Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
Like many moms, I’ve had all sorts of ideas for products that would make life easier—and my kids’ lives more fun. If you’re like Livingston, New Jersey moms Katy Strulson and Lauren Scherr, you’ve made your great idea a reality—and it’s now selling in Toys ‘R Us, Michael’s and Learning Express. Their brainchild: The Loom Boom, a plastic stand that holds and displays Rainbow Loom bracelets. My daughter has about a bazillion lying around her room, and now at least 40 are stacked up nice and neat.
Mothers of invention: Lauren Scherr (left) and Katy Strulson
I got a chance to ask these ladies some nosy questions:
So, how did you come up with the idea for the Original Loom Boom?
LAUREN: It was on a night that Katy and her family came over my house for dinner. In walked her four kids and they immediately threw off their shoes and coats and ran off to play. I noticed that Jake threw something else and it immediately caught my eye. I asked Katy, “What is this?” as I held up an empty paper towel roll full of Jake’s loom bracelets.
KATY: I told her Jake simply wanted to bring a bunch of his loom bracelets he made over to show her kids. We both looked at each other and had that “aha” moment at the same time. Jake discovered a portable, neat and organized way to transport his bracelets.
Katy with son/product genius Jake
LAUREN: “It’s so simple, it’s genius” became our new line—we kept repeating it to each other. That very night, we started researching and developing ideas.
Have either of you had previous ideas for products?
KATY: I did! I had the best invention idea, a blanket with arms. My arms would get so cold when I was reading. Now I think you call it a Snuggie! I just never pursued it.
LAUREN: I didn’t before, but I have a bunch of ideas now.
You created a prototype at Home Depot. How did that go?
LAUREN: Home Depot was a fun outing because we were able to take the picture in our heads and make it in to something tangible. The biggest challenge, besides feeling completely out of place in Home Depot, was trying to explain to this one employee just exactly what loom bracelets were, but without telling him too much about our idea.
KATY: The poor guy helped us the best he could, but we knew the Loom Boom couldn’t be made with heavy metals and point edges! That being said, the trip to Home Depot did turn out to be incredibly helpful. We walked out with a few PVC tubes cut into different lengths, wooden eggs and wooden plaques. We were pumped that we were taking a step in the right direction.
How, exactly, did you figure out how to get it into production? Did you ask or advice?
KATY: No way did we ask for advice…. We swore ourselves to secrecy. Not even our families knew what was in the works. We relied on our friend Google. Finding the right prototype maker was done by googling companies, calling them up and choosing who we connected with the most. We placed a lot of trust in strangers.
LAUREN: The part of getting a prototype made was probably the most difficult. We knew absolutely nothing about this world and had to quickly learn it. I googled a lot about plastics, prototypes and CAD drawings. Who knew there was so many different kinds of plastics…extruded vs cast? Huh?! I felt in over my head! But Katy and I just kept pushing each other to keep going.
KATY: We were lucky to find a few local plastic manufacturers to meet with who taught us a lot. We were so concerned about sharing our idea that we wrote up an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Anyone that we spoke with first had to sign this document, even Toys ‘R Us. It was a real learning experience. We brought our very fancy Home Depot 3-D design to our first meeting with a New Jersey plastic manufacturer to get a prototype. This guy tried talking us out of our idea. He told us that we would be throwing thousands of dollars away just to wind up with cases and cases of these things in our basement. Not surprisingly, that prototype did not come out exactly how we had anticipated, but more importantly, we knew this was not our guy. So we contacted a few more. Our next meeting went better than we had expected. Not only could they develop a new prototype, but they were able to create our package design and some of our initial graphic design as well.
LAUREN: This was the most fun part, in my opinion! I loved the creativity part of working on the design of it all. We knew we wanted an open concept to the box so the product can be seen. This new design company took our initial image and made it practical for our product. The logo design went through many many stages and changed immensely from the original.
KATY: Thank goodness because the first couple of mockups were awful! We were also lucky enough to be paired with an awesome graphic designer for the images on the front and back of the box. He was able to capture the images in our head of children using the Loom Boom.
KATY: After we gave the green light on the prototype, we knew we would have to sell it. We came up with an amazing PowerPoint presentation that my husband helped us with. We started cold calling big box stores. Toys ‘R Us headquarters is a few towns over, about 20 minutes away. We hit them really hard and we eventually got a meeting. We told the prototype makers about the meeting and said we need to hit the deadline and be ready. We went in to the meeting thinking we were completely buttoned up. We knew how much it would cost to manufacturer in China, how long it would take to deliver—we were prepared!
LAUREN: When we met with the buyers at Toys ‘R Us, they loved the idea! They basically said they want to fast track it and make it exclusive through the holidays and they would call us back for a meeting next week. We were so thrilled! We walked out super excited. But we were also very curious as to what was next. That is when the stars aligned: We went back to Toys ‘R Us and there were two guys in the meeting that we hadn’t met before. Toys ‘R Us introduced them to us as one of their existing plastic manufacturers that already makes toys for them—and they are located right in New Jersey too. The buyers basically told us that if we could come up with a licensing agreement with the existing manufacturer, we could get an order. They left us in the room to cement the deal, which we did. They now make the Loom Boom and handle all the distribution of it. It has been great! We are still actively involved in the sales process as well as the marketing and pr.
LAUREN: The initial investments that were made were always split 50/50. We kept excellent records of everything. Our beginning costs weren’t too bad; they included things like trademarking and patent fees, the graphic designer and prototype makers.
How did you manage juggling the work involved creating The Original Loom Boom and your families?
KATY: Our husbands have been best friends since the sixth grade—we are family. We divided and conquered. We strongly believe in the expression “It takes a village.”
Did you use your kids as focus groups?
LAUREN: Yes, we absolutely used our kids as focus groups. They witnessed this whole process from the very beginning, so we thought it was important to always involve them where we could.
KATY: We also used our kids as focus groups to see how they played with the Loom Booms and how they used them. That is how we knew we had a hit on our hands. My daughter also loved coming up with some unique color combinations, some we have utilized and some not so much.
Did you take the kids to Toys ‘R Us to see the Loom Boom on the shelves?
KATY: When the Loom Boom started production, before it hit the shelves we took all six kids to the factory to see our product actually being made! It was awesome. And yes, we took all the kids to Toys ‘R Us, Michael’s and Learning Express to see it.
LAUREN: It never gets old seeing it on the shelves! It’s still such a thrill!
What is your best advice for moms out there who have a product idea?
LAUREN: My advice for moms with an idea is if you truly believe in it, then just keep going. Even when things get hard, and they will, you need to keep remembering how much you believe in your idea and that will push you through the difficult parts. I admit, I had a moment of questioning if we were in over our head, but I stayed focused on the end result being a success and continued on path towards that goal.
KATY: My advice would be to think it through and go for it! This has been an incredible few months for both our families. We have pushed ourselves into learning about a world we had never encountered before. And the ride so far has been incredible!
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