Update: Richmond-area family to compete on "Shark Tank" tonight, Friday, May 1, on ABC at 8 p.m.


Original story published April 16:

A Richmond-area family is taking its “genius gardening tool” to the sharks on an upcoming episode of “Shark Tank.”

Mollie Thorsen, 29, and her dad, Bob Thorsen, 66, are pitching products from their family line called the Little Burro. The episode is set to air May 1.

“My dad was in the yard helping my mom. He built a prototype of the Little Burro out of cardboard, and we just went from there,” Mollie Thorsen said.

The Little Burro is like a giant caddy for your wheelbarrow that can hold a cellphone and keys, as well as gardening tools and a whole tray of plants.

The company was launched in 2013, shortly after Thorsen graduated from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. The Little Burro is a family affair, run by five siblings including Mollie, plus her parents. Members of the Thorsen family can be found in Richmond, Alexandria and Warrenton.

“We’re like a pack. We like to stay together. All five of us even went to Randolph-Macon for college,” she said.

Her dad owns Thorsen Construction, launched in 1997, with branches in Richmond and Alexandria.

“He’s Bob the Builder,” Mollie Thorsen said of her dad. “He’s been working in tools his whole life. It was a natural progression for him to move from construction to tools.”

Named after the humble donkey that can carry two times its weight, the Little Burro “helps you carry twice your load [in the garden], keeps you organized and does its job,” she said. Right now the company carries two products: the Little Burro, which retails for $59.50; and a smaller version, the Burro Buddy, with a drink holder, tool holsters and space for a cellphone, that costs $39.50.

The Little Burro and Burro Buddy have been featured in magazines like House Beautiful, Real Simple and Popular Mechanics as must-have gardening accessories.

“Every time we go to a trade show, someone says, ‘This is the ultimate “Shark Tank” product,’” Thorsen said. So they decided to apply and were invited on the show.

The Thorsens pitched their product to shark investors Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner and Daymond John. The entire Thorsen clan — nine members total, including a grandson — flew to Los Angeles for the taping, but only Mollie and Bob were able to pitch on air.

“It was so exciting and nerve-wracking,” Mollie Thorsen said. “It was a really awesome opportunity to do this with my dad. It’s something we’ll never forget.”

To help with their nerves, the father-daughter duo started singing “Joyful, Joyful” backstage to get themselves pumped up to pitch.

While Thorsen can’t reveal details on what product they pitched or how the judges responded, she said, “It was the ultimate entrepreneur moment to pitch to the sharks on ‘Shark Tank.’”

The Little Burro and Burro Buddy can be purchased on Walmart.com, HomeDepot.com, TheGrommet.com and Amazon.com. The products can also be found in select Ace Hardware, True Value and Menards stores nationwide.

With the coronavirus pandemic, Thorsen said the brick and mortar stores they were looking into rolling out their products are only stocking essential items. “It’s been a challenge” to get the Little Burro products physically into stores, she said.

Tractor Supply was planning to carry the Little Burro products this spring, but that was put on pause. But Sam’s Club is planning to start carrying the products on May 1.

Regardless, the whole family hopes their appearance on “Shark Tank” will raise the visibility of the Little Burro line.

“It was really intimidating to pitch to the sharks. But they’re incredible business people,” Thorsen said. “We’re the type who like to take everything they can from an experience. We had the time of our lives and we’re excited about our future.”

ccurran@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6151

Twitter: @collcurran

Colleen Curran covers arts and entertainment for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She writes the weekly column Top Five Weekend Events.

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