Making It: Stay-at-home moms create a little bling for crying babies

TEETHING BLING CREATORS: Amy Maurer Creel, left, and Kendra LaDuca with three of their young customers, Rae Claire Foster, from left, Zachary Brittle and Gabriel Adler Acquavella.
TEETHING BLING CREATORS: Amy Maurer Creel, left, and Kendra LaDuca with three of their young customers, Rae Claire Foster, from left, Zachary Brittle and Gabriel Adler Acquavella. (Copyright Keith Barraclough)
By Vanessa M. Gezari
Sunday, November 9, 2008

Kendra LaDuca's eureka moment came while she was pushing a grocery cart through the aisles of a Costco seven years ago. As she scanned the shelves, her infant daughter leaned over and started chewing on Kendra's leather watchband. "She was slobbering on my arm, and I just let her because she was happy and I was able to shop," says Kendra, 38, of Silver Spring.

From that experience, Teething Bling was born. Kendra and her business partner, Amy Maurer Creel, also of Silver Spring, developed a line of silicone pendants, bracelets and key chains that double as teething toys after realizing that they had stopped wearing jewelry since their kids were born. "My husband said one day, 'Why don't you ever wear the jewelry I give you?' " Kendra recalls. "I said, 'I don't because they're going to grab it.' Also, when you want a teething toy, you can never find it. It's always at the bottom of your diaper bag."

Both stay-at-home mothers of girls ages 4 and 8, Kendra and Amy, 41, met in 2001 when their older children shared a Gymboree class. After her first daughter, Julia, was born with cancer in 2000, Kendra abandoned plans to return part-time to her job as a project manager and event planner for a nonprofit organization. Amy left her job in ad sales at Clear Channel Communications about the same time, working from home as a freelance media and marketing consultant. Occasionally, Kendra would bring Amy business ideas. When Kendra came up with the concept for Teething Bling, "Amy said, 'I don't know how you would create that product, but if you can do it, I can sell it,' " Kendra recalls.

The two formed their company, Smart Mom, in 2002, and spent the next four years finding a suitable material for Teething Bling, lab-testing it and refining prototypes. Made from latex-free silicone, the same material used to coat baby spoons, the matched necklaces and bracelets come in an array of colors and patterns, including camouflage and a pale flecked green that resembles jade. They sell for $19 and $12, respectively, on the Smart Mom Web site. They spent about $60,000, mainly on product development, of which Amy contributed about $45,000 in savings; the rest came from Kendra and her husband, Charles, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

While Kendra has concentrated on developing the product, which is manufactured in China, Amy has done most of the marketing, including recruiting moms to blog about Teething Bling, reaching out to the news media and sending samples to celebrity moms; actresses Angela Bassett and Tori Spelling have been photographed wearing Teething Bling.

Amy and Kendra started selling Teething Bling in 2006, grossing about $80,000 and netting $12,000 in the first 12 months, Amy says. Sales have climbed over the past 12 months to about $125,000, Amy says, with about $60,000 net. They spend most of the proceeds on improving the product (they just launched a line with a metallic look). They have no employees. Local retailers say Teething Bling has gained a foothold among new mothers, becoming a "go-to gift" for baby showers, according to Tiffany King, owner of the Pajama Squid, a children's boutique in Takoma Park.

For Kendra, launching the business has been empowering. "I had an idea, and I really did something with it," she says. "Regardless of what happens with Smart Mom, I don't think I ever have to go back to a career that isn't meaningful to me."

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