Building Planks!

  • Remember playing with Lincoln Logs?  There is something inherently fun about building something with your own hands.  There are no limits on how or what to build, there is only building!

    With Lincoln Logs, most of the interaction was limited to an “outsider looking in” perspective, if you will.  Tiny houses or towns can be built and the child imagines little villagers and animals and there is great fun in this to be sure!  This type of play is perfect on a rainy or cold winter day, but in the summer there is an irresistible lure to be outside.

    Imagine if your child suddenly has the materials to build a seesaw, or a fortress, or perhaps a tower to keep watch for invading dragons!

    Through Imagiplanks, your child can safely create whatever they wish to build and interact with them fully.  Think of Imagiplanks as a sort of life-sized version of Lincoln Logs.  Inspire and nurture the architect, carpenter, actor, director, knight in shining armor, in your children.  Let them build their ideal playground and take their “playtime” to the next level by giving them that sense of accomplishment once they realize their handiwork.  You are not only giving them a chance to explore their creativity, you are also helping them build their confidence.

    Confidence is so important for your child as they grow and develop.  They will look at life with a positive attitude and will most likely approach challenges with “I can” instead of “I can’t”.  They will learn how to do things for themselves, thus gaining independence.

    The importance of play is evident in this video.

    Encouraging your child to create and play will benefit them well beyond childhood, lasting throughout their lifetime.  More and more corporations today encourage their members to “play” and not shy away from creativity and having fun.  Creativity leads to innovation.  Innovation is what drives us past our current limits and enables us to surpass challenges and come up with solutions.

The New (current) Sets

The New (Current) Sets

I made the design changes to the imagiplanks and immediately went to the workshop to test out the new design.

The New design has 3 sized planks and can do everything the old design can do and more.

We sent in the new design to our new manufacturer and came up with a decent price. We also found a company that currently makes another wooden toy product and has an interest in making and distributing our product. This is all very exciting and we have just finally begane processing our first order.

For the people who have been waiting for their imagiplanks, I know it has been a long haul and hopefully this blog will give you some insight to the process we have been though. I am grateful to have learned the lessons I have learned along the way and to now be connected to some really high quality manufacturers.

Design Change

Design Change

I went back to the drawing board with the goal to accomplish 2 things.

1. Make the imagiplanks in a way that will eliminate any of the quality issuse previously experienced.

2. Make the manufacturing simpler to keep our price down

The plank design went from the hourglass shape to a straight shape. The artist in me had a hard time with this but the straight design is more versatile and does not require a costly CNC router to make it.image

I also found a solution to attaching the staves to the planks that does not require any sharp screws, nails or staples and doesn’t require glue.

The Rabbit Hole Goes Deeper

The Rabbit Hole Gets Deeper

I went back to the manufacturer to find out what happened. The sets of imagiplanks that went out were not like the set I had inspected in the beginning. It turns out that in the rush to get the orders done, the manufacturer had brought in some family helpers and things got sloppy. A lot of the problems had to do with hole not being pre-drilled, which when the plank is first packed is un-noticeable, but when the box arrives in a new place with different humidity the wood expands and all of the pressure around that screw causes “kablooy”  the wood splits.

The manufacturer agreed to make replacement parts, which he did. Then We put in an order for 10 more sets of imagiplanks to send to the people still waiting. He agreed to do the order and everything was in the works when he got a surprise audit from his insurance company. We got a “surprise” phone call that he could not make any more imagiplanks because his insurance does not cover it.

We had already been talking to other manufacturers at this point because of the quality issues with our first guy and it was looking like we found that right company for the job. Only one problem. The price for the new manufacturer was more then double the price from the old one. Making imagiplanks with the new manufacturer would equate to losing about $50 for each set sold, not a winning business strategy.

Birthing Pang of a new business

Birthing Pang of a new business

With only days before Christmas, we were driving 3 hour to the manufacturer to pack and ship the remaining orders. This in itself was no big deal, but when we pack the orders and found that we had more orders then sets, this was a big deal! Between the material that our other manufacturer had wasted on wrongly cut planks and the time rush we were simply short sets. I felt horrible and had to send out some difficult emails and make some tough phone calls, but, I though, it couldn’t get much worse then this. At this point I think God started to laugh.

Fast forward a few days later. I’m at home opening gifts with my children when I receive an email on my phone with the following picture attached:

This was followed by more emails, more pictures, and unhappy phone calls from retailers who had trusted me.

It is a horrible feeling to find out the the thing that you sent out to people, your dream, your vision, turns out to be crap and cause immense amount of stress to parents and retailers when they have to apologize to their kids and customers on your behalf. I really wanted to run away from this whole thing at this point, but I care more then that and I believe that there is always a way to turn a situation into a win-win.

The Holiday Rush

The Holiday Rush

We started to sell the Imagiplanks on our website as well as a couple of online retailers. We had 2 committed manufacturers and we decided to have them each make 10 sets. I thought, that if we got real lucky we would sell 20 sets. We ended up selling more then double that in the first 3 weeks! This is one of those “good” problems to have in business that at the same time is extremely stressful.

I called one of our manufacturers to see if he could make some more product for us. Turns out he not only could not make any more, he had not finished the original 10! Fortunately our other manufacturer was up for quadrupling his order so long as we pay overtime for his workers. This was the same manufacturer whose product I had check so we felt confident he would do a good job.

Manufacturing Begins… We still need a name

Manufacturing Begins… We still need a name

I now have a design for manufacturing, some cool promotional pictures and video I have made of my prototype, and a provisional patent. We have found a few local people who are interested in making the product so we decide, its time to sell some of these. One problem, I don’t have a name for the toy yet. Its getting close the the Christmas shopping season and we cant very well sell a product without a name… or can we? I thought it would be a lot of fun to do a contest through a creative kids blog to find a name for our product…. Success, after a quick 2 week contest we have hundreds of names to choose from and we choose, Imagiplanks, The infinite Playground. I think imagiplanks is a bit of a tongue twister but it looks real good on paper. At this time I also received our firt set of planks from our manufacturer. I pulled out all of the pieces, built things, inspected them, they looked great! Its time to sell these!

Taking the Next Step

Taking the next step.

After seeing that my idea was a hit with my kids I decided that I wanted more people to be able to enjoy this idea. As excited as I was to start making and selling these, I had to wait while I heeded some very good advice from a lawyer friend of mine who said, “File for a patent.” When I realized that this idea might be a winner I teamed up with my business partner, who knows the business side of things way better then I do, to help me make this idea happen.

We worked with a patent attorney who wrote up a provisional patent for us and I revised the design to something that could be manufactured more easily.

At this point things are going pretty smoothly and we are looking for a couple of people to manufacture the toy.

Inspiration

Inspiration

I set out happily about 6 months ago to turn my invention into a reality. It started when I was building a playhouse for my kids and I saw them having so much fun just playing with the scraps of wood.

I remembered the feeling of adventure and empowerment I felt as a child when I was nailing boards together building my own fort. After a few weeks of thought on this I had an aha moment and within a couple hour one morning made the first prototypes:

These first pieces were made from rough sawn Ponderosa Pine.I made them myself using a jigsaw, table saw and a cordless drill. The fit was very tight and needed to be loosened a bit but other then that they worked just about how I thought. The only problem was that my kids wanted more.