A Mother's Love Inspired LSU Alumna Drew Long to Design Shopping Cart for Special Needs Children

Parents know that taking their children to the grocery store can be a challenge. Now, imagine the even larger challenge that not being able to take your children to the grocery store would be – having to hire a babysitter, only shopping when the other parent could stay with the child, or having to shop with another adult.

Watch Drew Ann Long demonstrate the features of Caroline's Cart while taking her daughter, Caroline, to the grocery store.

These are just some of the challenges facing the parents of special needs children who have outgrown traditional supermarket shopping carts.

LSU alumna Drew Ann Long’s special needs daughter, Caroline, inspired her to design a shopping cart especially for special needs children and start her own company to manufacture these carts for use in retailers worldwide. From her initial sketches on her dining room table, through the roll out of the carts later this year, Long’s journey has been a labor of love.

“I just saw a very unmet need in the retail world,” said Long. “There are carts for every group out there, but there is nothing for special needs children. When Caroline was younger, I was able to use what retailers provided, but as she grew, I didn’t have any options. I knew there was a huge need because there are special needs children in every community in the U.S.”

A native of Slidell, LSU was the only college Long applied to out of high school. A member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, she developed lifelong friendships and fondly remembers her years at the university.

“Being that close to Baton Rouge, it’s Tiger country,” said Long about growing up in Slidell, less than a two-hour drive from Baton Rouge. “I couldn’t wait to get LSU; it was the big time. That’s the only place I even applied. That’s where I wanted to go.”

“It was a great time,” she continued. “I look back at the college memories and staying in touch with my sorority sisters and going back to visit the campus and seeing how it’s changed, I just feel very fortunate and blessed that I was able to have that opportunity.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business in December 1991, Long went to work as an in-house accountant before becoming a stay-at-home mom and eventually starting her own business. While her training at LSU didn’t prepare her for the design and engineering aspects of her company, the business knowledge she cultivated in Baton Rouge has given her a foundation that has helped her along the way.

“When I started the company, it was completely different from anything I had done before,” said Long. “Did my degree help me? Sure it did. It helped me learn what the business world was like and how the business world operated. But as far as designing equipment and going into that field, it was really a lot of learning as I go. But, I was very blessed to know how the business world worked.”

LSU alumna Drew Ann Long launched Caroline's Cart to make shopping a little easier for parents and caregivers of children with disabilities. The first Caroline's Carts should be available at retailers in June.

In 2000, Long’s life changed when she and her husband, David, welcomed a daughter, Caroline, the second of their three children. Born with Rett syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system that leads to developmental reversals, Caroline is unable to walk or talk and requires the assistance of a wheelchair to get around. As Caroline grew, Long became acutely aware that Caroline would no longer be able to safely ride in a traditional shopping cart, making trips to the store with her almost impossible.

After almost a year discussing it with her family, Long knew the need existed for new type of shopping cart and decided to take action.

“The entire year of 2007, I talked about it with my family,” said Long. “Just talking, talking, talking. Finally, in 2008, I said, ‘okay, I'm doing it.’ I literally started at my dining room table with pen and paper and drew out a design of what I thought would serve a large market. I wanted to include adults as well as children because special needs children do grow up. I wanted a cart that could be marketed to a large group. I thought the more people that can use it, the better chance that retailers will provide it.”

Founding Parent Solution Group LLC, the former stay-at-home mom took her sketches to the engineering department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, near the Long’s residence in Alabaster, Ala. She then met with an engineering design firm in Indianapolis, Indesign, and they created the prototype of what is now Caroline’s Cart.

“After sketching out the design on paper, I went to UAB, which is my local university. I went to their engineering department and told them what I wanted to do and wanted their opinion on what I needed. It’s not hard; it’s just a shopping cart. From there I found a design firm in Indianapolis and I flew up there and after many meetings, they made the cart that you see in the video.”

Designed to look similar to a traditional shopping cart, Caroline’s Cart has an injection molded seat designed for older children and adults in place of the traditional child seat at the rear of the cart. With a maximum weight capacity of 250 pounds, the cart has specially designed handles that swing away, allowing easy access to the seat, and a platform below the seat to serve as a footrest. With the occupant facing the cart operator for improved interaction, the seat contains a five-point adjustable harness to properly support the rider and give the handler the ability to steer the cart and shop normally.

With both United States and international patents pending, a Caroline’s Cart is slightly larger than a traditional shopping cart, standing 44 inches tall, 55 inches long and almost 29 inches wide at the base. In addition, Caroline’s Cart has a total carrying capacity of 10,000 cubic inches, which is similar to a traditional shopping cart, and comes equipped with hooks on the side to hold a purse or bag without interfering with the capacity. Caroline’s Cart is also equipped with two eight-inch wheels and four casters, which increases maneuverability.

Caroline’s Cart was designed to accommodate children with disabilities that limit their mobility, but also has many more uses. Children with behavioral issues or autism can also be served by the cart, as can elderly citizens with dementia or mobility issues.

“This is like history being made. No product exists like this anywhere,” said Long. “I had to sell this idea to manufacturers and retailers. I know this has never been done and you’ve never seen anything like this, but I’m telling you that the need is tremendous and there is a market for this.

“While it’s great that I don’t have competition, I’ve almost had to pave the way to get this done. That has been difficult as far as telling people that there is this unmet need and here is a solution to this unmet need,” Long continued. “This has been a long struggle for a mom in small town Alabama trying to do something that's never been done, learning as she went, about how to bring a product to market.”

With millions of children between the ages of 6-14 born with severe disabilities in the United States, as parents and caregivers learn of the new cart’s design, they have begun requesting them for their local stores. These grassroots efforts are now starting to pay off as calls from supermarkets and other stores are coming in from across the country and around the world.

“Back in July 2011, I hired a PR firm and we put the cart on the press wire,” said Long. “I felt like if we could get a video of this cart in the hands of mothers across the United States, that this would create the demand. You can’t ask for something that you don’t know exists. When other moms see this, it’s going to help move this forward.

“When we launched the video and started getting the information out there, I started getting phone calls and the emails saying, ‘Where do I get this cart?,’ ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I’ve needed for years,’ ‘I have to hire a babysitter,’ ‘You don’t understand, I go to Walmart at 10 at night when my husband gets off second shift.’ I felt like then and there, I had made it. Whether a retailer ever carried the cart, to hear other mothers just so excited that there could be an option out there. I felt like that was my greatest accomplishment.”

But, the retailers are calling. Despite the limited marketing so far, many retailers have contacted Long about ordering the carts, and the first ones should be available in stores in a few months.

“We have all the manufacturers lined up. We have orders for the cart. The carts are in production,” said Long. “We have not gone out and started asking for sales yet because we haven’t had the carts ready. But, starting back in September 2011, retailers started contacting me saying that when it’s ready, they want it. I think that people will begin seeing Caroline’s Carts in stores in June. We are very close.”

One of the delays in getting the carts into production was the fact that Long wanted the carts to be made in the United States. Now that she has secured production, the carts will be manufactured in Georgia, with the seats being made in Birmingham.

“I could have gone to China a long time ago and pulled the trigger, but it was very important to me, with the economy the way it is, that this cart be made in the United States,” said Long. “I’m proud of that, and I think that people will appreciate that.”

Long is hopeful that one day Caroline’s Carts will be available to help the parents and caregivers of special needs children worldwide. She is well on her way to accomplishing that goal as retailers from around the world have started enquiring about the carts.

“We have heard from companies throughout Canada, all over Europe, in New Zealand and in Sierra Leone, Africa,” said Long. “The need is global. The need is unmet. I do believe that we will see Caroline’s Cart all over the world.”

For more information on Caroline’s Cart, or to learn how to request Caroline’s Carts in your area, please visit www.carolinescart.com or contact Caroline’s Cart through Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolinescart or Twitter at www.twitter.com/carolines_cart.