When Melissa Bossola Beese and her husband moved to New Orleans from California four years ago, neither of them had any thoughts about creating their own toy subscription company. With a background in graphic design, photography, and marketing, Beese had plans of sticking with her career and climbing the corporate ladder. However, those plans came to a halt when problems around the sixth week of her pregnancy forced her to quit her job. Tristan, only 24 ounces at birth, came 16 weeks early. Through the challenges of raising a micro-preemie child, Beese began to develop the idea for Little Pnuts, and when opportunity knocked shortly after the birth of her second son, Finn, she didn’t miss a beat. Now, a little more than a year after launch, Beese and her company are immensely successful and have been featured in countless publications, both national and international.
After spending over 100 days in the ICU with Tristan, Beese and her husband were finally able to take him home from the hospital. Still, he faced years of therapy – physical, speech, occupational, and more – before he would be able to reach the developmental norms of other, non-premature children, if ever. “They gave us a list of 22 things that were going to be wrong with him,” Beese recalled, “And I said, ‘That’s not going to happen to this child. This child is going to be as normal as possible.’” Before his release, the family was told not to purchase battery-operated toys for their son, as Tristan needed to learn how to do everything on his own to further his cognitive development. Unfortunately, there aren’t an abundance of these types of toys in the United States, where popular playthings include remote-controlled cars, light-up figures, and robotic animals. These necessary development-focused non-electronic toys couldn’t be found in the states, but they were abundant overseas in Europe. Luckily, Beese’s husband is from Germany, so family trips to Europe were frequent. During these trips, they brought suitcases filled with wooden toys from Germany back home to Tristan. “I attribute his overcoming every challenge – and being able to speak two languages – because he has these amazing toys where he had to actually, physically do the work.”
Around when her second son Finn was born, subscription boxes filled with baby basics (bibs, bottles, etc.) were coming into popularity, but Beese noticed the glaring absence of toys, particularly those that had worked so well with Tristan – beautifully crafted, natural, and ecologically friendly. As she thought about the concept of starting her own toy subscription program, she began to realize that it was feasible. “I had the skill sets to bring the whole entire concept together,” she said with a smile. When her sister-in-law reminded her that the biggest toy market in the world was held in Germany in February, her husband encouraged her to buy a ticket and attend. “You need a business card and a landing page. Buy the ticket now,” Beese remembers her husband saying. So, armed with business cards and her idea, Beese booked her flight. When she came back, she had 32 separate brands interested in working with her.
Within four months of her return to America, Beese put together a business plan, marketing plan, and website, and with the help of a write-up from Daily Candy, she launched Little Pnuts. Now, her company has many monthly subscriptions. As the boxes are now too numerous to put together in the house, Beese’s company works with Lighthouse for the Blind to create the subscription packages. At the moment, Beese is looking to bring in toys crafted specifically for developmentally challenged children and is considering the creation of an offshoot specifically for these kids, as well as a physical store through which she can provide more organic toys.
With the company’s motto – “imagine. create. play” – she touted a focus on play as an essential part of a child’s life, describing it as a child’s version of work. Beese also recommended letting your child explore and learn for himself or herself, as a child’s resulting sense of accomplishment, independence, and pride is the key to confidence. The doctors have told Beese and her husband that Tristan may have learning disabilities later, but she’s prepared to do whatever she can to give him as normal a life as possible. To parents of any children, preemie or not, she advised, “Don’t shortchange your child by not giving them the best of the best.”
In order to help children meet the appropriate developmental goals, Little Pnuts offers three different programs to parents – infant, toddler, and preschool – which span from age 0 to 5. For infants, developmental milestones include movements (like grasping) and eyesight. Milestones for toddler-aged children include puzzling, fine motor manipulation, color recognition, and balance. As such, infant and toddler boxes contain toys specifically designed to encourage and develop these skills. For preschoolers, boxes are much more theme-driven. Beese showed us some of her exquisitely crafted toys featured in preschool boxes – a pair of folding paper binoculars that actually contain working lenses, a simple wooden boat with a sail that floats upright when placed in water, and an unfoldable paper house modeled after various architectural styles in Europe. Beese’s passion for her business and its cause was easy to see as she excitedly described her toys and their purposes, presenting examples to us with a smile.
Though the challenges faced by “momtrepreneurs” are many, Beese wouldn’t have it any other way. She grew emotional as she spoke of her business and the joy it has brought her to plan it, execute it, and have it succeed. “It’s a dream come true,” she enthused, and it’s impossible to doubt her sincerity. For others looking to follow in her footsteps, Beese had some words of advice. “Don’t fear it. Don’t be afraid of it. Jump in, jump in, jump in…You may doubt yourself, but something will come to tell you you’re on the right path. Keep dreaming – dream bigger!”