Lydia Pierce was only 5 years old when she started wearing a retainer. When the mid-St. Louis County kindergartner was at school one day, she took the expander out to eat her lunch and accidentally threw it away.
Even with insurance, a new expander cost $200. The girl’s mother, Sarah Pierce, worried many replacements were in their future. Like any child who wears a retainer, Lydia Pierce had to remove the expander whenever she ate, and because she was so young, she often found herself in situations where she didn’t have the expander’s case with her, whether at school, at friends’ houses or at restaurants while out to dinner with her family. Storing the retainer proved difficult – often, kid’s clothes don’t have pockets anymore, and if they do, the pockets are too small to hold a traditional retainer case.
Sarah Pierce knew her family couldn’t be the only one in this predicament. After scouring the market for solutions and failing to find any, she and her daughter began creating their own.
The result is the RooTainer – a reimagined retainer case that can attach to a waistband or backpack – which launched a crowdfunding campaign this past winter after months of market research and many iterations of the design based on children’s and parents’ feedback. It is made of food-grade, Food and Drug Administration-compliant materials, is free of bisphenol A (commonly called BPA, a chemical used in plastic for food packaging, baby bottles and other goods) and is dishwasher-safe.
“It started with manipulating existing cases, sewing belts on them so they could be worn and testing the concept that way,” Sarah Pierce says. “Once we knew we had a viable concept, we hired a designer to begin the design process. From there, we moved to creating 3D-printed prototypes so they could be tested in a real-world environment. The RooTainer has been through many iterations, and the concept has evolved based on feedback provided by kids and parents alike.”
Because RooTainer is a passion project Sarah Pierce does in addition to working full time as a senior vice president at a consulting group, she ran a crowdfunding campaign to help raise capital for the large investment required to make the mold required to manufacture the case. She’s raised more than $4,000 thus far – but the target is $10,000, which will allow for the purchase of new molds so production can begin.
In this new version, the case has an improved clasp, which, Sarah Pierce says, is easy enough for children to open but secure enough to remain closed. This version will also have a carabiner hook so it can be fastened to a backpack, bag or purse. The new design will otherwise be customizable and will come with a variety of vinyl sticker and case color options.
This is Sarah Pierce’s first entrepreneurial project, one she says has been a great learning experience for both her and her daughter. “I’ve learned the importance of trial and error and that nothing is as easy as it seems,” she says.
One of the most challenging parts, Sarah Pierce says, has been establishing relationships in new areas of business. Although the elder Pierce has worked in sales and marketing, she didn’t have experience in manufacturing, and she struggled to find partners willing to lend their time and expertise to help make RooTainer the best solution on the market.
“In St. Louis, we have a great entrepreneurial network, and I’m just starting to tap into some of the resources available to help move RooTainer forward,” Sarah Pierce says.
Despite the hurdles, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Lydia Pierce hasn’t lost her expander since she began using the RooTainer – and she isn’t the only one.
“To test our concept, we produced prototypes and had kids in similar situations wear RooTainers this school year,” her mother says. “We’re happy to report that not one of them lost their retainer after they started using the RooTainer.”
And Sarah Pierce says working on RooTainer has been a great journey for the mother-daughter duo. She hopes their experience will inspire other young children, especially girls, to explore entrepreneurship and all it has to offer.
“What a learning experience for my daughter!” Sarah Pierce says. “I want her to see firsthand that with passion and hard work, you can achieve great things.”
RooTainer, 314-610-7081, rootainer.com