BY DAVID SPEAKMAN
“If this gets any more popular, I may have to take out a loan to cover expansion costs,” says Lynn Schneider — not exactly words you’d expect from a businesswoman burned by the tech recession.
A unique combination of life experiences has one of Belmont’s newest entrepreneurs dusting herself off and starting her own online business, www.dentakit.com, selling a product for those who wear braces.
It started last December when Schneider decided to get braces for a crooked smile that has bothered her since childhood.
But, as a woman in her 40s, she feared lack of social acceptance as an adult with braces — something most people associate with adolescence.
“I wanted to connect with other adults who were going through the dilemma of braces,” she says. “I felt like an idiot walking up to teenagers to talk about what braces are like.”
According to the American Dental Association, only 15 percent of orthodontic patients are adults even though malocclusion or a “bad bite” may be more common among the over-18 set.
So, to find other adults with braces, Schneider turned to the Internet. “Some people pick up the phone book,” Schneider says, “I go to Google.”
What she found disappointed her. “Almost all the Web sites were for kids,” Schneider says, explaining why she started her own Web site, ArchWired at www.archwired.com.
On her site’s “Metal Mouth Forum,” adults from around the globe share product tips.
During this process, some forum members — including Schneider — developed travel kits for quick teeth cleaning on the run.
The Web site even made local news earlier this year, after actor Tom Cruise got braces to improve his already-multi-million dollar smile.
But, while her online hobby and Web site were taking flight, Schneider’s home finances were falling victim to the anemic economy.
“Projects used to fall into my lap,” she says, explaining how her 15-year old technical writing career died down this year.
“I was making nearly $100 an hour as a contract technical writer,” she said, explaining experience can’t compete with fresh college graduates who will settle for a fraction of that amount.
Her husband’s business also took a hit from lack of venture capital and like most investors during the dot-com boom years, their investments dwindled.
Then the innovation light bulb went off.
“One time I was in a restaurant’s public bathroom, and I was cleaning my teeth,” says Schneider, who was using her homemade kit. “And someone else who had braces asked me where I got my orthodontic hygiene kit.”
Schneider searched for a ready-made kit when she got her braces, but came up empty. So she developed her own with special dental picks and cleaners, collapsible mirror and cup, as well as toothbrush and toothpaste all in a compact carrying case.
After doing some wholesale pricing research and reviewing the numbers with her husband, a former software entrepreneur who she affectionately calls “Mr. Spreadsheet,” the couple decided to go for it. They made up a trial run of 300 kits, and will turn a profit if they sell the inventory at $25 each.
On $4,000 raised from credit cards and by selling unused computer equipment on eBay, DentaKit.com was funded in November and has been catering to orthodontists.
“No, I’ve never seen anything quite like this before,” Dr. Adrian Vogt, a San Mateo orthodontist says. “Some companies package things together, such as an emergency kit, but nothing for day-to-day use.”
In addition to professional orders, Individuals are buying, too.
“It’s very convenient,” says customer Ruthie Biermann, a baby boomer from Edison, N.J. “The kit is very small and looks like it could hold a Palm Pilot — no one has to know what’s in it.”
Biermann says it’s worth the extra expense. “It is impossible to keep a home made kit in a baggy clean.”
“It’s hard enough to keep kids organized, let alone take care of braces,” says Belmont resident Janet Leist, who bought a DentaKit for her 9-year-old daughter. “It is easy for my daughter to pack up and move from bathroom to bathroom.”
“Right now our goal is to make enough money to break even,” Schneider says, laughing, “but if there was enough profit to pay for my braces or beyond — that would be great.”