Drew Ann Long, the Alabama mom who created a shopping cart for children with special needs that has captured the attention of Target, Walmart and other major retailers, has no plans to slow down.
Long and her invention, Caroline’s Cart, have been in the media spotlight in recent months, since Target said it was putting the carts in its stores nationwide. The Today Show, CNN, I Heart Radio and more have come calling.
The Target announcement brought Caroline’s Cart the most attention it’s ever had, and there’s also been a bump in sales. But Long says she’s far from reaching her goal.
“As much growth as we’ve had, we still, in my mind, are just getting started,” she said. “Until Caroline’s Cart is a household name and is in every retailer, I’m not done.”
A mom of three from Alabaster, Long designed Caroline’s Cart eight years ago. It is named after her daughter, Caroline, who has Rett Syndrome, a nervous system disorder that causes multiple disabilities.
Long had trouble navigating grocery store aisles with Caroline’s wheelchair and a traditional shopping cart in tow, so Caroline’s Cart has a special seat for her daughter and space for groceries.
For years, Long has led a grassroots effort to promote the carts, which can be found in hundreds of stores in every state in the U.S., as well as Canada, Norway, New Zealand and Australia. A number of major grocery chains have them, including Publix, Kroger, ShopRite and Wegman’s.
She’s been buoyed by thousands of supporters on social media, many of them families of children with special needs, from all over the world. She even got encouragement from First Lady Michelle Obama, whom she met at a fundraiser several years ago.
“She loved it,” Long said. “She said, ‘Why do moms always come up with the best ideas?’”
In 2013, Technibilt Ltd. began manufacturing the carts, which are designed to match the color scheme of various stores.
Target calls Caroline’s Cart a “game-changer” for families.
“Target is always looking for new ways to make guests feel welcome in our stores and give them a more comfortable shopping experience,” Juan Galarraga, senior vice president, Store Operations, said. “We’re always listening to both our guests and team members and making changes based their feedback.”
Meanwhile, another major retailer is showing interest, too.
Walmart has been testing out the carts, and store managers can now order one upon request, Long said.
Even in the early days of promoting Caroline’s Cart, Long said she felt like it could be a major hit.
“In parks, churches and schools, accessibility was all around us, but there was a huge element missing in retail shopping and that was a special needs shopping cart,” she said. “I used to tell my husband, if this can make it, it will explode. I knew it. I lived it. Families like mine have never had an option like this at a retailer.”
So what’s next for Caroline’s Cart?
Long said she will continue to promote it, eyeing any retailer that has shopping carts. That includes Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sears and shopping malls.
One thing that keeps her motivated is the fact that retailers provide different options for other groups, such as motorized scooters for adults who can’t walk and carts shaped like racecars to entertain toddlers.
“I do think Caroline’s Cart will soon be commonplace, like electric scooters are now, it just has to evolve to that point,” Long said. “We cannot exclude the special needs community any longer.”