Why didn't I think of that? thought Arthur Ganson, a sculptor and inventor, when he saw someone holding what looked like a fantastic toy. As he got closer, however, that toy turned out to be just a tube-shaped balloon.
But that balloon became the inspiration behind Ganson's brainstorm: Toobers & Zots, a toy that's been called the "Legos of the '90s." The 2- to 4- foot foam rubber tube (Toobers) cam be bent into any shape; the die-cut foam shapes (Zots) connect and adorn the Toobers to make various objects.
Ganson, 40, and this two partners, Rustam Booz and Andrew Farrar, both 37, distribute their $5.99 to $29.95 Toobers & Zots through the specialty toy market. "We wanted to make toys that foster creativity and stimulate little people's minds," says Booz.
All three partners have children, which was part of the impetus for lunching their Woburn, Massachusetts, company, HandsOn Toys, in 1993. In fact, they had been discussing their dream of marketing creative toys for more than a year when Ganson had his moment of inspiration.
Getting past the idea state wasn't all fun and games, however. The partners approached one manufacturer after another and were turned down; no one had the necessary equipment. So they wound up making Toobers & Zots themselves, tapping into their savings and credit cards to cover the initial $250,000 start-up costs.
The gamble paid off, with first-year sales of $800,000 and estimates for 1995 at $4 million to $6 million. A third group of shapes, Oobles, should add a whole new layer of dimensionality to the toy-not to mention profitability to the business.