How one online marketplace helps product ideas become reality

From selling finger puppets in grade school to connecting retailers with the hottest new toys on the market, Stefanie Botelho has turned a childhood fascination into an online marketplace that helps independent toymakers get their foot in the door. As the founder and CEO of Fitzroy Toys, Botelho gives toymakers the tools and resources they need to bring their concepts to store shelves.

A graduate of Harvard Business School and a “Dreamer” on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2017, Botelho’s career began in investment banking and venture capital, but she soon realized her true calling was in her childhood passion — the toy industry. A coding course she took while getting her MBA helped Botelho lay the groundwork for what would eventually become Fitzroy Toys.

We spoke with Botelho to find out how Fitzroy Toys helps retailers and investors find the next big thing, the challenges small business owners face and what she believes is today’s biggest toy trend. 

Fitzroy Toys founder and CEO Stefanie Botelho was honored at the NRF Foundation Gala 2017 as a “Dreamer” on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future.  

Fitzroy Toys founder and CEO Stefanie Botelho was honored at the NRF Foundation Gala 2017 as a “Dreamer” on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future.  

How did you come up with the idea for Fitzroy Toys and what services do you provide?
While most kids had a lemonade stand, I made and sold finger puppets to my classmates. Later on, I started shopping more frequently for toys for friends and family and loved discovering something new and unique to give to the little ones and big kids-at-heart in my life. That interest grew into a toy recommendation engine I built and ran while I was at Harvard Business School.

As I started spending more time with the brands I was recommending, I saw several inefficiencies that still exist in wholesale. As a result, I decided to start Fitzroy Toys, an online marketplace that connects toymakers to retailers. We provide toymakers with broader distribution at a lower cost and give retailers a 24/7 platform to easily discover unique products. We want to ensure retailers have the best products to enable their customers to learn, develop and grow.

What role does Fitzroy Toys play in providing resources for small, independent makers who would like to take the next step in their business?
Wholesale is the backbone of retail, but B2B platforms and processes haven’t evolved as quickly as B2C experiences, and that gap disproportionately affects smaller players with fewer resources. Because we’re focused on B2B distribution, we’re looking to redefine tech standards for a large industry that is currently going through a reinvention with the entrance of a lot of new, fast-growing players. We see makers, designers, “mompreneurs” and inventors getting their ideas off the ground with crowdfunding, and we are here to help them with their next step of getting products onto online and offline shelves.

“B2B platforms and processes haven’t evolved as quickly as B2C experiences, and that gap disproportionately affects smaller players with fewer resources.”

Stefanie Botelho

What would you say is the biggest challenge small business owners and makers face? What is the biggest opportunity?
Hiring is one of the biggest challenges for small business owners. Businesses are only as good as the people they can hire and retain, and the cost of hiring and training is only increasing. It is often harder for smaller companies to compete for talent on a more limited budget and less brand recognition. They should pursue employees who display a true ownership mentality and have a passion for the mission of the company. Small businesses have an opportunity to offer employees flexible experiences, and with the chance to wear multiple hats, they can learn and grow in lockstep with the business. Larger competitors cannot provide that experience.

What advice do you have for someone who is interested in launching a small business but doesn’t know where to begin?
Taking that first step to transform your idea into a business can feel scary. With any large task, you need to break it down into manageable pieces and tackle them one by one. Don’t give yourself excuses and let yourself procrastinate. Test your idea as soon as possible. Start talking to your future customers to get feedback on your idea and see what they are willing to pay for it. Refine your assumptions and build a first version. From there, just keep going.

What would you say are the biggest toy trends that you’re seeing?
Fidget spinners! The toy itself is incredibly simple. It’s made of metal or plastic and consists of a bearing at the center and several (from two to many) prongs that spin around it. Considered an “everyday carry” toy, fidget spinners were originally designed as a therapeutic tool for children with autism and ADHD. Fidget toys like yo-yos and Rubik’s Cubes started picking up at the end of 2016 but spinners in particular were a big trend coming out of this year’s New York Toy Fair in February. They are now available at every price point and in licensed and non-licensed versions. Thanks to social media, this has been one of the fastest growing trends of all time and there is definitely a question of how long it will last.

Since starting Fitzroy Toys, what product have you been most excited to work with?
One of the first brands on Fitzroy was Yellow Scope, a company started by two whip-smart scientist moms looking to create rigorous, creative — and fun! — science kits for girls. They are a great example of the type of maker we are looking to support and help grow: independent companies with a point of view on their category, creating a fresh, new, quality product that kids (and adults) are excited about. Founders Marcie Colledge and Kelly McCollum started with one kit and have now launched a second, with plans for an entire line.

Explore more stories about The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future. To date, the awards presented at the NRF Foundation Gala have recognized 75 Disruptors, Dreamers, Givers, Influencers and Power Players for their impact on the industry.