Prospering Company: Vroomers

There is something you need to know straight off about Rhonda Gelstein: She’s not down with cold feet.

She likes her tootsies warm and toasty, the kind that only a pair of really comfortable slippers can provide.

So she wears slippers, and she loves her slippers. A lot. In college, it was something that sort of became her trademark. She always had a different pair of slippers and she would wear them whenever she got a chance.

“I’m a slipper geek,” says the White Lake resident. “I’ve always liked goofy, fun slippers.”

And one sign of a pretty good entrepreneur is someone who can parlay his or her love, or loves, into a business.

In Gelstein’s case, the other love beside slippers is classic cars and vintage trailers. That’s why, several years ago, when Gelstein was chair of an classic auto show and commissioned plush car toys to be sold as a fund-raiser, she had her eureka moment.

Holding up the small plush toys, she thought to herself, “If these were a little bit bigger, it could be a slipper.”

Just like that, two passions slammed together and became a business idea.

The result of that idea is Vroomers, an Internet-based business that sells comfy slippers shaped like classic cars, trailers and even robots. Gelstein started the business last year and has steadily been introducing more styles and gaining a larger customer base.

The slippers are goofy, whimsical, devoid of subtlety and completely unexpected — exactly what Gelstein hoped they would be. There is the silver travel trailer style, the hot rod style, the Nash Metropolitan style. All have bright cartoonish colors and lots of cushy padding to hug tired (and cold) feet.

Like any retailer, business is up and down — a strong and busy December gave way in a slow January — but Gelstein is confident things will keep growing.

Part of the reason for her optimism is because she enrolled in FastTrac New Venture, a program offered by Oakland County Economic Development department. The program helps entrepreneurs in the early stages of business development, helping them to create business plans, network with the right people and learn the feasibility of a business model.

Gelstein is grateful for the program, especially since she claims a business plan was virtually non-existent when she started Vroomers. “I jumped in feet first,” she says. Pun intended? “I had the product. What I didn’t have is what you’re supposed to do first, which is all the paperwork. I didn’t have the structure.”

The FastTrac program helped her with the structure. “It kind of helped me take myself seriously,” she says.

Vroomers is a family affair, with husband Mark handling a lot of the shipping and packaging, while sons Logan and Tyler serve as inspirations for designs. Gelstein comes up with the designs for the slippers, sketches it, and sends the sketch to her manufacturer via Internet. The design is hashed out through a series of e-mails, and a final product is eventually crafted from those ideas.

The company will for the first time be sponsors in the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, an event the Gelsteins have long attended and one in which Gelstein is thrilled to participate.

Meanwhile, new designs coming soon include a two-tone trailer style, a bubble car and a robot style that will help raise money for Huron Valley High School’s robotics team (son Logan is a member), a program that helps students interested in math and technology.

Though barely a year old, Vroomers is serious about being a good corporate citizen. Gelstein says she wants her business to give back so that her two sons will learn the value of community service. “Life isn’t just about making money,” she says.

Vroomers has already donated to the Special Olympics (son Tyler is an Olympian) and Relay for Life, among other organizations.

Gelstein shrugs off the notion that this economic climate is a bad time to start a company, insisting that the massive transformation of our financial system is a great time for entrepreneurs to forge their own niches and help shape the new economy.

“It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur,” says Gelstein. “Part of what makes U.S. great, and what makes Michigan great, is that it’s built on people’s ideas.”

She has always had that optimism, she says, always choosing to see a glass that is half full. It’s just part of who she is.

Of course, the slippers could have something to do with it as well.

“You can’t be grouchy when you’re wearing goofy slippers,” she says.

For more information on Vroomers slippers, or to make a purchase, visit www.vroomersonline.com.