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Breaking into the lunch time big time

By SCOTT BARANCIK

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


Denise Madan thinks she has solved one of the central challenges of parenting: how to keep the milk cold and the Spaghetti-Os warm in a school lunch box.

Madan, 47, is part of a two-mom team trying to sell Florida on their invention: a lunch box with separate hot and cold insulated compartments.

Things are looking up for Madan, who grew up in Lakeland, and her company, Ideal Box Co. Wal-Mart is selling the lunch boxes statewide for $9.99 apiece, K-Mart for $12.99. They also can be ordered through the company's Web site (www.theidealbox.com).

"Honestly, I think we've taken pretty big steps for people that haven't done this before," said Madan, whose partner, Laura Renzi, made the initial doodles three years ago.

Though Madan spent 15 years in public relations, she and Renzi knew nothing about nondisclosure agreements, patent law or any of the other issues associated with bringing a product to market.

But they've taken to their work like pros.

To save money on manufacturing, for example, they found a company in Hong Kong that would do the work for about one-quarter of what an American company would charge. And to avoid a Kathie Lee Gifford-like episode, she had an acquaintance who lives in Hong Kong take a peek at the factory to make sure there were no child laborers. "It's all about kids," she said.

Madan's husband, managing director of CIBC Oppenheimer's office in Miami, kicked in $25,000 in seed money, which Renzi's husband matched. On top of that, the women took out loans worth $80,000 and have burned an additional $20,000 on their credit card.

The hard work is beginning to pay off: Last year, the company sold 4,000 boxes. This year, they've ordered 24,000. Madan and Renzi haven't drawn a paycheck yet, but they hope the back-to-school season will enable them to pay off loans and pocket a few bucks.

It couldn't end up any worse than Madan's previous foray into small business, a gourmet dining club for singles.

"One of the partners ran off with the money," she said.

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