Many inventors come up with ideas for babies and young children–either toys, clothes or other products. While selling to Toy-R-Us or other major retailers can be difficult, the baby/young children market has many small retailers and the industry is fairly friendly to inventors, with a well attended trade show, several key trade magazines, and a well established network of manufacturers representatives. Inventors with strong products can typically set up a rep network to launch their products without too much trouble.
The starting point for every inventor should be the ABC Kids Expo. This show has sections for toys and games, clothes, furniture and, of most interest to inventors, a special section for Mompreneurs (mother-entrepreneurs). I typically recommend inventors attend this show before they actually introduce their own products. At the show inventors can:
The industry has two main trade magazines, Baby Shop Magazine, www.babyshopmagazine.com, which includes maternity products, and Playthings www.giftsanddec.com/channel/Playthings.php, which focuses on toys. The trade magazines will often have information on representatives–but its most important aspect are the new product sections. Those sections allow you to send away for literature from a wide variety of companies with complementary products. Often the literature will come with the names of representatives that are in your local area. You can meet with those representatives and if they like your product they will often give you tips on how to move forward.
One of the great benefits of the young children’s market is that almost every major city has several small shops where inventors can get their product started. Inventors will have an easier time putting together a rep network to sell their product nationally if they can first prove the product will sell at their local stores. You must be fairly aggressive in marketing to local stores and keep your momentum going if you are to interest sales reps. You can offer products on consignment, where stores only pay for product if they sell, offer product on a guaranteed basis, where you agree to take back any unsold products and give a full refund. You can also pass out coupons, do demonstrations and arrange to have stories in local papers to generate sales momentum.
Most of the activities I have listed to date are to help you build up a list of representatives that you can approach to sell your product. You may only get one out of 20 reps to sign up to sell your product so you need a big list to start with. The trade shows and trade magazines will help, in some cases you can also check out local gift markets, see www.giftmarts.com. Often some of the reps within the marts will also carry children’s gifts and other children’s products. You can also purchase a list of reps here.
One of the reasons you want to meet local representatives is that you might want to offer a share of you product to a representative that will take over sales of your product. This is highly recommended for inventors without sales and marketing experience. The rep will know promotional and advertising strategy, what trade shows to attend, plus he or she will have strong contacts with certain retailers and also with reps throughout the country that he has worked with on other products. A 10 to 25% ownership position will attract a good representative if they like the product.
In some cases, where your product has moving parts, you might want to consider getting a safety certificate from the Juvenile Products Manufactures Association. http://www.jpma.org/content/safety/overview. The safety certificate will help you at many retailers and it will be asset if retailers ask that you have product liability insurance.
From the time you first start thinking of introducing your product you should start thinking of the package of materials you will send out to reps. Get lots of pictures of your product being used, testimonials and evidence of the product being sold in local stores. Work with a local representative to explain promotional programs, sales discounts and shipping terms that you will include. Once you have your rep list start sending out mailing packages to 10 to 20 reps at a time. Follow up with some of the reps you don’t hear from to learn what they didn’t like about your offer to see if it can be improved.
You can get local help for develop a manufacturers rep agreement and to ensure you have all of your starting a business paperwork in order from your local SBDC http://www.sba.gov/aboutsba/sbaprograms/sbdc/sbdclocator/SBDC_LOCATOR.html or from SCORE http://www.score.org/findscore/index.html.