at Hobbytown Sleepover
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – Pretzels, check. Sleeping bags, right. Toothbrushes, roger. Local entrepreneurs and a big old hobby store. Huh?
Call it a Girls Night In, with a couple of twists. The girls in this case were eight fifth graders who are members of Stratfield School Girl Scout Troop 33136. The occasion was a sleepover Saturday March 5 in none other than Hobbytown USA at 847 Post Road. And the entrepreneurs were Kevin Carroll and Steve Mark, inventors of the new dice game Tenzi, who had been invited to introduce the game and share some business insights.
“The girls were dying to have a winter campout – or camp-in in this case,” said Cheryl Eustace, one of the troop leaders. “We brainstormed with the girls and one of them, Grace Vanderlip, thought Hobbytown, which her family co-owns, would be a fun site.”
The format could have been a straightforward one, with some gameplay, junk food and overnight, but it was agreed more value could be injected.
“We decided to teach the girls what it’s like to own a business, run it and be an entrepreneur,” said Celeste Vanderlip, Grace’s mother, a part-owner and manager of Hobbytown. “To add another level, we invited the inventors of Tenzi to make a presentation. They came to the store back in late October with their game and I said, ‘If you can explain it to me in less than two minutes and I can understand it, Hobbytown can sell and promote it, both in the store and through associated events like this sleepover.’”
Vanderlip said the game has really taken off. “We’ve sold over 300 units since October through our Post Road and Stamford stores. This game is a phenomenon, as any age can play.”
Co-troop leader Trish Pavoni said the overnight was very unique for the group. “This is our sixth year with the girls and we always look for a variety of things to do with them. In the past, we’ve done girly girly things, community service, a jump rope clinic, weekend camporees… This is the first time we’re spending an overnight in a retail store. The girls are very excited, and have been talking about working the register and stocking the shelves, and learning about Tenzi.”
Carroll, introducing the game to the group as they sat down at two long tables placed end to end, said, “We had heard that some of the big game companies wanted things with dice. We both bought an odd assortment of dice and went off and played with them. Steve really came up with a good idea: using 10 dice, see how fast you can roll the same number. The first to show all the same number yells Tenzi. We added more elements, like building Tenzi towers.”
As the girls and scout leaders threw down the colorful orange, green, blue and yellow dice and went head to head, Vanderlip shared her excitement about the gamemakers. “How great is this? A Fairfield County business helping a Fairfield County business. And now the Girl Scouts getting involved. What a dynamic!”
Mark pointed out Tenzi’s advantages, noting, “It’s not like the Monopoly syndrome where a game takes hours. Each Tenzi round is done in a minute, seconds even.”
To that regard, Carroll said, “My daughter holds the Tenzi record – 6.9 seconds. Are you ready for the challenge?” The provocation set up a Tenzi frenzy as the girls – and moms – battled it out to beat the clock and Carroll kept time.
All throughout the gameplay, Carroll offered business advice. “When you’re trying to sell an idea, don’t let turndowns stop you at all. But it also takes people like Celeste to have vision and encourage you.”
As the gamemakers departed, Vanderlip initiated part two of the business-oriented sleepover, leading the girls on a tour of her day-to-day activities -- from the moment she walks in the door and turns on the lights and computers, to organization and display of merchandise.
“I’ll tell you a little secret about retail,” she said, as the girls shuffled behind her. “When people come in the door, they never go down the first aisle. Human nature tells you to go to the middle of something. So we put trinkets and impulse items at the front of the store.”
In the storeroom area, Vanderlip noted, “Every day, Fed Ex and UPS comes through. We don’t keep tons of inventory, only what we need. Things come in and go out very quickly.”
It was a worthy lesson in business inspiration and operation that the girls took to heart as they dove into bowls of snacks and candy, a quick bite before bedding down in an alcove of this hobby haven.