Calendar Girls

Baby Steps

"There's a dual purpose that makes moms love using the calendar: It's a place where the expectant mom can keep up with how her baby is developing, but it also becomes a precious keepsake of the pregnancy," says Emily Gentry, a nurse who runs the Family Resource Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Since 1988, Baylor has licensed its own version of the calendar, using the trio's text and basic concept but adding its own artwork.

The partners retain all rights to the concept and are responsible for updating the artwork and text--for example, incorporating new information on pregnant women's need for folic acid--and, thanks to licensing, they've established a two-pronged business. One version of the calendar is designed for sale in retail stores; all contracts and distribution on that side are handled by licensee Russ Berrie & Co. Inc., a nationally known gift company in Oakland, New Jersey. On the other side are assorted versions of the calendar designed as free handouts and distributed in obstetricians' offices. These contracts are handled by Nashville calendar printer Falco Manufacturing. But the partners' successful strategy didn't start out that way.

Initially, the women sold the calendars to hospitals and retailers themselves. Only after a feature article caught the attention of Russ Berrie in 1989 did they think of licensing their product. They also learned that retail stores and hospitals had slightly different needs: "Hospitals want something that looks more clinical than the cutesy artwork we use for retail stores," Frazier explains.

Thus educated, the partners had inadvertently been prepped for Russ Berrie's approach. "Russ Berrie always bought all rights [to a product] and expected to do that with us," Jones says. But Linholm's founders knew that by selling all rights, they'd be withdrawing their product from a sizeable market. So they negotiated to keep hospital and premium rights, and were able to mine their concept twice.

Now the hospital side of the business appears to be eclipsing the retail side in sales, Jones says. The lesson: "Don't sell the farm just because [the offer] sounds good at first," Jones advises. "Do the research and find out what you may be giving up."

What Linholm stood to lose wasn't just an income stream, but an entirely different way of getting important information to pregnant women. That focus on end-users' needs is what makes the product so successful, says Lauren Law, director of creative services for Baylor Healthcare System. "The Linholm calendar really meets the needs of pregnant women," Law says. "Women can tell--and so can the physicians giving it to them--that the information comes from people who feel it's worth sharing."

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This article was originally published in the December 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Calendar Girls.

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