Not many products can boast of a fan base that ranges in age from 3½ to 89. Fractiles-7 (ToyDirectory), developed by Beverly Johnson and Marc Pelletier in 1998 to “help bring the beauty of geometry into the mainstream,” captures the elegant simplicity of geometry in way that appeals to all ages. Consisting of tiles designed with angles based on the number seven, Fractiles-7 pieces stick magnetically to a steel activity board, or any magnetic surface, to create myriad designs from users´ imaginations.
Johnson, a mother of five with no prior business experience, came up with the idea of Fractiles while playing with cut up magnetic business cards. According to her, users “range from preschoolers to advanced math researchers, and include people with physical and learning disabilities.”
Fractiles, Inc. started in Boulder, Colorado and is still run by the team that launched the company. Johnson works full time on marketing and sales, as well as daily invoicing and product development. The company has one part-time employee, but manufacturing, assembly and order fulfillment are handled through several U.S. contractors.
Since its inception, the company has had sales growth between 20-30 percent each year and receives orders from as far away as Korea and Australia. According to Johnson, their marketing consists of word-of-mouth, catalogs, direct mail and telemarketing to store buyers. She does occasionally travel to local stores to demo the product, but leaves most of the toy and gift shows to one of her distributors.
Even with Fractiles-7 drawing new fans worldwide, Johnson doesn’t see the product going mass market. “[Fractiles-7] is a little expensive to produce and I am not willing to lower the price by having it made overseas,” says Johnson. “I’m proud that Fractiles is made with no exploitation or child labor.”
The Fractiles website is full of design ideas, puzzles, games and photos of the millions of arrangements that users from around the world have created. Another section has testimonials from medical professionals, researchers, childcare workers, teachers and others who have discovered the benefits of the product in their work and personal lives.
Fractiles-7 is currently available in three sizes: The newest set, Fridge Fractiles ($9.95), comes with 48 tiles and is packaged in a CD-sized case, while the original sets include a 96-piece Travel Edition ($19.95) in an 8”x 8” album-type package; and a Large Edition ($38.95), which comes with 192 pieces and a 12”x 12” activity board. Johnson hopes to have a new product out this year.