Scrambling for Success: b.dazzle Finds
Small Business Solutions
By Jeremy Loudenback
Vintage Airplanes Scramble Squares®
You won’t find Kathie and Marshall Gavin lounging on a beach in Central
America this summer. Nor will you see them driving the latest luxury SUV
or moving their company’s headquarters to a tony zip code. What you would
find if you were to visit b. dazzle’s offices (website)
in Redondo Beach, Calif. are two people with an abundance of frequent-flyer
miles and a network of satisfied retailers. By working closely with their
customers and eschewing the easy buck, b.dazzle, maker of the popular Scramble
become a million-dollar model of small business efficiency.
Scramble for Success
Teddy Bears Scramble Squares®
Scramble Squares are intricately rendered moveable puzzles, their vivid
colors portraying subjects ranging from science and nature to fine art.
Kathie Gavin’s brainchild, the puzzles first appeared at the 1994 ToyFair
in New York City with four designs. Since then the number of designs has
increased to 91, with nine new designs introduced this year. Despite their
small size—each puzzle measures only 12” by 12”—Scramble Squares pack
a head-scratching wallop: each puzzle’s nine pieces can be arranged into
95 billion different combinations. But only one is the correct
solution. The games’ uniqueness has brought plaudits from the toy industry.
In 2002, the puzzle landed on Dr. Toy’s list of 100 Best Children’s Products,
as well in Games magazine’s “100 Best Games Rated” buyers guide.
Frogs Scramble Squares®
Married for 10 years, the Gavins have made their company a success through
their attention to the specialty market and their tireless midwestern
work ethic. The couple spends upwards of 200 days a year on the road,
traveling to over 30 different trade shows to promote Scramble Squares®
while forging personal relationships with retailers.
“We are ‘building our house of bricks’ brick by brick, catering to specialty
stores exclusively and avoiding the mass market abyss,” says Marshall.
“We work very, very hard to select the best art for our products, to produce
the products very well and to provide an unusually high level of customer
“We had originally thought that we could rely on others to introduce and
sell products into the specialty retail market and to service those accounts,”
Marshall says. “Our greatest disappointment was the lack of initiative
and follow-through from independent sales reps. We overcame [that] problem
by getting out into the market ourselves and meeting buyers at wholesale
trade shows in a broad variety of market segments across the United States.
Tropical Fish Scramble Squares®
“Our second biggest obstacle has been suppliers—whether of corrugated
shipping containers, wood displays or package delivery services—that do
not have the same high level of commitment to their customers that we
have to ours,” Marshall says. “We refuse to compromise and lower our expectations
for quality, reasonable costs, and for prompt and effective service.”
CEO Kathie says one of the secrets to b.dazzle’s long-term success lies
in its decision to avoid mimicking the strategies of other manufacturers.
“We are unwilling to sell our products to the mass market just to make
a big hit and then disappear to retire to the beach,” Kathie says. “We
are interested in the specialty market only. By thinking of ourselves
as a partner in our customers’ business, we are able to work together
to reap as much as we can from each individual potential sale.
“Customers know that when they call up b.dazzle, they won’t get caught
up in a web of depersonalized phone system,” says Marshall, b.dazzle’s
president. “In this day and age, people have an extraordinary need to
connect with another person [and] develop a human connection.”
For many expecting an easy road to success in the toy industry, Kathy
believes that the realities of sustaining a fledgling company are not
“There are a great many first time creators who are very enthusiastic
about their idea, who get caught up in the fantasy that the toy industry
is an easy market and all ‘fun and games,’” Kathie says. “These creators
are not ready for the reality shock of the harsh competitiveness that
is the toy market.”
Likewise, refusing to adapt to the market is one of the biggest mistakes
newbies in the toy industry can make, warns Marshall.
“Do not provide the supply and hope to absorb it with demand that will
come in the future,” Marshall says. “Create demand, and then make the
demand force the basic necessity of the supply of staff, capital and office
space and equipment.”
Finding Wisdom in Work
The Gavins’ prescription for success may be more useful than ever in a
“There is now, and will always be, great opportunity for anyone who can
produce a quality product at a low cost that fascinates a broad range
of ages and cultures, if one is willing to work very, very hard to get
that product into the market,” Marshall says.
“Our advice is to shun glamour, comfort and prestige in favor of hard
work and low overhead. Keep your staff to a minimum and your office space
austere. Get out there and get orders; with orders in your coffers everything
else will follow.”