February 25, 2021
January 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 1
Xtra Fielder Teaches Kids to Play for Real
Fed Up With "Homeruns," Dad Invents a Solution
Mark Gibson is a baseball person. He enjoys the game, and played it in college. However, when he tried to play with some of his six kids, he found that it was a “whole new ball game,” which inspired him to come up with Xtra Fielder (ToyDirectory).
Who’s on First?
“Everybody’s played baseball or wiffle ball in the back yard with kids, and what happens is you usually end up with two or three people,” he explained. “As they run the bases, there’s nobody at each base, so you peg them with the ball to get them out.”
Gibson explained that when he missed hitting the kids with the ball, they would run all the way around the bases and claim a home run. Tired of the process, he decided to come up with a new system.
Running With an Idea
“A target flashed into my mind,” he said. “I got a hula hoop and fishing net and made the ugliest thing in the world — one for each base. I had four of those all around the field hanging on shepherd hooks; you’d throw the ball into the net instead of at the person.”
Gibson noted that he had been with a medical and aerospace manufacturing company for 21 years, and used his contacts to help him figure out how to make the product.
“But the toy industry was totally new, so I had a whole learning curve,” he said. “I originally planned to have our product on QVC. I had met with a rep, and got my inventory up, but the rep really wasn’t serious about getting us into QVC. I ended up with all this inventory, and had to figure out what to do next.”
Promotion Opens Markets
His first strategy was to sign up for Toy Fair and a few sporting goods shows, which turned out to be a good path.
“By hitting the trade shows, I actually have a more diversified portfolio for the company. A lot of things are seasonal, and now I’m in some school catalogs. I sell on eBay and in retail stores, and Toy Fair got me some specialty toy stores across the country. And, of course, ToyDirectory gives more national exposure than even Toy Fair in New York.”
Besides solving the problem of not having enough players for a game, Gibson noted that Xtra Fielder has also developed into a training game for young children. Throwing to the nets teaches them how baseball should be played, by substituting a net for the fielder they’ll encounter once they’re older and play on a team.
When Money’s Lacking, Be Patient
According to Gibson, the biggest obstacle he has had to overcome is that of not having enough financing.
“It’s taken about two years longer than I thought to really get the product full-blown out there,” he said. “If I had the money behind me, I’d have a nationwide commercial, but that’s not the case, so it’s tough.”
Although he has encountered some bumps along the way, Gibson said he’s happy with the end result.
“Overall, I wouldn’t change what I’ve done,” he said. “Being a baseball person, I love what I do. My family’s involved, the kids help, and it’s a lot of fun.”
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