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Women in the Industry: Part three in a series

Lisa Casinger -- Kids Today, June 15, 2006

As we continue what has become a popular series on women in the industry, we've uncovered a common thread among our subjects.

Regardless of their titles, job descriptions, age, location, experience or histories, they're all leaders.

Jonathan Byrnes, a senior lecturer at MIT with a doctorate from Harvard Business School and his own consulting company, said, "Here's a definition of leadership that has stuck with me: Leaders are 'people who leave their footprints in their area of passion.'"

When you look at leadership in that light you can't help but describe Luanne Whiting-Lager, Kelly Rightsell, Andrea Edmunds, Karen Adams, Catherine Willey, Risa Popkin and Nava Writz as leaders in their respective fields.

Driven by a need to bring something a little different to buyers and consumers, these women rolled up their sleeves, recognized problems and came up with solutions that benefited the industry.

Luanne Whiting-Lager

Vice president, Regal Lager

Luanne Whiting-Lager has been in the juvenile products industry for 16 years. She and her husband, Bengt, started Regal Lager in their home in 1991.

"Before starting the company I had no experience in the industry outside of being a parent," Whiting-Lager said. "We lived in Sweden for several years and found some fabulous products there. We brought them to the U.S. and started our company in 1991."

The small family business grew to a large family business now with an 80,000-square-foot warehouse and 18 full-time employees in Kennesaw, Ga.

Regal Lager is the distributor of brands like AeroSleep, Phil & Teds, Lascal, Dekor, Great Expectations and its own brand, Second Nature, which debuted last year.

"As a distributor, we're about building brands," Whiting-Lager said. "We help international companies with everything from marketing, advertising and PR to customer service and more; whatever it takes to build and service their brands."

Whiting-Lager jokes that she's the owner of the company and Bengt is the president. He handles the sales side of the business while she's the number cruncher and media contact.

"The thing I'm most proud of personally is the relationships we've built not only with our employees and sales reps, but also with retailers, the media and even our competitors," Whiting-Lager said.

The company's success comes from bringing high-quality products to the market and supporting them with customer care. Whiting-Lager said they look for brands that aren't typically American because there are enough good American companies doing that.

"Our accomplishment is that we bring valuable product lines to market for retailers," Whiting-Lager said. "It's also an accomplishment to still be married after 23 years and working together for the last 16."

In five years Whiting-Lager hopes the brands they're working with now will be more established. She's also looking forward to their own brand, Second Nature bottles, becoming an international brand.

Regal Lager exhibits at JPMA and ABC, and this fall it will make its debut at Kind + Jugend in Cologne with Second Nature.

Andrea Edmunds and Karen Adams

Founders, PoshTots

Andrea Edmunds and Karen Adams joined the industry in 1999 after commiserating over their design dilemmas. Edmunds was furnishing a new house, including a nursery for her youngest child and a big-girl room for her oldest. Adams was pregnant with her second child and transitioning her first out of her crib. At the time, Richmond, Va., didn't have the retail resources of larger metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Dallas, Boca Raton or Los Angeles, and the duo spent a lot of time sourcing unique furniture and realized they weren't alone.

"We decided to create an online resource for other parents," Edmunds said. "Then, no matter what their locale, parents could have access to the best-of-the-best children's furnishings and accessories."

Edmunds and Adams were trailblazers in the early days since most juvenile furniture and bedding companies hadn't been involved with e-commerce operations. When the pair sold those companies on the idea, PoshTots became the first online account for many manufacturers and artisans in the juvenile industry. The company has grown exponentially over the years, taking it in many different directions.

Today, PoshTots, which was acquired in January as a wholly owned subsidiary by BabyUniverse, has exclusive deals with several top names in the industry and plans to design a private-label line with one. It's just launched an online resource for moms and moms-to-be called PoshCravings with the goal of providing content and resources to subscribers as well as providing companies a venue for reaching out to consumers.

Edmunds and Adams consider their greatest accomplishment to be their role in launching the first online retailer for children's furniture.

"Our goal for the future is to see PoshCravings and PoshTots grow into a one-stop resource for busy moms like ourselves," Edmunds said. "PoshCravings will provide information and entertainment while PoshTots provides décor, gifts, toys and more to indulge mom's shopping urges."

Risa Popkin

President, BananaFish

I was looking for something to manufacture," Risa Popkin says of her decision to launch a bedding company more than a decade ago. At the time, she had spent more than 20 years in manufacturing and was looking to make a change.

Popkin partnered with Freddi Finegood to launch the venture. Popkin had known Finegood for years, and had worked in the furniture business with Finegood's father. The two women launched BananaFish 11 years ago; Popkin said the team came up with the unusual moniker to generate interest. "It was a catchy name," she said. "It would entice people to the booth."

Originally, BananaFish was composed of mostly adult bedding collections, with a couple of crib groups on the side. Popkin said the adult market was starting to become saturated at the time, but BananaFish's infant collection was growing more popular. "We got a lot of interest in the crib business," she said.

To capitalize on that success, the manufacturer began phasing out the adult line and adding more crib sets, and BananaFish in its current incarnation, was born.

Popkin said her greatest accomplishment has been staying in business for 11 years. "It takes an enormous amount of perseverance," she said.

She's also proud of BananaFish's fashion-forward style. "We were one of the very first to bring an adult sensibility to children's bedding," she said, noting that much of the crib bedding at the time featured licensed characters. "We were one of the first to use toile. We brought a more sophisticated look to this industry."

Popkin's goal for the future is to be bigger and better. She's looking to expand more into the accessories market with items such as rugs and gift sets, and she's also looking to increase her customer base.

"I'm constantly looking at trends and the temperature of the marketplace," Popkin said. "We don't just sit around in our office; we are very much about growing this business."

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