TDmonthly Magazine!
November 2011 | Vol. X - No. 11


9 Manufacturers Share: The Best Advice, Worst Advice, and Biggest Mistakes

“The best advice we got was to focus our efforts on independent retailers.” M. Kevin Bowen, founder, Redtail Industries
The opinions of others - industry peers, friends, and family - can hold a lot of stake when you're trying to grow a fledgling business. But how do you know who to listen to? And what if you choose incorrectly? Below, manufacturers tell TDmonthly about the best advice they received, and some of the worst mistakes they made, in hopes that others can learn from their experience.
Keep an eye out for full-length interviews with many of these companies in future issues of TDmonthly; any previously published interviews are linked to the respondents name.

What is the worst advice you received, or the biggest mistake you made?

Sandy Bergeson, executive vp, TDC Games:
Don’t do it. (We wouldn’t be where we are today if we had listened.)

M. Kevin Bowen, founder, Redtail Industries: Not planning enough with how to market the game. Never assume your product will "sell it self;" having a Facebook page or Twitter account is not enough. It really helps to know what you'll be doing and how you'll do it when it comes to marketing a toy or game - or any product for that matter.

Betty J Morris, president, Shrinky Dinks: I have become involved with many people who were not honest. I learned to check companies out, as well as the people that I am working with.

Greg Zima, president, GaZima Games: Honoring a 'gentlemen's agreement' based upon another relationship in the business. Though the toy industry is full of great people, there are still those out there that will take advantage of a new inventor. Make sure you have everything in writing and understand what you are signing.

Julie Al-Maskeen, Games Under Construction: Many potential manufacturers said to go as cheap as possible, and not to worry about quality - fortunately we ignored that advice because we trust that even in today's economy, parents still care a lot about the quality and safety of their children's toys.

Kate Nicolson, co-founder, O.B. Designs: Give it up; you don't have enough money or product. It is too hard.

Carol Fenster, CEO, Baby Abuelita Productions: When I was first starting out, I was told by a different CEO of a mid-sized toy company not to even bother starting the company, that I would never succeed as the toy business is too competitive, and I would never get our dolls into the market. She was wrong.

John Shelley, founder, Bag-O-Loot:
Do I have to answer this one? I think I am my own worst enemy…There was the idea I had to mail out a free game to every single fire station in New England. That cost thousands of dollars, produced only one sale, and we did not get a single thank you.

What is the best advice you received?

M. Kevin Bowen, founder, Redtail Industries: My wife and I met many great game developers at Toy Fair and learned a lot from each of them. The best advice we got was to focus our efforts on independent retailers. I'm sure a lot of game/toy designers dream of getting their product in WalMart or Toys R Us, but independent retailers are a small game developer's best friend. They will support your product by teaching customers about it and showing them how much fun it is. This can help put your product on the map. You won't get this treatment from a large retailer.

Sandy Bergeson, executive vp, TDC Games: Don’t do it. (Some days we think we should have listened.)

Betty J Morris, president, K&B Innovations (Shrinky Dinks): #1: A Buyer will keep asking for price and delivery reductions until you say NO - so set your price and terms and don't budge. #2: Every year you have to have something NEW and exciting to show to Buyers. #3: Nothing is valid until put into writing and signed.

Greg Zima, president, GaZima Games: Bring better prototypes to show. Many people will tell you that they will take a game idea on a napkin; if that is true it is the exception, not the rule. All of our big licenses had professional working prototypes.

Julie Al-Maskeen, Games Under Construction: Spend as much time and effort on introducing your games to the game buying public- especially parents - as you do trying to get new retailers.

Kate Nicolson, co-founder, O.B. Designs:
My mother always said, “Look after your customers and they will look after you.” I try really hard to remember this. In Australia the customer service is mediocre at best. We try to set ourselves a part from the rest of the crowd.

Carol Fenster, CEO, Baby Abuelita Productions: I was told by the CEO of a very successful bicycle accessory company, who went on to become my mentor, that I would work longer hours with more stress on this type of business than I have ever worked in my life and I had better be prepared.

John Shelley, founder, Bag-O-Loot:
Initially we were only going to sell the game on the internet. Then a friend of mine, John Little, offered to sell them in his convenience store in Sullivan, New Hampshire. We gave it a try and within four weeks he had sold almost two dozen decks. I think the population of Sullivan is only a few hundred people! This made me realize that having the game in stores where people could pick it up and look at it was the best way to sell it.

Jason Cohen, president, Smart Gear: There are two rules for success. 1 Don't tell all you know. 2. _________.

Justina HuddlestonWriter's Bio: Justina Huddleston graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College with a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing in 2009. After graduating she was the on-site director of the Boston Children's Museum gift store for a year, selling educational, developmental, and creative activity toys that tied in with the museum's exhibits. Justina also interned at children's book publisher Candlewick Press before moving from Boston to Los Angeles, where she is now Editorial Director of TDmonthly Magazine. Read more articles by this author


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