Maple Landmark Woodcraft: Middlebury Toy Company Garners National Attention With New Line
The growing interest in products free of lead paint or other hazardous finishes resulted in great market interest for the company. Eureka! Winning Ways helped take their ideas to market quickly to capitalize on the market opportunity, and has already resulted in a product line that could become one-quarter of their overall business.
Maple Landmark Woodcraft, in Middlebury, Vermont is a manufacturer of small wood toys, games, and giftware. Started in 1979, the company sells wholesale to toy stores and gift shops, and also direct through its catalog and website. Many of the 37 employees include members of owner Mike Rainville’s extended family, which makes for a close-knit workforce.
Recent years have provided new and unique challenges to Maple Landmark. The company has embarked on Lean manufacturing initiatives that have made their processes more efficient and in turn increased capacity. To fill that capacity, the company had many ideas but knew they would benefit from a process-like Eureka! Winning Ways-that would help to bring those ideas to life and into the marketplace.
In addition, recalls of toys made in China and other countries had made news headlines, generating a tremendous surge in interest in American-made toys. The Maple Landmark factory was busy and the staff exhausted, but the company knew that a new ideas-to-market process could be extremely valuable for the long term.
VMEC’s Initial Growth Services Offering: Eureka! Winning Ways
Building upon our success in helping manufacturers reduce their bottom-line costs through process improvements, VMEC is now focusing on growth in top-line sales for manufacturers. Eureka! Winning Ways is the first of the VMEC Growth Services to be introduced. Developed in partnership with Doug Hall of Eureka! Ranch in Cincinnati, Ohio and the national Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), the program is the first scientifically based process to guide companies to systematically and significantly grow their businesses. Specifically, the program provides a disciplined methodology and analytical tools to create new ideas, discover market opportunities for these ideas, and efficiently drive the best ideas into development.
Of the four ideas the company tested after its initial Eureka session, Rainville decided to move ahead with one that would go beyond the inherent “natural” aspects of wooden toys and develop a full line of toys that are ultimately safe, chemical free, and green.
The company utilized laser engraving for details rather than paint, and targeted toys for children in the age range “between rattles and age 2,” said Rainville. The holiday rush slowed down the company’s progress through the Trallblazer process, but by mid-February of 2008 (four months after the initial Eureka session), the company introduced its Schoolhouse Naturals product line. Buyers welcomed the new line, which opened the door for the company to a new segment of customers from the eco-friendly and eco-baby industries. The toys are natural wood with no added chemicals other than a little wood glue where needed.
Schoolhouse Naturals has attracted a great deal of publicity for Maple Landmark Woodcraft, including a story on CNN. Creative Child Magazine has named two of the new Schoolhouse Naturals products to their 2008 Honor Roll. The Push N’ Pulls garnered the 2008 Preferred Choice Award in the Toddler Toys category while the Shape Sorter Bench was named Toy of the Year in the Toddler Block Toys category.
The company has already realized $100,000 in sales for the new line in the six months since the line launched, and expects to double that figure as they insert and rebrand other existing product lines within Schoolhouse Naturals. Rainville forecasts that Schoolhouse Naturals sales could double next year and grow to become 25% of their total business.
Reaction to Eureka! Winning Ways and VMEC Growth Services
“In our industry, it’s critical to keep developing new ideas to grow our market position. Eureka! Winning Ways put a structure to our new ideas, giving us a methodology to ask the questions we may have otherwise not taken the time to explore but which are necessary for launching a new idea,” Mike Rainville, Owner, Maple Landmark Woodcraft.