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Soothe Operator

Word-of-mouth was the cure for discouragement.

Hell hath no fury like a woman who's passionate about something. So says Resheda Hagen, who once walked through maternity hospitals armed with little purple tubes. Her ammunition: pure lanolin samples. Her mission: to soothe breast-feeding mothers' discomfort.

As a breast-feeding counselor and mother, Hagen, 59, knew the healing properties of lanolin, but with no support from industry leaders, she decided to sell it herself. Hagen visited hospitals and dispensed samples of her product, Lansinoh, and attended conferences for referrals. Endorsed by breast-feeding organization La Leche League International, Lansinoh Laboratories gained 90 percent of the market share and sales in excess of $10 million by word-of-mouth.

Sales have grown 442 percent over the past five years, and in 1999, a major retailer asked Hagen to design a line of nursing products. The entrepreneur recalls what industry leaders said when she first approached them: "Women won't use anything that isn't pink, pretty and perfumed." Looks like Hagen can claim victory.

This story appears in the December 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »