What do automotive engineering and making children’s crafts have in common? Ingenuity, creativity, and problem-solving, for starters.
Bloomfield Hills resident Sheila Wright has all three qualities, so it’s not quite so hard to see how she made the leap from automotive engineer to founder of Ann Williams Group, the company behind successful children’s craft kits like Loopdeloom and Loopdedoo.
Sheila explains, “As a child I used to daydream about businesses I would like to start. I had a few failed attempts in high school and even one as an adult in college. I was born an entrepreneur, but I couldn’t make it a possibility in my life until I developed a product that I was passionate about, and that product was ultimately inspired by my children.”
The product Sheila references is her Talkatoo recordable charms line. The charms came about when Sheila dropped her kids off at school. She’d put a heart on their hand or tuck a note in their lunchbox. However, she felt she could do more.
Sheila wanted what all mothers want – for their children to hear their words of encouragement whenever they want. From that desire, Sheila created Talkatoo charms, and Ann Williams group was born.
The company first started selling their Talkatoo charms on zulily, with great success. According to Sheila, “Our first product to run on zulily was also one of the first toys to ever sell on zulily – the Talkatoo!”
Selling on zulily helped give Ann Williams even more visibility, which led to more partnership opportunities.
“Especially in the early days, we would have people see our product selling on zulily and then reach out to us for other retailing or partnership opportunities. Additionally, zulily’s ability to provide us with real-time sales data helps us determine what products are the most popular with customers, ultimately influencing what we create more of or design next. We want to observe what products sell well from other retailers as well, as it helps us understand how we can make products that are different and that would be successful and desired by our customers.”
However, the early days of Ann Williams were grueling.
“I was a working mom, I was a mom and CEO of a single person boot-strapping start up, and now I’m a mom of a second stage growth company. They’re all very different! The hardest, by far, was being a start-up mom. The only way to understand it is to live it and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” said Wright.
All that hard work was worth it in the end. Now, the company is making waves and has plans for a big year.
“Ann Williams has, in a few short years, become a leader in the craft industry. We are introducing over 40 fantastic new products this year. We just returned from debuting them at an international toy trade show in NYC where the retail buyers gushed over our new introductions. We had more products mentioned on the retailers Share the Fair list than any other manufacturer at the show. More than Lego, Mattel, or anyone!”
Sheila graciously divulged a little about her two favorite new products, and they sound like they’re going to be big hits.
The first product, a Kindness Kit, is a must for kids of all ages (and some adults). “We have a Kindness Kit coming in August that I am in love with. It is a kit with eight little craft projects that kids can make and share. It encourages kids to be kind, and do acts of kindness. It’s precious and the act of spreading kindness is so important.”
The second product is part of Ann Williams’ efforts to expand beyond craft kits. The company will debut its first game later this year. “We have a game coming in August that I’m very excited about. It involves rubber bands, dice, and numbered foam blocks. It’s a hoot to play!”
in addition to games, Ann Williams has plans to enter the teen and adult craft market. “We will continue to create innovative and trend inspired craft kits for kids, but we’re expanding on that. We’re creating new crafts for younger kids, and even a new brand for teens and adults. It’s called Craft Crush and it’s beautiful!”
Sheila’s kids have pitched in throughout the years, and her husband (also an automotive engineer) helps with the business, too. “My kids are both involved in the business in different ways. I did, after all, name it after them! My daughter enjoys giving her input on new products that we’re developing and my son is always eager to help with the operations side of things. They have both enjoyed watching the company grow and have learned so much along the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually wind up starting their own businesses.”
Having been in the trenches when her company was a startup, Sheila knows the struggle of trying to get off the ground. However, she also knows the success and victor that those struggles can bring. For all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there, Sheila has a few words of wisdom for you: “Do what you want, make your own rules, set the bar high, stay nimble and never give up.”