[quote style=”boxed”]Striking a balance between the quest for growth and the need for control. This is a perpetual battle, but one that I think most entrepreneurs must face. It’s exciting to grow quickly, but with growth comes sacrifice.[/quote]
Mark Carson is the President and Co-founder of Fat Brain Toys, a Nebraska-based toy retailer and manufacturer. A self-taught developer, inventor and marketer, Mark, with his wife Karen, has built Fat Brain Toys into one of the nation’s largest independent toy retailers. In addition to it’s website (www.FatBrainToys.com), Fat Brain Toys operates a retail storefront, mails millions of direct mail catalogs each year, and wholesales their original line of specialty toys and games to over 1,000 stores worldwide. In 2011, Fat Brain Toys was named to the Hot 100 list by Internet Retailer Magazine and was nominated for Toy of the Year by the Toy Industry Association.
What are you working on right now?
Being a toy company right before the holidays, we’re obviously in the heat of the battle! With about 60% of our revenues crammed into a 40 day period, every day is a challenge to keep orders coming in and shipments going out.
Where did the idea for Fat Brain Toys come from?
The short story: my son. After finding it difficult to locate a specialty toy online, he suggested that I build a website to sell them ourselves. We started with 50 products 10 years ago and have since grown that to nearly 7,000!
What does your typical day look like?
While I have a great team in place, I’m still intimately involved with all operational aspects of the business, marketing, purchasing and technology. While I generally have a tangible goal in place for any given day, it’s often side tracked by various needs throughout the company. It can be very schizophrenic at times, but keeps my days interesting.
How do you bring ideas to life?
For me it’s about connecting dots. I’m always taking mental notes about completely unrelated things to my business. But I often find opportunities to apply those seemingly unrelated things in very creative ways to solve problems in my own business.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
DIY. There are two drivers in the do-it-yourself realm that I believe will make this trend explode in the coming years. First, new technology like 3D printing will revolutionize product development (and eventually manufacturing) in many industries. 3D printing today is analogous to desktop publishing in 90’s or website development in the last decade. It removes the barrier to entry and allows tremendous creative expression at a nominal cost. The other driver is Kickstarter (and other similar platforms). Once again removing the middleman, it puts the do-it-yourselfers in a very influential position.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked as a graphic “artist” at a trophy shop during college. While I was hired for my creative skills, I would sit at a desk for hours each day coloring in the lines of the output from a defective laser printer. Painful! I learned to carefully read job descriptions.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
There are so many things that I could have done differently in hindsight, but honestly that’s all part of the learning lesson and part of the adventure – so I can’t say that I would really do anything different.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be in tune with your customer. I’m not necessarily on the phones or interacting with them at our retail store that much, but I spend hours and hours reading their emails, looking at survey responses, inspecting product reviews. Based on all this feedback, I’m able to see where we’re hitting the mark, and more importantly, where we’re missing it. Empowered with that information, I can steer our business in the direction that our customers expect us to be.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Striking a balance between the quest for growth and the need for control. This is a perpetual battle, but one that I think most entrepreneurs must face. It’s exciting to grow quickly, but with growth comes sacrifice.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Everyone’s talking about “cloud” technology, but if you’ve got the technical expertise, it can be leveraged to save you big money. I highly recommend the suite of services provided through Amazon AWS.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
As it relates to toys, I would instill creativity and curiosity in every child. Kids start kindergarten with limitless creativity and imagination, but often finish high school with the inability to think a single original thought. I would love to stem the tide of creative brain drain.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.