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PROFILE: Home Safe Homes Inc.: Locking up the local market New dad built a business around keeping kids safe

March 12, 2007

Home Safe Homes Inc. Locking up the local market New dad built a business around keeping kids safe

Kent McCool went looking for childproofing products just before his daughter was born in 2001. He didn't like what he found.

After making several trips to various stores, buying products that didn't work properly or he didn't end up needing, he saw a business opportunity.

"I saw that there were lots of other childproofing companies across the country, but there was nobody here in Indiana doing it," said McCool, 38.

He started doing research. In short order, he joined the International Association for Child Safety, a group of childproofers, spent a week in California with a consultant who taught him the ropes, and scoured the Internet to find the products he needed-aesthetically pleasing, adult-friendly items like magnetic cabinet locks that can be turned on and off and do minimal damage to cabinets.

Then he left the sales and marketing job he held with a local Web-design firm, sold his ski boat, and started his business, Home Safe Homes.

At first, McCool tried to generate business by advertising in the Yellow Pages-a costly mistake. The childproofing business hadn't existed in Indianapolis before, so people weren't looking for his service. Most of his early clients were families who moved here from cities that had professional childproofers.

In time, he fine-tuned his marketing, networking with Babies R Us to speak in its stores about childproofing and schmoozing pediatricians and church groups. Now, most of his clients come from word-of-mouth referrals and Internet advertising.

Gabrielle Diedrich found him on the Web when she searched for childproofing. She and her husband, Tim, have a 10-month-old daughter who's just about ready to walk. McCool went through their Zionsville home and gave them ideas about gates, cabinet locks and door closures.

Diedrich said his products are sturdier than those she found in stores.

"I also like the fact that he's seen many different homes and what they've chosen to do," she said. "This is our first child; he's worked with lots of parents who have kids, so his experience made me feel more comfortable, and I thought my daughter would be safer."

Home Safe Homes charges $50 for a home-safety evaluation, which is applied toward any service the company later provides. A typical job can run from $500 to more than $2,000, depending on the size of the house.

McCool is one of about 200 childproofers across the United States and Canada, according to Carole Childs, vice president of marketing for KidCo, the Libertyville, Ill., company that supplies him with metal safety gates that keep children from falling down stairs.

Juvenile products are a $7.3-billion-ayear industry, the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association reports, and Childs said the childproofing business is growing because parents "don't necessarily have the time to install 20 cabinet locks in their kitchen."

"There is a need out there for people who know what types of appliances will work in what types of situations, which baby gates are the best for situations like the top of the stairs," she said.

McCool also has set himself up as a consultant for people who want to get into the industry, creating another revenue stream for his business.

Childproofing, he said, has a lot of growth potential. But whether would-be entrepreneurs get into this field or some other, McCool has some simple advice: Do what you love and love what you do.

"That's what drives me," he said. "What I do saves lives. Unintentional injury is the No. 1 killer of children under the age of 14. Not all of that is in the home, but a lot of it is. I'm educating parents and doing something I feel good about."
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