Born out of necessity, Caroline's Cart has become a global sensation.
Published: August 31, 2017
By: Paige Townley
When Drew Ann Long’s daughter Caroline was born, she and her family was introduced to a whole new world: the world of special needs. Caroline was born with Rett Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder for which there is no cure, and is unable to walk or talk.
While obviously making many tasks challenging, the special need caused many unforeseen difficulties, such as simply going to the grocery store. “When she was young I would just put her in the shopping cart,” Long explains. “But as she got older and outgrew the cart, what was I to do?”
A simple grocery store trip required either hiring a babysitter or figuring out a way to manage Caroline’s wheelchair and a shopping cart at the same time. “Caroline couldn’t drive an electric scooter due to her disability, so it eventually became where I couldn’t go to a store without having a babysitter at home with Caroline,” Long says. “It was a nightmare.”
Long began researching online to see if a special needs shopping cart existed so that she could ask her local grocery store to purchase one. What she discovered was that they didn’t exist. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “Special needs families are in every community on the planet, and not a single special needs cart was out there.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one in five people in the United States have a disability. Knowing that there were so many other families in the exact same situation, Long set out to develop a special needs shopping cart. “I had no idea what to do; I was a stay-at-home mom of three kids,” she says. “But I knew I could help my daughter and the millions of other special needs kids and adults out there.”
Starting with a simple drawing she sketched out one day while sitting at her dining room table, Long set out to accomplish what millions across the world needed. From getting a prototype built to getting a patent, she persevered. “I had no idea what to do or how to do it,” she shares. “But I was determined. We spent everything we had – took money out of our retirement account – with no guarantee of return. Thinking about Caroline and the other families just like us is what kept me going.”
Although she faced years of struggle and hit many dead ends along the way – “everybody loved the concept but wasn’t sure about actually getting on board,” she says – Long officially launched Caroline’s Cart, a shopping cart custom-designed for special needs individuals so that caregivers can transport a child through the store while also grocery shopping. “I call our special needs community the invisible population,” Long says. “We are in every community yet are an underserved market, an invisible population. I think Caroline’s Cart highlights such a great need that’s out there.”
Caroline’s Cart officially got its first cart in a store in October 2012, a grocery store in Chicago, Illinois. “It grew slowly; no one wanted to be the first one,” Long adds. After a manufacturer change – after one round of production Long signed with the world’s largest shopping cart manufacturer, Technibilt – the business exploded. “From 2014, about the time we changed to Technibilt, until this year, we have grown at an average of 700 percent,” Long says. “That just proves the need was tremendous. People were hungry for this product.”
Today, Caroline’s Cart can be found in all 50 states and in six countries. They can even be found on military commissaries. While certainly happy with the success Caroline’s Cart has achieved thus far, Long doesn’t quite see her job as done. “When I see Caroline’s Cart in a store, it’s beyond words how I feel about it,” she says. “It has been such an emotional journey. But we have so much growing to do. My goal is for every single retailer to offer Caroline’s Cart. If you have a shopping cart or an electric scooter, you should have a Caroline’s Cart. Period. So until I see it in every store, I won’t stop fighting for it.”
Paige Townley is a Birmingham freelance writer.
For more information about Caroline’s Cart, visit carolinescart.com. And check out Drew Ann Long’s new book: Game Changer, The Remarkable Story of Caroline’s Cart, available through Amazon.