News / Are You Kidding
We were visiting with friends yesterday and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to video their ADORABLE 5 year-old son playing with Margo and her babies. I can't tell you how much I love to see children play with our toys and to hear from our customers.
Here's some of what we've been hearing:
"I purchased your book and stuffed animal at the Union Depot Holiday Bake Sale. We LOVE it. My daughter LOVES it and I need to buy more from you for gifts! I’ll be buying some online. We read the book about 10 times last night before bed. And she sleeps with the baby goats and I sleep with the mommy goat J J"
"We just got Margo in the mail. The kids love having her give birth:)"
"My son takes Margo and the kids everywhere we go. He loves showing off the toys. They're a hit!"
"Hi! I bought this for our 4-H club. I think it will be a great tool for presentations."
"My in-laws sent us Margo and the book for Christmas. My girls LOVE IT! We have goats and are expecting our first kids in February, so this fits right in."
"This is the cutest way EVER to show how birth works!"
Thanks for all the great emails. I appreciate the support and feedback!
Lastly, you know how at the end of "Are You Kidding?" the duck asks the reader, "What are their names?"
My friend's son in the above video came up with my favorite name (so far) for the little brown goat -- "Big Wayne" -- and I heard through the grape vine that a little girl from western Minnesota came up with the perfect name of "Cool Whip" for the little white goat. Cool Whip? How cute is that? If your children have come up with any fun, unusual or interesting names for Margo's kids, I'd love to hear them!
Are You Kidding? Toy and Book are now available at The Eclectic Goat in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota, located at 413 Division St S.
The Midwest Mini Silky Show will be happening this weekend: Sept. 24th and 25th, at the Newtown County Fairground in Kentland, Indiana. The show was organized by Triple A Acres of Grant Park, Illinois, and by Westwind Acres in northern Indiana. There will be goat shows and judging, and a silent auction that includes Gardenagerie’s “Are You Kidding?” book and goat toy. So if you’re in the area, get on over to the fairgrounds and support your local goat people!
Last Monday I met with some pretty fabulous people: Becky from Lowertown Pop and Maria and Kevin from STYLED RETAIL. Because Gardenagerie was selected to be part of the Lowertown Pop event at the Union Depot in April 2017, we were given an hour of consultation to discuss marketing strategy, storytelling, networking, etc. All things that a newbie entrepreneur like myself needs help with. It was worth the four-hour drive down to the Twin Cities, and I was so energized to spend an hour with people who are really excited about Gardenagerie and what we are offering. After this meeting, I’m feeling validated. Polar opposite from how I felt after Gardenagerie’s Kickstarter Campaign failed a couple of years ago. But sometimes failure can be a good thing.
When I first designed the Margo-and-her-babies toy, I tried working with a broker on the West Coast to get the product made. The cost to get the first run of toys produced was pretty steep, so in April of 2014 we launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdsource money for the “Are You Kidding?” book and toy. The opening day of that campaign went well, and we got a lot of support from family and friends. But then the campaign fizzled and failed. Crowdfunding a toy through Kickstarter isn’t the same as raising money for a new tech gadget. And some people probably wondered why we were asking for so much money, trying to cover those steep start-up expenses.
I took it personally when the campaign finally ended, far from our all-or-nothing goal. I blamed the Kickstarter’s failure on the product idea, when in reality it was a logistical and marketing failure. The Kickstarter fail was depressing, humiliating and embarrassing. It seemed to me like there was no interest in the book or toy, in spite of the fact that many people had tried very hard to drum up support for the campaign. Sometimes it’s hard to see the positives when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the negatives.
The prototype toy we’d bought from the broker sat on my desk for nearly 2 years. Then one day in January of 2016, I found myself sitting and looking at the plush Margo with her 2 babies. My first thought was “That is the cutest toy ever made.” The depression, humiliation and embarrassment had all faded away. It was time to try again.
This time around I avoided the middle man. I did a ton of research, sourcing manufacturers. Initially I wanted to have the toys made in the USA, but I quickly found out that this is not as easy as it seems. There are very few plush toy factories in the USA and when I contacted them they either were just not interested (I couldn’t tell you why because they didn’t even bother to return my phone calls or emails) or they couldn’t produce a low MOQ (minimum order quantity) for a reasonable price. A couple of manufacturers also took issue with the complexity of our particular plush and opted to pass, or offered to have the toy made in China and act as the middle man. No thanks — been there done that.
So I started looking into China on my own. After about a week of online research, I selected a half dozen plush toy manufacturers and emailed inquiries. Every manufacturer I contacted responded with quotes within 48 hours. Emails were positive and timely. People may be uncomfortable hearing this, but it was an easier and a far more pleasurable experience tracking down a source with China than in the US. And since I was now dealing with the manufacturer rather than a broker, the cost of getting Margo and her kids manufactured was about half what I would have paid the first time around.
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too hard dealing with a manufacturer on the other side of the world. I’ve developed a great relationship with my sales contact “Sara” in China. She has spent hours (sometimes 2 hours at a time!) on Skype with me chatting about the details of the manufacturing process. Sara has worked hard to win my business, holding my hand from halfway around the world through every step of the process. We went through several prototypes for the toy, book, and a carrying bag, and Sara kept working on my behalf until I got just what I wanted. Shippers and Customs people were also very encouraging and helpful — just like Sara, it’s in their interest to help you succeed.
The new and improved Margo toy we introduced in the summer of 2016 is larger and softer, and we can offer it at a better price. The book is a hardcover instead of a paperback. And we added snaps to both momma and baby toys. So now not only does Margo give birth, she nurses. There was no nursing involved in the Kickstarter toy. I really love this addition and it would have been missed if the Kickstarter would have succeeded.
Our first shipment of toys and books arrived around the beginning of August. It was a smallish order, to test the market, but receiving a couple of pallets of shipping boxes from China was exhilarating and scary. As we unpacked the boxes, I thought my dreams were coming true, but would people be interested? We opened our online store Aug. 10, 2016, the same day we packed our supplies and set up a booth at the Beltrami County Fair. So how did it go?
The majority of people who see the toy or the book seem to really like it. At one point during the fair, Dan thought we should change our name from Gardenagerie to “Oh For Cute!” (a typical Minnesota-ism) because it was the reaction we got from people most frequently. Farmers liked it, but educators and people in health professions loved it. Once in a while, someone giggled nervously, averted their eyes, or expressed some uneasiness. But mostly, the response has been positive. Our online experience has been similar. Lots of likes and shares on social media, and occasionally someone thinks it’s a bit inappropriate. Honestly, I never thought I was creating a toy that would create controversy. But, I’m okay with that. You can’t please everyone. And it has been great watching people we don’t even know challenging critics and defending the appropriateness of a birth and nursing toy for young kids. If something like Margo had existed years ago, I would’ve bought it for my kids in a heartbeat! And that’s the driving force behind the “Are You Kidding?” toy and book.
After a little over a month, we can say our hopes have been exceeded. Margo had a great first month. THANK YOU to everyone who has ordered from us! Our inventory is getting low, so I reordered a larger batch to be manufactured, which we expect to have before the holidays. However, if you’re hoping to give someone an “Are You Kidding” toy and/or book this holiday season, you may want to go ahead and order it now. We have about a quarter of our original supply left.
We just shipped out a box of “Are You Kidding? plush toys and books to Chimacum, Washington. Chimacum is a community on the agricultural eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The town’s motto is, “We grow food for YOU!” Among the innovative farmers of Jefferson County are Patricia Young and her partner, Steven, who operate Yaks in the Cradle Farm.
Patricia and Steven began in 2013 with the purchase of one baby bull yak. Rejected by his mother, the baby they named Lucky Jewel was bottle fed for six months and handled daily. Lucky Jewel became a fence line companion to a small herd of Pygora goats, and Patricia and Steven's love of yaks grew. In 2015, they purchased a starter batch of eleven yaks, and they began breeding their own herd! In addition to the yaks, the farm has Pygoras, three rescued alpacas and a plethora of sweet heritage laying hens.
Yaks in the Cradle Farm will be one of the new vendors at the Taylored Fibers Farm (http://tayloredfibers.com) in Quilcene during the Eighth Annual Olympic Peninsula Fiber Farm Tour, September 17th and 18th, 2016. They will be bringing raw yak fiber and other merchandise — including Gardenagerie's “Are You Kidding?” plush toy and storybook — for purchase and they’ll be showing “Turbo,” a six-year old Imperial Trim yak heifer.
There is no charge for visiting the farms and if you purchase items from any vendors you’ll receive a free ticket for a raffle to win a $50 gift certificate to Doc’s Marina Grill in Port Townsend or on Bainbridge Island! So stop by if you’re in the area and check out the yaks and goats, and “Are You Kidding?"
If you're in eastern North Carolina, go check out Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery, LLC! They sell goat's milk cheeses, goat milk soap, farm fresh eggs, farmstead meats, jellies, handmade crafts and "Are You Kidding?" plush toy and book!
We are pleased to announce that "Are You Kidding?" book and goat playset can be found in beautiful downtown Bemidji, MN at Chocolates Plus!
The County Fair was a blast! Margo must've given birth a thousand times over those 4 days!
A gardenagerie is a combination of a garden and a menagerie. Even before our family moved from New England back to the upper Midwest several years ago, we were already planning to fill our little hobby farm with dogs, cats, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and a big vegetable garden. Now, Gardenagerie is also the name of our family toy company, bringing a little bit of the small farm experience to kids everywhere.
The idea for the storybook Are You Kidding and the stuffed goat Margo and her kids came from Margo’s first kidding, a couple of years ago. We’ll tell you more about that story in this blog; and also the story of how the idea became a real thing. It became even more real when a truck delivered thirty boxes of toys and books from our contract manufacturer a couple of days ago. Stay tuned for more on that story, too.
In a few days, we’ll be introducing Margo and Are You Kidding online and at the Beltrami County Fair in northern Minnesota. Usually the fair is a chance for us to enter food, crafts, and photos into little competitions. Last year we did pretty well, although our scarecrow came in second. This year, we’re looking forward to introducing Margo – and hoping our scarecrow wins!