Puzzle Scrambling for Success: b.dazzle Adapts to Find Small Business Solutions
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June 2003 | Vol. II - No. 6

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Scrambling for Success: b.dazzle Finds Small Business Solutions

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 Squares® puzzles, has 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 services.”

Growing Pains

“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.”

Specialty Space

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.”

Creating Demand

For many expecting an easy road to success in the toy industry, Kathy believes that the realities of sustaining a fledgling company are not so rosy.

“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 sluggish economy.

“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.”





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