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SWINGSET PRESS—Cool Stuff for Kids

founded by a husband and wife team, Swingset press has realized strong Growth By coming up with Products for ‘tweens’ who have sizeaBLE allowances and little ELSE to spend it on except themselves Ron and Iris Solomon are on a hunt for cool. Since publishing their first children’s book in 1997, the founders of Encino-based Swingset Press have edged into the “tween” market (kids aged 8 to 12, sandwiched between teens and younger children) with phone books and secret journals. It’s a finicky age group that has money to spend provided they think the product is cool. So far, the company seems to have achieved a high coolness quotient. In its short existence, Swingset Press has gone from 1997 revenues of $60,000 to $250,000 last year, and it’s projecting revenues to jump to $1.5 million this year. “A lot of it’s the cool factor,” Ron Solomon said. “The ideas come to me and if it pushes the cool button, then we look into it.” Swingset Press’s products include four main books, which include the “My People” phone book and the “Ultra Secret Stuff Journal,” plus five accessories for the “My People” phone book. The books all retail for between $10 and $20. The couple started the company while both were on break from their careers. Iris Solomon had been a marketer in the post-production business and Ron was a former television sitcom writer and producer. The two pooled their skills for the new business, with Ron focusing on the creative side and Iris on the sales and marketing side. Knowledge of the market The tween market was a natural for them. Much of Ron Solomon’s background is in writing for shows appealing to that age group, such as “Saved By the Bell” and “California Dreams.” He transferred his understanding of what the young market watches on television to what products they would buy. “We found this niche and didn’t realize it at first, but now we want to expand on that,” Ron Solomon said. “(Tweens) have big allowances and nothing to spend their money on but themselves.” Originally, the company targeted younger children. The couple’s first product, “My First Phonebook,” was inspired by their son, Jacob. In 1997, he was 3 years old and wanted to call his grandparents in Florida. He couldn’t read, but knew his numbers. The idea for a phone book with numbers and photos rather than numbers and names could solve the problem, his parents realized. “We looked at each other and said, ‘That would be a great product,'” Iris Solomon said. Later that day, Ron began designing phone books for young children on his computer. He went to Kinko’s after putting a preliminary book together and printed 2,000 copies. The pair took out a $20,000 loan to get started and headed to the Los Angeles Gift Show with samples. They sold orders to 35 stores.”Everybody liked who we were and the values of the product,” Ron said. One of those first stores to order the product was Adele’s II, an Encino specialty gift store. Owner Doris Hurwitz said she liked the book immediately. “It was cute for kids to associate a picture with a person they wanted to call,” Hurwitz said. “When the second book came out (‘My People’), it was a natural that we would carry it because the first book sold so well.” With stores reordering more copies of “My First Phone Book,” the Solomons hired sales reps to drum up more business nationwide while they turned back to the creative side. “We enjoy creating products that help kids,” Iris said. “It helps build their social skills and self esteem. And there’s an independence factor.” The next product, “My People,” was geared at an older audience and hit store shelves in 1998. The books allows kids of the tween age group to put pictures, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, as well as other information such as a hobby or astrological sign, on a separate card for each friend. A binder holds the cards together and allows kids to take out old friends and add new ones easily a common activity among a group that falls in and out of friendships at a rapid pace. Before coming out with “My People,” Iris Solomon did some market research by standing in front of Target and other stores, asking tweens and parents on their thoughts about the book. She took four different designs to fourth-grade classrooms and polled the students. So far, Swingset has sold nearly 65,000 copies of “My People.” Since first rolling out the books, Swingset has added different sets and colors of cards, so that kids can sort their friends by camp, school sports, traveling and school. Black-light diaries The second book allowed Swingset Press to expand into larger chain stores such as Dillard’s and the Store of Knowledge. The company has targeted upscale and specialty toy stores rather than discount stores like Toys ‘R’ Us, which they believe will hurt the products’ image and prompt specialty stores to stop selling them. Swingset’s newest product has so far been the best seller. “My Ultra Secret Stuff Journal,” which began selling in February, appeals to 12-year-olds who want to write about their latest crush without letting their brothers or sisters read about it. Kids write on white paper with an ultraviolet marker that can only be read under a black light, which comes with the journal. Hurwitz said the journal has been by far the best selling of the three books at her store.

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