Schoolhouse Naturals Rock Toy Industry
Maple Landmark Woodcraft located 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. The product mix has changed over the years, but Rainville’s early commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices remains the same.
Recent years have provided new and unique challenges for Maple Landmark. With assistance from VMEC, the company embarked on Lean manufacturing initiatives that have made their processes more efficient, and in turn, increased production capacity. Then in late 2007, product recalls of toys made in China and other countries made news headlines, generating a huge surge of interest in American-made toys. Maple Landmark knew they could benefit from a process that would help them bring profitable new ideas to life and into the marketplace. Knowing that within the many service offerings of VMEC is a focus on top-line sales growth for manufacturers, Mike contacted VMEC and arranged for a “Eureka! Winning Ways” program, the first scientifically based process to guide companies to systematically and significantly sustain and grow profitability. Specifically, the program provides a disciplined methodology and analytical tools to create new ideas, select the ideas with the highest probability of success, and efficiently drive the best ideas to market.
VMEC Growth Coaches led a Eureka! Idea Session with Maple Landmark and 68 ideas were created. Four ideas were selected and analyzed for market pull using Merwyn research tools. The company decided to move ahead with one of the ideas – to go beyond the inherent “natural” aspects of wooden toys and develop a full line of toys that are safe, chemical free and “green.” The idea was accelerated through the development process using rapid cycles of “Fail Fast, Fail Cheap, Get Smart” learning and weekly coaching by VMEC. The holiday rush slowed down the 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 to a new segment of customers from the eco-friendly and eco-baby industries. The toys are natural wood, primarily maple, 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 realized over $100,000 in sales for the new line in just the first year and expects to double that figure as they insert and rebrand other existing product lines within Schoolhouse Naturals. Rainville forecasts that Schoolhouse Naturals sales will grow to become 25% of their total business.
“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,” said owner Mike Rainville.