A peek at what we make
Being that I make wooden toys, I need to be careful. Picky, even. Wood isn’t cheap (well, good wood isn’t), so I really need to be sure that what I’m making will have appeal. Of course, I don’t start pumping out toys and look for a reaction- by then the wood is used and it might be too late to recover costs if any of those toys are a flop.
MDF to the rescue!
Before I make a new toy, I start by making an MDF (a MDF? Luckily grammar tips from me are not for sale) pattern of what I intend to build. MDF is Medium Density Fiberboard, and it is a lot less expensive than the Oak or Mahogany that I buy. Plus, if the toy doesn’t seem like it will go over well, I can use the MDF for a different pattern, table saw push stick, impromptu drum stick if a good song comes on the radio, etc…
Once I have some of the bigger pattern pieces, I bring them out to my kids. My daughter is 3 and a half and my son is 6 months. My daughter is pretty quick to tell me what she thinks of the toy-in-progress and seems to take this time to mull over how it would be to own one herself. Obviously, I need to be a bit more interpretive in my son’s reactions, but a toothless grin seems to be as good as a “thumbs up”.
From here I go into “production mode” and start to figure out what jigs I can make to help make the process easier/more efficient/more precise. As I finish stages of production, back to the focus group! Another round of approval sends me to finishing the project. Assembly, final sanding and application of any oils or sealants that it might get and the toy is done. Then? That’s right! A final round of judging by the focus group.
Now, you might be thinking “But John, I don’t have any kids. You have a distinct advantage”. Well, remember I said that my daughter starts thinking over how it would be to own one of these toys? Typically by the time I finish one, she has decided what variation of this toy she would like (for instance, a purple version of my Biplane, or a black version of my Rocking Kitty). In turn, this means it’s time to start searching for suitable wood for her special requests. Do you know how hard it is to find 10/4 x 10/4 Purpleheart? Probably not, so take my word when I say it’s tough. Of course, it’s the least I can do for my focus group 🙂
Now, if you don’t have kids, it might be a little more difficult to find a focus group. Let me give some approaches I do NOT recommend:
– Don’t approach kids directly in public places. You will immediately put the parents on “What is this weirdo thinking” mode;
– Don’t have a bunch of toys in the trunk of your car, stopping people with kids as they pass by in the parking lot;
– Don’t walk around grunting like an ape. This has nothing to do with focus groups per se, it’s more of a general tip.
Some things you CAN try:
– Talk to a local daycare to see if they might be willing to let the kids play with one of your toys. It should be a non-toxic toy, and you may want to consider donating it to the daycare as a promotional item;
– Holidays are your friend- use, er I mean, ask the younger members of your extended family what they think of toys you have made or ones you are thinking of.
That pretty much covers what I have to say on focus groups. Hopefully there was something in there that will help you, or at least was able to keep you mildly entertained 🙂