Island toy creator goes global with science kits
The basement is stacked floor to ceiling rafters with colorful, shrink-wrapped boxes. There are shipments being loaded into washer-sized cartons that will soon be dispatched to far-off places like Alaska, England, and Malaysia.
The jingling of five phone lines and the crack of packing tape punctuate the busy goings-on at 27 Intrepid Lane.
Just seven years old, the Young Scientists Club has gone from being a kitchen table cottage business to an internationally-recognized maker of children’s educational toys.
Esther Novis, the mother of five children ages 12 to 3, is the president of this growing company and readily admits her surprise that “we’ve gotten really big.”
She started the company when her oldest son was just five years old and she realized that there were few, if any, science-themed toys that really taught interesting and lasting lessons, Novis said.
A Harvard-educated biologist who went to medical school for a while before turning to teaching, Novis said she created the original science kits to keep her own kids busy and learning science in a fun and exciting way.
Novis’ husband, Dr. Bruce Novis, is a full-time anesthesiologist when he is not helping out at the Young Scientists Club doing the accounting work.
Novis said that an article about her business in the Providence Journal a few years ago, followed by a piece in the Boston Globe, and others in business trade magazines, really gave her the break she needed to take the business to a new level.
The company now offers 19 different products, including four brand new kits called the Adventure Science Kits, which just received the prestigious Dr. Toy Awards for being among the 100 Best Children’s Products of the Year, and also for being in the Top 10 Best Educational Products.
“It’s one of the biggest awards in the industry,” Novis said, adding that being a Dr. Toy winner “will really help with the retail sales” in the coming months, and especially during the holiday season.
Novis and her Young Scientist Club sold some 55,000 science kits last year “and we expect to double our sales” in the current year, she said.
Novis has some “50 to 60” independent sales reps across the U.S. and Canada that market her products to stores all over North America, she said
For the past two years, the products have been manufactured in China, Novis said, adding that most of the major shipments go out of her warehouse in North Dighton, Mass.
Products can be purchased from ToysRUs.com, Amazon. com, and specialty retail toy stores. Locally, R&R Gallery carries the science kits, as does Juggles, Wickford Toys, and Learning Express stores, Novis said.
“We still do smaller shipments out of the house,” Novis said, noting that she employs two neighbors and gets some help from her kids when shipments need to get out.
She described days when the kids help out by “rolling boxes down the driveway on skateboards” to the waiting FedEx truck.
The Young Scientist Club kits include hands-on experiments in bubble making, magnets, chemistry and weather. Novis also has developed a card game, that can be played by the entire family, based loosely on “Go Fish.”
Sci-ology is the name of the game and players are required to match up scientists with four types of work they do as part of their studies, Novis said.
Another product is Dig Real Fossils, which contains a clay brick that contains real fossils mined in Morocco and embedded in the brick. Children use wooden tools and brushes, “just like a paleontologist,” to unearth the fossils. An accompanying book describes where the fossils came from and encourages the kids to study them using the enclosed magnifying glass, Novis said.
On her dining room table are prototypes for two new kits not yet on the market, she said.
One will deal with volcanoes and the other will be “bathtub experiments,” Novis said.
She hoped to get the products complete in time for the February 2006 Toy Fair in New York, one of the industry’s biggest conventions, she added.
Also on the horizon are kits in packs of 10 units that can be sold to afterschool programs and other educational organizations.
Novis said that she holds science camps at her house each summer, where her own and other local children help to develop new products that the company will consider for the future.