Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Fat Brain Toys Blog is MOVING!

The brutal truth is that the Fat Brain Toys blog never really materialized, so there's not much to move! Of course we had good intentions, everyone always does, but with a million other things to be done with the business, our blog simply wasted away...just waiting for someone to pay it proper attention...just waiting for someone to PLAY! The time has finally come to play. 

We've launched a "modern blog" that can be found at http://www.fatbraintoys.com/play/

It will be updated daily...yes, really daily! You'll find great articles from our staff, from our brilliant customers, from our toy inventors, and other professionals in the field of education, special needs, and much more. You'll also find other fun things like printable activities, interesting videos, photo galleries, and online games.

So we bid farewell to BlogSpot, but be sure to tune in daily to http://www.fatbraintoys.com/play/


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A "littleBit" of Tinkering for a New Generation


As a 10 year old kid I developed an intense interest in understanding how radios worked. I wasn't nearly as interested in the invisible electromagnetic waves passing through me as I was with how all these obscure electronic components manifested themselves in music blasting my ears. That curiosity inevitably led me to deconstructing a number of AM/FM radios, reducing them to a series of components sitting in a pile on my bedroom floor. My coup de grace was taking a milk crate, mounting an old car radio, 6 volt flashlight battery and oversized speakers to create a predecessor to the ghetto-blaster. It was a true work of art!

So when I first caught a glimpse of a new line of "toys" called littleBits, it immediately brought me back to my radio tinkering as a child. But it also brought with it the realization of why littleBits is such a revolutionary product.

littleBits is described as an open-source library of electronic modules that snap together with tiny magnets for prototyping and play. littleBits consists of tiny circuit-boards with simple, unique functions engineered to intuitively snap together with magnets. No soldering, no wiring, no programming, just snap and play. Within seconds of pulling littleBits out of the box, a child can immediately begin grasping the basics of how modern electronics work.

That's the surprising aspect of littleBits. While it's packaged as a toy, it's made up of REAL electronics that can be configured to perform REAL complex functionality.

It's estimated that the average American spends more than 7.5 hours on technological devices every day, yet most of us have no clue how they work. So where does future innovation come from? It comes from the tinkerers, the problem-solvers, the do-it-yourselfers. But rather than you sacrificing your cell phone at the hands of your tinkering 10 year old, introduce them to littleBits and watch their creativity bloom!

Light it, push it, turn it, twist it, bend it, buzz it, blink it, shake it...
Just as LEGOs™ allow you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are simple, intuitive, electronic building blocks that make prototyping with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together. With a growing number of available modules, littleBits hopes to move the incorporation of electronics from late stages of the design process to its earliest stages. And more importantly, take them from the hands of experts, to those of artists, makers, students and designers.

While littleBits has received tremendous press from all over the world, it's not very widely available for purchase. That's why I'm proud to say that you can already find it at FatBrainToys.com! We have two kits available, the "Teaser Kit" and the "Starter Kit", or you can mix & match by purchasing components a la carte. 

Make no mistake, it's a brave new world and littleBits will be leading the revolution for a new generation of tinkerers!


Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Gathering of Mathematical Proportions

Erik and I just returned from an amazing experience...the "Gathering for Gardner". This reclusive gathering joins an ecclectic group of mathematicians, scientists, artists, magicians, and puzzlers. As diverse as this group may seem, they all share one common interest: recreational mathematics.

The gathering is a tribute to the work of Martin Gardner, a prolific author and longtime contributor to Scientific American magazine. Gardner is widely regarded as the father of recreational mathematics in the U.S. While he died two years ago, G4G carries on in hopes of furthering his life's work.

But what is "recreational mathematics" you might ask? If you've ever played Tetris, tangrams, Sudoku, origami, or Rubik's Cube, you've stumbled into recreational mathematics. For most Americans, the mere mention of "mathematics" causes eyes to roll and minds to shut. That probably goes back to some bad experience with math as a child - and that's a real shame! While some people may question the applicability of calculus in their everyday lives, there's no denying that math is all around us.

Scott Kim, a talented artist and mathematician, gave an impactful presentation on the need for puzzles in schools. As a father of a middleschool age son, he conveyed his frustration in how math was being taught to his son. His primary complaint? Teaching the theory of math without the meaning. He gave a great example of teaching a child to read music notes, but not actually playing or listening to music. Or better yet, showing an athlete the X's and O's on a whiteboard, but not really playing the game. All theory and no application. His assertion is that puzzles, in all their forms, apply meaning to math.

What a great revelation! What kind of impact could this thinking make on young learners? Perhaps our fear of math could be alleviated if we focused more on the hands-on meaning instead of the hard-to-grasp theory.

This was but a small piece of what was shared at the Gathering for Gardner. Unfortunately, not everyone can attend a G4G. The good news is that a little bit of G4G is coming to YOU!

Every October 21st (Martin Gardner's birthday), "Celebration of Mind" events are held throughout the world. We're thrilled to report that Fat Brain Toys will be hosting our own Celebration of Mind...both here in Omaha, Nebraska as well as a virtual celebration online at FatBrainToys.com. While we're still in the planning phase, we've already got some exciting events in mind. We'll provide additional details as we get closer to the event date.

But until that time, continue to break down barriers by celebrating the fascinating angles of math (pun fully intended). In addition to our industry-leading collection of brainteasers, Fat Brain Toys has a number of items that make math fun. Here are a few ideas:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Land of Misfit Toys?



As a parent and the owner of a toy company, I watch with keen interest as every new holiday toy catalog floods my mailbox. In flipping through the respective catalogs of mega-retailers Target & Walmart, I must admit that I became a bit agitated. No, it wasn't because of their aggressive "Rollback" prices or their $350 worth of coupons, it was the toys themselves.

You see, as an independent, specialty toy retailer, Fat Brain Toys sells very different toys than what I saw in these catalogs. While I know that WE stock thousands of quality toys & games, I was troubled to think that most of America will only see what is on the shelves of these prominent retailers. And that's a real shame...here's why:

1) So much of mass market retailing revolves around licensing, TV characters and movie tie-ins. It makes sense, kids identify with what they're watching on TV and seeing in the movies, so it's an easy sale. But what happens when the character fad fades? And why is Mickey Mouse playing a guitar anyway? In today's "disposable toy" mentality, maybe it's just assumed that the toy will make it's way to the trash can long before the interest in the character fades.

But we look at toys very differently at Fat Brain Toys. First, we sell toys that are inherently interesting...toys that don't need a silly character slapped on the side to make it entertaining. Second, we seek out products that are such high quality that they can be passed down from one sibling to the next, or maybe even one generation to the next!

2) I was frankly kind of disgusted to see the number of violent and provocative toys displayed throughout these retailers' catalogs. Don't get me wrong, as a kid, one of my favorite activities was dumping out a pile of army men on the floor and waging epic (though miniature, green plastic) battles. But as with so many things in life, it's all about moderation.

Rather than filling little Bobby's insatiable imagination with toys that trend towards violence, how about filling some of his time with crafts, science kits, brainteasers, or construction-based toys that encourage creativity and problem solving.

3) And what happened to variety? Each catalog is basically Barbie, Elmo, Star Wars, Cars, and Leap Frog sandwiched between a cover emblazoned with each respective company logo. While these retailers may be selling the "hot" toys, they sure aren't selling the innovative ones!

It's a little known secret that most good toys start out in the specialty market, then once proven successful are rolled out the next year as the "next big thing". If you're looking for variety and innovation, step in the door of your local specialty retailer and you'll be exposed to a toy world that you may not have known even exists!

So this year, think outside the "big box" and instead choose to "shop small"! In it's second year, American Express OPEN is sponsoring "Small Business Saturday" on Saturday, November 26th. It's an opportunity for people across the country to come out and shop to support their favorite local businesses. Click here for more details about Small Business Saturday: https://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday





Monday, September 19, 2011

What We Learned at "The Book

Background
As part of the Big Break for Small Business contest, we had the great fortune of spending two days this past August at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. For those of you who are not familiar with the contest, American Express OPEN and Facebook teamed up to provide five companies with a “big break”. Specifically, they wanted to give five small businesses the opportunity to grow their businesses by utilizing social media. By combining hands-on training from Facebook experts, and a cash prize by American Express OPEN, it would give these small businesses a unique opportunity to accelerate the growth of their business. 
Just 45 days since our return, I’m pleased to report that we’re making significant progress AND beginning to reap the benefits of an enhanced focus on social media.
In this blog post, we’d like to share a few of the learnings that we walked away with and give a couple examples of how we’re putting it into practice in our business. While we’re not pretending to be experts in social media, Facebook opened their doors to us and we want to do our part to “pay it forward”.
American Express OPEN will also be producing a series of videos that will document our learnings and provide even more resources for small businesses. Once those are published, they’ll be available at http://www.facebook.com/OPEN
What We Learned (for business & organizations)
While it’s impossible to encapsulate all our learnings into such a brief document as this, there were a few key concepts that made an impression on us and our outlook towards social media. Some of these learnings may sound basic on the surface, but as is often the case, it’s the mastery of fundamentals that separate the great companies from the good.
The official Facebook-for-business marketing plan is “Build, Engage, Amplify”. While the complete “Best Practice Guide” can be downloaded directly from Facebook (http://www.facebook-studio.com/fbassets/media/856/FacebookBestPracticeGuide.pdf), allow me to elaborate on what it meant to me.
Build
The basic concept here is START your social initiative. Build a Facebook page for your business or organization. Utilize one of Facebook’s many pre-built plugins. Extend your basic page with a custom app. Bottom line, get off the sidelines and into the game. There are a number of advanced steps you can take, but not until you take that important first step.
Another important concept is to “bake” social media in at the beginning - make your marketing efforts “social by design”. We are perfect examples of this...or should I say, perfect offenders of this concept. Like most small businesses, we already have a lot on our plate and sometimes that the position that “I can’t possibly add another task to my schedule”. The notion of “social by design” is more about weaving social media into everything we do versus treating it as some disparate marketing function. Baked in at the start, social media will become a natural extension of your brand and an organic component of your marketing efforts.
Engage
Once you have created the social platform, it’s time to engage your customer base. For me, the true meaning of the word “engage” had eluded me. As a marketer, I thought I had been “engaging” my customers for years, when in fact I was simply broadcasting to them. Engaging is all about creating a conversation, and by definition you need at least two parties involved to converse. There are a number of ways that a business can interact with their customers in the social web, but the key concept is to stop talking TO them and start communicating WITH them.
Some important tips when engaging your customers:
  • Keep it human. One of my biggest pet peeves with e-commerce companies is when they build up a technological wall from their customers and utilize their website as if it were an order taking robot. Social media is not only your chance to bring a human touch to your company, but it’s practically a requirement. 
  • Give it a voice. Having a voice is part of keeping it human, but make sure that your voice is consistent and representative of the brand you wish to project. It can be more conversational, but make sure that it’s in line with the goals and greater mission of your organization.
  • Keep it timely and relevant. Make an effort to engage your customers on a frequent basis, but don’t force it on them. Make it meaningful.
  • Reward your customers. Give them a tangible reason for becoming your “friend” by utilizing Facebook’s unique features or by providing exclusive offerings for friends only.
  • Listen. Like any conversation, it’s important to listen (at least) as much as you speak. In the context of Facebook, carefully observe the responses you get to various posts. Are you getting a lot of likes on certain content and not others? Are your customers commenting on your videos, but not photos? What are customers saying about your business, your products, your service? Listen attentively and adjust your engagement as necessary.
Amplify
Once you’ve built something and begun to engage your customers, now it’s time to amplify! Originally on Facebook, amplification only happened organically by the nature of friends sharing with friends, who shared with more friends, who then shared with other friends, etc. Facebook now has a variety of sophisticated tools that allow you to take a more proactive role in the amplification process. 
Ads
While online sponsored ads have existed for well over a decade, the enlightened nature of the Facebook platform has taken sponsored ads to a whole new level of targeting. In the “old world” way of doing sponsored search, you would target hundreds of potential keywords, adjust their respective bids and copy in hopes of finding a favorable ROI for a small portion of those keywords. These were simply the only levers that you could pull. In contrast, thanks to the myriad of data that individuals volunteer about themselves to build their Facebook profile, it’s now possible to target an ad to a very specific set of consumers. For instance, if I owned a tuxedo shop in Omaha, I could create an ad that says “Best Prom Tuxedos in Omaha” and display this ad during the months of March and April only to male high school students in Omaha, Nebraska. Think about your own business or organization. How valuable would your online advertising be if you could tailor your marketing message to your exact demographic?
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored Stories are perhaps the purest example of amplification on Facebook. Every time someone interacts with your business, that action briefly appears as part of their News Feed. With Sponsored Stories, that action is highlighted in the right column of their friends’ Facebook page as well, amplifying the original action and accelerating the word of mouth impact for your business.
There are a number of other technologies and tactics that could be classified as Build, Engage, or Amplify depending upon where you are in your social media evolution including: Social Plugins, Graph API, Events, Places, and Deals. And it’s important to note that social media is evolving quickly. Just as the technologies that preceded it, it’s likely that social media will look very different five years from now. But that is no excuse to procrastinate another day! Social media is here to stay and can provide important benefits for your organization...now.
How We’re Applying Social Media
Since our Facebook visit, we’ve had some time to gain perspective. There were some things we were already doing well. There were a few simple things that needed to be improved. And then there were still other things things that needed serious work. But most importantly, we have begun baking social media into all facets of our business. These changes are subtle in some areas while dramatic in others. But make no mistake, we intend to use the gift we’ve been given. 
A couple examples of how we’ve baked social media into our marketing efforts:
Free Toy Tuesday & Free Game Friday
Every week we give our Facebook friends the opportunity to win one of our fantastic toys & games. A contest like this serves several purposes:
  1. It gives us an opportunity to grow our fan-base and prospect list
  2. It gives us the opportunity to gain goodwill by putting free toys & games into the hands of our wonderful customers
  3. It creates a viral effect by friends sharing with their friends
Fat Brain Toy Awards
While we’ve been hosting the Fat Brain Toy Awards on fatbraintoys.com for the past three years, this year we made the leap to integrate Facebook into the voting mechanism. Our customers can now either vote for or “Like” a given product. This was a great example of an application that was ripe for social media - all it took was a little advance planning to bake in the social media component. Try it for yourself at: https://apps.facebook.com/fatbraintoyawards/
In the coming weeks and months, look for a Facebook “Connect” login in our order process, allowing customers quick and easy access to their shipping information. And look for several exciting social apps including a Gift Wizard, Photo Sharing and Gift Registry. 
But Does Social Media Really Work?
There is a lot of buzz around social media, but as a small business owner, should I spend time and money on an unproven marketing medium? Twelve months ago, I was asking the same question. But today, I have both a great appreciation for the value of social media, but more importantly I have cold-hard numbers that are beginning to paint a positive picture:
    • On July 5th, when the Big Break voting began, we had 947 Facebook likes. By the conclusion of the contest, we had accumulated 2,488. As of this writing, we’re are in excess of 7,000. So while we worked very hard during the course of the contest, we’ve added another 4,500 since the contest ended.
    • Friends are nice, but what about revenue? Year over year, we’ve seen a 281% increase in referrals and a 183% increase in revenue from Facebook visitors. 
We’re not there yet, but these are all promising signs that social media is working for us and can likely work for you too! Regardless of where you stand today, it’s time to get social!
If you have thoughts or questions for us, we encourage you to reply to this blog post.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Guest Blogger: Educator & Inventor Evelyn Christensen

School is beginning another year. It's a time of fresh starts, excitement, and high hopes. Parents are wondering, "What can we do to make this the best year yet for our kids education-wise?"

I'm an educator. I have a master's in mathematics and a doctorate in education. I've taught at lots of different levels, but my favorite is lower elementary, because the kids that age have such a sense of wonder and an eagerness to learn. My best advice to parents for the new school year, regardless of the age of your child, is to nurture that wonder, curiosity, and desire to learn. These are precious gifts, which can easily be lost in our high-speed, hurry-up-to-the-next-thing-on-our-schedule culture.

Take the time to listen to your children. Encourage them to ask questions. Share with them your own questions. "How do robins find worms hidden in the ground?" "Where do butterflies go in a storm?" "Why are children starving in the world?".... Some questions have answers. Help your child find them. Some questions don't have answers, but discussing them can still be worthwhile.

Encourage your children to view intellectual challenges as fun! I was on an internet discussion board recently where a parent posted a complaint about a math problem on her child's standardized test for identifying gifted students. The problem was something like "If the cost of an item is $3 plus half the cost, what is the cost?" (The answer, by the way, is not $4.50.) Numerous people responding to the post thought schools had no business asking such a challenging, tricky question. Most of them seemed to have a negative attitude about intellectual challenges and were probably passing that attitude on to their children.

But the fact of the matter is that our world is full of challenging problems, and we desperately need children to develop skills in using their minds to tackle them. If parents view intellectual challenges as fun and exciting, kids are likely to also. That's where Fat Brain Toys is such a wonderful resource. They offer countless products that are great for getting kids to stretch their minds, and do it in fun ways that kids will enjoy. Aba-Conundrums, which I developed, is one such example. It's an award-winning set of puzzles based on the abacus, and is a set that parents and kids can enjoy together.

Help your child find ways to make routine school assignments interesting. Let's face it--some of the things kids need to learn, like math facts and spelling words, may not seem very exciting. Try to find ways to turn the assignments into a game or fun activity for your child. Fat Brain Toys can again provide assistance. With learning math facts, for example, their Math Busters set of books can make what is sometimes an arduous task into an activity kids can look forward to.

Encourage your child's creativity. When children have an opportunity to express themselves creatively in the learning process, they're more likely to find the experience satisfying and rewarding. Writing and art are obviously great areas for creativity. But even in subjects like math, children can be creative. For example, with the Math Busters and Aba-Conundrums mentioned above, once your child has done several of the activities, you can suggest that they try creating one of the puzzles themselves. They'll exercise their brain in the process, and will love challenging you to solve their creation!

We all want the very best for our children, and education plays such an important role in their development and in who they will become. I'm praying for you as you try to help your child have the best learning experience possible this year!

About Evelyn...
Evelyn Christensen has a doctorate in education and has taught at levels from kindergarten to graduate school. Her favorite level is elementary. She loves to create resources to help kids stretch their minds and to make learning fun for them. More than 45 of her educational puzzle books and math games have been published. Her two most recent ones published by Fat Brain Toy Co. received awards: Aba-Conundrums a Parents' Choice Award, and Inchimals a Teachers' Choice Award and a NAPPA Gold. She is also the author of Fat Brain Toy Co.'s Math Busters book series. Evelyn also writes stories, poems, and puzzles for children's magazines. She has four grown children and lives in Lexington, KY with her husband Ralph. You may contact Evelyn at evelynchristensen.com.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Social Awakening for Fat Brain Toys

Mark & Erik presenting to the Big Break group
Big Break Contest Background
We recently returned from an extraordinary visit to Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. What on earth was a toy company like Fat Brain Toys doing at “the Book”? As part of the Big Break for Small Business contest sponsored by Facebook and American Express OPEN, Fat Brain Toys had won the proverbial lottery, being chosen as one of just five companies out of 11,000 entrants to spend two days with Facebook experts.
For those of you who are not familiar with the contest, American Express OPEN and Facebook teamed up earlier this year to provide five companies with a “big break”. Specifically, they wanted to give five small businesses the opportunity to grow their businesses by utilizing social media. By combining hands-on training from Facebook experts, and a cash prize by American Express OPEN, it would give these small businesses a unique opportunity to accelerate the growth of their business. It truly would be a “big break”.
But why would Facebook and American Express OPEN bother to do this? As the lucky winner, I must admit that I didn’t fully understand myself...I was just grateful for the opportunity. It didn’t take long to realize that through this contest, we had simply been chosen as missionaries - real life case studies of how social media could impact small business.
While we intend to leverage our learnings to improve our business and the services we provide to our customers, we also want we to do our part to extend what Facebook and American Express OPEN started. We want to help other small businesses succeed too! As a follow-up to this document, we will share some of the key learnings that we walked away with and our personal pledge to help other small businesses. Of course one visit to Facebook does not make us experts in the field of social media. Then again, we are a living and evolving case study that will be in trenches - building, engaging, testing, analyzing, and learning as we go.
American Express OPEN will also be producing a series of videos that will document our learnings and provide even more resources for small businesses. Once those are published, they’ll be available at http://www.facebook.com/OPEN
The Winners
For those of you who voted in the contest, you might be curious about the other winners in the contest. I’ve had numerous friends and family already ask me, “So did you get to meet Big Daddy?”. Yes, I had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Gordon and Darquia of Big Daddy’s BBQ, but also with the owners of Distinctive Gardens, HOPELights and Spoonflower. The thing that amazed me the most was that each of the owners were exactly who they appeared to be on their videos: genuine, gracious, friendly, savvy, and absolutely passionate about their businesses. 
Big Daddy’s BBQ - each time Gordon opened his mouth, he either had us laughing or crying. His story is truly the stuff that American dreams are made of.
Distinctive Gardens - Bud is the tie-dye wearing “face” of the company, but Lisa sits quietly in the background making things happen - including an impressive social media initiative. One of the things that struck me most about Distinctive Gardens is their enduring commitment to their community, and in return, their community’s warm support of them.
HOPELights - Dawn took her own personal challenges, combined it with deep marketing expertise, and created inspirational tools that help the families of children with special needs throughout the country. Her passion for kids with special needs is undeniable...and infectious.
Spoonflower - Inspired by his wife’s simple insight, Stephen Fraser and partner Gart Davis have set out to infuse the otherwise old-school field of fabric design with personalization and high-technology. These seasoned entrepreneurs are giving artists an entirely new medium from which to create.
While we entered the contest as competitors, we all learned from each other throughout the contest and walked away with great mutual respect for each other. Keep an eye out for these companies as they continue to flourish and make an indelible impact in their respective fields.
How Fat Brain Toys Will Apply Social Media
As I write this, with my mind still buzzing with the possibilities of how social media can be deployed in our business, I’m still finalizing my social media to-do list. There were some things we were already doing well. There are a few simple things that can be improved. Still other things things that need to be seriously evolved. Most importantly, we will begin baking social media into all facets of our business. This will be subtle in some areas while dramatic in others. But make no mistake, we intend to use the gift we’ve been given. 
In the coming weeks and months, look for a Facebook “Connect” login in our order process, allowing customers quick and easy access to their shipping information. Look for several exciting social apps for our Fat Brain Toy Awards, Gift Wizard, and Gift Registry. And of course, look for a significantly improved Facebook presence.
All of this is squarely focused on one goal: To bring our unique brand of quality toys & games to even more American households. For nearly nine years now, we’ve been building a foundation for something great. We see social media as the means for accelerating that recognition in the marketplace. As always, we thank you for your support and will continue to work hard to earn your patronage.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Referendum for Specialty Toys


It’s not every day that specialty toys and games are raised to the average consumer consciousness. But that’s precisely what has occurred thanks to a contest sponsored by Facebook and American Express OPEN.

The contest was created to give five small businesses the opportunity to win a two-day, one-on-one social media makeover at Facebook headquarters and $20,000 to help grow their business. While more than 11,000 companies entered the contest, Nebraska-based Fat Brain Toys was the only toy company to be chosen as a finalist.

Why is this significant? Backed by the media-savvy Facebook and the deep pockets of American Express, this contest has garnered national attention and drawn in hundreds of thousands of voters, many of which listened to Fat Brain Toys’ co-founder Mark Carson talk about the unique benefits of “specialty toys”. While the term is thrown around liberally in the toy industry, do consumers really know what a specialty toy is, where they can purchase one, or why it matters?

It's no mystery that the impressions of most consumers are defined by what they see and hear. With the proliferation of big box retailers, most consumers only see the toys which make it to the shelves of their nearest “big box” retailer. And driven by television ads and movie tie-ins, often times kids are telling their parents they only want the latest gadget they just saw on TV.

If you're a consumer who has been swept up in this mass market vortex, you may not even be aware of what you're missing.

Think about it this way: Specialty toys are to kids what fruit is to a healthy diet. Sure, it's fun to slam down a candy bar every now and then, but if your diet consists of nothing but junk food, what becomes of your health? So too with a child's diet of toys. To extend the analogy - YOU ARE WHAT YOU PLAY.

Specialty toys are fundamentally a different breed. Whereas most mass market toys are driven by licensed characters and movie tie-ins, specialty toys must be entertaining and intriguing at their very core to sustain a child's interest. In a nutshell, that is what defines a specialty toy. The question every consumer needs to ask themselves is: Will the toy I’m purchasing sustain my child's interest after the allure of the latest character craze fades?

Sadly, the only problem with specialty toys is that they are more difficult to find. Often, a special trip to a local neighborhood toy store or a museum gift shop is necessary to find these quality toys.

That's where it all ties back to this contest.

Fat Brain Toys is attempting something very difficult. They are trying to re-program the American consumer to rethink their choice in toys. They are trying to bring awareness to the fact that a good toy diet is every bit as important as a healthy food diet. They want to feed our children a balanced diet of wholesome toys in hopes that they are intellectually prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

So please, support the specialty toy industry by casting a vote for Fat Brain Toys in the "Big Break for Small Business" contest today. The last day of voting is Tuesday, July 19th.

You can view Fat Brain Toys' video entry here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7N4iekNP2WA

Voting for Fat Brain Toys takes place here:
http://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday?sk=app_140670829343013

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Childlike Sense of Wonder

No doubt you've already seen or heard about Randy Pausch and his now famous, 'Last Lecture'. With so much coverage about this topic, you may ask why we're "piling on". First off, this is the type of message that simply can't be heard too much or too often. In our society where virtually all media coverage is dominated by war and politics and violence, a story about courage in the face of tragedy is not only refreshing, but necessary. Second, Randy speaks at length about nurturing a "childlike sense of wonder" which of course is at the very heart of why Fat Brain Toys exists. We often preach that what we sell are not JUST toys - rather they are the tools of childhood - encouraging imagination, exploration, self-expression, and interaction. But in Randy's words, "did you catch the head fake?". Toys are not just for kids! In fact, a strong argument could be made that adults need toys much more so than kids. When we begin losing that "childlike sense of wonder", we are losing one of our most valuable assets - our ability to use our imagination, our willingness to push the limits of the envelope, our inclination to take time to stop and smell the proverbial roses. So challenge yourself today, and EVERYDAY, to stoke the fire of wonderment in yourself and in those around you...and maybe you too will live life with the same zest of Randy Pausch.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Make: The Magazine

Passing through the Los Angeles airport last week, looking through a magazine rack, an odd-sized magazine caught my eye. Actually, it was probably the water rocket and zip line on the cover that grabbed my attention, but I knew immediately that it was for me! The magazine, Make:, is a fascinating view into the world of "DIY" (Do It Yourself). But don't confuse Make: with a magazine like Popular Woodworking. While each issue contains several "how to" projects of things like building an electric wind turbine or weather station, it also celebrates the creativity and resourcefulness of the geeks, inventors, and do-it-yourselfers who are pushing the envelopes in their very own garage workshops. In fact, I was so inspired by the magazine that upon my return home, I immediately ordered their t-shirt which carries the following motto: "Void your warranty, violate a user agreement, fry a circuit, blow a fuse, poke an eye out.." While I'm in no way advocating that our customers poke their eyes out (in fact I highly discourage it), this aphorism is an affirmation for many of the things that we're trying to achieve at Fat Brain Toys. Think different. Push the envelope. Challenge conventional wisdom. Think outside the box. This is where genius and innovation live. As it relates to toys, resist the temptation to buy the cheap plastic toys that have no redeeming value. Put open-ended, creative toys in the hands of children today, and they'll become the innovators and problem-solvers of tomorrow. To find out more about Make:, visit their website at http://www.makezine.com

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Where in the World...?

When we first began this business, we eagerly plotted each and every sale with stick pins on a big map of the USA. While this exercise was primarily aimed at giving our children an education on how far reaching our business could be, it also proved to be a powerful reminder for us adults as well. But of course as our order volumes grew, our map quickly degraded into a massive blur of colored stick pins and we eventually discarded our map into the dumpster.

When Google first introduced their mapping service, it immediately conjured up that image of our original sales map. So I put it on my to-do list to create a digital version of the sales map using the Google Maps API. It turned out better than I could have ever imagined! Not only can you get a visual of where our orders are being shipped to, but be clicking on any stick pin, you can actually see what was ordered too. Even though we've shipped toys to over 88 countries around the world, unfortunately at this time we're only able to plot U.S. orders on our map (we'll work on that though!).

One other thing I'd like to draw attention to is the location of Fat Brain Toys smack dab in the middle of the country. Of course we didn't plan it that way (as I was born and raised here), but our central location gives us the ability to provide ultra-fast shipping to the entire country from East to West!

I hope you enjoy this look into Fat Brain Toys! Click here to view our "Where in the World" interactive map...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Failure Is Not An Option

This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch a great documentary on the History Channel entitled, "Failure Is Not An Option." Based on a book of the same name, it was authored by Gene Kranz, the Flight Director for numerous space missions, including the famous Apollo 13 mission. It was a fascinating view into the brilliant people and events that made man's trip to the moon possible. The program concluded with a plea from Gene Kranz to the parents and children of today's generation: inspire our youth to excel in Science and Math in order that they may rise to the challenges of tomorrow.

I must say I took some pride in knowing that in our own small way, we're doing our part to inspire a new generation of engineers, architects, scientists and mathematicians. And more importantly, I think it's wonderful that so many parents are investing in their children's future - by buying them toys that entertain AND educate. Will it be our children who take us beyond the moon? Give them the tools they need to grow their mind and anything is possible!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Boys will be boys, and so will a lot of middle-age men." Kin Hubbard

Restoring men to unexpected boyhood is one of our proudest achievements. When this review hit my computer recently-I couldn't help but grin.

"GeoMag set 132 piece color
I knew the GeoMag construction set from a friend and I was immediately fascinated. So I decided to give a set to another friend for his birthday. It was a full hit ! So here we were, two fully-grown men in their sixties, starting to put interesting shapes together within minutes of opening the package. I think our wives thought we had lost our minds. So ? What's wrong with that ? There were memories of blissful boyhood whafting through the air ..... ah, happiness!
Manfred MacKeben"

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Kite Flyers Paradise

My family and I just returned from our family vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I had told my wife that it would be a great place to relax, take in some sunshine while we sit on the beach and stick our toes in the surf. Secretly I had been planning the ultimate kite-enthusiast vacation! It was no mistake that the Wright Brothers chose the Outer Banks for the location of their historic first flight . . . steady winds and massive sand dunes lend themselves to all types of airborne activities from land-based kiting, to kite boarding, to hang gliding.

Partially out of vacation-induced laziness, and partially out of curiosity, I left our Big Sled kite tethered to our deck all night long. To my absolute delight, I awoke early the next morning to see the Big Sled still sailing proudly in the wind. We also performed several other experiments with the Big Sled including sending up "line laundry" and attaching other smaller parafoils to the same line.

By far my favorite kiting memory was my son and I flying dualing T-Foils on a large sand dune overlooking our home. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Outer Banks, I highly recommend it. However, much of the same thrill and bonding can be accomplished much closer to home. So next time the wind is blowing, pack up your family and your favorite kites and make a memory right in your own neighborhood.