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PRODUCT: The Brella Vase

Birthdate: Summer 1998

HISTORY: After working for years in the financial world, Patricia Conner, a mother of three young children, decided it was time to create a home-based business. An art major in college, Conner put her dollar sense toward floral scents and began taking classes in flower arrangement, in the hopes of finding a new career among the daisies and dahlias. Inspiration came from an unlikely source-a patio table. Conner was asked to design a party for her mother-in-law. A backyard full of umbrella-covered patio tables presented a serious centerpiece challenge. "I began searching for a container that would go around the umbrella pole," she says. "I couldn't find one; the only things available were those low, crescent-shaped terra-cotta pots. So I decided to make one." She created a prototype using plastic liners, floral foam and wire. About two years later, with the help of her husband and business partner John, an electrical engineer, the Brella Vase, a two-piece, interlocking, fluted plastic vase that fits around an umbrella pole, was born.

BORN OF NECESSITY: Once the prototype was created, Conner did her research, poring over catalogs and magazines to see if a like product existed. "I kept asking myself, 'How come no one has done this?'" she recalls. "It's kind of like the Sip and Stroll [a cup-holder that snaps on the handle of a baby stroller]. That was designed out of need by a mother." Conner took her design to a computer-aided design engineer, who refined the design on the computer. She applied for a patent and had a mold made. "I wanted to create something symmetrical, that snapped together, that could be used for tall arrangements, that could be washed in the dishwasher and that didn't take up to much space and would allow enough room for table settings."

AN UMBRELLA FOR EVERY OCCASION: The Brella Vase is marketed through Under the Umbrella, the Conners' Marina del Rey, California-based company. They plan to add new products to the line, such as a shorter version of the Brella Vase, later this year. Currently, the Brella Vase comes in translucent, white, cream, green, blue, maroon and black. The Conners are targeting the hospitality, floral, patio furniture and special event markets, as well as the consumer. "It creates instantaneous elegance on the patio table," Conner says. "And it's something that can be used on the table year-round."-S.C.

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