When we introduced the idea of the marshmallow shooter, industry leaders from reps to toymakers told us we were crazy, no one will buy a product that shoots food. They also told us our colors weren’t right for toys. Fortunately we didn’t listen to them. Retailers and consumers had a great reaction and Marshmallow Fun Company was born.
Never give up the search for the perfect business idea
My business practice has always been to be persistent, honest and treat people with dignity, and it’s always served me well. I had spent my career as an independent sales rep for companies like Perry Ellis, working with designers Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, as well as with Perry Ellis America when it was licensed to Levi Strauss. My wife, Kim’s career was also in the clothing/fashion industry with Donna Karan and she knew the importance of new items and trends. My friend, Johnny DeLaValdene, the serial entrepreneur dad and I used to stand on the sidelines of our boys’ soccer games and kick around ideas for businesses we could start that would create things the kids would like. But everything we came up with had already been covered. We never gave up the search.
It’s never too late to switch gears
Marshmallow Fun started when our son Jake had his 9th birthday party and we needed a party favor and activity. Kim came up with the idea of PVC pipe to blow marshmallows through. I made a trip to the hardware store and Jake and I were up half the night putting the homemade toys together as party favors for his guests. When Johnny dropped off his son for the party, it was complete mayhem. Kids were going bonkers shooting marshmallows everywhere and parents were getting in on the fun. “Ding!” Johnny pulled me aside and said, “I think this is the idea we’ve been looking for.”
Leaving the clothing industry and starting a toy company was the scariest time of my life.
I knew nothing about the toy industry. At 48 years old, with a family to support, lots of folks told me I was nuts to change careers and risk it all at this stage of my life. I spent many sleepless nights with nervousness about this new challenge but my gut told me it was right.
I had one foot in each of my jobs for quite a while, one foot in the clothing business and one foot trying to see if we could make Marshmallow Fun go. That’s when I had so many sleepless nights. When I finally told my clothing accounts I was quitting and doing this, they all told me I had lost my mind. But by then we were manufacturing Marshmallow Fun shooters and things were going well, and I was having so much fun doing it. The element of fun was much more apparent than in the clothing trade.
Managing stress and prioritizing tasks
It’s important to never take your eye off the ball. I was really clear on our goal and was focusing really hard on it. Eliminate unnecessary pressures of people pulling on you to do it their way. I always tell my kids, ‘You’ve got to think it to get it.’ It’s so easy to get fragmented.
At the same time, if you are getting red flags or feel that something may not be right, move off it quickly. Don’t spend your time and energy doing something that’s not going to work.
One thing that helped me with the stress is having really solid support from my family. They were behind me 100 percent.
No matter what your support system is, you’re really going to need it during a stressful time like making a career change or starting a business. Lean on them, because they’re what get you through.
Learn the ropes and trust your instincts
The second time we attended (NYC) with our first marshmallow shooter prototype, Hammacher Schlemmer loved the concept and told us they would purchase a container of our product. We had to scramble to finalize our designs and get financing for production to fill this order but we did it.
Since the beginning, we’ve listened to what people wanted and have a good instinct for producing product that will sell and be fun. It’s awesome having our kids involved in the business and helping us develop products kids love.
"How I Made My Millions" premieres Monday, January 30 at 9 p.m. ET | 12 a.m. ET
Beaver Raymond and his wife Kim, together with partners Johnny DeLaValdene, Jeff Phipps, Travis Hollman, Jeff Mitchell and Greg Dittmar own Marshmallow Fun Company based in Dallas, Texas.