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October 2011 | Vol. X - No. 10
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Q & A With Jim Tomaszewski, Founder of Lil' Iguana

Jim Created His Own Niche With His Proactive Safety Products


“Stick to your guns and make your idea fit a niche. If it doesn’t fit a niche, create your own niche.” Jim Tomaszewski, Lil' Iguana.
Some people make children's products to bring fun and happiness into a kids lives. And some, like Jim Tomaszewski, start making children's products to prevent tragedy.

Tomaszewski is the creator of the Lil' Iguana Children's Safety Foundation and corresponding award-winning educational DVD's, CD's, and other products. The Lil' Iguana 14-part television series on FamilyNet Cable has won several awards. But when it comes down to it, Tomaszewski isn't in the business to win accolades. He's working hard to keep kids safe, and using careful research has created his own niche among other children's safety products.

Q. What career path did you originally envision for yourself? Did you ever anticipate working with children’s products?

A. I wanted to be a professional athlete, mainly a baseball player. This dream was cut short when a drunk driver hit a car I was in, causing serious injuries that did not allow me to continue playing. After this I began my own marketing business, but never in a million years did I think I would be working with children’s products.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your first product?

A. As the book The Tipping Point describes, there is a point in everyone’s life that changes them forever and helps them decide what path they will follow for the rest of their life. For me, it began in a very unlikely way when one morning my five-year-old son was helping me store some items in a big, plastic, storage container. As my son, Jim Jr., helped place smaller items into the container, he noted that the container was the same size as the one that they found a little boy’s body in a few days earlier.

My son was referring to Jeffrey Curley from Cambridge, Ma. Curley was only ten years old when he was abducted, sexually abused, and murdered. His mangled body was placed in a storage bin filled with cement and then dumped in the Southern Maine River. The two men responsible for his death and mistreatment are now serving life sentences for this crime.

Jim Jr. asked me, “Daddy, why did the men do this to the boy?”

My tipping point came when my son then tried to fit himself into the container. When he could not he looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, I am so much smaller than that boy. How did this happen?” At that point, it was over for me. As the hair stood up on my body and a wave of adrenaline rushed through me, I realized that saving children would be my calling.

My son looked up at me again and asked, “Could these men have done the same thing to me or Erica?”

As my heart raced and tears welled in my eyes, I fumbled to make sense of a situation that made no sense at all. That was the toughest question ever posed to me by my child. I did not want to lie to my son, but I did not want to frighten him either. I told him that it could happen to him, but that I would do everything possible to make sure it did not happen to him or his sister, Erica.

That day was a rude awakening for me. I realized that I had told my children about strangers, but I had never showed them the tools they needed to prevent abduction and other incidents from occurring.
“We found out through our research that music is the number one way to teach children and have them retain messages and lessons.” Jim Tomaszewski, Lil' Iguana.


Q. What makes your product unique from other children’s safety products on the market?

A. After reviewing many educational safety programs that already existed, I realized that there were none that took a proactive approach to teaching children’s safety in a way that children aged two through eight could understand and retain. The existing programs focused on reacting to the problems that occurred after the fact, not preventing them in the first place. We looked to statistics and reports for guidance on developing a product that would actually save a child’s life and prevent anything from happening to that child. We found out through our research that music is the number one way to teach children and have them retain messages and lessons. That is why we utilized music in our initial venture, and continue to use music today in all of our programs.

Q. How long did it take to go from the original spark of an idea to actual production?

A. It took many months with the help of professional educators, police officers and doctors to come up with the initial product.

Q. How much money did you need to create the first prototype and come up with a business plan?

A. I borrowed $15,000 from friends and family to make this dream a reality. They believed in the program and believed in me, and that is how I was able to begin this brand.

Q. How did you raise it, and how long did it take to raise it?

A. It took about a week to raise the capital needed to begin creating the first music CD and costume character.

Q. What were the top two or three most significant obstacles you had to overcome to achieve success and how did you do it?

A. The number one obstacle was that no one believed in proactive safety programs. There have always been reactive safety programs, but no proactive programs. So, introducing something new, even if it is more effective, is often difficult. People cared more about the safety sheets, water bottles with logos, and fingerprint cards then interacting with the children and actually teaching them what they needed to know when approached by stranger, or, more importantly, teaching them who is a stranger. This is an obstacle that I am still overcoming today.

More children die every year from preventable accidental injuries than all diseases combined. All we need to do is teach them at an early age the Lil’ Iguana way and they will stay safe, and we can save lives. People help raise billions of dollars a year to try and find “a cure,” rather than to for a proactive program that can save lives and lower health care costs and psychological care costs by millions of dollars immediately.

“More children die every year from preventable accidental injuries than all diseases combined. All we need to do is teach them at an early age the Lil’ Iguana way and they will stay safe.” Jim Tomaszewski, Lil' Iguana.
Another obstacle is getting adequate funding to expand the reach of the program. Most toy companies only want a product that is already established in the market place. They are no longer willing to take a chance on an unknown and help build a brand. They are looking for the easy way out.

Q. What one piece of advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the toy industry?

A. I would say stick to your guns and make your idea fit a niche. If it doesn’t fit a niche, create your own niche. Start making socially responsible ideas that can help children.




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MSRP: $29.95
Age Range: 2 to 8
Specialty: Yes (as of 2011)
Made in: United States
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Developmental Toys
Educational
Safety



Lil' Iguana Feelings Calendar features master copies of a calendar in Spanish and English with 9 wooden and rubber stamps depicting different childhood feelings. The calendar "has been used by schools and child care facilites with tremendous results of understanding how children are actually feeling inside. Has been credited for saving young children from abuse," Jim Tomaszewski,  executive director of Lil' Iguana's Children's Safety Foundation, told TDmonthly. Launch date: 2010.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 32862      (added 9/7/2011)
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MSRP: $12.00
Age Range: 2 to 8
Specialty: Yes (as of 2011)
Made in: China; United States
SKU or Item #: 9677500012
Launch Date: August 2004
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Audio & CD
Music
Videos & DVDs



This video and music kit is designed to educate children about safety and well-being issues in a fun way. Award winning early childhood safety educational music video and 3 music CD's. "Our programs have actually saved many children as young as age 2 from abduction, child predators and serious accidental injuires," Jim Tomaszewski, Executive Director of LICSF, told TDmonthly. Launch date: 2010.
Awards: 2010 Kids First Award
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 26452      (added 12/16/2009)
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Justina HuddlestonWriter's Bio: Justina Huddleston graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing in 2009. After graduating she was the on-site director of the Boston Children's Museum gift store for a year, selling educational, developmental, and creative activity toys that tied in with the museum's exhibits. Justina also interned at children's book publisher Candlewick Press before moving from Boston to Los Angeles, where she is now Editorial Director of TDmonthly Magazine. Read more articles by this author

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