Gina Dubbé went in knowing what to expect from a laser vein treatment in early 2007. But she wasn’t prepared for what her doctor did next.
“She handed me a pack of peas, and I was like, ‘Seriously? Peas?,’ ” said Dubbé, a managing partner at Walker Ventures in Glenwood. “Personally I think peas are made for the dinner plate, not to be sitting on my face.”
Dubbé did wind up using the peas, though. With the vegetables perched on her face, Dubbé and her doctor, Carol Balthazar, began to talk.
“We were sort of lamenting that there was no new or innovative solution for cold packs,” Dubbé said. “There was nothing that could form to your face.”
Four months and $10,000 later, the women had created TheraPearl, a hot-cold pack filled with squishy glycerin beads.
Balthazar engineered the product and helped secure the patents. Dubbé sent samples to spas across the country. Both women kept their full-time jobs.
“Our goal was very modest,” Dubbé said. “We placed our first order of 5,000 packs, and really, we just wanted to sell those.”
In the four years since, TheraPearl has become profitable and has expanded to include 15 full-time employees.
Revenue has grown 200 percent in the past year, according to Daniel Baumwald, a senior vice president at TheraPearl. He estimates that the company had sales between $12 million and $15 million in 2011.
“We cannot believe how people have embraced the product,” Dubbé said.
Along the way, the company has scrapped many of its earlier notions about TheraPearl, which was originally being marketed exclusively to spas and beauty salons.
“We got the occasional mom at the spa, but for the most part the packs got lost in the hair and beauty products,” Baumwald said. “Now we’re fishing where the fish are.”
TheraPearl products now are sold in 10,000 pharmacies and stores across the U.S. and Canada, including Duane Reade in New York and Meijer stores in the Midwest.
Tschiffely Pharmacy on K Street in the District has been carrying the packs for about two years.
“It’s pretty much one of the top sellers because it’s hot and cold, instead of just one or the other,” said Colpon Jones, a technician at the pharmacy.
The line of products, which began with one rectangular pack, has evolved to include more than a dozen shapes and sizes, including neck and back wraps, eye masks and packs for nursing mothers. TheraPearl also has a children’s line that includes packs in the shape of frogs, pigs, puppies and pandas.
Before he quit his job at Vitamin Water in May 2009, Baumwald stood outside the food court at Columbia Mall. He had samples of TheraPearl and spent a few hours asking passers-by what they thought of the product.
“I just asked them, ‘Do you think this is cool?,’ ” Baumwald said. “And when every single person said yes, I knew this had legs.”
The company is evolving. It plans to introduce shin and knee wraps this year, and hopes to expand into sporting goods stores. There are more superficial changes, too, such as changing to vertical packaging to take up less space on the shelf.
“Most of us are from the beverage industry, so we’re not only learning a new brand, but we’re also learning a new industry,” Baumwald said. “But the thing is, when you think of soft drinks, you think of Coke and Pepsi. When you think of sports apparel, it’s Under Armour and Nike. When you think of hot-and-cold packs — well, it’s nothing. It’s been an asleep, mundane category for all these years. We want to bring it back to life.”