An idea is as good as nothing if it’s not put to work. For every inventor out there, one of the initial struggles is to make something out of their ideas. Helping you do just that, Timothy Bush invites three-time patented toy inventor, Women in Toys Wonder Woman finalist, and one of the 100 most influential people in toys and games in 2020, Azhelle Wade. Azhelle shares with us her journey and the lessons she learned along the way that can help you bring your toy idea to life. She discusses what it is like to work for somebody versus being an entrepreneur and working for yourself and why it is important to pitch a vision and not just another product and how. As the Founder and President of The Toy Coach™, Azhelle then shares some great materials that can help toy inventors out there have their products realized while giving us her insights into where she thinks the future is heading for those in the toy industry.
Listen to the podcast here:
Bringing Your Toy Idea To Life With Azhelle Wade
I’m glad to be back. I know you’re wondering where have we been? What have we been doing? Where has the show been? We’ve been here. It’s been a while. July 29th was the last time we published an episode and I have to apologize. I’m not going to apologize. I have to say if you’ve been thirsting for content, I apologize. We’ve been deep into dealing with business and ramping up our VIP Experience group, which is going awesome. If you’re interested in joining the VIP Experience group and what is that? I you want to talk about real-time projects that are going on at TLB, buyer interaction that is happening, deals that are going on, what the buyers are asking for, if you want to discuss that, if you want to see what’s going on the front lines of getting products into retail, you need to be part of the VIP Experience. That’s what we’ve been working on. That’s what’s been going on. It’s been awesome. It’s continuing to be awesome and it’s growing. Also, business is crushing it. It’s booming.
People think COVID-19 is crushing retail, but it’s not true. Things are busier than ever. We’ve been a little waylaid, but sometimes you got to take care of business. Needless to say, we’re back and we have a fantastic show for you. You’re not going to want to miss it. Whether you’re in the toy industry or not, you are not going to want to miss Azhelle Wade. She is spending some time with us and let’s talk a little bit about who she is. She’s a cancer survivor. She’s a three-time patented toy inventor, Women In Toys Wonder Woman finalist, and was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Toys and Games in 2020. Not only that, she’s an awesome person. In the discussion that we have, we had a good time talking about a ton of different topics. You know me, as far as interviews go, who knows where the interviews are going to go? I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I thought we had a fantastic discussion. You’re going to get a lot out of it. She has a lot of great information and she has a tremendous amount of knowledge in launching products, especially in the toy industry. I’m excited for you to take a listen and I’ll be looking forward to your thoughts after. For now, here’s Azhelle. Let’s get right into it.
Azhelle, welcome to the program. Thanks for being here.
Thanks for having me.
I know that it looks like you’re on a little work vacation, is that okay? Is it the robe in the hotel room?
I know it looks like a robe, but it’s a work dress.
With your hair covering it, it looked like you’re in a hotel robe there.
This is a real outfit. I was going to take the call on the balcony by the water, but I figured there are drones flying around.
I’m sorry to say that she’s definitely not taking the interview in a robe. We’ll get that straight. I have a VIP Experience group and I had a new guy joined. We went online and everybody comes on Zoom and here he is laying on his bed with his phone. Maybe on the dresser. You get the full look of the bed and he’s got workout shorts but no shirt on. I’m like, “Put some clothes on. Let’s get this out.” That’s a little too comfortable. Certainly, there are some interesting things that have happened. I know we were talking about this, but how are you navigating Corona? Not just now, but since March. How has it changed things for you?
When Corona first started, I was still working full-time for a toy company and it was crazy. At that company, I ran the brand management department. There were three people under me directly and then there were some people in China that I co-managed. When Corona happened and we all had to work from home, my days which normally half design and product development, and then half management just became 80% management. I realized there’s much more. We didn’t have the systems in place to be a part. As soon as Corona happened, we were preparing to pitch for spring. When we prepared a pitch, we’re sketching out concepts and we have in-person meetings to review those, but then we’re buying samples and making mockups. When we have that, we’re making graphics to create boxes so that we can send them to the retailers to show them the product and what it would look like on the shelf. We couldn’t do anything in person. It was trying to figure out like, “Are we going to use Trello or Asana? Are we using Excel to track daily milestones?” I was managing all day and then working all night. I didn’t know at the time how to organize and plan that system. It was crazy.
My business is going on its twelfth year this 2020. I’ve been working at home.
I did see that. I stalked you on LinkedIn a bit. You went to Toys “R” Us too at one point.Being an entrepreneur is not easy. Not everybody has the ability to pick themselves off the floor a hundred different times. Click To Tweet
I was the youngest store director for Toys “R” Us on the whole West Coast back in the day. You were not even born when I was a store director for them. That was back in the Toys “R” Us glory days. When I used to be a store director, the other store directors would not even pay attention like you didn’t even matter unless, you’d been through what we called a season. Back then, if you haven’t been through a season yet, which is what we called a holiday, the fourth quarter, you don’t even matter. They don’t even listen to you and tell you they’ve been “seasoned.” You would be at a meeting and you’d say something, it was like you were invisible. You didn’t even matter. During season, back then at Toys “R” Us, we would add registers for holiday. The lines would be back through the first aisles. Toys “R” Us was my biggest education in merchandising. How to merchandise things so that people will buy them. Back then, if you were a director of a store, I used to say, you could kill somebody, but as long as you came in on profit, Toys “R” Us would be like, “It’s all good.”
You learned how to maximize. When other store managers for Target or whatever, we’re doing what they’re told. At Toys “R” Us back then, at least you ran your own building. That was one of the first things that were the beginning of the end of Toys “R” Us. At some point, they got rid of all of their old directors, every single one. Anybody that knew anything about how to sell toys, how to drive margin, how to maximize merchandising during the season, these are the people that knew how to make their profit even if they didn’t make their sales, but they weren’t making a lot of money and they got rid of all of them. That was a big mistake on their part. Especially when Charles Lazarus stepped down. Once the visionary steps down, things can become difficult.
My business has been around for years and I’ve worked from home all those years. Except for maybe my daughter is a competitive ice skater. There were 2.5 years that I convinced the rink to turn a section of offices that they used to have for the Orlando Magic, but the Orlando Magic moved out. I convinced them to turn them into suites for entrepreneurs that had kids that were skating. I had my own office suite at the rink. I could overlook the rink and I could watch her skate while I worked all day. Other than that, I worked from home the entire years. When Coronavirus hit, my thing didn’t change much at all.
Honestly, when Coronavirus hit for me, once I figured out how to manage everybody and how to get things normal, and we realized that we weren’t going to lose sales. In fact, we were doing better because the company I’ve worked for was mainly arts and crafts so we were doing great. We’re crushing it. For me personally, I was like, “I like working at home.” I liked being my own boss. I enjoy the flexibility and the savings. I don’t know if you remember before you started your own thing, but the cost difference of having to go out to work every day, it’s cost-prohibitive. It steals time. It steals energy. That’s what pushed me to separate and do my own thing.
I was forced to do it. In 2009, at the time, what we thought was the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, little did we know what was coming, but I was working for a high-end robotic. I was a VP of sales for a high-end robotic massage chair company at Sharper Image. If you remember Sharper Image, they were our biggest customer. When they went belly up in May of 2008, we lost a $100 million customer. I got laid off in January of 2009 along with all the other executives. At the time, guys like me were a dime a dozen. There were hundreds of thousands of people like me getting laid off across the country. Everybody was looking for work. The employers had their pick, “I need somebody and they need to be dressed like that.” They could go down to the minute as deep on it. I put up my own shingle and the next thing you know, people were hiring me because what they would do is, they would fire their salespeople, and then they outsource the sales to me because that money came out of a different bucket. They had to reduce their payroll, but they had other money that they could spend in outsourced areas. They would terminate people and then turn around and hire me to do the same thing that the person that they terminated was doing.
Almost on a freelance basis like a consulting basis.
On an outsource basis. They didn’t have to pay me any benefits or anything like that. It was cheaper plus the money came out of a different bucket. Just like you, I was already making more than I made as an employee within months. Plus, I was building something rather than constantly working for somebody else, which I’m sure is something that you found.
I work hard when I work for someone. I’m also a hard worker. I’m head down, focused, and I’ll work all night. At some point, you have to look and you like, “I’m building their business. What am I building for myself?” It’s scary for sure building my own business. I’m like, “I need business insurance.” There were a lot of things that I wasn’t ready for, but it’s going to be more rewarding. Once I’ve given every bit of myself to this, at the end of the day, it’s my name and my work that people remember. I’ve helped people independently. Whereas when you’re working for a company, you get amazing experiences, but at the end of the day, it’s all theirs. They can kick you out the next day and be like, “See you. We don’t need you anymore. We found someone cheaper, bye.” That’s it.
I hate to say it, but there’s no real loyalty or any longevity with working for corporations these days. The number one thing I tell college graduates when they asked me, “What’s the one piece of advice?” I tell them, “Go out and serve and learn what it’s like to work in a corporation, but start your own gig now and do both.” When you’re fed up with, or you worked your butt off and all of a sudden you got laid off, you have your own gig to fall back on. It’s the best thing that you could ever do in this world. Back then my dad worked for Western Airlines and then Delta bottomed, but basically his whole career. Anybody working for something for their whole career is rare these days. It’s sad, but here’s the better thing. The thing that I love about being an entrepreneur is there’s good and bad. The bad is that it can be unstable. Your pay is not always fixed, but the thing is you can affect your pay. Whereas when you work for somebody, no matter how hard you work, the paycheck that comes is the same amount. Two weeks it’s the same amount. “I crushed it. We just did that,” and my pay is the same.
Even when you get to the end of the year reviews, what I hate about those is they always come at the same time every year, but that might not be when you crushed it. Everyone’s not thinking about how you crushed it for the past eight months. They’re like, “We’re going to give you an extra $10,000.” You’re like, “Really?”
It’s like, “What have you done for me lately like it was yesterday?”
My mom is an entrepreneur. My whole childhood I would see her coming home super late at night and she had multiple offices in the city. She ran a modeling agency and I was like, “I never want to do that. I just want a job and a consistent paycheck. I don’t want to do it this way. That’s crazy.” Now, here I am. Things have changed. There’s no loyalty anymore. You have to think about what you’re willing to risk. If you’re working for a company and they have good benefits, then it might be worth it. Maybe you’ll get a great 401(k). If they lay you off, they’ll give you a package. If you’re doing one of those small companies, you have to weigh it out like, “Is this worth my time?”
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the ECRM.
That sounds familiar. I should know that.
ECRM was like a trade show, but they’re preset meetings. If you went to their toy event or they called it a session, it might cost you $15,000 as a manufacturer to go but you will have about 40 meetings with buyers in a 2.5-day period of time. To me, I loved ECRM. For them, they were my biggest client. I handled their international people. I worked with international governments. We’re sponsoring their own people that wanted to bring products to the US and I would help them go to these events. The three main things about an ECRM session, one travel, two hotel, and three large groups. The second COVID hit, it was like the trifecta. They went from making hundreds of thousands of dollars a week to zero. In March I lost my biggest client. That was 50% of my overall business.
They didn’t shift online?
They did shift online and they’re crushing it because they’re the only game in town. I’ve been trying to get them to go online for a couple of years, especially for my international people, but they’re still doing a fraction of the business. It’s way more profitable, but they don’t need me because I was working with another person. They can get it done with two people. They didn’t need an outsource person, which is fine. At the time, we were talking about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, 50% of my income goes away. Since then, we’ve been super blessed and we’ve made that back plus more since March. We’re happy about that, which again is what entrepreneurship is all about. You put your head down and you start going back after it. When was the moment that you’re working and managing all day? What system did you end up using to manage people?
It wasn’t that great. It was Trello because I forced us to go home early. We were one of the first companies to decide we’re staying home. My team comes from all over and I wanted them to get to their family. We went home early. It was early March. We had to deliver spring. We didn’t have that long to come up with a good system. First were emails where it was like product name, bullet points of what was done today by this employee, ex-employee, then we eventually moved to Trello. When it wasn’t Trello, it became a daily tab of like, “September 8th, completed. This craft labs only line.” It’s not even words. It became image drops like, “Here are all the images of the designs and the conversations from China in a file. You can look at it.” What happened was people got comfortable, and then they got picky. It was like, “You can do this. You can do more.” My boss was like, “These images are great, but I need deep tailed, specific information about what was done with each project.” It ended up being an Excel document that links to Trello. It was a combination of Trello and Excel. That’s how we tracked all of our projects. It’s super fun but a little messy.
You end up doing more status updates than you do in actual work because your boss needs to know what’s happening so you’re trying to keep all the updates going.
I intentionally took it on for my team so that they could at least continue designing and then I could do all the status updates.
What was the moment that you’re like, “I’m not going to go back? I have this idea. I want to do my own thing?” Physically, where were you when that moment happened?
I was in a MINI dealership. I have a MINI Cooper. Her name is Kali like the goddess. She’s blue. I was at the MINI dealer getting it serviced.
Thanks for the details.When you work for a toy company, you're committed to them, and you can only grow as far as they will allow you to grow. Click To Tweet
It’s important to give a vision. My podcast, Making It In The Toy Industry, had been gaining a lot of notoriety because I had released an episode around the ripple effect of racial bias in the toy industry. People were sharing it and supporting it. I went back to regular toy industry related stuff on that podcast, and then I got this email. I was in the dealership and this email was from someone who was experienced and accomplished, and they wanted my help. I remember looking at this email and it was well-written. They were pitching themselves to me and they had incredible sales. I was impressed and then they were impressed with me. I was looking at this and thinking like, “I cannot do this while I’m working at my job. I can’t even entertain the thought of this.” This was not the first thing this happen.
This wasn’t the first person to reach out to me and wanted to work with me. This was that moment where it got big and the opportunity got big where I was like, “I have to leave.” The company I left was a huge company. It’s a multimillion-dollar company. When they would send me to China, fancy hotels, beautiful stays, an amazing team, but that’s all theirs. When I got this email, it made me realize that I could have something that could be all mine. I remember texting my boyfriend and I screenshot the email and I sent it to him. I was like, “I think I have to leave my job.” He was like, “Let’s talk about this when you get home.”
He’s like, “Let’s take a deep breath.”
Maybe a day or two before that we were in bed and I’d been getting a lot of messages about my podcast and I asked him, “What would you say if I thought about leaving my job and doing this podcast full-time and maybe coming up with some other real form of income? I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I feel like there’s something here.” He was like, “I would support that.” I was like, “Really?” He was like, “Yeah, I think we could do that.” Now that he was moving in for the first time, so we’re going to split rent. He was like, “You have savings and I know you can get clients. I can give you freelance work if you need it.” He supported it. When that email came in, it was the 5th or 6th thing that the universe was saying, “Azhelle, pay attention. This is your time. Do your thing. Go and be bold, step out and take a chance.”
Yeah, I did. My sister had to yell at me.
How long after the dealership episode was the email resignation?
I would say two weeks to a month. I’m not sure. You make me want to check. I have no idea.
During that time, did you have to go like, “This is crazy. What am I thinking?”
I have a pro and con list still. I’ve discovered it while I was cleaning. I have a pro and con list in staying in the corporate world. I was terrified and I called my sister. She was telling me to stop being such an expletive. She was like, “Stop being like this. This is your path and this is what you should do.” For me, I was VP of brand and product at an amazing toy company. I had been under 30 when I got the title. I felt like I have accomplished everything I ever wanted like, “Who the hell am I to leave it now?” It’s how I felt. When I wrote out that pro and con list, that’s what helped me make the decision. In the pro-list, it was the opportunity portion of it that helped me decide like, “I have to do this. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?” The worst that was going to happen if I stayed was scarier than the worst that was going to happen if I went.
I help my clients sometimes go through a why exercise to get to their real why. It’s never what they think it is. It never ends up being what they think it is, why they’re doing what they’re doing? My why is strong and it’s been tested a couple of times. I’ve had more than one time where I lost my biggest client. One time they were in Australia, they decided to pull out of the US. One time they were in Russia, they decided to pull out of the US. If your why is strong enough, then nothing else changes. In a panic, you’ll say, “What am I doing? What did I think? This is happening. What were you thinking you could do this all?” You then stop for a minute, stop spinning, and think about your why. You get back to back to work.
When rough things happen, I give myself generally less than 24 hours. You have twelve hours to curl up in a ball and suck your thumb, and the you got to get back to work. I had a client in Australia once and he knew he was infringing on a patent. He was riding it as long as he could, that nobody was enforcing the patent. One day he calls me and he is like, “I got a cease and desist letter and I can’t produce my product anymore.” He was distraught. I said, “First thing, you knew at some point this was coming.” Secondly, you have 24 hours to curl up in a ball and say, “Woe was me.” I said, “I want you then to come up with your same product but better. Something that you can patent.” That’s what he ended up doing. Within 24 hours, he had a whole new design and he had already run it by his lawyer. Sometimes you need to feel what’s happening, feel the effect of what’s going on and the brunt of it. You then have to get back to work.
That’s why being an entrepreneur is not easy. Not everybody can do that. Not everybody has the ability to pick themselves off the floor 100 different times. We closed over $7 million to deal with our clients with Costco. It’s the biggest single order they’ve ever had. It’s going to change their business forever. You have those moments and you don’t have to share. It’s not somebody else’s company that I’m working for that I got to be part of that. It was my company that helped him do that. There’s nothing better than that.
When you work for a toy company, you’re committed to them and you can only grow as far as they will allow you to grow. Like any company, they want you to focus on your strengths. They want you to do what helps them make more money. Sometimes doing that over and over again isn’t going to help you grow. For me, when I would get these opportunities, I’m thinking like, “If I could do this, it would help me grow. I would help other people, but then I would learn new things. I would have new experiences and they would be spread across the toy industry instead of hyper-focused on this one company, one theme or this one type of product.” That’s my why. It’s being able to do anything. Now, I can do anything. I don’t have to answer to anyone. I don’t have to apologize for it. I don’t have to say, “Are they going to be uncomfortable?” I can do whatever I want to do, if it’s a podcast, a TV show, a product, and anything.
Jim Rohn is one of my favorites. He’s a mentor to Tony Robbins, but he always said, “If you want to move up, if you want to get paid more, you have to be worth more.” He said, “The only way to be worth more is to work harder on yourself than you do at your job.” If you’ve never listened to anything by Jim Rohn. He’s dead now, but he’s fantastic. Let’s get into a couple of things. I know there was something that you said, “The importance of pitching a vision, not just another product.” That struck me when I was looking at your one-pager because when I pitch or when I teach people how to pitch their products to retailers, I let them know that retailers these days is not like when I first started. When I would walk into a retailer’s office, they’d be like, “Tim, we don’t know how to get products without you.” Nowadays, they have sourcing agents all over the world. You don’t need me for a product. They need a whole solution, a partnership. They want to do business with companies. It’s not just a product. When you said the importance of pitching a vision, not just another product. Tell me a little bit about what that means to you and how you’re working that into working with people.
For me, there are two meanings to that. On the one hand, it’s when you’re pitching to retailers, but then on the other hand it’s also when you’re pitching your invention or your concept to manufacturers, or maybe even to agents. When you’re pitching to the retailers, what I’ve experienced with all the companies I’ve worked for and with is that you want to go in with a statement. You want to go in with a 4-foot display, a sidekick display, an end cap display, and you want to pitch like, “This is your solution to summer activity crafts for tweens. We have the solution and this is going to turn you X amount of dollars because this is the cost. This is how many you can fit on the shelf. We have strategically made it so. We know in 2019, your end cap could turn this much. This year it’s going to turn this much. This is the vision behind that. This is what it will look like.”
Maybe there’s signage on the top that won’t be there in reality. You put it in there for your presentation that shows the Target customer and the name of the product. What I’ve seen is that’s important because half the time, depending on your relationship, you might not get the whole end cap. You might not get the whole 4-feet section, but you’ll have a much better chance of maybe even getting a Stripe because you express this vision to them. It gives them less work. If they can see that vision and they can say, “I do have five slots and I could fit those right up and down.” They might come back to you and say like, “This is great, but I need all of your ideas to fit in a 10 x 10 x 2 size. If you could do that for me then, yes.” I feel like to get them there, you need to start with that vision. You need to make it easy to understand, digest and envision that in their store.
Don’t you think that buyers are less merchants nowadays? They’re young, they’re data-driven. They’re not understanding. I’m a lot older than you. I remember back when I used to deal with merchants and I’d show them a product and their mind would start to expand and they would think, “We can do this.” I didn’t have to create that for them. They were merchants. They knew how to cross merchandise, “We can build with this and that. Can you add this?” Now, they’re looking at you like, “I don’t know, what are the numbers?” I talk to my clients a lot about this. Doing their job for them is what they need because they’ve been in the industry a couple of years. They’re looking at the numbers. They’re scared, “I don’t know whether I should do that or not. What if it doesn’t sell? Do we get to mark it down? I need you to do everything for me.” I liked the vision and my audience are called Big-Boxers. Big-Boxers, I hope you’re paying attention to that because it’s not just about walking in with a product. It’s not just about, “Here’s what I got.” Even now I see a lot of people that are like, “Once I sell it in, that’s it.”
The other thing is the presentation. If you can get a strip, that will help sell it. There are two things I want to say here. I saw a lot more PDQs. The toy aisle is going PDQ crazy. I feel like it’s because everybody’s trying to make a statement so that you pay attention to their product on the shelf and they can fit more because you toss them in the PDQ. I notice that a lot of toy companies are hiring merchandisers like VPs of Merchandising. People that their job is to prepare the lines to be ready to present to buyers. Design them, and cost them out, and make them specific for Costco, Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters. A different layout, design, and price point for everybody.
It’s illegal in the US to have different price points for everybody depending on what the program is. Depending on how much you’re going to buy or whatever, but that’s our job now. We help our clients see. You can’t show something to Costco because they’re going to want it in a pallet display. That pallet display might be faked out at the bottom where you get more merchandising inability. It may be in trays as opposed to in a PDQ on a shelf on a Target. You have to do that work and help them see what you see. A lot of times, people don’t have that skill. Their skill was coming up with the product. Their skill was inventing the product. As far as how to get it into a retailer, I don’t know that. I can’t know everything. I liked your vision. Tell me what’s the imposter syndrome.
Everyone knows the imposter syndrome.
I need to hear it. I don’t know it. I’m like a four-year-old. Explain it to me.
When you’re feeling you have no right to teach or do the things that you’re doing. Maybe selling the product you’re trying to sell in or invent the product you’re trying to invent or pitch the product you’re trying to pitch. When you feel you don’t belong and you don’t have the credentials to achieve the things you are in the process of achieving.
Why does the imposter syndrome affect many toy people?Work harder on yourself than you do at your job. Click To Tweet
The thing with the toy industry is it seems simple on the surface. We always used to say like, “It’s not rocket science. I’m not saving lives here. I’m just making toys.”
These days as parents are at home with their kids for months on end, you are saving lives.
People go and be like, “I’m going to be a toy designer. I’m going to develop a product.” When they get more involved in the industry, they realized there are many layers. There are layers in safety, sales, and marketing. It’s much more than just designing or illustrating the product. Even when you’re working with factories. There are many different relationships and commitments from different factories, what you’re allowed to say and not allowed to say, especially when you’re first starting out. I feel like whenever you’re trying to level up in the toy industry, you’re going to run into situations where you don’t know what to say or how to say it or you’ll say the wrong thing. That’s when people 100% feel this imposter syndrome. People get like, “I’m a toy person. I’m ready. I’m all in.” They’re hyped up, then when they make a mistake or they do something wrong, they feel like, “Maybe I don’t belong here at all. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing at all.” I think that’s why.
That’s why people need people like you and me. I tell my clients all the time, “To the right buyer you’re not going to say the wrong thing generally.” You could say something you shouldn’t, it’s not going to kill the deal if they’re the right people. Sometimes to the wrong people, you can’t say the right thing. Here’s what you can do. You can know ahead of time, all that’s coming your way. When you have that knowledge, then you’re talking from a position of strength and that’s what I give to you. I give you all the things that are coming your way in this meeting that you have no idea like you were talking about. I always say I’ve talked about this a million times, but I had this guy call me one time. It was in October and he had a January meeting at Costco. He has a minority-owned business. He got to the top of the list but he was in no way prepared to present it at Costco. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t even have a pitch deck or anything. He hired me and we did everything, got them all ready.
It was a regional office. I flew to Chicago. We walk in, we sit down and he goes to open his mouth to say the first thing that we were talking about and nothing came out. I picked it up and did the pitch for him and everything. We ended up getting his product into Costco. It was all fine. How do you try to do that on his own? There’s one thing about how you think it might be and then there’s another thing to walk in. There are three people from Costco and you’ve got your product. All of a sudden, you can’t talk. To me, that was the extreme of what could happen. We were talking, I looked at him, the buyer looked at him like, “Make sure he was breathing. Hold on. You’re good?” Now that you’re doing your own thing, what do you find is the majority of what you’re doing?
I feel like I’m redirecting people’s focus a lot because a lot of people are initially saying, “Where can I pitch? How do I contact distributors? Where do I go to do this and do that?” The products that they have aren’t that thought through. They might not answer anyone’s market needs but also, they might already exist. A lot of the time, I give a lot of resources to people that contact me. If I have some resources and you want to pitch somewhere. I had conversations with agents on my podcast and they left their emails, you can go there. I always encourage people to take a step back and make sure they’re doing a basic SWOT analysis of their product. If they have a sample, testing it with not family members but people that they don’t know and taking those findings into consideration.
People get excited and they want to run onto the next thin. They end up spending a ton of money and then they come back to me. They’re like, “This is done but nobody wants it.” I’m like, “Yeah, because you didn’t do any market research.” When you did market research, you didn’t apply what you found because you felt like, “We don’t have to worry about that. We’ll change it later on.” That’s my focus. Helping people creatively develop their ideas, but then also developing them with the market in mind, buyers, and consumers. What everybody thinks is important, I want to make sure that they’re paying attention to all those different avenues.
Who generally comes to you these days? You’re fielding inquiries and what are they wanting from you?
Everything from students who are wanting to break into the toy industry, to people with strong IPs that want to make a specific toy product. That’s more because of my career history, but toy companies that are looking to break into the tween market or looking to re-engineer their preschool market, things like that. That’s who comes to me, mostly people that are looking to reconnect with a demographic, redesign their visuals or source a new factory for a new product.
Do you have long long-term engagement, short-term engagements or a combination of both?
It’s a combination. It could be a one-hour conversation if that’s what you’re interested in. It doesn’t have to be anything long-term. I don’t want to do a ton of long-term engagements. I’m hoping to build this course so that people can develop their own products using my principles and methods for how I’ve developed products in the past. Hopefully, at the end of this course, pass them on to people that can help them with the sales aspect and making new connections and things like that.
Are you the middle of creating a live course or a self-guided course?
I am in the middle of creating a course. It’s going to be six weeks. I will be there. It’s called Toy Creators Academy. It’s a fun name. I’m in the middle of creating that and it’s going to be a lot of concept development, market research, packaging design, connecting with factories, working with sample makers, and all of that stuff. You can have something ready to either present or to develop with full production.
When is this course going to be launching?
You can sign up on September 30th. You can sign up if you go to ToyCreatorsAcademy.com so that you’ll get emails about the course. The paid enrollment will officially open on the 30th.
I know it sounds like I’m trying to pitch this course for you, but I’m interested to know. To our readers, this is not something that we worked out ahead of time to help her with her course. I’m interested in knowing, is it a self-guided where you’ve done videos and you’re talking to people so they can go at their own pace or when they sign up for the course, are you doing live engagements or it’s a combination of both those?
It’s a combination. It’s going to be a prerecorded content that’s stripped out over six weeks and then mixed into that content. We’ll also be on live Zoom calls so we can have coaching in the process. I know my list so I know people that are interested in joining are at all different levels. Some of them already have toy products. Some of them have small toy companies. Some of them have an idea. Everybody’s going to be at a different stage. I want to also have those live coaching calls. If people want to jump ahead, they can at least ask questions. I don’t want them to jump ahead in the course materials because honestly, I feel like everyone should go through these initial stages. If they have questions, I want to be there to answer them.
That sounds exciting. Where can they find that?
When you look into the future of The Toy Coach, what does that look like?
I would love to be responsible for bringing people completely outside of the toy industry into the toy industry and have them develop amazing products on their own. The inventor path is awesome like coming up with an idea and letting a company develop it, but even more so I would love if the people that are interested in investing the money in developing their products and pitching their products maybe with Kickstarter to fund them and then producing them themselves. I would love to see more healthcare people, teachers, doctors, and authors developing their own toys because I feel like the toy industry needs different perspectives. It’s people like me that study toy design and that’s great. When you have more life experience and you do different things, you’re going to give a different take on it. That’s what toys need now.
I hope that you get there. I’m sure that we have readers that have toy products. Let’s do one “never do this” and then one “make sure you do this.”
Never launch a toy idea without testing it with at least 25 people, without validating it. It’s a minimum. I should specify, 25 people you don’t know. When you’re talking about it, that’s more people, but physically testing with kids minimum 25. I would say always start and try. The thing is people have the idea and they hesitate. They don’t know where to go and that’s why I’m here. The first thing is to get it down on paper. Always start and get it down on paper. If you can’t draw, you can hire someone to draw it for you. That’s my bit of advice.
That’s great advice. Big-Boxer, never launch without validating it and start. Those are the two key pieces of advice. Now that you’re your own boss, you got emails coming in, you’ve got commitments, you have a calendar. How are you keeping it all straight? What do you use, an app, a planner?
I’m about to switch over to Asana. I would love to know your thoughts on Asana. I’m using Trello now. I’m thinking about hosting my clients on MemberVault. VIP MemberVault is an online course platform, it’s free, but you could also use it for your clients. You could give your clients a log into a special onboarding course in which you would be like, “Here are your brand assessment forms. Here’s your client and here’s where I need all of your passwords for social media if you want me to run that.” Things like that. I’m thinking about that, but I don’t know. I’m on Trello and I don’t love it. I’m open to suggestions.Buyers are less merchants today. They are data-driven. Click To Tweet
For me, I do everything through Basecamp.
Do you like Basecamp?
I like Basecamp. All my clients have a project in Basecamp. My VIP Experience group, I run it out of a Basecamp. I have a VIP Facebook group, but I’m trying to get off of Facebook. Everybody inside the VIP group talks in Basecamp and they throw ideas in there. For me, everything I do is in an effort to make sure that if something were to happen to me, my clients can go and get all their info. There are two things, I try to call each one. I get hundreds of emails a day so I don’t want to miss anything for my clients. Every client has their own Basecamp. We talk exclusively in there. Because I’m the owner of the whole thing, it gives me a whole list of everybody. It gets emailed to me every morning, everything that has happened in all of my Basecamps yesterday.
I used to use Basecamp.
Was it Basecamp 2 or Basecamp 3?
I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Everybody has to use what they like, but we put everything in Basecamp. Any pricing docs, any pitch decks, it all goes in there. If something were to happen to me, they can download all that into one zip file and away they go. Also, for pitching and CRM, I use Nutshell and I give them access to that. If I’m selling for anybody and something were to happen to me, they can go into Nutshell. They can see every retail lead that we have, what we’ve done, who we’ve emailed, what they’ve said, it’s all in there. The best program to use is the one that you use. I’m asking about you. I use Tony Robbins’ Rapid Planning Method for planning my day-to-day, my weeks, my months to now, personal and business are all happening.
I try to do two things. I have a Trello that is for me, but I also assign due dates on the things that I need to do because then Trello will send me an email. That becomes my to-do. Aside from that I get a little bit old-school because I’m the type of person who love Post-its. At the end of every day, even though it’s written on Trello or whatever, I like to write it out on Post-it what I need to do the next day. I put little checkboxes in all the things that I want to do the next day. I put it on my computer so I don’t get distracted and I don’t forget. Aside from that, I try to do that CEO type week where you allot certain days for certain overall tasks. It’s like, “Monday, I do interviews. Wednesday, I write podcast episodes, Thursday, I’m dealing with this client.” I break up my weekend that way but then I’m Post-it heavy. I’m not at home but at home, there’s a trail of Post-its. That’s how I function.
I asked that question to everybody that I interview and the answers I get are across the board. A lot of people are still old-school. I’ve tried everything. The thing that personally works for me is that’s part of my week. For me, going and writing it down, I keep doing it but I honestly hate it. It’s still the best.
It is the best. I have a physical toy coach like a book where ideas go. I wish I had almost a physical planner too. Maybe I should think about that.
I also have my iPad, which I use a lot for Notability. Notability goes across all my platforms, including my Mac. I use that for all my gathering of everything. I’ll go back and use that because I have an Apple Pencil, I can write and draw and sketch in Notability, and then that all goes when I do my weekly planning. Notability is the same thing. A lot of people use Evernote or OneNote. It all depends on which one you like, but I could never understand Evernote.
I never tried Evernote.
That in OneNote, it seemed overdone. It’s way overproduced. For entrepreneurs, there’s the hard part whether you’re working on the business or in the business at the time. I can stop a lot of times focusing on the results and focus on the tasks. When I do that, my business doesn’t move forward. It’s task-oriented. Using the Tony Robbins Rapid Planning makes me focus constantly on results that I’m wanting. What do you do to get the results rather than the to-dos. I can get myself lost in email all day long.
I feel the same way. I feel like I get lost in optimizing my funnel and my site and then messages. People are messaging, “Can you tell me this? Let’s have a Discovery call.” The next thing you know, it’s the weekend. You’re like, “What have I accomplished?”
Once you start telling people, book a coaching call, when they start asking you questions, you’re not forcing but you move them to book a coaching call. It’ll get rid of a lot of the tire kickers that are needing some free advice. We all have a consultation, but consultation can sometimes turn into consulting.
It’s hard, especially because I feel like I’ve positioned myself as, “I’m here to help you.” People message and they ask a question and I’ll help but then at some point, where do you say like, “We’re getting into the point where we’ve been talking for 30 minutes. This has to stop. I have to do other things.”
My rule is always if it’s more than a one-sentence answer, then book a coaching call.
How do you say that?
“This is going to take me longer to answer. It’s a bigger question than a simple one-sentence answer. It would be better if you booked a coaching call where I can help you rather than make you more confused.” If it were a simple thing like, “Tim, how many times more should my pricing be than my X worth cost?” “Seven to ten times more.” That’s easy. I can send you that. I can answer your question. If you’re like, “I don’t understand how to get my manufacturer in China to give me the price that I need.” That’s not an answer I can give you.
Thank you. I get you coaching me.
That’s what we’re here for, to help each other. It’s been great talking to you. I’ve had such a great time. I could chat with you for a lot more and I’m going to be interested to watch your progression and see how things go for you. I’m super excited about your new courses coming out and how that whole thing plays out. Generally, when you launch something new, something new will launch from that too.
Thank you for your support and your guidance. I might be referencing you to my people soon and telling them like, “You got to check out this guy.”
We could do that for each other if I have toy people. I have a feeling that at some point your concepts and your thoughts and how you envision is going to branch out past toys. You’ll be able to provide that type of insight into multiple types of products. When my business originally started, I was just a Costco expert.
You’re just down to one retailer? That’s crazy.
The first thing I did when I launched my business was I wrote an article. I bought a $19 article on how to write articles because I had no idea. I spent $19 and I wrote an article called How to Sell Your Products to Costco – 11 Crucial Steps. What I learned from reading the article that I bought was to make sure your title is exactly what people are going to search for and give them bullet points. Always make sure the bullet points are odd, so not 12 or 10. I wrote this article and back in the day, it was on EzineArticles because that was where things were posted. It got viewed more than 300,000 times. It got viewed many times that they had to restart the counter on it. It used to be the number one that refer people to my business before I started my show in 2015.
The reason I wrote that article originally was because everybody that has a product wants to get it into Costco. That’s a goal of everybody because there are top-five retailers. Everybody dreams of that, but they don’t know what’s involved. I quickly learned that 95% of the people that were coming to me weren’t ready to, nor were they prepared to go to Costco. I quickly had to expand my business to include other things. Otherwise, I would be turning people away. At some point, you’ll start to see people coming to you and what they need, you’ll be able to offer them that’s past just toys. I’m glad that there’s somebody out there that’s focused on that. Toys were the start of my retail.It's so much more fun to write for yourself than it is to try to write for something you’re not passionate about. Click To Tweet
Thank you. Sometimes I wonder, “Do people need this?” I think they will. They appreciate it.
I’ve been reading this Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. He has eleven questions that he wanted to know the answers to. He sent those questions out to over 100 qualified, unbelievably successful people in all different fields. Not all the people answered every question, but in here are all the answers to all the questions that people answered. Some of them answered like 3 out of 11, 5 out of 11. There was a successful guy. He writes a blog post. When he’s trying to figure out what to write his posts on, he envisioned his whole audience was just like him. He wanted to know the things that he wanted to know. They wanted to do the things that he wanted to do. He goes, “I began writing for myself, the things that I want, that I was interested in.”
He said, “It seems to limiting but there are millions of people out there in our huge world that are just like you. They think the things that you think, think like you do, want to know the things that you want to know.” He said, “It’s much more fun to write for myself than it is to try to write for something that I’m not passionate about.” To answer your question, there are millions of people that are just like you and want to do the things that you’re teaching them and get toys in and invent toys. Never think that your field is too niche because there are at least a million people now that are thinking, “How do I build a toy and get it into retail?” I don’t think that you’re going to be too narrow.
You said it. I’ll hold you to that.
Azhelle, it’s great to have you on the show. Thank you for taking the time out of your workcation.
Thank you for having me, Tim.
We’ll talk to you soon.
Azhelle Wade has left the building and I was not wrong, was I? She rocks. We had such a great time talking about a ton of different things. I know that what she’s going through is the same thing that a lot of you were going through. Every one of us had that moment. When we said, “I can either keep going on the path that I am. I can either keep taking all the awesome things that are in my brain and I can put them to work so that somebody else can reap the benefits or I can make the scary, terrifying decision to be an entrepreneur.” That’s where all of us are at one point or another. I can’t believe for me, it’s been several years since I said, “I’m going to do that. That sounds good.” I haven’t looked back and I know that she’s not going to either.
That doesn’t mean that as an entrepreneur, there are not good times and bad times. That’s not what it means. It means that those bad times are still better than working for somebody else, making money for somebody else, taking all your creative juices, and flowing them into the success of somebody else. There’s never been a better time to strike out on your own. People are thirsty. Things are changing. Azhelle is right in the middle of that and right in the perfect place. I hope you got a lot out of her story, a lot out of what she’s doing, what’s going on and we’ll have her back. I’m excited to hear how her course goes and how all of that shakes out. I know that’s going to be awesome.
As always, we want your feedback, she wants your feedback. Let us know what you think. Go to the website OnTheShelfNow.com. Leave us a comment. Tell us what you thought. Let’s start a discussion. You can always go to the private Facebook group On The Shelf Now and post in there. I’m happy to start a conversation there. You can always go to the website, TLB Consulting, and scroll down that first page and hit VIP and join the VIP Experience. That’s where the conversations that we can’t have on the show because it’s too exposed. We’re talking about real things that are going on, real buyers, what they’re saying, what they’re asking for, and we’re solving problems.
One of the VIP members had an issue he was having a buyer. He put it out there to the group. It was like a hot seat moment and the group solved it for him. If you’re ready for that, go ahead and sign up for the VIP Experience. I didn’t plan on putting this out there, but it’s still $19.99 a month or it’s just $19. There’s no $.99. Just $19 a month. We meet once a week for an hour and the value is worth 10 or 20 times that. We’re not going to keep it at $19.99. The end of October is the last day that you can sign up under $19.99 and then the price is going to go up. If you sign up for the VIP Experience before the end of October, you will always be $19.99, no matter how long you stay in, you’ll always be $19.99, but we can’t keep it that price forever. It just doesn’t make sense. The value is amazing. I can’t wait to see you there. Azhelle, thank you. You’re amazing. I appreciated every minute of our discussion. Thank you for hanging in there when my Zoom crashed and keeping the recording going. Take one for the team, I appreciate that and I appreciate you. Big-Boxers, thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting the show. I appreciate you. Until next time, I look forward to seeing your products on the shelf.
- Azhelle Wade
- Making It In The Toy Industry
- Toy Creators Academy
- How to Sell Your Products to Costco – 11 Crucial Steps
- Tribe of Mentors
- On The Shelf Now – Facebook group
- TLB Consulting
About Azhelle Wade
Azhelle is a cancer survivor, 3x patented toy inventor, Women In Toys Wonder Woman finalist, and was named 1 of the 100 most influential people in toys and games in 2020. After 10 years in the industry, working for companies like Toys R Us, Party City, Horizon Group USA and Creative Kids, this entrerpenurial spirit took control of her own destiny and became the Founder and President of The Toy Coach™. Azhelle launched The Toy Coach™ to help inventors and entrepreneurs develop and pitch their BIG toy ideas as smart and as fast as possible. Her podcast, Making It in The Toy Industry has become an industry known resource to teach inventors & entrepreneurs how to keep their toy and game ideas toyetic, cost-effective, and to answer buyer needs. When she’s not helping aspiring toy people break into the toy industry, Azhelle enjoys salsa and bachata dancing in New York City, sewing colorful sequin costumes, and game nights with her boyfriend.
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