“I love [Allies for Community Business] because they give you the opportunity to really have a narrative attached to your financials.”Raquel Graham Crayton
Raquel Graham Crayton is a savvy innovator and entrepreneur. Before starting her own company, Raquel had a very successful career working for seven years as the National Marketing Director at Johnson Publishing Company. In this role, she built strategic partnerships that generated significant advertising revenue. Despite her success, she realized that the industry was rapidly shifting and decided to change paths. Her goal was to receive an MBA and pursue a high-powered job in the corporate world.
Raquel was accepted to Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and one month into her studies, she was pregnant with her second child. “In 18 months, I had a new degree, a baby, and a new house,” Raquel said. With two young kids at home, she shifted her career goals again to find a job with more flexibility, leading her to found ROQ Marketing Group, which offers marketing services to major corporations.
A couple years later when the polar vortex swept Chicago, Raquel struggled to get her children to agree to wear their winter gear. “They just hated scarfs,” Raquel recalled. “It was such an issue to get out of the house; we had a stand-off every morning.” She went online to search for scarf options but struggled to find anything that could work. Everything was too bulky, itchy and uncomfortable. Driven by the need to solve a problem and innovate in an industry without much change, Raquel was determined to create her own product. She went to the fabric store, came up with a prototype, and eventually created a simple, less bulky scarf alternative. “My kids loved them so much that they forgot they were wearing them,” Raquel said. She also made one for herself in a leopard print. Raquel never intended to start her own company but before she knew it, her NEKZ product started to take off.
Raquel launched ROQ Innovation, a product innovation company, to build off of the momentum around her NEKZ scarf. In 2016, the product aired on Home Shopping Network (HSN) and sold out in less than 30 minutes of airtime. “At HSN, the name of the game is to move products,” Raquel said. “It is very tough to get in and you survive by how well you do.” Luckily, Raquel has done very well and continues to sell her product on air nearly four years later. This success doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. Raquel travels from Chicago to Tampa three times a month during her selling season and films multiple shows a day while she is there.
Her marketing experience and sharp business acumen has served her well. Three years after starting ROQ Innovation, she was in a position to grow her business and debut her second innovation, HEADLIGHTZ. An avid lakefront runner, Raquel saw a need for a hat that can keep you warm in the winter and also light your path and serve as a safety function. HEADLIGHTZ is a winter hat with a rechargeable LED light that lasts up to eight hours.
While ROQ Innovation has seen an incredible amount of success, Raquel has also faced some challenges. “The biggest challenge that I’ve had is the same story as most entrepreneurs,” Raquel said. “As I’ve grown, I’ve turned down a lot of business because I was not able to afford the financing.” With the support of three loans from Allies for Community Business, Raquel has been able to grow her business and overcome some of these financing challenges. “I love [Allies for Community Business] because they give you the opportunity to really have a narrative attached to your financials,” Raquel said.
ROQ Innovation has grown into a team of four full-time employees and up to fourteen part-time, seasonal employees. In addition, Raquel’s products have been featured on Good Morning America, The View, and Oprah Magazine – The O List. What is next for ROQ Innovation? A true entrepreneur, Raquel is always thinking through new concepts and innovations. “I have a book full of ideas,” Raquel exclaimed.