Laura Barta believes every kid should have a chance to experience the world, even if it’s from the comfort of home. When her searches for fun, multicultural toys came up short, Laura took matters into her own hands.
She created her first play set in 2015, and today Whole Wide World Toys, Inc., offers dozens of products for kids to create enriching play worlds, including play mats, figures, wooden puzzles, storybooks, and story cards. Laura fills her play sets with cultural details so kids can play just like they are visiting a new country. “While they’re having fun, they’re immersed in a new culture,” she says.
Laura spent the early part of her career interviewing hundreds of people all over the globe and designing products for Procter & Gamble. Living and working on four continents in 10 years shaped the lives of each of Laura’s family members, instilling in all of them a curiosity about what makes people and places the same and different.
When she returned to the States, she wanted to find toys that showed everyday life in other countries, but those didn’t exist. While there were language-learning aids, maps, and multicultural dolls, nothing felt like “being there,” she says. Laura hopes Whole Wide World Toys will appeal to families who travel, have adopted internationally, study foreign languages, love geography and world cultures, and want to offer their children creative play in quality toys.
Ultimately, Laura believes that her toys will help kids gain familiarity and respect for the world and be well-prepared for their adult lives. “I have a deeply held belief that we might even have world peace if people understood each other better,” she says.
Laura’s quest to inspire curiosity and positivity about the world are her biggest motivators in business, particularly when times get tough. She’s been able to finance the business herself thus far, steering clear of financial issues, but it hasn’t been easy.
“I’m most confident in the quality and play value of my toys,” says Laura, “but as a newer toy company, awareness is the challenge.”
Laura’s toys don’t fit neatly into a toy category and there’s no shorthand way of describing them to people; cultural awareness and the joy of travel are not categories on Amazon. But Laura isn’t focused on competing with big box retailers. Instead, she is committed to building a community where cultural understanding is the number one goal and selling toys is secondary. If your purpose is bigger than your product, people will be drawn to your company because of their own beliefs, says Laura.
Her advice to other small business owners in niche markets is to start small with marketing and build up your knowledge and expertise in the market. Begin with small-scale online ads and local outreach, meeting face-to-face with your customers so you can hear their wishes and concerns in person. She also recommends starting an active blog to establish your voice and give your business credibility.