ASTRA Member Spotlight: Shelli, Start Something LLC

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. 

shelli-smarttHow did you get into the toy industry?
We fell into the additional needs niche several years ago while looking for a product that would help serve the needs of our son with Asperger’s as he was transitioning into middle school.  My husband and I had both worked in the corporate world for 20+ years and had no prior experience in toys or operating a small business.

We decided to join ASTRA because we had been advertising in ASTRA associated publications for several years.  We found that our niche was in the specialty toy store arena.  In the past, we have exhibited at conferences that were clinical in nature.  Joining ASTRA and attending the Marketplace opened us up to a new world of stores.  We also got to meet many store owners that we have worked with over the years, which was a very nice benefit.

What do you enjoy about being in the toy business?
As a former Human Resources Director, I was always driven my watching people excel and being able to help them.  I still get to do that in this job.  The exception is this time, I am usually helping families and not just one person.  I have also enjoyed meeting other ASTRA members at the Marketplace and comparing our stories.

What has been your proudest moment as a member of the specialty toy industry?
I have many. We often get the call from a desperate parent that is in immediate need of help with their child’s needs. It is fulfilling to be able to help them.

However, many of them we never hear from again once we have completed their order and helped them out. When I meet them at Autism shows or get a follow up email from them telling me how successful our product was in helping to regulate their child’s needs and or behaviors, or that their child can now participate in a mainstream classroom in school…those types of interactions make me very proud to do what I do. As a parent of a kiddo with an additional need, I really get the value of having that moment. I also am very proud of the social media community we have built that allows other parents to support each other from afar.

What has been your biggest challenge in this business?
Our biggest challenge was simply learning the business from behind the scenes.  We started with one product line and now distribute 4 product lines (with more to come) across the United States.  Most of our products fit in the “special needs” business segment.  We have spent the last few years learning inventory control, website design, analytics and so on.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Whoa….this may startle some of you. I have always enjoyed working with and helping the underserved part of the population. When I was younger, I wanted to be a funeral director/embalmer so I could help those families go through one of the most difficult times in their lives.

I now get to help another underserved part of the population by providing products that can transform the life of a person with an additional need. Self regulation and the independence that comes from that is something many of us take for granted.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Shelli!

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

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