.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s actually brilliant, because like… I noticed that, when I’d done community events, you know, like the emergency preparedness fairs, and things like this, when you’re handing out flyers, people are always like: “no yeah, this is great information, thank you so much for being here”, and you hand them the flyer. And I always think those flyers are gonna end up in the junk drawer in the kitchen.
[JENIFER STEWART] Well… when I decided that I wanted to start this business, I saw that I had a file, out of my file cabinet, and I didn’t realize how much I had been collecting for so long. I had probably an inch thick that I had taken all along the way, and actually what I did is I printed them all out and lifted all of the lists and came up with what I considered to be kind of my secret thought of what should go in the backpack, based on what I had been studying and all those lists. But people love that information, and they want to be prepared. They just fall short. A lot of people have what I call half pack. Is they can go and buy a backpack very easily, they can go to a local store down the camping aisle and throw in a bunch of stuff. But then they get to certain things, and they don’t know where to source them. Whether it’s food, or water, or just some basics. And that’s when their pack becomes almost useless, because it’s just not finished, and it ends up in the corner somewhere, under a bed, and dusty, and it’s not doing anybody any good there.
[TODD DEVOE] You and I are in California, and the weather here is always great for the most part, except for the last couple of weeks here. We always talk about the big earthquake, and that comes every what… you know, 30 to 60, 80 years, or whatever. We haven’t had one in a bit. I think sometimes people get complacent, so I really do understand that sometimes it’s a good idea when they go into these things and it becomes an abstract for them
[JENIFER STEWART] Yes. People are not motivated by fear…
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[JENIFER STEWART] As people think they are. There’s a lot of studies on fear and if it actually make people do things, and it does in the immediate moment, but not in a long-term. And talking about like, preparedness, nationwide, the numbers are really… it’s kind of troubling that if you check your numbers, you got anywhere from 85% to 70% of America is not prepared.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s low. That’s probably a low number, I think.
[JENIFER STEWART] So, what I have found too, in just like… the emergency world, is that if you look at the products in the marketplace, it all looks the same. But if you take another look and you look at consumer behavior, more than 70% of all consumer buying decisions are influenced by women. And so, what I believe is that the emergency preparedness people are talking to the wrong people, and they’re talking to women the wrong way. That’s what’s happening. And I think that there’s gotta be a way to move the needle if they actually looked at who their target market was.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s a lot of truth right there. I agree with that. Because… I know that when you start talking about preparedness, the answers are always kind of odd, they’re like: “are you prepared to at least 72h?”, “Oh yeah, I’m prepared for 72h.” “What do you have?”, “I have some beans and some water in the garage.” Ok, you’re not ready for 72h. You’re like: Oh, great. You won’t be thirsty, maybe, for a day, you know? But you’re gonna get thirsty. So yeah, I mean… and we see this time and time again across the country. You know? And Katrina showed it, Superstorm Sandy showed it, you know? You see these… I mean, I think about Superstorm Sandy, I remember sitting there, watching a show… the news with my wife, and you see people eating out of the dumpster in New York City. So, it shows that people aren’t ready to go. I would say that…
[JENIFER STEWART] It’s terrifying. It’s terrifying to me, because we’ve seen it firsthand. We’ve seen it, like you said, these examples of what is going to happen in other parts of the country with other things. It’s not like… someone is making up some apocalyptic story, like you’re saying: “Oh, it’s gonna get so bad that people are gonna eat out of the trash.” That’s not just a fairytale, that was the reality for those people. And yet, you know, 70%, 80% of America still chooses not to take the step. And that’s a mystery to me. So, you know, as an entrepreneur and a business owner, I’m always trying to figure out like, how do we get people to realize that’s a reality? That’s not just… you know, on The Walking Dead, or some show.
[TODD DEVOE] Right. Let’s take The Walking Dead, for instance. You know, aside of the zombies, which realistically… you can add whatever disaster you wanna add to that show, and make it what it is. That’s actually a really good example of how to be ready for any disaster, you know? I actually hadn’t started watching The Walking Dead until a friend of mine was like: look at it, and look at it from the emergency management and preparedness angle. And so, I watched season 1, and I was like: holy smoke! He’s completely right! This is a really kind of a cool show… take the zombies out, you know? Take the zombies out of it, they’re just a catalyst or whatever. It’s a bunch of people trying to figure out how to survive after a major event, whether it be a hurricane, earthquake, tornado, or whatever. You know, so yeah, I think that’s a good example. How can your company be an asset for emergency managers? And this is what this podcast obviously is focused on. How can you be an asset for emergency managers… you know, around the globe?
[JENIFER STEWART] I think that one of the things that City Girl Prepper brings to Emergency Managers that they haven’t seen before is it’s personal. The gear I have and the products that I represent are personal products.So I did a large conference, as an example, and the conference — most all the other vendors there were selling bulk products to the emergency managers. I was the only one there selling products for the volunteers — for the people who really are in the trenches, not just like, the administrators per se. I think that’s the biggest asset a City Girl Prepper brings is that — my gloves fit; they’re tools that people can use; there are window breaks that are lightweight, compact, hands-free; it’s not going to load you down in your pack that you’ve built if you’re on a call out.So I think that that really is reminding the emergency manager that your volunteers are not all standard issue. There’s nothing standard issue about a volunteer, and it’s reminding them that — that they’re people. And they love the gadgets and they need the tools that fit them, not just something that’s going to maybe not let them bend their fingers or a vest that’s so big that it gets caught on something. So that’s I think my biggest asset.
[TODD DEVOE] That’s so true. I’ll tell you — again from a personal point of view — is when you’re ordering stuff for these classes and I’ve been there, you kind of order — OK… You don’t want to order too many smalls because you get a lot of big people; you don’t want to order too many big things because you get a lot of medium people, small people… — You go — OK we’re going to go with large everything and so it’s you know if it fits you, it fits you…
JENIFER STEWART] Right and just hope that it…
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[JENIFER STEWART] Take it to a tailor. That’s the thing. I know that I’ve been able to be invited to certain trainings where I can set up a table and people can add on to their kits and say — OK, maybe these one size fit none gloves were what had to be in there; they were budget conscious; they served the purpose.But now let’s fill it with something that makes sense — a resource and a tool. Because that’s what emergency management’s all about, right? Is your resources and allocating those the right way; we all learn that in our incident command — like how are we going to allocate these limited resource that we have? As a volunteer your resources are key to your survival and success in your role and that’s really where I think a lot of the gear that I have comes in handy — some of the lights I have are compact and lightweight and they’re solar, so you’re not worrying about batteries or something clunky or heavy — it’s just those types of considerations.
[TODD DEVOE] What do you think is the biggest obstacle for families to be prepared.
[JENIFER STEWART] Wow. I think there are two obstacles. One, I think people don’t want to spend their money on it. I think it’s costs the family about $600 to get prepared for let’s say 3 to 7 days, in my experience. That’s not fancy stuff, that’s just your basics. People look at that… I think families look at that and they don’t always have the budget for it. But yet, it’s not that they don’t have the budget, they don’t want to allocate the budget. Because they don’t have a problem buying season passes to amusement parks . . . we have them all over the place. A vacation or even a Costco run, right, like really? A Costco run, no-one gets out of Costco for less than a couple hundred bucks. I feel like people don’t… So I think that’s the number one obstacle, is it’s the perception. People don’t want to spend their money on something they think they’re not going to have to use. The second thing is I think people just don’t know what they need. They don’t know how much water, how much food. Do they need that super duper cranking solar radio or should they go with batteries? All those things. So education and not wanting to spend it on something they don’t think they’re going to use.
[TODD DEVOE] I was reading a study one time and they were talking about choice. They were saying — OK, you walk into an ice cream shop for instance — I don’t remember what the study was particularly, but I’ll use ice cream for an example. So you walk into an ice cream shop and you can buy a scoop of vanilla and there are no choices, and you’re going — OK well I’m going to buy vanilla, that’s what I’ll have to buy. And then you got vanilla or chocolate, and you can go — OK, I can choose one or two. Then you’ve vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and you’re like — OK now I can choose between those three.And you go into 31 flavors or more and it becomes sometimes over daunting or overwhelming, that you go — I don’t know what to choose and sometimes people just walk out, they just don’t choose, because it’s an easier choice to make.
[JENIFER STEWART] Yes it’s actually a study called “The Paradox of Choice.”
[[TODD DEVOE] There we go.
[JENIFER STEWART] and when you give someone more than three choices then tend to not make a choice. If you give them less than three, they often think they don’t have a choice but if you give them more than three, then they don’t. They did studies with samples with I think it was jams or jellies or different things. In the book, I think that’s what they did. They did a study where there were like three jams to choose from. When they did only two, people were like — “that’s it you only have two?” And when they did three they saw their sales increase, but when they put out more than three choices people couldn’t make up their mind.
[[TODD DEVOE] Right that’s what it was, you’re right. Thank you for that, yes. Is that what we fall into with this preparedness stuff? I mean that we give… There are too many choices out there?
[JENIFER STEWART] Yes, I think there are a lot of choices for people and none of them are really appealing and it just doesn’t look like anything we live with. I think that’s it too, it’s not… Backpacks don’t look like backpacks that we would normally buy, they’re red or they’re military or they’ve got Velcro straps all over them and unless you’re in the military or have a military background, that doesn’t make sense to you. And even the red backpack, like I don’t think it’s what we, again, how we surround ourselves. If you go into like a home decorating store or even like a department store or big box down the street, and you go shopping there, nothing looks like that; nothing looks like preparedness gear. I think when people go shopping for preparedness gear it doesn’t fit. There’s also the… Marketing may talk about the perception being everything, and if you have to completely introduce a brand new thing to consumers, they have a hard time filing it in their brain. But if you can introduce something that looks like something else, then you have a higher chance of being successful because they’re like — oh I get it, that’s like that. And I think preparedness gear — nothing looks like it that we live with. Even.. You and I were talking about earlier about the No.10 cans of food… No-one eats from cans like that, at least not in urban or metropolitan areas. They’re bulky to store; it’s not how we shop; it’s not how we eat. So I think when it comes to preparedness it’s the same way. It’s just not something that looks like anything else we do in our society and so you have to…
[TODD DEVOE] Yes. Unless you work in an industrial kitchen, you probably haven’t come across — Hey, my Dad owned delis when I grew up and those big cans of tuna fish or whatever and he had to have this big industrial can opener that was bolted to the side of the counter. Pick this big thing up, slam it in there, crank it…Yeah, you’re right, you’re right, you just don’t think of grabbing your hand held can opener and opening a No.10 can up. That’s funny that you say that.
[JENIFER STEWART] Yes. I just think it just doesn’t fit and file into our brain. It’s something I’ve done differently too, with my packs — all of my packs are black. I’ve tried to make them just look a little sleeker. Because again — I don’t think anyone should own a red backpack to tell you the truth. I just think there’s a whole lot of reasons. But, 1) if you want to be noticed there are ways to be noticed. Why would you put a big target on your back and say — “Hey I have supplies and gear, like come find me. It doesn’t make sense that’s that the preparedness world, I don’t understand how these major preparedness companies are… To me, it means they don’t really know about survival and preparedness, because when do you ever put something that’s orange or red on you — unless you’re like really hunting and don’t want to get shot. Other than that lay out your Mylar blanket if you need to signal, don’t put on a red backpack.I just feel like there’s — again — the whole industry has it so wrong, and I feel like I’m going — hey, everyone else is doing it wrong.I just think that… And like — why? — too, like who buys red backpacks? It’s ugly, and that’s not the culture we’re in; we want everything to look nice.
[TODD DEVOE] You know, my wife’s always telling me — it’s a fashion or a function. I’m like…
[JENIFER STEWART] You see, I like to find a happy medium of fashion and function; that’s what makes me happiest. A lot of the gear that I bring to market is — it’s decent looking stuff. But it definitely — I like to say — it’s legit; it is the food and the water that you need or the gadget that’s going to help you out of a bind. But it maybe comes in the color that you like. So I do believe there has to be a marriage of the form and the fashion and the function all together, which is what propels me in the business. Like again, the black backpack that looks sleek, the lightweight, the different color choices of things, just so you don’t feel like you’re stuck with something that’s standard issue.
[Todd] OK So if someone wanted you to come talk to their team, how can they get a hold of you?
[JENIFER STEWART] I have a website and it’s Citygirlprepper.com and that is because I’m a city girl born and raised in Long Beach area, 25 mile radius, and is “Prepper” because we’ve got to be prepared. Citygirlprepper.com and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I do presentations. I love to come out and educate and do presentations and the 72 hour backpack is really my forte, but I speak at schools and women’s clubs and boy scout and girl scout troops, so it’s a lot of fun for me to get that education out there.
[TODD DEVOE] OK. So I’m going to ask you the hardest question of the night, alright. So this one it’s going to be kind of a trick question, I didn’t prep you at all for this. So what is the number one book that you would give out to somebody?
[JENIFER STEWART] OK. So I just got a book that’s actually put out by FEMA, it’s a booklet. So there’s a whole lot of books about preparedness and different survival techniques and everything. But I just found the one that FEMA put out. It’s a booklet, it’s kind of an odd size and it’s all preparing for disaster, like what to do before, what to do during and what to do after and it’s all icons and super simple and I actually use it in one of the classes I teach. I think it’s just very simple and easy to take action from it.
[TODD DEVOE] There’s some good information there. Jennifer I want to thank you so much for your time today. Is there anything else that you’d like to tell anybody before we go?
[JENIFER STEWART] Thank you so much for having me. This was fun and I’m excited to just be able to reach out to more emergency managers and volunteers and help them have fun in their role as a volunteer in being prepared and helping others be prepared. So thank you so much.
[TODD DEVOE] Oh anytime, anytime. So again everybody, thank you so much for listening to us today. If you need any more information that we’re talking about, there will be stuff in the show notes and again feel free to reach out to Jennifer at email@example.com and her website is www.citygirlprepper.com.