TDmonthly Magazine!
December 2006 | Vol. V - No. 12


Great Lakes Toy Company Works for Kids

Careful Planning and Listening Leads to Games That Work

“I've seen companies hire artistic people who come up with ideas that kids don't like.” Drew Nauman, Great Lakes Toy Company
Andrew “Drew” Nauman, inspired by his toymaker grandfather, started designing and building toys as a child. Now president of the Great Lakes Toy Company, maker of animal-themed board games and toys, he has turned his hobby into a full-time business. In his own words, Nauman told TDmonthly Magazine how he built a successful company through careful planning, hard work and listening to the kids.

I was the supervisor for a company that makes transformers and regulators for the utility industry. A patent attorney saw some toys I had made for a friend’s son and asked me if I’d thought of turning it into a full-time business. I hadn’t, but I went to see another patent attorney friend of his.

He put a box on the table and said, “Tell me what you can do with this.”

I thought of, maybe, 25 things. “Congratulations,” he said. “Most people think of two or three. …Personally I love the toys. … You have a chance of making a good business out of it.”

That was about 10 years ago.

Learn From Others’ Mistakes ... Slowly

I took three or four years to research the industry, find out why companies fail, why they succeed.

We started in wholesale. We only put out a few toys because we were unknown. Sales were slow — around $60,000.

Broadcast Your Name

Networking is so important. I got our name out there by hitting local specialty shops and mailing brochures describing the company and our product.

The following year, we decided to sell retail on the Internet using e-bay and our own site. We also did school fundraisers, which helped get our product noticed by the public.

Bookstores started buying. Zoos across America put our toys in their gift shops.

Once we went retail, our sales rose to about $90,000. For 2007, we expect to hit $180,000 to $250,000. This includes some newer products we’ve introduced.

Putting together a professional team was probably the hardest part of building the business. I’m the right person as far as design goes, but I needed somebody with sales experience who knows the industry to get out there and sell.

Seize Opportunities ... Quickly

I took everything slowly, although by doing that we missed some good opportunities.

For example, we had a Harry Potter game two years back. When it comes to a trend, you’ve got to move fast. Before we got to the kids, they were on to something else.

Listen to Advice and Research, Research, Research

Do your homework. There are things you don’t anticipate, such as extra expenses. And make sure your product is not already out there.

Talk to people in the industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

But Don’t Forget Who It’s All For

Watch, learn and make something out of it. I’m a guy in his 40s who observes kids for a living. I’ve seen companies hire artistic people who come up with ideas that kids don’t like. You have to go to the source — the kids.

Of course, you’re in business to make money, but it’s more than that. If you’ve ever seen a kid’s face light up when they play your game, it’s a wonderful feeling: Do it for the kids.

The following are some toys for kids from the Great Lakes Toy Company:

MSRP: $24.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games

New for 2006, this 2-side game entertains while teaching. These games have been hailed by educators and parents alike. Side 1 features "Lost at the Zoo." Attention all young zoo keepers: All of the animals have escaped from their habitats. As a zoo keeper, it's your job to gather all of your animals and get them back to their habitats before your opponent does. Be the first to get your animals back to their habitats and become the head zoo keeper. The MSRP is $19.99 to $24.99.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8151      (added 6/6/2006)

MSRP: $24.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games

Side 2 of this two-sided game is "Hide and Seek Under the Sea": It's a race to find all of your friends in this underwater adventure. Each player chooses a fish character and advances around the bottom of the sea to all six of the hiding places. The first player to find all 6 of his or her colored fish and get back home wins the game. Both games play two to four players. The MSRP is $19.99 to $24.99.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 8152      (added 6/6/2006)

Elizabeth GreenspanWriter's Bio: Elizabeth Greenspan edits and writes for trade and technical publications. She has interviewed and collaborated with some of the top practitioners in their fields. She lives in Philadelphia and travels extensively for her work. Read more articles by this author


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