Long family car rides to the beach can often result in kids screaming at each other and parents at the end of their rope. But for one family from Charlotte, a car ride to Myrtle Beach a few years ago ended with an idea that could make all of them rich.
The Johnson kids - Erin, 18, Lachlan, 16, and Jake, 12 - were making a fuss in the back seat when their parents, as a way to bring some peace to the road trip, asked them to think up ideas for new toys.
"So we all just kind of put our heads together and we all added our little aspects to it and then this is the outcome," Jake explains.
The outcome was Flipoutz, which are collectable, interactive bracelets that feature "coins" with clever sayings or slogans on them. Each Flipoutz coin has a unique serial number on the back that can be registered online through the Flipoutz web site. The coins can be traded to other kids and then tracked online via their serial numbers, allowing kids to make friends of their trading partners in other states or around the world. The company describes it as a modern version of a message in a bottle or note tied to a balloon.
Last April, the Johnson kids showed off their creation on the ABC program Shark Tank, which allows budding entrepreneurs to pitch their products to big-money venture capitalists. Through one of the stars of the show, the kids made a business connection with Rhett Power, CEO of Wild Creations, the Myrtle Beach-based toymaker that has been named one of the 500 fasted-growing companies in the country by Inc. Magazine. Power was sold on the Johnson kids' idea and Flipoutz became a Wild Creations subsidiary.
Power said Flipoutz bracelets are becoming a hot trend across the country. "Toys R Us is doing a full roll out of the product. We've got product going into specialty stores all across the country, including Hallmark Actually, here in Myrtle Beach, Build a Bear is going to be taking the product."
Power said what makes Flipoutz unique in the toy industry is that the Johnson kids didn't just invent it. They are partners in the company and serve on its board of directors. Lachlan Johnson said she and her siblings aren't just figureheads. "Of course, we have to have adults to manage money and for making connections, but we are the sales force. We're the creative team," she said.
Now, other kids are being encouraged to join the Flipoutz sales team. The company wants to create a sales force of kids across the country who can sell Flipoutz products to make money for themselves or their favorite charity or school group, in sort of a 21st century version of a paper route or cookie sale.
"While we are out there really being the face of the product, talking to people, going to trade shows, we are inviting other kids to do that as well," said Lachlan Johnson.
Teachers have taken an interest in making Flipoutz an educational opportunity, Power added. "Tracking the coins wherever they go around the world in some ways is sort of a geography lesson and a lesson in, 'Where is your coin today? It's in this new country. Well, let's learn a little bit about where that is,' " he explained.
It's the involvement of kids in selling Flipoutz and developing new products that make the company "a game-changer," Power said. It should seem obvious that a toy company would want to put kids at the forefront he said, but that seldom happens.
"Let's really get involved in the business side of this, let's get other kids involved in the business side of this and let's create a toy company that's truly driven by kids."