Selling Your Vision

with Melissa Bernstein

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Finding stamina when you fail

Melissa Bernstein

Co-Founder of Melissa & Doug Toys, Sales Expert, Toy Inventor

Lessons Learned

You need stamina to survive the lean years. Identify your successes and be open to change the rest.

The adrenaline from getting a sale and then proving yourself to the customer is like nothing else.

Products that sell are visually compelling and can be quickly understood.


Lesson: Selling Your Vision with Melissa Bernstein

Step #6 Stamina: Finding stamina when you fail

We faced many, many years, I would say five to ten that were so, so tough that, honestly we thought about giving up. We planned for giving up. We had other ideas in mind if it didn't work. Those years were really, really tough. I think the reason we didn't give up, well, there are a few reasons. One is that we didn't like failure, and we knew that we never wanted to be where we were. We never wanted to work for someone else. We never wanted to be doing something that we didn't feel good about. We knew we were in an arena that we could make a difference and there was a path. I think the key for us is we did change a lot.

We were not the company we started with, and we knew that some of the paths we were going down were not correct. But we had a few core tenets that really were working that if we followed those and created, and for us it was changing our product honestly. We had a distribution model ironically, although people said it could never work and you could never go direct. We knew we were on to something with our distribution model. We knew we were on to something with the sales, the personal sales and forming that relationship, which no one had ever done. But our product didn't sell well.

And for someone, as I said, like myself who was very insecure and couldn't handle rejection, to be told to call someone and to push your product in there, and to be so excited, and then to call them back two weeks later and have them say it didn't sell, I still have all of them, is terrible. You feel like you've let them down. You feel just awful, and I couldn't have done that for much longer. I was literally again, similar to the banking, I was sort of withering away because I had none of that positive. You need that. It's almost like that fuel to keep you going is the success stories.

We had done educational programs for young kids to get them up off the couch and moving, and interacting with the kids in the program. The really interesting thing about them, they were great programs. I mean, parents loved them, reviewers loved them. But the problem was, and we learned a very valuable lesson through doing them, they were really hard to understand. You had no idea what was going on unless you got it and watched it and did it with your children. That was the reason they didn't sell well because most of our stores, although we had intended and hoped that they would really get behind it and help sell it, most of them really didn't.

They just sort of put it on a shelf and it didn't sell. No one knew about them. No one was coming in and asking for them, so they really didn't sell well, except in the areas where people really got behind them. So that was one of, as a product developer, one of the most important lessons we learned early on, which was, if you want a product to sell it has to be very visually appealing, very easy to understand, and one of those things that you can pick up and say, oh, I know what it is, I will buy this. And we hadn't done that with our first products, we had three of them. So I think when we decided to make a change it was, okay, we're done with that, having to really explain. These would only be successful if we depended on something out of our control, which was the store owner to really get behind these and push them their selves. And they did not do that to the extent that we needed to make this a success. So we took the control off of their hands and put it our own and said, "Okay, the control is 100% with us to create a product that jumps off the shelf, without anybody having to do anything other than give it the light of day on their shelf." And that's what our wooden toys were.

So we created our first wooden product, and our first wooden product was a completely different story, and it sold so much better. Still not an instant overnight success, but it sold well enough that when we called people back, suddenly it was, "Yeah, I sold half of those and I could use some more." That was all the fuel that we needed to know, to first feel the intoxication of sales. There's nothing more intoxicating than sales. It is like a drug that's not a drug. Because the adrenaline rush from getting the sale and then proving yourself is unlike anything else. It's like winning a marathon or winning first prize in a contest.

So when that feeling started to become a regular feeling, it was really, really exciting. And we knew we just had to fuel the channel and get more products that could help these stores, and more products that could build our name and really build what we had finally gotten some traction on. They were incredibly graphic, very low priced, beautiful quality. We took all the packaging off, so we made it very easy to see and understand. And it was like the sun came out. Here we had struggled so hard, it took us over a year to make our first product, tons of capital and it didn't sell well, ironically, because it was too complicated. Our first wooden product was a brainstorm that was like a minute, took us moments relatively to the other to make, and was an incredible success relative certainly to the first ones.

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