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What: A training surfboard or skateboard
Who: Robert Ellis and Stewart Cohen of GarageCo Toys Inc.
Where: Woodland Hills, California
When: Started in 2005
Startup costs: $69,831
Robert Ellis is a surfer at heart. The sport runs through his veins--and in his family. After all, it was watching his son, Brooks, jumping on a trampoline with a skateboard deck taped to his shoes that inspired Ellis to create a plastic toy with a similar purpose.
Working from his garage, Ellis developed a wooden prototype for what he eventually named the Yo Baby. He later hired a sculptor to create a mold for the final plastic version. Like a bike with training wheels, the Yo Baby is a training board for sports such as surfing or skateboarding--minus the wax or wheels.
Two years after creating the product, Ellis co-founded GarageCo Toys with surfing buddy Stewart Cohen to launch the toy into the market. The business allowed the 46-year-olds freedom to focus on what they loved: "The idea was to take our savings and put it into this business, so we could surf," Ellis says.
Today, Yo Baby rides on the popularity of board sports to create marketing buzz, with pro athletes such as longboard surfer Garrett McNamara representing it. Ellis says he also regularly visits surf and skate shops to sell the toy, concentrating on three major selling points: "name, product and our [logo character], Newt." Although the company did not begin shipping orders until last June, 2006 sales were $94,000, with 2007 projections of nearly $400,000. Ellis and Cohen have plans to expand the product line to include clothing and accessories while keeping business costs low by hiring people on a temporary basis.
While Ellis may not have become the surf bum his mother feared he would when he began surfing 40 years ago, boarding is still a major part of his life--and work.