published Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

SmallBiz: Weighted blankets comfort children with sensory disorders

Carol Kittle works on sewing weighted blankets at her Rossville, Ga., residence Monday afternoon. The blankets are used to help children with Autism and are distributed by the Chattanooga-based company SensaCalm.
Carol Kittle works on sewing weighted blankets at her Rossville, Ga., residence Monday afternoon. The blankets are used to help children with Autism and are distributed by the Chattanooga-based company SensaCalm.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Name: SensaCalm

Location: 4015 Tennessee Ave., Chattanooga

Contact information: Products can be ordered online at SensaCalm.com and samples are available for show at SensaCalm's office by appointment, 855-736-7222.

Products/services: Weighted blankets, vests, belts and other sensory accessories that help children with disorders such as autism.

Age: Four years.

Target market: People with sensory disorders often are comforted by the feeling of pressure on their bodies. Before getting a weighted blanket, founder Donna Chambers' autistic grandson would get out of bed and slide under the mattress at night. The blankets offer that same kind of pressure with more comfort. "It's sort of like when you swaddle a baby when they're first born," Chambers said. "It's real soothing to them."

Getting started: Chambers' grandson's therapist suggested the family get him a weighted blanket when he heard about the boy's sleep problems. Chambers started researching the blankets and found there were very few professional organizations selling the products. She figured out a way to make a washable version, got together with a few friends who were good a sewing and soon enough, SensaCalm was born.

Rapid growth: Chambers maintained a full-time job as the business was getting off the ground. She would package and ship the blankets on her lunch break, but soon had to leave her job to keep up with demand for the blankets. "We have grown just every year. It's gone straight up," she said. "It's amazing."

Lesson learned: When starting a business, it's easy to skimp on services such as attorneys and accountants, but those professionals can save a business money in the long run. SensaCalm started out under the name "Affordable Weighted Blankets," but that name is unable to be trademarked. Chambers' competitors started using the description on their products, and SensaCalm's name change process ended up being time-consuming and expensive. An attorney could have saved Chambers the headache. "That's the kind of thing you can neglect that's probably one of the most important things you can do," she said.

-- Compiled by Carey O'Neil. If you have an idea for a small business feature, contact reporter Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.

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