The first year of a new business is the hardest. According to research conducted at the University of Tennessee, the failure rate of new businesses in the first year is a staggering 70 to 80 percent! How do fledgling manufacturers survive? TDmonthly Magazine contacted more than 25 rookie companies and asked about the trials and tribulations of those first 12 months.
| “You have to check the temperature and get early feedback.” — Kris Schantz, Happy Worker Inc.
Testing Is Key
Amos Carlen, co-inventor and co-owner of Who'd You Rather? Inc., test-played the game relentlessly, trying out different design ideas and modes of playability. “We tweaked it. Then we did focus groups. Does it work with two people, six people? We made sure it worked for couples, as well as friends, or strangers. It took awhile.”
Kris Schantz, co-owner of Happy Worker Inc. (ToyDirectory), believes in getting opinions. “You have to check the temperature and get early feedback, spend time asking retailers before you’ve even made the product: Would they carry the toy? What price would they carry it at?”
Craig Gorton, creator of RockBall (ToyShow), wanted to roll out his product progressively. “We tested this summer — who uses it, how much they’ll pay. A couple kids took it to college — Harvard and Notre Dame — to check it out.”
Danielle Ayotte, co-founder of Taggies Inc., learned “that you have to ask as many people as many questions as you can think of to get answers. You would be surprised how much people want to help if you are sincere in your desire to do things ‘correctly’ and for a good purpose.”
Networking Pays Off
Joan Orr, owner and creator of Doggone Crazy!, said she joined associations with influential members. “I write articles for their newsletters, post to Web lists and speak at conferences,” she said. “We also have donated games to charity auctions and fundraisers all over the country.”
Linda Polaski, vice president of L. M. Rdeux Innovations Inc., found networking essential to get their game Trhyme to market. “We pulled out all the stops and contacted everyone we could think of. We used press releases to local newspapers to make them aware of our new venture and to get some free PR. We contacted local radio stations that played our game on the air and used our games as giveaways for their contests. We did demonstrations and game signings at local charity events, craft shows, gift shows, our alma maters and, of course, local game stores. No matter how much of a cliché it is, networking is key to promoting a new product.”
Stephan Brissaud, VP of sales and marketing for Asmodee Editions LLC, bought a van and a trailer on Ebay, loaded it up with games, and hit the road for an entire year to go from retailer to retailer. “It helped overcome our two challenges: building a brand and establishing a network of customers.”
Private Monies and Undercapitalization
As obvious as it is, lack of funds accounts for more failed businesses than anything else. Amos Carlen said, “My only regret, what I could have done better — I could have raised a little more money in the beginning … Everyone underestimates how much it will cost.”
George Irwin, chairman and CEO of itoys (ToyShow), concurred, “As with any startup company — capital was important. We went privately for the monies: family, etc. Make sure you get enough.”
Learn the Ropes
Danielle Ayotte found that “the hardest part about starting is not knowing about multiple topics regarding manufacturing and business: personnel, wage regulations, machinery, office administration, safety regulations, quality control, insurance, liability, etc. We had to literally research everything from scratch.”
Rebecca Bloom, marketing maven of Word Salt Inc. (ToyShow), agreed. “’Drop ship?’ What does that mean? Getting a handle on the yearly calendar — including when not to call retailers because their store is full of people buying pencils and notebooks — has been part of the learning curve.”
Andrew Zanevsky, president of Infinifield Inc. (ToyShow), said, “We had absolutely no prior experience in the toy industry and had to learn a lot during the first year. We made some mistakes in the process, but have accomplished a lot too. It was all in the learning.”
Lois Sweetland, vice-president of research and marketing of CES Concepts (ToyShow), went the opposite direction: “We’ve done everything from the start, trying to make it all ourselves. That way we have control of the process.”
The Internet Is Invaluable
Missy Cohen-Fyffe, president of Babe Ease LLC, said that initially, retailers didn’t see a need for her product, which forced her to step back and focus on the dot-com business. “I did it all online, selling to consumers. It went well, and then I could show the retailers the types of sales numbers I was getting online, and they caught on.”
Carlen of Who’d You Rather?, said his company’s Web site is “as profitable, or more so, than the retail business right now. We make four times more there on a sale. Taking it online totally — that’s the next phase.”
Awards or How to Get Recognition Quickly
Barbara Jerome, the mom who invented NAMiTS, said, “I applied for awards programs to get credibility quickly — anything to make buyers stop and take notice.”
Steve Hart, project manager of Front Porch Classics (ToyShow), said, “It was a breakthrough when we won the Family Fun Award with the Old Century Baseball Game. This was a kids-tested award, and a very surprising response, because we were low tech — it had been won the last several years by electronic games. Our winning that award turned everyone’s heads around. Toy stores began to change their buying habits a little because of it.”
Patience, Patience, Patience
Kari Epstein, president of Dream On LLC, launched Hotflash! The Menopause Game and was successful from the start. “On my first day of business I sold to three countries and got scads of national press. It was disappointing, to say the least, that I didn't become an overnight game mogul after that,” she joked. “The first year, while extremely successful for me, was a test of my patience and perseverance.”
Evelyn Brunner, director of Fun Factory Games, best sums up the first-year experience: “We’ve had our fair share of trials, tribulations and accomplishments. But a sense of satisfaction ensues every time our existing retailers call us up to place sizeable reorders, convinced of the sell-ability of our games.”
The following is information on products made by the manufacturers mentioned in this article.
RockBall is a new beach and lawn game that incorporates action, strategy and fun. Because of its simplicity, anyone who can catch and throw a ball can immediately experience great rallies and a competitive sport without the skill-set required of other sports. It’s portable, durable and addictive. This is a patent-pending, one-of-a-kind product that promises to create a stir in neighborhood backyards and local beaches everywhere.
A fun superhero for the work world, BossMan lets you know what mood he´s in with three interchangeable faces and five weapons of management might. Complete with a bunch of bossy superpowers and vulnerabilities, he´s ready to rule over your workday! Happy Worker´s Everyday Superheroes line of action figures also includes GeekMan and MoneyMan.
A musical plush toy is paired up with "My First Taggies Book: Sweet Dreams" in this new gift set. The Goodnight Star plush toy plays lullabies. Both toy and book feature numerous tags for babies to explore. Additionally, this product won a Dr. Toy award in Dr. Toy´s Smart Play/Smart Toys Product Awards Program 2005.
Doggone Crazy! is a fast-paced interactive game with a doggy theme. Kids can be doggy detectives, trying to figure out what the dogs are saying with their body language in the more than 100 photo cards. Created by dog experts, this unique game is loads of fun for kids and families.
It's Trhyme (pronounced trime), the exciting word game with the intriguing twist. Players are confronted with three clues for which they must provide three answers within a specified time. And here's the twist — all three answers must rhyme with each other! In this game of Time, intellect and rhyme, there can be only one winner. But, it's so entertaining, no one really loses. This product is a National Association of Gifted Children Award Winner.
The fast, funny and easy-to-play creative writing game will appeal to classroom teachers who are looking for a fun way to supplement the language arts curriculum as well as families who like to have fun while challenging their creative writing abilities. To play, each player uses five Gabby words to write a story in less than one minute. A Spanish version of the game is also be available. This product is a winner of numerous awards, including a 2005, 2006 and 2007 Creative Child Magazine Game of the Year Award, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Parent to Parent Foundation Adding Wisdom Award, a 2006 Earlychildhood NEWS Director's Choice Award and a 2005 iParenting Media Best New Products Hot Award.
This FamilyFun Magazine Toy of the Year Award Winner is now available with your favorite Major League Baseball team logos. Exquisitely detailed and crafted of high-quality wood, this retro pinball-style game allows you to bring America’s favorite pastime into your family room or den. Truly an authentic tribute to the grand ol’ ballparks of yesteryear and a “must have” for any baseball fan.
Make your fortune on the volatile stock market through stock buying to earn dividend payouts or selling for profits. The key to success in this game lies in a player´s ability to make the most money from each stock purchase while taking into consideration the effects of supply and demand on stock prices. Although being the first-mover confers tremendous advantage, exercising major shareholder influence on dividend payouts can perhaps give a player the added edge toward financial victory!