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Hidden Gems: Meet Yvonne Johansen of SmartFelt Toys

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yvonne Johansen.

Hi Yvonne, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
As a Speech Language Pathologist who has been working with little ones for more than three decades, it’s rewarding, a little surprising and very fulfilling to look back at the road I’ve traveled and the journey I’ve taken.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to work with children. I enrolled in college not knowing exactly what my role with kids would be, but after taking a Language Development course with an amazing and inspirational professor, my path became clear; I would pursue a career in Speech Pathology.

When I graduated from Columbia University’s Teachers College – one of the world’s pre-eminent Speech and Language programs – I had a strong foundation of knowledge and experience and was well-equipped to leap into my chosen field. I hit the ground running with wide-eyed optimism and unbridled enthusiasm.

During my career, I have worked with thousands of kids in school, home and clinic settings. While every child is unique with different needs and challenges, one thing is universal; Establishing a personal connection and rapport is at the root of making a difference. Success is about way more than what you learn from a book or in a classroom.

My knowledge about Speech Pathology was only part of my work.

Now over three decades later, I invest in little people. I care deeply for them and from that, we can tackle communication goals together.

Looking through my lense, our students are not the only ones who change, we change. As an SLP, I am forever changed after each child I have helped.

And inspired by them as well.

And now, I’ve added a new chapter to my career; toy inventor and educational toy company owner.

I have invented a line of unique, patented award-winning, multi-sensory, interactive playsets that build early language skills in young children and started SmartFelt Toys.

Beginning with My Little House and now with My Little Farm & My Little Zoo, these uniquely designed classic toys provide children with the groundwork when building receptive & expressive language skills.

I measure my success in how I can make a difference in the lives of children. SmartFelt Toys is an extension of that.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It has been a rewarding road, but I wouldn’t call it smooth by any means. But honestly, WHO could say that their roads are totally smooth. It’s the bumps and sinkholes along the way that build character and make us humans.

On the speech pathology front, not long after I began my career as an SLP in New York, my husband and I packed up our belongings and two years old son and headed to California.

So no sooner had I started, but I had to hit the career pause button for several years as a new mom in a new land.

On the business front, it was tough starting a new business, especially while simultaneously working full-time in Los Angeles schools and without a lot of available capital to invest.

But we got the company up and running, won all sorts of awards and patents and began receiving universal acclaim from moms, educators, clinicians and – of course – KIDS for my products.

And just as we were getting real traction in the business – A PANDEMIC reared its ugly head. This has delivered a huge blow to small businesses, mine included. Between not being able to travel to conferences and conventions (where we get 40% of our sales) and the huge delays and increased costs related to supply chain issues, it’s been a tough couple of years.

But I’m finding workarounds and our customer base is fiercely loyal so I’m determined to turn SmartFelt Toys into a huge success.

Not smooth. But a great, wild ride.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I own SmartFelt Toys (www.smartfelttoys.com) which creates and sells award-winning language-building educational toys. I invented a line of totally unique felt playsets which can be played with flat OR easily converted into reversible 3-dimensional free standing play structures. Each one of the 30+ colorful, soft, sticking felt pieces addresses an early language concept. This is me putting my Speech Pathologist bona fides to use. As I like to say “every piece has a purpose.”

When I say my play sets (My Little House, My Little Farm and My Little Zoo) are unique, I mean it. They have been awarded four design and utility patents.

There is nothing like them on the market.

I’m very proud of all the awards we’ve won and the fact that we have also been embraced by the special needs ad Autism communities for the inclusive and sensory qualities of our toys.

We currently have five products in our line; the three playsets, a high-quality bingo board game and an accessory pack of extra pieces that can go on the exterior of our Houses, Farms and Zoos.

What matters most to you?
This might sound corny, but I mean this wholeheartedly. What matters most to me is making a difference. I love every little victory I have working with the kids I still see in therapy. And while I hope that SmartFelt Toys earns enough of a profit where I can give up my day job and focus entirely on the company, it’s equally important to me that I can get my felt toys touched by millions of tiny little fingers.

Pricing:

  • My Little House $39.99
  • My Little Zoo $39.99
  • My Little Farm $39.99
  • My Little Farm Bingo $15.99
  • My Little Seasons $12.99

Contact Info:

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