In 1994, Carlton Calvin founded a company to publish children’s books. During his product development research, he heard about a toy craze among youngsters called “pogs and slammers.” It’s a game sort of like marbles, only using cardboard discs that children had been fond of collecting.
He decided to manufacture a line of collectible playing pieces, or pogs, but the fad died long before he could finish selling the goods. Calvin told interviewer Wade Daniels how he unloaded the leftovers.
It started in 1994, before which I was a litigation lawyer. I decided that year that I wanted to do something more fun, like publish children’s books. That’s why I founded this company and called it Small Minds Press.
When I was started it up, I read about a toy craze that began in Hawaii. The game is played sort of like marbles where kids pile up these round pieces of cardboard called pogs and throw this heavy piece of metal or plastic called a slammer at the stack and try to flip them over. You can win the other guy’s pogs by flipping them. The pogs had little pictures of ships or faces or whatever on them, and eventually big toy companies made them with licensed images like Batman. The slammers were also collectible.
I saw the trend catching on in L.A. in 1995. I thought the hottest slammer would be a clear plastic one with a real dead bug inside. On a trip to Arizona I found a place that sold scorpions, and I knew that every kid would want a slammer with a real scorpion.
It took me five months to perfect it in my garage, and at the first toy trade show I went to, a guy I met signed me up to make 300,000 of them. I quickly got a facility, hired about 70 people, bought as many scorpions as I could find and started making the slammers as fast as possible. I thought it would be easy to get more huge orders for the slammers, but it wasn’t the case.
By the time I delivered the last of those 300,000 slammers, in August of 1995, the market for them was dead. I thought it was a pause in the market and kept making them. By the time I saw the truth about the market, I had 125,000 slammers on my hands.
I bought a ticket to Europe, where I heard the fad had spread, to try to sell them. I went to toy stores all over Western Europe, but they had all the slammers they needed.
At a French toy store, I looked for the most expensive slammer I could find, called up its distributor and scheduled a meeting. We met and he bought every last slammer in my inventory.
When all was said and done I had a profit, which I invested to develop new products. This year we came out with a yo-yo with a scorpion inside and it’s been a success. We also have rubber stamps that are clear plastic and have real bugs or flowers inside.
It’s been a good year, with revenues of $500,000 in 1997 as opposed to $250,000 in 1996. I now have seven employees, and this time I am growing the company step by step instead of going out of control.