KMS Designs Inc. - 2019 MFG Innovation Excellence

The story of KMS Designs began five years ago with a mother at her wit’s end.

“I was a parent with a problem, I didn’t go into this thinking about a business,” said Karen Smoots, president of KMS Designs and developer of the Green Glove Dryer. “I just had a mom moment — you have a problem and you need a solution.”

Parents understand. It’s winter in Michigan and your kids come in covered from head to toe in snow and ice. Boots and gloves come off, discarded in a heap on the floor, dank and wet. It’s disgusting and all sorts of “ew” — and the cycle starts over when the kids go back out.

The Smoots, Karen with her business background and her engineering husband, were the perfect couple to stumble into this problem.

“I’m trying to explain to him what I want, just gesturing with my hands and he’s nodding along, his mind already at work,” Smoots recalled.

Supplies shopping and eight hours later and The Green Glove Dryer® was born.

The Green Glove Dryer® and its version 2.0 cousin, The Eco Dryer®, sit over an existing vent on the floor or wall and dry your gloves and boots from the inside out with forced air/heat. From an energy usage perspective, the product is perfect, using zero additional energy and allowing otherwise wasted heat to serve a greater purpose.

“Simplicity can be a breath of fresh air in a world cluttered with complexity — we create simple solutions to everyday problems,” Smoots said. “Solutions don’t have to be overly complicated. Sometimes they are, but sometimes less can be more.”

The Green Glove Dryer® is a gamechanger for families with active kids and for teachers struggling to stay ahead of germs, bugs and viruses. It improves health and wellness with an antimicrobial shown to inhibit bacterial and fungi growth by over 99 percent. And it’s a symbol of what Michigan manufacturers can do.

“Michigan is the best place in the world for an innovator. You have all these amazing, brilliant minds — the creativity here floors me,” Smoots exclaimed. “There are resources like 100K Ideas in Flint that can help you develop an idea, test it and make it a reality. People here want to see innovators succeed. I think that’s part of Michigan’s DNA — they root for you to be amazing.”

Innovation doesn’t come easy. There are stumbles, pitfalls and failures. A malfunctioning part almost ended the business just a year or two in. Undaunted, Smoots reevaluated it, came up with a redesign, located new materials and shipped the improved product to her loyal customers at no charge.

But innovation can also be wonderful, leading you down an unexpected path and allowing your business to grow, like the partnership with Consumers Energy in schools. Products by KMS Designs can be found across the country and the response has been overwhelming.

“The moment that tugs at my heartstrings the most is when I hear from that one mom or that one teacher who was helped by our product,” Smoots said. “If we can ease their stress; that is everything to me. I’d take that over a 5,000-piece order any day.”

Smoots and her team put everything they have into creating a brand to be proud of and she offers key advice for future innovators. Allow your mind to spin and wander and imagine. Don’t fear failure — embrace it as a way to become stronger. Stick to your guts and go with your instincts. You know more than you think you do. Trust yourself. And, most of all, keep innovating.

“Receiving the MFG Innovation Excellence Award; I have to kind of pinch myself because it’s a big deal,” Smoots acknowledged. “It validates the sleepless nights and the 10-hour days. It represents the time spent away from my kids in order to show them that you can do great things — we all have that potential in us. KMS Designs is a small company, but there’s blood and sweat and tears at every point along the road that got us to today. Most of all, there’s a family behind this that has sacrificed a lot and is just honest, humble, hardworking and driven by a dream.”

The MFG Innovation Excellence Award showcases a company that not only has brought an innovative concept to market, but has developed and maintained a culture focused on engaging the workforce to bring new ideas to life. The award is presented at the annual MFG Excellence Awards in November.