Wednesday, June 18, 2008
By Pat Phillips
People might not think a medical degree and a stint as a Tennessee Titan Cheerleader would have prepared Danville native Monica Williams for her new career as an inventor, marketer and head of her own company.
While not using her medical education at this time, she has found that the principles are the same.
"I think my education helped me become a better decision maker," Williams said. "When you have a patient, you have to be a good listener. You have to problem-solve in order to figure out what tests to order. I think my education has helped me more in life right now as opposed to being a career."
After giving birth to daughter Mackenzie Smith in October 2006, Williams had the same problems any new mom has, including keeping a pacifier in her baby's mouth. Trying to get chores done around the house or driving in six lanes of traffic when a "binky" pops out would be followed closely by an increase in the volume of her daughter's cries.
"She wanted it, but she would push the pacifier out with her tongue and, of course, she was too young to put it back or reach for it," Williams said. "One of the worst times, I was in traffic in a big SUV and she was in a backward facing car seat, out came the pacifier. I couldn't pull over and I had no way to retrieve it and put it back in her mouth. She was not happy."
This frustration led the 35-year-old Williams on a road to solving her own problem by creating an innovative substitute.
Williams sewed her baby's pacifier to a stuffed animal. It took a little trial and error to discover that a 9-inch-long animal worked best. It was neither too big, nor too small and could easily be fastened in the car seat with her daughter.
"It helped solve the problem somewhat," Williams said. "She might still push the pacifier out, but she still had the animal and the pacifier close by."
Pacimal - Brody the Bear
People started stopping mother and daughter in stores and asking her where she got the concoction.
"My pediatrician said I was onto something. He thought I could really do something with it businesswise," Williams said.
Williams applied for a provisional patent at a cost of $100, which gave her a year to develop her product and see if she could market it. An actual patent application would have been $3,000 to $4,000. Submitting that application forced her to do a lot of research.
"I found there had been similar ideas filed, but nothing seemed to ever come of them, which made me wonder if I was overlooking something," she said.
When nothing bad turned up through several prototypes, Williams filed for the patent and trademark for Pacimals (pacifier-animals). Pacimals consist of a silicone pacifier, which detaches from its base and is dishwasher safe, and a stuffed animal that is machine washable and dryable.
Williams said the toy portion allows the child to physically hold onto something and encourages physical and mental development. Eventually, the pacifier portion can be detached during the weening process, leaving the baby with the same stuffed animal for comfort.
"It's much better than having a baby drag a blanket around until it's in shreds," Williams said.
A firm in Anaheim, Calif., made the mold for and produces the pacifier and its base, and the stuffed animals, including Brody the Bear, Dallas the Duck, Pepper the Pig, Rocco the Rhino, Ooie the Monkey, Macey the Mouse, Bailee the Bunny, Cali the Cat, Liberty the Lamb and Rusty the Ram, are made at a small factory in China that Williams visited a number of times.
"I didn't go with the lowest prices, but based my decisions on who could do the best job," Williams said.
Her first order was for 2,000 each of 10 different animals. She took the product to the 2007 ABC Kids Expo held in September in Las Vegas and got orders from 46 retailers in 22 states and four countries.
She wanted to create her own company, Love Kub, and brand because she plans to market not only Pacimals, but also some other ideas she has, in the future.
The first stages of development and sales have required about $100,000 of investment.
"I needed investors, so of course I hit up my family first," Williams said of her mother, retired Meade Park Elementary School Principal Janet Alexander, and her father, retired Public Safety Director Carl Alexander of Danville.
"I started with them when I was just doing the thing with Mackenzie with the pacifier sewed on the toy," Williams said.
"I admit I wondered about all that education, but she has always been adventurous and independent," her mother said. "I'm not one to step out like this, but I taught her to believe in herself. She does and we all believe she can be successful with this product."
Janet Alexander also worked back and forth with her daughter on the original concept – what worked and what didn't.
After family, the young businesswoman got a loan and added a couple more investors. She appeared on CNBC's The Big Idea with host Donny Deutsch" and learned a lot from that. The viewers saw her idea win against two other contestants, but the possible investors didn't materialize.
"If I knew it would cost $100,000 to get where I am now, I don't know if I would have done it, but I'm glad I did. It's really been rewarding," Williams said.
She now finds herself in a cross between constantly proud and constantly stressed, but she is building a Web site at Pacimals.com and received a Baby Care category Honors Award from the 2008 National Parenting Publications Awards, which called Pacimals "one of the most innovative and useful products geared to expectant, new or veteran parents today."
Pacimals are available in Danville at Reflections for Hair and Sun Salon, 407 N. Gilbert St., and California Catering & Restaurant, 38 N. Vermilion St. She hopes to find even more retail outlets for the product, which sells for $19.99 with extra pacifiers in a variety of colors at $2.49 each.
They are also available at BabyBungalow.com. To shop, click on "browse online store" and then on "Pacimals–the huggable lovable pacifier."