A Transformer Cart, a Calling and a Love Story
OME Gear Co-Founders Embrace Rough Terrain
By Diane Sears
When people pull a Wanderr gear hauler across a dune or a dock toward a day of fun, it’s likely they don’t realize the long journey the transforming utility cart has taken to get there. But entrepreneurs Julie “Jules” Weldon and Stacey “Stace” Pierce know. They’ve lived it.
The journey started in 1998, long before Weldon and Pierce met, fell in love, married and decided to go into business together. Weldon tells the story about how her parents first came up with the idea for a two-in-one transformer that could be a dolly and a lounge chair.
Her parents were on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach, Delaware, when they saw a young mother struggling to keep her three children and all their gear in order while she made her way through the sand to head home. As parents of six themselves, Weldon’s folks felt her pain. They went back to their beach condo and sketched a solution on a napkin.
“My mom and dad looked at each other and said, ‘Going to the beach should not be a hard experience,’” Weldon says.
Twenty-five years later, it has taken three tries through two generations and six patents to get the product to market. Today the Wanderr is fresh off the manufacturing line and making its way into retail stores and family vehicles nationwide. The cart can hold up to 150 pounds of gear, roll easily over any terrain including soft sand, and transform into a low beach chair, a recliner or lounger, a high camping chair, a camping cot or a mega-hauler of kayaks, paddleboards or surfboards.
The real wonder, though, has been the ability of its inventors to inspire people with their story. In the past two years, Weldon and Pierce have won several pitch competitions. Out of more than 150,000 businesses that applied and 40 that made it onto the USA Network live reality TV show “America’s Big Deal,” they took first place. They presented a TedX talk in April in Wilmington, Delaware, getting a standing ovation. They appeared in their own TV segment on QVC in July. They’ve traveled to trade shows, conferences and festivals — all to tout the Wanderr and its parent company, OME Gear, which stands for “Oceans + Mountains = Earth” or “Outdoors Made Easy.” Weldon and Pierce serve as co-founders and co-CEOs.
Like the young mother who inspired the cart’s original design, Weldon, 52, and Pierce, 51, have struggled through rough terrain. They left their professional jobs in Charleston, South Carolina, while they developed the new design for OME Gear’s flagship product. They poured their life savings into the project, spending more than $350,000 on the prototype alone.
Then two years ago, they went all in and sold their house to raise the last bit of money they needed to pay their manufacturer. They left their comfortable life in the rearview mirror and hit the road in an RV wrapped in the OME Gear logo.
They figure in the past two years, they’ve logged 13,000 miles in the RV and another 60,000 by car. That’s 30 tanks of gas in the RV, which holds 80 gallons, and another 150 gallons by car. They’ve also taken 28 flights and have slept in 63 different beds — including 13 in November 2022 alone. By their calculations, they have moved 55 times since selling their home.
“To be honest, it was a big adjustment for both of us,” Weldon says. “We literally went from living in a beautiful house to living in 250 square feet with one small closet.”
Weldon settled in pretty quickly. Pierce, a self-described “nester,” took about two months to adjust before she felt comfortable calling the RV home.
Getting to Market
Taking the Wanderr to market has been a calling for Weldon. About 12 years after her parents shelved their dream of creating the transformer cart, she sat up in bed at 1:30 in the morning, waking from a sound sleep with the invention on her mind.
“I remember thinking, ‘I’m just smart enough to think I can do this and just dumb enough to think I might actually be able to do this.’ I called my dad the next morning at 8:30,” she says, vividly remembering the precise time. “I said, ‘Hey, Dad, what would you think about me trying to take your product to market?’ My dad is one of my heroes, and now one of Stace’s heroes. He started crying and said, ‘Honey, that would be a dream come true.’ And he said, ‘You can have everything,’ so he signed the patent over to me and gave me his drawings — which, 12 years later, seemed Frankenstein-like, all big and plastic.”
Weldon redesigned the cart into a sleek lightweight metal three-in-one device and went into business with a manufacturer, selling the majority ownership. The relationship did not work out, and Weldon walked away, crushed. She had no product and she had left her six-figure job at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She went to work briefly at the shrimp docks in Charleston just to keep her hands busy and clear her mind.
In the meantime, people kept asking Weldon and Pierce for business advice. The couple decided to start a consultancy, calling it A Salty Rim. They built up a clientele of more than 100 mostly female entrepreneurs over a couple of years. Weldon ran the business while Pierce kept her full-time job with another start-up company until it was safe for her to quit.
Weldon and a friend started a business podcast called GSD Entrepreneur (Get Sh*t Done). The friend dropped out after six weeks and Weldon persuaded her media-shy wife to suck up her courage and join her in recording the show. Over the months, that experience led them to start another podcast — one that is still active today, while the first one is dormant — called Do It in Nature. The show focuses on people who are dedicated, like they are, to helping others enjoy being outdoors. The couple hold a library of more than 200 shows between the two podcasts.
“But this nagging feeling of this transformer idea never went away,” Weldon says. “So we looked at each other and said, ‘What if we pick it up a third time — third time’s a charm — and redesign it using all the consumer feedback we had from the second time? And what if we go to market the right way and not give up control of our company? What if we try this one more time?’”
They incorporated OME Gear in 2018. It would be July 2021 before they actually shipped their first Wanderr.
Raising the Funds
Weldon and Pierce started looking for someone to make the cart. The first quote they received from a U.S. manufacturer was higher than their intended sale price. They decided to try a manufacturer in China.
They conducted a Kickstarter campaign in 2019 and presold units they were manufacturing. Then COVID-19 hit, and their manufacturer went silent. With the world shut down, they couldn’t get back overseas to check on their product. They also couldn’t get their money back.
They found a new manufacturer in China and started over, working with the representative remotely over the internet. For a year, they sent test units back and forth to try them, ask for modifications, wait for the new model, modify that and wait for the next.
“We were doing this trying to get units out that we had presold on our Kickstarter,” Pierce says. “All during COVID, we were looking for funding and could not find any. We did so many pitches, and we even won awards — $25,000 here and $10,000 there, but that wasn’t enough. We needed some big money to come in because even though we were a business, we were all contract employees, and we didn’t have sales to show because we hadn’t gone to market yet, so we couldn’t get access to any of the PPE money from the government.
“In December, our manufacturer shipped 2,500 units over, and we couldn’t pay him. Jules looked at me and said, ‘How much do you believe in this?’ I said, ‘With all my heart.’”
They had maxed out their 401k savings plans and their credit cards. They had drained their checking and savings accounts.
“We were broke,” Pierce says. “And Jules said, ‘All we have left is our home.’”
Two days before Christmas, they decided to put their house on the market. It sold in four days. They used the equity they had built up in it to pay the manufacturer, who had hidden the product in a storage container in Utah.
“It makes us sick seeing how much our house is worth now,” Pierce says. “But we had just enough money to get our product and hit the ground running.”
Two things have held the couple steady on their path: their belief in their company and their faith in each other. On the first day of August, Weldon and Pierce celebrated their 10th year together — five as a married couple. They both speak about what it takes to maintain a strong marriage when you work, live and play together, 24 hours a day, especially in an RV.
“She is the leader of our ship,” Pierce says of Weldon. “She’s the captain. We are both very strong women, so it was kind of hard for me to drop my ego a little bit and say, ‘You run the ship,’ but this was her parents’ dream. It’s really about knowing your lane.
“And we still date We are very purposeful about taking time for us and walking away from the business. There are times when you have to let go of business for a second and reconnect.”
Weldon nods at her wife’s words and speaks about the couple’s unbreakable optimism. Their secret: “Keep going, even when it looks impossible,” she says. “Everything is ‘figure-out-able.’ Look at roadblocks as new opportunities to learn.
“To be able to reach your dreams, it is imperative that you figure out what you are willing to give up,” she says. “When the going gets tough — and it will — you’ve already made the decision to not quit.”
The women agree the biggest reason they’re still on this adventure is because they have each other. “There are many entrepreneurs who would have given up by now, but having a partner on this journey makes the tough times seem just a little easier,” Weldon says. “We embrace the theory of the ‘little red wagon.’ When one of us is at the end of our rope, we can sit in the wagon and be pulled by the other, and vice versa. As we look back, this journey has been harder than either of us ever anticipated, but together we have been able to do the hardest of things.”
They stay focused on their mission, which is bigger than both of them, Weldon says. “We want to build a successful company so we can create a platform of influence and positive change. In building OME Gear, we have come up against some pretty significant obstacles and roadblocks, and our heartbeat is to help fill in the potholes with rocks so that those who come behind us, particularly women, will have an easier go at it.
“We believe OME Gear is much more than just cool products, or a company,” she says. “It is a calling for us. We are committed to growing big to give big.”
To learn more about OME Gear, visit OMEgear.com.
OME Gear co-founders Stacey “Stace” Pierce and Julie “Jules” Weldon Pierce and Weldon took first place on the USA Network show “America’s Big Deal.”
Weldon followed in her parents’ footsteps in creating a transformer cart called the Wanderr.
Since selling their home to fund their inventory, Pierce and Weldon have spent the past two years on the road in their OME Gear RV.