About five years ago, my parents, along with my father's brothers had to make the hard decision to put our grandmother in a nursing home. After a handful of falls, which resulted in the need for two hip surgeries, she never returned to her old self. Instead, with all the medicines she was placed on, along with her old age, she began to develop dementia and then alzheimer's. Even though she no longer knows who were are, she is still living a productive and healthy life in a local nursing home. Gone are the days when she would knit and sew. Today, she spend time talking with other residents and clinging to stuffed animals -- dogs and cats, which she believes are real. Even though it is sad to visit and watch how she went from a strong mother of 5 to having regressed mentally, my family and I are always on the lookout for therapuetic products that she can use. This is how I stumbled across the mom-invented TwiddleMuff. Because my grandmother has a handful of plush animals she takes everywhere with her, and which seem to calm her down whe she gets flustered, I wondered how the TwiddlePup would work with her. So, I reached out Margaret, the creator of BeauLily's TwiddleMuff and other comforting products, to see if she wanted to participate in my Spotlight Mom feature, and to see about reviewing one of her TwiddlePups.
Margaret responded back with an interest in my feature and having me review her TwiddlePup. So, as I wait to receive the TwiddlePup to receive, I wanted to share her Spotlight Mom interview with you, in the meantime. In a few weeks, I will share my review of her TwiddlePup, and let you know how my grandmother responded to it, as well as offer one lucky reader the chance to win a TwiddlePup for their loved one, or to share with a local nursing home or family friend.
Please enjoy my Spotlight Mom interview with Margaret Light of BeauLily, makers of the original TwiddleMuff below.
Name: Margaret Light
Company Name/Product/Service: BeauLily – Makers of the Original TwiddleMuff! A hand held, comforting, therapeutic product for the elderly with cold hands, arthritis, dementia, Alzheimer’s etc.
Company Location: Chicago, Illinois
Company Website: www.twiddlemuff.com
Facebook URL: http://www.facebook.com/#!/beaulily.twiddlemuffs
Twitter Handle: @ no longer using
Age of Company: 6 years
Favorite Inspirational Quotes: “ It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on Earth and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had.” - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Favorite Book: Louise Penny’s - Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery Series (smart and unpredictable).
Tell us a little bit about yourself. How many children do you have? What are their ages? Your hobbies? Etc.
My husband and I have been married for 28 years and have three wonderful sons aged 26, 24 and 23. Our shelter pup is a constant companion and a good motivator for some much-needed exercise and change of scenery. We’re all looking forward to our oldest son’s wedding this year!
I enjoy warm summer days at our cottage in the company of good friends and family or just time alone in the hammock with a good book! Reading, movies and traveling are some favorite hobbies. For a nice break and diversion on a less busy day I’ll make a cup of tea and play some online Scrabble.
Briefly explain your business. How did it come about?
My Grandmother Lily had been wonderful with her hands. She knitted and embroidered beautifully. She loved to cook and bake. But as she aged she gradually lost her vision and was unable to do these things she had enjoyed so much. When she was 90 years old, I had an idea of making something to keep her hands warm and active. I made a muff with a purple velvet scarf and some batting. I attached some keys, beads and ribbons to allow her inquisitive hands to move, explore and enjoy various textures.
When I left the corporation I’d been working for ten year later, I wanted to do something more personally satisfying. I had always had a heart for the elderly and that original TwiddleMuff gift became the prototype for a product that has since benefited thousands of people worldwide!
What is a typical work day like?
Breakfast with my husband in the sunroom followed by walking the dog on the beach (yes, Chicago!). Then I jump into some combination of preparing orders for shipping, responding to emails and doing some invoicing. Around noon I plan a trip to the Post Office to mail out the website orders and do a drop at the local UPS for commercial shipments. I evaluate my product shortages at my home office and stop at my local warehouse where I pick up a couple of boxes each containing 35 TwiddleMuffs. I have developed 5 variations (Pups, Cats etc) and so need a ready supply of each of them. On Wednesday mid-afternoon, I have a standing ‘coffee date’ with women in the neighborhood. Thursday afternoons I take a Ceramics Class at my local Park District. When you own your own business, the work is always there so I’ve found it helpful to put in some weekly events so that I stay in touch with the community and some fun. I try to end my workday by 5pm, have dinner with my husband and still have time to relax and pursue my other interests. It’s not always possible to stay within the structure but I remind myself that the choice is mine!
What has been a struggle while starting up your company?
Nothing has been insurmountable…and I think not being dependent on the company providing me an income in the early years (so the profits could be re-invested) was a bonus. The TwiddleMuff is a unique product so finding a manufacturer that could manage the sewing as well as the gadget attachments took a while to figure out. And, because it’s original it’s not well understood by individuals outside the ‘eldercare’ environment.
What did you do in your past work life?
For almost 20 years, I worked for a large international company and lived in the UK, Houston and Chicago. As a member of the management team, I was exposed to all the functions within an organization such as, legal, HR, manufacturing, accounting and marketing. This awareness was applicable to my tiny start-up!
What have been some of your major successes?
- Getting over 14,000 TwiddleMuffs into the hands of those who enjoy them.
- The TwiddleMuffs have won some awards including ‘Innovative New Product’ in Long Term Living Magazine.
- Raising 3 happy, healthy independent sons while working.
What have been some of your major challenges?
Marketing has been an ongoing concern as it’s never obvious what the best way to ‘get the word out’ is. I had a paid publicist for a year that was able to get TwiddleMuffs mentioned in several magazines but this did not necessarily increase sales. We don’t have the budget to do tv commercials and the Shopping Network turned us down. In spite of this, our sales have been increasing nicely year over year largely due to the efforts of our wholesalers (catalogs and websites that target the geriatric populations).
On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?
I picture that uncommunicative soul, sitting in a wheelchair in a nursing home and knowing that the next TwiddleMuff I send out might give some comfort to that person.
What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?
With my 3 sons all out of the house now…it’s not much of a challenge. My policy has always been to confine the business to my home office and not have it spread throughout the house. I’ve also engaged my family in understanding the business so that they understand the targets and take an interest in sales and manufacturing.
What is next for your business?
My husband plans to retire at some stage in the next couple of years and I think it will be the best thing for the business (and me!) to sell it so that we are free to travel and baby sit the grandchildren that are sure to come along.
Do you have any advice for other mom entrepreneurs that are starting out and struggling, or are on the fence about starting a business?
Start or join a community of like-minded women so you have people to share your challenges and successes with. Starting a business can be a lonely business. Ask for help! People are usually flattered to be asked for their opinion or advice.