When Macon residents Erin Bickley and Jenny Greer launched their Hold Your Haunches line of women’s pants in 2010, it was difficult enough.
Neither Greer, 42, nor Bickley, 46, had any sort of previous business experience in making clothes.
Then, in a stroke of good fortune, they got a chance to appear on ABC’s hit reality show “Shark Tank.” Even that prospect, though, provided plenty of challenges.
“Just having the opportunity (to be on the show) is amazing,” Bickley said.
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And, Greer added with a chuckle, “Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.”
The two are scheduled to appear on a special broadcast of “Shark Tank” at 8 p.m. Thursday on ABC. The show features a panel of potential investors, called “sharks,” that considers offers from aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for investments for their product or business.
The two women, both mothers of three children, started their business in 2010 for one simple reason: They couldn’t find a pair of pants that could hide all the “lumps and bumps” on a woman’s body.
“There wasn’t just one pair of pants that had it all,” Greer said.
Added Bickley: “It seems so obvious (a product). But we couldn’t find it anywhere and we wanted it. We looked all over the place. Had we found it (on the Internet), I would have just pressed the ‘buy it’ button and that would’ve been it.”
So the women decided to take the plunge and make the “shapewear” product themselves. They put out teasers on social media and sold their first pair of compression pants in November 2010, after months of figuring out designs, fabrics, production and more.
Barbara Joyner, a seamstress with Virginia Hall Inc. on Hillcrest Industrial Boulevard in Macon, helped the women come up with a design that worked. Bickley said the company serves as their warehousing and shipping facility, and it manufactures their capri pants. Their other styles of pants are made in China.
With their business growing steadily, Greer and Bickley decided it was time to try to get on “Shark Tank.”
Not only could it mean a huge financial boost if one of the show’s “sharks” bought into Hold Your Haunches, it could also mean having that shark’s expertise and business contacts at their disposal.
Even just by appearing on the show, previous entrepreneurs who didn’t land a deal with a shark later benefitted through free publicity by showing off their products in what often turns out to be a free 10-minute infomercial.
Bickley said about 35,000 people audition for “Shark Tank,” while only about 145 segments are filmed, Greer added. Even if a segment is filmed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will air.
But the women were able to bypass the audition process thanks to a friend of a friend who had appeared previously on “Shark Tank.” That person was able to put them in touch with a “Shark Tank” producer, who liked Greer and Bickley enough that he moved them along in the process to appear on the show.
That process included extensive background checks and interviews, as well as filming a five-minute audition video. The women said producers would often caution them not to get their hopes up.
“They keep you prepared for the worst, but they also maintain your hope for the best,” Greer said. “They said things like, ‘It’s probably not going to happen, but if it does ...’ ”
Five minutes -- or you’re cut
The two women put their lives and plans on hold for months. After nearly getting the call last June and July, they finally were flown to Los Angeles in September, where they stayed for six days. Because of a production issue, some of the people who were supposed to film the day before ended up filming the same Wednesday that Bickley and Greer were scheduled -- which turned out to be the last production day of the season.
With no guarantee that they would be asked back next season if their segment wasn’t filmed that day, the women were in the middle of getting their hair and makeup done by production workers when they were told they had 5 minutes to get on the set -- or they would be cut.
Had they not been selected, it would have meant months of preparation down the drain. Greer and Bickley said they had watched every episode of “Shark Tank,” plus read books, magazine articles and everything they could find on the Web to give them an edge when facing the rigorous cross-examinations that entrepreneurs undergo in the tank.
They even met with investment bankers and set up their own rehearsal “Shark Tank” to prepare for their experience.
“Shark Tank” has six principal sharks: tech gurus Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavic and Mark Cuban; FUBU clothing founder Daymond John; real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran; and inventor/entrepreneur Lori Greiner, also known as the “Queen of QVC.”
Shortly before they entered the tank, Greer and Bickley learned that John wouldn’t be appearing in their episode. Because of his success in the garment world, John often is targeted by entrepreneurs with a clothing product.
Bickley noted that she and Greer had passed by John earlier that day -- and were forbidden to speak to him or even make eye contact. But that didn’t stop John from saying, “Nice shirts, ladies!” to them in passing. Bickley said they thanked him.
“We’re Southerners -- we’re not going to be rude!” she said.
Because of confidentiality agreements that prevent them from talking about what went on in the tank, Greer and Bickley couldn’t say whether they secured a deal or much else about what went on during the segment. They did say, however, that the two female sharks were able to grasp their product better than their male counterparts.
They also took some of the sharks’ barbs in stride.
“No one can embarrass us more than we embarrass ourselves,” Greer said with a laugh, noting that she was the before-and-after model in pictures they showed to the sharks.
Whether they got a deal or not, Bickley and Greer said they are anticipating a good deal of publicity for Hold Your Haunches, and they have been spending the past few weeks beefing up their website, www.holdyourhaunches.com, to prepare for an upswing in traffic.
They also are planning to expand the products they will offer, adding a different color to the pants and making a top that has the same effect on a woman’s form as the pants do. They also would like to add a line of pants for men. Those plans were rolling before they went on “Shark Tank.”
Regardless of the outcome, Bickley and Greer said they think appearing on the show will benefit not just themselves, but Macon as well. ABC shot a few segments in Macon in November.
“We’ve talked with the (Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce), and we hope they take it up,” Bickley said. “We want community involvement. It’s a big deal.”
Contact writer Phillip Ramati at 478-744-4334.