SPARK: Following ideas on a path to success

Melissa Reed owns Downtown Dachshund in Ely, in addition to being administrator at Solon Retirement Village and inventin
Melissa Reed owns Downtown Dachshund in Ely, in addition to being administrator at Solon Retirement Village and inventing a collapsible sand pail. Photographed a the Ely shop on Friday, July 19, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Melissa Reed helps people. As the administrator/chief operating officer at Solon Retirement Village, that seems obvious by her title.

Yes, she’s in charge of the facility’s financial operations and overall health care delivery, but she brings so much more to the table.


Reed loves to learn.

She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in social work and then earned her master’s in social work from the University of Iowa. She received her second bachelor’s degree in health care administration from Mount Mercy University and her MBA from Upper

Iowa University.

She’s taught at Mount Mercy and established a tuition-reimbursement program at Solon Retirement Village for employees who want to continue their education.

She is a problem solver. Her profession requires it; she works with people to help people. Her life demands it; she’s married and has a son. Finally, she insists on it; there’s so much she wants to do.

“It’s about balance,” Reed said. “It’s using different parts of my brain and different parts of my skill sets.”


In addition to leading the retirement community, Reed is an inventor. She created the Packable Pail, a collapsible beach pail about the size of a sandwich bag that makes any day at the beach even better because it folds into itself for easy cleanup and storage.

Packable Pails made its national debut in 2014, featured on NBC’s “Today” morning show.


She got the idea for her invention during a family vacation to South Carolina the year before. Reed and her husband, Tom, bought their son, Landon, a sand pail for the beach. When it was time to fly home, there was no room for it in their luggage. Landon was, understandably, upset — the pail was his new favorite toy.

That’s when Reed spent the flight sketching an idea for a collapsible sand pail on a Delta Air Lines napkin.

For most people, the idea might have ended there. After all, Reed had other things to think about once she got home.

But she’s a helper, remember? Reed knew she wasn’t the only parent to leave the beach with an unhappy child. She’s a problem-solver, and she found the solution. Admittedly, her knowledge of how to turn that idea into an actual product was minimal, but that’s where Reed’s love of learning came into play.

“So much of what I’ve done with the pails is self-taught,” Reed said. “Just because there are things you don’t know how to do, doesn’t mean you can’t learn.”

That includes filing a patent and trademark and building Packable Pails’ initial website. She and Tom worked together to find a company that could make a mold of their pail and produce a limited quantity.

“We were storing these in our garage, so we couldn’t have 10,000 or 50,000 made and shipped to us at one time,” Reed said. Unfortunately, that plan left U.S. companies out of the running.

Reed found a company willing to produce 1,000 pails at a time. The company was in China, which led to another learning curve, working with translators and through cultural differences and opposing time zones.


“I didn’t know production stops during the Chinese New Year,” Reed said. “I was calling people, emailing them, trying to find out what was happening, and no one got back to me.”

The response to Packable Pails was phenomenal. The product has been featured as a must-have summer product in several national publications, including O, the Oprah magazine, and Country Living. It was named the Creative Child magazine’s 2015 Toy of the Year.

Thanks to her invention, Reed has learned the importance of social media, networking and time management. She’s also learned to trust her instincts.

At the beginning of the Packable Pails venture, Reed hit the trade show circuit with Tom, promoting her invention. She didn’t know it then, but she was laying the groundwork for her next idea, a retail store, The Downtown Dachshund.


The retail aspect of her life started from a need to spend more time at home in Ely and less on the road.

With their own store, the Reeds could get Packable Pails out of their garage and in front of customers. At the same time, they could pay it forward.

“We got picked up by a lot of small stores before getting picked up by big stores and catalogs,” Reed says. “We wanted some way to pay that back, to help others just beginning.”

She and Tom discussed the idea. Soon after that, space became available. Taking that as a sign, the couple signed a lease and The Downtown Dachshund opened its doors in Ely in 2015. The store is named after the family’s dachshund, Cuddles.

The store is open limited hours Thursday through Saturday, with the inventory focusing on little-known names and brands, as well as those requested by shoppers. Reed said some of the brands the store used to carry are no longer available because they were picked up by bigger markets.


In other words, her plan is working.


Reed’s life is full. Because of this, she hasn’t taken the time to reflect on all that’s happened the past few years. She knows she’s changed. She’s learned how to navigate the business world, which is different than the world of health care and academics.

She’s learned to be organized, a skill she says she has even if those closest to her might disagree.

“My method of organization might not look like theirs, but I know where everything is,” Reed laughed.

She’s learned her strengths and her weaknesses and has realized it’s OK to have areas in life where she doesn’t have all the answers.

“I used to be a micromanager when I was younger, but I’ve learned that I don’t have to do everything,” Reed said. “I like to learn how to do things because I love learning, but that doesn’t always mean I’m the best person to do them.”

Instead, she encourages others to take ownership, whether it’s the staff at Solon Retirement Village or the employees who work at The Downtown Dachshund.

While there isn’t much she’d change, knowing what she does now, there may be a few things she’d do differently. She’ll keep them in mind if inspiration strikes again.

No, not if. When.

“It will be interesting to see what will happen in the next five years,” Reed said. “My son will graduate high school and go off to college. My husband and I talk about it sometimes, what we’ll do then. We both feel we have so much left to do.”


She’s not sure what that means. Maybe she’ll write a book for people like her, those who have a great invention and want to know what happens next. Maybe she’ll start a podcast on that very topic. She’s never produced a podcast, but that’s no excuse.

That’s the advice she would offer anyone thinking about trying something new.

“Never stop learning,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be academic learning. There are books and magazines for everything you want to know. Talk to people. Network. I think the key to building on your ideas and being successful is networking.”

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