Mary Kay Russell

Meet the Mompreneur® of the Month for December 2009:

Mary Kay Russell

Lisle, IL

Mother of 4 boys ages 10, 15 16 and 18

My Biz:Kubit2Me, a game company.

What sparked my bright idea: Kubit2me started out as a reading comprehension game that I created to engage kids in discussions about books. As part of a volunteer-run book club that I developed in 2004 for my son’s 4th grade class, a group of kids got together to play the game. Some of the kids were chatty and unreserved, some were bashful and hesitant, some were quiet and restrained, and still others were, well, a little rowdy and rambunctious. My game, Kubit2me, was unveiled—a colorful, 6-inch soft plush cube with embellished denim pockets on each side. The game began as players tossed Kubit2me around the room, pulling cards from its pockets and taking part in what appeared to be spirited, meaningful conversation. Then something wonderful happened! Shy kids were talking, indifferent kids were suddenly engaged. Players couldn’t wait for Kubit2me to be tossed their way, as they eagerly shared ideas and listened to one another. As I watched lively communication fill up the room, I decided to create Kubit2me games so that kids of all ages could experience the magic that is communication.

How I played the game: I started out by spending about two years doing nothing but research … and lots of it! I decided to self-produce Kubit2me games, which meant that I would be wearing every hat. I began my research by educating myself on my target market, the toy industry, marketing & branding, intellectual property, overseas manufacturing, warehousing and fulfillment, sales and distribution, PR and advertising. Much of my research was done online; however I also took full advantage of the resources I had available to me through contacts shared by family and friends. I gained so much knowledge and insight through face-to-face meetings I set up with people in the toy industry, like toy reps, distributors, game designers, and other toy/game inventors, as well as attorneys, PR professionals, marketing/branding experts and graphic designers.

Greatest challenges: Because I did so much research and had a well-written business plan before actually investing any real money into the game or my business, I was very well prepared to move forward when the time was right. Thankfully, there were not too many surprises. I started my business with eyes wide open, ready to move forward with a Plan A, B and C!

The biggest challenge I’ve faced in the two years since launching Kubit2me has been the economy. I sell my games in specialty toy/gift stores, and like so many of us, specialty toy retailers have tightened their purse strings, spending their buying dollars on tried-and-true products with a record of sell-through success. In this economy, few retailers are willing to take a risk on new products with a limited track record.

My marketing moxie: With very limited marketing and advertising dollars in my budget, I’ve had to get creative about getting the word out about Kubit2me! The first thing I did was to get my product known in the toy industry by submitting game samples and editorial copy to trade magazines, and exhibiting at industry trade shows including Toy Fair and the Association of Specialty Toy Retailers (ASTRA). Kubit2me games are sold in specialty toy & gift stores across the country, and I hired independent toy/gift sales reps to sell the product line. I submitted my games for several toy awards, including Dr. Toy and Creative Child Magazine, and then placed award stickers on retail boxes for consumer shelf appeal.

For press coverage, I crafted press releases that were content specific dependent on the message I wanted to send, i.e. Games that Get Kids Talking, Holiday Gift Ideas for ‘Tweens, Award Winning Games, etc. I sent samples, pitch letters and press releases to newspaper editors, national magazines, local and national TV news programs, as well as special interest resource websites and bloggers that I felt were a good fit for my games.

Harnessing the power of social networks: Six months before launching my business, I joined, and I can’t emphasize enough how much the amazing women in this community have helped me through the different phases of my journey. Members eagerly share information and resources on the forums, and are always there with support and friendship. I’ve embraced other online communities like Twitter and Facebook as well, networking and connecting with bloggers, media outlets, retailers and consumers, and setting up a Facebook Fan Page. I’ve taken part in many blogger giveaways and periodically offer free shipping coupon codes on Twitter and Facebook, which has resulted in a dramatic increase in my online sales. As with any form of PR, I think it takes time, patience and persistence before you’ll see a notable increase in sales.

What’s next?I plan to keep doing whatever it takes to get Kubit2me into family rooms everywhere … And I’m very excited about moving forward with ideas I have for growing the Kubit2me brand!

Check out her store at Kubit2Me