Capital Buzz: Bethesda mom found inspiration from baby’s blanket

Lauren Lang, 35, of Bethesda was fumbling with a blanket to cover her newborn in his infant car seat a couple of years ago when an idea struck her.

“I was struggling with keeping the blanket in place and thought there’s got to be better way to safely and securely protect the child from the outside elements,” said Lang, 35, who at the time had left commercial real estate to raise her family. “The idea literally hit me at a stoplight, and I sketched it on the back of an envelope.”

She showed her husband, and they enlisted the help of a local tailor to create a prototype out of an old baby blanket.

Now they run a 10-employee company called Imagine Baby out of a Bethesda office, with around $500,000 a year in revenue. They have two products, the Shade and the Shell, which protect babies from the elements, including the sun, cold, bugs and other unwanted stuff. The Shade costs $40 and the Shell is $30. They are manufactured in Taiwan.

The couple split responsibilities, with Lauren running day-to-day operations and husband Brian handling financials and planning.

Business cycle

Bethesda-based indoor cycling boutique Zengo Cycle, whose investors include the founder of Hair Cuttery, plans a $10 million expansion to create 20 to 30 cycling studios throughout the East Coast in the next three to five years.

The company is capitalizing on the trend toward indoor cycling — often known as spinning — that combines technology-loaded bikes, state-of-the-art music systems and “performance art” instructors geared toward making exercise entertaining.

“Our main job is to wow and delight our customers,” said Zengo Cycle founder Marc Caputo. “The goal is to have six studios in the area, then branch out of the region.”

Zengo opened its first studio in Bethesda in October 2011, then expanded to Logan Circle in the District last January. Both are profitable, according to Caputo.

The company has plans to open three more studios by the end of the year, including a location in the Mosaic District in Fairfax County, one in Gaithersburg and a fifth studio that has several possible locations under consideration.

Zengo’s studios vary in cost because of real estate, but they generally range between $300,000 to $500,000 to open, which includes $40,000 for a sound system and nearly $100,000 for 45 bikes.

Cycling studios have become the rage in many cities, with names such as Flywheel Sports and SoulCycle, attracting celebrities from Kyra Sedgewick to Chelsea Clinton to Kelly Ripa and Tom Cruise.

Zengo’s classes at Bethesda cost on average $18 for just under one hour of cycling. Customers purchase Zengo credits either online or in the studio. Price varies with the number of credits/classes purchased. One credit/class, for example, is $22 while a purchase of 30 credits/classes cost $510, or $17 apiece.

Caputo said the success of Bethesda has spurred the company to expand. The location averaged around 4,000 “rides” — number of hourly customers — in March, which was its most successful month to date.

The company is owned jointly by Caputo, a former bond salesman; Dennis Ratner of the Ratner Cos. and Street Sense Capital Partners, which includes Ratner’s cousin, Marc.

Ratner Cos. is a family-owned chain of nearly 800 salons in 16 states, according to its Web site. Its brands include Hair Cuttery, Bubbles, Salon Cielo and Spa, ColorWorks, and Salon Plaza.

Street Sense Capital Partners is a privately owned company with investments in retail, hospitality and real estate.

Factoid of the week

158M That’s the number of Americans drinking tea on any given day. Capital Teas of Annapolis is hoping to capi­tal­ize on a small piece of that this year by doubling the number of stores it has in the Washington area, from six currently to at least 12. The company last week announced it had received a $5 million investment from Pear Tree Partners of Massachusetts to help it expand.

The Buzz hears:

Plastic surgeon Rondi Walker will chair this year’s Knock Out Abuse Against Women, the annual fundraiser that promotes awareness of domestic violence. The event is Nov. 13. Walker is a mother of three and has been on the nonprofit’s board for two decades. Cheryl Masri and Jill Sorensen founded the charity in 1993. In the past 21 years, Knock Out Abuse has raised more than $6.5 million dollars to benefit local charities.

People in the Washington/Baltimore area buying 50 percent more Greek yogurt than the average U.S. resident, according to Vermont-made Newman’s Own Greek yogurt. So the nonprofit founded by the late movie superstar Paul Newman is hitting the shelves at Washington’s grocery stores to get its share. The yogurt landed on Giant food shelves in the past few weeks. The company is headquartered in Westport, Conn. Profits will be reinvested in Martha’s Table, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts education programs, among other local philanthropic causes.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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