Spotlight on entrepreneurs: Local mom behind sticker book business to exhibit at NYC toy fair

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 06:14 PM

Chapel Hill mom Alyssa Minshall was starting to feel that her children’s toys were very disposable.
“I felt like everything they were getting was very disposable, and they were learning how to throw something away as soon as they were (done) playing with it,” Minshall said.  “Everything was meant to be thrown away – especially activity books,” she added.
At the same time, Minshall, who is 35, also said she recalled enjoying playing with sticker books as a child. She said she grew up in the 1980s when sticker books were “insanely popular.” She still has her old sticker books, she said.
What started as a desire for Minshall to create more lasting childhood mementos for her own children has since turned into a full-blown business.
Minshall has launched a company called Sticker Farm LLC to sell re-usable, collectible sticker books and stickers to put in them.
Working out of an office of her family home -- where a children’s bicycle and other toys were visible leading up to her front doorstep -- she comes up with designs for the stickers, and then contracts artists to complete the finished product designs.
In the office, she has sticker books, boxes of stickers, and a sketch book with new sticker designs. One of her office walls is mostly covered by a trade show poster.
“The good thing is, I have my daughter that I work with in creating the concepts, which I love,” she said.
She started working on creating her first book in 2010, and had her first product by 2011. She now has two completed book series: an original one that has background landscapes that children can use to create scenes, and another that she said is more for collecting and showcasing individual stickers.
In the original series, she said she put her children and her dogs into the illustrations, as well as her children’s favorite animals from the Museum of Life and Science.
“Every book that I have, my kids are in it, and so are my dogs – I sneak them into random places,” she said.
She said the company’s logo is of a little boy, her son, 5-year-old Indie, and Max, the steer that lives in the museum’s farmyard exhibit. Her 7-year-old daughter, Charlie, is on the original book’s cover.
She now sells the books and stickers online, as well as through independent stores around the country.
“I thought in the very beginning, it would be very easy to produce a product,” she said reflecting on the process of launching the business. “It’s not. I learned in bits and pieces from people.”
She said she started out not having any business experience. But she said her father is a businessman, and she grew up watching him
“It was a lot of trial and error because I actually have no experience in manufacturing whatsoever,” she said, adding that it took “a lot of effort” to get somebody to talk to her in the manufacturing business.
She’s now having the stickers made by a manufacturers in Asia.
The business is family-owned, she said, and has not yet broken even yet. She said the initial printing cost was around $6,000, and she got help to launch the business financially from family.
She’s hoping to get more customers by exhibiting at the 111th American International Toy Fair in New York City Feb. 16-19. The fair connects manufacturers, importers and distributors with more than 10,000 retailers from more than 100 countries, according to a news release.
She has stuck with the business through a breast cancer diagnosis and through the treatment. She was diagnosed in 2012, had a double mastectomy, and said weeks later, she was in New York City exhibiting at a Toy Fair.
When she returned, she said she started chemotherapy. She said the business was sidelined for a period, but the online sales continued.
Now she said her cancer is in remission, and she’s returning to the Toy Fair.
“All the life experiences I’ve had, -- you’re just a little more confident, and everything is more in perspective (about) what you want, and how you’re going to get it,” she said.