Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Rosa Alva, Owner of Box of Sensory Toys, located in Los Angeles, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
My small business is a children’s subscription box for kids of ALL abilities called Box of Sensory Toys. Originally, I curated my sensory and fidget toy subscription boxes for kids with Autism, ADHD, or sensory needs. The interest in these popular toys is so high that over 65% of my young clients do not have special needs. They just love playing with sensory toys!
The toys and tools in my subscription boxes are educational, skill-building, therapeutic, and fun, so they are beneficial for all children, tweens, and teens. These toys, activity books, games, and other fun items help to stimulate children’s (or even adult’s) prefrontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain controls and plays a critical role in problem-solving, emotional regulation, language development, motor skill-building, and more.
There is no greater feeling than knowing that my subscription toy boxes are not only entertaining but also helping children to learn. The goal is to support improvement in children's fine motor skills, language, decision-making, problem-solving, and social skills.
Tell us about yourself
I was a fashion designer for well-known fashion houses from the mid-90s until around 2005. Then, I was a teacher and tutor for approximately 15 years. Five years ago, I decided to focus on doing therapy work with children with Autism. On weekends, I was also facilitating various social skills classes for neurodiverse kids and their parents.
In early 2020, I was heading toward final negotiations to open my own learning center, yet I had not signed or committed. Once the pandemic began, it was clear that kids everywhere were greatly affected. Children with Autism or other sensory needs, who had been in therapy for years, began to regress during this period. The pediatric clinics were closed, and therapists couldn't have direct contact with their kiddo clients as children and therapists had Zoom telehealth sessions.
In-person sessions differ not only because they take place in person with the therapist at the child's home or in a pediatric clinic but also because therapists usually bring various sensory toys and tools for therapeutic use. Most children have sessions for several hours, 3-7 days a week. For families who don't keep as many toys or who cannot afford to purchase new ones every couple of weeks, I saw a need that I could fulfill.
Using knowledge from my various degrees and past work experiences, I began to research and form a business plan. This is how I began Box of Sensory Toys. I ship sensory toys directly to families who can use them for fun, to skill build, or for use during therapy.
I was still doing therapy work with clients for six months after I began Box of Sensory Toys. Often I was sleeping not more than 2-4 hours as I worked 15-20 hours daily. Eventually, I was able to focus my energy completely on my small business. I still work insane hours, but I love what I do. That's one of the most important factors when opening a small business. The fact that my business helps families motivates me daily!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
For me, it's not just about being named the top-rated children's box, receiving close to perfect 5 stars from hundreds of customers, exploding in top sales during the holidays, or being written about in nationwide articles, all of which have occurred. The biggest accomplishment is knowing that my subscription boxes are helping therapists, teachers, and of course, families in need.
My sensory toy boxes are purchased for people of all ages with sensory needs. This includes typical children and teens as well as kids with Autism, ADHD, anxiety, brain injuries, or who are hospitalized. Sometimes, I'm told that the children are using my sensory toys in the hospital or during their daily therapy. I've been sent emails of gratitude from grandparents, parents, and therapists for not only children but even adults who require sensory toys. Sometimes, it's used during therapy; sometimes, the items are even used to relieve their anxiety.
When I attend in-person events, such as local street fairs or holiday markets, I sometimes meet these families in person. I am always moved by my customer's gratitude. Having this human connection within my work makes all of the struggles of owning a small business worth it. There is nothing better.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
For me personally, the hardest part is promoting myself publicly. I am an introvert, so I always feel more comfortable promoting the products or the customers. I also adore my social influencers who love creating content, so I try to promote by working with them rather than calling attention to myself as a business owner. It's important, however, to allow ourselves to be known as the company owner. This is because people like to know our story. Most people enjoy getting to know the face and personality behind our small business.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Do your research and write out your business plan. The research took most of my time in the beginning, but once you have absorbed what you need to begin, you will be more confident. Writing out your plan will help you see what you do not know or what you still need to research.
- Start while you are still employed somewhere else, if possible. Success doesn't happen overnight, so beginning while you have some solid income makes sense. It takes the financial stress off of you while you are setting up your company.
- Choose a business with customers who bring out the passion in you. Are you helping others, fulfilling a need or want, or following a passion of your own? Anything that you can become obsessed with and grow with in a positive way is worth pursuing.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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