The ASTRA community is made up of a vibrant group of retailers, sales representatives, manufacturers and affiliate members who all have unique stories of how they got into the toy industry. We believe these stories are worth sharing! To recognize our community, the ASTRA Blog features a regular ASTRA Member Spotlight series.

Marcia Astra.JPGToday, we feature Maria Haut, president of SmartNoggin inc.

How did you get into the toy industry?
As an early intervention developmental therapist for children ages newborn to 3 years old, I was unable to find the ideal toy or learning tool to help parents begin to encourage their baby’s early milestones and begin their learning journey.  In 2010 I set out to create “that toy.” Using early childhood research, collaboration with early childhood experts and the “home made” toys that I had been using in my therapy with little ones as a guide, the NogginStik Developmental Light-up Rattle was created and launched in November of 2012.

What do you enjoy about being in the toy business?
I thoroughly enjoy the friendships and partnerships with the caring people in the toy industry.  The toy business is filled with wonderful people who love selling, designing and promoting toys for the good of all children.

What has been your proudest moment as a member of the specialty toy industry?
Seeing the toys that SmartNoggin creates in specialty toy stores throughout the United States and hearing from parents how they are helping their children learn and achieve their beginning milestones, is what makes me most proud to be part of the specialty toy industry.

What has been your biggest challenge in this business?
Media coverage is a challenge for a small company in the toy business.  Most of our coverage has been “grass roots,” moms telling moms that the NogginStik/NogginRings is their baby’s favorite toy and all of the benefits it brings. So I would say that our biggest challenge is getting our message out to parents and caregivers that their baby’s learning journey begins at birth and they are their child’s first and most important teacher, and that SmartNoggin’s mission is to provide toys “tools” and information to help them begin this amazing journey.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
My first job at age 16 was in a toy store, K B Toy & Hobby, back in the 1980’s.  I worked there until I went to college and my passion for toys was cultivated in that store. Even back then I loved helping parents find the “ideal toy” for their little ones.

2014-2015 866.JPG

How did you hear about ASTRA?
The two toy stores that I approached first to carry my new toy, Explorations Toys, in Granger, IN and My Toy Garden, Carmel, IN, and their amazing owners, Chuck Harper and Janet Pillsbury, agreed to try out the NogginStik and to see how the sales went.  The NogginStik quickly became one of their best sellers and both advised me to join ASTRA and to attend the ASTRA Marketplace in Nashville, TN.  We did both and were quickly welcomed by ASTRA stores across the country!

I became an ASTRA member to be part of a community of specialty toy advocates and to have a platform to share our message and products.  ASTRA has been this and SO much more.  ASTRA is an organization that promotes the value of play and supports all of its members with education, information, professional growth, industry connections and wonderful colleagues to share this fun and rewarding experience!

We also enjoy and value our experience at the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy.  While the Marketplace provides a great platform to introduce new products, the ability to interact directly with fellow ASTRA members is invaluable, and the guidance and support is available throughout the year.  Joining ASTRA was one of best decisions we made as a new company.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Marcia!

Interested in being featured in a future Member Spotlight post? Apply at the volunteer opportunities featured on ASTRA Connect.