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The Blankini: How a Blue Ash mom aims to build a blanket business empire

'We'd like to be the next Snuggie'
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-24 19:15:54-05

BLUE ASH, Ohio -- Jon Hall woke up chilly one morning last April because Lisa, his wife of 25 years, had kicked off the covers.

A lesser husband might have picked a fight -- or worse -- pulled the blanket back on top of his perspiring spouse.

"He's a smart man," Lisa Hall said with a wry smile. "He knew not to pull the covers back up and wake up a sleep-deprived, menopausal woman."

Instead, he had a revelation: Why couldn't the couple have a blanket that split down the middle? The Blankini was born.

Named for the notion that a two-piece cover is better than one, the Blankini is a divided blanket with a toggle closure at the top. With a slip of the toggle through a loop, half the blanket can be pulled down without disturbing the other half.

Lisa and Jon Hall invented a divided blanket called "The Blankini." Emily Maxwell | WCPO

The Halls knew from the start that the product had potential.

Lisa Hall launched an online fundraising campaign to try to raise the money they needed to launch a Blankini business. While the campaign didn't raise the money the Halls had hoped for, it did help get attention. Lisa Hall found a sewing company in Cleveland and a blanket supplier here in Cincinnati.

She reached out to the Home Shopping Network and got an encouraging response. Her daughter created a website and Facebook page, and the Halls started selling Blankinis from their Blue Ash home.

Now -- barely eight months after that fateful April morning -- the fledgling company is poised to begin selling the Blankini through TV commercials and could soon have the product in 100,000 retailers nationwide.

"We'd like to be the next Snuggie," Lisa Hall said. "If we get the brand recognition, we can hold onto it and fight for it."

'Boy, am I finding myself'

It has been a heck of a ride for the Halls. Jon Hall owns a marketing and innovation company that he runs from the couple's home. Lisa Hall was a computer systems analyst who worked for NCR and the Procter & Gamble Co. before becoming a stay-at-home mom for 21 years.

Even then, Lisa Hall had dabbled in entrepreneurship, working as a Creative Memories consultant for 15 years.

But with her son and daughter now both established in college, Lisa Hall was ready for something new.

"I was kind of at the point where I needed to find myself again," she said. "And this, starting in April, boy am I finding myself."

Although her husband came up with the idea, it quickly became Lisa Hall's baby.

Lisa Hall demonstrates "The Blankini" inside her Blue Ash home. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

She talked her way into a meeting with Dave Kaufman, a textile and interiors consultant with Standard Textile. The Cincinnati-based company is the largest suppliers of health care and hospitality textiles in the U.S. and supplies the hotel and resort industry worldwide.

"She did her due diligence, trying to find a company that could manufacture in bulk that could meet her needs should this become something big," Kaufman said. "And lo and behold, our world headquarters are five miles from her home."

Kaufman got Hall's call. His customers are typically major corporations, and he works with hospitals in central and southwest Ohio.

"I typically turn these people away. To get one little startup company that wants blankets, I just don't have time for those types of things," Kaufman said. "But she kind of intrigued me. We just kind of hit it off in terms of talking and meeting in person."

Kaufman gave her some sample blankets to modify, and he gave her a price based on what a major hotel chain would get.

 

Hall then found a sewing company in Cleveland that could modify the Standard Textile blankets and make them into the two-piece products.

With that all figured out, Hall knew Blankini was in business.

Twists and turns

The tiny business could become huge in a hurry.

Lisa Hall is working with AsSeenOnTv, a company that markets such products as Miracle Bamboo Pillow, Furniture Feet and Bacon Boss.

She was in Kansas City filming a TV commercial. And if enough people buy the Blankini from the commercial spots, AsSeenOnTv will start selling the product at its 100,000 retailers nationwide, Hall said.

Not only that, but she and her husband also flew to Los Angeles to be part of a TV show that she cannot yet discuss. And there's still a possibility that Blankini could be sold on HSN.

As crazy as Lisa Hall's entrepreneurial journey has been so far, it's not all that unusual, said Chris Sutter, the David F. Herche endowed assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Miami University's Farmer School of Business.

"I think the hallmark of entrepreneurship is uncertainty," said Sutter, who has not worked with the Halls. "It speaks highly of her and her story and her husband that they're been able to follow all these twists and turns."

The Halls say The Blankini is also useful to not disturb their sleeping pets, like their cat Marley.  Emily Maxwell | WCPO

But almost more important than having a cool product is being able to build a business around it, Sutter said.

"The test for them in the coming weeks or months is can you build a business model around the idea or the invention," he said. "The invention often isn't enough."

That's where Jon Hall's experience in marketing -- and Lisa Hall's persistence and ability to relate to customers -- should come in handy.

After all, Lisa Hall already has figured out how to market the product to single people, too: by focusing on pets that hog half the bed.

"Imagine if you had a big dog, if you're not living with another person," she said. "The ridiculous things you would do not to disturb that dog."

She knows because the Halls have pet cats. And when they're on the bed, they get priority even over the self-described "sleep-deprived, menopausal woman."

More information about The Blankini is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for 20 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.