I recently chatted with FabList friends Audrey Hanneman and Lori Tomimatsu. I have known Audrey for years as she went to business school with Joanne and me, where we quickly became fast friends. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel to many places around the world with Audrey so I can attest to what a wonderful traveler she is (her favorite travel products are at the end of the article!). She’s the type of traveler who arrives with a tiny little bag and then suddenly pulls out a week’s worth of fab outfits that she looks amazing in – like a magician! She and Lori started Serenity Organizers during Covid and I spoke with them about how it came about, and what their experience has been like. Also, I want to note that I am a HUGE fan of their tray organizer and don’t travel without it!
Don’t miss their lists of Fab5 travel products at the end of the article – items that they don’t leave on a trip without!
Audrey Hanneman and Lori Tomimatsu, co-founders, Serenity Organizers
How do two college friends end up launching a travel products company 40 years after meeting one another? In Spring 2019 Lori had just told her client at Carhart, where she was consulting, that she was ending her contract and was ready to retire. Audrey Hanneman called the next day and asked Lori to form a company together. Retirement was put on hold and Serenity Organizers was born.
Serenity Organizers makes airplane tray organizers, as well as airplane seat covers/organizers. Pop one on your tray table and you can store your laptop/iPad, water bottle, earphones, phone, and snacks and have it all accessible…and clean. I use mine whenever I travel and everyone seated around me always asks about it!
Launching a product in a new product category was challenging, especially during Covid. The speed at which they launched was amazing. In May 2020 they discussed the concept. In July 2020 they incorporated the company. And on November 3, 2020, they shipped their first test product. Since then they’ve been featured on Good Morning America, highlighted at trade shows, selected by Amazon for a special program to get them launched onsite (companies can’t apply for this – Amazon secretly chooses them), and secured a coveted license from Disney to market branded products in Mexico and Latin America, which are launching this fall. Their products are sold on their own website, on Amazon, and via corporate programs where they produce branded logo products for Companies that want to see their branding in the air.
Audrey and Lori have been close friends since they were roommates in college at Davis. After graduation, they each had successful, but very different, business careers that found them living and traveling around the globe.
Lori started in the retail world, working for the Neiman Marcus training program and then in the buying offices for Neiman’s and Macy’s. She then switched to the manufacturing side, working for the Gap, Levis, Quicksilver, and others before putting all her expertise to use consulting for companies such as Lucky Jeans and Carhart. She knows global clothing manufacturing inside and out and has connections worldwide. One year alone, while working at Levis, she traveled to Hong Kong 10 times for work.
Audrey worked in investment banking prior to getting her MBA and then turned to marketing for big tech companies like Intel, IBM, and Quantum. Most of her career was in Asia, where she lived for over 11 years in Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong, where her children were born. Once she moved back to LA with her family she got involved in non-profit work, worked in interior design, renovated (and flipped) homes, and got her real estate license. She always had an entrepreneurial itch that needed to be scratched.
Tell us about the company and why you started it.
Covid had just hit in March 2019 and everyone was freaking out. In May I got this idea for an airplane seat cover because I knew people would now better understand the risks germs pose on airplanes, which I’d known and cared about for years since I’d traveled for my job and with my young kids back and forth from Asia. I thought that maybe now everyone wouldn’t think I was a germaphobic freak when flying since I always covered my seat with a blanket or wrap and always wiped all the surfaces down for my whole family before taking off. People now knew what surfaces were disgusting on planes…like all of them!
So I thought the time was right to produce something to help protect you from germs while traveling. When I shared the idea with Lori she immediately ‘got it’ and as it turns out she was also a ‘pre-COVID airplane seat coverer’ as well! Lori said it should be an organizer too! So we added 3 pockets and it was then an antimicrobial seat cover with organizer pockets built in for your water bottle, book, etc. At the same time, we created a multipurpose tray organizer. This not only had pockets but also transformed into a drawstring tote. We have evolved such that we are now focusing primarily on the organizational benefit, with the antimicrobial factor an added benefit, and the tray organizer is now the primary lead product.
What have been your biggest challenges?
It’s hard to introduce a product that is not known in a category that isn’t yet known! We need to educate the consumer. We aren’t selling a water bottle. Producing and marketing a new product in a new category is a bit of a double whammy which we didn’t really think about at launch.
How do you work together?
I like to say that I’m the back of the house and Audrey is the front of the house. I do the sourcing and manufacturing and Audrey does the marketing and sales. But we make a lot of decisions together. We don’t live near each other, but we talk every day.
The connections Lori has are so important. She knows how to get a sample made quickly, and how to manage warehouses, import duties, taxes, etc. There are never-ending issues but Lori always figures it out! She is a total connector who stays in touch with people too, which has come in handy. She had to find a warehouse in Mexico recently and could figure it out in 2 calls whereas I’d have to spend 6 months to accomplish the same thing!
How has having a company together affected your friendship?
Being business partners has brought us closer. I now see her often and talk to her every day and our lives are more intertwined than before, even though we have been friends forever. We are even closer than we were.
Everyone said don’t work with a friend… but who do you trust more than a friend? We decided together that if we were going to do this we needed to laugh every day and respect our personal lives. Family and health come first, the company comes next, and then whatever else. We still travel, we still spend time with families. Business works around our lives. Our lives don’t work around our business. Because of where we are in our lives and careers we were firm on our priorities. If we’d done this 30 years ago it would have been different.
On to travel and favorite products! What kind of travelers are you?
I like to travel with family and my husband and I are into golf right now so we travel around that. I also am a foodie so I travel around that as well. My husband and I just got back from Korea and Japan, where we ate a lot as that was a lot of the focus of the trip!
I love our family trips, but as the kids are now out of the house, it gets tougher to plan. I’m a bit of an explorer. I like to venture out to new destinations and experience different cultures.
What are your Fab5 must-pack travel items, beyond your Serenity Organizer?
- Ipad with downloaded stuff to watch.
- Ziplock bags. I bring a few in every size (gallon, quart, sandwich) and put them in my carry-on. First thing when I’m home I put fresh ones in the carry-on so I’m ready for the next trip! On this most recent trip, I used a large one to put ice in at the hotel, used a smaller one to put my extra Yen in, and then put it away when I got back so I would be ready for the next trip to Japan. You always need baggies!
- Portable folding charger that charges my Apple watch and phone.
- Small canvas bag Audrey turned me on to always pack a small canvas tote to use for shopping, for carrying whatever around that doesn’t fit in my purse (but my purse will fit into the tote). I use one every time I travel.
- An organizer for my cords
- Stan Smith sneakers are comfortable and go with everything.
- Pill organizer We make a great one that also has a place for bandaids etc. This is always with me.
- Iphone cross-body case with a credit card slot so I always have my phone/camera close by (I use it at home too). I keep my ID, $20, and a credit card with me. That’s all I need!
- Organizer for cords, Airpods etc with multiple compartments. Soft one. In a bright color. (Note: the one linked to is similar but not exactly the same as Audrey’s, which is no longer available).
- Portable charger power bank with the cords already attached so you don’t need to find the right cords when charging, and you never lose them.
- Little mini speaker to listen to podcasts or music in the hotel room.
- Carry on sized nylon bag from Parvel that you can fold up en route in your suitcase, then put things you purchase in and check when headed home. I have the green one.
Thanks, ladies! Can’t wait to see Serenity Organizers continue to take off! (pun intended 🙂)
Check out all of our FabList travel products and clothing lists here.