One of the reasons I started my website is that I wanted a place for women to come together and dream. We women need to know that we don't have to hang on to an old dream that has stopped nurturing us -- that there is always time to start a new dream. This week's story is about a mother with an accident-prone child. When her daughter was stuck in a cast before several big events, she wanted to cheer her up. This crafty mom's idea to design a cute cast cover has evolved into a profit-producing business, helping everyone with broken bones look a bit more stylish. -– Marlo, MarloThomas.com
By Lori Weiss
From the time she was a teenager, Annette Giacomazzi was searching for her lucky break. An inventor at heart, she was always looking for the next big thing. At 19, she was sure it was pet insurance, but friends and family convinced her she was young and naïve.
“And now look,” Annette laughed, “everyone is selling it!”
So it was no surprise that she went into market research. She was determined to find a hole in the market -- something one of her ideas could fill.
What Annette couldn’t have known is that her lucky break would find her on its own in the form of one that wasn’t so lucky -- her 10-year-old daughter’s arm.
"It was break number six,” Annette sighed. “We all went to school with one of those kids. I just happen to be raising one!”
Elli was a child on the go and in an effort to keep up with her big brother, Max, she’d get tripped up from time to time. First there were the wrist fractures. Then there were the pair of garden shears that dropped out of her little hands and directly on her foot.
“And then there was the horse that stepped on her leg,” Annette added. “I was picking her up from horseback riding lessons, and I heard a scream as I was getting out of my car. She’d had so many breaks by that point, when I heard her voice, I was just thankful she was alive and cognizant enough to scream.”
At first the family was worried that it could be brittle bone disease. But Elli’s bones were just fine -- when they weren’t broken. She was just a little accident prone. So when she fell the next time, just before Halloween and a big family wedding, Annette wanted to do the same thing any Mom would -- she wanted to make her daughter feel better.
“I felt so badly. She was so distraught. She felt like her body was betraying her. And they had given her the biggest, ugliest cast that time. It was a huge splint, wrapped in an ace bandage. I had to do something to put a smile on her face."
“Some mothers cook, but my cooking wouldn’t have been much of a comfort. So I turned to my sewing machine.”
Annette picked out the prettiest, girliest fabric she could find, but not because she wanted to whip up a trendy skirt to distract her pre-teen daughter. She decided to make the best of a bad situation. She crafted a cute cover for Elli’s cast.
“I made one in swimsuit material,” Annette remembered, “that I knew Elli would love. Then I made one for the wedding and another for Halloween. I was making lemonade out of lemons.”
But what Annette didn’t realize was that everywhere Elli went, it was as if she was a walking lemonade stand. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 1 out of every 5 Americans experiences some sort of orthopedic event every year. Elli had become a trendsetter and suddenly, people were stopping the mom and daughter on the street to find out where they could get colorful cast covers -– not just for their kids, but for themselves.
“And that’s when I saw the hole in the market,” Annette explained. “I apologized to my daughter that it took six broken bones for me to get the message.”
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So she went back to the sewing machine -- this time designing cast covers, not only for arms, but for legs -- and then registered for a trade show that would draw an audience of 30,000 attendees -- 15,000 of them orthopedic surgeons. And they couldn’t help but fall for her bright idea.
“My sister found a manufacturer in San Diego who had worked with Lycra spandex fabric and liked the idea of working with an entrepreneur. She was willing to work with smaller quantities. So we’d drive seven hours back and forth to San Diego and load up my Suburban with boxes of cast covers, and then store them in a guest suite, which eventually began to spill out into our garage."
But with every new venture, there are always a few lessons along the way. Just as Annette had begun shipping out orders, she got a call from a nurse asking if the cast covers were latex free -- something that medical professionals need to be aware of because of possible allergic reactions. The fabric was fine, but the elastic at both ends was not.
“We couldn’t return them to the manufacturer,” Annette said. “It wasn’t their mistake. But we couldn’t sell them, so suddenly we had hundreds of units that we thought we had sold, just sitting on shelves.”
And while that costly mistake came close to breaking the bank, it didn’t break Annette’s spirit. While she went back into production, customers started finding her website and suggesting new styles. Soon Annette’s company, which she named CastCoverZ, was up to 10 styles for day, for night and even for the shower. Big, burly bikers took a liking to their “Up in Flames” fabric, and moms were ordering custom covers emblazoned with their kid’s favorite rock bands. It wasn’t long before she even added a line of colorful crutches for her more creative clients.
“We had an 80-year-old woman call us recently. Her friends were throwing her a party and she wanted something festive. So we sent her two pairs of crutches -– one in yellow and the other in purple.”
Today, that guest suite which was a temporary storage area has been converted to a sewing room for custom orders; Annette has enough orders to keep two different manufacturers busy and her million-dollar idea is about to become a million-dollar business. She expects to hit seven figures early next year.
As for Elli, who is now 15, there have been a few more breaks along the way, but the good news is, she’s got a very crafty mom.
“We keep telling Elli we have enough customers to give us new ideas,” Annette said with a smile, “that she doesn’t have to give us any more! But as long as she keeps breaking bones, we’ll keep coming up with ways to make her feel better.”