It's 1979. I'm the CEO of a 270-bed Hospital in Cumberland, Maryland, out in the rural, Appalachian part of the state. And I begin to get advertising mailings from a company called America's Custom Classics, wanting me to buy infant T-shirts with cute little designs and captions and the name of my hospital on them, and to give the baby tees to new Moms in our Maternity Unit to advertise the Hospital and its Maternity Services.
I have to admit, the idea was intriguing. Months passed, and along came another ACC brochure. I still didn't place an order, but it got me thinking. The focus of my thoughts was, "If I'm going to advertise our Hospital on our Maternity Unit's babies, I want to advertise on the ultimate outer garment, so my ad will be seen. And that's not a T-shirt. Tees are only babies outer garment in the heat of the summer, and even then, they're likely covered up by something else. A blanket. A sweatshirt. A light jacket. A bib.
The "Aha!" moment. The bib! Always on the outside, and babies are never far from their next bottle, so the bib stays on most of the time.
The bib! It'll turn our babies into adorable moving "billboards" for our Hospital.
Well, whenever one thinks one has a good idea, one had sure better test it. There was a baby clothing manufacturer in town, and they also made and screenprinted bibs. So I had them make up some for us, using a couple of their stock designs and the words,"I Got My First Hug at Memorial Hospital."
Our new Moms loved them. And we started to see babies wearing them...in the supermarkets,on the streets, in car dealerships, at sporting events, in discount stores.
So we ordered more bibs, and gave them out regularly. And kept seeing them. All over town.
About that time, my family and I made plans to fly out to Montrose, Colorado, where my wife, Lynne's parents had just relocated. Father-in-law Bill Morgan was a Nursing Home Administrator, and his company had sent him to Montrose to take over a troubles facility there.
Montrose, Colorado? Isn't that where that where that baby tee shirt company, America's Custom Classics, is located? I'd saved their brochure, and was able to verify that Montrose was indeed their location.
When we got off the plane in Montrose, the whole family immediately fell in love with the place. Beautiful surroundings. Great climate. Nice town. No humidity…!
It was a great visit. When we got back to Cumberland, Lynne sat me down at the kitchen table and said, in so many words, “You aren’t happy running this hospital. So quit, and take this bib idea and run with it. I’ll go back to work as an RN to keep the family fed until the business takes off.”
“Oh, and by the way, we’re moving to Montrose.”
So we did. And I scraped up $5,000 to start Birth Rite. Spent all the money on marketing literature and mailing costs, and was fortunate that the company’s first order was for $6,000 worth of bibs…and that hospital prepaid in exchange for a 3% discount and free freight…terms we still offer, over thirty years later.
We grew. Expanded our marketing efforts from Hospital Maternity Units to Obstetricians, Pediatricians, Nurse Midwives, Banks, Credit Unions, Investment Advisors—literally anyone who could use the birth of a baby as an opportunity to market its own products or services. And we added products: Baby blankets, caps, burping pads, changing pads, one-piece creepers…and yes, even infant tee shirts.
All this time, we remained “friendly competitors” with ACC. We didn’t steal each other’s customers. When one of us ran short of blank garments, the other was the first call we made. We even employed one of ACC’s screen printers to help us out during the Christmas rush. (We made “Big Christmas Stockings” for many years. Big enough to put the new baby inside, take pictures, then send the Stocking home with Mom and baby.)
Time passed. ACC’s founder sold it to a nice young couple in 2006, and we remained friendly competitors. But this Spring, they decided that they wanted to get out of the baby product business, and to concentrate on local screen printing. They called me, and we worked out a deal to purchase their customer list and their designs. The sale closed on June 11, 2013.
Full circle. The company that got me into the baby bib business in 1982 is now part of what it helped create. It’s been quite a ride, and, thanks to you, it’s not over yet.