By Jamie Siebrase | Sep 13, 2015
Salt Lake City
Be Amazing! Toys launched in 2002 in Denver when founder and educator Steve Spangler -- described in TIME as "the science teacher you always wanted to have" -- grew bored with the tired and repetitive science products previously available.
Spangler created his own material, and was presenting it at a National Science Teachers Association meeting in Toronto in the 1990s when Be Amazing! VP of Sales and Marketing Renee Whitney saw his stuff. "I was blown away," she recalls.
Spangler spent the next eight years doing product development for one of the science companies Whitney managed. In 2002, he went solo, founding Be Amazing! and engaging Whitney as his sales manager.
"The company took off," Whitney says. But, she adds, Spangler's strengths were product design and public speaking -- and that's why he sold his company after a few months to a group in Salt Lake City. Today Whitney, her brother and partner Richard Romney, and four other entrepreneurs own the company, and are advancing Spangler's concept.
"Be Amazing! Toys is very much a family business," says Romney. It's also a "leader in the science and educational toy market," as Romney puts it.
"Our products always have a wow factor," Whitney explains. Spangler's company launched with its best-selling line of Insta-Snow, which lets users explore the science of superabsorbent polymers via non-toxic powder that erupts into snow.
Lab in a Bag, Science Surprises and Geyser Tubes: Since inception, Be Amazing! has augmented the original line with an array of products. "Most recently," says Whitney, "we introduced a line with Steve called Sick Science!" That's sick, as in cool.
Sick Science! kits emphasize STEM, and come with both written instructions and QR codes for online discovery with videos featuring Spangler. The line's so sick it was named one of FamilyFun magazine's top toys of 2014.
Be Amazing! expanded beyond kits last year when it acquired White Wing, an assemble-it-yourself paper airplane company Whitney and her colleagues rebranded as Sky Blue Flight, a Be Amazing! imprint.
In an effort to support its retailers, the company refrains from selling directly to consumers; products are available at specialty shops such as Timbuk Toys, as well as bigger conglomerates including Hobby Lobby -- even Cracker Barrel.
"We outsource fulfillment, customer service, warehousing and invoicing," says Whitney. Manufacturing in China, she adds, has its challenges.
"You have to make sure the quality is there -- that the product meets all standards for safety, and you're getting exactly what you asked for," Whitney explains. Her company's solution has been keeping a close eye on operations -- literally. Partner Marc Greenberg goes overseas several times annually to observe the manufacturing process.
Toy safety, Whitney adds, is critical. "In addition to manufacturing the product," she says, "we have to send it to a safety lab, and make sure it meets all U.S. safety standards. That's an extra layer of work, but it's a good thing for the consumer."
Challenges: "There are always issues with offshore manufacturing," Whitney admits. One of the biggest has been timing: "You have to make sure you get stuff shipped to your U.S. warehouse in a timely manner. To that end, Be Amazing! has to be "very proactive," she says.
Opportunities: "There's been greater public awareness that we need to better equip kids with knowledge surrounding science, technology, engineering and math," Whitney says. That STEM awareness gives way to more customer demand and, says Whitney, there's substantial room for growth.
Needs: Be Amazing! is competing against Mattel for shelf space, and the company is actively searching for new accounts. Romney works with brick-and-mortar stores to keep the company's 100-plus reps "up to speed on new products," he says.