How did you get into the toy industry?
I invented a line of craft and activity kits that teach kids to be kind when no one is looking a few years ago and spent three years developing them and manufacturing them. Once I started shipping Renegade Made Kits, I was officially a freshly-minted toy maven! In the process of developing these, I went to a local toy store, The Children’s Gift Shop in Northfield, IL, and asked the owner and employees about what they would need for packaging, and what their concerns for a product were. They were so excited about my product and so helpful in the process, and suggested that I join ASTRA.
ASTRA is great place to learn about the industry without feeling like the new person who didn’t know anyone. I was a little nervous about going to Marketplace & Academy alone, but I had the most amazing time and met bunches of people who were also there alone. I may have walked into the first event alone, but by the second night I was in a room singing karaoke with a room packed full of fantastic gals. Seriously; I doubt that ever happens at casket conventions! That is the essence of toy people. They enjoy what they do and it shows. ASTRA seems to have a gift to make the industry more intimate.
What do you enjoy about being in the toy business?
It’s a true gift to be in a business that makes people happy, and working with independent toy stores is the best! Even though we are all competing for success, it seems to be a rare industry where folks share the knowledge they’ve gained and truly want you to do well. I have a feeling that it’s probably about as gratifying as being in the candy business, but without all the cavities.
What has been your proudest moment as a member of the specialty toy industry?
When Renegade Made kits were nominated in two categories for Best Toy for Kids by ASTRA only weeks after we began shipping into stores! I am new in the industry and this was a very long road to be on, and there were many times when I questioned if I was doing the right thing. Hearing that people believed in the product enough to have it in their stores was amazing, and when the stores started to reorder, that was greatly fulfilling.
What has been your biggest challenge in this business?
This has been a three year process of figuring things out; all of it new to me. The most difficult issue I deal with today is getting the word out about my craft kits to stores around the country. I want to be respectful of how little free time toy store owners have, and that it may be intrusive to call the store or stop in. I have gotten amazing response from those who know the products, but want to be respectful about the owners time. Figuring out best practices in selling, shipping, billing and customer service are all challenges I am working on.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
Even though my card says that I am a Part Time Renegade, between me and you, I’m pretty much a Full Time Renegade. Also, the Brazil Nut is my least favorite nut in the Mixed Nut can. Wow. Feels good to get that out in the open.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Nicole!
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