Sometimes it can be hard to tell an easy story. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the story. Rather it’s that the story can be told so many ways, and each way can feel right. Take this story. On the surface, it’s a basic capitalist success story. Man makes product, product is a success, man lives happily ever after. But if that’s all you get out of the tale, then you’re missing the magic in the details. Be it by fate or by faith, this is a story with multiple layers, improbable pursuits, tragedy and triumph and an ending that’s just a beginning.
Dr. Casey Crafton is a busy man these days. In addition to running a full-time pediatric dental practice, he’s a practicing lawyer, an entrepreneur, a part time stay-at-home father, an active member of his church and a talented and tireless fundraiser. And if all that weren’t enough, he suddenly finds himself as a budding fashion mogul.
As we said at the onset, there are a number of ways to tell this tale, so let’s start with something concrete: Casey Crafton is a Pediatric Dentist with a practice in Columbia, MD. And in his practice, it just so happens that he sees a lot of special needs children. Autism is the disability that he sees most often, so it’s a condition that he and his family are sensitive to.
A few years back, Dr. Crafton’s son Christopher approached him about doing a bike ride to raise money for Autism. It’s the sort of gesture most parents would be proud of. Dr. Crafton was ecstatic as fundraising isn’t just a way to help the less fortunate, it’s a way to rebalance the karmic scales, to try and make things right.
When Casey Crafton was just 21, he learned that his best friend was killed in a plane crash. What’s worse—if such a thing can get any worse—is that his best friend shared his last name; his best friend was also his brother. It’s the kind of unspeakable tragedy that can tear a family apart, sending the individual members careening off in any number of unfortunate directions. In a gesture of unfathomable kindness, Dr. Crafton’s mother, Dawn Crafton, refused to let the tragedy have the last word. She refused to let it define her family. After allowing her family time to grieve, Dawn channeled her family’s emotion into a positive action. They got together and decided to raise money for the Children’s Hospital. “Once you get fundraising in your blood, it’s hard to shake,” said Dr. Crafton.
Dr. Crafton enthusiastically agreed to the Ride for Autism before getting all the details. This was an important fact because the ride his son picked out was 106 miles…all in one day. Still, Casey had always hoped that his children would grow up sharing his passion for fundraising and so he agreed. It would also give him and his son another shared activity.
The real problem with this scenario is that Dr. Crafton is a father of three, and as any parent will tell you, you can’t play favorites. No, not because it’s wrong, but because the kids won’t let you! When Dr. Crafton’s two girls—Gigi and Mac—could find no sane reason to ride a bike 106 miles in a single day, they challenged him with finding a way that they could also help raise money for Autism.
After brainstorming for a number of days, Dr. Crafton and his girls came up with an idea. What about earrings? Not just any earrings, but something relevant to their lives. With specialized training in pediatric and adolescent dentistry, Dr. Crafton came upon the idea of creating earrings for kids undergoing orthodontic treatment. What would make them fun is that each kid could personalize the earrings to match the bands on their braces. What would make them fashionable was that these earrings would be made out of braces.
Not only did the idea intrigue Dr. Crafton…but his girls liked the idea too. They agreed that a portion of each set sold would go directly to a number of different non-profit Autism awareness groups.
Since Dr. Crafton holds a legal degree, he went to the partners in his law firm and initiated the process of securing a patent.
It turns out, Casey isn’t the only Dr. Crafton in the family. Casey’s wife is Dr. Lisa S. Crafton, DDS. After both graduating from dental school, the couple was broke in that way that only recent dental grads can fathom. While finding work would be challenging, it wouldn’t be impossible. Unfortunately the male Dr. Crafton still felt… incomplete. There was another calling he felt…that was to attend law school. Thus after graduating from dental school—and with the full blessing of his wife—he enrolled in law school.By fate or by faith, he was able to manage taking classes at night while working as a dentist by day. The year he graduated law school, 1998 was the year he and his wife decided to start their own practice. This was also the same year their first child was born.
Six months after he applied for the patent for the earrings, they got approval. Their pet project now legally protected, Bracket Ears came into being. Now he and his girls set about the design aspect in earnest. With an early prototype in hand, the girls were able to offer feedback.
“This one’s too small.”
“Use these colors.”
“This is the box they should come in.”
And so over the next 12 months, Dr. Casey spent countless hours doing all the legwork that occurs after inspiration and before execution. That included a trip to China to meet with potential manufacturers.
At this point in this unusual story, you might be curious how a pediatric dentist who’s spent most of his life on the East Coast goes about finding a manufacturer in China to produce an orthodontic product that gets used on the ear. By fate or by faith—Dr. Casey Crafton just happens to have a mentor who sells thousands of holiday paper products to many different big box retailers including QVC, and that these products come in boxes that are produced in China.
With Dr. Crafton’s mentor sharing his knowledge about working in China…in addition to some business contacts including the ever-important translator, the search was on. Dr. Crafton soon found himself crisscrossing the Chinese countryside, going from factory to factory with his intrepid interpreter. During this time of travel, the female Dr. Crafton worked overtime (both at home and in the practice) to take care of…well, everything, while Casey went from factory to factory.
While this face-to-face interaction might seem unnecessary in this time of internet connections, the due diligence proved to be necessary, as not every factory lived up to its online description.
In one instance, Dr. Crafton was excited to meet with a specific factory owner who not only quoted him a great price, but just happened to share the same first name as his son Christopher. Dr. Crafton thought this might be fate (or faith) giving him a nudge in the right direction. Alas it turns out this factory owner was quoting him a price of a single earring. When confronted with the fact that earrings are traditionally sold in sets of two, the factory owner waved it off as “not important”. Suffice it to say, the allure of this specific factory was significantly lessened.
In the end, the Craftons chose a factory that they felt had the right combination of price, quality and ability to handle the capacity they were planning for. They selected a box manufacturer that his friend on QVC recommended. And Dr. Crafton used his legal background to navigate the complex labyrinth that is Chinese patent law.
About 12 weeks later, the first shipment of Bracket Ears arrived at the Crafton home.
As a sort of an unofficial focus group, Dr. Crafton sent a case of the Bracket Ears to his friend Dr. Antonino Secchi, who had just launched his own practice in Devon, PA. Not only were Bracket Ears a hit with the patients, but they also drew rave reviews from members of Dr. Secchi’s own family. The Crafton family was on to something.
While the product is whimsical, the thinking behind it is anything but. Dr. Crafton calls the earrings “social currency” within the teen group. He gives away a pair to all his female patients. Girls being girls, they love to talk about…well, everything, and that includes their cool new earrings. In this way, Bracket Ears is a great patient referral tool.
But Dr. Crafton also sees the product on a deeper level. It’s a connection between the provider and the patient. It’s a way of saying ‘we’re going to get through this together, and as a token of my appreciation of you being a part of my practice, I want you to have these.’ He goes out of his way to say, “These are for you. I don’t want to see your mom wearing them, or your sister. These are just for you.”
It’s a symbolic gesture that generates a concrete bond. “Once you give them the earrings, you give them control. So much of the process is being told what to do, in this case by someone they don’t really know. With Bracket Ears, it gives the child a small degree of ownership. They get to change the colors and to be a part of the process. It establishes a partnership, it enables them to buy in to the process,” he adds.
Dr. Crafton and his kids had a soft launch when they turned on their website. But the full product launch took place at the 2013 AAO in Philadelphia. To say they found success is an understatement. Not only did they sell several thousand pairs of the brackets, but they just happened to attract the attention of the world’s largest dental manufacturer—DENTSPLY International. It was shortly thereafter that that Dr. Crafton signed an exclusive for DENTSPLY GAC to be the sole distributor of Bracket Ears.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride up to this point…and it just seems like it’s getting more unbelievable,” he says. “I’d like to see Bracket Ears really take off. There are a couple other ideas that I’ve got. But ultimately I’d like to see this product be successful for GAC, for the doctors and really get kids excited about braces. All of which will help me help other people. It’s a win, win, win situation,” he says.
The one question that comes up most is if he’s got any idea of a product that will appeal to the male crowd. The whole family just went to China for the next Bracket Ears production meeting (and a little well-earned tourism) and they did some brainstorming. What will come out of this trip is anyone’s guess. But be it by fate or by faith, the Crafton clan is sure to keep things interesting. And in this case, the end of this story feels like it’s the beginning of another.
This article published in 2013 OrthoWorld.