Women In Wellness: Joi Sumpton of ‘Step n Wash’ on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joi Sumpton.
Inventor Joi Sumpton created Step ‘n Wash — the first and only self-retracting step that enables children and short-statured people to safely reach the sink and soap dispensers to wash hands properly in public restrooms — as she, like most parents, struggled to get her two young children to wash their hands properly outside of their home. Today, Step ‘n Wash can be found in thousands of businesses all over the United States and Canada — in places like Disney, Costco and The Home Depot — and it has been particularly useful as businesses seek new ways to help customers stay healthy in the age of COVID.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I invented Step ‘n Wash — the first and only floor mounted step for children to stand on so they can reach the sink and wash their hands in public restrooms. I have always wanted to invent something. When I was in high school, I can remember dreaming of creating a product that everyone would use. It took a few more years than I thought it would, but I eventually did it.
When I started working on a prototype for Step ‘n Wash, I was working full-time as a flight attendant and I was the mother of a 2- and a 3- year-old. Starting a business requires a lot of money, which I didn’t have, so I took on a lot of debt to follow my dreams. A few short months after I started the business, my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I can remember many nights laying in the fetal position, crying and feeling totally overwhelmed.
When I look back, I’m amazed that I was able to stay focused and march on, despite what we were going through. I remember feeling that I was “past the point of no return” and if I gave up on Step ‘n Wash, I would be in debt for years. I just pushed forward. My husband had surgery to remove the tumor and spent the next two years on chemotherapy. It was the ultimate balancing act — working for the airline, caring for my young children, ill husband and starting a business — but I had no choice but to push through.
Years earlier, I had opened a bakery that was not successful and lost a lot of money. Thankfully, I never quit my job as a flight attendant! I will always remember looking at my bank account and I was down to $100 at eight months pregnant. I was working two jobs and my business was failing. Closing the bakery was a devastating turn. It took time to get over this failure, but I knew that someday, I would start another company. I soon realized that failing at something was a survivable event, so I wasn’t afraid to fail again.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
The most interesting story with Step ‘n Wash was when I got a call from a mom whose daughter is a Little Person. Her daughter was out with her friends at a shopping mall and they went to the restroom. They found Step ‘n Wash in the restroom and her daughter was so excited that she was finally able to wash her hands by herself without needing her friends to lift her up. The story brought tears to my eyes because I had invented Step ‘n Wash to help young children — it never occurred to me that it would also give Little People independence to use the restroom. Today, schools all over the country have installed Step ‘n Wash to specifically to address the needs of students who are Little People. Often the district will start by installing Step ‘n Wash at the elementary school, then the middle school and then the high school so the needs of the student are met throughout their time in public school.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I’ve made with Step ‘n Wash was when the first prototype was completed, I was so excited about how great it looked that I ordered 200 units so I could get out there and start selling. When the 200 were finished, I realized that there was a pinch-point on the unit where a child’s finger could easily be injured. I knew that if I was going to be successful that Step ‘n Wash would have to be 100% safe so I met with the engineers to see what we could to fix the problem. Unfortunately, to fix the problem meant having to change the design and those first 200 units went into the scrap bin…I was devastated. My enthusiasm to get started quickly cost me $18,000 — all borrowed. Now, whenever we make even a small design change, we always make one prototype and take time to review and conduct a lot of tests.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I owe a lot of my success to my husband. I have a lot of energy and want things to happen quickly. His practicality tempers my energy and is enormously helpful. He once woke me as he walked out of the bedroom in the middle of the night. When I asked where he was going, he said he’d thought of a new design idea and was going down to create a sketch. I’m always thinking of big ideas and don’t like dealing with production issues, which he always takes care of. Over the years, his ideas have helped to significantly reduce manufacturing costs and improve production time so we always have inventory.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
As a result of my hard work and determination to get businesses to add Step ‘n Wash, millions of children around the world have learned the importance of washing their hands. When children learn this habit at an early age, studies show that they’ll continue this into adulthood. Step ‘n Wash is now installed in thousands of businesses including airports, shopping centers, zoos, aquariums, restaurants, theme parks, hospitals, churches, grocery stores and schools.
Even though most parents understand the importance of washing their children’s hands, lifting a 35-pound child is too difficult so often they’ll just use hand sanitizer. While not quite as effective at killing germs as soap and water, the other problem is many hand sanitizers are alcohol-based, which can dry out and crack the skin on children’s hands. The CDC has said for years that the best way to stop the spread of germs and viruses is to wash hands for 30 seconds with soap and water (and recommend using hand sanitizer if washing with soap and water isn’t an option).
In the past ten years, Step ‘n Wash has been used over 1 billion times, including over 5 million times just at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. That’s a lot of germs that haven’t had a chance to spread and a lot of school sick days avoided.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
I strongly believe in the Laws of Attraction. I listen to podcasts about manifesting success at the start of every day. I believe in the power of mindset. I did not finish college and was constantly told that only people who go to college will be successful. I worked hard, saved money and wanted to start my own successful business. I knew I could do it. It took seven years before I was profitable, but it happened.
I used to work every day and felt that if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t trying hard enough. I soon realized that you can’t be fully productive if you’re exhausted. I now mark two days off every month on a calendar where I don’t do work of any kind on those two days. I call them ‘Joi days’ and I only do things that are for me.
I exercise every day for at least 30 minutes while listening to podcasts on positive thinking and the Law of Attraction.
I’m lucky to work from home, and take small breaks during the work day to work in the garden and gather my thoughts. The beauty of planting flowers and listening to the birds helps me to relax and enjoy being in nature.
I’ve learned that if I’m starting to feel afraid or anxious, I should immediately write down all the things that I’m grateful for. I’ve read that when you do this your body can’t be anxious while your brain is focusing on things that you’re grateful for. I also find it helpful to list 5 things that I’m grateful for in the morning and another 5 at night before bed.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could start a movement, I would like teachers to talk to children at a young age about the power of their mind. It may be a bit cliché, but I believe that people can accomplish anything that they set their mind to. I know that most teenagers are not very happy and would benefit from learning that they do have control over their life and ultimately their happiness. One of the most popular classes at Yale University is The Science of Well Being. I took the class this summer and it really helps to makes you think and have a better understanding of people.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
In sales, keep pushing forward and don’t take “no” personally.
That idea creation is the easy part — executing, selling and creating demand for the product is 100 times more difficult. Just because you’re passionate about your product, that doesn’t mean that everyone else will be. Over the years and even still to this day, I talk with businesses who tell me that adding Step ‘n Wash ‘just isn’t for them.’
Work smarter not harder — you can work 20 hours per week and be very successful and can work 60 hours a week and struggle.
When doing a sales call, make sure that you’re talking to the decision maker.
I was once on a sales call at a museum and the person I met with turned out to be a janitor. He stopped me mid-presentation to say he didn’t like our product because he thought it would make mopping the floors more difficult by having to clean around it. I went back to the receptionist and asked to meet with someone in charge. She found me someone and after I did a quick demonstration, he bought 12 Step ‘n Wash units for all the restrooms at the museum.
This is something I continually work on: Ask more questions. You can always learn a lot from other people about what worked in their business and what didn’t. I was able to save money by just asking our accountant what other small businesses he works with are doing to save money. Sometimes people just go through the motions of their job and you need to ask question to make them think.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is the most important to me. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without knowing what is going on in the news. There’s so much negativity in the world and I can’t change a lot of it — so I focus on what I CAN control in my life.