WBA Magazine

Jet-set away

When Tracey McGhee’s travel accessories business faced an uphill battle, she pivoted, persevered and got her products into Walgreens stores.

By Tom Wall

Tracey McGhee

If there were such thing as a travel bug, Tracey McGhee was definitely bit by it.

Having been to 27 countries and counting, McGhee’s fearless passion for travel is matched only by her entrepreneurial spirit. That’s why it made all the sense in the world for her to combine the two into an eponymous line of stylish, affordable travel accessories for women, called Ms. Jetsetter.

“Although there was a decent enough selection of travel accessories for women, I always felt there was sort of a gap,” McGhee explains. “I’d find a piece that was made with high-quality material, but just wasn’t as stylish as I would have liked. Or I’d find something really nice-looking that wouldn’t hold up over time. I wanted to make something that was both.”

McGhee began with a few stylish products that solved simple problems for female travelers like her: a jewelry case that kept necklaces from tangling, a makeup case with travel-sized brushes and a toiletry bag with a smaller, detachable pouch.

The ideas were moving as quickly as a late passenger trying to catch a flight, but with products developed and in the market – and encouraging traction – McGhee knew she needed some direction and guidance to take her business to the next level, so she leaned on her business coach for advice.

McGhee, who is a client of the Chicago-based Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), asked her WBDC coach what she should do. That’s when she was referred to the Top Shelf Program.

Sponsored by Walgreens, WBDC Top Shelf is an intensive eight-week course designed to help fledgling entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds with the essential tips and skills needed to scale up production and distribution of consumer products and get them ready to sell into large retailers.

Having undergone the training with Top Shelf as the final piece to the puzzle, she was at last well on her way to achieving her dream of seeing her products in a retail store.

But COVID-19 had other plans.

A quick pivot

McGhee launched Ms. Jetsetter in the fall of 2019 – just months before vacations and work trips all over the world would be cancelled, and the other jetsetters of the world would find themselves grounded for at least the next year.

Becoming an entrepreneur was always something McGhee had an interest in, but this was the first time she had taken the plunge and decided to go all-in on her own business.

“I grew up in a household where my father was an entrepreneur, so I saw everything that went with that” McGhee explains. “I saw firsthand how hard it could be, but I also saw how rewarding it could be and so I was just always waiting for the right moment to do it myself. It’s always been a part of me.”

Owning her own business was important to McGhee, and she knew that despite the long odds that most entrepreneurs faced, she’d be facing even longer odds as a woman of color. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, women comprised 58.3 percent of the civilian workforce from 2015 to 2019. But over that same period, only 39 percent of private companies were majority-owned by women, according to data from the National Association of Women Business Owners – and of that 39 percent, less than half were owned by women of color.

But McGhee wasn’t about to let long odds, long nights and an exceedingly long global pandemic prevent her from making the leap she knew she was ready for – she just had to pivot.

“By the spring of 2020, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to survive with a travel accessory line,” McGhee remembers. “But I was lucky to have my Top Shelf training, and my coach at WBDC who encouraged me to think creatively. Everyone was pivoting, so I did, too.”

McGhee’s pivot came in the form of a wristlet set, similar to one of her original travel bag ideas, but with an added (and timely) twist: a fashionable face mask and chain.

 

Mask and wristlet set
McGhee's pivot: a mask and wristlet set.

 

Today, the Ms. Jetsetter Healthy Travel Mask and Wristlet Set can be found on shelves at select Walgreens stores, and McGhee is able to see the realization of her dream – and product of her quick pivot – each time she walks into her local Walgreens store.

“The first time I saw one on the shelves, I couldn’t believe it,” McGhee remembers. “It was actually one of my products in a retail store. I can’t remember a better feeling than watching, with my own eyes, as a customer picked my product off the shelf to buy it.”

 

Mask and wristlet set
McGhee's mask and wristlet set, on the shelves at a Walgreens store.

 

Now, as COVID-19 case numbers wane and the travel business picks back up, Ms. Jetsetter herself is ready for yet another pivot – she’s looking to replace the mask included in the current wristlet set.

“The mask and wristlet set was a great product, but I’m thinking it’s time to replace the mask with another item many women everywhere might need as they get out and about more,” says McGhee. “A credit card holder … that could also hold your vaccine card.”