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10/17/2004

She’s making children star of their own show

By Abbe Smith
The Daily Times-Call

Susan Hiller left the world of sports communication in 1997 and entered an equally fast-paced field: stay-at-home motherhood.

But after several years as a full-time mom, Hiller got back to business, this time on her own playing field.

The Boulder resident, wife and mother of two is in the local spotlight with her new startup company, Created 4 Me, and she says motherhood was perfect training for the big leagues.

“You’re always multi-tasking when you’re a mom,” Hiller said.

Now she’s giving back to the parenting community with a creation close to her heart.

“My Name in Lights” — Hiller’s brainchild — is a series of personalized books that aims to make children the stars of their own show.

Hiller puts the child’s name on a brightly colored marquee on the book’s front cover and fills the pages with pictures corresponding to the letters of the child’s name. The longer the name, the longer the book.

She got the idea for a theatrical theme one night while watching “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

“I said, ‘Oh my god! There’s a name on the marquee. That’s it!’” she said.

Eight hundred books later, Hiller has given an equal number of children a chance to see their names in lights.

She admitted it was not an easy transition going from sports publisher to mom to business entrepreneur, but her experiences gave her a foundation for her new endeavor.

“One of the things that helped me is that I worked in a male-oriented business.” she said. “It toughened me up.”

When the tough get going, Hiller gets binding. The useful part of having a home business with products like Adobe Photoshop and a book binder is the people-power available throughout the day. When sons Charlie, 15, and Danny, 12, get home from school and husband Richard Hiller arrives home from work, the family members take turns binding books, pulling pages and packaging products.

While it’s no easy task to get the books out within 48 hours — Hiller’s goal — she said that’s not the toughest part.

“The hardest part is learning how to market,” she said.

But strategy is one of Hiller’s strong spots, according to former boss Chuck Neinas, who supervised Hiller for 10 years at the College Football Association.

“Her most important trait is she’s a very hard worker. Energetic. Lets no grass grow,” said Neinas, now president of Neinas Sports Services in Boulder.

Hiller’s former boss gave her credit for coming up with new story ideas for the association’s periodical. He was so impressed with her latest endeavor that he bought a book for his granddaughter.

In addition to selling the books, which go for $33.95 plus shipping, to friends and family, Hiller sent personalized baby books to publicists for new moms Debra Messing of the sitcom “Will & Grace” and actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

“Maybe they’ll get on a talk show and show it,” she said. “You never know.”

The basis for Hiller’s sales strategy is figuring out what works locally and taking that to a national level.

She’s getting help from Niwot Web designer Charles Bell of Tool Studios, who’s giving her Web site a “complete facelift.” Bell said, for Hiller, the Web is where it’s at.

“Seventy-five percent of her business is online,” he said, adding that the new site should be online within a week.

Hiller advertises on Google and Yahoo and has taken an ad out in Parenting magazine.

She said the hard work is paying off in some ways, but she doesn’t expect the company to earn a profit for a few more months.

Still, Hiller is not discouraged. She has all the confidence in her books that a mom has in her children.

“I’m hoping somewhere along the line, it will totally take off,” she said.

Abbe Smith can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 389, or by e-mail at asmith@times-call.com.