CAPE ELIZABETH — It’s a rare product that can’t stand a little improvement, and dental floss is no exception.
But this is about more than a new product.
It’s about being in the right place at the right time and following through on an idea one truly believes can improve people’s lives and the environment.
Jodi Breau, a school library information specialist turned entrepreneur, used all the research and presentation skills she has honed by working with students to start a business.
Her company and trademarked product, Dental Lace, was launched in January. Product placement on a relative’s Facebook page led to shares on the social media site. Orders started pouring in to her website, dentallace.com. A Canadian company is already interested in distribution in that country.
“It’s moving much faster than we anticipated,” Breau said from her home office on Waumbek Road.
The story begins while Breau was as a school librarian at Messalonski High School in Oakland. Sitting at her desk one afternoon, eating lunch, she started thinking of speaking before students. That thought led to wanting to make sure her teeth and smile looked good.
“I didn’t want food in my teeth when I was teaching research skills to a class,” she said.
From that kernel of an idea came the realization that most dental-care companies pack floss in utilitarian, hard plastic throwaway containers. It was the throwaway part that concerned Breau the most.
So she came up with a recyclable and refillable dental floss container.
The packaging notes that “If everyone in the U.S. flosses their teeth according to (American Dental Association) recommendations, every year our empty containers alone would fill a landfill the size of a football field that’s 6 stories high.”
The 1981 graduate of the University of Southern Maine worked with a product designer, Emily Brackett, of Visible Logic in Portland. Brackett’s packaging design for Dental Lace recently won an award from Graphic Design USA.
Using her research skills, Breau connected with a Chinese company, a source of the prized silk. The glass containers and the small stainless steel twist-off lid, also are sourced from China. She’s had great luck working with the overseas supplier, which did take a while to find. Still, her persistence paid off. The supplier is ISO and FDA certified.
“They’re very responsive to my questions,” she said.
The palm-sized cylindrical glass container holds 50 yards of Mulberry silk, waxed mint-flavored floss, and a 50-yard refill comes with every initial purchase of the product. The refill contains two 50-yard spools of floss. There’s a nearly $6 price point for the floss and container, or for the two-spool refill.
She tested her ideas for Dental Lace on unsuspecting and former students, Cape Elizabeth neighbors and pretty much anyone she could find who might give valuable insight into product development.
“My students saying that my idea was cool” kept her going, Breau said. “If a teenager thinks your idea is cool, go for it.”
She decided to retire early to start her second career.
Breau said she is also grateful for help from Alan Shaver, who volunteers with the Service Corps of Retired Executives, more commonly known as SCORE.
Dental Lace is now a Maine-based company and Breau wants to keep it that way. The product is available online and at the Pond Cove IGA market. Other specialty retail sites in southern Maine also are being eyed, she said.
As for the product’s name, that’s another part of Breau’s story.
She was on a red-eye flight back from California, where she and her husband, Jim Morra, had been to visit his parents. Breau and Morra were not seated in the same row, and she found herself between businessmen in suits and ties. Instead of introducing herself as a librarian, a split-second decision to say she was an entrepreneur may have changed her life.
Breau said she described her idea for a better brand of dental floss to her traveling companions. She caught at least one person’s attention, as evidenced by a hand on her shoulder waking her up before the flight landed.
“You have to call the company Dental Lace,” Breau said her neighbor told her.
How floss is used to collar or surround a tooth to clean it may be one explanation for the name. Lace sounds dressier than floss, too, she said.
Her company is not yet profitable, Breau said, but she has no plans to give up.
“We’re not there yet, but I think within a year, maybe six months, hopefully soon,” she said.
Along the way, she’s learned a lot, including about herself.
“The skills that I applied to a school library transferred to a business,” Breau said. “I have a business sense. I have a design sense. I’m a very visual person. I learned I like to design things. I’m creative.”
Dental Lace President Jodi Breau of Cape Elizabeth pulls some Mulberry silk floss from a refillable glass container.
Add Dental Lace to the roster of Maine-based companies trying to make a difference in the marketplace.