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A Chain of Brain-Fitness Stores Gets Big-Time Funding After a false start, Lindsay Gaskin tweaked her business model and gained the attention of major investors.

By Michelle Goodman

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Lindsay Gaskins

Lindsay Gaskins' first foray into the brain-game market was a bust. After raising $75,000 in seed money from Chicago venture capital firm and incubator Sandbox Industries, Gaskins opened a "brain fitness" mall kiosk in May 2008. Customers who stopped to check out the games, puzzles, books and software expressed interest in the products, but most didn't reach for their wallets. Because the kiosk was adorned in bright, kid-friendly colors but sold a number of products made for adults, many shoppers were confused about the intended audience.

Rather than scrap the business altogether, Gaskins tweaked the model, improving on what did work. "The few products that did sell were the ones that were open," says Gaskins, who worked as a buyer for Sears for five years. Likewise, the salespeople who sold the most were those who'd actually tried the games, knew how they worked and could explain them to customers.

After raising another $450,000 from Sandbox, Gaskins ditched the kiosk, rebranded as Marbles: The Brain Store and opened a shop in downtown Chicago that October. The new logo, décor and signage spoke to kids and adults alike, and the bigger space allowed for a more interactive experience, so that customers could test-drive any product. Gaskins also required sales staff--dubbed BrainCoaches--to play with the inventory so they could deftly navigate customer questions.

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