“The toy industry is a very tight knit community. You need to invest time in getting to know the people in this industry.” — Michele Berman, ZAZOO KiDS
Michele Berman's second child just wouldn't sleep through the night, so the now mother-of-three took matters into her own hands and created the ZAZOO Photo Clock. Below, she tells TDmonthly Magazine how along the way she learned how to manage a factory oversees, eventually realizing that in the Toy Industry, personal connections can be what matter the most.
Q. What career path did you originally envision for yourself? Did you ever anticipate working with children’s products?
A. I originally saw myself in advertising and marketing, which is what I did for several years. I never anticipated working with children’s products but as a mother of three, I certainly enjoyed buying them.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your first product?
A. Each of my three children was a terrible sleeper. When my second daughter was about 2 years old, I looked online and in-stores for a product like this one and was shocked to find there were almost no sleep aid products on the market here in the U.S. I could have ordered one from the UK but that seemed ridiculous. The sleep aid category has grown and changed over the past few years and more companies are trying to address this issue for sleep-deprived parents of young children.
Q. How long did it take to go from the original spark of an idea to actual production?
A. A long time. I shelved the idea for a few years and then spent about 1 year researching competitive products and patent development.
Q. How much money did you need to create the first prototype and come up with a business plan?
A. Not too much. I wrote the business plan myself and the first prototype was made oversees after evaluating competitive bids.
Q. How did you raise it, and how long did it take to raise it?
A. At this point in the process, I was self-funding and using private equity for the initial investment.
Q. How quickly did you spend your initial funds? Any regrets?
A. The initial funds were diminished in about 9 months. No regrets at this point as we planned on new capital after 10-12 months, so we were in good shape.
Q. What aspect of the toy industry most surprised you when you first started?
A. The toy industry is a very tight knit community. You need to invest time in getting to know the people in this industry.
Q. What were the top two or three most significant obstacles you had to overcome to achieve success and how did you do it?
A. The most difficult obstacle was the cultural and language barrier with my factory oversees. This problem has been solved by using a China based American company in Shenzhen to oversee inspection and development. A second challenge has been gaining distribution. The only way to get out there is to “get it out there” literally. Hitting the phones, networking and attending tradeshows have all been important.
Q. If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
A. I think it is very important to develop personal relationships with your partners oversees. I relied too heavily on partners that I hired for that task and it should have been handled personally.
Q. How do you hope your product/s will affect children's lives?
A. The ZAZOO Photo Clock can affect children’s lives, but also the lives of the parents. The clock provides a visual cue for young children who cannot yet read a clock so they can tell visually if it is morning or nighttime (hint: the moon comes up). Additionally, there are personalization and multimedia functions that grow with the child and allow for years of use.
Q. What is the most disappointing thing that you have had to live with as a business owner?
A. The press for this product is amazing, as is customer feedback. However, it’s been challenging to debut a high-end product in a down economy.
Q. What were the top two or three best pieces of advice you received and from whom?
A. The best advice we received was to grow slowly, manage the product and be sure we could handle the orders. Make a list of the top accounts for placing this product and focus only on those account. If you grow too fast, it will hurt and not help your business.
Another great piece of advice was that when we were thinking about how to launch, and were concerned that Toy Fair NY was too big of a venue, another entrepreneur told us to “just go for it”. She was right!
Q. The worst two or three pieces of advice?
A. We were told to not enter into this industry! What a mistake that would have been for ZAZOO KiDS.
Q. What one piece of advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the toy industry?
A. License your idea to a larger company.
Q. What one unique quality makes your product better than your competition?
A. There are several sleep-aid products on the market to help children and their parents get a few more hours or even minutes of coveted sleep, but none of the frames have the long shelf life that the ZAZOO Photo Clock has with its personalization and multimedia features.
The Zazoo Photo Clock is a multi-media photo alarm clock that visually shows children when they should stay in bed or when it is time to get up and start the day. The photo clock comes pre-programmed with two sets of awake and asleep images. The photo clock can be personalized by parents so that the awake and asleep images feature digital photos of their own children. Can also be used by older children, offering rotating photo frame, alarm clock, video, MP3 and calendar features. The photo frame supports SD, MMC, xD and MS cards and also features a built-in speaker, headphone jack, and USB port.
Writer'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