The Big Cheese
Vital Stats:Jay Kamhi, 43, of Kamhi World
Company: novelties and toys for the mass market
2004 Projected Sales: $5 million to $7 million
Street Smarts: After the Beanie Babies craze fizzled, veteran New York City street vendor Kamhi was stumped for a new product to hawk. Hoping to develop his own product to sell via retail outlets, he looked forward to meeting Beanie Babies creator Ty Warner at a trade show-but instead of offering contacts or resources to the aspiring toy creator, Warner just referred Kamhi to his website. Disappointed but not defeated, Kamhi opted to create his own line of clever critters.
Eeek! Kamhi initially came up with nine "Spice Mice" plush keychain characters, including Tony Mousiano, a nod to Mob enthusiasts everywhere. With a press of the stomach, Tony Mousiano exclaims, "Fugeddaboutit," and, "You dirty rat!" Romantics might enjoy Love Mouse, who sings, "Only you will make my dreams come true."
Hole-Hearted Effort: At first, times were tough, especially financially. "I literally had a hole in my roof," says Kamhi. "I had buckets and everything." His first six months brought categorical rejection from major retail chains, gift and auto-parts stores, though smaller gift shops and individual 7-Elevens signed on. When a Walgreens buyer noticed his secretaries constantly playing with the sample mice Kamhi had sent, he ordered a test run in 200 stores. With a Spice Mice appearance on Live With Regis and Kelly, demand heightened-Kamhi's mice can now be found in Advance Auto Parts, Bed Bath & Beyond, Linens 'n Things, Rite Aid and Walgreens stores.
Novel Ideas: Bush and Kerry Spice Mice are out now, and look for Kamhi's latest offering, a line of talking pens called Pen Talkers.