VAN WERT — Her 5-year-old does not like the story told, but it’s the impetus for Maria Magoulas’ new business, so it must be shared.
When he was 2, Magoulas’ son shoved a crayon up his nose. Way up. Two hospitals, an ambulance ride and a surgery later, the crayon was removed, and Magoulas swore she’d never go through that again. She began shaping her own crayons.
“My parents raised seven children. None of us ever did anything like that. But, I’m into being a parent only two years, and I have this?” Magoulas said. “I said, ‘We are not going to have crayons that fit up the nose.’”
In November, Magoulas turned a hobby into a small business, starting He Cares Crayons. Today, the crayons are available in a range of colors and shapes, including animals, boats, hearts, princesses. space ships and trains. Magoulas sells the custom crayons at Once I Was gift shop in Van Wert, at area vendor shows and through her Facebook page.
An introvert, the business has given Magoulas confidence, if not riches.
“I was very shy. Now I can go to shows and talk with people, and I can do these things,” Magoulas said. “It’s made me more confident. It’s something I can do with my kids, and for my kids. I’m not making millions. It’s not even enough to pay bills. Most of my money goes right back to the kids.”
The kitchen smells of melting wax; a fresh batch is in the oven. For the moment, Magoulas has a small operation, melting existing crayons in stoneware mugs on a baking sheet in her oven, then pouring the liquid wax into molds. She’s always on the lookout for two things: molds, mostly nonstick metal bake ware pans more typically used for cookies and cakes, and crayons.
“I try to keep what I make cheap enough that I could buy them. After school starts is a good time to stock up,” Magoulas said. “It’s taken some experimenting with different brands and different techniques to see what works best. I’m always learning.”
Her husband, Alexander, and her three children are her best marketing and product testers.
“They give me lots of input and ‘help,’” Magoulas said. “My kids won’t color with them any more. They like to play with them.”
The seasonal crayons are popular. The Christmas crayons sold well, and Magoulas is working on new ones for Valentine’s Day and Easter. The crayons are priced from 25 cents to $1.50 each; most are 75 cents apiece. She also sells them in sets, for example, 30 crayons for $10.
She’s already had some fun requests, such as 70 blue giraffes for a birthday party. She makes puzzle pieces, which are popular with families who have autistic children, she said. The puzzle piece is a visual symbol for autism awareness. Plus, the crayon pieces fit together like real puzzle pieces.
“I’ve never had a kid complain about the crayons. I’ve had kids not color with them because they want to play with them. Some kids want to sleep with them,” Magoulas said. “One girl wanted an orange fish, like Nemo. She stepped on it, to break a fin off, so it looked like Nemo. She wouldn’t put it down. It would sit on her nightstand.”
He Cares is so named because the business was a prayer answered.
“It started with a prayer: How are we going to pay the bills? We had a bill coming due. We didn’t have the money, and I prayed about it,” Magoulas said. “On a whim, I posted a picture of the crayons on a kids’ page on Facebook. Instantly, someone said, ‘How much are they? I want them.’ I wasn’t even thinking of selling them. But it took off from there.”