Stork-Chaser Tobey Cotsen Makes a Nice Bundle on New Deliveries
It wasn't so terribly long ago that Tobey Cotsen, 30, laughed at the newfound shopping obsessions of her friends with newborn babies. "They would get into heated discussions about the merits of Pampers versus Luvs, and they were very adamant about which brand of nipple is the one to use," says Cotsen. "They would explain that they needed this particular type of pacifier because it really improved the bite of the child. I'd say, 'All right, I get the picture.' "
It's a picture that the native Californian should keep in her wallet because, two years ago, Cotsen stopped laughing. There was a pregnant pause. Then, after a six-month gestation period, her bouncy new business, Bundle of Convenience, was born.
Catering to the extensive postnatal needs of the thirtysomething generation of working moms, Bundle of Convenience does what Chinese restaurants have done for years: They deliver. And, baby, do they deliver—150 different products, including diapers, wipes, ointments, pacifiers and disposable nipples. Cotsen projects sales of $250,000 in L.A. this year, and she expects to open 100 franchises around the country next year. "I was pretty amazed that this had never been done before," says Cotsen.
In actual operation for a little over a year, BOC already boasts an impressive list of clients, including Tatum O'Neal, Sally Field and Mrs. Norman (Lyn) Lear. Field had a special formula delivered to her in Louisiana, where she spent 10 weeks this summer filming Steel Magnolias. Working mother Linda Rambis (wife of former L.A. Laker Kurt) swears by BOC. Says Rambis, who managed tennis and indoor soccer events for the Forum in L.A.: "If I don't have a moment to run out, I don't worry because I know I will always have enough diapers." Rambis told O'Neal about BOC, and now the youngest McEnroe receives a weekly McBundle.
Cotsen can also kid about some of the California-style compliments her infant venture has received. "One woman called to say she was so relieved she had discovered the service because she could not fit diapers into her Ferrari; that fact had caused her no end of worry," Cotsen says. "Another satisfied customer called because she was so happy she no longer had to send her husband's chauffeur to the market in the Rolls-Royce to get diapers."
This high-profile patronage has its price. Says Cotsen: "The hardest thing I have to fight is the perception by people that we are expensive and therefore they can't afford us. It costs $5 to $7 more a week to buy baby products from us as opposed to going to a supermarket. That's not very much when you think about the time you save." These prices are possible only because Cotsen has persuaded many manufacturers to sell directly to her at wholesale prices.
With 25 local deliveries a day and franchise inquiries pouring in from across the U.S., Canada and Japan, Cotsen's wunderkind looks like a sure winner. Remarkably, BOC isn't even her first start-up-business bull's-eye. After graduating from Smith College in 1980, Cotsen took a job at an L.A. advertising firm. In 1982, sensing that the cookie craze was fading, Cotsen quit her job to start a muffin-baking business with a friend. Last year sales hit the $1 million mark, and they now bake 20,000 muffins a day.
Cotsen's overactive entrepreneurial prowess is in part hereditary. Her maternal grandfather founded the Neutrogena soap company—now managed by her father—and had MR IDEA as his personalized license plate. Tobey's now-widowed grandmother, Lorraine Stolaroff, 84, has been her biggest financial backer as well as her most serious critic. Says Cotsen: "Every day she says to me, 'How much longer do you think I can wait for you to get married?' " But like so many others, Cotsen has been driving so fast down the highway to success that she missed the exit for romance.
The three years of six-day weeks that she spent making sure she didn't muff her muffin business effectively shelved her social life. BOC, as a result, has been organized to free up more of its creator's time. From the living room of her new $1 million-plus Malibu beach house, Cotsen is excitedly planning her first vacation in four years—a seven-week jaunt through England and Italy.
Cotsen says that she already has an idea for her next business, but adds that what she'd really like to do is get married and become a Bundle of Convenience customer herself. "I want to take some time for Tobey Cotsen," says the successful but exhausted entrepreneur, "rather than Tobey Cotsen Incorporated."
—Ned Geeslin, and Vicki Sheff in Los Angeles
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