Industry mentors from WIT Empowerment Day share their best advice.

by MARY KAY RUSSELL, executive director, Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment

There is a lot to learn about the toy business. For entrepreneurs, it can be a long, arduous, and expensive journey to get their toy or game onto store shelves. Each year during Toy Fair Dallas, WIT Empowerment Day offers female entrepreneurs the opportunity to get an in-depth education on the toy industry from dozens of the best mentors in the business — all in one room. These mentors are seasoned veterans who devote their time and talent to providing women with first-hand knowledge, insights, guidance, and support to help them take their product to the next level and grow their business. Here are some tips for entrepreneurs from some of the 2019 WIT Empowerment Day mentors.

Adam Hocherman, vice president, new business, monsterpreneur, PlayMonster

The first thing you need is an idea. The second thing you need is Quickbooks. It may seem premature, and you may not know any accounting, but it isn’t, and you will [learn]. There are two major ways to bring your product to market: Licensing your product means that a partner company completes the development and handles sales and marketing. You receive a royalty in exchange, or you can invest time and money into engineering, marketing, and selling your product on your own. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, which largely relate to your tolerance for risk and your access to time and capital. Make sure you understand the pros and cons of both approaches before ruling either out.

Bridget Moon, economic development specialist/veterans business development officer, Small Business Administration 

Conduct market research. This ensures there is an opportunity to turn your idea into a successful business, and it’s also a way to gather information about customers and your competition. Have a business plan. This is the foundation of your business. A business plan can help obtain financing [and] it reflects how your business is structured, how the business will be run, and the actual and/or projection of finances. It is a tool to refer to as your business grows to see if you are on target, and it’s used to compare what was originally planned to factual, up-to-date information. Your business plan enables you to see where you are exceeding and where you are not. It’s an important tool that you should amend as your business changes.

Alan Gong, vice president, product development, Basic Fun! 

Present your concept with the same energy you had during your “Aha” moment. If you have tested your product with kids, share the video. Speed to market is critical, so having a working prototype helps companies move quickly to make decisions.

Dr. Amanda Gummer, CEO, Fundamentally Children

Do your research. Check what your competition is doing. Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t have any. Understand your audience. Who are your end users [and] ideal customers? What is their buying journey? What problem is your product/service addressing? How do they currently try to solve that issue, and why would they try your solution instead?

Elizabeth Moody, head of new business development, 7 Town

Flexibility is key. There is always a path through negation. Be open, and try to find common ground. Being inflexible only [makes] the process harder — and [can cause you to] fail. Understand the value of your item; there is no standard. All items have an individual value to a buyer, and the trick is to recognize your item’s worth and pitch it at the level you feel is realistic and achievable within the market.

Women-owned businesses seeking to grow their retail presence pitched their products to Walmart’s toy buying team at this year’s WIT Empowerment Day.

Genna Rosenberg, CEO and chief ideator, GennComm Imagennation 

Master your 30-second elevator pitch, and be ready to quickly tailor it to the person in front of you. Many people have innovative ideas but lose their audience because they don’t effectively communicate what is special about their concept or product. It’s important to remember your audience. You may need to explain it differently depending on who you’re meeting with to engage them (i.e., why it’s relevant to a retailer versus a manufacturer versus a particular licensee or licensor). Inventors, business owners, and other entrepreneurs should literally practice the who, what, where, when, and why to their diverse potential targets, and be able to do it in [less than] 30 to 60 seconds. I often challenge my friends and colleagues, “So, what do you do?” And it’s amazing how many of them can’t spit it out.

Julie Kerwin, chief elemental officer, IAmElemental

Running a crowdfunding campaign and starting a business are two very different things. Be sure [that] you want to do both. If you do, then it is necessary to parallel process and develop both the campaign and the business at the same time, ensuring that you are ready for the latter once the former has ended. There are three things about crowdfunding campaigns that you should know before you get started: [First], the majority of successful crowdfunding campaigns raise about $10,000. This is not a “get-rich-quick” scheme. [Second], two-thirds of all crowdfunding campaigns do not deliver on time. Add six months to your estimated delivery date to give yourself room for unexpected delays. [And third], if there is a partnership involved, be sure to have a dissolution strategy in place before you launch. No one talks about it, but a lot of teams break up after the campaign. Why? Re-read tip No. 1.

Marian Bossard, executive vice president, global market events, The Toy Association

As a leader, your primary role is to recognize and develop the individual talents and strengths of each person on your team. It’s your responsibility to help each person achieve their full potential — even if that means they grow beyond the opportunities you can offer and [move] to a different role within your organization — or outside. By establishing an environment conducive to personal exploration and professional development, you will get the very best from your team for the time you work together.

Stacy Liebensohn, account executive, The Toy Association 

When preparing to exhibit at a trade show, plan ahead and watch for early-bird, discounted rates. At the show, don’t just sit in your booth. You should be standing and saying “hello“ to everyone who walks by. You never know if they’ll be your next big customer.

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of the Toy Book.