Jennifer Marko liked Bottle Snugglers so much she bought the company.
Working over the breakfast table in her Jackonville home, Marko, 34, planned the product’s branding and how she would sell it. For the past year, she’s run her company out of her home office, where she’s filled her Internet orders by hand.
She’s sold about 1,000 of the snugglers, soft plush animals equipped with rings that can be positioned to strategically hold a bottle in a baby’s mouth.
As a new mother in 2006, Marko bottle-fed her baby, Max, and realized that she had to hold the bottle in his mouth with one hand as she held him with the other, which effectively prevented her from doing anything else.
“When you run a business with an infant, you know you need a little bit of help,” she said.
The multi-tasking public relations consultant wasn’t going to let feedings stop her from getting things done, she said. She scoured the Internet and found three products designed to hold the bottle in place. Two of them didn’t work, but Bottle Snugglers, then dubbed by its inventor Bottle Tenders, worked, and she used it for more than a year.
The product is a plush animal with Velcro on its back or stomach. A bottle ring, also equipped with Velcro, can be attached to it in a variety of positions to accommodate a baby, and the plush animal can become a toy after the baby graduates from the bottle, Marko said.
She used it heavily. So much so, she wanted another one for her car. But when she went back to the Web site, she found the product sold out. It was sold out again later, and she began to wonder about the company’s status, she said.
“I kept telling my husband, ‘either they’re sold out, or they went to retail,’ ” she said.
So she called the product’s inventors, a Minnesota couple who were running the company on the side as they also worked full-time jobs. They were ready to sell, and Marko and her husband, Adam, 43, who owns a Jacksonville advertising agency, were ready to buy it.
Jennifer Marko bought the company for $100,000, and made a career change. She had worked in public relations for 10 years and was ready for something new. She didn’t want to get into sales, she said, but she’s such a believer in Bottle Snugglers, she sells them cheerfully.
Along with the company and the patent for the product came the previous owners’ stock of about 150 items. She sold those, and working through a Jacksonville company, found a Chinese manufacturer and has had 5,000 more produced, she said. All have to pass safety testing before entering the U.S., she said. She also consults with a product liability law expert even though the product is made only of fabric, stuffing and Velcro, she said.
Today, she sells Bottle Snugglers for $23.95 each in four designs: a cow, a Teddy bear, a pink pig and a blue puppy. She said she’ll bring back a previously produced bunny in her next run.
Bottle Snugglers are available in retail stores in 10 states, and she’s working to have retail chains carry the product. It’s also for sale in speciality baby stores in the Denver, Nashville, Tenn., and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports and four Web sites other than her own bottlesnugglers.com.
Like Marko, many of her customers also are multitasking working moms.
“I started consulting from home shortly after my daughter, Simone, was born and soon realized that she only wanted a bottle when I just happened to be on a conference call, finishing a report or sending e-mails,” said Sonia Thomasino of Jacksonville, who also is in public relations.
Thomasino said she received a Bottle Snuggler as a baby shower gift and gave it a try.
“It was my favorite shower gift, which is why I now give it to expecting friends. I’ve even had one shipped to Australia,” she said.
Marko said she smiles when she sees Internet orders come in late at night — she said she knows they’re from another frazzled mom scrambling for an answer to the same problem she had in 2006.
“If I hadn’t had a baby, I wouldn’t have known about this,” she said. “And people think this is a clever idea. It’s so simple.”
By Kevin Turner