Baby Power, Business Opportunity

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This article was prepared for the March 26, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

After A Downsizing, Some Topspin

QLM, once one of the country’s top 10 promotion marketing

companies, has decided that smaller is better (U.S. 1, March 19).

After downsizing, the agency, led by Bob Lipsky, is feeling energized

in its new, smaller home at 470 Wall Street, in what had been its

photography department.

At the same time, the Topspin Group, formed by former QLM employees,

is heading in the other direction. "You get big, or you die,"

says Bob Ryan, former creative director at QLM, and a partner in Topspin.

With offices at 214 Commons Way in Montgomery Commons, Topspin is

headed up by three partners, who met while working at QLM. Tom Manzione

is the art director, and Andy Judson is in charge of outside sales.

The new agency has eight to ten employees and a growing roster of

clients, many in the food, over-the-counter drug, liquor, and toy


Ryan emphasizes that he and his partners remain on good terms with

QLM, and have made a conscious decision not to compete. "We’re

friendly with the QLM folks," he says. "We left with the intention

of making it good for both of us."

Ryan had brought Vlasic pickles to QLM and, with Lipsky’s blessing,

took the account with him when he left. Other clients of the 10-month-old

agency include Playmobile, sugar substitute Splenda, the Princeton

Montessori school, and McNeil Nutritionals, a division of Johnson

& Johnson.

A native of Long Island, Ryan studied public relations and journalism

at Utica College of Syracuse University. "Donna Hanover taught

me news writing," he recalls, speaking of Rudy Guiliani’s former

mate. How did he like her? "I liked her fine," he chuckles.

"She gave me an A."

Though he aced news writing, Ryan never worked as a journalist. He

spent his first post-college year at an advertising agency where he

was assigned to "driving Ronald McDonald around Buffalo."

Through the blizzard of ’76, and during summer week-ends, he and Ronald

McDonald rode around together. What is conversation with Ronald McDonald

like? Well, during their last car trip together, Ryan and Ronald McDonald

talked about a book on psychic healing that the clown was reading.

"I turned to him to make a comment," recounts Ryan, "and

I realized `Hey, I’m discussing this with a guy who has two-foot-long

red feet!" Shortly thereafter, Ryan left to take a job with advertising

agency Eric Mower, which had offices in Syracuse and Manhattan. After

a decade of moving between the two cities, he founded his own shop,

Independent Thought, in Plainsboro.

QLM was an Independent Thought client, and Ryan, lured by QLM’s reputation,

left his business to sign on as its creative director. After a year-and-a-half,

though, he is happy to be back on his own. "People who tried to

boss me are glad," he jokes.

Ryan and his partners specialize in promotion marketing. "People

hire us for immediate impact," he says. "Everybody is trying

to beat sales figures from last year." A quick way to accomplish

this is to offer an enticement to make consumers buy. "You know

the coupons in the Sunday paper?" asks Ryan. "We do those."

The agency also uses special events, giveaways, sweepstakes, and tours.

Anything that will push consumers into deciding to make a purchase.

The promotion often is just a part of a concept designed to build

long-term loyalty. For Vlasic pickles, for instance, Ryan’s agency

came up with a slogan — Vlasic tastes best; agree or it’s free

— to go along with coupons. And while coupons are frequently the

way to make potential customers make a quick buying decision, other

media can carry the message, too. "We’re solution neutral, and

media neutral," says Ryan, getting in a slogan of his own.

The Topspin Group, 214 Commons Way, Montgomery

Commons, Princeton 08540. Robert V. Ryan, managing partner. 609-252-9515;

fax, 609-252-9294. Home page:

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Baby Power, Business Opportunity

Linda Searles, 1999 CNN Entrepreneur of the Year,

built a franchise business around toddlers. Her company, Baby Power,

offers parent/child gymnastic and music programs. Unhappy with the

overall structure and philosophy of children’s programs back in 1973,

the mother of four, she started her own in her backyard carriage house.

For the next 15 years, while raising her children, Searles operated

just one location, which she moved to a standalone space in Watchung.

In 1996 — not unlike Princeton-based Ken Guilmartin’s Music Together

program featured on page 26 of this issue — she began to franchise

her program. She now has a number of franchises, including one in

Skillman, and is holding a seminar to offer information to potential

Baby Power franchisers on Tuesday, April 8, at 6:30 p.m. in the Kings

Shopping Center in Berkeley Heights. For information call 800-365-4847.

Jackie Threadgill is the Skillman franchiser. She opened her

business last September. "Children make their own decisions about

what they want to do," says Threadgill. "We encourage parents

to let their children have their own freedom to choose."

A 10-week session costs $135 to $150, and classes range from 45 to

75 minutes long. Currently she runs 15 classes for children from six

months to eight years old. "We are looking to add a just-for-girls

art classes for eight year-olds, where we’ll read Beverly Cleary books

aloud while doing design projects for `girly girls,’" says Threadgill.

Threadgill is home schooling her children, ages four, five, and eight.

With her degree in microbiology from Penn State, Class of 1988, she

had been director of marketing and strategic planning at a health

care organization, and then she did consulting. Her husband, a Princeton

alumnus, is an engineer. "My husband’s job moved," she says.

"We were building a house and we moved three days before my oldest

child was supposed to enter kindergarten. I decided to home school.

The network is strong here in Princeton."

Baby Power incorporates exercise, mini-gym equipment, puppetry, rhythms,

musical instruments, and original songs. There are a number of specialized

programs under the Baby Power umbrella. There is Baby Power Plus for

children age 2 1/2 to 3, and Singing Chefs for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 year-old


The program is designed to build confidence and to promote child development,

communication, and parent-child bonding. All classes involve both

parents and children, and Baby Power says children who attend learn

"to follow directions as they develop a more outgoing personality."

The cost for a Baby Power franchise is $45,000 to $50,000. This includes

a $18,500 franchise fee, equipment, marketing materials, office and

location set-up, and training. Baby Power assists with site selection

and lease negotiation, and requires franchisers to operate from a

1,200 to 1,500 square-foot facility. A 5 percent per month royalty

fee is charged on gross sales, and an additional 2 percent is levied

for national marketing.

One last requirement: "You have to have a love for children and

a unique ability with children," says Threadgill.

Baby Power of Princeton, 10 Vreeland Drive, Skillman

08558. Jackie Threadgill, manager. 609-688-9300; fax, 732-940-7403.

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