October 2012 | Vol. XI - No. 10
Q&A With DeNay Thomas-Ramsey, President of Tag Along Teddy
When DeNay Thomas-Ramsey's daughter wanted to carry her plush animals with her everywhere, DeNay was struck with an idea. What if there was a way for kids to bring their plush toys with them, without the toys getting bedraggled and dirty? Tag Along Teddy was born.
Below, read how DeNay's entrepreneurial spirit, from childhood through adulthood, led to the successful launch of Tag Along Teddy - and learn why helping kids in need is an essential part of Tag Along Teddy's mission.
Q. What career path did you originally envision for yourself? Did you ever anticipate working with children’s products?
A. I have always envisioned myself as an entrepreneur, ever since I was a young child. At the age of ten, I sold newspapers to my neighbors that were freely given to me by the neighborhood newspaper delivery driver. I would go door-to-door selling the newspapers to my neighbors - until my mother learned what I was doing. It was at that point that she abruptly ended my early childhood sales career.
I did not foresee myself working with children’s products as business. I am by nature an artist. As a kid, I would pass the time drawing pictures. My grandfather always provided construction paper for me to continue drawing. That was my childhood sanctuary.
I’m originally from a civil service background. I worked several years for the federal government. Both of my parents retired from city government positions. My brother and sister even worked in civil service jobs. I was never content with being a career government employee. Although at that time, it was a safe haven to work 30 years, retire and collect a pension. This was before many of the government employees began to suddenly lose their secure positions because of the down-turned economy. That lifestyle was not for me. My appetite for success and true freedom could not be fulfilled in a civil service position. It was definitely a gamble, but I had to follow my heart and pursue my passion.
I was fortunate to get into the high-technology industry. I figured that someday I would run a business in that industry. I thought that if I dedicated myself and worked hard I could climb my way up the corporate ladder. Then I would be in a position to accumulate stock options, sell them and use some of the proceeds to fund my own business venture.
Then, the year 2000 dot-com crash happened, and so went my stock option dreams of success. I did continue to work several contract positions in the high-technology field, but pursuing a long-term career in this field was not in my cards. I still had bigger dreams.
From there I began investing real estate. I became successful in real estate investing. My goals changed to becoming a real estate developer and eventually build several high-rise buildings. Then I encountered the real estate crash of 2008. I was lucky enough to have already liquidated some of my properties, but those that I held onto for income properties eventually tanked and I was under water. Times got hard, but I never gave up on the dream of entrepreneurial success.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your first product?
A. The idea for Tag Along Teddy came to me by sheer circumstance. I have two teenage daughters and the eldest adored stuffed animals (and still does today!) When she was a toddler she would try to bring all of her favorite toys with her everywhere, but she didn't have anything to carry them in. As you can imagine there were a lot of parent-child battles over what she could and could not bring, because she just couldn’t carry everything at once. I would have to negotiate with her on what to bring. Usually she would settle with bringing her favorite teddy bear along. From all her tugging the teddy bear around, it had gotten filthy. I thought that there should be something out there that could protect her teddy bear from getting so dirty while being out and about.
One night while I was at home watching television and all of a sudden I came up with the idea for Tag Along Teddy. I think it was one of those “ah ha moments.” It was like a light bulb flashed in my mind when I came up with the design for a teddy bear that attaches to a backpack.
I remember how dirty my daughter had gotten her teddy bear from bringing it everywhere and it being unprotected from filth from being outside. My inspiration was to create a backpack that is functional and fun. The key concept was to design a backpack that would allow kids to securely carry their teddy bears with them anywhere while on the go. The backpacks could still hold their daily necessities like books, pencils, snacks, medications, and more, while it also securely attached the stuffed animal to it.
Q. What steps did you need to take to go from the original spark of an idea to actual production? How long did it take?
A. First, I researched to see if there were products already in the market exactly like my idea. Surprisingly, there was not. That following weekend I drew up several prototypes until I felt comfortable enough to show them to my family. They loved the drawings and thought it was an awesome idea. So I drew up some technical drawings to have them manufactured. I researched the specifications of different kinds of backpacks until I was satisfied with the results. I wanted to know the height and width dimensions, weight limitations for children and of course all of the safety precautions.
It took five grueling months to go from just an idea to actual production. Dealing with the anticipation of finally getting to see a finished product is what made it so difficult. I had to interview several Asian manufacturers until I felt at comfortable enough with one to build the finished product. In addition to the numerous interviews I conducted, there were about 30 or so more bids I looked over. Then there was the time difference. I remember being on the phone with manufacturers at midnight discussing the product specifications in detail.
Q. What charitable organizations has your company worked with in the past?
A. Tag Along Teddy has worked with the Children’s Hospital and Research Center Foundation in Oakland.
Q. Why did you choose to work with this particular charity?
A. I am a strong believer in giving back. I've always enjoyed helping others in need and those who are less fortunate. The key leaders and myself at Tag Along Teddy decided to work with the Children’s Hospital and Research Center Foundation because of the hard work they do to support the efforts and mission of Children’s Hospital. I have witnessed first-hand the wonderful work they do. Cystic Fibrosis (CF) hit my home and struck my eldest daughter, who was born with CF. Having a child born with CF is very difficult, but to see how much medical attention the staff at Children's Hospital gives to their patients is amazing. They really care about their patient’s well being.
On the other side of the spectrum, I also realize the inconvenience that young patients suffer while hospitalized. Not only is it difficult being away from friends and family, but also not being able to participate in normal daily activities is very challenging. Kids don't always comprehend the requirements of being in the hospital and feel that their stay is a huge burden.
We decided that perhaps we could ease some of the patient’s hospital stays by donating backpack goody-bags to the hospital. The backpacks were packed with cool stuff that kids love like crayons, pencils, construction paper, stickers, book covers, and baseball caps. The donations help to supplement the activities and entertainment that the Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland provides to its patients.
Crayons and pencils are not lend-able supplies because of their high risk of spreading germs and bacteria, and therefore they cannot be shared among patients either. These particular items are given to the patients, and because of their high turnover more supplies are always needed. Children's Hospital Oakland is the only independent children’s hospital in Northern California. There isn't anything more gratifying than seeing a child smile from giving them something that they will enjoy.
Q. What experience do you have working with charities on a personal level?
A. Every year we participate in the Great Strides Walk hosted by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It is a 3K walk to help find a cure for CF. My family will sponsor our own team of walkers and collect donations. The goal is to raise funds that will help find a cure for CF. Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 70,000 children and adults worldwide. A defective gene and its protein causes the body to produce thick mucus that clogs the lungs, which can lead to life-threatening lung infections. It obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping to break down and absorb food nutrients.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is the world's leader in medical research for finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. They fund more research than any other organization and nearly every medication available today is a result of the Foundation's support.
Q. What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in the toy industry? Why?
A. I would say that my greatest accomplish in the toy industry is creating a product that kids and adults both really like. It’s truly inspiring to create a unique product that serves a genuine purpose. Our product offers the best of both worlds, a soft and lovable teddy that also attaches to a handy backpack for carrying everyday necessities. Children can bring their favorite stuffed animals with them anywhere, along with other needed things inside their backpack.
I am proud of our recent accolades. Tag Along Teddy has won the 2012 Kids Product of the year Award and the 2012 Preferred Choice Award from Creative Child Magazine. We've also won the 2012 Gold Award and Recommended Award from the Family Review Center. It's a great accomplishment to win such prestigious awards our first year in business. It shows that we are moving on the right path and people perceive that our products to have value. I feel absolutely blessed and I'm extremely grateful.
Q. How do you hope your products affect children’s' lives?
A. First and foremost, I hope that our products will make children happy and proud to own them. I wanted to design a product that children would find quite handy and fun. My goal was to create a cute and lovable stuffed animal that also comes with a useful backpack to carry the essentials that kids will want to have with them when they are on the go. I hope our products will teach responsibility by reminding kids to pack their necessities in their backpack before traveling. Tag Along Teddy should make it easier for parents and guardians to help their kids keep up with important belongings. Hopefully consumers will see Tag Along Teddy as a great product that offers win-win outcomes for both children and parents alike.
Today’s children are by necessity highly mobile. Tag Along Teddy products are traditional backpacks and toys that have multiple uses and allow price-conscious parents the ability to stretch their hard-earned dollars. In this day and age of high-technology toys and games, plush products are easy to maintain and offer old-fashioned entertainment. Kids today need to be organized and able to easily adapt to nimble lifestyles. They have to learn to be ready to be on the go. Tag Along Teddy complements those families that are agile and want lasting value from the products they consume.
I hope kids really connect with Tag Along Teddy products. Children can spend their time using their imagination and dreaming, traits that can develop the world's innovative ideas. Plush dolls have earned the reputation for changing lives and hopefully Tag Along Teddy will continue to do this by positively impacting our kids.
Fiery fox is the friendliest fox you’ll ever encounter. Fiery enjoys playing for hours on end. He’s clever by nature and loves to tag along with you everywhere. His soft, red fur will make him the neighborhood star. Fiery Fox loves to lie down, but is also happy to attach himself to his matching red backpack. Size: 13" H x 10.5" W x 6" D. We manufacture our products from 100% polyester so they’re lightweight and manageable. Tag Along Teddy products are safe, durable, and machine washable.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 35089 (added 9/18/2012)
Unique Unicorn is from a far, far away land. She likes to be the center of kids’ imaginations. Her lavender color will make her carrying friend the center of attention. Unique Unicorn is very loving and enjoys to rest in kids' arms or on their lap. She also enjoys traveling along with on her corresponding backpack. Size: 13" H x 10.5" W x 6" D. We manufacture our products from 100% polyester so they’re lightweight and manageable. Tag Along Teddy products are safe, durable, and machine washable.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 35088 (added 9/18/2012)
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Writer'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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