Sometimes your most vivid dreams vanish from your memory within seconds of your alarm going off. And sometimes, they stick around with you all day. Such was the case for TV producer Adam Reed, who had a dream about a children’s book in the middle of the night that nagged him so much that he wrote the entire thing on his phone while running on a treadmill the next morning. (“When I showed it to my wife, she said ‘You were clearly at a bar, not the gym,” Reed said, laughing.)
The book was called Bee in the Sea, which he self-published for fun. Reed never had any intention of becoming a children’s book author, nor did he foresee what would come next: becoming an award-winning toymaker. That first book led to Reed writing a second book, and creating a plush toy to go with it called Reindeer in Here. The book and toy combo debuted last year and sold out on Amazon within two hours on Black Friday. This year, Reed is going big with his big-eyed friend, expanding from online-only into 1,200 retail stores, including Hallmark and Learning Express.
Reed spoke with Entrepreneur about the birth of his idea and what it takes to grow and build momentum on a couple of hours of sleep a night.
What the elf?
“The idea for Reindeer in Here started when I was shopping in Kohl’s. I came across a wall of Elf on the Shelf stuff. I was thinking, ‘This has got to be the best thing since sliced bread!’ Now, I’m not here to bash it, it is an amazingly successful product that has clearly connected to millions of people, but when I opened a box, I had a bit of a visceral reaction. I thought that if I brought this home to my daughter, it would scare the crap out of her! You’re not supposed to touch the elf, and it is reporting back to Santa if you do bad things. It all felt negative. I literally put it back on the shelf. I wanted a holiday tradition for me and my family, but it didn’t feel right. Then I started doing my research and realized that there are millions of families out there who also don’t feel it’s right for them. So I set out to create an alternative — a positive one.”
A Christmas friend, not a spy
“The concept of Reindeer in Here is that it is a friend that a child carries around with them, and it “sends notes” to Santa at night that tells him what the child loves, who their friends are — things that will help Santa know the child better and help him know what they’d really love to get under the tree. But the bigger message of the toy and the book is that is that ‘being different is normal.’ Being different isn’t special, it is normal. That’s why you may notice that the Reindeer has one antler that is shorter than the other. And that message is what really resonated last year.”
So you have a great idea, now what?
“I didn’t know how to make a plush toy, I did not know how to package it — I didn’t know how to do any of this! So I just did a bunch of research on my own. I’d go to my day job, come home at night and spend some time with my family, and then from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. sit on the couch researching, reaching out to China and trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, I ended up being able to source everything I needed: I sourced the plush, self-published the book, found a box designer — I put all of those elements together and then basically I gambled a lot of money to bring it to market at a very expensive cost. It cost me double what I sold it for just to bring it to market. But that was OK because I wanted to test the market and in my gut knew there was a need.”
Black Friday bonanza
“Last year, we sold out in under two hours on Amazon on Black Friday. We became a number-one new release and number-one bestseller instantly. Three days after we sold out, I had 5,000 people signed up on email, basically begging me to get one. And I didn’t have any more! They were selling for $300 on eBay. They’re $29.99 retail, $32.99 on Amazon and Reindeerinhere.com. This year, we’re hopefully prepared. We’re going to be in over 1,200 retail stores. Last year’s revenue was in the tens of thousands, this year revenue will be in the millions.”
“We’ve had great success, but to be very candid, I wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach. Here’s why: Yes, we’ve sold through to 1,200 retailers and they have it and they can’t return. So that’s great. I’m not worried about online sales, but if it doesn’t sell through in retail, it’ll be much tougher next year. So I’m getting about three hours of sleep because now we’re in crunch time — we’ve been preparing for eight months leading up to this moment and I need to do everything I can to make sure it sells through.”
Making it easy for retailers
“Retailers are busy — they don’t have the time to go create social media posts and videos and all of that. So I wanted to make it easy on them. This year I created an entire retailer toolkit: photos, videos, an animated piece that they can play in their stores. And that’s part of the reason retailers responded to it. They usually have people just give them a product and that’s it. So we’re helping them sell. And with these assets, now all of these retailers are helping us grow a grassroots marketing PR campaign around the Reindeer as a new Christmas tradition. It’s fantastic.”
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