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December 2008 | Vol. VII - No. 12




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What to Expect When You're Exhibiting

Toy Fair Shows You What Your Product's Really About


You've spent months, years and sometimes decades devising, designing, refining and producing your new toy or game. You've visualized yourself cashing that first big check, and "seen" your baby on toy-store shelves all across America ... but the 900+ other exhibitors believe just as strongly as you do that they'll have the knockout hit of the show. Dreams of instant discovery by Toys "R" Us or another major toy distributor are nearly universal. But what really happens when you unveil your creation?

TDmonthly Magazine spoke with the seven inventors it had followed as part of its 2008 Toy Frenzy! documentary coverage to find out what they had learned about their products and themselves by debuting at one of the most important toy-industry trade shows in the world. Here are some of their challenges, insights and updates:

Aimee Symington, inventor of Blunders
"We did well last year," recalled Aimee about the debut of her manners game. "I think a lot of our traffic was generated by you guys. You built up a lot of interest ... they'd walk by and see you [shooting] in our booth." Toy Fair wasn't quite what Aimee had imagined it would be: "It was such an eye opener to see what the toy industry was like," Aimee said. She discovered that many of her booth visitors weren't buyers at all. "You get talking to somebody and they're trying to sell you plastic!" she shared. She was also surprised by how much money she had to spend after producing her initial 5,000 games for $60,000. The expense of attending trade shows, submitting for awards, buying the seals of awards she won, and revising her game's box weren't part of her initial business plan. Neither were the long, unpaid hours and the disappointing sales numbers generated by her website. Though the sale of 3,000 games since February has covered most of her expenses, she'll need to dip back into savings and investor pockets for $25,000 to cover a new order of 5,000 games. At the 2009 Fair, she'll also move upstairs to one of New York rep Charles Zadeh's booths (210). In addition to her game, she'll offer a "Blunders" book, co-penned by Julie Andrews' daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, a New York Times best-selling children's author. "What I do feel good about since Toy Fair is that Blunders has won eight awards," she said. "It's a good game and is selling very well for my [200+] retailers."

Brett Diffley, inventor of Frolicking Floaters
At last year's Fair, Brett had already invested approximately $100,000 to fulfill his 12-year dream of making and selling a floating octopus helmet that kids wear while shooting their "enemies" with self-siphoning water pistols. Though buyers seemed interested in his unusual and original product (which includes a 'floating poop' version!), the stress of running his own landscaping business complicated devising a system to follow up on Toy Fair leads. "The biggest problem is getting the word out there about these toys," said Diffley. "I'm trying to find some backers as we speak." 

Dave Crocket, inventor of Beyond Chess
When debuting Beyond Chess, an ingenious chess variation that lets players move the squares of the board as well as the pieces, Dave's biggest fear was that no one would "get" the concept and would dismiss it as "stupid." Luckily, he was wrong! But he was also off the mark when he thought the game would be a hot seller in toy stores. "It sells really well in chess stores [one store orders 64 copies at a time], but outside of that realm it doesn't sell well," he realized. Though he's not going back to Toy Fair this year, the experience helped him with "getting a lot of feedback from people about how the game works and how it looks," shared Dave. He's traded out the black-and-white gameboard pieces for larger squares in off-white and hunter green — the colors of a traditional tournament chess board. "It's more recognizable to tournament players and it's easier on the eyes, too," he said. A Toy Fair connection also led to the development of an online version of the game. Plans for 2009 include distributing the game in Europe, where chess is more popular than it is here, and building up capital for another game he's invented. He's anticipating recouping the approximately $100,000+ he's invested in Beyond Chess in the next two years, as word about this chess variation spreads among players.

Michael Maddi, inventor of Puppetoys
Twenty years ago, Michael walked into the office of a major retailer wearing a super-realistic dinosaur glove puppet he'd invented and sold it on the spot. Since the young special-effects artist didn't have the funds or connections to comply with the retailer's requirements to produce the toy en masse, the opportunity slid by. In 2008, Michael brought his redesigned, newly patented Puppetoy to Toy Fair and again attracted coveted attention. Directly after the show, he went back to the studio for another redesign to strengthen the puppet's body. Misadventures with a factory owner who ran off with his money knocked him off his timeline, but by October he was almost ready with a new prototype. What's next? Without divulging details, Michael said reaction to his toy has been "beyond my wildest expectations ... but I never dreamed it would be so slow!" To get an idea of how his toy will fare in the future, just Google "Puppetoy"; in November 2008 there were two retailers claiming to have the gnarly beasts for sale, even though the product won't be ready for months! (Video coming soon)

Fabio Elias, inventor of Voxal
Based on feedback at Toy Fair, Fabio improved his 2-D to 3-D transformative puzzle Voxal and created a new mini, glow-in-the-dark version, too. Fabio was in Brazil overseeing production of Voxal when TDmonthly contacted him, but he summed up his year by writing, "I am still not solid in the market, so all this investment may be for 'nothing,' besides a lot of learning and the pleasure that has been to create a product. But when I look at the Voxals, especially the Mini Voxals, I see only a lot of potential for its success!" (Video coming soon)

Terri Lynn Link, inventor of Tails of Abbygail
"We actually signed a deal because of Toy Fair," said Terri, who exited the Fair with a publicist, agent and distributor. Before the show, she'd already invested almost $100,000 in her live-action children's DVD about a Jack Russell terrier who learns about safety and friendship on her journey to find a golden key. Terri had produced more than 50,000 copies of the movie to be ready for a flurry of orders, but discovered at the show that most retailers were only interested in purchasing a series rather than a single film. In hindsight, she said, "We would have done the next two films" before heading to New York. At the moment, she's on schedule to finish the fifth film by the end of the year.

"Our World Premier was a full house ... with over 700 children and adults attending to watch 'Abbygail' make her big screen debut!" Terri excitedly updated TDmonthly. "After winning a 2008 Telly Award and several other awards, including a 2008 Kids First! Endorsement and a Kids First! 2008 Official Film Festival Selection and a 2008 Creative Child Seal of Excellence Award ... we've been pretty excited ... and things are looking very promising!" Since kids ages 2 to 10 "love the film," said Terri, she feels she's found her niche.

"We have learned a lot in the past year ... especially how things take longer than you may think," she said, echoing the other inventors. "Just keep believing in your dream. ... The cream always rises to the top!" (Video coming soon)

Susan Adams,
inventor of what's the deal?
"One of the biggest surprises was that for those who are already interested in tending character development in kids, almost no sell was required. We just needed to let them know it's available," Susan told TDmonthly. After the show opened, she quickly realized that her product — a situation-based ethics game — was not as well suited for toy stores as it was for professionals such as therapists, social service providers, religious teachers and even those in discipline-based practices, such as the martial arts. "What Toy Fair helped us realize is that ethiKids isn't a toy," continued Susan. The experience also taught her about the business side of inventing: "You go in, talking fun and games and inspiration, but [after the Fair we were] talking numbers, competiton and speed. We learned a lot." Susan had been taking her game to community and school groups, where it prompted dialogue between kids and their caretakers. "It’s tough to create conditions where they feel safe enough — and compelled enough — to actually open up,” she pointed out. "what's the deal?" can be the first step.

By November 2008, though, Susan had to back off from the business because of family commitments. Her business partner Laurene is presently "weighing her options."

"Our primary customers continue to be non-profits and mental health professionals," said Susan, noting a partnership with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. The retail market has been disappointing, despite their efforts with advertisements and mailings. There's some "real soul-searching going on," Susan summed up. "We'll keep you posted." (Video coming soon)

 

By the fall of 2008, our inventors all realized that their Toy Fair debut did not, as they'd hoped, mark the completion of their journey from idea to market; it was either the beginning of a new path or the beginning of the end. To give some perspective to their stories, only 87 of 255 new exhibitors at Toy Fair 2007 returned in 2008. Don't forget to check back throughout the year as Toy Frenzy! takes shape and we learn what's next for our entrepreneurs.

Watch the inventors demonstrate their own toys, then see more game demonstrations from Toy Fair 2008:
Videography by Amanda Rose Wilder, b-camera & editing by Alison Marek






Wholesale Price: (Log in to view)
MSRP: $24.95
Age Range: 5 to 10
SKU or Item #: 85115
Launch Date: February 2008
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
Board Games
Preschool



The adorable characters of Becky, Bobby, Brenda and Billy Blunder revolutionize the way manners are taught. The game includes a game board, a story book and 300 fun and interactive charade, multiple-choice, scenario and true/false questions covering social and dining etiquette. “Blunders™ is the only board game on the market today that makes learning manners interactive and fun!” Successful Kids Inc. President Aimee Symington told TDmonthly. This game has received the following awards: Dr. Toy, National Parenting Center Seal of Approval, iParenting Media, Creative Child Preferred Choice, Mr. Dad Seal of Approval, eChoice, and The Toy Man Award of Excellence and Seal of Approval. Launch date: February 17, 2008.
— "I've loved the Blunders Game from the moment I was introduced to it.  Now you can reinforce manners at one of the places where manners are key.  Manner Mats takes the blunders concept and turns it into a set of 38  table mats. The mats include tones of games including word searches, challenges, multiple choice, what is wrong with the picture, complete the sentence and many more. Another innovative way to teach manners without having to point your finger," Jennifer Shuman, owner of 1SmartNoodle, told TDmonthly at Toy Fair 2010.

Past videos: Toy Fair 2009
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16257      (added 11/27/2007)
.
AD


Age Range: 4 and up
Launch Date: February 2008
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Puppets



Triceratops is a 26” long full-body glove. A tank-like plant eater with plated armor, he sports three soft foam huge flesh piercing horns on his head for protection against meat eating predators. As with all Prehistoric Puppets, he is fully flexible down to his swishing tail! A great learning and role playing puppet for ages 4 to extinct. Made of a super soft molded polyurethane foam realistically painted. Inventor Michael Maddi pointed out to TDmonthly that Puppetoys make great characters in little kids' home videos. Launch date: February 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16732      (added 12/21/2007)
.
AD


MSRP: $15.95
Age Range: 8 to 11
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Educational
General Games



In "what's the deal?" – a tween and teen prep kit - Fiona and Luke find themselves in lots of sticky situations. Follow these exploits with children and watch Fiona and Luke grow as they think through the best solutions, and begin to apply them in their own lives.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16929      (added 1/4/2008)
.
AD


MSRP: $25.95
Age Range: 10 and up
SKU or Item #: 0 94922 77797 3
Launch Date: January 2008
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Water Activities



The inflatable toy floats on water, with an open head cavity for swimmers to place their head. There are two handles under the toy for gripping the two squirt guns. Other available varieties include turtle, killer whale, helmet and more. Launch date: January 2008.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16036      (added 11/7/2007)
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AD


MSRP: $34.99
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Board Games
General Games



Beyond Chess comes with everything you need to play. The board is made of 64 high-quality, solid, plastic squares that measure 1.5"x1.5"x.25" and accommodate most chess pieces, plus two extra squares. This set includes standard Staunton-design chess pieces, a 12-page instruction booklet and a sturdy nylon backpack-style carrying bag.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 16215      (added 11/21/2007)
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AD


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Alison MarekWriter's Bio: ALISON MAREK is an award-winning writer, director and cartoonist whose work has been published by Fairchild Publications and DC Comics (Piranha Press), broadcast on Showtime and other cable networks, and viewed worldwide in film festivals. See her short films and print work on www.alisonmarek.com. Watch her nefarious villains in the web series www.MuggsMovers.com. Get inspired by her cartoons "Daily ARFFirmations to Unleash Your Inner Fido" at www.ARFFirmations.com. Phew! And then ...  Read more articles by this author

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