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PlayLogoName: Christina Wallerstein

Title: Sole Proprietor

Company Name: Playworks- Toys for Serious Play

Years in Business: 25+ years

Employees: None- 4 Part-Time Independent Contractors

Tell us about your business. What product or service do you provide and who is your target audience?

Playworks provides toys for children from birth to age eight years (developmentally). The toys appeal to children with diverse abilities. Children learn best through play. Each toy invites  and encourages explorations that enhance development, whether cognitive, language, motor, or social. Most of our customers are child life specialists, early interventionists, pediatric occupational, physical, and speech therapists, and parents of special needs children.

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It takes a certain mind-set and bravado for anyone to start their own business and succeed, but it’s even more difficult for women in business. Please tell us what being a business owner means to you personally. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Are you a mompreneur? Do you work your business part-time? If so, was it due to choice, conflicting family and household roles, or in order to have more flexibility in your schedule to be able to attend to family responsibilities?

I never planned on becoming an entrepreneur; however, when an opportunity presented itself, I embraced it. I was a parent at Pacific Oaks Children’s School and had become fascinated by child development. I was president of the Parents’ Association and had developed contacts for purchasing tempera powder in bulk from Reeves, a premier supplier of art supplies in England. When the importer went out of business, he offered his inventory to me at incredible pricing, and I figured what we could not use at Pacific Oaks, other preschools in the area could. That was the beginning. Later, I began wondering how hospitalization effects development and met with the child life specialists at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena to find out. One of them subsequently decided to join the staff of the newly created, Child Development Services

at Braille Institute and invited me to make a presentation. Those two experiences gradually led to our focus on special needs. Originally, I was a mompreneur who grew the business as our son grew. I needed the flexibility, and even now that our son is an adult, I value that deeply. With family on both coasts, I could not have been as involved in caring for aging parents if I had lacked flexibility in my professional pursuits. Even as a small business owner, I wouldn’t be able to carry on with family responsibilities and keep the business going without my assistant Heidi Floren. Although neither of us are full-timers, the business requires daily hands-on managing. We’re lucky, however, that we’re able to set our days and hours to accommodate each other and other aspects of our lives. Although I consider myself a part-time worker, as any small business owner will tell you, the business is almost always on my mind. The thinking and planning happen during off-hours.

There are observable differences in men and women entrepreneurs’ motivations, goals, preparation, organization, and strategic orientation. How do you perceive the various aspects of the experience of business? What skills do you believe women need in order to run a successful small business?

I have pretty much re-invented every wheel. I went into business clueless, but starting small and moving slowly, I’ve had time to learn as I go along. Figuring out what I need to know and finding the best people to teach me or to work with me to do the tasks I cannot do myself is essential, and I’ve been fortunate with a couple of exceptions in the people I’ve chosen. Being willing to lean-to move outside my comfort zone and to delegate are key. I’ve learned the importance of others in helping my business grow. Hire a CPA and use her expertise to keep on track financially, hire as graphic artist and web designer and work diligently with them to keep this portal to your business fresh, inviting, and informative. Going slowly and steadily despite economic setbacks which are a reality for any business allows time for information gathering, planning and execution. Often we set a goal only to find we were unrealistic about how quickly we could do what needed doing to put the plan in action. Then we re-evaluate, based on the reality of how long our initial efforts have taken and keep plugging away. Showing up and doing our best, despite those times when our best is not as good as we’d like, counts. Our primary goal, and I think this should be a given for any business, is to treat our customers the way we’d want to be treated. That has served us well.

Most women-owned businesses do not meet the traditional business standards. Women do not have access to the same capital necessary to grow a business. They do not have the same access to contracting and procurement opportunities that may help them to build their business. Women do not have the same access to resources. What barriers and obstacles have you confronted as a women entrepreneur?

Given my age, I’d say expectations. Society as well as women themselves and their daughters now have very different expectations for women in the workplace than those of my generation. Society not only allows but expects women to prepare themselves for unlimited career opportunities. No longer are choices limited to “support roles.” If a girl grows up expecting to discover and follow her passion, she can seek out people willing to encourage and mentor her in her journey early on and not be stopped at the door because of gender. Glass ceilings exist, but I can hear the glass breaking; for many now, the very idea that women forty years ago essentially lacked opportunities readily available today is baffling. Yes, we’ve come a long way, and perseverance, passion, and a dash of patience will take us farther.

Are you certified as a Women-Owned Business (WOB)? If so, how have you benefited by this? If not, why not?

No, although I can see the value of being. Personally I simply never had the time to research state-by-state requirements, much less fill out all those forms, and that’s what we’d have to do since we ship all over the US.

Do you have a professional mentor or coach? If so, how has he/she helped you?

No, but I have been most fortunate in that the outside service providers and professionals, from my assistants to graphic artist, web designer, and technical support are people with generous spirits and talents aplenty who share their talents, enthusiasm and encouragement.

Advancements in technology have helped ease the movement of more women in business into leadership. What has been the most effective marketing and/or social media initiative or program you have used to promote your business?

Constant Contact. Beyond monthly e-news, weekly blogs, and three times a week Facebook postings, we’re novices in social media. Recently, however, we hired a consultant to guide us in our discovery of what’s available and how to use it effectively.

Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business? If yes, please describe (and include links if available).

AccountEdge Pro for Mac, accounting software; constant contact for “spreading the word” and keeping current customers up-to-date.

What business goal do you plan to accomplish over the next year? Are you choosing to remain a small business? Do you desire to have a large enterprise either by revenue, number of employees or market share?

We will be learning more and implementing a unified social media campaign designed to grow our customer base.We plan on remaining a small business, but considering how small we are- think of Dr. Seuss and the Who’s in Whoville- we’re focusing on growth in terms of market share and revenue. With growth may come more “partners” (independent contractors) and eventually full-time profit sharing employees. Time will tell.

What one thing have you learned as a woman small business owner that has served you well over the years?

The Golden Rule: Treat others as you’d like others to treat you.

What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?

Just do your best. No one can ask for more. My dad told me that, and by that he meant what he said, not that I needed to be perfect

to be successful. Sometimes I think we get in our own way by expecting to know it all and do it all perfectly all the time. It’s an impediment many women (and some men) struggle to overcome.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Being acknowledged as someone who knows and appreciates the value of open-ended, self-directed play and toys that support exploration and discovery and as someone accessible, honest and willing to listen and learn.

Do you have any new upcoming projects or reached a milestone? Are you involved in your community? If so, please tell us about it.

We’re presently working on a year-long campaign to help rebuild toy collections of early intervention specialists and other professionals who work with special needs children in the Rockaway’s and Breezy Point (of New York City) who lost the tools of their trade in Superstorm Sandy. Wanting to be inclusive, we’re looking into ways to also extend the campaign to include families of special needs children and the preschools in the area.

The idea is to invite these professionals and preschools to visit our website, www.playworks.net, and create individual Wish Lists, then to send e-mails to their contacts, relatives, friends, acquaintances, professional organizations inviting them to donate items from their lists. Playworks will also be e-mailing our contacts and asking their support for this effort which we’re calling, Project Carry On. The name comes from the signs posted throughout London during World War II reminding residents to “Stay Calm and Carry On” in the face of the blitz. That’s what Cynthia Clifford and others have been doing every day since the 29th of October. Those special needs specialists affiliated with Rockaway W.I.S.H and UNYEIP (United New York Early Intervention Program) are encouraged to register by notifying Playworks of their desire, then going to the website and creating a wish list. We’ll verify affiliation, of course, to insure those registering are indeed eligible. To encourage giving, Playworks is deducting shipping charges from gift orders before processing payment and paying to ship the donations. All donors will also be entered in bi-monthly drawings for a coupon for $30 off future purchases for themselves or as gifts. Our first winner was Kevin Kim from Whitestone, Queens. That’s in addition to the warm feelings donors get from giving.

Closer to home, we’re involved in local projects, including an annual drive by the Salvation Army to bring gifts to the children of 100 families who otherwise would be without even a traditional holiday dinner. We hate to think of any child not receiving a gift from Santa.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I’d be delighted for everyone to visit our website, www.playworks.net, find out what’s available, and keep us in mind when toy needs arise. I write a weekly blog, http://playworks.wordpress.com, and invite people to sign up for that. One goal of the blog is to engage with our readers and hear their comments. Next year, we’ll be sharing points of view, observations, and experiences of some of our favorite early childhood educators. If anyone wants to contribute, please e-mail me at christina@playworks.net. Everyone likes to be liked on Facebook. So, if you like what you see on our Facebook page, we’d be pleased to be liked. We’d be delighted to receive any feedback you’d like to send us.

What’s the best way for our readers to connect with you (feel free to include the links to your social networks and websites)?

E-mail: christina@playworks.net

Telephone: 626.792.2380

Website: www.playworks.net

Blog: http://playworks.wordpress.com/

Facebook: Playworks.net

Although not a pic of me working, this is one taken during a break at the Child Life Council Conference in Boston in 2009. As children’s literature enthusiasts, we had to see the duck and her ducklings made famous by Make Way for Ducklings while in Bean Town.

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