Children are full of “crazy” ideas, but that is what makes them special. Imagination is in full force and they are never afraid to say what’s on their mind. Kids may say the darndest things -- like recommending ice cream for dinner, or rambling for 30 minutes about why they should have their own pony -- but the truth is that sometimes what they say develops into a full-time business. Sound crazy? It’s not.
In fact, our company began when my 10-year-old son received a toy for his birthday. He was fascinated with this particular toy and went online to see if he could buy a larger set, only to discover how difficult it was to find. So, he did what most kids do and turned to my husband and I for help, except he had a suggestion, what some parents may deem a “crazy” idea -- start an online store that sells this specialty toy. Fast forward 15 years, and my son’s suggestion is a full-time business. We are now one of the largest online toy retailers and have two retail stores.
How did we decide if our kid's idea was worth exploring? And, once we did, how did we transform a playful world of toys into a serious business? Here are a few tips for entrepreneurs with new business ideas.
Identify if there is a need in the market.
As any entrepreneur or business founder will tell you, the first step to starting a business is to identify if there is a need in the market for the service and/or product you are offering. Although my son’s research showed there was a need for a supplier of one particular toy, we needed to do additional research around the toy industry. We found that there was a need for a toy retailer that focused on specialty toys -- not just trendy toys that feature the face of the newest big movie character. We uncovered a need, and a want, for a toy company with products that inspire creativity and spark curiosity. Needless to say, that is what we focus our business on to this day.
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So, after determining a business idea, the first step is to conduct market research. Many business owners will skip this step because they believe that their product or business is perfect the way it is and they don’t want any feedback. Others may skip it because they think it will cost money. Whatever the reason, skipping over the research can result in a failed business. It’s important to make sure your research provides you with information about the industry, customers and competition. When you finish researching you should be able to note the latest industry trends, the areas the industry is expanding, who your customer is and who your competition is.
Embrace shifts in audiences.
Once you identified the need for your business, executed research and launched your company, it’s important to take a close look at your audience. After launching, you may find your audience is different than what you expected. For example, we knew that our audience would be parents and grandparents, but we did not know that we would have a large audience of parents with special needs children. Rather than panic about an unexpected audience group, we took a step back and thought about how we could include them in our brand and if we could leverage their expertise to further expand that audience group. The end result? A special needs resource center on our website, which hosts feedback from our customers on how products are being used by children with special needs. Parents of children with special needs was not one of our target audiences, but quickly became one. It is important for entrepreneurs and business owners to be flexible, welcome new audiences and listen to their ideas. It may take some extra hours of work, but it will only help grow your business.
Remember the value of good customer service.
When you were a kid you were probably taught good manners, one of the most important lessons being to always say “please” and “thank you.” Though it may sound silly, this should be top of mind for any entrepreneur or business owner, especially when it comes to customer service. As co-owner of a business that started from the idea of a 10-year-old, we knew our customer service had to reflect our family values. This is why our customer service team is composed of real people, not computer robots. Our customers appreciate the authentic, personal touch that comes from speaking to a human versus a robot and it is one reason why we have such loyal repeat customers. Businesses with strong customer service departments and good manners thrive because it shows you respect your audience. Even Chick-fil-A, a fast food restaurant, is outshining competitors because it trained its workers to say “please” and “thank you.” So, as you work to grow your business, remember the manners you were taught as a child.
Developing a new business idea may take years of brainstorming and tweaking, or it might be blurted out of your son’s mouth after an unsuccessful online shopping adventure. Either way, entrepreneurs need to keep their eyes and ears open because you never know what, or who, may spark the idea for a successful business venture. And, once you have an idea, remember to identify the need in the market, be flexible with your audience and always say “please” and “thank you.”