Some people get sympathy pains when they're around pregnant women. Linda Turner got a business idea: to create lingerie that, as she describes it, "doesn't make a pregnant woman feel like a cow." The 49-year-old Golden, Colorado, entrepreneur conceived the idea for the Bellybra while in an exercise class. "I was watching a woman who was hugely pregnant holding up her belly and thought, 'There must be something out there to help her.'"
But after a patent search, countless conversations with pregnant women and tons of research, Turner found there wasn't. "I sewed a bit, so I went to Wal-Mart, bought a jog bra and a heavy girdle and put together a crude prototype," she says. "It was the most ridiculous-looking thing I'd ever seen, but it worked. One of my pregnant friends wore it, and she loved it."
So, prototype in hand, Turner approached Basic Comfort, which in 1991 was a fledgling baby-products firm seeking new ideas. But instead of signing an agreement and turning over all production and marketing of her Bellybra, Turner took a $100-a-week job with the company and got a front-row seat watching her doctor-recommended product hit the half-million-dollar mark in sales. At its peak, the Bellybra was sold in more than 200 retail outlets nationwide.
But after five years on the market, sales of the Bellybra began to drop. In 1995, one of Basic Comfort's own products, the Sleep Ez, started to take off. "It wasn't like they dropped me on my head, but the Sleep Ez required so much production," says Turner, who by that time also had realized her invention didn't belong in the baby-products industry. By mutual consent, they terminated the licensing agreement in March 2000, and Turner created Just a Couple of Dames with partner Cindy Koch, 36. They've corrected small design flaws, added a black version of the Bellybra and begun an aggressive marketing campaign, resulting in 2001 sales projections of $100,000.
Turner doesn't regret her initial decision to take the licensing route. "It was an incredible test market, and I would never have learned as much as I did otherwise," she says, describing it as a no-risk proposition for her.
Best of all, Turner reenters the competitive retail market with a definite advantage: a successful sales track record that could be the difference between failure and success. Sounds like all her labor is finally paying off.