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Last Update: Thursday July 29, 2021

Key Idea: Please Yourself

Founder Sue Callaway jumped on the chance to dump her white nursing uniform.

Key Question:


Like Sue did, please yourself.  She was tired of wearing white and when the rules changed in her profession, she was one of the first to show up to work in a pastel print.

Search for more on the topic of startup, start a business and product development.  Click on the question for more answers.

Think about it

What do you use or do on a daily basis that might cause you some frustration?  Are you the person to solve the problems that are causing the frustration for you and perhaps thousands or millions of others?

Clip from: S.C.R.U.B.S.

San Diego County, California:  Sue Callaway became a nurse back when the uniform was a cap and a crisp white dress. She remembers wearing street clothes to the hospital then changing for duty into a clean uniform. Find out how she invented a business when the hospital she worked for started requiring nurses to purchase their own uniforms.

Since we taped this story, Sue and her partner opened too many retail stores too fast and found themselves in big trouble. S.C.R.U.B.S. was bought by SmartPractice in July of 2000 and has restructured with Sue serving as President of the SCRUBS. The amazing part of this story is we studied Naomi and Jim Rhode's company, SmartPractice, back in 1994 so we know both companies well and now they are one family.

S.C.R.U.B.S. and Smartscrubs

Sue Callaway, Founder of S.C.R.U.B.S

3400 E. McDowell
Phoenix, AZ 85008

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Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1992

Please Yourself

Join me now for our master class with Sue Callaway, master small business owner. She'll tell you the why behind her company, S.C.R.U.B.S.

HATTIE: What I want to know: What makes a scrub, a S.C.R.U.B.?

SUE CALLAWAY (Founder, S.C.R.U.B.S.): The style.

HATTIE: OK. But what do you mean?

SUE: The shape.

HATTIE: Show me.

SUE: There's hardly any shape to this. You know, it fits through your bust then straight down. Typically a V-neck, patch pocket on top...

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Sue Callaway was sick and tired of wearing the same old thing to work every day. As an RN, she wore hospital-issued scrubs for years. Everything changed for Sue in 1988, when she arrived at work wearing a scrub she had sewed for herself out of a pastel print.

SUE: Everyone wondered where I got them. And, of course, I told them I sewed them, and they asked if I could sew them some, too. All my girlfriends wanted them. And I just never said no. I just kept sewing and taking orders.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) S.C.R.U.B.S. stands for...

SUE: Simply Comfortable Really Unique Basic Scrubs.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) They're made of 100 percent cotton and come in unusual colors and prints. At one time, institutional scrubs came only in white, green or pale blue, and contained polyester. With some imagination, Sue has changed the look and feeling of clothing for millions of health-care workers.

Is this a hot seller?

SUE: That has been a great seller since the beginning of our business. It's our flying pigs. You can work in real high-stressed areas in the hospital, and sometimes it's just `when pigs fly' I'll get to it.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Located in the Southern California town of Santee, in just five years, S.C.R.U.B.S. has grown to 150 employees who handle sales, customer service and some manufacturing functions, with the sewing outsourced to another small company just a few miles away.

So you sewed at home.

SUE: Just out of my bedroom. I would shop the fabric stores and try and get the 50 percent off sales, and...

HATTIE: OK, but, Sue, as a nurse, you probably made pretty nice money if you calculate it per hour.

SUE: Yes.

HATTIE: When you calculated what you were making from doing all this sewing, we're talking like babysitting wages, right?

SUE: Right, and I wasn't in it for the money. I had my nursing to live on.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Sue's first idea was to sell her products to RNs. Now, every type of health-care worker, including dentists, veterinarians and physicians, is a prospect.

Do school teachers buy these clothes?

SUE: Yes, definitely.

HATTIE: This is wonderful.

SUE: They have the big pockets, so they can carry all their supplies with...

HATTIE: Mm-hmm. What are these called?

SUE: These are just a surgical dress. I used to wear these a lot. They're very slimming, and when you bring this around, it creates a nice little pleat on you. Hairdressers like to use them for their models and stuff.

HATTIE: When did it first occur to you that this could be a business?

SUE: Probably, maybe two years into it we saw that, you know, we could see the orders coming in quicker and more and more people calling. But we really didn't--I was so involved in just the sewing of it that I didn't really focus on the big picture.

HATTIE: So I'm thinking of, as a lay person, that those pale green and blue scrubs are cleaner, or can become cleaner. Tell me about color and pastels and prints. I mean, can we--is it sanitary?

SUE: Yeah. When I first started in nursing, I had to wear whites. I arrived at work in my street clothes, went into a locker room and changed into scrubs that I wore from there directly to the unit. And if I was to leave the unit, I wore a scrub gown over them to protect them. So they were really concerned with infection control in that environment. And now it's been proven that it boils down to your hand-washing and your contact with patients. So in between your contact with patients, you should be gloving and hand-washing appropriately.

HATTIE: Don't you think with the loosening of standards, meaning nurses being able to choose what they want to wear, and then also the research about hand-washing, that those two factors work together to say, `The timing was perfect.'

SUE: It has been perfect. Definitely. And also, if we didn't have a market where most people had--most of the individual nurses had to buy their own, then we would be selling to hospitals and purchasing departments, and they need to look at money and numbers, and they could never afford a 100 percent cotton scrub.

ROCKY COOK (Sue's Husband): She's been sewing all of her life. As a child, she started to sew, and she always wanted to be a nurse and nursing is what she does. And when she started this, it was just because she wanted to feel better about herself going to work, and what it's done is, it's kind of changed the whole light on the industry. I mean, she's created an entire new side of the business that nobody expected to come.

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