Inside Track Q&A: Tom Maxwell, co-founder, Tomax

Taking the business of toys to the max

Tom Maxwell and his brother Andrew founded toy company Tomax to produce Turbospoke, a toy exhaust pipe for children's bikes.


What distinguishes your business from competitors?
We're quite lucky in so far as our product is very unique and so we don't really have any direct competitors. There's nobody else out there producing an exhaust for a kid's bike. It's something that people haven't seen before and it does tap into that psyche of cool things for a bike.

What's been your biggest challenge?
Having a single product. We always thought we wanted to establish our business with one product and then grow it from there. But for the US mass retailers, it's very, very hard to get in front of people if you only have one product. This year, we launched our second product, Turbospoke Classic. We hope that by the end of next year we will have a range of products and we can start to expand the company that way.


And your major success?
At the end of our second year in America, the product was featured in a catalogue which went out to five million homes and the product sold out in about three weeks flat. All of our stock in the States just disappeared off the shelves. Having a sellout in our second year was a pretty big buzz. It was also quite a headache, trying to rapidly get product from China or Europe to fulfil the demand.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in business?
Thinking it was going to be easy. When we started out, everybody who saw the product loved it and we thought selling it to people was going to be a doddle. It's far from that. Anybody who has looked at taking a product to market, especially beyond Ireland, knows there's a huge amount of work, from learning the culture of retail in other countries to toy safety testing, stock control and quality control.

What was the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Our US distributor said: "A rising tide lifts all boats." It stuck with us right from the early days: to be very open and accepting of almost any opportunity that goes your way and do your best to make every opportunity work.


Who do you most admire in business and why?
Richard Branson. He surrounds himself with a team of good people who he can trust to do a good job in bringing his ideas to fruition and he's then freed up to come up with more ideas at that stage.

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That's where we would aim to be down the line. And obviously he's done pretty well for himself.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
A culture of people being more entrepreneurial would be good.

I think if there was a little bit more in the way of incentives, for example lowering the tax burden for people in their first three years of running their own business, that would incentivise people to take their ideas and set up on their own.


Do you think the banks are open for business at the moment?
If you've got a good balance sheet, they are somewhat open; I think they're just cautious. It's like running a business; whatever they lend out they have to be sure they're going to get it back in again. There's a responsibility for businesses to borrow wisely as well, going for what they need not what they think they can get.


How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We're pretty positive. The launch of our new product has been very well received. It hits that impulse price point. If we can provide a product that offers the same fun and cool factor of our existing product, but at $5.99, it opens up a whole raft of other price points. For example, in countries like India, our current product is just a little bit too expensive but a small product can be rebadged and go into those countries.


How much is your business worth and would you sell it?
Our business is currently conservatively worth around about the €3 million mark and value is rising all the time. Would I sell it? Not yet. You never know if somebody came along, but we're three years into it, we're learning all the time and we'd like to apply that learning into cool new products.

In conversation with Joanna Roberts