In 35 years, a business based on shrinking has expanded to include about 250 products sold in 42 countries around the world.
Now Betty Morris, one of the inventors of Shrinky Dinks, is hoping that the value she created with her plastic crafts company, K&B Innovations Inc., translates to a big nest egg for her retirement.
“I can't believe it's gone so fast,” Morris, 68, marvels at the years that have passed since she and Kathryn Bloomberg invented Shrinky Dinks as a Cub Scout project with their sons in Brookfield, Wis.
The two stay-at-home moms found a craft project in a magazine that involved tracing on plastic lids and shrinking them in an oven. The Cub Scouts were so excited by the activity that Morris and Bloomberg decided to pursue the idea of creating a product and selling it.
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Their first success came at Brookfield Square in 1973, where for $2 they sold kits they had assembled themselves.
Soon after, they found a business partner, M.W. Kasch in Mequon, Wis., to distribute the product and a way to produce it. After a few months, they sold 50,000 kits in stores around the Milwaukee area.
Later, when their distributor ran into some difficulties, they learned how to negotiate licensing agreements. Under such agreements, companies such as theirs, which hold rights to a product, allow another company to use their brand name on other products, in return for a licensing fee, typically 5 percent.
Colorforms was the first major toy business to make Shrinky Dinks under an exclusive license agreement. A Smurfs Shrinky Dink kit was their biggest seller, Morris recalled.
“Shrinky Dinks just went crazy in the '70s and '80s,” she said. Milton Bradley wanted it and bought the rights from Colorforms.
Milton Bradley bought Parker Bros. during the 1990s and decided to focus on games. The company stopped making Shrinky Dinks products, which cut off Morris' income stream from licensed sales.
Morris decided that she was done with exclusive licensing plans. It was time to try something new. In 1998, she leased a building in North Lake and reorganized her company into a business that granted nonexclusive licenses to multiple toy companies. Her profits would come not from licensing fees but from sales of the plastic needed for Shrinky Dinks. The producers of Shrinky Dink products are required to buy the plastic from K&B Innovations.
She estimates total retail sales for Shrinky Dinks products, since 1973, at $150 million.
Shrinky Dink sales represent just a tiny part of the total sales for arts and crafts toys, estimated by NPD Group at $1.5 billion for the 12 months ended in August. That compares with $1.4 billion for the same period a year ago.
K&B has a staff of six people who handle everything from working with plastic to shipping Internet orders.
Morris' goal for next year is to sell her business and join her husband in retirement.