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Security blanket

Pat Patera

Nearly 5 million babies are born each year in this country alone. Nicola Pieters and Carol Betz plan to tap that customer base to sell their baby product, Guardian Sleeper.

The fleece construct, they say, is designed to maintain a baby in the correct sleeping position, a measure to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and also relieve apnea, a breathing disorder.

Before moving to Washoe Valley and starting Mommy’s Little Helpers, LLC, Betz was technical director for a Los Angeles telecom company and Pieters was a small business owner. But their personal struggles to achieve motherhood provided the impetus to develop Guardian Sleeper. After investing years of time and effort to bring children into their lives, they were determined to find a way to stay home with those children and still have paid work.

But with the babies came a daily conundrum how to keep a cover in place over a sleeping infant. When Betz asked advice from a pediatrician, she says the doctor replied, “If I had a dime for every woman who asked me that question, I would be a rich woman.”

The idea was born. Research, says Betz, showed there was nothing like it on the market. A business partner and patent attorney in the womens’ native land, England, found no patents for similar products.

“A lawyer told us only 2 percent of patented products even get into production,” says Betz.

“So when a patent attorney said ‘this is a great idea,’ we had to pursue it. And every doctor we’ve spoken to has been ‘wow.'”

Guardian Sleeper retails for about $39, says Betz. With fleece from David Textiles, it’s manufactured at United Manufacturing in Wisconsin. A designer at Intraform in Sparks did packaging design and the product ships from a northern Nevada warehouse.

Although labor costs are higher in the United States, Betz says they don’t plan to offshore the sewing labor. “We want it made in the USA. It’s important to us to have a relationship with people.”

A second product run of 1,500 is in the works upon the heels of the first batch of 500. And a summer-weight model is in process.

Marketing plans focus on negotiations for a contract with Babies-R-Us, and hopes for national exposure on Oprah Winfrey’s television show. Pregnancy magazines are targeted for print ads. Doctors and hospitals are also in the running.

They’ve already garnered a seal of approval from a SIDS prevention organization. And the pair works with locals from the Small Business Administration and Service Corps Of Retired Executives.

Export plans are also in the works. They’ve laid plans to file for patent protection in 36 countries starting with the English-speaking countries: United States, Australia and Canada. Lawyers are standing by to deal with patent infringement. But the partners say their company slogan is a weapon against knock-offs: When it comes to child safety devices, “Don’t accept cheap imitations.”

Brochures already go out in new mommy packets at Carson Tahoe hospital. But at present, Guardian Sleeper is primarily sold online through the Web site mommys-little-helpers.com.

But hitting upon a great idea was the easy part compared to taking that idea to market. The manufacturing process was fraught with challenge.

“We wrote a list of 21 things that went wrong,” says Pieters. Supplies were delayed. The sewn sample from the initial manufacturer was a disappointment. “It looked worse than the sample one we had made,” she says, “and we can’t sew.”

But despite the problems, after the great effort both women put toward becoming mothers, Betz speaks for them both in saying, “Failure has never been an option.”

In addition to supportive husbands and initial financing from home equity lines of credit, Betz says that she and Pieters plan to sell 3 to 5 percent of the company to bring in investor money.

The next big step for Pieters and Betz is angling for a spot in a television contest orchestrated by shopping network QVC in Los Angeles. The contest winners will be booked to take their “next big idea” on The Oprah Winfrey Show, for the segment, “Mums Who Made Millions.”