Play Sprockets Spins the Wheel of Success
How Puzzles Help a Child’s Mental Development|Event Sales
Hand-eye coordination: flipping, turning and moving pieces require hand-eye coordination
Fine motor skills: small, specialized movements develop handwriting skills
Gross motor skills: for babies and young children with large pieces
Problem-solving: fitting the pieces together
Shape recognition: learning to recognize and sort shapes
Memory: recall of size, color and shape of various pieces to complete the puzzle
Setting small goals: developing strategies to be more efficient
Headquarters: Twin Falls, Idaho
Product Name: Play Sprockets
Concept: Interactive toys
Mission: Exciting and quality specialty retail concepts from a company you can trust
Strength of concept: Engaging, easy to sell
Number of corporate employees: 18
Projected number of holiday 2015 retailers: 350
Startup costs: An average of $3,000 (between $2,600 and $4,600)
Old-fashion fun fosters developmental skills.
Identifying the latest trend just before it becomes mainstream is every specialty retailer’s dream. Introducing Play Sprockets, a toy with interlocking gears for ages three through 100, being released this very moment. In other words, time enough for you to jump on what just might be this season’s hottest trend. Delivering educational, affordable and interactive fun to consumers and easy-to-sell, high mark-up products to specialty retailers, Play Sprockets are more than ready to crank up the sales this holiday season in shopping centers across the country.
Play Sprockets are one of many products under the Event Sales umbrella. Event Sales, based in Twin Falls, Idaho, has found, tested, manufactured and supported over 20 successful specialty retail concepts, including The Vertical Garden, nail polish pens, Infinity Lights and Bamboo Traditions pillows.
Event Sales has consistently introduced successful products for a number of reasons. For starters, every single one of their corporate employees has been on the specialty retail front lines, including founder Cortney Campbell, who first entered the common area with waterproof gloves back in 1985. In addition, Event Sales manufactures their own products, giving them complete control of quality and production. Paired with marketing expertise, every product in the Event Sales product line has all the bells and whistles a customer is looking for by the time it is introduced to the common area.
“If we see a new product, or think of one, we have to make improvements and add a little more flare than what we have already imagined or seen. This makes it stand out above the others and gives us that edge,” says Robert Harris, sales and new product development manager for Event Sales.
Harris has one of the most extensive specialty retail resumes out there, having been in the business since the age of 15. He sold Pogs, Beanie Babies, Zoom Copters, Flying Monkeys and Pillow Pets. “I grew up very poor. I was dragging a lawn mower around the neighborhood and a guy down the street took me to the flea market. I was hooked ever since,” he says.
Indeed it was a flea market where Harris first spotted Play Sprockets. “They didn’t know how to market the product, but just from looking at it, I thought, ‘that’s hot,’” he says. In fact, memories of remote-controlled cars danced in his head. Remote-controlled cars were “fly-off-the-shelves” products, he says. Their movement attracted children who immediately ran over to partake in the fun. Play Sprockets have the same magic ingredients.
“Children are drawn in like moths to a flame. They will drag a parent over, or even leave them and run over, to have a look,” says Harris. Children are tactile creatures, and touching and exploring come naturally, he says. “Fascination, curiosity and excitement all roll into one when they see the Play Sprockets. They may drop their jaw for a few minutes before ever saying a word. Then it’s, ‘These are so cool! I want one! Please, Please!’” says Harris.
Inside each box of Play Sprockets are 81 pieces, including both puzzle pieces and interlocking sprockets. Also inside is a hand crank. Once all the intended pieces are connected, the hand crank or battery-operated sprocket (which uses one AA battery), enables the parts to move continuously together. “Pieces hook together like puzzle pieces, and when sprockets are added, the creation turns as one unified piece,” says Harris. All of the sets are interchangeable, encouraging repeat purchases.
Play Sprockets’ sets are based on themes and include stickers and figures to further the fun. Stickers in the introductory set are “electric, bright, fun designs, such as swirls, zigzags, tie-dye and lightning bolts. Bright moving things are always a winner when it comes to children, and even adults. That is what drew me in,” says Harris.
Monkey and bear figures included in the set represent Play Sprockets’ first theme, entitled “Park.” Going forward, new sets with new themes will be introduced to keep the product fresh and encourage repeat purchases. The additional themes are as of yet undetermined.
Sprockets are packaged in bright teal, yellow and purple-colored boxes with handles at the top. Because Play Sprockets boxes are able to be carried, not only are retailers free from stocking shopping bags, they can market their products as customers continue shopping, toting their brightly colored box from store to store.
Along with the product itself, an interactive DVD was created so children can build along with the video, teaching them all about shapes and colors. “No other similar item has that,” says Harris.
In addition to material upgrades, creative packaging and an educational DVD, vigorous safety testing was done to ensure there are no risks of any kind when playing with Play Sprockets, whether the product is in a child’s hand or mouth. Sprockets were tested for lead, phthalates and other toxic chemicals.
Testing has also been extensive in the specialty retail market. Play Sprockets has been successfully tested at kiosks and Event Sales specialty retail locations in over 20 states over the last few months, says Campbell, who projects 350 specialty retailers to be on board for the holidays.
The value of play
It is easy to understand why children are attracted to Play Sprockets. The fun colors and moving pieces beg their imaginations to come play. However, parents are equally excited as child development experts stress the importance of toys that require interaction and creativity. In the marketplace, though, these products are harder and harder to find with the explosion of electronic games and cellphone apps taking over. Games and sets that encourage kids to follow instructions versus create their own designs are becoming more and more popular—and that isn’t a good thing. Children begin to expect stimulation rather than creating it, notes Susan L. Recchia, director of the Rita Gold Early Childhood Center (Julia Barnes, “Where Did You Go, Raggedy Ann? Toys in the Age of Electronics,” The New York Times, February 10, 2001).
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes children today spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media and excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties and eating disorders.
The remedy? Kids should be using their imaginations in free play. “The best toy is 10 percent toy and 90 percent child,” says Susan Linn, representative of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, in a USA Today article entitled, “Smartest Toys for Kids Can Be the Simplest” (Liz Szabo, December 12, 2011).
Play Sprockets are perfectly poised to fill this need. “The advantages of this toy include developing motor skills, identifying colors and problem-solving. The gears are different sizes. There are all different kinds of lessons: centrifugal force and geometry and the rotation of sprockets,” says Harris.
In addition to adding more flare to the products Event Sales advises that they give their products flight. “We take items that would normally just sit flat on a shelf and give them life,” says Harris.
Fun demos that work
Showing people how the product works is essential, even if it appears easy to understand. It is in the use of the product that makes it three-dimensional, generating excitement that attracts attention and shows potential buyers the fun to be had in their own home. “Even if it’s as simple as the Play Sprockets, I take it apart, show people where the battery goes, show them how they place the gears and give them great ideas on shapes their kids can build. When the gears begin to turn, children and adults swarm the booth. It’s really awesome to watch. People are mesmerized by the movements,” says Harris.
Harris’ best sales advice, though, applies to any product: “When you’re working on a mall cart, you can’t sit on a seat and expect to sell anything,” he says. “People who work their carts make money.” And the more fun, the better. “If you are at the cart having fun, others will want to join in. Feed off the excitement and energy of the kids,” he says. During the holidays, it’s even easier, when the holiday spirit is all around you, he adds.
Crank the mark-up
Play Sprockets wholesale for $4.25, depending upon the volume a retailer buys, and retail for either $25, or two sets for $40, or perhaps one set for $20 and 2 for $30. Retailers have flexibility in pricing. Most importantly, pricing on the Sprockets’ website will never be under the retail price a specialty retailer offers their customers. “We sell them for $40 online. This is important because customers often approach carts with their phone in hand and Google the price to see if they can get it anywhere else for less,” says Campbell. “Event Sales believes items should be sold with a sense of pride and be the best deal available so when people come to the mall, there’s a reason they come,” she says.
Another advantage of selling Play Sprockets in the common area is the ability to capture all ages. “We just did a fair in Pleasanton, California. We were the number-one selling booth. We had 60-year-olds come up to the booth. I’ve also had people buy this for the office as a stress reliever,” says Harris.
But the biggest customers are definitely the littlest. They see the colors, they see the movement, they see the possibilities. So does Event Sales. If you’re a specialty retailer looking for the next hot thing, turn the Play Sprockets’ crank and watch the chain of events. “This is going to be a big one,” says Harris.