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Toy Story

Homemakers and tech gurus alike will get equal enjoyment out of this product.

What: Action figures for adults
Who: Kris Schantz and Shirley Yee of Happy Worker
Where: Toronto
When: Started in 2004
Startup Costs: Approximately $140,000

How did husband and wife Kris Schantz, 31, and Shirley Yee, 32, manage to find a toy market with lots of potential and not much competition? By focusing on toys for adults--specifically, action figures with a twist. Schantz and Yee--who both shared overactive imaginations and were always thinking up new toy and gift ideas--created 6-inch movable dolls that aren't superheroes with other-worldly powers, but rather everyday heroes, like GeekMan, a technology wizard; Super-Mom, who does it all with panache (and is Happy Worker's biggest seller); Money-Man, a "dark hero" in suspenders who leaps balance sheets; and BossMan, a bigwig of the boardroom. They also make custom toys through The Toy Agency, a division of the company that uses a team of marketing, toy and design professionals. Happy Worker earned about $1 million in sales last year.

Schantz says, "Few toy-makers play to the 20-, 30- and 40-year-old market. It's a great subculture that didn't exist 20 years ago and was brought on by the rise of licensed toys. These are buyers who maybe didn't have an allowance to buy toys as kids and now can buy what they want."

Schantz, who dressed up as GeekMan to stir up excitement when he unveiled the toy at the Canadian Toy & Hobby Fair, says, "When we saw friends and colleagues buying toys to play with in their cubicles, we knew we were onto something."

For entrepreneurs planning to tap into this promising market, however, Schantz has a bit of important advice. "Don't call your products 'adult toys,'" he says, laughing. "We made that mistake the first week. Now we say we make 'toys for big kids.'"

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the February 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Toy Story.

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