For Rick Levinton, running a company that baby-proofs homes is anything but child’s play.
Consider the liability: Levinton spends between $8,000 and $10,000 each month on insurance alone for his business, called Precious Baby Protectors.
And then there’s the fleet: 13 trucks stocked with about $15,000 in inventory that ranges from pool fences to cabinet locks and baby gates.
“People who think they can get into this business with a minimal investment are wrong,” Levinton, 44, said. “I know for a fact there are some people out there who are baby-proofing homes who don’t even carry insurance.”
Levinton founded Precious Baby Protectors in 1990, the same year he earned a business degree from Sam Houston State University. By his own admission, the business struggled until ’97, when he purchased a van and emblazoned the company’s logo, a baby bottle, on the side.
“Things started to turn around when we did a big job in Bellaire in ’97 and kept that van parked in the driveway for a week,” Levinton said. “That’s when things began to take off.”
Today the company grosses some $1.2 million annually and employs 12 people. Bellaire remains one of the company’s strongest markets, along with West University Place and River Oaks.
The average installation runs $1,400, with parents ordering baby gates, child-proof locks, door alarms and more for their homes, Levinton said.
One of the biggest changes in his industry is the look of baby-proofing supplies, according to Levinton. In the past, chunky rubber corner guards and black mesh gates weren’t designed to coordinate with homes’ interiors.
“Our big thing is that when we leave a house we don’t want it to look like a ‘baby zoo,’ ” Levinton said. “You’ll see the gates, but 90 percent of the gates blend in. A lot of my customers limit their kids’ toys to one room, but the whole house is baby-proofed and you can’t even tell.”
Along with improved looks, there are more and safer options. Levinton said he has some 1,100 products at his disposal.
“Most hardware stores have an 8-foot-wide shelf with supplies, and a lot of those have been made overseas so they aren’t tested,” Levinton said.
“Parents believe that when they go into a store, the products they see have been proven to be safe and that’s just not true,” said Nancy Cowles, a member of the Consumer Products Committee for ASTM International, formerly called the American Society for Testing and Materials. “People can sell you anything they want, but then you’ll see recalls because the products aren’t safe. For some products there are standards, but not for all.”
In contrast to some industries, Levinton said, his business involves more than a one-time sale.
“I see most of my customers three or four times before their baby turns 5,” Levinton said. “Maybe they took the stuff down but then they decided they wanted to have another kid. Or maybe they added a pool. It’s definitely not a one-time thing.”
In addition to offering baby-proofing supplies and installation, Levinton now offers “senior-proofing.”
“Some of my families have a baby in the house, but they also have grandma and grandpa,” Levinton said. “Maybe Grandma is there to help with the baby, but Grandpa has mobility issues. So that’s where we come in.”
Sandra Bretting is a Houston freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org
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