Smart Ideas 02/05
Eat Your Heart Out
cookies shaped like celebrity caricatures
Who: Chuck DiRocco of Chuck D's LLC
Where: Chevy Chase, Maryland
When: started in 2003
When former investment analyst Chuck DiRocco noticed that cookies were missing from the wide variety of snacks sold in video stores and at theater concessions, he started searching for a way to link cookies to Hollywood. Then the idea hit him: Create cookies in the form of popular movie stars, such as Renée Zellweger and Jack Nicholson. One cup of flour, two cups of sugar and three eggs later, the first cast of LikeUms was formed.
DiRocco, 33, spent months surveying moviegoers, analyzing feedback and researching the industry to find out which stars were most popular. Although theater and video chains were initially reluctant to carry his product, he continued to send samples and mass mailings to them in hopes of making his new cookies more recognizable. Before long, in July 2004, DiRocco landed a deal with Regal Entertainment Group, the world's largest motion picture exhibitor, to release LikeUms in select theaters.
As DiRocco continued to market aggressively nationwide, he managed to get LikeUms on the shelves of convenience stores and in amusement parks and gift baskets, pushing sales to more than $400,000 in the first year. Realizing the cookie characters had potential in other venues besides theaters, DiRocco began marketing them to international exporters, school fund-raisers, charity events and corporate offices. Some NBA teams have even sought to create a version of LikeUms to help market their athletes and sporting events.
With sales of more than $1 million projected for 2005, you can bet DiRocco is enjoying the sweet taste of success. Coming attractions: He plans to expand the line to include more celebrities, including pop singers, radio personalities and entertainers.
Parents weary of the bustle of day care, baby-sitters and carpools for their young children need only to look to the TeacherCare child-care and teaching program for some relief. Founded by Terri Brax, this service provides qualified teachers to work in people's homes and serve as both teachers and caregivers.
Brax is familiar with the needs of working parents--she left her job as an account manager in the computer field because of her lack of child-care choices. With child care on the brain, Brax heard her best friend's story of a difficult experience with a nanny. Her friend, in need of one-on-one child care for her son, eventually found a teacher who could care for him during the day while engaging his mind in learning activities. "When I'd visit her, both of our sets of children would light up," recalls Brax, 42. "That was when the light-bulb moment happened. I realized that this is just wonderful for the children and for us as parents, and other parents and children would really benefit from this, too."
After setting out to recruit teachers who were passionate about the concept, Brax found many eager for the one-on-one teaching atmosphere a home setting provided. And parents loved the concept right away--so much so that they became TeacherCare's spokespeople, spreading the company's message via word-of-mouth.
Brax, who started in the Chicago area, has since expanded the service to Boston, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Seattle, Virginia and Washington, DC. With plans to expand to even more cities and introduce a line of teaching materials especially for home use, TeacherCare expects 2005 sales to hit more than half a million dollars.