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April 2009 | Vol. VIII - No. 4




Tools:

PlayTown Mats™ Map the Way to Fun

For Main Street Gardens, All Roads Lead to Home


“I have six children, so [the PlayTown Mats™ project] was a perfect fit — like I had my own lab.” Sam R. Harkreader, Main Street Gardens
This article is a paid advertorial.

When Sam R. Harkreader was told his line of PlayTown Mats™ couldn’t be made in the United States, he saw a challenge. As he works to keep his cost down, he told TDmonthly Magazine, he’s “almost ready to jump up and down and claim victory.”

Sam, who is president of Lake Jackson, Texas-based consulting firm Main Street Gardens, Inc., sees his new PlayTown Mats™ as a growing “library of themes where kids pick and choose their favorites and build their own communities of play.”

The lightweight, collapsible play mats, with colorful graphics of roads and buildings, fold up into tall “books” for easy storage or travel. “A 3-year-old can easily pull them out to play with,” he said.

Made in the United States of corrugated polypropylene, the PlayTown Mats™ are easy to clean, Sam added, unlike their carpet competitors. The graphics are designed so that no matter how a child arranges them, the roads match up.

The first mat slated for release is HomeTown Mat™, for which shipments begin in May. In June WorkTown Mat™ will be available, and then each month, as demand picks up, new mats will become available.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

In the summer of 2008, to keep his 5-year-old son entertained, Sam drew some roads with markers on a large appliance box. The simple idea was so successful with his son that “a little voice said, ‘Hey Sam, there’s something here.’”

So, that fall, Sam decided to put aside another project he’d been working on and focus on improving and developing consumer-friendly mats.

“I realized it was a whole lot faster and neater, just a fun space compared to the energy business project I was doing, which would have been a huge investment and a huge endeavor compared to this, and," he laughed, “I have six children, so it was a perfect fit — like I had my own lab.”

Shortly after deciding to go ahead with the PlayTown Mats™ idea, Sam found out about Toy Fair 2009 and decided to get his product ready for the show. “So it was a race to get ready for Toy Fair, and then Toy Fair was a big success for us. We left with well over a hundred commercial leads.”

CONTINUING TO DEVELOP

“I’m a quality improvement guy,” Sam told TDmonthly. “I’m in supply chain consulting and have been for years, and I have a strong quality background, as well. So I just went into improvement mode.”

Instead of pushing to design the perfect product making a prototype, Sam said, “I applied a strategy of 'try something,' and when it fails, learn from it and fix it.” He worked in what he called “continuous cycles of improvement,” eventually “coming up with the right materials and the right images.”

GETTING THE WORD OUT

As far as marketing, he uses consistent branding — from product, to fliers, to business cards, everything has a similar look for easy consumer recognition. Also, his website is search-engine-optimization friendly and he already has independent sales reps covering most states in the United States.

Sam’s biggest dream, other than providing a lucrative, successful product, is to keep manufacturing on home soil. “I believe I can make a margin that’s acceptable enough and do it in the U.S. And if I can, I want to keep it that way.”

See the PlayTown Mats™ below:




MSRP: $44.91
Age Range: 3 and up
Launch Date: April 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Play Sets
Preschool
Creative Activities



The Work-Home Collection offers both Worktown Mat™ and Hometown Mat™, offering a variety of fun platforms to support kids' imagination of work and home life. Launch date: April 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 22969      (added 3/24/2009)
.
AD


MSRP: $24.95
Age Range: 3 and up
Launch Date: February 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Pretend Play
Educational
Creative Activities



WorkTown Mat™ presents children with images commonly found in industry, including: heavy equipment, workers, safety gear, buildings under construction, and construction materials. When WorkTown Mat™ is placed next to other PlayTown Mats™, roads wind seamlessly throughout. Like all PlayTown Mats™, WorkTown Mat™ has a rigid surface to support action figures and small toy vehicles; and, they are lightweight, readily expandable for play, and fold compactly for easy travel and storage. Launch date: February 15, 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 22335      (added 1/30/2009)
.
AD


MSRP: $24.95
Age Range: 3 and up
Launch Date: February 2009
Gender: Boys And Girls
Category: Pretend Play
Educational
Creative Activities



HomeTown Mat™ presents children with images of a peaceful small town, including: residential community, various civic and commercial buildings, roads, and nature. When HomeTown Mat™ is pieced together with other PlayTown Mats™, roads wind seamlessly throughout. Like all PlayTown Mats™, HomeTown Mat™ has a rigid surface to support action figures and small toy vehicles; and, they are lightweight, readily expandable for play, and fold compactly for easy travel and storage. Other collectible themes, such as FunTown Mat™, FarmTown Mat™, CampTown Mat™ and DownTown Mat™, to follow soon. Launch date: February 15, 2009.
ToyDirectory Product ID#: 22334      (added 1/30/2009)
.
AD


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Sheri JobeWriter's Bio: Sheri Jobe has been a journalist for more than 15 years. As a freelancer, she splits her time mostly between the Midwest and New England. She has been published in business journals and regional newspapers. She also writes fiction. Read more articles by this author

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