Princeton native Karin Halstead Telegadis experienced success in the television industry, traveling to Asia and Europe as a business development executive for NBC. Some time later, as a first-time mother, she experienced clumsiness and frustration as she traveled around town with her infant daughter Grace and wrestled with pulling a changing pad from her diaper bag. Like other new parents, her experiences with her first child raised awareness in her of things that are missing, but needed, in the marketplace, and provided inspiration for starting her business, Ah Goo Baby, and designing its first product, the Plush Pad.
Telegadis designed the Plush Pad for today’s on-the-go parents to provide what she considers a nursery changing table on the road. The Plush Pad, which is machine washable and water resistant, contains an insert of body-contouring foam (also found in Tempur-Pedic mattresses) covered with a preshrunk cotton fabric. The pad, available in six styles, is a compact 10 inches long by three inches in diameter when rolled. When opened, the pad expands to two feet by two feet. Telegadis says the pad’s portability makes it convenient to take to the park or the beach as well as on hotel stays.
"As opposed to other portable changing pads that are folded up when closed, the Plush Pad is actually a patented design that has a rolling mechanism much like a yoga mat – so when you want to open the pad, it actually rolls itself open without any need for fiddling with it," Telegadis explains. "The memory foam insert actually pushes the pad open as it expands."
Telegadis’s experience with Grace, born in February, 2003, motivated her. As Telegadis traveled with Grace, she found the changing pads included with diaper bags hard and cold, with no thought given to the comfort of the infant. She found herself not using the pad, throwing down blankets and towels instead. When her second child, Sophia, was born in November, 2004, Telegadis ditched the diaper bag in favor of a tote which contained the baby necessities she preferred. Many mothers think of great ideas for new products in their day-to-day dealings with the children. But Telegadis, who graduated in 1991 from Ithaca College with a degree in sociology, acted on her ideas.
She chose to name her company, formed in May, 2005, Ah Goo Baby, after experimenting with various titles, many of which had the word "Mommy." But Telegadis wanted the focus to be on the child, and she chose Ah Goo Baby, because it is "catchy, memorable and fun to say."
She decided to launch her company with the Plush Pad for several reasons, including manageability and timeliness. Telegadis noticed some retailers had started selling changing pads sans the diaper bag.
"These stores are separating the pad from the bag, and saying that people actually do want a pad that is comfortable. They don’t want the one that comes free with the diaper bag. They want a very comfortable pad they can use around the house and on long trips," Telegadis says.
The Plush Pad retails for $47 and can be purchased at Tippy Toes at 20 Nassau Street in downtown Princeton. The Plush Pad also is available through online children’s products retailer Anna Bean (www.annabean.com), run by Karen Fontaine of Pennington, and other online sites including a "sound-alike" site (www.ahhgoo.com). Telegadis says her goal is to have a product every parent and grandparent needs that’s comfortable, portable, and affordable.
Katherine Kish, president of Cranbury-based Market Entry, a marketing firm with a specialty in product launches, calls the Plush Pad "a wonderfully unnecessary product" that will have to find its market among "cosmopolites," which, as she defines them, are wealthy parents in hip cities, including New York and Hollywood. "It won’t go in Princeton," she says. "Princeton is too conservative, too frugal."
Kish found this out through experience. In the 1990s she developed and marketed a product called Diaperwhere. "It was `where’ for `where’s the diaper?’" she explains. The infant garment, available in a girl’s and a boy’s style, combined a diaper with a swimsuit. Nationwide, the girl’s suit was the top seller, but the reverse was true in Princeton. "In Princeton, moms bought the boy’s suit. They wanted the cheaper version," she says. "They paired it with a t-shirt."
As befits a luxury product, Plush Pad has a "beautiful, elegant website," says Kish. She likes the look of the pad itself, too. It could be a fine gift item to present a corporate executive at a baby shower, she suggests, pronouncing it perfect for parents just like the Telegadises themselves.
Marketing plans include targeting more than 1,000 boutique retailers this fall, and in the spring Telegadis will market the Plush Pad at trade shows. Ultimately the company’s goal is to develop enough exposure to market products to larger, luxury department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.
Says one customer, Beth Clarke of Washington D.C., of the Plush Pad: "We use it all the time for quick diaper changes in the car, as a changing station at our beach house and on vacation and at my parents’ and in-laws’ house. It’s quick and easy to unroll and roll back up, even one handed."
Ah Goo Baby is Telegadis’s first solo business endeavor. She found the legal legwork in the patent application trying, even with a husband who is an attorney, and developing the prototype was complicated. It took eight months for the prototype to be completed.
It also was important to her to find high-quality seamstress work. She did much research online, and manufacturers sent her hundreds of fabric samples. Telegadis wanted a fabric of 100 percent cotton, preshrunk, and she bought 70-yard bolts from three fabric makers, two in New York and one in Los Angeles. Core Products International Inc. of Osceola, Wisconsin, completed the first production run of 600 pads, and Telegadis is researching overseas manufacturers to see if they can maintain or improve quality, meet demand, and lower expenses.
As an entrepreneur, she says her greatest fear is fear of failure. "You want it [her business] to succeed. I’m a bit of a perfectionist," Telegadis acknowledges.
Her husband, George Telegadis, senior vice president of business and legal affairs and general counsel for GRB Entertainment, designed the company’s website, www.ahgoobaby.com. He also has handled the legal work of the company.
George Telegadis says Ah Goo Baby has concentrated much of its marketing efforts establishing a presence online. "Of particular interest are the mommy blogs," he said in an E-mail interview. "There are literally hundreds of these. We feel word of mouth is better than advertising, and once someone actually sees, feels, and uses the Plush Pad, they’re hooked. These mommies write blogs that thousands of other mommies read for advice. It takes time hitting each of them, but the blogs are there for life, they cross pollinate our key words Ah Goo Baby and Plush Pad, increasing our results on search engines, and most importantly, get priceless referrals to our specific demographic."
Entertainment-industry companies have purchased Plush Pads for their talent. Celebrities who have received the pad include British-born actress Naomi Watts, the View co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross, actor and director Jason Priestly, and Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey, George Telegadis says.
Ah Goo Baby is a self-financed company. "I have been a practicing entertainment attorney for over 10 years," George Telegadis says, "and Karin had significant entertainment sales experience, both domestic and international, so we were also able to leverage a lot of sweat equity into what we’ve been able to accomplish. That said, patent expenses, prototyping, and manufacturing can be quite expensive. The most important part was getting the acknowledgement from the press, retailers, and parents that we had a product that they loved. We have kept things lean. We’re here to stay."
After the births of their daughters, the couple – then living in California – took on a huge risk. Telegadis left Showtime, where she was director of programming, and she and her husband returned to Princeton in January, 2006, to raise their family and launch her business. Prior to Showtime, she worked for five years for NBC in New York and Los Angeles, developing international business and sales.
But Telegadis, who was born and raised in Princeton, a graduate of Princeton High School, wanted to return to her hometown, in part because she feels it’s a great place to raise children. She also wanted to be closer to her parents and siblings. She has a twin brother who works on Wall Street and lives in New York, a sister in Pennington, and another sister in Massachusetts.
When the couple decided to return to Princeton, George, who received his B.A. in 1992 and J.D. from the University of Florida, assumed he would have to leave his job at GRB, based in Sherman Oaks, California. But GRB wanted him to stay on, and now his office is in their home in Lawrence Township near Bristol-Myers Squibb – the custom house was built by the former owner of Barney’s. He keeps California work hours, helping to care for their daughters in the morning before his work day starts at noon. He is able to do much of his work here but travels to the West Coast about every other month.
Telegadis doesn’t expect to return to the high-stakes throes of the television industry. Ah Goo Baby, she hopes, will reach profitability in two to three years. In the near term, she would like to start her own B2C commerce site and to expand the Plush Pad product line into slumber mats. She and George want to develop brand awareness and loyalty for Ah Goo Baby and eventually expand into products such as crib sheets and curtains. Telegadis hopes her company will have longevity, a business that her children may one day take over.
Telegadis comes from a close, tight-knit family. She credits her father, Peter Halstead, a retired executive with United Jersey Bank, for instilling in her dedication, drive, and her perfectionist nature. She credits her mother, a retired nurse, for instilling in her abilities to nurture and to forgive.
And she credits her daughters. "If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t know what I know and have passion for doing it."
Ah Goo Baby LLC, 66 Witherspoon Street, Suite 415, Princeton 08542; 609-247-7843; fax, 609-924-0582. Karin Telegadis, founder and president. Home page: www.ahgoobaby.com
Comfort Zone For Nursing Mothers
There are so many little nagging problems in life. No one thinks about them until they occur, and most just continue to be a minor annoyance. But some become the genesis of a new business. That was the case when Lois Whittaker, full-time marketing executive, part-time bookkeeper for a family business, and mother of a toddler, was breast feeding her new baby.
Unable to position herself properly for the feedings, while at the same time keeping a hand free for the multi-tasking required of every mom, she came up with the idea for a soft, triangle-shaped pillow to support her breast. She tried a variety of pillows, but none did the job. So she invented one that did, and that is how the Cushie Pushie pillow was born. Available in 12 fabrics and two sizes, it went on sale at www.cushiepushie.com, priced at $12, on August 8.
Whittaker, a graduate of the University of Richmond (Class of 1989), earned an MBA online through the University of Phoenix. She works for Munich Re, the College Road-based company.
A Lawrenceville resident who grew up in Lambertville, she says that she learned about small business through her family’s company, Bish Sales, a Pennington company that sells landscaping supplies. The company was founded by her father, Donald Bish, who died last year, and is now run by her brother, also named Donald Bish, and her mother, Dorothy Bish, who doubles as her babysitter.
Whittaker also credits her marketing background and the Internet for helping her get her company off the ground. She has relied on mothers from around the country that she met online. She is close to a group who spend time at Baby Center (www.babycenter.com), a Johnson & Johnson website. She has asked their advice as she has developed her product, and sent samples for them to try.
Whittaker, who designed her website herself, says that she was able to do so, at least in part, because of her experience as a volunteer for a national fundraising walk for leukemia and lymphoma. She does the marketing for that event, and through doing so learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of putting up and maintaining a website.
Having a great boss at a progressive company has helped too, says Whittaker, who sews all of her pillows herself after her children are asleep. She works flex-time and from home one afternoon a week.
In the very early days of her business, Whittaker has a supply of about 12 pillows on hand. "When I sell one, I make another in the same pattern," she says. She is beginning to approach retailers – mostly online baby boutiques – about carrying her product. At some point, she will also try to place it in stores.
The next step is a Cushie Pushie gift basket, including another unique product, perhaps a "onesie" (a one-piece garment for infants) with a pro-breast-feeding theme.
Whittaker, whose husband, Ray, is a warehouseman with Coyne Chemicals in Bristol, PA, is quietly confident, but it’s a good bet that many busy moms who try it will slap themselves on the head and say: "Why didn’t I think of that!"
Cushie Pushie, Lawrenceville. Lois Whittaker. 609-844-1061; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.cushiepushie.com.