When her three sons had braces put on their teeth, dental hygienist Claudette Tapocik was frustrated because their regular toothbrushes didn’t get them clean. So she invented a dual-headed toothbrush for orthodontic patients and formed a company to market it. In 11 years, Tapocik has introduced new products and turned a $10,000 investment into a $10-million business. She’s been successful by not allowing her vision or enthusiasm for the company to waver--no matter what. Tapocik was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.
I meet people all the time who ask how I’ve built my company to this level. They say, “I know I’m as smart as you. How come I never did all this?” I’ve realized that if you want to be an entrepreneur, you’d better have the enthusiasm and drive to catch other people up in what you want to do.
A lot of my employees are smarter than I am. But not everybody has the energy level it takes to make a company successful. They won’t all put forth the extra effort, go the extra mile. When you’re the boss, you can’t back off and expect somebody else to lead the company.
When I first invented the dual-headed toothbrush, I couldn’t afford to have the molds made here in America. So I flew to Taiwan by myself and scraped up the $5,000 to have them made there. I was a little housewife and mom who knew nothing about business, and it was scary.
When I first started selling my product, I did it all myself. I was on the road doing trade shows, working retail accounts and soliciting distributors. I usually combined the trips, so I did three or four things in every city I visited. I was living like most people, from paycheck to paycheck. My parents loaned me $10,000, but I had to pay it back, and money was always a big issue so I had to scrimp. I couldn’t afford to eat at the fancy restaurants and stay at the expensive resorts where the doctors stayed during the conventions. I would be at the motel down the road--but I never told them that.
I continued working at my job three days a week for two years after I started the company. My guest house was our office, my garage was our warehouse, my boys helped out, and my baby sitter took orders and did some of the shipping.
When I was overseas, I got interested in designing infection-control products. Just atthat time, the government mandated that dentists had to wear gloves and facemasks when treating patients. I knew there would be a big demand for these products, and I jumped. Meeting that demand really boosted my company quickly.
I took advantage of every opportunity. I realized that orthodontics is a relatively small field, so I expanded into products like a line of children’s toothbrushes and toothpastes and rubber gloves that smell like bubble gum and strawberry. When I thought of a new product, I didn’t wait or procrastinate because if I did, I knew I would talk myself out of it.
I never had time to go back to school, so I learned about business as I went.
Even though I’ve been doing this a long time, it still takes just as much hard work and perseverance as it did when I started. I can never think it won’t continue to be hard work, but I can’t quit. When the leader quits, so does everybody in the company.
MORE SMALL-BUSINESS COVERAGE: D4-6
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
At A Glance
Company: PlakSmacker Inc.
Owner: Claudette Tapocik
Nature of business: Manufactures and distributes dental products and supplies.
Location: 4105 Indus Way, Riverside 92503
Year founded: 1984
Annual sales: $10 million