Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Sara Feldstein. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Sara, appreciate you joining us today. What’s the backstory behind how you came up with the idea for your business?
Until the pandemic, I spent my career in public accounting. I knew in high school I wanted to be a CPA and followed the path of going to university and working in accounting firms for 12 years, eventually becoming a Partner. I loved my job. I loved working with small businesses. I loved the problem solving. Everything was great…and then March 2020 happened.
It was the height of tax season and overnight we became a remote firm. I was spending hours on the phone with our tech team trying to set up the technology and training employees. I was fielding phone calls and emails from countless clients calling in a panic as their businesses shut down. I was filing tax return after tax return. I had a new employee starting. I was researching government relief programs. And I was the full-time caregiver to my one and three year old girls.
Like many caregivers, attempting to work a hectic job from home and parent simultaneously was a recipe for disaster. It was just enough to make a chronically stressed career-driven mom cross the line to burnout.
During quarantine, I relied on toys (and screen time) to keep my kids occupied while I was in meetings. It was then that I realized how short of a play session many of the toys in our home provided. They either had one way to play and it was over in a few minutes. Other toys broke. Or couldn’t be cleaned. I began to feel frustrated that the toys weren’t actually giving much back to my kids either through learning or entertainment. I also felt mounting anxiety as the toys in our home cluttered our living quarters.
Pre-pandemic, my niece and nephew were over at my house playing with foam blocks and my twin sister and I began excitedly talking about how the kids would love these blocks if they were life-sized. But that was as far as it went. I was happy in my career as an accountant. But now being stuck at home watching the foam blocks entertain my kids, the idea came back to me that maybe this was worth making.
By this point my burnout had morphed into full on depression and I had to walk away from my accounting career as I was not in the right headspace to be helping any clients. I was exhausted to the point of acting like a zombie. I barely left the couch and cried all the time. I was falling into a dark hole and had no idea that toys would be my way back out.
I took up sewing as a quarantine hobby to try and pull myself out of my depression. I thought I could make some giant foam blocks myself, but my sewing skills weren’t there yet. So I found a local upholsterer to sew my vision and brought it home for my kids to play. That was the start of Barumba Play.™
Sara, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
As I mentioned above, I left the boardroom for the playroom and am still very much a newbie in the toy world. Jumping from accounting to toys was a big change, but as an industry outsider it let me come with fresh eyes and fresh ideas. Our mission at Barumba Play™ is to keep parents and kids entertained with imaginative toys that are open-ended, easy to clean, easy to store and can be used alone or together. Put together in one tidy phrase is our tagline, “toys that do more™.” We approach toy design from the eye of the child AND the eye of the family members who live with the toys.
We know that toys have a tendency to take over the home, which increases clutter, increased anxiety and more time cleaning. By creating toys that do more we can give back that time and both physical and mental space to the parents and give back to the child quality toys that will engage and delight. Toys that do more™ also encompasses our desire to do more for the environment. We care about sustainability and consider it at every stage from product design to packaging.
Our goal is to slowly introduce timeless toys. Toys that could be dropped into any decade, and a kid would run up to it and play without any instruction needed. We love the concept of imagination being the real toy. That the physical toy is simply the vessel to inspire play.
Play has the ability to give so much to kids from re-enacting real life scenarios with pretend play, practicing gross motor skills, learning body awareness and so much more. We really think about the different ways kids play and try to incorporate as many methods of play into our toys as possible.
Our first product, an 11 piece play couch takes those giant foam blocks and allows them to be configured into forts, tunnels, tea parties and so much more. We also allowed the configuration to work as a couch for easy storage. Thinking as a parent, we wanted to make sure it could be cleaned so the covers can be removed and put in the laundry and there are waterproof liners underneath to prevent potty training accidents or spills ruining the foam. We also added in zipper covers to protect walls and floors from being scratched during play. We used our existing foam block set for inspiration of the shapes. We made sure that our arches could be crawled through, our triangles could be used as slides and so much more. The possibilities are truly endless. We have had one in our home for nearly 18 months and still find new ways to play all the time.
Okay – so how did you figure out the manufacturing part? Did you have prior experience?
While I had no experience manufacturing a product, my background in accounting came in very handy since I had been reviewing financials and meeting with business owners in many industries over the past twelve years. This came in handy as I had a rolodex of people to contact with questions. There is a great saying not how, but who- sometimes you don’t need to know the answer, but find the person that would know it. The barriers to entry have also never been lower and if you are willing to put in the time, you can find what you are looking for on YouTube, Google or Podcasts or even shooting someone a Linkedin message.
I started to manufacture fully overseas for a few reasons. North America was experiencing a foam shortage and there was just not foam available for a little business like mine. Secondly was that no one took me seriously. I didn’t even have a website and was calling up foam manufacturers and furniture makers and couldn’t get the time of day from anyone. I knew I wanted to make my product locally but it seemed like I would have to start overseas and earn my way back.
I sold out my first production run in 2021 and used that data to reach back out to the places that rejected me. This time I knew the lingo to discuss foam, had a website to prove we are a real company and the stubbornness to make it happen. My current manufacturer actually turned me down and I reached back out to find out what I needed to do for that no to become a yes. They eventually emailed me back saying they liked when someone doesn’t take no for an answer and invited me to come back in to start the process. I was overjoyed!
Any stories or insights that might help us understand how you’ve built such a strong reputation?
Going above and beyond for the customer. This is where I can turn my people-pleasing from a weakness into a strength. We simply care more about our customer and will do anything to make sure that a customer has a good experience with us. When our pre-orders were delayed with the shipping crisis, we sent birthday gifts out to the kids whose birthdays would pass without their play couch arriving. We made coloring books of play couch builds to send out to families waiting as well. In fact, our actual box is designed to be colored on and turned into a house too. We process warranty claims quickly and without any fuss. We take customer feedback and incorporate it into changes in our business. We love talking to our customers and will always go the extra mile to make sure they have a good experience.
- Website: www.barumba.co
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/barumbaplay
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/barumbaplay
- Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/barumbaplay
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/barumbaplay
- Youtube: www.youtube.com/barumbaplay