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Be Jane

Sept. 1, 2005
Hygienist develops Web site to empower women to tackle home improvement projects.

Hygienist develops Web site to empower women to tackle home improvement projects.

Heidi Baker, RDH, left, mugs for the camera with her partner, Eden Clark.
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TV home improvement shows make it look so easy. Take a weekend to paint here, hang a fixture there, pound a couple of boards together and you have a room worthy of the finest mansions. It’s the all-American dream. Seemingly overnight, the plain Jane room becomes the belle of the ball. Those who receive the results of these home improvement show miracles stare wide-eyed and trembling. They wave goodbye to the cameras and crew and live happily ever after in the rooms of their dreams.

Do these shows make you want to tackle a home improvement project, but you feel overwhelmed with details? Then you need to meet Heidi Baker, RDH and Executive Vice President and co-founder of Be Jane, Inc.

Heidi has a passion for helping women tackle home improvement projects. Be Jane is the company she and two partners formed to empower women by providing information and encouragement to make their homes the homes of their dreams.

“Around five years ago I bought my first condo, and while I was ‘house rich,’ I was incredibly ‘cash poor,’” Heidi says. “It was a huge place that looked like nothing had changed since 1965. I decided I would be the one to redo my condo if I wanted to live in the year 2000. At first I thought I’d call my Dad for help, but his skills lie in calling the right people for the job. I had no money for contractors, so I was on my own. “

“I redid the house room by room. When I say I redid my house, I mean I laid my kitchen cabinets, put crown molding and baseboard throughout, laid stone floors and counters, changed out light fixtures, put in dimmers and new outlets, replaced bathroom sinks and faucets, and put in archways. But my favorite was the walk-in closet. Being the ‘girly girl’ I am, I built one!”

“The reason the company actually began was that everywhere I turned no one believed I could do these things,” she says. “This wouldn’t have been a problem except that I didn’t believe I could do them myself. More times than I can count, I went into my local home improvement center ready to buy all of the supplies, but then was convinced by the staff that I wouldn’t be able to complete the project! I often ended up leaving empty handed and broken-hearted. If the ‘professionals’ didn’t think I could do it, maybe I was kidding myself into thinking I could. There was nowhere for me to turn. I searched for Web sites and books that would speak to me - the female do-it-yourselfer - and found none.”

“I knew I had one of two choices,” Heidi says. “1) To live in my ‘disaster from the past’ or 2) to overcome fears of my own inabilities to turn my house into my home. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I chose door number two. One of the most amazing things that happened was seeing the people who helped me at the stores take me more seriously. This change occurred the more I believed in myself. But my favorite part was that my girlfriends - who all thought I was completely crazy - took on projects they wouldn’t normally have dreamed of doing. I loved it when they got resistance from their fathers, boyfriends and husbands and they responded, ‘Heidi put up crown molding. I think I can do this!’”

“I was fortunate to be able to speak to my best friend, Phil Breman, about my thoughts and he and I discussed the concept of a company. A twist of fate introduced us to our third partner, Eden Clark, who also had experience fixing up her own home. We quickly realized there needed to be a resource to educate, entertain and empower women about home improvement. With all of our own experiences, we felt we could guide women past the many pitfalls we had encountered, show them that they can be successful fixing up their homes, and that those successes would translate to many other parts of their lives, just as it did for us.”

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Located in Hollywood, Calif., the company is quickly becoming successful. Heidi says, “We consider many things successes. I’ve told you about the things that helped build the company on a large scale. But we also feel successful with every single comment we receive from our members. We’ve received thousands of letters telling us how we’ve changed lives by empowering women to take charge of a part of their lives they never believed they could. They like knowing there’s a place to turn where they can ask the so-called ‘stupid questions.’”

Here’s a stupid question. How did Heidi come up with the name Be Jane? “Originally people called Eden and me ‘Jacks of all trades’ when they heard what we did. We always corrected them and said we’re ‘Janes of all trades.’ This became our initial idea for a name. Our tag line was: ‘See Jane. See Jane Work. Be Jane.’ We placed Be Jane on our shirts and everyone stopped to ask what Be Jane was. That’s how we became Be Jane.”

Heidi and her partners have created a Web site that offers how-to articles, an area to Ask Jane, and a community of women to turn to for answers. Heidi and her partners recently appeared on the Jane Pauley Show and The Tony Danza Show to promote their business.

“The business is ramping very quickly,” Heidi says. “A few of the things we have on the horizon are the first of a series of books due this spring, an interactive CD full of tips and tricks for the average do-it-yourselfer in stores by October, and a VOD (video on demand) television show. We are creating content for one of the largest streaming video sites that should be available this fall. Our site, receives well over 50,000 different visitors per month, and is growing at about 30 percent monthly. This month we’re on target to top 100,000 visitors! We now have a membership of thousands of women and a few men who have finally found a place where they can turn for all of their home improvement questions and needs. We just launched over 80 ‘how-to’ tutorials that not only tell people how to do a project, they show an animated step-by-step process. We will be the in-house home improvement experts on a nationally syndicated talk show starting in September, and we’ll soon be announcing the launch of a weekly, one hour, national radio show that could start as early as fall.”

Heidi credits her hygiene background in empowering her to do things she didn’t think she could. “My hygiene background played a part in this because when I started hygiene school over 10 years ago, I didn’t believe I was any good at math or science, but I proved myself wrong and graduated near the top of my class. If I had never overcome my beliefs about my own inabilities and received my dental hygiene degree, I don’t think it would have been as natural to help others learn how to trust in their abilities.”

Heidi graduated from the dental hygiene program at Miami Dade College in Miami proper. She worked for several dentists and periodontists, but her favorite dental hygiene job was at the Marine Corps Boot Camp in San Diego. “I worked at MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) for five years on recruits and drill instructors alongside Navy dental personnel,” she said.

“It was probably the most fun job I’ve ever had because I was able to make a difference in these young men’s mouths and lives. I was the only ‘civilian’ most of these boys had a conversation with during their 13 weeks of training. That may not seem like much, but to a recruit in the middle of training, it made all the difference in the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but this job got me ready for the business I’m currently in. I spent 40 hours a week empowering these young men to step out of my room, and feel for the first time that they could finish their training.”

Heidi lives in Los Angeles and says she is married to her best friend who she’s known since high school. “It only took me 12 years to step up to the plate and change our relationship to something more. There’s nothing like being married to your best friend - I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world!”

“Many women contact Be Jane to let us know they are excited to be doing more. Before you know it, they’ll no longer have a ‘plain Jane’ house. Instead they’ll have ‘Jane’s’ house!” So if you’re still waiting for Tarzan to hang the blinds for you, maybe its time for you to Be Jane and learn to do it yourself.

Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, a frequent contributor to RDH, is based in Clarkston, Mich.