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Chalkboard China

Instant Messaging at the Dinner Table

More often than not, personal interests and passions are the springboards for entrepreneurial start-ups. And so it was for Candace Neff Randolph, a co-founder of Cooper & Brinkley's, a product design company in Dallas. In June of 2008, the company launched Chalkboard China, a product line inspired by Randolph's love of entertaining and tabletop items. Vases, charger plates, platters, and wine glasses are coated with a sleek chalk-friendly black slate finish that allows hosts and diners to customize place settings and serving items.

"It's a versatile finish that you can change to fit any theme," says Randolph. "You can get a calligrapher to write on the charger plates in formal font for a wedding, or you can give it to five-year-olds at a birthday party and tell them to go to town." Also among Chalkboard China's fans: parents who decorate vases with holiday themes for their kids' teachers (and the teachers who can erase the drawings when the season's over!); and caterers who can label drink pitchers and serving platters to take the guess work out of nibbling.

The product launched at Dallas Merchandise Mart in June 2008, and now has a permanent showroom there as well as at Chicago Merchandise Mart, Denver Merchandise Mart, and Northeast Market Center in Billerica, MA. Randolph says Chalkboard China is now available nationwide at approximately 150 high-end specialty and gift retailers.

Last December, DailyCandy.com, the popular blog that tracks cool and trendy consumer products, listed Chalkboard China in its Gift Guide for Girls; the product were also featured on RealSimple.com and DivineCaroline.com. On deck for this year: a dishwasher safe line of Chalkboard China, and several new items for the product line.

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