Ashton business provides bling for babies, success for moms -- Gazette.Net



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Amy Maurer Creel had a moment that all moms can relate to. She was sitting in church when her infant daughter grabbed at her strand of pearls. The necklace broke, sending pearls bouncing across the floor.

At that moment, she had a vision — to create jewelry that was stylish, yet safe for babies.

The Ashton mother of two sat on the idea for a while, since she had no business background and had never developed a product.

Then, her family endured a tragedy. In 2005, her sister-in-law Maria Janowksi Maurer died suddenly of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect, a week after delivering a baby.

“It was so unexpected and so tragic,” said Creel. “It made me reevaluate everything.”

That led to her decision to go forward with her plan to create and sell the product, which she coined “Teething Bling,” but with a bigger goal than she had originally considered — a desire to help other moms to find meaningful work that they could balance with their busy schedules.

“My goal was to hire all moms and to create a new kind of business model,” Creel said. “The moms with young kids could work during naps or in the evenings, and those with school-aged kids could work during the day.”

Taking the product from concept to reality took a lot of research, a lot of persistence and a lot of money.

“It took about $50,000 to get this going, which was a lot of money for us,” she said. “We basically drained our savings, which was pretty scary.”

She spent a great deal of time researching on the Internet and making phone calls and admits she didn’t even know what questions to ask. Eventually, she connected with people who were able to help her get started.

It also took a lot of time. Creel said it took two years before finally getting the product right.

Her now-thriving company, Smart Mom, LLC, employs seven moms, all living in the Olney-Ashton area.

Teething Bling offers a variety of “teethable” necklaces and bracelets, all made of a soft, flexible silicone, which has undergone substantial safety testing. The material is the same as what is used in coated infant feeding spoons. The products are made in Europe and Asia.

Products come in a variety of designs including jewel tones, NFL team colors, shimmering colors and whimsical designs. Necklaces, which feature a breakaway safety cord, sell for about $20.

As a mom with little money and no marketing experience, Creel said she had to find a creative, inexpensive way to promote her product. She sent samples to as many “mom bloggers” as she could find and relied on their positive reviews to generate interest.

She began a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/pages/Teething-Bling/167516720033?fref=ts, which now has more than 33,000 followers. The page has become a resource for moms — a community for sharing and beyond.

“That’s something I am really proud of,” she said. “It’s hard to be a mom, so it’s important to have places to share ideas and get advice.”

She likes to involve her employees as much as she can. Instead of a conference room, staff meetings take place around her kitchen table, usually with lots of babies. The catalog shoot, featuring 20 local babies, also took place in her Ashton home.

The products are now available at 370 Target stores and all Buy Buy Baby stores across the country. Celebrities including Tori Spelling, Holly Robinson Peet, Ming Na, Chris Noth, Jewel and Melissa Joan Hart are all fans of Teething Bling.

A fulfillment center in Richmond now completes the orders, but that job used to take place in her home, as well.

“A lot of companies offer the chance to work at home, but from my experience, if you have to keep asking for time off, it leads to bad feelings,” Creel said. “We are walking the walk — these moms can multi-task and still be able to be involved in the PTA or be home with their sick kids. It works really well.”

Creel said another part of her business is giving back to charities. She gets many requests for product donations and responds to each one.

She has selected Dress for Success as her primary charity. The organization collects clothing to help disadvantaged women get back into the workforce.

“My sister-in-law was very interested in women’s causes and was a fashion designer who had just been given her dream job two months before she died,” Creel said. “I think this is a fitting tribute to her.”

Creel said she also makes herself available to other moms who are considering starting their own business.

Creel, 46, and her husband, Marty, have been married for 17 years.

“He’s been a huge supporter and sometimes a Doubting Thomas,” she said. “It was really hard to get started without any immediate gratification and definitely a huge leap of faith. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Her daughters, Alice, 12, and Daisy, 8, are involved, as well. Alice designed a line of “Tween Bling,” created for older girls who twirl their hair, chew on pencils or like to fidget. Products offered in the Tween line include heart-shaped pendants, camouflage patterns and fruit-scented items.

Creel said the moment she knew her idea was really going to work happened when she was about two years in. While selling her products at several local shows, the reaction from all the moms that she spoke with was the same — they said, “What a great idea. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“That made me think that this just really might take off,” she said.

And it has. The company made $750,000 last year and is on track to make its first million this year.

There have been disappointments along the way. One day she got a call from Oprah Winfrey’s senior producer, wanting samples of her products that day. Thinking, “this is really it,” she made arrangements to have them delivered but never heard anything back.

“Through all this I have learned to be much more measured and balanced, which has helped in all aspects of my life,” she said. “I tend not to do the highs and lows like I used to.”

For more information visit www.teethingbling.com.

thogan@gazette.net