Q & A With Betty Morris, Creator of Shrinky Dinks
Betty Morris was a housewife and mother of three when she and her Cub Scout troop co-leader (Kate Bloomberg) came up with a fun arts & crafts activity for their troop. SHRINKY DINKS ® (K & B INNOVATIONS, INC.) was born, and after realizing how much fun the troop had making their creations, Morris and Bloomberg decided to sell Shrinky Dinks locally. Below, Morris talks about how Shrinky Dinks grew from a Cub Scout art project to a 38-year-old brand that has become a household name.
| “Creative thinking is the basis of all Innovation!” — Betty J. Morris, President, K & B Innovations
Q. What career path did you originally envision for yourself?
A. Housewife and Mother.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for your first product?
A. I was a Cub Scout Leader at the time and was looking for a unique Christmas Ornament that my boys could make for their parents. I saw in a Craft Book that you could put a Clear Lid, i.e. from a food container into an oven. They stated that you could use a Permanent Ink Pen and create designs and could punch holes into the lid before putting the Lid into the oven. The Lid was going to Shrink to charm size. I thought that if you put plastic into the oven it was going to smell, melt or catch on fire. Finally, I tried it. It worked! I created a small charm size piece. This started my search for larger pieces of this plastic.
I finally located the supplier and they said that I would have to order 1,000 lbs. of this plastic as it was their minimum. I said fine...just send me 12 sheets so that I can confirm before ordering. I was thinking that this would make enough Christmas Ornaments for my troop, never intending on ordering the minimum of 1,000 lbs. The boys had so much fun making and watching their Ornaments shrink in the oven that my Co-Leader, Kate Bloomberg, and myself decided to ask our husbands for their support. We both wanted to order that 1,000 lbs of plastic.
Q. How long did it take to go from the original spark of an idea to actual production?
A. It took us about a month. We packaged all of our Creative Shrinky Dinks Packs in my frontroom.
Q. How much money did you need to create the first prototype and come up with a business plan?
A. Katie and I really did not have a business plan. We did figure out that we would need approximately $1,200 to purchase plastic, permanent ink pens, envelopes and 5 sheets of Instructions and ideas.
Q. How did you raise it, and how long did it take to raise it?
A. Katie's husband agreed to give Kate $600.00 right away. My husband wouldn't agree to our half, $600.00, until I could show him where we were going to sell them. I finally got the Manager of Brookfield Square to let us sell in one of their spaces in the Mall.
We set up a booth with finished samples and a toaster oven so people could see a Shrinky Dink SHRINK! We set a record for sales as it related to the other booths, and because Brookfield Square received 20% of all sales, they asked us to come back for the whole month of November and part of December. This meant that we would need more plastic and would have to get a lot of help for packaging… We sold $50,000 worth of Shrinky Dinks in three months via stores and mail orders.
Q. How quickly did you spend your initial funds? Any regrets?
A. We entered into a Licensing Contract. We invested $20,000 upfront to partner with Skyline Toys. KBI was to come up with new concepts, pricing, and set up all the Vendors needed. Skyline Toys would pay for the production and MW Kaasch Co. would market the Shrinky Dinks kits. We would split the profit. This was the smartest decision that we ever made!
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. We knew nothing about the industry: State Requirements, Copyrights, Patents, Trademarks...We talked to all kinds of people who were willing to give us direction. At one point, we hired a consultant. We had our office in my dinning room and kitchen. After two years of working out of my house, Kate and I rented some office space and hired a secretary part time and then full time. This helped a lot.
Q. What aspect of the toy industry most surprised you when you first started?
A. The New York Toy Fair that has been held on a yearly basis in Manhattan! There are so many manufacturers from all over the world selling toys. I often wonder how they all survive with so much competition!
Q. How do you hope your product/s will affect children's lives?
A. I deeply am concerned about the development of Creative Thinking! Everything is a push button. Today, our children are involved in TV, the Internet, Texting, Video Games, and a whole variety of hand held devices. My goal has been to provide creative Shrinky Dinks so that children of all ages can create items that are personalized and designed by them. Creative thinking is the basis of all Innovation!
Q. What hardships did you have to overcome during your formative years and how did they help you persevere as a business owner?
A. Over the past 38 years there have been so many hardships that it would be hard to list them all...these years have been like a roller coaster. We had Licensing Contracts with Skyline Toys, a Division of MW Kaasch Company in the '70's and Colorforms in the 80's.
I think that in the 1990's we experienced a lot of hardships. Shrinky Dinks was licensed to Milton Bradley and after just one year, they bought Parker Brothers and decided to drop all Activity Toys and concentrate on games...they held their licensing rights to Shrinky Dinks for three years but did not market Shrinky Dinks kits.
I began contacting other Toy Companies and negotiated a contract with Golden Books, a division of Western Publishing. After one year, Western Publishing sold off all of its divisions and KBI got back worldwide rights to Shrinky Dinks. During all these years KBI continued to sell to Schools, Churches, Camps, Scouts, Civic Groups and had Premium rights; therefore, Shrinky Dinks was on the market but not in Retail that much.
In 1998, I decided not to enter into any Licensing Agreement and decided to see what KBI could do. I moved our roughening machine from New Jersey into a leased space in North Lake, WI. My children were all married and settled and my husband was supportive. However, I did agree that if I didn't make a profit my first year, I would find another Licensee and retire...that was 13 years ago!
| “I did agree that if I didn't make a profit my first year, I would find another Licensee and retire...that was 13 years ago!” — Betty J. Morris, President, K & B Innovations
I had never been a manufacturer and it was a challenge to learn how to purchase and set up everything...Guillotine Cutters, Slitters, the Roughening Machine and Exhaust Systems, Electrical, Fork Lift, etc. Also, had to learn about how to set up an Internet Store... I didn't even know how to send E-Mail!
Q. What is the most disappointing thing that you have to live with as a business owner?
A. I guess it would be that there are so many State and Federal requirements and so many taxes to pay. Insurance costs increase every year as well as trucking and product costs...every year it seems harder and harder to create profits.
Q. If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
A. I would have read all kinds of books on "How to start a business", Invention information, and become more knowledgeable about the Toy Business. There is so much to learn. We just did things as we went along; we could have saved ourselves a lot of time, effort and dollars! Of course, I question if we would have even gone into business if we knew how much is involved... who knows?
Q. What were the top two or three best pieces of advice you received and from whom?
A. Ben Fagan, of Skyline Toys, became our mentor.
Advice #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.
Advice #2: Every year you have to have something NEW and exciting to show to Buyers.
Advice #3: Nothing is valid until put into writing and signed.
Q. What advice would you offer to someone just starting out in the toy industry?
A. Purchase the most current book on making money with your ideas and inventions...you can also go to the Library. There are many wonderful and informative books that have been published. One older book called "Invention Book" by Steven Caney is very simple to understand and gives lots of examples; however, some of the information has changed as it pertains to copyrights and legal information.
Q. What one unique quality makes your product better than your competition?
A. Our Trademark name "SHRINKY DINKS." It is registered in 42 different countries and enjoys a 73% name recognition.
We have been on the market for 38 years and at this date, over 300 Shrinky Dinks kits have be manufactured and marketed all over the world...we currently have 42 Trademarks registered. Kate was active with K & B Innovations, Inc. for eight years and then she went into politics. She was Mayor of Brookfield for 16 years. I continue the business because of my love of the product.
Click here to learn more about SHRINKY DINKS ® (K & B INNOVATIONS, INC.)
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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
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