Selling Your Vision

with Melissa Bernstein

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Product Design

Developing the right products for the right users

Melissa Bernstein

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

Lessons Learned

Good product ideas can come from studying your own life and the challenges you face day to day.

Test your prototype rigorously with folks from different backgrounds.

Make sure pricing & sourcing are in line with your vision before you invest in design.


Lesson: Selling Your Vision with Melissa Bernstein

Step #8 Product Design: Developing the right products for the right users

The way it works is I will conceive the line and I will detail out the items that should be in it, which is really fun, and usually the way we work is we have a girl offering and a boy offering and a gender neutral offering. Sometimes if it it's a very girl-centric theme, we might just do girl and gender neutral knowing that unfortunately, given past history, there may not be a lot of boy users, so that way the girls could of course buy either. But we have a lot of gender neutral offerings, but we also realize a lot of girls still want to be princesses, you see the success of Frozen, and we offer everything.

Usually we try to have an offering for every type of child. So we skewed it out what the line would look like, then it goes over to pricing first. And we really make sure that I have an intended price that I would like and this has to be $4.99. I want it to be really accessible because it is something you're just stowing in your bag. So it goes over to pricing and sourcing and gets specked out exactly how the housing, this one happened to have a housing that was going to be a little costly because it is like the sub stick closure and a storage case that had to be molded, so we get that and make sure that we can hit the target price, which takes a little bit of time, maybe a week. Once it gets the thumbs up, yes it can be out there at $4.99 but these are your parameters, right? It can only be four pages. If you have pens, there can only be five pens. Then it gets completely spec'd out for the designers.

Years ago, we would design in a vacuum. The designer might make ten pages. We really could only afford four and it really was a nightmare. The designer was upset because they created a lot of extra artwork, we wasted time. So now we are more honed in our processes and we give the spec to the designer first. So then we choose which designer should work on it, which is really fun, and usually it's very clear because every designer has their own skills and then they're given the spec.

Usually then we talk about themes, "This one is going to be a farm, what do you think this scene should be?" And we have so much experience in these themes that I will be, "Okay, one should be barn, one should be a cow, one should be a horse, one should be the pasture." And we will either spec out exactly or some designers are so good that I will leave it to them to kind of "It's a farm them, have a couple of animals. Have a couple of scenes," and it will be left completely to them. It really depends on their own creative abilities. Some need exactly what it's going to be. Others are really creative within that.

So then they'll create the artwork, it comes to me after they sketch it and we have a whole process. There are a few of us that review the artwork and then it gets finished, we approve the artwork. It goes to be made a prototype of, the prototype comes back and then the prototype gets tested, tested, tested with a million different people: moms, I test it, everyone one does to make sure that the concept is good, that kids and parents love it. Then once that gets reviewed, changes get made, you get another sample back and then we have this thing we call RTP finally, which is released to production. That's like it's an RTP and finally its RTP'd and then it goes and it's produced.

It is a long process. It's very planned out now. I was not the one who did that. I am not at all a planner. I would just look at it and say, "Great" or not, but now, of course, it's all about sliding it in, making sure it comes out on time. So it's pretty programmed.

Basically, the way product works here is we start with a need. Usually, we are very simple. We are filling a need that exists in the market and usually that need comes out of something in my life given that I am a mom of six children and I'm with a lot of other moms who have children unfortunately, not six. We were trying to lead by example but, didn't work. It usually comes out of a need and one of the lines we've recently done is called "On the Go." This need came out of the fact that I'm always towing a few kids with me to other children's events and they never really have a lot to do.

So what I would always do at last minute, because I am very haphazard and last minute, as I'm leaving the house, I would throw a bunch of markers in my purse and a bunch of paper and a few stamps and usually be missing half the components. It would be a big mess and I'd be taking all this out at the game and putting it out for them but it was never complete and it was never neat and nice. I really felt like there should be a line that you could take with you. Put in your purse or backpack or a babysitter could put it in her little travel case and it would be very easy for kids to do and all the components would stow inside. It would be the perfect solution when you are at a game, at a doctor's office, in a restaurant, in the car, all these places you go.

So we created a line called "On the Go." And it's basically taking all my favorite arts and crafts play patterns. It's drawing, arts, stickers, crafts and putting them inside this really cool little holder that holds all the components very easily. They restore inside and it has all the things that you draw neatly contained within and you can easily pull them out, do the activity and then put them back in. And each one has a little bit of a wow factor.

We have this phrase we use at Melissa and Doug. Its four words and its low scale, high impact. And that's how we judge every product we make. We want to be really low scale, really easy for the child to do, but there is sort of a wow feature in it even if it's simple. A good example of this "On the Go" is the called the Water Wow. It is a water pen that stores in this little book and it has scenes. You just fill up the pen and it can stay with water in it inside the book and then you color these scenes with the water and the scene comes magically to life. Then it dries and it's reusable. It dries to how it was before and it's really one of those wow effects. And we love it when we see videos and parents tell us that their child was like, "Wow."

You know, another is a simple velvet coloring but it has patterns. When you color, you think you are just coloring a flat surface, but these amazing patterns emerge as you color with the markers or crayons or whatever you use. So it's another one. It's very simple, basic technologies. But with us, technology is not technology. It's just a simple wow factor built into all these kits and they are only a $4.99 retail, so they are accessible to everyone.

It was a really fun line. I planned it out very quickly, maybe about 20 skews which were 20 items in different categories, all my favorite categories, and we had some of our great artists draw them out. As they took shape, we said, "This is really exciting." And as parents tested them, they said, "Oh my gosh. I've been looking for this. This is exactly what I need." It's been a very, very successful line to the point where we are obviously, doubling the number of items in it. We've created a rack that holds all of them.

It filled a niche. Of course there were a lot of travel items on the market but nothing that was really $4.99 retail and had offerings in so many different areas; boy, girl, coloring, summer crafts; all kinds of different things. It's very varied.

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