Learn how one family worked together to bring their toy to market
Building A Family of Monsters
When my three-year-old daughter, Lyla, drew a picture of a monster and asked me to "help make it real" for her Daddy's holiday gift, I didn't hesitate to pull out a box of fabric for her to rummage through and thread up my sewing machine. But when my husband received the monster and suggested we make a business out of it, I thought he might be crazy.
Anyone who lives with small children knows they have NO shortage of "great" ideas. The question really becomes, are any of these ideas unique enough to fill a hole in the market and resonate with an audience beyond their admittedly biased parents and doting grandparents. I certainly did not run right out to mass-produce my son's proposed "sticky shoes" that would let him walk on our walls "like Spiderman"!
However, when Lyla asked if we could make more monsters to sell at a local craft fair, I thought it would be a fun mother/daughter project and a good way to teach her about money management and the need to give back to the community. We made 15 monsters and set up shop at the community garden's annual Fall Festival. Lyla told me her colorful, plush toys were "good" monsters. Since "Lyla Tov" means "Good Night" in Hebrew, we decided that would be a perfect name for Lyla's crew of friendly monsters that would ward away "scary" things lurking in the dark and keep children snuggled comfortable in their beds all night long.
Much to my surprise (and Lyla's delight) these first Lyla Tov Monsters flew off our table and into the arms of eager new owners. Lyla was thrilled with the money she earned to add to her piggy bank and helped chose a children's charity to donate a percentage of these initial earnings. I began to think that perhaps my husband's idea to market Lyla's Monsters wasn't as far flung as I had initially thought.
Luckily, my background as a costume designer allowed me the technical know how to pattern and produce these plush Monsters, so we could start small, making a few a week on our dining room table and posting them on a website that we enlisted the help a friend to design. Our start up costs were minimal, so there was no risk in seeing if our Lyla Tov Monsters were marketable on a larger scale. We used social media to advertise and quickly sold Monsters to family, friends, and friends of friends.
Word of mouth was on our side and within a few months we received requests from some local boutiques to carry Lyla Tov Monsters. Within a year, the demand for our product exceeded what Lyla and I could produce at home and we needed to explore manufacturing options. We decided to use crowd funding and ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to produce our first two limited edition Monsters. In addition to raising the capital we needed for the initial investment, crowd funding was also a good way to test the waters and ensure that there were enough consumers interested in our product to make the investment worthwhile.
Lyla continues to be the creative force behind Lyla Tov Monsters, choosing colors, fabrics and accessories for each Monster before it goes into production. When we earned enough from sales of our first two limited edition Monsters, we reinvested it and had two more Monsters manufactured. We now have a line of four limited edition plush Monsters and are actively working to expand the line and increase our retail sales. We strive to keep Lyla as involved in the day-to-day activities of the business as we can. In addition to acting as the primary creative consultant, we brief her on our earnings versus expenses and let her weigh in on some of our financial decisions.
Certainly, as a family business, there have been times we have not been able to come to a consensus when posed with a big decision. We strive to model communication, collaboration and compromise, making sure everyone understands all aspects of the question at hand before sharing our opinions and ideas on how to proceed. We take the time to really understand where Lyla is coming from and embrace her third grade perspective so she feels her voice is heard and valued. In the end, if we go a different route, we lay out for her how we came to our decision and why we feel it is important for the growth of the company. So far, we have not faced a big decision that we haven't been able to all feel good about in the end!
Giving back to the community continues to be an important part of the Lyla Tov mission. As Lyla gets older, she is able to understand more deeply, how her contributions can affect those in need. We help her identify a handful of children's charities each year that she can research and learn more about. She picks the one she feels most connected with or thinks will make the greatest impact. Lyla Tov Monsters have donated to organizations such as Tikva, a children's orphanage in the Ukraine, The Pajama Project, and the Floating Hospital, an organization in our neighborhood that provides medical care for displaced families. When Lyla heard that the teachers at her New York City public school were collecting toys for students that attend the school from a local homeless shelter, she asked if we could give them Lyla Tov Monsters as well so that each child could have two holiday gifts.
It is exciting to see Lyla Tov Monsters on the shelves in toy stores, but more importantly, it is incredibly rewarding to be able to empower my daughter by helping her to realize her vision. We have both learned much about running a business and having a positive impact on our community. It is our goal to continue to grow Lyla Tov Monsters so that we can help more and more children the world over have a good night's sleep!
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Erin uses the skills she has learned working as a professional costume designer and technician to oversee patterning and fabrication of the Lyla Tov Monsters. Erin's familiarity with monsters goes back over ten years, to when she worked as a costume designer for Sesame Street at the Jim Henson Company – a job which earned her two Emmy awards. She has also taught costuming at New York University as well as working as a freelance illustrator, sculptor and designer for television, film and live theatre. You can reach her at Monsters@lylatov.com Read more articles by this author
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