The NASE Presents $30,000 Achievement Award To Member

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The NASE Presents $30,000 Achievement Award To Member

Online Natural Toy Retailer Receives NASE Award

More children will be playing with safe, earth-friendly toys thanks to this year’s NASE Achievement Award recipient Sheri Novak.

Novak sells kid-safe toys online. And her micro-business got a big boost from the NASE.

After receiving a $5,000 Business Development Grant from the NASE in April 2007, Novak moved her company, Hazelnut Kids, out of her home. She used the grant money to outfit a new warehouse with shelving, packaging tables and supplies. The funds also helped pay for space and computers for two new employees.

The bottom line: Novak was able to triple her business in less than a year with the help of the NASE grant.

The NASE recognized the powerful push the grant gave to Novak and her business. To help Hazelnut Kids continue to grow, the association presented her with an additional $30,000 as the 2008 Achievement Award recipient.

Building Her Business
When her sons -— Michael, 6, and Ryan, 4, — were babies, Novak discovered how difficult it was to find natural, safe toys. About that same time, the family moved to Traverse City, Mich., where Novak’s husband started a fly-fishing small business. Novak ended her career in health care and was seeking an online business opportunity to supplement their income.

With the motivation provided by her sons, a new micro-business was born. Named for her “nutty” hazel-eyed son, Michael, Hazelnut Kids opened in 2005 as an alternative to the world of mass-produced, plastic and battery-operated toys.

“I wanted toys that were safe and that stimulated my children’s imagination, so I thought other parents might be looking for the same thing,” Novak says.

Little did she know that in 2007, toy recalls would soar as a result of high levels of lead in paint and plastics used in toys manufactured in China. Her business instantly spiked, doubling from the previous year. Customers began e-mailing and writing letters, thanking Novak for offering a safe alternative.

Fortunately, the $5,000 NASE Business Development Grant arrived just in time to help her meet the new demand.

“Being able to hire two employees to help with the increased order fulfillment and customer service freed me up to focus on marketing and search engine optimization,” she says. “I really don’t know how I would have done it without the grant.”

As sales continued to rise in 2008, Novak found herself in that bittersweet place so many micro-business owners encounter – increased business required more inventory, space and employees, but finding the capital to meet those demands was a challenge.

Already, Novak had outgrown her new warehouse and was taking steps to move into a larger space.

The Achievement Award At Work
At a ceremony in her brand new, 50,000-square-foot warehouse, Novak accepted the $30,000 NASE Achievement Award check that will help her business continue to grow.

NASE National Tax Advisor Keith Hall and Executive Director of Communications Maureen Petron presented the check to Novak.

“After polling our members and learning that 77 percent felt they could not access enough funding for small-business development, the NASE wanted to become part of the solution,” Petron said at the ceremony. “We felt that Sheri made a significant impact on her business with the 2007 grant, and clearly see the good service she is providing our greater community by making safe toys easily accessible. Therefore, we are happy to recognize her achievement with a financial boost that will allow her to continue to grow her business.”

Among her plans for the $30,000, Novak is considering investing heavily in marketing efforts and incorporating traditional media into what has been a strictly online marketing program.

She also recognizes a need for a full-time book keeper and a more extensive inventory so that she can meet higher demands, particularly for the holiday rush. The Achievement Award may allow her to achieve those goals.

“When I joined the NASE, I was amazed by how many benefits were available to me,” Novak says. “But I never dreamed they would include something like [the Achievement Award]. I am so grateful for the opportunities this money will provide, and I am grateful to the NASE for being a continual resource to my small-business needs.”


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