When Elizabeth Carroll came up with a nuanced and marketable approach to the old Tooth Fairy tradition, she invoked the assistance of her husband Bob. Together, they reached out to intellectual property specialist Wil Jacques, President of Emanus, to help them patent the idea and provide business advice and guidance as the couple manufactured their new product, Tooth Bear-y.
Liz came up with the concept for a plush Tooth Fairy bear to alleviate her son’s fear of a strange fairy coming into their room at night, while also limiting the chances of the Tooth Fairy being seen or waking the children. Tooth Bear-y enables children to store and keep their lost teeth forever visible within the bear’s heart and helps promote dental hygiene while encouraging the acts of caring and sharing of their lost teeth with Tooth Bear-y, who has no teeth of its own.
Liz, Bob, and Wil spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about how they worked together as a team to manufacture the new product.
NAN PRICE: You created an innovative new solution to the Tooth Fairy concept. At what point did you realize you had a product you could manufacture and sell?
ELIZABETH CARROLL: After I came up with the idea, I shared it with my friends, some of whom commented about their kids’ fears. Others told me about their stresses of trying to find their children’s teeth under the pillow and how they’ve even lost some.
When I decided to make an actual bear, I didn’t know where to start. I bought a teddy bear and got some PVC tubing so I could try to start making prototypes. Then I Googled “patent professionals” and found Wil. He saw how my prototype worked and helped me find a company to create the bears and start the whole manufacturing process.
We created the prototype in June 2017 and we finally have the bears. They docked last month and now they’re for sale.
NAN: Tell us a little more about the manufacturing process.
BOB CARROLL: We encountered a few problems producing the prototype. It was an expensive process to make the bears and fashion the heart within the bear’s chest. Wil suggested we get in touch with Diana Wickham, U.S. Sales Manager for D&F Plush Toys, who partnered with us and helped get our product through the manufacturing process.
At that point, Wil transcended from his initial role of patent agent to assisting Liz with operations and really helping coordinate all these efforts. To this day, he’s been instrumental in this venture, because neither of us has ever developed anything like this before. Manufacturing is certainly not in my wheelhouse, and a lot of the web design and marketing is also completely foreign to the two of us.
NAN: Aside from Wil’s help, have you utilized any other business resources?
LIZ: We’ve actually had a lot of people helping. My friend, Steve Seymour, owner of Seymour Media in Bristol created a commercial that worked out beautifully. My brother-in-law, Aric Carroll, allowed us to use his studio in New York to put the song together for a commercial. I also reached out to Patrick Ryan, a friend of mine who owns Ryan Marketing in West Hartford.
In terms of marketing, right now it’s web-based. We’re in the process of moving our inventory over to one of Amazon’s fulfillment centers. So, that’s exciting!
WIL: Liz came with a great network. She had many resources already in place. It was just a matter of orchestrating them while she was trying to prototype and produce a product at the same time.
For a lot of entrepreneurs like Liz, the bigger issue is figuring out what do I do next? Why do I do this? What are my expectations? Honestly, the expectations are the hardest thing to manage.
NAN: I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s been a long process. How have you managed your expectations as you’ve been developing the product?
LIZ: I think it would have been frightening for me if I knew all the little hurdles you have to go through and how long it would take. I didn’t understand how many steps were involved to do all this. Going into it, I thought it was a great idea and I thought it would be a quicker process. But now, it’s been almost four years, and I’m finally at the place where I’m starting to feel comfortable knowing that our product is finally here.
NAN: What other major lessons learned or challenges did you have to overcome?
LIZ: You’re learning constant lessons from the moment of the idea, all the way through each stage. It takes patience and total openness about trying things and making errors to get to the finish line. When unforeseen obstacles arise, you have to figure things out as you go and with the resources you have. Every obstacle and its solution adds to your knowledge base for the future.
WIL: There are so many pieces to the commercialization process. One of the challenges we ran into that I didn’t even expect was how do we protect this idea? It’s great. I’ve never seen anything like it—and I do a lot of patent work.
One of the large manufacturing hurdles is that most plush toys don’t have hard internals that are made to connect in and out. We had to get a solid, clear plastic piece with the right color sitting on a plush animal. No two are alike. That was one of the first challenges, figuring out how to maintain some sense of quality to have each bear look generally the same all the time, while not be slowed down in production.
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down our sourcing, too. Again, the whole idea of being an entrepreneur is managing expectations when the only thing we’re certain of is that something unforeseen is going to happen. If you do nothing, you get nothing. So, we’ve kept forging forward. We handle the challenges as they come. It’s all part of the process, and a common point at which most of my clients, unlike Liz and Bob, give up. I truly believe in this product, and I would never allow them to give up.
NAN: Now that you’ve had a taste of entrepreneurialism, are you coming up with other ideas?
LIZ: This bear is my heart and my passion. We’re all open to furthering his story. Right now, his kit includes a book, a toothbrush, and stickers, so those things can enhance and change. But as far as developing anything else, I’m just sticking with Tooth Bear-y.
BOB: What might be a little different about Tooth Bear-y as a business is that it wasn’t created out of a desire to start a business. It was created out of an idea Liz had for our kids and our own personal situation. We immediately realized it was a really good idea and it could help a lot of other people, too.
We’re going through the steps to get our product out there so others can enjoy it. But I don’t think there’s a desire to come up with another idea, and another idea, and develop a huge pipeline of products. Tooth Bear-y was created out of an idea to improve an old tradition and we want to share the benefits of this novelty with everyone out there who struggles through that process.