Samantha Martin comes from a long line of entrepreneurs who have found their niche in Hong Kong's thriving toy industry. Martin decided to return to toys after a career in public relations, launching Props in a Box in 2015. With help from her mother, a Hong Kong-based toy manufacturer, Martin created the make-believe play sets, each of which contains props, two character costumes and a background. Technology has come a long way since Martin's grandfather invented the first battery-operated toy; Props in a Box offers a Movie Maker App and editing tool, so children can create their own short films of their imaginary adventures.
Samantha explained her experience launching Props in a Box, the importance of her family's support and her plans for the future of the company in an interview with Business News Daily.
Business News Daily: In a nutshell, what service does your business provide?
Samantha Martin: Props in a Box combines nostalgic make-believe play kits with a Props in a Box Movie Maker App to record and save the memories. Each props "box" contains everything children need to perform and create make-believe stories, including two uncommon character costumes — such as the Astronaut and the Fisherman — and felt props with a large, whimsical backdrop. In addition, the free Props in a Box Movie Maker App offers you story starters and allows you to record your very own movie. The app also adds a title page and cast of characters, music and sound effects, and hand-drawn special effects. You can also share your movie on social media and via email.
BND: How long have you been in business?
Martin: The business started early 2015 and launched in November 2015.
BND: Did you start with a formal business plan? If not, how did you lay the groundwork for your business?
Martin: I started with an idea. Realizing no one had captured the market of nonlicensed make-believe play. During a time when parents were looking for Pinterest-type products and limiting their children's screen time, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of play and tech.
BND: How did you finance your endeavors, both initially and as your business grew?
Martin: I self-financed with savings and had enormous help from my mother who is a toy manufacturer in Hong Kong.
BND: How much did you invest personally?
Martin: Approximately $300,000.
BND: Is your business today what you originally envisioned at the outset, or has it changed significantly over time?
Martin: It is better than I envisioned. The quality of the product and the ease of the app are both beyond my expectations. The response to the product line has been incredible. From parents to buyers to press, their excitement has surprised me beyond my expectations.
BND: What are some lessons you've learned? Is there anything you would've done differently?
Martin: So many lessons. Overnight, I have had to become a logistics expert, [and] understand customs rules and regulations, shipping and 20-foot containers versus 40-foot containers [6 versus 12 meters], receiving, and distribution. I learned why companies use sales reps who are so knowledgeable and can seamlessly walk you though becoming a retail vendor. It's not something you want to try and do alone.
BND: What were the most important factors that contributed to your success?
Martin: Most definitely having a relationship with a seasoned and knowledgeable manufacturer. Working with my mother's firm Castlespring.com, I have a new respect for the world of manufacturing. Her years of experience in the toy industry and working with retailers were invaluable to me. She taught me about pricing items, product liability insurance, reducing costs, and implementing safety rules and regulations. She was a wealth of information, patience and understanding. Her team of engineers, quality-control personnel and shipping staff all held my hand through a very complicated process.
BND: What are the next steps you want to take as a business owner? How do you see yourself achieving those goals?
SM: Our next step is to expand the product line, introduce a lower-price-point line and to work on our retail relationships internationally. We are excited to showcase at the 2016 International Toy Fair in New York.
BND: What is your best advice to someone with a great business idea who is ready to give it a shot?
SM: Listen to those who know more, and surround yourself with people who have done this before. Look at mistakes as learning tools. Most importantly, have faith and have no fear. Fear often paralyses us and stops us from moving forward and growing. Finally, just do it. Don't think about the idea. Talk about the idea. Get out there and do it. If you don't, someone right behind you will.