Like Karen Telegadis, Christine Concannon, right, launched her home-based business based on a perceived need – to make people comfortable and add a little touch of luxury to their lives. Telegadis thought up a soft and cuddly product for babies, and Concannon devised something for those who are ill – luxury hospital gowns.
In the last four years Concannon lost her father to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and her mother to heart disease and diabetes. "During their illnesses," she says, "it bothered me to see them wearing old, faded hospital gowns day in and day out. These gowns simply did not reflect the beautiful, special individuals they were!"
She founded a company, Raspberry Bee, to create a patient gown that looks and feels as great as a fine pajama or nightgown, "that will bring cheer to the woman who wants to look her best at a time when every little boost means the most."
"For those who are really sick," she says, "it is hard to find something that will bring a smile to their faces." With a price point of $89, women’s gowns are tailored in whisper-soft cottons and flannels in sorbet-colored solids or ginghams. They open down the back, with a choice of Velcro closures or ties, and they also button up the front. One style looks like a traditional pajama top and the other has a mandarin collar. The most expensive gowns, made with Lilly Pulitzer fabrics, cost $140.
Concannon’s biggest barrier to entry was finding the right fabric (manufacturers jealously guard their sources) and her biggest start-up cost was buying the fabric (eight 120-yard bolts of each of seven patterns, plus five bolts of exorbitantly expensive Pulitzer fabric). "I have spent a huge amount of energy finding fabrics that are soft and yummy that I would want to curl up with," says Concannon. She pre-washes the fabric in her Pennington home and sends it out to the seamstresses.
Here’s where a "feel-good" business story gets even better. Chris Rotert Concannon grew up in the New Orleans workroom of her grandparents’ and parents’ dressmaking business, Bendana Costumes, which fashioned the costumes for Mardi Gras floats, and their clients included the most prestigious characters – Rex and Bacchus. But after Katrina and her mother’s death, two of the top seamstresses left New Orleans and have not been able to find regular work. Now they are working for Concannon’s Raspberry Bee.
A graduate of Mercy Academy in New Orleans, she met her future husband, Michael, at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and graduated in 1985. She worked at her uncle’s law firm in New Orleans, went to paralegal school, and specialized in intellectual property at firms in New York and Philadelphia. Her husband is vice president of marketing of Coppertone for Schering-Plough in Summit, and they have four children.
Concannon had a problem finding the right name for the business and ended up coining one that coordinated with a tollfree number (888-BEE-NEST). Because she has been a trademark paralegal, she did that work herself.
Concannon has sold some three dozen gowns in the three months since she launched the business. She has 30 more in stock, is having more made, and is coming up with new models – one for men and one in white satin lined with flannel. Though she admits that her plan is ambitious, she hopes to turn a profit within a year.
Her market is caregivers and relatives who, if they buy one, typically buy more. She is buying words on Google and Yahoo, and because she believes that women like Yahoo better, she is focusing on the latter. Future marketing plans include buying mailing lists in New York, California, and Florida. Her photographer in Pennington is Ed Livernoche, and her pattern maker, who lives in Princeton Junction, is Svetlana Shalumova, founder of SivanAtelier.com.
She takes her inspiration from her late mother, who sought perfection in the thousands of Mardi Gras costumes made for over 30 years. "She would have a costume done over and over again until she thought it was `just right,’ no matter what anyone else had to say," says Concannon. "The memory of my mother’s integrity and perfectionism constantly surround me as I strive to create a patient gown that is also `just right’ and just the way my mother might have done it."
"I’m hoping to bring some brightness and relief to the patients who feel like they have to surrender to the healthcare system and give up everything that is how they identify themselves," says Concannon. "I want people to feel like they can feel like themselves again."
Raspberry Bee Patient Gowns, 10 Meadow Lane, Pennington 08534; 609-303-0160. Christine Concannon, president. www.raspberrybee.com.