Small idea turns into big business for Dallas girl

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If there's a tween girl in your household, chances are you've heard of the latest rage: magnetic bottle cap necklaces.

What most Dallasites probably don't realize is that they're made right here, the brainchild of a Hockaday student.

Maddie Bradshaw, now 12, was doodling one summer when she came up with creative lapdesks, clipboards and frames, which she pitched to Camille's Creations owner Camille Murphey back in 2006.

"She gave me her little spiel," says Ms. Murphey, "so we put them on consignment. The bottlecaps came later."

The bottlecap necklaces actually started out as locker magnets when Maddie couldn't find any she liked for her fifth-grade locker. So she decided to make her own, and her uncle offered up bottlecaps from his gameroom Coke machine. Maddie says she remembers seeing bottlecap necklaces around, but none that were magnetic and could be easily swapped out.

Ms. Murphey, whose store is at 6110 Luther Lane, urged Maddie to sell them at Learning Express in Snider Plaza, where owner Kathryn Cook, a Hockaday alum, put them on consignment to see what would happen. "And, whoa. I just cannot tell you. We sell them like crazy, and continue to sell them like crazy."

As their popularity grew, Maddie's sister, Margot, now 8, got involved. The two girls and their mom, Diane Bradshaw, would pull up stools to their granite island and make each bottlecap themselves. As they worked together, their mom says, they bonded even more, the best part of the whole experience.

But when bottlecaps started taking over the house and consumed too much time, Ms. Bradshaw knew they had to make a decision.

"I'm not raising rock stars," says Ms. Bradshaw. "They have got to be kids."

So when sales reps the Klein Group approached Ms. Bradshaw, and Learning Express picked up the product nationwide, Ms. Bradshaw realized they were at a turning point.

Maddie's novel idea has now blossomed into a booming business, with 15 employees in Dallas, four sales reps and 30,000 bottlecaps being sold each month in 500 stores nationwide. They got a copyright on Snap Caps, which is patent-pending. M3 (Maddie, Margot and Mom) Girl Designs is now a limited liability company.

Meeting Maddie, one would never know of her accomplishments. She seems like a typical seventh-grader. She plays lacrosse, is on the swim team and takes tennis lessons. She is humble, shy and wise beyond her years.

And when Margot recently got a compliment on her necklace at a restaurant, she took it off and gave it to the little girl. "Margot is a real giving soul," says her mom.

While Maddie is the unassuming artist, Margot is the animated inspiration behind the bottlecaps' hip sayings such as Peace Out, OMG and BFF.

"They're always coming up with new designs, and that's what really makes it so fresh and exciting for the kids," says Ms. Cook with Learning Express.

Design categories include animal prints, recycling, diva, initials, fairy tales, sports and much more.

Now that Maddie spends less time on the production end, she's writing her first book. Beyond the Lemonade Stand will focus on how to start a business from a kids' perspective, including marketing, creating an assembly line, dealing with a patent attorney and patenting ideas – all while living a normal life.

"It needs to be a learning experience," says Maddie's mom.

"If this ever stops being fun, we're done."

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