Wrapped up in their work, Tessa Smolinski, 16, left, and her sister Laura, 14, team up in pre-wrap.com, an Internet business Tessa started when she was 12. The company sells colorful athletic wrap that many girls use to tie back their hair. Tessa has customers as far away as New Zealand. (RICK HARTFORD / HARTFORD COURANT)
The 12-year-old girl walked up to the bank manager and said she needed a business checking account because she was starting her own business.
The bank manager stared in stunned silence at Tessa Smolinski.
“But then she explained the business and told him what she was doing,” Tessa’s mother, Teresa, said. “She wasn’t even old enough to sign her own checks.”
But she had a business plan. And four years later, Tessa’s business is doing well.
The junior at RHAM-Hebron is a standout volleyball player who has been running her own business throughout her teenage years. Smolinski — with the help of her sister Laura, 14, and her parents — operates pre-wrap.com, which sells athletic wrap that is used by female athletes as a hair wrap.
When Tessa, 16, began her business, she says she was hoping to make about $20 a week. Instead, she has saved enough to offset some of her college tuition — her mother says she has enough for about a year at, say, UConn — and the business is growing.
The business has shipped to customers all over the world. The biggest order was for 10,000 rolls in one shipment to a retail chain.
“It’s a lot about the way we market it,” Tessa said.
The wrap is a soft, thin material designed for athletic trainers as a buffer between skin and sticky athletic tape. Somewhere along the line, preteen and teenage female athletes began using it as a hair wrap.
Tessa came home from soccer practice wearing a headband four years ago, and she asked her mother to find rolls.
Teresa searched stores and malls and finally found rolls on eBay, purchasing more than her daughter needed.
The Smolinskis are entrepreneurs — father Dick runs his own photography studio in Glastonbury and Teresa is a freelancer who provides technical art for text books — so they suggested Tessa sell some of the extra rolls at her next soccer practice. Tessa sold them all and came home with $75 of orders.
The business was born.
“I was definitely surprised,” Tessa said. “It just took off.”
Laura was immediately involved in monitoring color demands. Teresa and Dick explained to Tessa the basics of running a business — where to buy inventory, how much to charge for the product, how much to put back into the business and how much could be saved.
“I just thought, if I had this much trouble finding it and the girls at soccer practice wanted it this bad, there was something there,” Teresa said. “And we thought it was something she could make a little spending money on. I was thinking to the tune of allowance money, and she could learn how to run a business.”
They immediately learned that the business would be bigger than they anticipated. Within 30 minutes of their website going live, there was an order for 48 rolls of red pre-wrap. That wiped out the inventory of red, so there was a lesson.
Soon they were scouring vendors for various colors — they now stock 12 colors. Profits rose and were reinvested into the business as the website went global.
There are orders for overnight deliveries to teams across the country. Last week, orders were shipped to New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Tessa’s volleyball season has started. She was All-Northwest Conference as RHAM won the CIAC Class M championship last year and hopes to play in college.
“With homework and sports, I do need help,” Tessa said. “So right now, I’ve hired my grandparents, my parents … our staff.”
The business earned Tessa a Future Leader Award from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. She plans to continue the business in college — she’s undecided on a college choice — while Laura runs the operation from home.
And Laura, who was in fourth grade when the business was born, has virtually grown up around rolls of pre-wrap. She recently ran a fundraiser through the pre-wrap website as a social studies community service project and sent care packages to soldiers in Iraq.
So beyond the profits from the business, the sisters have learned lessons through their entrepreneurial endeavor.
“I joke that I’m home schooling them in business,” Teresa said. “It was really important to me and to my husband that we teach the girls that you can do what you love to do.”
Tessa would seem a strong candidate for business school, but she’s considering a career as a speech therapist. But her business background will undoubtedly influence how she pursues that career.
“It would be nice having my own business in speech therapy,” Tessa said.