January 2013 | Vol. XII - No. 1
Q&A With Cheryl Shaw from Little Colorado, Inc
The founders of Little Colorado, Inc, had no idea that they would wind up making high-quality children's furniture and playthings. Below, learn how they left their jobs in banking and insurance to found a company that stays true to its all-American roots.
Q. What career path did you originally envision for yourself? Did you ever anticipate working with children's products?
A. Absolutely not; Little Colorado, Inc was indirectly started almost 25 years ago because of a recession in the oil industry in Denver in the mid-1980's. The founders, a husband and wife team, were offered transfers out of Denver within a week of each other. Coincidentally, they were also expecting their first child, Walker, who now is a third year medical student at Medical College of Virginia. Dick Shaw was Commercial Vice President for Barclays Bank, and was offered a move to Los Angeles and his wife, Cheryl, Group Manager for General American Life Insurance Company, was offered a move to San Francisco, as General American was also closing its Denver office, too.
Neither wanted to leave Denver and looked for opportunities to purchase a business in the Denver area, so that they could continue to live and raise their family in Colorado. As their business search ensued, they were also looking at children's furniture for their soon-to-be first-born and found the choices for quality children's furniture and wooden accessories very lacking. In March of 1988, as a result Little Colorado, Inc. was launched.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your first product?
A. As part of the due diligence in deciding whether to move forward with Little Colorado, Inc. the founders visited the children's showrooms in a number of major city merchandise marts, interviewing showroom owners and personnel about what they would like to see.
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 and foremost, a market needed to be identified, and once that was done, a small warehouse was leased with one production employee. Mike Bickel was our first employee. Growth slowly came along until a few years later when Little Colorado, Inc landed its first of many large catalog customers. Once that happened, growth was exponential and a move to a bigger warehouse and eventually (about 12 years ago) to an even bigger facility occurred.
From start-up to fulfillment of product for major catalog customers, if my memory serves me correct, the time period was about3 - 4 years from inception. At that point, Little Colorado, Inc quickly began to garner a reputation for excellence not only in producing a quality product, but also in efficient drop-ship fulfillment. Those were "middle years" in which Little Colorado, Inc was manufacturing and drop-shipping for Back to Basics Toys, One Step Ahead, The Natural Baby Company, Lillian Vernon, LL Bean, ChildCraft, Playfair Toys, Hearthsong, Magic Cabin Dolls and many others.
We still are working with many of these catalogs today. As an extension of Little Colorado, Inc's stellar reputation for efficiently drop-shipping for major catalogs, once Internet selling and e-tailers came along, it was a natural fit and sales expansion in to that market continued.
Q. What charitable organizations has your company worked with in the past?
A. Little Colorado, Inc ‘s charitable mission is to benefit Colorado children's charities. One of our longest-standing relationships is with The Children's Museum of Denver. Our Kid's Kitchen, Kid's Refrigerator and Kid's Washer, Pantry and Microwave are in the a designated play area, but the most joy that we receive from this affiliation is in the woodworking area, where children can do hands-on woodworking using real tools with the wood scraps that Little Colorado, Inc. saves and donates by the barrel-full.
Little Colorado, Inc is a popular product line for children's school auction projects. We have seen the artwork and handprints of young students on many Little Colorado, Inc pieces, and generally we either donate the product or at a minimum give a significant discount to the parent group or teacher overseeing the custom auction piece.
Wings over the Rockies, which promotes aviation education to children is one of our favorite annual gala fundraisers to support. In addition to providing a product donation every year to their silent auction, the founders of Little Colorado, Inc. have been honored to be included in the annual gala committee which has featured Harrison Ford, Eugene Cernan and The Tuskegee Airmen, among other celebrated honorees — all who share the combined goal of raising money to support providing aviation education to children.
One of the saddest and most profound donations that Little Colorado, Inc has been honored to give have occurred in a handful of circumstances over the years, and while not a "charity" per se, we would like to think that in the life of a grieving parent or grandparent we have made a small difference. Little Colorado, Inc's showroom has been visited over the years on occasion by a family member of a terminal child or a recently deceased child, with the purpose of buying the best toy box they could find in which to store and keep the favorite play things of that child. That has been an incredibly moving and humbling experience in each instance and it only felt right to give the family the very best of our work and to personalize the piece with the child's name.
Q. Why did you choose to work with these particular charities?
A. Little Colorado, Inc. is usually "chosen" as opposed to being the entity that "chooses", though Wings over the Rockies is most appropriate because of our backgrounds. Dick is a private pilot, who at the age 16 earned his pilot's license even before his driver's license (that was because the driver's license examiner was only in the small town where Dick grew up every other week). Cheryl's father was an instructor in the Air Force and taught soldiers in the hangar that was once located on Lowry Air Force Base, and now houses the Wings Over the Rockies Museum.
In the future, Little Colorado, Inc will be looking for a way to support Autism research in Colorado. The founders' son, Maxwell, is back home in Colorado following college graduation and is working as a Behavioral Therapist who primarily works with clients who are affected by Autism.
Q. What experience do you have working with charities on a personal level?
A. As mentioned, we both have served on the gala committees of Wings over the Rockies, Cheryl has served on the board of trustees of Colorado Academy and as such is connected to a number of school communities through that affiliation.
Q. What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment in the toy industry? Why?
A. The fact that we still are made in America, providing living wages to Americans is probably Little Colorado, Inc.'s greatest accomplishment. It has taken much hard work and diversification to remain a manufacturer in America. To us, that is even more of an accomplishment than our important commitment to providing a safe and environmentally friendly product to children for over two decades.
Q. How do you hope your products affect children's' lives?
A. We hear from parents and grown children all the time that their Little Colorado piece is an heirloom, or pass-down-to-the-next-generation piece. To know that our products are treasured so much as to be someone's important keepsake is really special. I love the fact that we have donated hundreds of pieces to schools that in turn make them personal and special in order to raise funds for education. I hope that by producing a quality product, children at some point might reflect upon their Little Colorado piece about quality, and going the "extra-mile" to make something that will last and in which they can be proud.
Our adorable functional unit can be used as either pretend play washing machine or dryer. Turn the crank handle on the front and the tub actually turns! Watch the clothes rotate in either direction through the see through, shatter proof acrylic front door.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 35787 (added 12/14/2012)
Baltic birch plywood table measures 15" H x 26" W x 22" D and features a real leather drum, a cymbal, a single octave xylophone, a single octave xylopipe and four multicolored maracas with four mallets. All musical components are easy to replace if they are ever damaged to insure a long life for this product.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 18013 (added 3/17/2008)
This is a natural combination of Little Colorado's best-selling Kid's Bookcase and Toy Organizer products. It has the advantages of both in one efficient storage unit. Six plastic bins with lids are included. It is available in natural finish and unfinished. Personalization, up to 12 letters, is available in red, blue, black, white, green and pink.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8483 (added 7/5/2006)
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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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