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photo by Elizabeth Farina

 

"Attitude” Brings Smiles, Laughter And Conversation

Featured Photo: Midlothian resident Rich Babbitt created the fun product line after seeing the joy it brought for seniors and their visitors.

By Elizabeth Farina, MidlothianExchange.com efarina@midlothianexchange.com

December 11, 2007

While visiting his mother-in-law at an assisted living facility this July, Midlothian resident Rich Babbitt put a pair of tennis balls with a smiley faces on her walker. “The stubs on the [walker’s] back can cause problems when going across the carpet,” he said.

It wasn’t the typical reaction he was expecting from other residents when he saw a smile on their face or heard laughter when someone spotted the funny addition to the walker. “It’s the way they get around. It’s like a bumper sticker on a car,” he said. “It’s a fun thing and gets people talking...it’s a conversation piece.”

The idea of giving the gift of laughter sparked an entrepreneurial spirit in Babbitt. Walk & Roll and ‘tennis balls...with attitude’ began making its way off Babbitt’s kitchen table and following a business plan to land in local pharmacies. He also has brought the entrepreneurial real-life lesson into the classroom at Midlothian High School.  The experienced sales, marketing, training and managing businessman spoke to four classes at the school. 

Last week, Midlothian High School students in Beverly Dodge’s marketing class presented the product at an assisted living facility for a class project. “Before I showed it to them [students] they said, ‘Are you for real?’ When I showed the project they came with a lot of ideas of how to use it,” Babbitt said. “They are seeing an element of all the possibilities of a product and where it can go in the market.”

Besides being a lesson for the advanced marketing class, the product does capture a sense of humor. “Sunny has sunglasses and there is Girly and there are individual ones too. Sunny is my favorite; they have some kind of character,” Babbitt said.

Babbitt, a graduate of Old Dominion University, began to build out his idea from just a few tennis ball purchases at a time to purchasing tennis balls in bulk and creating a process to cut the tops for each item to fit onto a walker or the leg of a chair. “It takes about ten minutes to create a pair of them, but I have systems in place to bulk print them,” he said. 

Currently Buford Road Pharmacy, located at the corner of Forest Hill Avenue and Buford Road, and the west end Westbury Pharmacy carries the gift-giving product retailing for under $13 for a four-pack and under $7 for a two-pack. “Their [pharmacies] first reaction was a bit hesitant because it was just a new product and something new they haven’t seen, but they have called me for orders,” he said. 

And the product line goes beyond assisted living facilities and physical therapy locations. “I’ve found another use for them at daycares and elementary schools where a lot of damage can happen with scuff marks from chairs. It can help minimize maintenance and repairs and gives them a little character to go with attitude,” Babbitt said. 

Babbitt, who continues in sales, looks at the ‘tennis balls with attitude’ to grow with its design patent-pending and the name trademarked for the business. “There are definitely multiple uses and this is the next level...working with resources as well as packaging,” he said.