Founder of Glen Ellyn toy company dreams big
An interview with Jodi Bondi Norgaard, owner of Glen Ellyn-based Dream Big Toy Company.
Q: Describe your business. What do you do?
A: My product is a line of plush, sports-themed dolls called Go! Go! Sports Girls. The dolls are made to empower girls to be active, promote healthy life skills, and encourage creative play through sport. This month we launched a series of books to go along with six of the dolls. They will be sold individually and as a doll and book set called Read & Play. The 32-page illustrated books explore social-emotional growth through sport in engaging stories that empower children to "Dream Big and Go For It!"
Q: What made you start your business?
A: I never intended to go into the toy business seven years ago, but imagine browsing the store for toys with your 9-year-old daughter, and she picks up a doll wearing a half shirt, bellybutton ring, eye shadow and her name on the hang tag is 'Lovely Lola'. "Mommy, is this doll for me to play with?" she asked. That's what happened to me, and it inspired me to create the Go! Go! Sports Girl doll collection. I was pretty sure there wasn't a parent who wanted their daughter, young or old, to look like, aspire to be, or be called 'Lovely Lola.'
Q: What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?
A: Branding of the product has been my most difficult obstacle. My biggest competitors are Mattel, Disney and licensed characters, and I can't even touch their marketing power and dollars. If you stroll down the toy aisles of major retail stores it is saturated with pink, bling, and princesses. I have brought into the market a product that has none of this, so the problem is, how do I make the Go! Go! Sports Girl dolls and books stand out in the sea of pink? I once had a toy buyer tell me that he loved the line, but he couldn't put them on store shelves because they were not 'mainstream' enough and they weren't fashion dolls. I told him that change is never created by mainstream ideas and I am creating change. I believe this change is finally happening. Walmart is the first major retailer to put the Read & Plays in their toy aisle in 50 stores in Illinois this month. Walmart believes in our message and the need for change.
Q: What do you enjoy most about operating your business?
A: There is a lot of passion involved in my business. I like working together with media and retail to portray girls beyond stereotypes -- sending the message that girls can aspire to do more than wear a pink dress and tiara, and encourage them to be strong, smart, and adventurous. The response has been very positive.
Q: Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: No, as I mentioned above, I never intended to go into the toy business. However, I have always been interested in new ideas and becoming an entrepreneur. I started my first entrepreneurial business when I was 26.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: With the launch of the new Read & Plays, a lot is keeping me up at night! Becoming a Walmart vendor is a daunting process and I wanted to get everything right. Now that they're on the shelves, I wake up worrying how the Read & Plays will sell. I know worrying is useless, but sometimes I can't help it. To see my product come this far is exciting and I want to see the Go! Go! Sports Girls succeed!
Q: If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A: There is a lot of fear when starting a new business. Believe in yourself and don't let fear stop you.
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Dream Big Toy CompanyAddress: Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Owners: Jodi Bondi Norgaard
Year business started: 2009
Web address: www.gogosportsgirls.com